“Now in the place where He was crucified there was a garden; and in the garden a new sepulchre, wherein was never man yet laid. There laid they Jesus, therefore, because of the Jews’ preparation day; for the sepulchre was nigh at hand” (John 19:41, 42).
Of all the places we saw in Bible lands the sweetest and most hallowed memories linger round the garden tomb. It was on a Lord’s Day afternoon that we visited it in company with a group of devoted believers, who were firmly convinced after living in Jerusalem for some years that it was actually the sepulchre once owned by Joseph of Arimathea, and wherein once reposed the precious body of our most blessed and holy Saviour.
In the morning of that day we met with an assembly of Christians to remember the Lord in the breaking of bread. It was very precious and very solemn to be thus carrying out His request perhaps less than three-fourths of a mile from the very place where that upper room was located in which the Lord’s Supper was first instituted. Though there were probably not quite fifty persons present we were a very cosmopolitan company who enjoyed fellowship together as members of one Body, showing the Lord’s death, “till He come.”
After a noon meal with an earnest missionary family, quite a group of us walked over to the garden tomb. We had a special permit to visit it, by the kindness of the custodian. It took some time to arouse the caretaker, but eventually we secured his attention by persistent ringing of the bell, and the big door swung open and we found ourselves in a delightful garden, laid out very much as it may have been long years ago when Joseph prepared the sepulchre there.
The entrance to the tomb itself was originally an almost square opening, about three or three-and-a-half feet wide and four feet high. But it has been made higher since the British Government took charge of it, in order that people may find easier access to the rooms within. As we noticed how low it had formerly been we could see vividly why it is written of John that, “he stooping down, and looking in, saw the linen cloths (not clothes) lying; yet went he not in” (John 20:5).
Inside there are two compartments separated by a low limestone wall. The first or outer room is about seven feet wide bv ten feet long, with a ceiling some seven or eight feet high. Looking over into the second compartment we could see “the place where they laid Him” (or one at least similar to it), a crypt along the wall at the far end. This second room is practically the size of the first. So the crypt is about six-and-a-half feet long by about two feet wide. At the far end is a rounded depression to receive the head of the body buried there. There is a wall running across to separate it from the rest of the compartment, and at each end adjoining this low wall is a stone seat. Could it actually be that it was on these seats the angels once sat, “the one at the head and the other at the feet, where the body of Jesus had lain?”
At the other end of this room was another crypt left unfinished. Evidently no other body but One had ever been entombed there. Above this unfinished part was a square window in the outer wall so arranged that the first rays of light would shine on any body lying in the far crypt.
Again we thought of Peter and John coming early to the sepulchre. When John looked in, as he stooped down to gaze through the door from which the stone had been rolled away, the light would shine through the window-opening directly upon the crypt. There the beloved disciple discerned the linen cloths still lying just as they had been wrapped about the sacred body of the Lord, after being dipped in an ointment prepared from spices sent by Nicodemus. The rest of the hundred pounds of myrrh and aloes would form a bed upon which the body rested.
It is noticeable that so long as Jesus was suffering in our stead God permitted every kind of indignity to be heaped upon His precious body. It was marred and wounded most shockingly. But the moment all was finished God said, as it were, “Hands off!” And from that instant not an enemy hand was permitted to touch the Saviour’s physical form. Loving hands took it down from the cross and tenderly washed away the bloody stains and wrapped it in the linen cloths for hasty burial, intending to embalm it completely after the Passover. Then they reverently laid it on a bed of spices in that crypt. It was the burial of a King. Of King Asa we read that he was laid on such a bed (see 2 Chron. 16:13, 14).
Evidently John, seeing the undisturbed linen cloths, thought the women mistaken and the body still there. But impulsive Peter went right into the tomb, and beheld the linen cloths and the napkin, or turban, that was wound round the head, not touching the linen cloths but wound together in a place by itself, or apart. The loved face of Jesus was gone! The body had come out of its cerements, as a butterfly emerges from the chrysalis-shell leaving the wrappings undisturbed. Trembling with awe and wonder, Peter beckoned to John, who entering “saw and believed.” How could he do otherwise? No power on earth could have taken the body from those funereal garments and left them as they beheld them. They knew He was risen from the dead!
Oh, how easy it was to live it all over that wonderful Lord’s Day afternoon! Our entire group bowed before God in prayer and praise, while our hearts swelled with adoring love as we worshipped Him who said, “I am He that liveth and became dead; and behold, I am alive for evermore. Amen; and have the keys of death and of hades” (Rev. 1:18, correct rendering). Never did He seem nearer than in those hallowed moments.
We were sorry when the time came to leave, but I was to preach the gospel in a Mission to the Jews shortly, so reluctantly we passed out into the garden, and then to the world outside, saying in our hearts, “The Lord is risen indeed!”
Yes, Jesus is not dead. He lives in power. And He is now exalted to God’s right hand a Prince and a Saviour. To any one anxious to enter into peace and to be sure of salvation the Word declares, “If thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in thine heart that God hath raised Him from the dead thou shalt be saved. For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation” (Rom. 10:9, 10).
That empty tomb tells of sins forever put away, of death conquered, and of peace made with God. And only,
“That which can shake the cross
Can shake the peace it gave,
Which tells me Christ has never died
Nor ever left the grave.”