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Living life with an
empty tomb mentality

By David B. Crabtree

Every summer the Cantons gather for a family reunion at the old farmhouse with the wraparound porch. They tell old stories, laugh at old jokes, and fuss over new babies. After dinner, they take a walk through a pine grove to a tiny cemetery. They don’t linger too long, just long enough to remember “Pop” Canton. Uncle Tom says a prayer. The great-grandchildren lay flowers on the grave. Grandma wipes a few tears away and the family then walks back through the tall pines, warmed by memories and love.

The graveyard is as close as we can get to our departed loved ones this side of heaven. A grave marks a final resting place. We find some comfort in having a last address — a place to visit, a place to remember.

But on Easter morning as we remember the sacrificial death of Christ we have no tomb to visit. Even if we did know exactly where they had placed Jesus, we would have no reason to visit the gravesite. Why visit an empty tomb? An empty tomb offers no closure. Tombs and graveyards write the last pages in the human story, but an empty tomb demands the rest of the story.

Go back 2,000 years and you’ll find Peter and John racing shoulder to shoulder through the narrow streets of Jerusalem as the ancient city shook herself awake from a hard night’s slumber. They were on their way to unravel a mystery that thinly veiled the most magnificent story ever told. The body of Jesus, God’s own Son, had been placed in a guarded tomb. He had lived as a man, laughed and loved as a man, suffered as a man, and died as a man. But the story didn’t end when the grave was closed and the mourners departed. On the third day, He rose from the dead to open paradise for all who believe on His name. Four words spoken by an angel echo through the ages: “He is not here.” Peter and John left the graveyard, never to visit the tomb again. After all, it was and is empty.

Before Easter, death and the grave had never been defeated. Oh, we know that Enoch and Elijah were taken into God’s presence without facing death. Death still reigned on earth. Jesus raised a few from the dead, but they lived only to die again. Death itself faced defeat that Easter morning, however, because when Jesus left the tomb He did so in absolute triumph for all eternity on behalf of all who believe in Him. Paul described the impact of Christ’s resurrection this way: “But now Christ is risen from the dead, and has become the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep” (1 Corinthians 15:20, NKJV). If Christ had not risen, then His grave would only speak of things past. Because He is risen, the empty tomb speaks to the past, the present, and the future.

THE PAST

I came upon an anonymous poem in an old preaching volume.

Stand out in the sunlight of promise forgetting
Whatever the past held of sorrow and wrong.
We waste half our strength in a useless regretting;
We sit by old tombs in the dark far too long.

Graveyards, at best, are points of reference. We might visit from time to time, but we cannot live there. The poet was right. “We sit by old tombs in the dark far too long.” The angel said, “He is risen. … Go quickly and tell His disciples. … He is going before you into Galilee!” (Matthew 28:6,7). There was nothing left for Peter and John to do at the tomb. Jesus was going before them. It was time to move.

Paul inspired his Philippian readers with a God-given principle for victorious living: “One thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal” (Philippians 3:13,14). For most of us, it is not Christ’s empty tomb that demands our constant vigil, it is some other dark tomb, some old disappointment or bitterness, some wound that festers still, some dark circumstance that led us to believe that the Victor had won all battles save our own.

Gary was laid off just before completing his 20 years. He had never planned a second career. He felt robbed, unappreciated, used and humiliated. Depression set in and Gary sat down. That was 12 years and nine jobs ago. All of heaven stood ready to help him, but Gary chose to stay at his tomb rather than step out in faith. Lies live strong in the graveyard of the soul. Gary believes his case is hopeless. Until Calvary, tombs were points of termination. For the Christian, the empty tomb is a point of triumph, a place where life looks forward. If we have Christ, we have hope!

Christ is risen! We cannot follow our living Lord and hold onto our dead past. He died to make men free! Why then are so many huddled around old tombs? The funeral is over. Please exit the graveyard. The tomb that matters is empty. It’s time to leave the past behind you and follow the One who goes before you.

THE PRESENT

Christ lives today, and He wants to live in you this very moment. Paul said, “For me to live is Christ” (Philippians 1:21). While we live, we must move. Sometimes we walk, sometimes we dance, sometimes we climb, sometimes we run and sometimes we fly, but we don’t “pack it in” in this life — we keep moving.

Beth was caught in the same downsizing that cost Gary his job, but Beth refused to sit down and mourn. She looked for God in her circumstances and found that He was working all things together for good (Romans 8:28). Although it was tight for a while, she took the setback as an opportunity to retrain, reload and pursue her dream job. Today, she’s living her dream. She framed her pink slip as a reminder of God’s faithfulness. She didn’t move in to dwell in her problems. She moved on to live out her dream. So should we be ever moving to keep in step with God.

We’re like detectives chasing the ultimate truth. As we investigate the facts, Easter’s empty tomb is the linchpin clue we need to move on. Jesus was buried there but He did not stay there. The body disappeared. He was not reburied. We investigate further. The trail leads us to hundreds of eyewitnesses to His resurrection. It leads by the Sea of Galilee where disheartened disciples rediscovered their purpose in life when He who was dead showed up on the beach to serve breakfast. It leads us to a mountaintop where all agree He rocketed into the heavens. The trail then takes us to an Upper Room where His promise of supernatural power was fulfilled.

We follow the trail out of the Upper Room into a courtyard where Peter defined our mission by preaching Christ! At this point, we cannot follow one lead, for 3,000 believers began to walk and talk and live like Jesus. We follow the apostles to all points on the globe and we see the evidence that they lived for Christ unto death. We look out over the earth and we see a glorious church rising up to proclaim Christ to all nations, and we must ask ourselves, “How then shall I live?” The answer rings out across all time: “Go into all the world and preach the Good News” (Mark 16:15, The Living Bible). Men everywhere need to know that Christ broke free from death, hell and the grave so that we might abandon our own dark tombs and live today with purpose, live today victorious, and live today with eternity in view.

THE FUTURE

The tomb is cold and empty, but the future is radiant with Christ’s glory. We have hope for this life and more. When we finally close our eyes in death we will open our eyes in His magnificent presence. While we are here we do not journey alone. He sent the Holy Spirit to lead us safely home. If Christ had not risen, the story would have ended at the garden tomb. Because Christ is risen we have power for living, comfort in sorrow and purpose in working. Because He is risen we have hope in times of trouble, help when storms would threaten and grace when we have fallen. Because the tomb is empty we have joy instead of mourning, love to conquer fear, and the Word of God to feed the soul. I can do more than face my tomorrows — I can run to the fight, hope for the best, reach for the highest and sing when the storms gather. When Satan would taunt me with my graveyard past I can point to an empty tomb and shout, “I am risen with Him!”

The empty tomb is like a sacred battlefield for the Christian. Just as one walks in silence over the hallowed ground at Gettysburg, or pauses to gaze upon the rows of crosses at Flanders Fields, we look at the tomb as we look at the cross, remembering the price that was paid and rejoicing in a great victory won. Our sacred battlefield is different from any other. All others hold bones and bodies and stories of good men lost. The tomb holds nothing but folded linens and the victorious declaration of the angels.

On this Easter morning the church will gather, a million points of light, and sing Wesley’s triumphant Easter standard, “Christ the Lord Is Risen Today.” Each statement in the hymn is capped with a triumphant “Alleluia.” So sing it loud and strong. Sing it with your hands raised in triumph. Sing it with abandon. Sing it as though it is the greatest song ever written. Sing it as though you stand in a heavenly chorus giving a command performance before the King of kings and Lord of lords. The tomb is empty. Death is defeated. Hope springs eternal. Christ is risen. Alleluia!


David B. Crabtree is pastor of Calvary Church (Assemblies of God) in Greensboro, N.C.

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