Summary: What God does is eternal -- We are surprised by significance. What God does is impossible -- We are surprised by power. What God does is unexpected -- We are surprised by joy.
I will never forget walking into the funeral home several years ago to meet with the family who had just lost a 40-year-old son and husband. He was not dressed in a typical suit, but a pair of bib overhauls and a dirty ball cap. He had died of a heart attack, but in the pocket of his overhauls was a pack of Camels cigarettes, and in his hand was a can of Mountain Dew. The family explained that these were his loves. He smoked three packs of camels a day and drank a half case of Mountain Dew. That was about all they could tell me about his life, and they wanted the service to be brief without anything religious. As I was leaving, the funeral director pulled me aside and said, “Now, Rod, the family has requested that when you are through speaking that, instead of the usual hymns at the end of the service, we play ‘Wipe Out’” (a rock and roll song from the 60’s). Actually, it was quite appropriate.
I was reminded of that service recently when I read about a company called “Whitelight” which specializes in customized funerals. You can get an “art casket” for those who want to be caught dead in something unique. The idea is that you get your choice of mural by a famous artist. Golfers can choose the “Fairway to Heaven” model. Others choose a beach scene or a view of the New York skyline. They even have a model which says in bold red letters: “Return to Sender.” I suppose you could have that song from the 60’s as well. It is all about having a personalized funeral which makes a “final statement.”
Actually, this is not too different from the way it was many centuries ago in Egypt. The pyramids were elaborate tombs which made a final statement about the person inside. The walls were covered with art and writing, telling of the accomplishments of the person. Personal items surrounded the mummified remains, and valuable articles of gold were stored in the tombs. It all told the story about the person.
The tomb of Jesus also told a story. But it was not what was inside his tomb that told the story, it was what was NOT in his tomb. There was nothing there. The tomb is empty — and that tells it all. The angel said to the women at the tomb, The bones of the Buddha are on display. The tombs of world leaders are full of the remains of death. But the tomb of Jesus is empty because he is not there. He has risen — just as he said. On a dreary little patch of land called Judea, God appeared. He lived and taught and loved, and they killed him. It was the worst kind of death ever devised by the human mind. And before that they hung him on the cross, they beat him and stripped the flesh from his back with glass embedded whips. Bludgeoned and bleeding he hung on the cross in terrifying pain. But through it all he thought of his mother, his disciples — and he even thought of you. I believe that during that time Jesus did something that only God could do. I believe your name crossed his mind in those moments. Your face flashed before his eyes. Your sins were washed away as he said, “Neither do I condemn you. Go and sin no more” (John 8:11). And then it happened. With an agonizing scream he gave up his spirit and died. After his lifeless form hung there for a time they took him down and put him into a borrowed tomb. Friday passed. Saturday passed. And when Sunday morning came, his disciples arrived to find an empty tomb. The stone was rolled away. But it was not rolled away to let Jesus out — he had left the tomb before they came — the stone was rolled away to let the disciples in. They had to see what God had done. God had to show them something that would change them forever and tell them something that would change the world forever.
What was God telling them? I believe Easter tells us many things, but it first tells us that: What God does is eternal — We are surprised by significance. A lot of theories about life and death floated about in those days. Some believed that when a person died that was it. Life was over and everything ended. Soon even the memory of the person would be gone. Others believed in a sort of shadowy underworld where spirits drifted about. Many others believed that those who died came back as an animal or another person. But what the resurrection of Jesus was saying to the people of the world was that life is eternal and we were meant to live forever in a glorified existence that is beyond anything we could imagine. Jesus stepped into time and opened eternity for us. He came to the world and offered us heaven. He came in a human body and rose as a spiritual body. Jesus said to his disciples: “Before long, the world will not see me anymore, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live” (John 14:19). This is the incredible message of Easter. What this means is that our lives have significance. We are important to God. Our lives are not lived merely strutting across the stage of life — we will live eternally. Our lives have meaning and purpose. God has a plan for our lives and calls us to live out that plan. Our lives mean something. We will not be “wiped out”; we will be raised up!