Linen: cloth made of flax and noted for its strength, coolness, and luster. (Merriam-Webster)

So Peter and the other disciple started for the tomb. Both were running, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He bent over and looked in at the strips of linen lying there but did not go in. Then Simon Peter came along behind him and went straight into the tomb. He saw the strips of linen lying there, as well as the cloth that had been wrapped around Jesus’ head. The cloth was still lying in its place, separate from the linen. Finally the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went inside. He saw and believed. (John 20:3–8 NIV)

I must have preached over 30 sermons on the resurrection and taught many times on why I believe Jesus rose again from the dead. Each time I preach on the resurrection different details catch my eye. This time it was the linen.

One of the reasons we believe in the resurrection is the empty tomb. Jesus’s tomb was empty. Indeed, for the first two centuries of church history “no anti-Christian writer . . . seems to have denied that the tomb was empty” (Lesslie Newbigin, The Light Has Come [Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1982], 262). Where did the body go? Those who do not believe in the resurrection suggest that the body had been stolen, either by tomb robbers, by the enemies of Christ, or by Jesus’ believers.

If the body of Jesus had been stolen by His enemies, why didn’t they produce the body and crush the hopes of the early believers? If it had been stolen by Jesus’ followers, why were so many of them willing to suffer and die for Christ if they knew the whole thing was a hoax? Maybe His body had been stolen by tomb robbers? This is what makes the presence of the linen so perplexing.

If there had been tomb robbers, we would have expected the tomb robbers to take the body to a safe place before removing the linen wrappings. Tomb robbery was a crime in the Roman empire (Newbigin, The Light has Come, 263). Why take the time to remove the linen wrappings in the cave in the dead of night, presumably by the light of a burning torch, and run the risk of been discovered and captured? In fact, we are told that the linen covering for the head had been neatly folded and placed on one side. That would have taken even more time. Why do this if you were robbers wanting to get away with your loot as fast as possible? And if tomb robbers were the culprits it makes no sense to leave the linen behind. Linen was expensive. The linen coverings could have been washed and resold.

Again we come back to the gospel claims. The linen was there, the tomb was empty, because Jesus had risen again from the dead, a unique sign for a unique claim. Jesus is the promised Messiah come to save us. Paul points out the significance of the resurrection:

And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied. But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. (1 Corinthians 15:16–20 NIV)

Christ rose again from the dead. He has conquered death and sin and Satan. He took the worst that evil could throw at Him and rose victorious. If we follow Him we share in that victory.

I badly needed to be reminded of this this Easter.

Islamabad, Pakistan (CNN) — On Easter Sunday, a crisp spring day, some of the city’s Christian population mingled with their Muslim neighbors, celebrating in a neighborhood park — taking their kids on rides or pushing them on swings. Then, the sound of tragedy. Without warning, a blast tore through the park, killing indiscriminately.

Because of the innocent setting, an unusually high number of those injured were women and children. But the attack, claimed by a splinter group of the Pakistani Taliban, intentionally targeted Christians, the perpetrators say. The suicide blast, in the eastern Pakistan city of Lahore, killed at least 69 people, a local government spokesman told CNN. (Sofia Saifi, “In Pakistan, Taliban’s Easter bombing targets, kills scores of Christians,” CNN, March 28, 2016.)

I badly needed to be reminded of this this Easter.

*Image courtesy of Stephen Orsillo / 123rf.com