Summary: Easter morning injects a rock-solid conviction that our sins are forgiven.
Some call it coffin commercialism. Those who want to make a final statement about their life can now choose customized, personalized, caskets to tell their story. Business is thriving at the Whitelight Casket Company of Dallas, which has introduced the “art casket” for those who wouldn’t be caught dead in something routine. No longer must the discriminating consumer choose merely between a traditional wooden box and a boring bronze coffin. If you are a golfer, you might choose the popular “Fairway to Heaven” model; other popular styles of personalized caskets include a beach scene, the New York skyline, or a model portraying a postal package that says in bold, red letters, “Return to Sender.” Does that sound like a fresh idea? The truth is, individualized coffins as personalized “final statements” are not so new after all. Many ancient cultures, including the Egyptians, for instance, were masters of this practice. Tomb preparation began long before a person’s death, with craftsmen engineering a coffin to make a statement revealing what that person had accomplished in life, especially in preparation for impressively meeting the gods—at least that’s what some Egyptians believed. Thankfully, we Christians don’t suffer from coffin confusion. Easter morning for us injects a rock-solid conviction into the confusion about life and death: the tomb of Jesus Christ is empty. This unexpectedly empty tomb is God’s final statement to a questioning world. But what does it mean for us today? We aren’t interested in mere empty caskets, so it’s hard to see the significance of Jesus Christ’s tomb echoing with emptiness. No decorated pillars or towering pyramids mark his gravesite. No cave drawings tell his story. No golden trinkets were buried with him to signify his royal power. There was just an empty tomb. That’s because God did not celebrate his Son’ accomplishments at his burial place but in his believing people—us. Just as Jesus Christ is risen from death, so we are raised up from spiritual and physical death, from dullness and despair to a life filled with vigor to take on yet another week with confidence in the strength God provides and filled with vitality to smile through good times and bad, through life and death with the sure hope of God’s help. Jesus’ empty tomb is a place of life. 1) A life filled with higher expectations and 2) A life of meaningful contributions.
1) A Life Filled with Higher Expectations
The sunrise was waking up their corner of the world, but these women were so tired, so exhausted from the bustle of the Passover and so emotionally drained from the events of the past two days that suddenly snatched away their Master’s life. Look at their emptiness: arms full of spices to anoint a dead body, eyes full of tears, hearts full of disappointment and fear. Listen to their low expectations: “We won’t be able to roll the stone away,” says the mother of James. “I heard there are soldiers guarding the tomb; they will probably turn us away,” sighs Salome. “Why did God let this happen?” sobs Mary Magdalene. You know that empty, sinking feeling, like when your computer crashes. You know the feeling of hopelessness, like the Chicago Bulls playing without Michael Jordan—nobody expects to win. But when the droopy faces of these dreary women slowly tilted up to take their first look at the tomb, there were no guards standing watch (gasp!), the stone was rolled away (gasp!), and when the women swiftly shuffled into the tomb to investigate, they saw a young man sitting inside dressed in dazzling brightness (gasp!). “Don’t be alarmed,” this angel told the women before they could drop their spices and run as if they had seen a ghost. With the voice of rebuke and reassurance, the angel announced, “You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified.” The half-hearted women came looking not for Jesus, the almighty Son of God who can do anything, but for Jesus, the humble Nazarene carpenter’s son. They came looking not for Jesus, the Lord of Life who had already demonstrated his power over death by raising dead people to life, but for Jesus, the innocent victim of a political conspiracy. No matter how much Jesus had told these women and all his followers that he would die an ugly death—but that death couldn’t harm him because he would rise again to life in three days—they still expected much less. The angel lifted their heads and hearts back up to higher expectations by pointing them to the place where a dead Jesus ought be, but was not. “He has risen! He is not here.” There was nothing to be alarmed about, nothing to be afraid of, and nothing to allow low-level expectations. Jesus Christ is risen from the dead! Empty hearts and lives are now filled with new expectations, new dreams, and new hopes! Ladies, now drop your spices (you don’t need them!) and run for a better reason, to announce to the world that your Savior reigns over sin, death, and the grave, and Satan has been defeated, just as he said. His empty tomb is a place full of life for you! Like these women, our lack of faith and our low level of expectation disappoint our great and mighty God for whom nothing is impossible. He’s ready to help us move mountains, and our droopy faces don’t look past the bumps in the road. All of it is a natural reaction. Not anymore, fellow believers, because our risen Jesus won’t have it! His empty tomb is a place of life for you—a life filled with higher expectations. Stop expecting to feel only sad and separated because your loved one is dying, or died before you wanted—the empty tomb raises your expectations to anticipate a glorious reunion in heaven: “If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men,” Paul exhorts us in 1 Corinthians. “In Christ all will be made alive” (15:19,22). Stop expecting yourself to act like a second-class misfit who can’t compete with sin’s power and may as well continue giving in to that same temptation. The empty tomb raises your expectations to a David-like approach to giant obstacles in God’s way, facing them with confidence, and stepping up to Satan to announce, “Your wickedness cannot have its way with me.” That, according to the Bible, is true because of the resurrection. “Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, . . . not on earthly things” (Col 3:1,2). The resurrected, glorified body of Christ passed through the burial clothes and the tomb itself without friction only to appear shortly thereafter in physical, visible form. If God can do that, can’t he also change your circumstances to help you pass through another week without harm? Let’s stop expecting from God only an occasional sunny day, relatively good health, and tasty food on the table during the week. He can make the impossible happen. Jesus’ empty tomb guarantees for you a life filled with higher expectations, and also a life filled with meaningful contributions.