The empty tomb points us to home

I’ve spent the last few months, mostly in private, considering the identity of Christians in light of our nationalities. Since moving to the Nashville area, I’ve never felt less settled. Less at home, at least in most respects. I’m still trying to figure out the culture here, including the different flavor of passive aggressiveness. The general acceptability of (or, at least, the non-dismissive attitude toward) Christianity in the area continues to throw me for a loop. And then there’s all the other matters of being an adult that are unlike Canada—the tax system and healthcare being chief among them.

It’s a weird place and a weird time if you’re from the outside.

Which is why I find myself continually thanking God for the existence of the local church. Whenever we gather together with a body of believers in the area, even as visitors or semi-regular attendees as we’ve been doing over the last several months,[1. Trying to land in a church in a new country is hard, y’all.] it reminds us that there’s still one thing that’s the same, even if the faces and songs aren’t. And that doesn’t change for us just because this Sunday happens to be Easter. If anything, it makes this truth more real for me.

All around the world, Christians are celebrating the empty tomb. Christ is risen. “He is not here,” as the angels said. The empty tomb, the resurrection of Jesus, is a key proof of the good news of Jesus. His work was finished. Sin and death were defeated. And all who believe, from that point on into our own day and beyond until the day he returns, ultimately having nothing to fear.

But the empty tomb isn’t good news just because sin is defeated (though it is that). It’s good news because it points us to home. The home we long for. The new creation where we will spend eternity with the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Where every last remnant of sin will be washed away. The home that is ours, if we are in Christ.

The local church isn’t perfect by any means. But it does give us an opportunity to celebrate this good news, not just on Easter Sunday, but every Sunday. Every week when we gather, it is to share this good news—”He is not here, but he has risen!” (Luke 24:6, CSB).

The tomb is empty. He is risen. Home is on the way.

Joy is always mixed with sorrow


I’m not sure there’s a day when either my wife or I have ever longed for Jesus to come back more than this Easter Sunday. On March 27, 2016, Taliban suicide bombers targeted Christians while they celebrated the resurrection of Jesus, leaving more than 60 people dead and hundreds more injured.

In a moment—for all of those people and more besides—their joy turned to sorrow. The celebration of life turned to mourning.

When news of such events manages to make its way to Westerners like us (which doesn’t happen as often as it should), there’s this moment where you’re dumbfounded. Or at least there is for me. There’s this realization that there is nothing I can do at this moment to help these people. There is nothing I can do that is within my power to put an end to the evil schemes of those who perpetrate such crimes. I’m not a politician. I’m not a person of worldly authority or influence. I’m a normal guy from a nowhere town.

And for a moment, it’s easy—tempting even—to lose heart.

God’s “not yet” and the temptation to lose heart

If you have any doubt that ISIS, the Taliban, and other extremist groups are evil, you need only look again to the events of this weekend. And the bombing in Brussels a few days earlier. And priests who have been kidnapped in order to be crucified around the same time. With the escalation of events like these (with undoubtedly more to come), it’s hard not to be reminded of Matthew 24:6, “You are going to hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not alarmed, because these things must take place, but the end is not yet” (HCSB). Those last words are important: “the end is not yet.” We are looking at the birth pains (Matthew 24:8), but not the inauguration of the new creation just yet.

But waiting is not easy, is it? Particularly for those of us who live in a culture of immediacy, it is hard to see what is happening in the world and not wonder why Christ has not yet come again. Why he has not returned to put an end to it all.

There it is again: the temptation to lose heart.

And the temptation grows as we lament various governments’ apparent inaction against terrorist organizations like ISIS. We know that the authorities of this world have been given the task by God to execute justice on his behalf; they act as “an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer” (Romans 13:6, ESV). Yet it seems as though they are doing anything but.

Sanctions. Statements. Warnings. Boilerplate condemnations. Our hearts go out and whatnot.

It is no wonder so many have lost hope in governments’ abilities to do what is right, and how alluring a political candidate can be who makes the audacious claim that he alone can solve this problem.

And once more, the temptation to lose heart grows.

While we wait for God’s “not yet” to become “now”

I say tempting because that’s what it is. Tempting. But I find that, as easy as it might be, I can’t lose heart. I don’t want to give in to this temptation.

Instead, I find that I have to reconcile the fact that in this world, joy will always be mixed with sorrow. On Sunday, we celebrated the resurrection with our church family. I played with the kids. We had pancakes for dinner.  I read three chapters of The Last Battle with my middle daughter. It was, by all accounts, a good day.

But at the same time as I was enjoying my day, and giving thanks for the blessings I’ve enjoyed, I found myself grieving with those who had lost their loved ones. Their mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters, sons and daughters.

And all of it makes me long for Jesus to come even more quickly. I want the evils in this world to come to an end. I want the Taliban, ISIS and other terrorist groups all around the world to face justice. But my hope is in the One who I actually know can—and more importantly, will—put an end to all this evil: Jesus Christ. These tragic events only make me long to see him come that much sooner, and to eagerly look forward to the day when he does arrive to make all things new.

But today is probably not that day. And so as I wait, I see joy and sorrow continue to mix. To weave together. But I do not give in to the temptation to lose heart because I know that joy will win—because the man of sorrows is my source of joy. Jesus, the one who is intimately acquainted with grief, will wipe every tear from every eye, and joy will swallow up sorrow forevermore.

Until that day comes, I will wait. I will pray. I will grieve. I will celebrate. But I will not lose hope.


Everything sad is coming untrue


I can’t imagine what it would have been like that first Easter Sunday—to have been one of the first people to come to the tomb, and to hear the angels say, “He is not here! For He has been resurrected, just as He said” (Matthew 28:6). To see the empty grave clothes. To meet Jesus and mistake him for a gardener. To walk alongside him on a road and not recognize him. To feel my heart burning within me as he spoke, but not understand what was happening.

To watch the beginnings of everything sad coming untrue,[1. With apologies to J.R.R. Tolkien.] and not realize it.

Yet, this is what happened, starting on that fateful morning, isn’t it? As the women came to honor Christ in death, they discovered death could not hold him. As the disciples’ sorrow turned to joy as Christ revealed to them all that the Scriptures testified about him. As Jesus appeared to his followers and allowed Thomas to touch the holes in his hands and feet, and see that he really was alive.

That’s what’s been happening—and has continued to happen every day for 2000 years since, as Jesus’ followers took the message throughout Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and to the ends of the earth. And as this message has taken root in the hearts of men and women everywhere,

  • Sadness has been exchanged for joy.
  • Enmity with God has been exchanged for friendship.
  • Sinfulness has been exchanged for righteousness.
  • Fruitless toil has been exchanged for rest.
  • Folly and striving after the wind have been exchanged for true wisdom.
  • Separation has been exchanged for unity.
  • Death has been exchanged for eternal life.

No more striving in vain. No more hoping to earn what he freely gives. No more trying to do what only Christ could do for us. “It is finished,” Jesus said on Good Friday. And on Sunday, the angels confirmed it: “He is not here! For He has been resurrected, just as He said” (Matthew 28:6).

That is the good news of Easter, friends: Christ is risen—and everything sad is coming untrue. That is the good news we celebrate not simply on one day of the year, or even every Sunday, but every day!

Good Friday and the completion of Christ’s work

Crown of thorns on top of an open Bible

This morning, our church will be celebrating Good Friday for the first(?) time on Good Friday. We’ve worshiped in public high schools up until last fall when we moved into our first permanent facility, so it’s going to be an interesting morning for us, if for no other reason than the novelty. Regardless of the location, though, Good Friday and Easter Sunday are big deals for us, as they are for (I hope) all Christian churches. They’re an opportunity to invite non-Christian family and friends to join us, certainly. But there’s something else, something much more important: the celebration of the completion of Christ’s work in redeeming us.

And that word “completion” is an important one, as I’ve been reminded over the last several weeks. Since January, I’ve been working my way through the Old Testament, first through the Law, now into the history of Israel. And each time I read, I have been consistently confronted with one thing: humanity’s complete inability to be righteous on our own. Ever since that fateful day in the garden when our first parents ate from the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, it’s been like this. We just want to do what is right in our own eyes, not what is actually right.

And to make matters worse, there’s no list of commands that can make us do more better. There’s commandments that are good, but they serve to condemn us in our failure to accomplish them. And this is why Christ came. He came to die for us—to take the penalty of our sins—but also to live as we cannot. As R.C. Sproul wrote in The Work of Christ,

Jesus had to adhere to the whole law of God because the redemption He brought was not accomplished solely by His death on the cross. God did not send Jesus to earth on Good Friday so He could go straight to the cross. Jesus not only had to die for our sins, but also had to live for our righteousness. If Jesus had only died for our sins, His sacrifice would have removed all of our guilt, but that would have left us merely sinless in the sight of God, not righteous. We would not have done anything to obey the law of God, which is righteousness. . . . Jesus’ life of perfect obedience was just as necessary for our salvation as His perfect atonement on the cross.

When I sing at church this morning, my hope is that I will sing with this reality in mind. When I listen to the message, my hope is I will listen with this in mind. What I celebrate today—and make no mistake, as dark a day as we often paint it, it is a day to celebrate—is not simply the final act of Christ’s atoning work, but the totality of it—for “He made the One who did not know sin to be sin for us, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Corinthians 5:21, HCSB).

The only reasonable thing to do


Jesus’ death and resurrection cause no end of consternation among those who either question or seek to disprove the Christian faith. Should Christians be all hung up on whether or not Jesus really rose from the dead? Does the evidence really prove itself out?

Here are the facts about the resurrection, as we have them:

  • The tomb was empty.
  • No one could produce a body.
  • For several weeks after his death, Jesus’ disciples kept meeting him—and rarely as individuals only, but almost exclusively in groups, some as large as 500 people!

His disciples’ insistence caused them no end of ridicule and scorn, yet they persisted in proclaiming Jesus’ resurrection. They event went so far as to say that if Jesus did not rise from the dead, their faith is in vain and their sins were still on them, and therefore they were utterly without hope (1 Corinthians 15:17-19).

To prove them wrong, all one had to do was produce Jesus’ body. And yet, no one ever could. Why? Because there was no body to be found.

So what is the most reasonable thing to do? We can continue to make up alternative explanations all day long. We can attempt to say Jesus never really existed, or that if he did, he didn’t resemble the man who claimed to be God as described in the gospels.

Or, we can admit, as J.I. Packer encourages, that there is only one reasonable thing to do: believe. He writes:

A Christian in public debate accused his skeptical opponent of having more faith than he—“for,” he said, “in face of the evidence, I can’t believe that Jesus did not rise, and you can!” It really is harder to disbelieve the resurrection than to accept it, much harder. Have you yet seen it that way? To believe in Jesus Christ as Son of God and living Savior, and to echo the words of ex-doubter Thomas, “My Lord and my God,” is certainly more than an exercise of reason, but in the face of the evidence it is the only reasonable thing a person can do.[1. J.I. Packer, Affirming the Apostles’ Creed, Kindle location 800]

Don’t invite them to church this weekend


For a lot of churches in the West, Easter weekend is treated not unlike SuperBowl Sunday. It’s the big show, a grand production. Kind of like a regular Sunday with a bit of extra “oomph”—which most often comes in the form of horrifically graphic video clips from a movie for which we may or may not have appropriate licensing, though occasionally it also involves laser light shows, motorcycle stunts, and an extravagant giveaway or two.

This is the weekend where we’re encouraged to invite our friends, our families, our neighbors, and bring them to church. It’s the weekend where they’re for sure going to hear the gospel preached and perhaps even the Lord might save them!

But you know something? I’m not sure it’s always a good idea. In fact, in some cases, maybe the best thing to do is to not invite them at all.

  • Don’t invite them to church this weekend if they would be surprised to learn you’re a Christian.
  • Don’t invite them if the gospel wasn’t preached last weekend.
  • Don’t invite them if you wouldn’t invite them next weekend.

That’s not what they need. They don’t need to go to a church where they’re not going to hear about Jesus, and they don’t need to be invited to church on one weekend if you wouldn’t invite them any other time.

Some of us should, definitely, invite our friends to church this weekend, next weekend, and every weekend, as long as Jesus is consistently proclaimed. But for many of us, maybe we need to take a few steps back. Maybe we should invite them into our lives first, and share the gospel with them as we begin to share ourselves. Let them get to know a Christian and win them with the good news, rather than potentially confuse them with a big show.


The last days of Jesus: the Sent One sends


On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being locked where the disciples were for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.” (John 20:19-21)

The third day had come. The tomb was empty, just as Jesus had promised. But instead of finding the disciples rejoicing and boldly proclaiming the resurrection, we find them hiding behind a locked door, afraid of the Jewish leaders who had put Jesus to death.

And then Jesus showed up and everything changed.

“Peace be with you,” He said, holding up his hands and showing His side. And their fears were gone. Jesus’ promise was true—He had risen from the dead. This was not a hoax or an imaginary story. This was the living, breathing Son of God standing before them, who was about to tell them something important: “As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you” (John 20:21).

Now, Jesus said, they were to go and speak. They had seen with their own eyes. Jesus had won victory over sin and death; He had paid for their sins in full. And now, they—and we like them—were to go and tell the world. The Sent One became the Sender, and the world would be turned upside down.

Father, thank you for the resurrection of Jesus, and that because of this day, we have such good news to tell the world. Just as Jesus sent out His disciples to make disciples of all nations, you’ve called us to do the same. Please give us boldness to speak as we ought, to not keep the good news of Jesus’ victory over Satan, sin and death to ourselves but to share it gladly and joyfully as we worship You. Amen.

Photo via Lightstock

The last days of Jesus: the resting Lord of the Sabbath


And on the seventh day God finished his work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work that he had done. (Genesis 2:2)

God created the heavens and the earth—light and darkness, time and space, land and water, plants and animals, man and woman… And then, He “rested on the seventh day from all his work that he had done.” His work of creating all that is was complete.

It was finished.

During the days leading up to His death, Jesus was preparing to complete His greatest work: the redemption of sinners. And so He was arrested, beaten, tortured, nailed to a cross and left to die. And as He hung on the cross, in a loud voice he cried, “It is finished” (John 19:30).

And then, He died.

The Bible says very little about what happened on the day following Jesus’ death, but we do know one thing: it was the Sabbath. It was the seventh day, the day set aside as a time of rest before the Lord. No work was to be done. And this was what brought Jesus into so much conflict with the Pharisees. He was continually doing “works” on the Sabbath—and for this, they persecuted Him. But Jesus was the Lord of the Sabbath, and just as His Father was working, so too was He working (Matthew 12:8; John 5:17).

But now, His work was finished.

And the Lord of the Sabbath “rested on the seventh day from all his work that he had done”—just like His Father.

Father, few words should fill us with more joy than those telling us how you rested from your work. Thank you that Jesus imitated you completely by resting from His own work, the redemption of our souls. Help us to follow in this example as well—to enjoy the rest that you have given us, not only from the work of our daily lives, but the futile work of trying to save ourselves. Amen.

Photo via Lightstock

The last days of Jesus: the despised but undefeated King


And when the sixth hour had come, there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour. And at the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” And some of the bystanders hearing it said, “Behold, he is calling Elijah.” And someone ran and filled a sponge with sour wine, put it on a reed and gave it to him to drink, saying, “Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to take him down.” And Jesus uttered a loud cry and breathed his last. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. And when the centurion, who stood facing him, saw that in this way he breathed his last, he said, “Truly this man was the Son of God!” (Mark 15:33-39)

After hours of mock trials, brutal torture, having been made to carry His own cross to the place of His crucifixion and finally having spikes driven through His hands and feet, Jesus’ work was nearly done. Darkness covered the land and a cry came from Jesus, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?”—“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

From the cross, as Jesus quoted the first verse of Psalm 22, we’re left to wonder what was happening in that moment. What was happening between the Father and the Son, no one can say. But as Jesus cried out, intentionally quoting this psalm of David, we gain a better picture—for in all its details, this psalm is about Jesus.

Perhaps, it was a final reminder to the people that all that was occurring was happening according to the Scriptures. He was scorned by man; He was despised my His people. He was mocked, just as the psalmist said He would be (Psalm 22:6-8).

“He saved others; let him save himself, if he is the Christ of God, his Chosen One!” (Luke 23:35)

And when He breathed His last, and as the temple curtain was torn in two, those witnessing the events were left in awe, just as the psalmist sang:

All the ends of the earth shall remember
and turn to the Lord,
and all the families of the nations
shall worship before you.
For kingship belongs to the Lord,
and he rules over the nations. (Psalm 22:27-28)

Jesus was despised, but He was undefeated. The King of the Jews would die, but through His death “all the families of the nations” would worship Him.

Father, thank you for sending Jesus to die for us. Thank you that He endured the punishment we all deserve so we can truly worship you. Please help us to stand in awe when we consider the events of Good Friday, just as those who witnessed the death of Jesus did. Amen.

Photo via Lightstock