It seems that year after year as the Easter and Christmas holidays draw near, one predictably sees a program or two concerning the newly found proof or evidence of the “real” Jesus. While these newly found discoveries never hold up, a popular topic of research is the search for the physical body of Jesus Christ. While historians and scholars are more willing now than in the past to affirm the historical existence of Jesus Christ, without belief in the resurrection, one is left searching for the body of the man who was crucified on the cross and subsequently died. The mystery that will remain a mystery to those unwilling to accept the story of the resurrection is that the location of the tomb of Jesus Christ has been lost to history, and no one can conclusively establish where the tomb actually is.
This mystery is made even more profound when one considers the cultural traditions of the Jewish people regarding the burial of prominent public figures. Such sites are extremely important. The celebration and glorification of those figures after their death, and the memorial to them in the hearts and minds of future generations is an invaluable treasure to a culture that so often throughout history has had very little to hold onto. From to the Gospel narratives, we also know that the body of Jesus was not simply thrown into an unmarked grave to be forgotten by future generations. The body of Jesus was buried in the tomb of an upper-class Jewish citizen, Joseph of Arimathea. His followers knew exactly where the tomb was, and they visited the tomb after his burial.
It was Preparation Day (that is, the day before the Sabbath). So as evening approached, Joseph of Arimathea, a prominent member of the Council, who was himself waiting for the kingdom of God, went boldly to Pilate and asked for Jesus’ body. Pilate was surprised to hear that he was already dead. Summoning the centurion, he asked him if Jesus had already died. When he learned from the centurion that it was so, he gave the body to Joseph. So Joseph bought some linen cloth, took down the body, wrapped it in the linen, and placed it in a tomb cut out of rock. Then he rolled a stone against the entrance of the tomb. Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joseph saw where he was laid.
Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the entrance. So she came running to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one Jesus loved, and said, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!”
Consider what a profound effect Jesus had on the Jewish people in general, for believers and non-believers alike. It is impossible to believe that if the life of Jesus did indeed end with his death on the cross, his followers not only defied their cultural practice of honoring the dead but more unbelievably, forgot the location of the tomb altogether.
While the tomb of Jesus has been lost to history, what has not been lost is the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We do have plenty of proof that almost immediately following the death of Jesus, the disciples moved their eyes from the tomb of Jesus to the trails yet to be blazed in his Name as they set off to make disciples of all nations, baptizing in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The disciples viewed the tomb as trivial in the presence of the reality of the risen Lord, as well as the job that lay ahead driving them to spread the Gospel to those yet to have heard.
In the presence of the dead body of a prominent figure buried in a prominent location, the history of the Jewish people would lead us to believe that the tomb would not only be remembered and marked but that it would be celebrated and preserved. However, in the presence of the resurrected Christ, the tomb becomes nothing more than a stepping stone in order to reach the greater intended heights established by Jesus Christ that the disciples set off to reach. We all know the phrase “history repeats itself,” and we might expect this in the Jewish treatment of the tomb of Christ. However, in this instance, history did not repeat itself. In this instance, the disciples contradicted history and set off in a direction that would ultimately rewrite history.