At the door of the empty tomb
Just before Christmas, I was on a long train journey. To pass the time, I picked up a copy of the Metro and came across a review of the recent decade – the noughties.
As I scanned the double-page spread, I expected to see events like the 9/11 terrorist attack in 2001, Hurricane Katrina from 2005 and the Invasion of Iraq in 2003 taking centre stage. But the stories given the most column inches were the deaths of celebrities.
The reviewer recalled Heath Ledger’s accidental overdose, Brittany Murphy’s sudden heart attack, and, not surprisingly, Michael Jackson’s death amongst the events that rocked the world over the last ten years.
We all saw the news reports showing distraught fans crying on each other shoulders, the thousands of bouquets laid in his memory, the candlelit vigil held at Jacko’s star on the Hollywood walk of fame.
Fixation with death
It’s easy to see why such events stick in people’s minds. It’s often the case with those who live their lives in the limelight that when the light goes out their glittering achievements are eclipsed by a morbid fascination with the way it all ended.
I recently saw a programme marking 75 years since Elvis was born. Much of the programme focused on the circumstances surrounding his death. The death of Diana Princess of Wales sparked a similar reaction, with scores of television programmes, newspaper articles, books and websites dedicated to details of that final car accident.
Such distasteful fixation with death provides some obvious object lessons and we may feel repelled by such morbidity. However, I wonder if Christians are sometimes guilty of the same thing when they subtly marginalise the resurrection of Jesus Christ?
Yes, Easter is indeed the time when we remember the death of our Lord Jesus Christ – how he suffered on the cross for us; that’s crucial to preaching the gospel. But let’s remember that on Easter Sunday we hear how, after three days in the tomb, he rose from the dead, never again to die.
How many times a year do we think about that, I wonder?
Jesus and the resurrection
Without the resurrection, the cross is meaningless. And so is Jesus’ life – his claims, miracles and teaching. If he didn’t rise from the dead why should we put our trust in any of it?
Paul knew the importance of teaching this. In Acts 17 it was his teaching on Jesus and the resurrection that got the attention of the idolatrous Athenians. ‘Paul was preaching the good news about Jesus and the resurrection.
‘Then they took him and brought him to a meeting of the Areopagus, where they said to him, May we know what this new teaching is that you are presenting?’ (Acts 17:18-19). To Paul it was essential that the early church knew they were followers of a living God. It is vital for us too.
‘The proof of the pudding is in the eating’, so they say. And that is what the resurrection is – proof that Jesus was the Son of God, and the only one who could take away the sin of the world.
It is ludicrous to believe Jesus was God but didn’t really rise from the dead. If he didn’t, then he was a liar conning people into following him. But if he did, he is to be worshipped as Lord over all.
The resurrection gives us hope. Because Jesus lives we can know that death really has been defeated and our sin really dealt with. Death exists because of sin (there was no death in the Garden of Eden), and for Christ to die meant he carried the consequence of our sin.
But his resurrection is the proof that death no longer leads to punishment for those he came to save; it has become the doorway to glory. Had Jesus not risen from the dead, we would never know all this for sure. But Paul explains: ‘Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep’ (1 Corinthians 15:20).
We can be comforted when a Christian loved one dies or even rejoice when we read of martyrs dying for the faith, for we know that we will all one day worship God together.
No other religion claims to follow a man who was God, and who died and rose again. Why? Because to make such a claim, if it’s false, is easily proved wrong. Christ’s resurrection is a stark contrast to every other major religious leader – they are all dead, but Jesus is alive.
For Christians, God is not a remote being disconnected from our lives, but a living, loving Saviour who knows our struggles and feels our pain. We often talk about living our lives at the foot of the cross, but what about living them at the door of the empty tomb?
Christ is risen! Hallelujah!