Two competing sites in Israel testify to the most pivotal event in human history.
These sites vie for recognition as the location where Jesus of Nazareth was crucified, died, and was buried. One is the historic Church of the Holy Sepulcher, a shrine of Christianity since the fourth century. The other is the Garden Tomb, where the hillside looks like a skull as described in the gospels, and intact Jewish tombs stand as a silent testimony to those events.
Of course, only one can be the actual place where Jesus was crucified, died, and was buried. But both feel right.
At the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, you can stand with a long line of pilgrims dating back two millennia to Helena, the mother of Roman Emperor Constantine. The emotion and the spiritual weight of the place are palpable.
Yet the Garden Tomb is orderly and controlled; an almost supernatural silence grips the place as your hands touch the outline of tombs hewn from rock. It is refreshing and uplifting.
In my mind, the two places are the same. They are, after all, less than a mile from each other. I am content with the assumption that the Church of the Holy Sepulcher is where it happened. I am equally convinced the Garden Tomb is what it was like when it happened.
In His wisdom, God did not leave us an eternally lit neon sign. He knows the propensity of our fallen hearts to worship idols and things, rather than Him.
If you go to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher or the Garden Tomb looking for Jesus, you’ll be disappointed.
The most uncomfortable truth is this: whichever place was the place is an intellectually fascinating discussion, but is ultimately unfulfilling because it misses the bigger point. Remember, we are talking about looking at an empty tomb. As Mary Magdalene was told that first Easter morning, “He is not here, for He has risen, as He said.”
One either believes that to be true, or one does not. It cannot be partially true; there is no middle ground.
As C.S. Lewis famously posited, Jesus’ claims mean He was either a liar, a lunatic, or the Lord. Jesus’ various claims about Himself meant He could not be taken seriously as a “great human teacher” if He was lying about His divinity, or was crazy.
Was Jesus a liar? Was He a lunatic? Or, was He the Lord? There is no body, just an empty tomb. These two places testify to one fact: there is a single answer. And that answer matters.