Not Where, but Whom

The highlight of my visits to the Holy Land was always the Garden Tomb. It is a  place of quiet reflection and prayer. The garden surrounds a first century gravesite that was discovered in the late 1800s.

My first time there was on a Sunday morning over forty years ago. A minister led an outdoor worship service attended by hundreds of people from all over the world. He faithfully proclaimed the gospel of Christ, emphasizing the resurrection of our Lord, from a tomb like the one before us in the garden. That worship service left a lasting impression on me.

The site was made famous by a British military officer, General Charles Gordon. He was taking a year-long retreat from his duties in 1883. He was a well-known and successful soldier and also a devout Christian. During that year in Palestine Gordon did research on various sites associated with the ministry of Christ.

He became convinced that a rocky bluff on the north side of Jerusalem was “the place of the skull,” or Calvary, or Golgotha, the place where the Lord was crucified. His writings about the place influenced many others to agree with him. Indeed, observers could see in the rocky face of the cliff what looked like the eye sockets and mouth of a skull! Visitors today are shown the same formation in the cliff. Ever since, the hill has been called “Gordon’s Calvary.”

Nearby is the tomb cut out of the rock in the other side of the same hill. This matches the description in John’s gospel: “At the place where Jesus was crucified, there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb, in which no one had ever been laid . . . the tomb was nearby” (John 19:41-42). The New Testament tells us that this was outside the city of Jerusalem. “Jesus suffered outside the city gate to make the people holy” (Hebrews 13:12). The Garden Tomb lies just outside the city wall of Jesus’ day.

While there have been many such tombs unearthed in the region, few could fit the biblical requirements: proximity to Skull Hill, outside, but close to the city of Jerusalem as it was in the first century, and the appearance of the tomb itself.

Another supposed site of the Lord’s crucifixion and burial is covered by an historic church maintained by priests representing Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholic, and Coptic traditions. Its buildings are furnished with religious artifacts, symbols, and icons. This ancient burial place was identified by pilgrims in the fourth century. It has the weight of tradition to support its claim to authenticity. It has testified to the resurrection of Christ for more than 1500 years.

Multiplied millions of pilgrims have come to this ancient place to worship and remember the sufferings and the resurrection of Christ. This testifies to the timeless significance of the resurrection and its importance for believers century after century.

But what really matters is not the place of the resurrection, but the person who was resurrected. Not where, but whom. Disagreements about the location of Jesus’ tomb will fuel religious debates for a long time to come. No one can say with absolute certainty where Jesus was raised from the dead.

What is certain, however, is that it happened. In the words of Peter Walker, “As far as believing Christians are concerned, the historic reality of the Resurrection itself is a fixed point in their faith. Without it, they would not be Christians.” He added, “No Resurrection, no Christianity!”

Paul said as much in 1 Corinthians 15:14, “If Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless, and so is your faith.” If Jesus did not rise from the dead there would be no Christian faith and there would be no hope of eternal life or resurrection for us.

I, for one, am glad for the empty tomb, whichever one it was. It is as the angel said to Mary Magdalene, ‘He is not here, for he has been raised!'”

Pastor Randy Faulkner