A few weeks ago when my husband and I were privileged to visit Israel as part of a wonderful group tour, we visited the Garden Tomb, believed to be the exact burial site of Jesus some 2000 years ago.
As I stepped inside the tomb, a sense of awe and reverence enveloped me, as I realized I was viewing the spot where His disciples had laid Him in grief and disbelief, not knowing that in three days He would rise from the dead, never to be in that tomb again!
As I studied the accounts of His crucifixion and resurrection in the four Gospels, several thoughts came to mind. First of all, I thought about the various interrogations he had to endure. Initially, upon his arrest, he was led before the high priest, Caiaphas, as recorded in Matthew 26:57-68.
Here is a picture of the very road He walked up, on His way to Caiaphas’s home. It is on a rather steep hill overlooking Jerusalem, and we also walked outside in the courtyard believed to be the same one in which Peter denied Jesus three times (verses 69-75). It was rather chilling and thought provoking, to say the least. Then Jesus was led to the governor, Pilate, where He was again questioned, and finally released to the crowd who wanted Jesus crucified instead of a notorious prisoner, Barabbas. To add to the insult, the governor’s soldiers took Jesus into his headquarters, gathering the whole battalion before Him, stripped Him and put a scarlet robe and a crown of thorns on him, and a reed in His right hand, kneeling before Him and mocking, “Hail, King of the Jews!” before putting His clothes back on Him and leading Him away to be crucified. (Paraphrased from Matthew 27:1-31)
Another thing that stood out to me from our visit was that in Matthew 27:33, Mark 15:22, and John 19:17, we read that the place they led Jesus to be crucified was “Golgotha” or Hebrew for “the place of a skull”. (In the King James Version, Luke 23:33 calls the place “Calvary” but that is the only mention of that name). When I saw the back side of the tomb, it really does resemble a skull.
Our guide told us that Jesus was very likely crucified here next to the tomb at a busy highway intersection, just outside the walls of the city. No one was permitted to be crucified within the city walls. It was the ultimate humiliation! When I think that my precious Savior endured the shame, torture, pain and suffering all for me and my sins, as well as the sins of the whole world, it brings me to tears! This is what the Gospel message about God’s grace is all about…that the King of Kings would die for us, unworthy though we are! I thank God for sending His Son for me, fulfilling the sacrifices God demanded and becoming the Sacrificial Lamb for the sins of the world. We know Jesus was crucified just before Passover began; that is why He had to be buried before sundown, the beginning of this high Sabbath (Passover), one of the feasts God had set in place centuries before. Jesus fulfilled Passover when He became the Lamb of God and took our sin, making sacrifices unnecessary! When the veil of the Temple was torn in two from top to bottom at the time He died (Matthew 27:51-54), God sent a sign that we can now enter the Holy of Holies through the righteousness of our Savior, Jesus Christ. Hallelujah!
Another thing that struck me as I read the various accounts in the Gospels, was the fact Jesus first appeared to women…Mary Magdalene and Mary, the mother of James and Salome, who had come to His grave with sweet spices to anoint His body. Of course, we know the story about how frightened they were, of the angel who told them Jesus was not there but was risen, and even of Mary Magdalene seeing Jesus, thinking He was the gardener. But, once they realized He really had risen from the dead, these two women, along with another named Joanna, and other women (Luke 24:9 & 10) believed and went to tell the eleven disciples! What stands out to me is that in two places, both Mark 16:11 and Luke 24:11, we are told that the disciples “believed them not” but “their words seemed to them as idle tales”! Finally, John 20:2-8, written by the Apostle John, one of the twelve, records the fact that he and Peter finally ran to the sepulcher, and finding it empty with the napkin and other linen cloths with which Jesus had been wrapped simply lying on the ground, they believed! To me, as a woman, I find it beautiful that Jesus first appeared to women, who even though initially frightened, when they saw it was Him, believed! This is the real story of Jesus’ Resurrection…the fact that those who followed Him believed! They could have gone to their graves doubting, but they received His forgiveness and Eternal Life through believing on Him! This is the Gospel message today, as well. We must accept God’s gift of Eternal Life through His Son, believe He has forgiven our sins, and receive Him as our personal Savior from sin. It is as simple as that!
The last point that stood out to me as a result of our recent trip, and through reading the Gospel accounts of Jesus’ resurrection, was that He told the women to whom He appeared to tell the other disciples to “meet Him in Galilee”. In Matthew 28:7 and Mark 16:7, the angel told the women to convey this message to the others, and in verse Matthew 28:10 Jesus, Himself told them, “Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee, and there they will see me.” (ESV) I thought this was very interesting because we spent several days in this region and it is over seventy miles from Jerusalem! I am told that in Jesus’ day, an average day’s journey was 20 miles, so it would have been a trip of over three days for the disciples to meet Him there. It took some faith on their part to make this journey! But, thankfully, they did meet Him there, because in Matthew 28:16 we read, “Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. And when they saw Him they worshiped Him….” (ESV) John 21:1 tells us, “After this Jesus revealed Himself again to the disciples by the Sea of Tiberias…” (ESV)
These two passages prove that the disciples actually made the trip up to Galilee. My husband and I stayed for several days in Tiberius, which is right on the Sea of Galilee (Sea of Tiberias is another name for it), and the area is rather hilly. It was a perfect place for Jesus to sit and teach his disciples in a boat on the sea, or preach to crowds on one of the hilly areas which is really like a natural amphitheater. So, I think it is fitting that Jesus would want to conclude His earthly ministry with more time spent here in Galilee with His disciples. It was here in John 21 that Jesus’ last recorded miracle occurs, that of a tremendous catch of fish (verse 11 says 153 large fish!) when they let down their nets at His Word and enjoyed a breakfast of fish and bread on the beach with Him! A beautiful church was built on this site many centuries ago, and we were privileged to stand right there on this beach where Jesus appeared for the third time to His disciples following His resurrection (verse 14).
Jesus’ resurrection from the dead speaks to me in so many ways and I could go on and on about His mighty miracles, but the greatest thing to remember about this special day we celebrate Sunday is this: Because Jesus died and arose from the dead, He brings salvation to all who will believe in Him, and this is the only way to the Father! John summed it up in his Gospel, John 20:31, “…but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in His name.” (ESV) I thank God that I have accepted Jesus Christ as my Savior. Have you taken this step? If not, you can do it right now by asking Him into your heart to cleanse you from all sin. Simply ask His forgiveness and receive Him today as your Savior! You will never be the same again! You will experience His peace and joy and the eternal life promised only to the believer. You will have a new song in your heart forever!