5. Seeing Inside an Empty Tomb

John 20:10-8

On the very first Easter Sunday Mary Magdalene had gone to the tomb early in the morning. She was accompanied by some female friends.  They had come to embalm the body.  They were anxious about the great stone that sealed the entry to the tomb.  When they got there, they saw that the stone had been rolled away.  The body was gone.  Grief and fear gripped them.  Mary went running to tell the disciples, and met Peter & John who were on their way to the tomb.

She blurts out the words, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb and we do not know where they have laid him.  She does not know who the “they” are.  But she suspects foul play.

Peter and John race for the tomb.  John was more fleet of foot and got there first.  But he is cautious and perhaps fearful.  He peeks into the tomb and sees (the Greek word is blepo) the linen wrappings, but nothing more.   Peter the impetuous one, finally catches up and bursts past John and goes into the tomb. 

Peter saw (the Greek word is theoreo) that the body of Jesus was gone. Only the linen wrappings were there.  He saw the burial cloth that had wrapped the head, rolled up in a place all by itself. But that is all he saw.

But then John enters the tomb, and what he saw (the Greek word is idein) brought him to belief! For the empty tomb was not empty.   The body of the Lord Jesus was not there.  But what was there spoke volumes.  The grave clothes were still there.  We know how bodies were prepared for burial in those days.  The fourth gospel tells us earlier about the day when Lazarus was raised.  He writes, “The dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with strips of cloth, and his face wrapped in a cloth.  Jesus said, “Unbind him and let him go.”  

The body of Jesus had also been cocooned in strips of cloth with fragrant spices spread between the folds of the bandage strips to help keep the stench down.

What did John know as he entered that tomb?  What made him believe? He knew that God was at work here. He knew that Jesus had risen from the dead! He knew that grave robbers would not have left the grave clothes behind.  They would have taken the cocooned body and ran for all they were worth.  He knew that grave desecrators would have stripped the body, looking for any valuables, and then have left the body and the strewn bandages littering the tomb. John knew that if Roman or Jewish leaders had taken the body, they would have taken it away already wrapped for a secret burial somewhere else.  But to unwrap the body and then take it, was beyond John’s credulity. 

For John saw was that wrappings were still intact, and the head cloth neatly placed where the head had been “still in its folds”.    He did not see human evil at work here, but divine power.  God Himself had done this thing!  

But let us return to Mary Magdalene. Shortly after Peter & John leave the empty tomb, Mary returns to the sepulchre. She had been alarmed to see the stone removed and the body of Jesus gone. Listen to the fourth gospel’s description of the event. 20:11 But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; 12 and she saw (the Greek word is thereo) two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. 
13 They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” 14 When she had said this, she turned around and saw (the Greek word is theorei) Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. 15 Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” 16 Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni!” (which means Teacher). 17 Jesus said to her, “Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.” 18 Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen (the Greek word is euraka) the Lord” and she told them that he had said these things to her.

We are not sure whether John chosen this variety of words for “seeing” to differentiating one way of seeing from another, but some think there is a gradation of significance in his choice of word.

Four different Greek words for seeing are used. Blepo. Theoreo. Edein, and Euraken. Some would say that John at first only peaked in (blepo). Then Peter looked in and pondered (theoreo) what he saw, then John came inside and took a deeper look, (idein) and concluded that Jesus had risen from the dead. But when Mary encountered the risen Jesus she goes running with Joy shouting “Eureka! I have seen the Lord! ”  She had been encountered by the Lord himself!  And in the following 40 days the other apostles and then over 500 followers would also be able to shout Eureka everywhere they would go.

This is what Paul the Apostle wrote to the church in Corinth a few years later: I Corinthian 15:3-9

 For I handed on to you as of first importance what I in turn had received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers and sisters at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have died. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. 

And we too as we approach Easter can say “Eureka” as well.