The Death of Death
Death is an awful word. Rude and impolite. An intrusion. It never thinks to ask our permission – nor even our opinion. It is appalling and repulsive, fearful and final. It sucks the oxygen out of every joy. It snuffs out every candle and "raisins" every grape.
Unless, of course, death is not actually what it seems for the follower of Christ.
So, which is it – raisin or ruse?
The Death of Death and the Life of Life
In Jesus' death, we find the death of death itself. Jesus' death is counted valid in place of our death. That is, his death pays a penalty we should pay. It should have been us on the cross. It should have been our blood, not his blood, spilled for our rebellion.
But there's more. While his substitutionary death means the death of death for me, his resurrection promises the life of real life for me. That is, while Good Friday erases my sentence of death (the removal of an agonizing negative), Resurrection Sunday bestows to me never-ending life (the conferral of a glorious positive).
What If Jesus Is Still in the Ground?
In a recent article, I explained reasons I believe that Jesus is no longer buried in the ground. Nevertheless, it can be instructive to ponder the negation of my conclusion. Let's pretend that Jesus is actually still buried in a hidden tomb, somewhere near Jerusalem. What difference would that make?
1. First, it would mean that his transformative words are all tainted. Why is that? Have you ever read an author or listened to a speaker who wowed you, only to discover later this person was a fraud, a hypocrite, a secretly malicious offender? Upon the discovery, don't his books hold a less prominent place on your bookshelf? (Or, they might even get tossed in the garbage?)
Similarly, the record of Jesus' words becomes tasteless and tinged because, while he predicted he'd conquer death, he's still in a tomb. His promise was a sham and a fraud. If so, what other things did he say that are equally unreliable? An occupied tomb tips over the first domino in a long, chain reaction of consequences. Let's think of a few more...
2. If Jesus is still in the ground, a second consequence is a genuine conspiracy was foisted upon a naive population, which has spread through the millennia to offer false hope to millions.
If I promised you an ice cream cone for dessert but didn't deliver, it is disappointing but not tragic. If, on the other hand, I offered you everything you've ever dreamed of – forgiveness, eternal life, happiness, satisfaction, rest – and then skipped town, that would be ... well, evil. To promise Fort Knox and deliver fool's gold is devastatingly cruel.
But this is exactly what the earliest Christians would have done: delivered a cruel, evil promise that they knew was a lie, because they said they saw Jesus alive with their own two eyes. There are plenty of bad names one might call such charlatans. The point? If Jesus is still in the ground, it was an evil conspiracy that's successfully scammed millions of blind adherents ... and for what cause?
3. Third, if Jesus is still in the ground, he certainly wasn't who he claimed to be: God. What a farce. The entirety of Christianity would be rendered moot by the discovery of his body. What possible difference would it make that he lived, spoke, or died? Zippo. He's in a grave, pushing up daisies. Why should any of us care? His claims to deity, now exposed as false by an occupied tomb, render him at best – irrelevant; at worst – evil.
4. Finally, if Jesus is still in the ground, the entirety of the Bible's veracity (truthfulness), authority, and sufficiency comes crashing to the ground. Why believe anything in the Bible, since all of the Bible's promises point in some way to the Messiah-Rescuer? The Bible identifies him to be Jesus (Matthew 16:13-20, John 1:1, 14, Isaiah 53, etc.), yet an occupied tomb denies this assertion, rendering the Bible specious.
If Jesus is still in the ground, then ...
- My sins against a holy God are still debts against my account. I must pay.
- I will default to a calculus I cannot win: I will try with all my might to please God, knowing my heart is corrupted by residing evil. And I must hope that God isn't paying attention to me ... which, of course, makes him something less than God.
- I am a fool to think Jesus heroic.
- I have absolutely no confidence that the grave doesn't end all things. Christianity becomes a shallow hope without compelling evidence.
- The Apostle Paul put it well:
"If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead. But he did not raise him if in fact the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied. But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. – 1 Corinthians 15:12-20
But if Jesus is not in the ground ... if he actually got up from the dead ...
That changes everything!
I wish you the best Easter you've ever had. I am convinced: The tomb is empty. Jesus is alive.