The world’s promises are empty. We are inundated with people telling us to buy this, get that, taste this, drive this, vacation here, and your life will certainly take a turn for the better. Politicians are also famous for making promises–anything to get elected. Why are we so gullible? I guess it is because we all want to truly believe that something or someone can make our lives better. Yet, everywhere we look, we can find people that are coping with the sting of broken promises. Broken promises leave us disillusioned, disappointed, bitter and empty.
So, why do people succumb to all the promising hype in the first place? I think it is because we all want hope. We all want a better life. But we find ourselves instead getting disillusioned in the mire of our own despair–lost job–no job, lost mate–no mate, lost dream–no dreams. So, it’s not like we don’t have plenty of reasons for needing hope.
At first, everything about the death of Jesus Christ looked like another promise not kept. The disciples and others saw Jesus as a promising and charismatic leader–one that would deliver them from heavy taxation and Roman oppression. Was all this talk about him being the Messiah just sheer hyperbole? It sure seemed like that, especially after Jesus introduced the thought of his death–“The Son of Man is going to be betrayed into the hands of his enemies. He will be killed, but on the third day he will be raised from the dead. And the disciples were filled with grief” (Matt. 17:22-23).
Matthew, the gospel writer points out that the disciples were filled with grief at the thought of Jesus’ death. Now, what were they to think? All his miracles and great teaching–for what purpose and to what end? Hopes were dashed, promising political careers pulled up short, high level appointments not going to happen–what had they been following him for if he could not even establish his kingdom? How were they to handle this news? Would cognitive dissonance set in? Would they just resign themselves to having wasted three years of their lives?
Ironically, they seemed to be completely oblivious to the promise that he would rise again. How did they miss that? Had they been so absorbed with their own opportunism that they completely missed his promise of a resurrection on the third day?
If there is one thing about God–his promises are not empty. The disciples were about to learn this undeniable fact. God delivers on his promises. Joshua pointed this out to Israel long ago. "You know with all your heart and soul that not one of all the good promises the Lord your God gave you has failed. Every promise has been fulfilled; not one has failed (Num. 23:14)
With God then, what seems to be an empty promise, sometimes is really one filled with great hope and great expectation. When Jesus uttered the words, “It is finished”, and drew his last breath, there had to be a tremendous empty feeling in the hearts and minds of his disciples. What was finished to them was their dreams and aspirations for a better life. When they heard those words, “It is finished”, do you think the disciples were stunned and shocked? Sure, they were! Were their hopes dashed? Sure, they were! When they took his body down off the cross and looked upon his lifeless and battered body, his silenced lips, and the absence of his warm and engaging mannerisms, were they disheartened and downcast? You bet they were!
Their disappointment was expressed in the words of two disciples on the road to Emmaus. One day, after his resurrection, Jesus walked up to them and they didn’t recognize him. “He asked them, "What are you discussing together as you walk along?" They stood still, their faces downcast. One of them, named Cleopas, asked him, "Are you only a visitor to Jerusalem and do not know the things that have happened there in these days?". . . . The chief priests and our rulers handed him over to be sentenced to death, and they crucified him; but we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel” (Luke 24: 17-18; 20-21). Their words, “we had hoped”, convey the deepest kind of human agony, the agony of a broken promise. You can feel their pain and disappointment. It was that palpable.
Then there was the disappointment Mary felt when all she wanted to do was grieve her Lord’s death and prepare his body for burial, and yet, upon her arrival, his body was nowhere to be found. We read, “Early on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb while it was still dark. When she saw that the large stone had been moved away from the tomb, she ran to Simon Peter and the follower whom Jesus loved. Mary said, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him” (John 20:1-2). Can you hear the tremor and disappointment in her voice? This was just one more blow to an already fragile and grieving soul. How much more could she to take?
Then came the words of the angel, “Do not be afraid; for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who has been crucified. He is not here; He has risen!” What? Now Mary experiences even more shock! Can all this be possibly true? Jesus is alive! Well, his tomb was certainly empty! There was nothing there but his burial clothes. She runs back and tells Peter. Upon hearing the news, Peter runs to the tomb to see for himself.
Sigmund Brouwer tells how Peter’s encounter with the empty tomb might have went in his book, The Carpenter’s Cloth:
During Jesus time, there was one way a carpenter let the contractor know a job was finished. A signature so to speak. Imagine a hot afternoon in Galilee. Jesus has completed the final pieces of a job he has worked on for several days. The hair of his forearms is matted with sawdust and sweat. His face is shiny with heat. He takes a final–and welcome–drink of cool water from a leather bag. Then standing to the side of his work, he pours water over his face and chest, splashing it over his arms to clean himself before his journey home. With a nearby towel, he pats his face and arms dry.
Finally, Jesus folds the towel neatly in half, and then folds it in half again. He sets it on the finished work and walks away. Later, whoever arrives to inspect the work will see the towel and understand its simple message. The work is finished. Christ’s disciples of course knew this carpenter’s tradition.
On a Sunday of sorrow, three years after Jesus had set aside his carpenter tools, Peter will crouch to look into an empty tomb and see only the linens that the risen Lord has left behind. A smile will cross Peter’s face as his sorrow is replaced with hope, for he will see the wrap that has covered Jesus’s face. It has been folded in half, then folded in half again and left neatly on the floor of the tomb. Peter understands. The carpenter has left a simple message. It is finished!
Because that tomb was empty, we have the promise of eternal life. No matter how devastating our disappointments are, they are only temporary. No matter what happens to you or me, no matter the depth of tragedy or pain we face, no matter how death stalks us or our loved ones, the resurrection of Jesus Christ promises us a future of immeasurable good. Jesus said in John 11:25-26, “I am the resurrection and the life. Anyone who believes in me will live, even after dying. Everyone who lives in me and believes in me will never ever die. Do you believe this, Martha?”
Live with Jesus after dying, I am up for that! That’s hope! That’s a promise you can believe in! Dear reader of this blog, will you believe this? Will you place your trust and your hope in the risen person of Jesus Christ? May his resurrection, celebrated this Easter, be a time for you to begin believing in Jesus Christ.