Easter’s Tomb Stone Rolled Away (Vain the Stone, the Watch, the Seal)9 min read

“And behold, there was a great earthquake, for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven and came and rolled back the stone and sat on it” (Matthew 28:2).

Early on that Sunday morning of the first Easter, the “Marys,” with Salome and other women, were making their way to the tomb of Jesus. They were bringing spices to anoint Jesus’ body for proper burial.

As they drew closer, they remembered the very large stone at the door of the tomb. It was that part of their conversation that necessitated the question, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance of the tomb?” (Mark 16:3).

It is really a question of the ages; an inquiry, sometimes spoken but often not, by many in the world who come face to face with death’s certainty, with death’s grave reality. “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance of the tomb?”

This very large ‘stone’ totally obstructs mankind’s path to, and pursuit of, happiness. It shows up uninvited, frequently unexpected, and almost always unwanted, completely darkening any prospect for immortality. Mankind’s attempts at overcoming this final and great enemy have failed miserably. The large stone of doubt, uncertainty, and unbelief has relentlessly blockaded any progress. Death keeps gobbling up loved ones and all humanity in a ruthless, uncompromising march to an inevitable end. “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance of the tomb?”

Is there no one who can help? Have there been no discoveries that can mitigate this death march? The daily toll of those brought down by COVID-19, cancer, car accidents, catastrophes, and war—to list but a few—mounts. Is there any hope of life beyond the grave? Who is there that can abolish death and bring life and immortality to light?

After Lazarus, Jairus’ daughter, and the widow’s son of Nain, there were whispers of ‘resurrection,’ but men could not believe in it. Perhaps because God “has put eternity into man’s heart” (Ecclesiastes 3:11), mankind still has a veiled feeling that there has to be more than this life, that there must be something beyond the grave. This is certainly not an unfamiliar theme in movies.


“Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance of the tomb?”

The women who were headed towards the tomb faced three hard realities that posed three major hurdles:

  • The stone itself was “very large” (Mark 16:4);
  • it was stamped with the “seal” of the law (Matthew 27:66); and
  • it was guarded by the representatives of power (Matthew 27:66).

Interesting. Humanity faces the same difficulties:

  • Death itself is a huge stone that cannot be moved by any mortal power. It is the Holy God’s sentence, His appropriate judgement, for offenses against His law. How can it possibly be averted?
  • The “seal” placed on the closed tomb of death is God’s “seal” of the law, His just wrath over sin.
  • Moreover, I am confident that Satan’s demon forces were watching the tomb very well to prevent escape.

“Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance of the tomb?” Asked in another way, “Can these dry bones live?” (Ezekiel 37:11). Can any dry bones live again? Can death ever be overcome? Can it be emptied of its power, fear, and finality? Will we ever be able to see again our loved ones who have died and been buried?

The Answer

For centuries, the great question of “Who?” remained unanswered for all who did not know Jesus as Redeemer, Savior, and death conqueror. That is, until the women who loved the Lord discovered the answer. Coming to the tomb, they found it empty. Jesus had risen just as He said!

Here, then, is the answer to the world’s inquiry: there is another life and bodies will live again, for Jesus lives! Therefore, …

  • we should not mourn or sorrow before the grave as those who have no hope. Jesus Christ is risen! … and the dead in Christ will also rise (first! – 1 Thessalonians 4:16).
  • Jesus would gently wipe away our tears. He knows that because of His rising the believer’s grave is not the end! Miraculously, in Him, it has become the entrance to immortality.

Although death’s fortress was firmly secured by the stone, the angel sent from heaven removed it. Because of Jesus, God’s children will now pass through death’s dungeon but they cannot be shut in. Just as Samson, seemingly ambushed by his enemies, “… arose and took hold of the doors of the city gate and the two posts and pulled them up along with the bars; and put them on his shoulders and carried them up to the top of the mountain …” (Judges 16:3), leaving that Philistine stronghold open and exposed, so Jesus Christ, our risen, victorious Lord, in the greatness of His strength, carried away the once impregnable iron gates of the grave, tearing the posts and every bar from its place! The risen Jesus, exposing the old fortress of death and hell, left it as a city stormed and taken, and—thank God—powerless!

Remember that Jesus “Christ died for our sins” (1 Corinthians 15:3). Our sins, like a debt, were charged to Him—to His account. He settled our debt to divine justice by offering Himself to God on Calvary’s altar. He fully suffered the great substitutionary equivalent for our suffering. As prophesied, He remained in the tomb three days until His “It is finished!” (John 19:30) uttered from the cross for the world’s sin, for our sins, for our debt, for our suffering, was established by the verdict of God the Father. The angel was, in effect, His messenger, the heavenly officer from the court of heaven, “deputized” to open the door for Jesus, rolling the stone away. (Angels always arrive when the truth—in particular the good news of God’s work on behalf of mankind—is hard to understand, believe, or remember.) The angel was forever establishing and publicly announcing heaven’s full acceptance of Jesus’ all-atoning work!

If Jesus had not fully paid the debt for the world’s sin, He would have remained in the grave, continuing as its captive. But He had done it all! View Him as He rises—rising by His own power (John 2:19; 10:17–18) but not leaving the tomb without the sacred pronouncement!

It is Finished

The stone rolled from the entrance of the tomb clearly and publicly announces …

  • That all sin has been paid for;
  • That death is devoid of its power and fear for God’s children; and
  • That the baptized believer is a recipient of these blessings and of a most intimate connection with Jesus Christ in the waters of Holy Baptism. Paul writes, “Or do you not know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life(Romans 6:34).

This is why we are to daily remember our Baptism. It reminds us that …

  • Our sin is completely paid for and washed away by the sacrificial death of Jesus;
  • Our death, whenever it comes, is not to be feared, but recognized with a sure and blessed hope as the entrance—carefully watched over by the ever-present, loving God (Psalm 23:4; Romans 14:8)—to everlasting life.
  • We too have died and risen again with Christ. Sounds somewhat “mystical” … and it is. Nonetheless, we are to know that we were miraculously joined to Him in the most significant events in His—and OUR—life and now have His power to overcome sin and live in this “newness’ of life. “Sin” can no longer be a master in our lives just as death no longer has power over Jesus. Please read the context of Romans 6:3–4 by reading verses 1–14.
  • Because of this “mystical union” with Christ in baptism, we too have the same Holy Spirit—that descended on Jesus at His baptism—poured into us, that is, into our new, regenerated spirit, our new life in Him. That same Holy Spirit is calling us, enabling us, to participate in the mission Jesus’ Father had sent Him on. Remember these words of Jesus: “Peace be with you; as the Father has sent Me, I also send you.” And when He had said this, He breathed on them, and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit” (John 20:2122). Jesus’ “Spirit” is the missionary Spirit of God. Jesus was anointed by the Spirit specifically to equip Him to carry the Mission for which His father has sent Him. Here, Jesus includes all His disciples (in particular, I think of the 120 mentioned in Acts 1:15)—He includes us—in that same mission and anoints His own with the same missionary Spirit.

Therefore, friends, by the grace, love, design, and appointing of God, we are now privileged to serve as His angels (His messengers – ἄγγελοuς – Luke 9:52), arriving when the truth—in particular the good news of God’s work on behalf of mankind—is hard to understand, believe, or remember. Indeed, we are …

  • His “sent ones” (ἀπόστολοι – 2 Corinthians 8:23);
  • His ambassadors (πρεσβεύομεν – 2 Corinthians 5:20).

As the salt of the earth and the light of the world (Matthew 5:13–16) to those around us wherever and whenever we live, we are to pray for, and work towards, having godly relationships with those in the world in such a way that we have the privilege, opportunity, and (their) trust to be able to share with them …

  • That their sins and guilt have been completely covered by Jesus;
  • That death is devoid of its power and fear for God’s children and that their Savior, Jesus, will always be with them; and …
  • That they are the recipients of all these blessings and of a most intimate relationship and connection with Jesus Christ in the waters of Holy Baptism. They too can have His power to overcome the sins that plague and oppress them, even addictions.

There is so much to be thankful for: So much love and mercy shown by God to the world through Jesus and now through His followers; so much truth to be found and examined in the Holy Scriptures—Holy-Spirit-revealed truth—that leads to salvation and freedom in Christ Jesus, the risen Lord.

Vain the stone, the watch, the seal,

Christ has burst the gates of hell;

Death in vain forbids His rise,

Christ has opened Paradise.


Lives again our glorious King!

“Where, O death, is now thy sting?”

Once he died our souls to save;

“Where thy victory, O grave?”  (Public Domain LSB 469, Christ the Lord is Risen Today Vs. 3 and 4)

A blessed and happy Easter life to you all.

Photo (c) RomoloTavani/iStock

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About the Author

Rev. Dr. David P. E. Maier is president emeritus of the Michigan District, LCMS.

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