A few years ago I heard one of my very favorite singing groups, who just so happen to also be very good friends, the Morrison Sisters, sing a song that was new to me. It begins like this:
“He was born in a stable, in a borrowed manger, he borrowed a lunch to feed a lot of strangers, he borrowed a colt to ride into town on, he borrowed a tomb, but he wouldn’t need it long...”
That song, “The Only Thing He Bought Was Me” written by Pastor Joe Anders, has become one of my favorites. The chorus goes like this:
“And the only thing he bought was me, when he shed his blood on Calvary, I’m redeemed by his blood for eternity, O the only thing he bought was me.”
When I first heard that song I was struck by the truth of it, mostly because it is something so obvious, and yet it is one of those obvious things that somehow never even occurred to me. In his lifetime, Jesus is recorded as borrowing more things than he ever owned. He was utterly unconcerned with accumulating either wealth for his lifetime or a grand mausoleum to own in death.
When Khufu, Pharaoh of Egypt died, he was entombed in the largest, most eye-popping tomb in the world, the great pyramid of Giza. It took an estimated 20,000 workers twenty years to build it. And yet I am guessing that the vast majority of people in the world do not even know the name Khufu, and had no idea he was buried there.
The thirteen tombs of the Ming Dynasty in China are so elaborate that they are still widely visited by tourists today. And yet very few of us know the names of the owners of those graves either.
Moving on to India, we find one of the most famous structures in the world today, the exquisite Taj Mahal. But here is your quiz for the day. Without looking it up on the internet, what is the name of the person buried in the Taj Mahal, the person for whom it was expressly built?
With all of these great structures the vast majority of people know the graves, but not the owners. But with Jesus, the world knows the person who was in the grave, but is only vaguely familiar with the actual grave itself. I say all of this meaning no disrespect at all to Khufu, the emperors of the Ming Dynasty, or to Mumtaz Mahal, the wife of emperor Shah Jahan, the woman entombed in the Taj Mahal. But I do point all of this out to show that there is something radically different about Jesus, something that has made him the most famous individual in human history, something that sets him apart from everyone else to ever walk the earth, in fact.
He never prepared or purchased a place to be buried.
He borrowed one.
Because he knew he would not be there long.
Romans 1:4 says that Jesus is “declared to be the Son of God with power, according to the spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead.” With Khufu or the emperors of the Ming Dynasty or Mumtaz Mahal, were it not for their grave, we would probably know little or nothing about them all these many years later. But with Jesus, we do not know about him because of his grave; we know about his grave because of him. The entire world knows about Jesus because he only borrowed a tomb for three days, then he rose from the dead and left it behind.
He was not a pharaoh. He was not an emperor. He was not a military leader. He was not rich. In fact during his lifetime he was not even the builder of a large and successful religious movement; his faithful followers numbered about 120.
His followers did not pick up swords after his death and conquer lands and people in his name. In fact, those who did continue to follow him gave up everything to do so. They traded in respectability for ignominy, they gave up homes and steady incomes and were scattered on the winds of persecution due to their faith. In this life they had, quite literally, nothing to gain and everything to lose by following Jesus, and yet they did so anyway.
And every single one of them did so for the exact same reason. Jesus died, was buried in a borrowed tomb, and then hung a “vacant” sign for all the world to see in the form of a rolled away stone just three days later.
Thank God for a borrowed, empty tomb!