In the midst of my fieldwork congregation, the pastor exclaims, “Christ is risen!” And the congregation joyfully responds, “He is risen indeed! Alleluia!” Today is Easter Sunday, or as I prefer to call it, Resurrection Sunday. On a Friday many centuries ago, Jesus the Son of God was crucified on the cross, our sins placed upon Him and taking God’s wrath, which we deserve. As our sins were placed upon Him, His righteousness is placed upon us, and we are justified by faith (Romans 5:1). Three days later, Christ is risen from the dead! The tomb is empty! Or is it?
On the cross Christ willingly took our sins upon Himself. Upon His death, Joseph of Arimathea took Jesus’ body and buried Him in a tomb. The tomb was shut, and three days later Jesus walked out. The significance of Easter is this: Our sins were nailed to the cross with Christ and died with Him. Thus, when Jesus walked out of the tomb, He did not walk out carrying our sins with Him; He left our sins back in the tomb, dead. Though we still struggle with sin on this side of the eschaton, we are no longer slaves to sin, but slaves to Christ (Romans 6:15-23). One of the ways Paul summarises this is in Colossians 2:11-15:
In Him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, having been buried with Him in baptism, in which you were also raised with Him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised Him from the dead. And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This He set aside, nailing it to the cross. He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in Him.
In Romans Paul touches on our having died to sin in Baptism and rising as new creatures in Christ (Romans 6), and here he reiterates himself to the Colossians. We were dead in our trespasses, Paul notes, therefore we are incapable of “accepting” Christ, for how can a dead person do anything unless someone first moves him? So, God made us alive with Christ by faith and Baptism, nailing our guilt to the cross as it dies with Christ. Christ then defeats the powers of darkness, triumphing over them by being raised from the dead, leaving our sins behind.
The tomb is not empty, folks. Christ left our sins behind where they belong: dead, in the grave where they no longer have dominion over us.