Truth that Matters: The Cradle of Hope

The 1989 Armenian earthquake needed only four minutes to flatten the nation and kill thirty thousand people. Moments after the deadly tremor ceased, a father raced to an elementary school to save his son. When he arrived, he saw that the building had been leveled. Looking at the mass of stones and rubble, he remembered a promise he had made to his child: “No matter what happens, I’ll always be there for you.” Driven by his own promise, he found the area closest to his son’s room and began to pull back the rocks. Other parents arrived and began sobbing for their children. “It’s too late,” they told the man. “You know they are dead. You can’t help.” Even a police officer encouraged him to give up.
But the father refused. For eight hours, then sixteen, then thirty-two, thirty-six hours he dug. His hands were raw and his energy gone, but he refused to quit. Finally, after thirty-eight wrenching hours, he pulled back a boulder and heard his son’s voice. He called his boy’s name, “Arman! Arman!” And a voice answered him, “Dad, it’s me!” Then the boy added these priceless words, “I told the other kids not to worry. I told them if you were alive, you’d save me, and when you saved me, they’d be saved, too. Because you promised, ‘No matter what, I’ll always be there for you.’”
God has made the same promise to us. “I will come back . . . ,” he assures us. Yes, the rocks will tumble. Yes, the ground will shake. But the child of God needn’t fear—for the Father has promised to take us to be with him.
But dare we believe the promise? Dare we trust his loyalty? Isn’t there a cautious part of us that wonders how reliable these words may be?
Perhaps you have no doubts. If so, you might want to skip this chapter. Others of us, however, could use a reminder. How can we know he will do what he said? How can we believe he will move the rocks and set us free?
Because he’s already done it once.
Let’s revisit the moment, shall we? Let’s sit on the floor, feel the darkness, and be swallowed in the silence as we gaze with the eyes of our hearts where the eyes of our face could never see.
Let’s go to the tomb, for Jesus lies in the tomb.
Still. Cold. Stiff. Death has claimed its greatest trophy. He is not asleep in the tomb or resting in the tomb or comatose in the tomb; he is dead in the tomb. No air in his lungs. No thoughts in his brain. No feeling in his limbs. His body is as lifeless as the stone slab upon which he has been laid.
The executioners made sure of it. When Pilate learned that Jesus was dead, he asked the soldiers if they were certain. They were. Had they seen the Nazarene twitch, had they heard even one moan, they would have broken his legs to speed his end. But there was no need. The thrust of a spear removed all doubt. The Romans knew their job. And their job was finished. They pried loose the nails, lowered his body, and gave it to Joseph and Nicodemus.
Joseph of Arimathea. Nicodemus the Pharisee. They sat in seats of power and bore positions of influence. Men of means and men of clout. But they would’ve traded it all for one breath out of the body of Jesus. He had answered the prayer of their hearts, the prayer for the Messiah. As much as the soldiers wanted him dead, even more these men wanted him alive.
As they sponged the blood from his beard, don’t you know they listened for his breath? As they wrapped the cloth around his hands, don’t you know they hoped for a pulse? Don’t you know they searched for life?
But they didn’t find it.
So they do with him what they were expected to do with a dead man. They wrap his body in clean linen and place it in a tomb. Joseph’s tomb. Roman guards are stationed to guard the corpse. And a Roman seal is set on the rock of the tomb. For three days, no one gets close to the grave.
But then, Sunday arrives. And with Sunday comes light—a light within the tomb. A bright light? A soft light? Flashing? Hovering? We don’t know. But there was a light. For he is the light. And with the light came life. Just as the darkness was banished, now the decay is reversed. Heaven blows and Jesus breathes. His chest expands. Waxy lips open. Wooden fingers lift. Heart valves swish and hinged joints bend.
And, as we envision the moment, we stand in awe.
We stand in awe not just because of what we see, but because of what we know. We know that we, too, will die. We know that we, too, will be buried. Our lungs, like his, will empty. Our hands, like his, will stiffen. But the rising of his body and the rolling of the stone give birth to a mighty belief: “What we believe is this: If we get included in Christ’s sin-conquering death, we also get included in his life-saving resurrection. We know that when Jesus was raised from the dead it was a signal of the end of death-as-the-end. Never again will death have the last word. When Jesus died, he took sin down with him, but alive he brings God down to us” (Rom. 6:5–9 MSG).
To the Thessalonians Paul stated: “Since Jesus died and broke loose from the grave, God will most certainly bring back to life those who die in Jesus” (1 Thess. 4:14 MSG).
And to the Corinthians he affirmed: “All who are related to Christ will rise again. Each, however, in his own turn: Christ rose first; then when Christ comes back, all his people will become alive again” (1 Cor. 15:22–23 TLB).
For Paul and any follower of Christ, the promise is simply this: The resurrection of Jesus is proof and preview of our own.
But can we trust the promise? Is the resurrection a reality? Are the claims of the empty tomb true? This is not only a good question. It is the question. For as Paul wrote, “If Christ has not been raised, then your faith has nothing to it; you are still guilty of your sins” (1 Cor. 15:17). In other words, if Christ has been raised, then his followers will join him; but if not, then his followers are fools. The resurrection, then, is the keystone in the arch of the Christian faith. If it be solid, the doorway is trustworthy. Dislodge it and the doorway crumbles.
However, the keystone is not easily budged, for if Jesus is not in the tomb, where is he?
Some speculate he never even died. He was only thought to be dead, but he was actually unconscious. Then he awoke and walked out of the grave. But honestly, how likely is this theory? Jesus endures torturous whippings, thirst and dehydration, nails in his hands and feet, and most of all, a spear in his side. Could a man survive such treatment? And even if he did, could he single-handedly roll back a huge rock from the tomb and then overpower Roman guards and escape? Hardly. Dismiss any thought of Jesus not being dead.
Others accuse the disciples of stealing the body in order to fake the resurrection. They say that Jesus’ followers—ordinary tax collectors and fishermen—overcame the sophisticated and well-armed Roman soldiers and detained them long enough to roll back the sealed stone and unwrap the body and escape. Hardly seems plausible, but even if it were, even if the disciples did steal the body, how do we explain their martyrdom? Many of them died for the faith. They died for their belief in the resurrected Lord. Would they fake the resurrection and then die for a hoax? I don’t think so. We have to agree with John R. W. Stott, who wrote, “Hypocrites and martyrs are not made of the same stuff.”
Some go so far as to claim that the Jews stole the body. Is it possible that Jesus’ enemies took the corpse? Perhaps. But why would they? They want the body in the tomb. And we ask just as quickly, if they did steal the body, why didn’t they produce it? Display it? Place the carpenter’s corpse on a funeral bier and parade it through Jerusalem, and the movement of Jesus would have sizzled like a torch in a lake. But they didn’t produce the body. Why? Because they didn’t have it.
Christ’s death was real. The disciples didn’t take his body. The Jews didn’t take it. So where is it? Well, during the last two thousand years, millions have opted to accept the simple explanation the angel gave to Mary Magdalene. When she came to visit the grave and found it empty, she was told: “He is not here. He has risen from the dead as he said he would” (Matt. 28:6).
For three days Jesus’ body decayed. It did not rest, mind you. It decayed. The cheeks sank and the skin paled. But after three days the process was reversed. There was a stirring, a stirring deep within the grave . . . and the living Christ stepped forth.
And the moment he stepped forth, everything changed. As Paul stated: “When Jesus was raised from the dead it was a signal of the end of death-as-the-end” (Rom. 6:5–6 MSG).
Don’t you love that sentence? “It was the signal of the end of death-as-the-end.” The resurrection is an exploding flare announcing to all sincere seekers that it is safe to believe. Safe to believe in ultimate justice. Safe to believe in eternal bodies. Safe to believe in heaven as our estate and the earth as its porch. Safe to believe in a time when questions won’t keep us awake and pain won’t keep us down. Safe to believe in open graves and endless days and genuine praise.
Because we can accept the resurrection story, it is safe to accept the rest of the story.
Because of the resurrection, everything changes.
Death changes. It used to be the end; now it is the beginning.
The cemetery changes. People once went there to say good-bye; now they go to say, “We’ll be together again.”
Even the coffin changes. The casket is no longer a box where we hide bodies, but rather a cocoon in which the body is kept until God sets it free to fly.
And someday, according to Christ, he will set us free. He will come back. “I will come back and take you to be with me” (John 14:3). And to prove that he was serious about his promise, the stone was rolled and his body was raised.
For he knows that someday this world will shake again. In the blink of an eye, as fast as the lightning flashes from the east to the west, he will come back. And everyone will see him—you will, I will. Bodies will push back the dirt and break the surface of the sea. The earth will tremble, the sky will roar, and those who do not know him will shudder. But in that hour you will not fear, because you know him.
For you, like the boy in Armenia, have heard the promise of your Father. You know that he has moved the stone—not the stone of the Armenian earthquake, but the stone of the Arimathean’s grave. And in the moment he removed the stone, he also removed all reason for doubt. And we, like the boy, can believe the words of our Father: “I will come back and take you to be with me so that you may be where I am” (John 14:3).

Published by Intentional Faith

Devoted to a Faith that Thinks

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