What Do You See When You Look In The Empty Tomb?

Bible Book: John  20 : 1-10
Subject: Life; Resurrection; Easter; Power of Jesus; Lordship; Death, Victory Over

John 20:1-10

According to the Travel Channel, the world’s ten best famous graves to visit are the graves of,

  • No. 10 - Lionel Lockyer
  • No. 9 - John Ringo
  • No. 8 - Emily Mather
  • No. 7 - Karl Marx
  • No. 6 - Bob Marley
  • No. 5 - Charles Pigeon
  • No. 4 - Jim Morrison
  • No. 3 - Harry Houdini
  • No. 2 - Bruce Lee and Brandon Lee
  • No. 1 - Oscar Wilde

Each of these graves is visited by thousands each year. They are visited because of who is buried in these graves. On the other hand, there is a grave near the old city wall of Jerusalem that was discovered and unearthed by General Christian Gordon in the late 1800’s. It is cut out of solid rock, with a large weeping area, and a channel for a rolling stone. It measures 14 ft. wide, 10 ft. deep and 7 ½ ft. high. This grave has been visited by untold millions, not because of who is in the grave, but because of who is not in the grave. Of course, I am speaking of the grave and tomb of the Lord Jesus Christ.

A missionary in Northern India was preaching in a bazaar. When he finished a Muslim gentleman walked up to him and said, “You must admit we have one thing you have not, and it is better than anything you have.” The missionary said, “I should be pleased to hear what it is.” The Muslim said, “You know when we go to Mecca we at least find a coffin. But when you Christians go to Jerusalem, which is your Mecca, you find nothing but an empty grave.” I say, hallelujah, for that. My ….  we do not worship someone whose body is contained in a coffin or a tomb. We celebrate a Saviour who rose from the dead! Yes, Mohammed can be found in his coffin, but glory to God, the tomb of the Lord Jesus is empty! We do not worship a dead Saviour. We worship a living Saviour and Lord!

Now in Bible days, when someone died, it was the duty of a family member to close the eyes, and kiss the cheek of the dead. When Christ died, this became the duty of two men, Joseph of Arimathea, and Nicodemus, who went to Pontius Pilate and begged for the body of the Lord Jesus ! Tenderly they took the body of the Lord Jesus down from the cross and then there was,

(1) The Embalmment

(19:40) For that precious body was prepared for burial with all the care and protection that love could suggest or that wealth could provide. We can be sure that many a tear was shed over those terrible wounds that covered His beloved form. At last it was done. The aromatic fragrance of the spices filled the air. Then there was,

(2) The Entombment

For in a clean new tomb, untainted by a previous occupant, dressed in linen and surrounded by perfume, in the cool dark interior, shut off from the din and noise of the world, that had so shamefully used Him, the Saviour’s body rested. For 3 days all the demons of hell rejoiced, and Satan and the forces of darkness thought they had won a great victory. For 3 days the Jewish leaders as well, as the Roman government, congratulated themselves, on a job well done ! But on the 3rd day, something wonderfully happened, there was,

(3) The Encouragement

As the women heard the message from the angels, “Why seek ye the living among the dead? He is not here but is risen.” (Lk 24:6) Now let me ask you, “What do you see when you look in the tomb of the Lord Jesus?” You say, “when you look in the tomb you see nothing because Jesus Christ  wasn’t in the tomb.” However, the Bible tells us that Peter and John saw something. They saw the linen clothes. Let’s look in the tomb and see what Peter and John saw. When we look in the tomb and see the “linen clothes,” what do we see? What is the message in the grave clothes? May I suggest to you these “linen clothes,” point to,


You see, when Peter and John looked in the tomb the first thing that caught their attention was these linen clothes or strips. These were the linen strips that the body of the Lord Jesus had been wrapped in. They were a reminder that Jesus Christ had died. The tomb and the linen clothes testify to the death of the Lord Jesus. When we look in the tomb we are reminded that Jesus Christ died. What we see in the tomb takes us back to Calvary and the cross on which He died. Each time we look in the tomb and see the linen clothes we are once again made aware that Jesus Christ died on Calvary’s Cross. These “linen clothes,” remind us, that,

(a) The Suffering of the Lord Jesus was VICIOUS

My …. what tongue or pen can describe the sufferings and wounds of the Saviour?

“The love that Jesus had for me

To suffer on the  cruel tree

That I a ransomed soul might be

Is more than tongue can tell,”

Christ did suffer physically! Isaiah the prophet said, “As many were astonied at thee, his visage was so marred more than any man, and his form more than the sons of men.” (Is 52:14) The word “visage,” means “ appearance,” and the word “marred,” means“disfigured.” Jesus Christ was so brutally beaten that men were “astonied.”  The word means “to stun,” and speaks of “growing numb,” to “devastate.” Those who saw Him were shocked and left speechless. He was such a gruesome sight that those who saw the Lord were left feeling numb. He was battered beyond human recognition. His brow was scarred. (Matt 27:29) Pierced by many a thorn. His back was lacerated, for “He gave it to the smitters.” (Is 50:6 Matt 27:26) His side was pierced (19:34) His hands were nailed (Ps 22:16) His feet were torn (Ps 22:16) His body was humiliated (Ps 22:17) My …. do you see what it cost the Lord Jesus to provide salvation for you and me? Do you see how much the Saviour had to suffer before He could save?

(b) The Suffering of the Lord Jesus was VOLUNTARY

Clearly, He ought not to have died, as He was innocent of the false charges brought against Him. Moreover, He need not have died, for He had power to overcome all those who sought to destroy Him. Speaking of His own life He said, “No man taketh it from Me, but I lay it down of Myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again.” (10:18) The point is plain, the Lord Jesus volunteered to die. Yet in one sense, He had to die for it was the heart of God’s plan of salvation. Those “linen clothes,” remind us of

(c) The Suffering of the Lord Jesus was VICARIOUS

That is, Christ died in the place of others! Do you recall what Paul says “But God commendeth His love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” (Rom 5:8) Every blow He endured, every moment of torture, every hour of agony, and every drop of blood the Lord Jesus shed was for you and me! Christ died for us! Christ died for our sins! We were the reason He was dying! He was dying as our sacrifice for sin. He was dying as our substitute. He was dying in our place.

You may have never heard the name Donald J. Ruhl. He was an American Marine who was killed many years ago and was awarded the Medal of Honour posthumously by President Harry Truman. He was killed when crawling with his platoon guide, a grenade landed between them. Instantly Ruhl called out to his fellow Marine and then dived on the grenade, absorbing the full impact of the explosion in his body, protecting his platoon guide and any others that were within range of flying fragments.

My …. when you look at the linen clothes in the tomb you see a reminder of One who gave His life that we might live!

“All my iniquities on Him were laid
He nailed them all to the tree
Jesus the debt of my sin fully paid
He paid the ransom for me,”

Now how do you respond to that? When, by faith, you see the Saviour dying in your room and stead, how do you react? Does the love of God not touch you? Does the work of Christ not captivate you? Does the sacrifice of the cross not move you?


Several years ago there was a documentary on television concerning the death of Medgar Evans a black civil rights worker who was shot to death in his own driveway in Mississippi in 1963. In the early 90’s at the request of his son, the body of Mr. Evans was exhumed. It was the hope of the family that a new autopsy might shed more light into his death. When they opened that coffin that had been sealed for 30 years, inside was a body that was remarkable preserved. The body and the clothes it wore were in excellent condition. As I thought that, I thought about a time, when another grace was opened. It was a grave that was opened, not by the will of man, but by the will of God. In that grave, those who looked in saw the clothes the body wore, but they saw no body? Why? Because Jesus Christ had risen from the dead and walked out of that tomb. All that remained in the tomb, the only evidence that He had ever been there, was the presence of His grave clothes. You see, these “ linen clothes,” point to a historic reality ! We believe that the resurrection is history ! That this really happened, that the precious body of the Lord Jesus which was reverently laid in that cool grave on the evening of Friday April the 3rd literally vacated that grave before six o’clock, on the following Sunday morning April the 5th ! For us it is all as literal and factual as that. This nothing less, and nothing else is what we mean by the resurrection of Jesus Christ. A historic reality for look at,


It wasn’t just that the grave clothes were there, it was their shape, their position, their undisturbed condition.

Do you see what the apostles saw? The clothes lying.

The head-napkin was not with the linen clothes but in a place by itself. This does not mean it had been bundled up and tossed into a corner. It still lay on the stone slab but was separated from the body clothes by a noticeable space. Moreover, the head-napkin was “wrapped together,” or “folded together.” Is that important? Is that significant? Yes! You see, in order to understand the significance of the folded napkin, you have to understand a little about Hebrew tradition of that day. The folded napkin had to do with the master and servant and every Jewish boy knew this tradition. When the servant sat the dinner table for the master, he made sure it was exactly the way the master wanted it. The table was furnished perfectly, and then the servant would wait, just out of sight, until the master had finished eating, and the servant would not dare touch that table, until the master was finished. Now if the master were done eating he would rise from the table, wipe his fingers, his mouth, and clean his beard, and would wad up that napkin and toss it onto the table. The servant would then know to clear the table, for in those days the wadded napkin meant “I’m done.” But if the master got up from the table, and folded his napkin, and laid aside his plate, the servant would not dare touch the table, because the servant knew the folded napkin meant, “I’m coming back.” My …. Peter and John had walked with Christ for three years. They had watched as he opened blind eyes and deaf ears. They watched as He literally raised people from the dead. But them they watched Him die.

And all of their dreams and hopes were shattered. All they could think was “it’s over, it’s over.” And for three long days they were in the depths of despair, the lights of their soul had gone dim. Then after three days, they saw an empty tomb. Not only did they see an empty tomb, but they saw a folded napkin in that empty tomb. And I believe with all my heart that when they saw that folded napkin, the Lord spoke to them in their soul and said,

“ He’s not finished yet …. He’s coming back.” My a glance at the grave clothes proved the reality and indicated the very nature of the resurrection. Sure, there was not way this could have happened but by bodily resurrection. My …. when the Lord Jesus rose, He passed through the shroud without it being unwound. Hallelujah!


For of John we read “Then went in also …. and he saw and believed.” (20:8) Did you notice what Peter and John did when they arrived at the tomb that morning?

The word “saw,” in (20:5) means “to take a glance at something.” It refers to a brief, fleeting glimpse. This is what John did when he got there. But the word “ seeth,” in (20:6) is different. It means “to scrutinize,” it carries the idea of looking around with a key eye to catch all the facts. It brings to mind the eye of the investigator. This is what Peter did. Then the word “saw,” in (20:8) means “to look with understanding.” It carries the idea of grasping what you see. When John took the time to look a little closer, he saw the truth in the grave clothes and understood that Jesus Christ was really alive! My …. if you look at that empty tomb, you can come up with dozens of reasons why it cannot be true. After all, when men die they are gone. They do not get up, and even if they did, they would not pass through their grave clothes. They would do like Lazarus and they would have to be set free. (11:44) But my …. when an honest heart takes the time to scrutinize the evidence, they will come to the place John came to. The resurrection of Jesus Christ is real. Do you believe that? Have you been persuaded?  Paul says that Jesus Christ was “declared to be the Son of God with power …. by the resurrection from the dead.” (Rom 1:4) The word “declared,” means “to mark out.” Jesus was the Son of God before His resurrection. He has always been the Son of God. Yet, it was the resurrection that marked Him out and clearly identified Him as God’s Son. It verified every claim He had made that He was the Son of God. (2:19-21) The resurrection displays Christ’s power over Satan, death, and the grave. I can see as the stone was rolled in front of the tomb, death and corruption jumped upon and straddled the body of Jesus, smiled and shouted with glee, “We’ve got Him now.” They both wrapped their bony arms around Him and declared, “He’s ours and we will never let Him go.” Day one passes and then day two. They exclaim, “Yes, we’ve got Him ! He belongs to us.”

But then on the morning of the third day the tomb began to shake and the body of the Lord Jesus began to move. Death shouts, “Corruption, hold on to Him. Don’t let Him go.” Corruption shouts back, “I’m trying.” Then all of a sudden the linen clothes in their hand went limp.

“Where is He,” screams death. “I don’t know,” cries corruption. Then a voice is heard saying, “I am He that liveth, and was dead, and, behold, I am alive for evermore, Amen, and have the keys of hell and of death.” (Rev. 1:18) My …. this is the Easter evangel

“ e is Risen.” Those “linen clothes,” point to


For as the hymn writer says “Because He lives I can face tomorrow.” Do you know something? You can know,

(a) The Ministry of SALVATION

The Bible says, “Wherefore He is able also to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by Him seeing He ever liveth to make intercession for them.”

(Heb 7:25) My …. you can be saved this …. because Christ lives! There is no one that Jesus Christ can’t save! It doesn’t matter who you are or what you have done. The Lord Jesus is able to save you! I heard about a little boy who had done something very naughty. His mother punished him, but he was afraid his mother was still angry with him. In the kitchen there was a chalkboard on the wall, where they wrote down phone messages. When no-one was around he wrote on that chalkboard, “Dear Mum, if you forgive me, please wipe this out.” He went to his room, and about an hour later returned, and to his surprise and joy that chalkboard had been wiped clean. My …. are you away from the Lord this ….? Are you still unsaved? Will you not bring your sins to the cross? Christ will not rub them in, He’ll rub them out.

(b) The Ministry of RESTORATION

Old Peter, experienced that ministry did he not, for he denied the Lord Jesus three times. I suppose he was asking the question, “Is there any hope for me? Is there a way back? Are failures always final?”

(1 Cor 15:5 Mk 16:7 Lk 24:34) My …. if you are here this …. and you are a backslider, I’m here to tell you, that there is hope for you. Indeed the Bible, “if we confess our sins …..,” (1 Jn 1:9)

(c) The Ministry of CONSOLATION

For do those linen clothes in that empty tomb not speak loudly of the fact that “Jesus knows all about our struggle.” This world is but a vale of tears. So often the question “why,” is on our hearts. Does God see? Does Christ care? Does the Holy Spirit minister? Yes! The Bible says, “For we have not an high priest …. sin.”

(Heb 4:16)

“In every pang that rends the heart
The Man of sorrows has a part
He sympathises in our grief
And to the sufferer sends relief.”
(d) The Ministry of ANTICIPATION

For that folded napkin was simply saying, that the Master was away for a moment, but he would be back. Do you see what Christ was telling His disciples through the folded napkin? “I may be out of your sight right now, but I’ll be right back.” Do you know something? That folded napkin is still preaching today! Its reminding us that even though we do not see the Lord, right now, He’s coming back soon and we shall see Him then. My …. don’t lose hope! Because He lives we have a future in glory! What do you see when you look in the tomb? The disciples saw “the linen clothes lie and the napkin that was about His head.” (20:7) Those “ linen clothes,” point to all that we’ve seen today.

Someone has said, “The empty tomb had a message for the disciples as it has for us. It says to science and philosophy, “Explain this event.” It says to history, “Repeat this event.” It says to time, “Blot out this event.” It says to faith, “Believe this event.” Will you believe? Will you trust this Risen Lord Jesus as your Saviour, now?