One of my favorite lines in any hymn is found in Charles Wesley’s “Christ the Lord Is Risen Today.” Meditating on the resurrection narratives in the Gospel record, Wesley wrote:
Vain the stone, the watch, the seal;
Christ has burst the gates of hell.
Death in vain forbids His rise;
Christ has opened Paradise.
What beautiful imagery. The strictly secured tomb is opened, and as it is, heaven is opened to those who are trusting in Christ. I love the way the old hymn captures the essence of the stone rolled away in front of Jesus’ tomb. The stone was not rolled away to let Christ out but to let us in.
All of this is thrown against the background of the irony and detail surrounding the burial of Jesus. Matthew tells us the chief priests and the Pharisees were worried someone might come to steal the body of Jesus and fabricate a story of His resurrection. Their attempts to contain Jesus were futile during His earthly ministry, so they would rage against Him in His state of death and burial. “They went and made the tomb secure by sealing the stone and setting a guard” (Matthew 27:66). Pilate, who had given permission to crucify Christ, then gave permission for the leaders of Israel to secure the tomb of Jesus. This is a picture of how far men will go to try to break apart the inseparable connection between God and His Messiah (Psalm 2:1-2).
When men hate Christ, they will stop at nothing to try to restrain Him. They will heap up for themselves as many safeguards against the truth about Jesus as possible. The really marvelous thing is that no matter how many checks and balances men employ to keep Christ away from His people, it is all in vain. There is no stone big enough, no seal strong enough, and no army powerful enough to keep God from fulfilling His purposes in His Son.
We are meant to laugh when we read of the stone, the seal, and the guard. We are meant to see in these three things the futile attempts of men to suppress the truth. Even while He lay in a state of death, these attempts were doomed to fail.
When God said that He would raise His Son from the dead, nothing would stop His purposes, derail His promises, or thwart His plan. This is good news for those of us hoping in the risen Christ. Our Christian lives bear witness and cry out, “Vain the stone, the watch, the seal.”
Written by Nick Batzig