An Empty Tomb

 

The reality of death is inescapable.  From the moment we are born we begin to die, and death comes all too quickly no matter how long one lives.  Every one of us has lost, or will lose, someone dear to us, and every one of us will one day suffer death.  In cemeteries all over the world the living pay tribute to and remember those who have passed on.  Death is the great equalizer because the rich and famous, the powerful and prominent, lie alongside the poor and unknown, the weak and insignificant.

On the outside graves can be very different.  Some are very simple, others are ornate and ostentatious.  Some lie in poorly maintained grounds that seem as forgotten as the dead interred there.  Others lie in carefully tended, garden-like surroundings.  Yet, from one end of the spectrum to the other, all graves are the same on the inside.  They all contain the mortal remains of someone who once lived on the earth.  All except one, that is.

That grave is the one we read about in the gospels.  It is the tomb into which Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus placed the body of Jesus after He died on the cross.  In Jn. 19:38-42 the scripture says they wrapped the Lord’s body in strips of cloth according to the burial custom of the Jews.  They then placed the body in a tomb in which no one had ever been laid.  These were the same actions that would have been done for anyone who died in this era.

Mt. 27:62-66 tells us that the leaders of the Jews persuaded the Roman governor Pontius Pilate to place a guard at the tomb, and to seal it with his seal.  This was to ensure that no one could steal the body and claim that Jesus had been raised from the dead.  On the first day of the week, however, Jesus came forth from the tomb, just as He had promised He would.  In Mt. 28:1-7 the scripture says an earthquake occurred, an angel of God rolled away the stone covering the tomb entrance, and the Roman guards became like dead men.  Jesus left the tomb, and when Peter and John looked inside a little while later, they saw the grave cloths lying where the body had been (Jn. 20:1-10).

Jesus was alive, never to die again (Rom. 6:9), and this was the message the apostles proclaimed on the first Pentecost after His resurrection.  As they apostles preached that day they declared that God had raised Jesus from the dead and asserted that they were all eyewitnesses of this truth (Acts 2:32).  This proclamation could have been thwarted that very day by producing the dead body of Jesus.  Yet, the leaders of the Jews did not do so, because they knew the truth.  His body was not in the tomb!

Someone once said that the Christian faith stands or falls with the resurrection.  As Paul told the church in Corinth, “if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins” (1 Cor. 15:17).  He then said, “If we have hoped in Christ in this life only, we are of all men most to be pitied” (1 Cor. 15:19).  Our faith in the Lord stands because Christ was raised from the dead, never to die again.  Because He lives, we believe that we, too, will live again after death.

We have hope for eternal life in the place being prepared in the Father’s house (Jn. 14:1-3).  We have this hope because of the greatest event in human history: the resurrection of Jesus Christ.  We have hope to live for Him in preparation for eternity because He rose the third day after His crucifixion.  We commemorate His death, but we do not mourn Him.  Instead, we rejoice, because we have an empty tomb!

Shoulders or Sink Holes?

 

A common desire among most parents is for their children to have a better life than they did.  This is especially true of those who grew up in poor or modest circumstances but is not limited to them.  Part of the strength of western civilization is the expectation of progress.  We believe that through hard work and diligence society will be elevated from one generation to the next.  The imagery of this upward climb is often characterized as standing on the shoulders of those who went before us.

However, not everyone works hard or diligently.  Some drift through life with little ambition and with little or no success for the next generation to build upon.  This attitude provides nothing for the next generation to stand upon, and worse yet, may undermine their efforts.  The imagery that comes to mind in such a case is a sinkhole.  With no foundation to build upon, the likelihood of progress or success is diminished.

These alternatives are significant in our physical existence, but are even more important in our spiritual pursuits.  God’s plan from the beginning has been that each generation be a stepping stone for the next.  His plan is succinctly stated in Deut. 6:4-9.  Here Moses said, “Hear, O Israel!  The Lord is our God, the Lord is One!  You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.  These words, which I am commanding you today, shall be on your heart.  You shall teach them diligently to your sons and shall talk of them when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way and when you lie down and when you rise up.  You shall bind them as a sign on your hand and they shall be as frontals on your forehead.  You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.”

This is shoulder building/shoulder standing in God’s matchless wisdom.  Each generation must love the Lord God with all their heart, soul, and might.  Loving God in this manner means learning His will and obeying all His commands.  When one generation does this, it builds the foundation upon which the next generation can stand and build.  This is the first part of the plan.

The second part of the plan is to diligently teach God’s will to the next generation.  Doing this instills the proper respect for Almighty God in that generation and equips them to build upon what their ancestors have accomplished.  When done as God intends, each generation moves closer and closer to God and farther away from anything that would deter this progress.

Each of us must choose to obey these commands or to ignore them.  However, the consequences of our choices are not just personal.  The consequences can stretch far into the future and affect descendants yet unborn.  One who forsakes faith in the Lord puts his soul in jeopardy, but in so doing robs his children and grandchildren of the opportunity to build their own faith.  Instead of giving them shoulders to stand upon so they can grow closer to God, he leaves them in a sinkhole that could lead them to the abyss at judgment.

Therefore, we must seriously consider God’s plan as we go about our lives.  Paul exhorts us to not lose heart in doing good, for in due time we will reap (Gal. 6:9).  He also exhorts us to fight the good fight, finish the course, and to keep the faith so we will receive the crown of righteousness (2 Tim. 4:7-8).  We must do so for our own spiritual good, but we must do so, also, for the good of the generations that follow us.  If we truly love our offspring, we must build shoulders they can stand on, so they will have the best opportunity for eternal life.

Being Church or Doing Church?

 

According to the scriptures, the church came into existence on the first day of Pentecost after the Lord’s resurrection from the dead (Acts 2:1-41).  The church grew and spread across the globe as first the apostles and then ordinary Christians proclaimed the good news wherever they went.  Over the course of several centuries the church began to change as more and more human ideas took root within it.  In time it was so far removed from its first century antecedent that sincere men sought to reform it.  Their efforts, though noble and well-intended, did not result in a return to the first century model.

The protestant denominations which arose from these efforts, while closer to the first century model, were still marked by more human ideas than the original church.  In the early 1800s in America a renewed effort began whose stated goal was to restore first century Christianity.  The focus was on doing Bible things in Bible ways, and calling Bible things by Bible names.  Their motto was, “Where the Bible speaks, we speak.  Where the Bible is silent, we are silent.”  This mantra sought to complete the work the reformers of the 1500s had begun by going back to the biblical model alone as a guide for what the church should believe and practice.

Now in the second decade of the new millennium, it appears that this noble effort, like the reformation before it, has begun to drift on the tide of human opinion and desires.  There are perhaps many manifestations of this drift, but a significant element in it is the way we “do” church.  A drive through any major city reveals countless multi-million-dollar church facilities.  Large, beautiful buildings replete with every creature comfort are the norm.  Amenities, including family-life centers, day-care facilities, and K-12 schools are commonplace.  Recovery programs and other social services, conducted by credentialed or licensed staff, are more and more frequently offered.  Worship assemblies are multi-media events, even if not accompanied by a worship band or praise team.  In short, many churches are doing everything they can to appeal to every conceivable human interest.  The question, however, is if this is what the Lord meant the church to be.

When we examine the New Testament, we find none of the things that seem so necessary today.  First century churches did not own property or buildings.  They met in rented rooms or in homes.  Their worship was simple and focused on commemorating the Lord’s death each Lord’s day by the observance of the Lord’s Supper.  The sang, prayed, read scripture, and exhorted each other to walk in the light.  Each Christian understood that he or she bore responsibility for the overall welfare of the church, as passages such as Eph. 4:11-16 instruct.  They saw their primary task as proclaiming the gospel to the lost, and encouraging each other to remain faithful.  They often did this daily and from house to house (Acts 2:46-47).

Too many churches today are consumed with keeping up with the amenities offered by their religious neighbors.  They fret over the money needed to equip themselves to do church like everyone around them, and consequently run the risk of not being the church the Lord meant them to be.  Members and leaders alike fall into a check-list mentality that seems to equate facilities, amenities, and programs with being the Lord’s church.

Is it wrong to have a comfortable building in which to meet, or to show concern for the issues so many face today?  No, but when so much of our attention is focused on these things, and the money it takes to maintain them, we have lost sight of our true mission.  We have become so busy doing church that we have ceased being the church.  Perhaps it is time, once again, for a call to restore simple New Testament Christianity.

That They May All Be One

 

On the night of His betrayal, the Lord observed the Passover with His twelve apostles.  Each of the four gospels refers to the events of that evening, but John gives us the most complete account of what transpired between the Lord and these chosen men.  No other gospel account contains this information.  In John 13-16 we have a detailed record of the Lord washing the apostles’ feet, dismissing Judas to complete his treachery, and His final instructions and exhortations to the eleven remaining men.  Then, in chapter 17 John recorded the words of the Lord’s prayer which concluded their time together in the upper room.

Near the end of this prayer the Lord said, “I do not ask on behalf of these alone, but for those also who believe in Me through their word; that they may all be one; even as You, Father, are in Me and I in You, that they also may be in Us, so that the world may believe that You sent Me” (Jn. 17:20-21).  This plea for the unity of all believers has long been a rallying point in churches that identify with the Christian faith.  However, like so many things the Lord said, this plea has been used in ways the Lord never intended.

For example, many who call for the unity of all believers, do so based on emphasizing the areas of agreement among the various churches, while de-emphasizing areas of disagreement.  The net effect is that areas of disagreement are rendered unimportant.  In this way churches with differing doctrinal beliefs can still claim unity with their religious neighbors.  From a human perspective this seems to make perfect sense.  Unfortunately, it entirely misses the point of what the Lord said.

In the context of Jn. 17 the Lord’s plea for unity was based upon the unity that exists between Himself and His Father in heaven.  His plea was that His disciples would be one with Himself and the Father, just as He and the Father are with each other.  This is a particular kind of unity that is far different from what many call unity today.  While we may not be able to fully comprehend the unity of the Father and the Son, we can be certain of what it is not.  It is not based upon them emphasizing their areas of agreement, while de-emphasizing their areas of disagreement.  This is because there are no areas of disagreement between the Father and the Son.

In Jn. 12:48 the Lord said that His word will judge at the last day.  However, He went on to say, “For I did not speak on My own initiative, but the Father Himself who sent Me has given Me a command as to what to say and what to speak.  I know that His commandment is eternal life; therefore the things I speak, I speak just as the Father has told Me” (Jn. 12:49-50).  This means that everything the Lord spoke is exactly what the Father told Him to speak.  They are one, because they both speak the same thing.

This fact cannot be overemphasized.  The unity of the Father and the Son is based upon compliance with the Father’s will.  Even as a full-fledged member of the godhead, Jesus did not go His own way.  He bowed to the Father’s wises in everything He did.  If we today wish to experience this unity, we also must comply with the Father’s will.  In Eph. 4:3 Paul exhorted the Christians in Ephesus “to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace”.  The unity of which he spoke is the unity that comes to us when we obey the gospel and the Father adds us to His kingdom.  We preserve this unity by being of the same mind and judgment on matters of faith, as Paul said in 1 Cor. 1:10.  We can only be of the same mind and judgment, however, if we bow to the Father’s will in everything we do.  If we humbly submit to the Father’s will, then we will all be one, just as the Lord prayed.

What Does the Lord Require?

 

As Moses prepared Israel to enter the promised land, he wrote a book called Deuteronomy in which he reviewed their history up to that time.  He also recounted the law that God had delivered to him on Sinai.  Amid the details of this law Moses included a summary statement of what Israel must do to please God.  In Deut. 10:12-13 he said, “Now, Israel, what does the Lord your God require from you, but to fear the Lord your God, to walk in all His ways and love Him, and to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all our soul, and to keep the Lord’s commandments and His statutes which I am commanding you today for your good?”

As we consider this statement we see that God required four things of His people.  First, He required that they fear Him.  In this case, fear means to revere and to respect.  This is an attitude of submission to higher authority.  If Israel feared God, they would subjugate their will to His will.  Even the Son of God practiced this kind of submission.  In the Garden of Gethsemane Jesus prayed, “yet, not as I will, but as You will” (Mt. 26:39).  If we fear God today, we will do no less than the Son of God did in this regard.

Second, God required Israel to walk in all His ways and to love Him.  This denotes a way of life that is governed by God’s will.  Walking in God’s ways and loving Him are essentially the same thing.  In the scriptures, to love God means to obey Him.  In Jn. 14:15 the Lord said, “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments.”  Thus, if we love God we will obey Him.  We cannot love God and walk our own way.

Third, God required Israel to serve Him with all their heart and soul.  This is how God separates true disciples from fake ones.  Our Lord made this distinction in many of His confrontations with the scribes and Pharisees.  These men were considered the best keepers of the Law of Moses, but the Lord said their hearts were far from God (Mt. 15:8-9).  They were insincere in their worship and often set aside God’s law in favor of their man-made traditions.  God requires sincere worship, and true disciples will not fail to serve Him with all their heart and soul.

Fourth, God required that Israel keep His commandments and statutes.  In a word, this is obedience, and it is the foundation of being acceptable to God.  In fact, each of the preceding requirements is also based upon obedience.  The bottom line is that God requires all who come to Him to obey Him.  There is no wiggle room in this requirement.  We either obey God, or we don’t.  It is each person’s choice, of course, but God will not suspend His commandments if we choose to ignore them.

The final element of Moses’ statement is crucial.  At the end of Deut. 10:13 Moses said that the things God commanded Israel were for their good.  Later in Deuteronomy Moses spoke in detail of all the good things that would come to Israel if they obeyed God’s law.  He also warned them of the evil that would befall them if they disobeyed.  Knowing that God’s laws were for their good should have motivated them to faithfully keep it.  It should also motivate us to keep God’s will today, for Paul said that godliness holds promise for the present life and for the life to come as well (1 Tim. 4:8).

What the Lord requires of us is not complicated.  It is a simple matter of each of us deciding to put His will first in our lives.  If we do so, good things will come to us in life, and at the end of time we will receive a home in heaven for eternity.  With such a reward in view, it just makes sense to do all the Lord requires.