SUNDAY SCHOOL LESSONS
Commentary by Walter Albritton
June 26, 2005
Life is Never the Same Once We
Believe the Tomb Was Actually Empty
Key Verse: Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. Look, there is the place they laid him. – March 16:6
Anyone who has ever worked with machinery knows the great value of a linch pin. I used a modern linch pin to secure the bush hog to my 8N Ford Tractor for many years. It is a locking pin inserted in the end of a shaft, such as an axle, to hold a wheel in place.
Linch pins are not, however, a
recent invention. They have been in use for many centuries. We know, for
example, that the Celts used an iron and bronze linch pin to secure the wheel
of a chariot to the fixed axle. One dating to the first century was found not
long ago in a plowed field near
The word has taken on new meaning in our language and is frequently used now to mean “a central cohesive element.” So we can make the strong assertion that the resurrection of Jesus is the linchpin of Christianity. Without the fundamental belief that Jesus was raised from the dead by the power of God, the wheels come off the Christian faith. Christianity without an empty tomb is a fraudulent religion.
Most of us will admit that at times we wondered if perhaps the resurrection was indeed a myth. But finally we realized that if there had been no resurrection of Jesus, there would have been no New Testament. There would have been no church born at Pentecost. Our faith in Jesus Christ hinges on this central reality – Jesus was raised from the dead.
There is no doubt the disciples believed it. They had seen Jesus crucified. They knew he was dead. They knew his dead body had been placed in the tomb. Then, on that glorious morning, the tomb was empty; Jesus was not there! Because they believed, their lives were never the same.
At first the disciples were skeptical. But their skepticism vanished when the living Christ appeared to them and “upbraided them for their lack of faith and stubbornness.” This must have been a vivid, compelling encounter with the Lord for it convinced them that Jesus was alive. Not even one of them spoke of having seen a ghost; his presence was so real that they knew the one speaking to them was the resurrected Lord.
We are not surprised that the women at the tomb were filled with fear and amazement. They had come to anoint a dead body with spices. Instead, angels began telling them that Jesus was not there for he had been raised from the dead.
We need not stumble over such matters as the “Shorter Ending” and the “Longer Ending” of Mark’s Gospel. There will always be mysteries about the Bible that we cannot explain. That does not invalidate its great value to our Christian lives. Which ending do you prefer? Pay your money and take your choice.
If you agree with the scholars who suggest that all verses beyond verse 8 are spurious, be careful not to feel superior to those who prefer the longer ending. We can make either choice and still learn from the verses including in the longer ending. Verse 16 is a verse deeply loved by many Christians: “The one who believes and is baptized will be saved; but the one who does not believe will be condemned.” I have baptized dozens of adults who took those words attributed to Jesus seriously and came forward to believe and be baptized.
I have loved verse 20 for many years. Here is a beautiful picture – the Lord “working with” the disciples, confirming their message as they “went out and proclaimed the good news everywhere.” Another version describes the disciples “going everywhere preaching” while the “Lord was with them.” It is encouraging to know that the Lord is working with us as we serve him in ministry to others.
I am as perplexed as anyone else by verse 18 which speaks of handling snakes and drinking poison. It seems frankly out of place. The idea is not supported by anything else Jesus said in the gospels, nor does it seem characteristic of the teachings of our Lord. Jesus promised that the Spirit would lead us into all truth, and I can testify that the Spirit has never led me to teach or recommend either handling snakes or drinking poison. I am content to leave this verse alone and focus more on what seems clearly the truth taught by Jesus.
There is no doubt that verse 15 reflects the authentic teaching of Jesus: “Go into all the world and proclaim the good news to the whole creation.” Being obedient to that responsibility will take up all the time and energy I have left and leave me no time at all to worry about snakes and poison.
All of us know what it is like to wrestle with our own death and dying. I know I will die and yet I do not wish to die anytime soon. I love life and the joy of living is precious to me. However, I have settled the matter in my heart of hearts. I settled it the day I decided for myself that the tomb was actually empty. I believed that God raised Jesus from the dead and that “because he lives, I too shall live.”
I can honestly say that my life has never been the same since I believed with my heart and soul that the tomb was empty. I have felt the Presence of the living Christ. I have possessed a living hope that while indescribable is real. For me that hope is held securely in place by the linchpin of Christianity – the resurrection of Jesus. To believe that the tomb was empty makes all the difference in the world. Without it, nothing else makes sense. + + + + (Contact Walter at firstname.lastname@example.org)