I am going to take a unorthodox approach to several orthodox points of doctrine. My theme will be the stone, which covered Joseph’s tomb when Jesus’s body lay inside. Other than the seal which was placed on it, I have never spent any time giving it much consideration. But that stone is mentioned in all four gospels in one way or another.
The tomb was like a cave; but man-made, in which bodies from Joseph’s family were to be interred. The Gospel of Mark tells us that the tomb was cut out of stone – it was excavated out of solid rock. Matthew and Mark tell us that a stone was used to shut the mouth of the tomb. It may have been on some sort of track so that it could be rolled out of the way for when another body was ready to be placed inside. But at this time, the tomb had never been used. My guess is that the stone was somewhat the shape of a large disk. But don’t picture a six foot doorway, and seven foot stone; it did not have to be nearly that big.
As we see here in Matthew, Pilate gave permission to the Jews to seal the tomb shut. This is the only gospel to tell us about the seal. It wasn’t designed to keep the spiders and mice out; it was designed to reveal if anyone broke in – or out. Mark tells us that the women were concerned about how they would move the stone aside so they could go in to anoint the body. But all four gospels tell us that when the ladies arrived the stone door had already been moved. “The first day of the week cometh Mary Magdalene early, when it was yet dark, unto the sepulchre, and seeth the stone taken away from the sepulchre.” “And they found the stone rolled away from the sepulchre.” “And when they looked, they saw that the stone was rolled away: for it was very great.” It is only Matthew who says, “And, behold, there was a great earthquake: for the angel of the Lord descended from heaven, and came and rolled back the stone from the door, and sat upon it.”
Of course, when the ladies arrived bright and early on Sunday morning – the first day of the first week after the Passover – the tomb was empty. I am of the unpopular opinion that it had been empty about twelve hours by that time. I believe that Christ arose at approximately sundown on Saturday night, which was the dawn of the first day of the week according to the Jewish calendar. Christ was buried at about sundown on Wednesday. Then He spent three days and three nights in the heart of the earth just as He prophesied. He was in His grave for 72 hours. There is no way to squeeze 72 hours between Friday and Sunday morning. So three days after His burial Christ arose, and the next morning the women found an empty tomb. They also found an angel, “THE angel of the Lord,” who was there at the resurrection, still sitting upon the stone which was once the door to the tomb.
My approach to all this today is to consider five ways in which stones might be used. Besides shutting the body of Christ inside Joseph’s tomb, and being sealed with wax or some other substance, stones are spoken of being used in the Bible several different ways. Let’s think about each of those ways and apply them to this particular stone.
This stone could be used as a MEMORIAL.
When Joshua was nearing the end of his life, his concern for Israel intensified. Throughout his mortal journey – while he served Moses, and when he lead Israel – that nation was a wicked and wandering people. In the last chapter of his life – and his book – Joshua exhorted the nation: “Choose you this day whom ye will serve; whether the gods which your fathers served that were on the other side of the flood, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land ye dwell: but as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD.” Later in the same conversation he declared: “Ye cannot serve the LORD: for he is an holy God; he is a jealous God; he will not forgive your transgressions nor your sins.” To that, the leaders of Israel replied, “But we WILL serve the Lord.” “And the people said unto Joshua, The LORD our God will we serve, and his voice will we obey.” “So Joshua made a covenant with the people that day, and set them a statute and an ordinance in Shechem. And Joshua wrote these words in the book of the law of God, and took a great stone, and set it up there under an oak, that was by the sanctuary of the LORD. And Joshua said unto all the people, Behold, this stone shall be a witness unto us; for it hath heard all the words of the LORD which he spake unto us: it shall be therefore a witness unto you, lest ye deny your God.”
The Bible describes several memorial stones like this – some commemorating good things and some not so good. There was the pile of stones at the edge of the Jordan River after the Lord led Israel across dry-shod. And in I Samuel 7:12, “Samuel took a stone, and set it between Mizpeh and Shen, and called the name of it Ebenezer, saying, Hitherto hath the LORD helped us.” Wicked Absalom was afraid that some day his name would be forgotten, so he commissioned a memorial. “Now Absalom in his lifetime had taken and reared up for himself a pillar, which is in the king’s dale: for he said, I have no son to keep my name in remembrance: and he called the pillar after his own name: and it is called unto this day, Absalom’s place.” I’m sure that we could add to this list of various kinds of memorial stones and pillars. Some of them were designed to commemorate great victories or the Lord’s special blessings. And as in Absalom’s case, some were an effort to memorialize a person’s name.
In the life of Christ what event or what doctrine, what sort of thing should be the first to be memorialized? We cannot, and we must not, forget His incarnation and the virgin birth. I am sure that the recipients of some of Jesus’ miracles, would have loved to erect memorials. And there was His death – substitutionary, expiatory, propitious, reconciliatory. One might say that every cross we see is a memorial to the all-important death of Christ. But the capstone on the life and death of Christ was in Jesus’ resurrection. And this particular stone might be used as a memorial of that great event. Christ was “declared to be the Son of God with power, according to the spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead: By whom we have received grace.”
Around the world there are places like London’s Trafalgar Square, which commemorates the great victory of Horatio Nelson over the combined fleets of Spain and Napoleon. The stone which was pushed to the side, or perhaps even pushed over, beside Joseph’s tomb, marks a victory infinitely greater than that of Nelson. And by the way, Nelson and Christ Jesus both died to win those victories. The names of Nelson and Trafalgar live on, but the person of the eternal Son of God lives on as well.
This stone might also be considered as a FOUNDATION Stone.
The Lord Jesus once described two men – or two different kinds of lives. “Whosoever cometh to me, and heareth my sayings, and doeth them, I will shew you to whom he is like: He is like a man which built an house, and digged deep, and laid the foundation on a rock: and when the flood arose, the stream beat vehemently upon that house, and could not shake it: for it was founded upon a rock. But he that heareth, and doeth not, is like a man that without a foundation built an house upon the earth; against which the stream did beat vehemently, and immediately it fell; and the ruin of that house was great.” Who or what is the foundation to which the Saviour refers? Himself. Among several other scriptures, Paul says, “For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ.”
What sets Christianity apart from the other popular religions of the world? Among other things, only Bible Christianity possesses a living Saviour. Christ, not some teacher, not a particular doctrine, Christ is the foundation of Christianity. A noted atheist once publically declared that it is easy to start new religions among gullible people. A little old lady cried out from the audience that she’d like to help him do it. Surprised, the man invited her to the podium and asked her how she might be able to help. She replied that if she had a gun, she could shoot him through the head, giving him a chance to miraculously return to life. If someone is able to remove the resurrection of Christ from Christianity, then our faith becomes nothing but a waste of time. Paul spends an entire chapter in I Corinthians dealing with this question. “If Christ be not raised, your faith is vain; ye are yet in your sins. “If Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain.” “If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable.”
In the early days of Christianity, it was possible to summon more than 500 witnesses who could have testified to the resurrection of Christ. Today those witnesses are gone, and sadly so are the records of their words. But besides those people there are dozens of other solid arguments and proofs of Jesus’ resurrection. The conversion of Saul of Tarsus, Christ’s archenemy, might be cited as one of those confirmations. The changed lives of the disciples might also be cited. There are others which we have mentioned from time to time.
And the stone which the Lord pushed from His tomb, could be part of foundation of our faith in the risen Lord. Because Christ lives, I can preach the possibility of sin’s forgiveness, and I can preach eternal life. Because that stone was miraculously moved, I know that this corrupt body of mine shall one day be incorruptible. If He was not the victor over death, then we might have to cast aside our doctrine of creation. You might question that logic, but given enough time, I think we can prove that every Bible doctrine is in some way linked to Christ’s resurrection and thus to this stone. If Christ had not arisen the He could not have been the eternal Son of God – deity. And if he had not risen victoriously over the grave, it would indicate that He failed at our salvation. This former stone door has been moved and its purpose has been changed into something foundational to our Christian faith.
And notice the angel sitting upon that same stone. It was a RESTING stone.
As I say, I believe that the resurrection took place long before the ladies arrived. This angel had been awaiting their arrival with a message from Heaven. He was leisurely sitting there. Do angels need to rest? Can angels get tired? Do they need sleep? Why was he sitting? Did he get bored? Couldn’t he find something else to do? Is it possible that he chose to sit upon the former doorway stone to emphasize that had been moved? None of these are important questions, and I suppose it is impossible to accurately answer them.
But an additional question might be: do you suppose he was giving those ladies an object lesson? Why had they come to the tomb? “And when the sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome, had bought sweet spices, that they might come and anoint him.” “Dear ladies, it is not necessary to anoint the body of the living Saviour.” Neither is it necessary that you do anything – that you perform any special service – for your salvation. You don’t have to be baptized. You don’t have to keep the Sabbath or the Mass. It is not necessary that you keep the Passover a year from now, or to trust in the sacrifice of the Atonement in six months. Christ has done it all in that “He gave His life (on the cross) as a ransom for many.”
I know that he didn’t do it, but that angel might have patted the stone beside him and said, “Come on up here and have a seat.” Rest yourselves on the finished work of Christ. From here you can look into the tomb and see that it’s empty. A part of the definition of the word “faith” includes “rest” – resting in what the Lord has done. I implore you to rest upon Christ, BECAUSE there are two other uses of stones in the Bible, neither of which are pleasant.
The Bible speaks of something called a MILLSTONE.
Millstones have been used for millennia to grind things – sometimes food, sometimes other materials. There was usually a larger nether stone or stone underneath, onto which the grain was scattered. Sometimes it had a hole in the middle to be used as some sort of post or hub. When the right amount of grain was in place, then a second stone was set over the top. This riding stone was turned by hand or some other means, riding around the post, crushing the grain. These two stones may have been in a shape similar to the stone upon which the angel sat.
What shall be done to the man who says that the resurrection of Christ is a myth or who simply ignores it? What will happen to the person who rejects the vicarious sacrifice of Christ which took place on the cross three days prior to the opening of this stone doorway? The Bible tells us euphemistically – Christ Himself tells us – that man shall be ground to powder. In Luke 20 the Lord Jesus gave us another of His parables. “A certain man planted a vineyard, and let it forth to husbandmen, and went into a far country for a long time.” Three times the owner of the vineyard sent his servants to receive the fruit of his property, but those servants were abused. “Then said the lord of the vineyard, What shall I do? I will send my beloved son: it may be they will reverence him when they see him. But when the husbandmen saw him, they reasoned among themselves, saying, This is the heir: come, let us kill him, that the inheritance may be ours. So they cast him out of the vineyard, and killed him. What therefore shall the lord of the vineyard do unto them? He shall come and destroy these husbandmen, and shall give the vineyard to others. And when they heard it, they said, God forbid. “The stone which the builders rejected, the same is become the head of the corner? Whosoever shall fall upon that stone shall be broken; but on whomsoever it shall fall, it will grind him to powder.” I realize that the stone in this case is the foundation stone, but the principle is the same, the person is the same and the application is the same. “It will grind him to powder.”
It is not a stretch to say that the resurrection, represented by this stone, will be cited at the judgment and condemnation of the unbeliever. That man who rejects the sacrifice of Christ, who scoffs at the name of the Lord, who sneers at the resurrection will be ground to powder so to speak. The resurrection which so many people deny will be called upon as a witness against those people as they stand before Christ the judge. “And I saw a great white throne, and him that sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away; and there was found no place for them. And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works. And the sea gave up the dead which were in it; and death and hell delivered up the dead which were in them: and they were judged every man according to their works. And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death. And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire.”
This stone could be used like a millstone, but at least one millstone was used in a different fashion. Troublesome “Abimelech to Thebez, and encamped against Thebez, and took it. But there was a strong tower within the city, and thither fled all the men and women, and all they of the city, and shut it to them, and gat them up to the top of the tower. And Abimelech came unto the tower, and fought against it, and went hard unto the door of the tower to burn it with fire. And a certain woman cast a piece of a millstone upon Abimelech’s head, and all to brake his skull….and he died.”
The last major use of stones in the Bible was for execution. The Jews didn’t use the electric chair or the gas chamber; they didn’t use a firing squad. They stoned people to death, and we read of this in several places.
I repeat myself in closing this morning. This stone which for three days enclosed the tomb where Jesus lay… This memorial stone… this foundation stone… This resting stone. Will one day be a witness against the unbeliever, and it will in a sense be used to crush and execute. I assure you, you will not want that to happen to you. “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved.” Put your eternal hope in the One who arose from the death and came through the door which was once covered by this stone.