Five Responses to the Empty Tomb

It’s not hard to find claims from contemporary, even secular, scientists and history professors that Jesus did, in fact, rise from the dead.

The late Dr. Thomas Arnold, professor of modern history at Oxford University and author of the widely acclaimed, three-volume The History of Rome, said,

The evidence for Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection has been shown to be satisfactory [according to the standards of any historian]. It [holds up] according to the common rules for distinguishing good evidence from bad. Tens of thousands of persons have gone through it piece by piece as carefully as any judge reviewing the most important case. I have myself done this many times over, not to persuade others but to satisfy myself. Throughout my life I have made a career of studying the histories of times and events, examining and weighing the evidence for what was written about each of them, and I know of no other one fact in the history which is proved by better and fuller evidence than this one: Jesus Christ died and rose again from the dead.

So, what are you going to do with this evidence? The people in the resurrection story give us five possible ways we might respond to the evidence of Jesus’ resurrection.

1. The Women at the Tomb, Who Respond with Fear and Great Joy

This fear was not the terror of being in danger but rather the awe that comes from witnessing something magnificent—the empty tomb and a risen Savior. Coupled with this fear was joy, because Jesus was God come to earth to rescue us. The women who found Jesus’ tomb empty knew that Jesus was not as a foe condemning them but a friend saving them, not bringing but bearing the judgment for our sin.

The reason the women had joy is that Jesus’ resurrection meant that guilt, injustice, addiction, pain, despair, and death do not have the final word in our lives. And God’s resurrection power means that he has redeemed all of those things and can make all things new in you, too. The empty tomb can have the final word in your life, if you’ll let it.

2. The Chief Priests, Who Close Their Eyes to the Evidence

Rather than seeking out the truth, the chief priests pay the guards to lie about what really happened at the tomb. The chief priests represent those people who secretly know, or at least suspect, that Jesus is who he says he is, but they come up with reasons not to believe because they don’t like the implications of it being true.

You see, if Jesus rose from the dead, it means that he is Lord. He has absolute say over our lives. It means we have to admit there are things God is doing on earth that we may not understand. We have to acknowledge that, ultimately, God is right and we are wrong, and we have to consent to trust him, even when we don’t understand. For many people, that’s too big of a pill to swallow, however good the medicine promises to be.

Are you like the chief priests? In your heart, are you convinced that Jesus is probably true—or at least you suspect that he might be—but you never really press in because you don’t like the implications for your life if it is true?

3. The Soldiers, Who Respond with Fear Without Joy

Of all people, the soldiers at the tomb should have been convinced of the truth. But most of them never did anything with it. Scholars say one or two of them may have come to Christ later, because otherwise, how would we know this story? But most just took the money from the chief priests and kept their mouths shut.

The soldiers represent those people who give only passing attention to the weightiest matters. But this is the most important question you will ever consider: Did Jesus rise from the dead?

If you ignore this question, do you realize what you are keeping yourself from? If Jesus rose from the dead, he holds the key to the meaning and fulfillment in life! Isn’t that what you’ve always been looking for? If it’s even just a possibility that he has hope and joy in the midst of death and destruction, shouldn’t you give it a chance?

I talked with a member of our church recently who had just come back from the funeral of a little girl. He told me, “I don’t know how you could ever make it through this if you weren’t a Christian.” Truthfully, I don’t either. How could you not despair without belief in the resurrection, the joy of knowing that the grave is not the end, and a hope that stretches beyond the bounds of this life?

4. The Disciples, Who Worship Through Their Doubts

Maybe, like me, you find it encouraging that, even after all the disciples had seen, some of them still struggle with doubt. At the end of Matthew’s Gospel, we see that many of the disciples—who are looking the resurrected Jesus in the face—were still doubting. How is that even possible? Because what Jesus was doing—or not doing—was so confusing that they still had questions.

Doubt is a common Christian experience. But can you be open-minded enough to doubt your doubts for a moment? Start by simplyconsidering the evidence for the resurrection. And don’t panic if your doubt lingers for a while. Faith and doubt can keep pretty close company. Faith isn’t the absence of doubt; it’s accepting what you cannot understand based on what you can understand.

5. Us, Who Receive the Great Commission

“Jesus came near and said to them, ‘All authority has been given to me in heaven and on earth. Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe everything I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age’” (Matthew 28:18–20 CSB).

This is called the Great Commission. It’s the ultimate point of why Jesus came—that this good news that Jesus lives, Jesus loves, and Jesus saves should be preached in all nations.

In Matthew 28:10, Jesus told Mary that he was going to Galilee to meet his disciples. That location wasn’t an accident. For the Jews, Galilee was symbolic for the world. Throughout the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus’ going to Galilee is always synonymous with him reaching out to the Gentiles.

Don’t miss that: As soon as Jesus rises from the dead, he wants to go straight to the Gentiles, because that is why he came to the earth. It is his focus. We were in his view as he stepped out of the grave, even before the disciples had half a clue.

And now, as his redeemed people, we share his mission. Jesus is still “going to Galilee” and calling us to follow him. If Jesus really rose from the dead— if he is who he said he was—then we must go with him, taking the risk to the ends of the earth, knowing that he will be with us to the end of the age.