Two places lay claim to be the burial site of Jesus. The first is the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, which was first built by Constantine. It was later destroyed in 614 but soon rebuilt only to be leveled in 1009. It was again rebuilt by the Crusaders. The second site is called Gordon’s Tomb, which is not obscured by a cathedral. There are arguments made for each tomb, but in my view we cannot be certain. For good reason.
When Jesus met the woman at the well, she was influenced by the Samaritan belief that worship of God was to happen at a certain place. Jesus told her that it was not the place that was significant, but the heart of the worshiper. “Jesus saith unto her, Woman, believe me, the hour cometh, when ye shall neither in this mountain, nor yet at Jerusalem, worship the Father…But the hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeketh such to worship him” (John 4:21, 23).
God is not restricted to mountains or cities or tombs. Regarding the tomb, Jesus only borrowed it for a short time. On the third day, He arose. The glory of the resurrection is seen first in the empty tomb. We do not worship the tomb, but the Christ who emerged victorious over the grave.
We humans tend to get sidetracked by the secondary, losing sight of what is primary. We do not need a shrine to remind us to worship, but there are shrines that gain a lot of attention. Places are important because our belief is rooted in history. Yet we make a mistake to put too much value in the place itself.
When Joshua led the people across the dry bed of the Jordan River, he had a representative of each of the twelve tribes bring a rock from the riverbed. From them they made a memorial. Joshua knew that in later years the young people would ask their fathers, “What mean ye by these stones?” (Josh. 4:6b). There is a personal aspect to this question. It’s like the child asks, “What do these stones mean to you, Dad?” The father then had the opportunity to share his personal belief with his child.
I could not count the times I heard my father give his testimony. He went to a Youth for Christ meeting at Lakemont Park in Altoona, PA. There he heard the message of the gospel and there he found Jesus as his personal savior. I have passed by that park many times and I always remember it as the place my father got saved. However, we never once stopped and worshipped there. Had I asked my father what Lakemont Park meant to him, he would have told me about his personal experience.
However, my father’s experience was not mine. I needed to know for myself. Perhaps that is why Joshua told the people again with a slightly different version that their children would ask them a question about the monument beside the Jordan River. “What mean these stones?” (Josh. 4:21b). This is not a personal question, but a more objective one. In my case, I needed to know that this salvation was not just for my father. Was it real? Could I rest my case in the work of Christ on the cross? The testimonies of my father and others had a great effect on me, but I needed to know for myself.
I was brought up going to church, revivals, and camp meetings. I probably went to the altar during each revival we had. I sought the Lord. But could I know? It was after the evening service at Port Matilda Camp Meeting, nestled in the mountain at the foot of the Allegheny Front, when several men announced they would be praying later that night. I joined them in that late hour. We prayed and then I noticed one of the brothers walk out into the night. Soon he was back. He said, “Let’s keep praying. I went out and looked up and the Lord told me He would meet with us.” We went back to prayer. It was like Revelation 3:20 came to life for me personally. “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If any man hear my voice and open the door, I will come in to him, and sup with him and he with me.” I let the Lord know that the door was open to Him. And something unusual happened. I found myself on my feet with my hands in the air praising God. It was a spiritual experience. I sensed then that, yes, it was real for me, too! Jesus had done what He said He would do. He came in and had communion with me!
In a sense, that camp ground near Port Matilda, PA is my Lakemont Park. Yet it is not a shrine. Of greater importance than the place is that I met the Lord in a special way.
I am thankful for places like Jerusalem which is so rich in Bible history. I would be greatly blessed to walk where Jesus walked and see the same hills that He saw. I would enjoy a boat ride on the Sea of Galilee. Even without those experiences, I am thankful that Christ has come to me and to others. Whether it is Lakemont Park, Port Matilda Camp, The Church of the Holy Sepulchre, or Gordon’s tomb, the places are real. Yet the Lord whose presence has been manifested in these places is who we worship. “Who his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree, that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness: by whose stripes ye were healed” (1 Pet. 2:24).
Experiences and places vary. But when we follow Jesus, we die to the old life of sin and live unto righteousness. That is the outcome of the new birth. “Therefore, if any man be in Christ he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold all things are become new” (2 Cor. 5:17).
This is possible because of the testimony of the empty tomb. We no longer live the old sinful life, but can have “a good conscience toward God, by the resurrection of Jesus Christ” (1 Pet. 3:21b).
Here is the glory of the gospel. Here is the power of God to change men, women, boys, and girls. Jesus “was delivered for our offences, and was raised again for our justification” (Rom. 4:25). The empty tomb was miraculous. It is part of that miracle when the power of the resurrected Christ changes a sinful life and raises it up to a life marked by righteousness. The good news is that it is available for everyone: even me, even you.