“As Josiah turned, he saw the tombs that were there on the mountain. And he sent and took the bones out of the tombs and burned them on the altar, and defiled it according to the word of the Lord which the man of God proclaimed, who proclaimed these words. Then he said, ‘What gravestone is this that I see?’ So the men of the city told him, ‘It is the tomb of the man of God who came from Judah and proclaimed these things which you have done against the altar of Bethel.’ And he said, ‘Let him alone: let no one move his bones'” (2 Kings 23:16-18 NKJV).
In my travels to the south-western U.S. this summer I visited a small town in Oklahoma. One person there told me of various points of interest in the town, including the local cemetery. Its significance was emphasized by the statement, “there is parking in the cemetery for tourist buses.”
Certainly it is unusual for an ordinary public cemetery to be a tourist attraction. As might be expected this one had gained that status from the fame of some of those who were buried within it. Celebrities from several different walks of life were laid to rest there, which explained its appeal to visitors.
Three burial sites in the Bible are given special significance. One is the cave of Machpelah, purchased by Abraham and used as a grave for Sara, then later for himself and various other family members (Genesis 23:17-20). Abraham’s concern for a suitable grave for his wife is evidence of the love which he had for her during her lifetime.
The second noteworthy grave was that of the man of God who cursed Bethel (1 Kings 13) and whose prophesies were fulfilled in the time of Josiah (2 Kings 23:16-18). His deeds, though he died because of disobedience to God, were still sufficient to gain his remains the respect of a king hundreds of years after his death.
The third grave is, of course, the empty tomb in the garden near Jerusalem in which the crucified body of Jesus lay for three days before the stone was removed and the tomb was found empty (John 19:41-20:10). This tomb, belonging nominally to Joseph of Arimathea, is remarkable for what or whom it does not contain, rather than whom it does. That the apostles could point to this clean and empty place just days after Jesus was buried there with full public knowledge was powerful evidence of his resurrection.
This event was so well publicized that Cleopas and his companion could say to the risen Jesus when he asked about their conversation, “Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem, and have you not known the things which happened there in these days?” (Luke 24:18).
Much later Paul would say of the resurrection of Jesus to Festus and Herod Agrippa, “For the king, before whom I also speak freely, knows these things; for I am convinced that none of these things escapes his attention, since this thing was not done in a corner” (Acts 26:26).
The empty tomb is the most note-worthy exception to the statement above that it is unusual for a cemetery to be a tourist attraction. Certainly no other tomb has received as many visitors over the past two thousand years than the supposed site of Jesus’ burial. Millions have viewed it, and it continues to be one of the most visited sites of any kind worldwide.
It is not Jesus’ grave, however, that deserves our attention. It is his throne in Heaven on which he now reigns (Ephesians 1:20-23). Jesus demands our submission, our faith, and our service, not just our curiosity. His death, burial and resurrection were indeed of eternal significance, but even more are we to recognize his continued authority and blessings. He lives! Thanks to God for the empty tomb!