A special Easter message
Every city, town and village has a cemetery that contains memorials to people of all walks of life, reminding us that death comes to us all. If Christ doesn’t return in the meantime, our bodies will all end up in a cemetery. It is a natural consequence of the “bondage to decay” that we share with the rest of God’s creation (Rom. 8:21 niv). Even if you have the best medical specialist in the world, you will have to face death one day.
An Empty Grave
But the foundation of our Christian faith is an empty grave, marked with the joyful exclamation, “He has risen!” (Mk. 16:6). After Christ’s crucifixion he was buried in a grave that had been cut out of rock and sealed with a big stone (Mt. 27:60). Luke’s account of what happened on the next Sunday is as follows: “On the first day of the week, very early in the morning, the women took the spices they had prepared and went to the grave. They found the stone rolled away from the grave, but when they entered, they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. While they were wondering about this, suddenly two men in clothes that gleamed like lightning stood beside them. In their fright the women bowed down with their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, ‘Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here; He has risen! Remember how He told you, while He was still with you in Galilee: ‘The Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, be crucified and on the third day be raised again.’” (Lk. 24:1-7).
Later that day Jesus joined two of His followers as they walked from Jerusalem to Emmaus (Lk. 24:13-35). They were amazed that the grave was empty; they didn’t recognize Jesus. It is interesting to note their response after they recognized Him. Their hearts were warmed as the Lord talked with them and explained the Scriptures. They were encouraged as they understood what God had done. Then they got up and returned at once to Jerusalem, a distance of about seven miles (11 km), to tell their colleagues who responded, “It is true! The Lord has risen and has appeared to Simon” (Lk. 24:34). They also recounted how He had walked with them, talked with them and revealed Himself to them. So their response to the risen Christ was both internal and external: They were excited instead of despondent, and they spread the good news to their friends.
Unlike the bodies of other people, including King David, Christ’s body did not decay in a grave (Acts 2:25-32; 13:36-37). Although Christ had a funeral and was buried in a grave, three days later He rose from the dead and was seen by more than 500 men (1 Cor. 15:6). The women didn’t need to visit Christ’s grave anymore. His resurrection demonstrated His victory over death and ushered in the kingdom of God which is eternal life (1 Cor. 15:50-57). It also is a foretaste of the coming resurrection of all believers: “In Christ all will be made alive … who belong to Him” (1 Cor. 15:22-23).
We Will Rise
Arnold Schwarzenneger’s recent action film, “The 6th Day” shows a new world where man has attained near god-like biotechnological powers, where genetic technologies are used to eliminate disease, and cloning is possible for any living being. It is a remarkable world, said to be coming in the near future, in which immortality is finally within reach. This is similar to the dream of some scientists researching longevity who imagine a world where aging and even death is not inevitable.
But the Bible says that we will all die and that everyone who has died will be raised from the grave (Jn. 5:28-29; Rom. 3:23; 6:23). Resurrection is the opposite of death. In death the soul separates from the body, while in resurrection they are reunited. The Bible states that people will be in either one of two resurrections, based on whether their names are in the “Book of life” (Rev. 20:11-15). Those not in that book are judged by God at the Great White Throne and thrown into the lake of fire. Those in the “Book of life” have been rescued by Christ’s death and will be raised back to life when Christ returns. Then they will be “with the Lord forever” (1 Th. 4:17). These two destinies are illustrated by the story of the rich man and Lazarus, the beggar (Lk. 16:19-31).
A Sleeping Place
Another Lazarus mentioned in the New Testament, who lived in Bethany, was buried in a cemetery twice (Jn. 11:1-44). Jesus told his sister Martha, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in Me will never die” (Jn. 11:25-26). Therefore, believers that have already died will be resurrected when they are raised back to life at the Rapture: “He who believes in Me will live, even though he dies.” On the other hand, believers that are alive at His return will be transformed and all the faithful will be transported to heaven: “Whoever … believes in Me will never die.”
When Lazarus was dead, Christ said that he was asleep (Jn. 11:11). This metaphor is applied in the Bible to the bodies of believers after death, indicating that such death is temporary, restful and peaceful (1 Cor. 11:30). In fact, the word “cemetery” is derived from a Greek word meaning “the sleeping place.”
So, the next time you see a cemetery remember the good news of Christ’s resurrection: He left an empty “sleeping place,” and the graves are only “sleeping places” for believers as they wait for their resurrection.