Surprisingly Empty

But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they came to the tomb bringing the spices which they had prepared.  And they found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they entered, they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus.  While they were perplexed about this, behold, two men suddenly stood near them in dazzling clothing; and as the women were terrified and bowed their faces to the ground, the men said to them, “Why do you seek the living One among the dead?  He is not here, but He has risen. Remember how He spoke to you while He was still in Galilee, saying that the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, and be crucified, and the third day rise again.”  And they remembered His words, and returned from the tomb and reported all these things to the eleven and to all the rest.  (Luke 24:1-9 NASB)

The worst of a possible outcomes has come about.  The Master has been killed.  In mourning, spices have been prepared, and aromatics collected.  The Sabbath was less a day of rest, and more a day of deep sorrow and despair.  Joy has been turned to sadness, and hope to hopelessness.  The expectations of a small group of followers have been dashed, and the enemies of God sleep in peace.  It isn’t just a tomb that defines a hollow space in the earth.  Jesus’ followers feel one in their souls as well.

But the stone is rolled away.  It’s not just the cool morning air and mist.  The heavy stone is no longer before the door.  The problem they discussed on the way is found already solved.  But who?  Has someone come to do as they have come to do?  Or has something awful, on top of the unimaginable which has already happened, come about?  Has the worst of all possible outcomes just gotten unbearably worse?  They rush to the open tomb to find out.

They enter the open door.  It is, and isn’t as they expect.  While it’s true that His body is gone, the wrapping is still there.  Who would take the corpse without the linen?  And why isn’t it “unwrapped”?  It’s simply…empty.  Their hearts beat faster as their minds try to grasp what they see.  It makes no sense, and fears rise within them.

Then the semi-darkness of the tomb is suddenly lit by the presence of two “men”.  Their clothes shine as if they are clothed in light.  The details of the scene are brought into stark, sharp clarity.  But it’s too much for the women, already shocked by what they have seen.  They collapse, bowing toward these two terrifying figures, probably trembling, and crying in layers of fear.

But then the voice, deep and gentle, the sound of a smile in the tone and timbre, fills the tomb.  “Why do you look for the living among the dead?”  Now their minds race, and their pulses quicken. The hope, destroyed and scattered by witnessing their Master tortured to death, breathes deeply within them.  “He is not here, He has risen!”  No, but, please, yes!  It can’t be, but let it be.  The hope within them struggles through the gloomy shroud of death they have wrapped it in, struggles to be free and in the light once more.  “Remember…”

It comes flooding back; the confusion, the fear, the struggle to grapple with Jesus’ as Messiah, the Anointed, the Christ!  The Messiah doesn’t die!  Yet He did.  The Messiah can’t be hung on a tree, cursed!  Yet He was, they saw it happen.  But He had kept saying something like this would happen.  It was impossible then, shoved from their minds by the terror and incomprehensibility of what was happening this Passover.  The frame Jesus had built, in which to understand the Messiah of God, began to slip into place, shoving the frame, used by their culture and traditions for centuries, roughly to the side.

The old frame collapsed, crashing into a heap of trash, and joy ignited, lit by hope, now free from the shroud of despair.  They remembered His words.  Something new had come, much more brilliant than the two men’s clothes.  These women, wrapped in grief that morning, now emerged from the tomb, now more alive than they had ever been!  Their own resurrected lives began by running, ignominiously for such women, through the streets of Jerusalem, to tell the people who needed this hope the most!

My hope lives.  It hasn’t always.  Even as a “believer”, I have, at times, lost my hope.  I have taken my “eyes off Jesus”.  There have been times when my circumstances ruled my view, and all I could see was the defeat.  I’ve been there, as I said, even as a believer and follower of Jesus.

And, in those times, my Master calls to me, asking why I mourn what lives?  The shroud of despair around my hope is actually empty.  The tomb in the depths of my soul is not where my hope is found, that hole has nothing inside.  Why do I look for the living among the dead?  The question penetrates the fuzzy emotions of my depression.  Why am I looking here for my hope?

The old frame crumbles as Jesus’ new frame slides into place.  The new window is clear, the images I see crisp, and the truth floods in like light.  My hope is kept by my Master, and can never be found in holes in the ground.  I don’t define my hope, for my hope is a gift, a treasure, held in safekeeping by my Master.  Jesus, my King, holds my hope, and His Spirit is my redemption ticket.  I am forever connected to the One who has saved me.

Because the tomb is empty, I too live.  Because the grave could not hold Him, hopelessness cannot hold me.  What do I have to fear if death itself is dead?  I cannot die, since death is to be separate from my Master.  And now, nothing can separate me from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus!

What do you learn from the empty tomb this morning?  What is your view through the knothole?



What Resurrection Means

“But that the dead are raised, even Moses showed, in the passage about the burning bush, where he calls the Lord THE GOD OF ABRAHAM, AND THE GOD OF ISAAC, AND THE GOD OF JACOB.  Now He is not the God of the dead but of the living; for all live to Him.” (Luke 20:37-38 NASB)

I thought I knew, think I know, but now I’m not so sure.  This is one of those passages where I’m sort of left wondering what it really meant.  Jesus is questioned about the final resurrection of the dead, right?  Yet I see in His answer more something of “life after death” than a living body again.  In other words, I was looking for something that would indicate that people would have and relate to each other through some sort of body.  That’s not really what Jesus describes.

Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob are who Moses ties to God, He is their God.  I think what Moses assumed was that this God was the one who they worshiped…in the past, back when they lived.  This is the same God who they had related to and received promises from.  But what Jesus is pointing out is that any sort of statement like this also implies an existing relationship.  In Hebrew of Exodus 3:6, the verb is left out, so it’s not “past” or completed action necessarily.  And in the Septuagint, the verb is present active, meaning it’s a current state of affairs.  God is the God of these three.

So what am I getting at?  That Jesus’ statement about life-after-death to the Sadducees is that there is a relationship with God after one’s relationships here are cut off or lost.  Death here does not mean death to God.  That’s kind of huge if you let it be.  We sort of assume it (unless you hold to a “soul-sleep” theological view).  But Jesus points out that it simply is the state of affairs once we die.  Luke adds to Matthew’s and Mark’s account the statement that all live to Him.  Even so, what does this have to do with “the resurrection”?

Jesus states that the answer to the question, “are the dead raised” is this statement from Exodus 3:6 where God identifies Himself as the God of these Patriarchs.  God being the God of the living not the dead does not seem to me to be an obvious proof of a final resurrection.  Instead what Jesus has done is effectively countered the view that the closest anyone comes to life after death is Levirate Marriage.  But having countered that view, He also implies that the relationships lost here because someone dies will be regained again in heaven (or existence after this life) assuming both are worthy of resurrection.

So now the question is whether resurrection is what Jesus says happens after death when the relationship with God continues?  Is this what happens when an earthly relationship is regained after both die?  Or is this description of resurrection merely describing a precursor of the final resurrection to come by stating the waiting condition between death and that final event?  If you have an answer to that one, you have to share it, because I have no idea.  Honestly, this baffles me.  All I can solidly deduce from this passage is that Jesus claims there is life after death.  How life after death is proof of a resurrection is something I’m not solid on.  But I’m sure there are plenty of opinions out there.

By the way, life with God after death is only for the worthy?  And that existence (see verses 34 through 36) seems to be what Jesus is referring to as a state of “resurrection”.  In other words, life after death is resurrection.  Some final event doesn’t seem to be in Jesus’ view here.  Which is odd because I was assuming that some final event was what the Sadducees were arguing against.  I thought the Pharisees argued for some final event.  But it could be that they were actually arguing for some sort of cognitive existence after death, and calling that resurrection.  We all confused together yet?

Any who, the point for me is that my relationship with God isn’t endangered by anything people can do to me.  I have nothing to fear because what is truly important, my relationship with my Master, is not in any sort of danger what so ever.  I’m truly saved in the most visceral and important sense of that word.  I can’t be separated from the love of God in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:31-39).  This is true as long as I am worthy of the resurrection from the dead.  Fortunately Jesus defines my worth based on His relationship with the Father, not mine.  What a relief.

What’s your view through your knothole this morning?

Resurrection Eternal

Now there came to Him some of the Sadducees (who say that there is no resurrection), and they questioned Him, saying, “Teacher, Moses wrote for us that IF A MAN’S BROTHER DIES, having a wife, AND HE IS CHILDLESS, HIS BROTHER SHOULD MARRY THE WIFE AND RAISE UP CHILDREN TO HIS BROTHER.  Now there were seven brothers; and the first took a wife and died childless; and the second and the third married her; and in the same way all seven died, leaving no children.  Finally the woman died also.  In the resurrection therefore, which one’s wife will she be? For all seven had married her.” (Luke 20:27-33 NASB)

One of the peculiar aspects to the Hebrew Scriptures is the progression of their understanding of “eternal life”.  It is my suspicion that much of religious understanding was simply experiential.  People died…and remained dead.  Therefore people don’t rise from the dead.  Except people did.  So there is some sort of resurrection, but it only happens on special occasions or to special people.

The thing is that there seems to be some sort of belief in existence after death from a very early human history.  It became extremely developed in Egypt, but even so, the earliest human habitation (Jericho) shows evidence of some sort of belief in some of the earliest layers.  There’s not a lot of “evidence” for such existence, so how does “experiential religion” account for such belief?  And believing in “life-after-death” isn’t the same thing as believing in “resurrection”.    So how did some make this connection?

The prophets God sent to Israel seemed to have no problem believing in life, life with others, after death.  Isaiah wrote of it, Ezekiel wrote of it, but Elijah and Elisha actually bring people to life.  Think about that.  Elijah and Elisha didn’t go, “It’s not possible”, they just did it, believing that God makes it happen.  How did they know if it had never happened before?  I suspect that it had done it before but it didn’t make it into the annuls of Scripture.  It wasn’t germane to the story of God’s work with His people, so it was left out; in much the same way details of King Omri were left out (1 Kings 16:16-30).

I think Levirate Marriage is one of those progressions toward believing in resurrection from “life-after-death”.  It’s not spelled out that it came from that, but I think the importance it had indicates it does.  So here’s how I get there:

Eternal life can be understood in terms of living in the memory of your offspring.  You live in their minds and therefore live eternally.  If life is defined relationally, then this makes a degree of sense (see earlier entries on this topic).  So, if a man dies childless, unless the rules of Levirate Marriage are carried out, his eternal life is over.  When someone refuses to carryout the process, they are, in effect, taking his eternal life from their brother or relative.  It’s serious seen from this point of view.

So while the Sadducees didn’t believe in a resurrection, they did believe in eternal life; just not some sort of “spiritual existence”.  They stopped at the Levirate Marriage rule with their understanding of “eternal life”.  This would make a certain amount of sense for “priests” for whom lineage was everything.  Their understanding would be simply that people die and experience nothing, but live on through their offspring.  Resurrection would imply the possibility of experience after a physical death.  And if death is relational, then death becomes true only from one perspective, the perspective of those still on earth.

Here’s my point, God has revealed to us that there is life, existence and relational experience, after our brains stop waving.  So, why do we focus so much on this one?  Why, if we know that there’s more to follow, do we let this life distract us from that one?  I think it’s because we know so little of the one to come.  We fear what we don’t know, and know more of the loss of this life than the gain in the one to follow.  And if you think about it, God has set it up that way, and perpetuates the lack of knowledge of what’s to come.  We can surmise about His motives in that, but we’re still left with a blind-spot about what’s to come.  What we do know is that it’s life with Him.  I believe He wants that to be enough.

So, is it enough for me?  Is it enough to know that I have eternity with Him facing me?  Will that define my actions and decisions today?  Will that modify my attitude at work, with my co-workers, with my customers, with my circumstances?  Or will it affect how I deal with my wife and daughter?  Will my belief that this is nothing compared to what I have coming change how I deal with my day and those I encounter in it?  Will it change how I face my future, the future of my church, my community, and my plans?  If it does, how will it change or affect these things?  How is my faith in my Master actualized in my behavior and attitudes?  How is eternity with Him driving my point of view, my paradigm, and my life direction?

To put it another way, why do such petty stupid things get me upset if this is nothing to compared to what’s to come?  If I believe that why do stupid things bother me?  Why do I fear?  Why do I get angry?  Why do I have any other emotion than joy all the time, because I have an eternity already.  What more is there that can compare with that?  Why am I tossed off kilter by the small things when I have such an enormous thing already secured?

The truth is that I believe, but clearly need help with my unbelief.  The faith I profess hasn’t yet become so thoroughly pervasive in my life that I know nothing else.  Not yet.

What’s your view through the fence this morning?

What’s Up With This Tetrarch?

Now Herod the tetrarch heard of all that was happening; and he was greatly perplexed, because it was said by some that John had risen from the dead, and by some that Elijah had appeared, and by others that one of the prophets of old had risen again.  Herod said, “I myself had John beheaded; but who is this man about whom I hear such things?” And he kept trying to see Him.  (Luke 9:7-9 NASB)

Continue reading “What’s Up With This Tetrarch?”