The Cross and the Empty Tomb
It was a cold winter’s day, 29 years ago, when I attended my father’s funeral. On that day, I was filled with the emotions a son deals with when his father passes away. My mind was spinning with many memories – so many good times to remember.
As I sat at the funeral service with my family, the choir was singing Bill Gaither’s song, Because He Lives. While the choir sang and the music played, my mind momentarily wandered to an encounter I had with my dad only a month before. My father had been diagnosed with lung cancer in December. Shortly after my father’s diagnosis, I had the privilege of visiting my dad and spending some time alone with him in his hospital room. What does a father and son talk about at a time like this? I knew his cancer was inoperable and his most optimistic prognosis was to have two months in which to live.
In the last few years of his life, my father had been involved in a male choir that travelled and sang in various churches. He was familiar with many hymns and songs and could recite many of them from memory. It appeared as though my dad was being drawn back to the church – a place he had abandoned for over 30 years. Dad had once been a lay minister in his church and was heavily involved serving in the church for the first 10 years of my life. After that, dad never attended church except for funerals or weddings.
You might think I would have had many opportunities to have a spiritual conversation with my dad, given his earlier background in the church. But the truth is, my dad never talked to me about spiritual things. When I entered the ministry, he was sympathetic to my calling and was always supportive. But beyond that, dad remained silent when it came to spiritual matters.
So, we sat there that day in the hospital room, keenly aware that it could be the last time we would see each other. I had been buoyed by dad’s involvement in the choir and I had hoped his new-found interest in church was an attempt to draw closer to his early roots and hopefully to a relationship with Jesus.
As I looked at my dad’s face that day, I knew he was doing his best to keep a stiff upper lip. He was trying to face this situation in the bravest manner possible. But I knew my dad was sensing the brevity of his life and was trying to come to terms with his own immortality. I had seen this situation many times as a pastor when I visited the bedside of someone who was near death.
I knew I needed to talk to my dad about his spiritual condition because time was not on his side. So, in that emotion filled moment, I told my father that I loved him, and then I mustered the courage to ask dad about his faith. I asked him if he had the assurance that he was going to be with Jesus when he died. I’ll never forget my dad’s answer. He said, “Son, I hope so, I sure hope so”. I looked at him and said, “Dad, you don’t have to hope so, you can know for sure. God loves you and sent Jesus into this world to die on a cross for you and the entire world. You don’t have to guess Dad, or hope you can get into heaven, you can know for certain.”
My father looked at me that day in sheer bewilderment. It clearly surprised him that I would speak so confidently of my relationship with Jesus and the certainty of heaven. I witnessed firsthand what Dr. Billy Graham would often say at his crusades, “You may have been baptized in the church as an infant, been a member in a church, sang in the choir for years, and still not have a personal relationship with Jesus or the assurance that you will go to heaven.” Well, that certainly described my Dad and probably many others in our world.
After sharing some scriptures with my father, God graciously gave me the opportunity to lead my father to accept Christ in that hospital room. I left that room feeling confident that my dad had finally found a relationship with Christ, something he never found in religion.
Other than a few brief moments before my father passed away, I never had the opportunity to speak to him again. As our family gathered around his bed for his final moments, Betty and I introduced him to our son Joshua, who was just two weeks old. My dad mustered all the strength he could and lifted his head from his bed to give my son a kiss. That was a special moment for me, my wife and my siblings. It was special because my dad wasn’t known for displaying affection. What we witnessed that day amid his pain was a man whose life had been changed by Jesus. A few minutes later my father lost consciousness, and a few hours later, he left this world.
As I was pondering those moments with my dad, I was suddenly drawn back to the funeral service by the music the choir was singing. The choir dad belonged to was singing:
God sent His Son, they called Him Jesus
He came to love, heal and forgive
He lived and died to buy my pardon
An empty grave is there to prove my Savior lives.
Because He lives, I can face tomorrow
Because He lives, all fear is gone
Because I know He holds the future
And life is worth the living, just because He lives.
My spirit was lifted that day as the words of that song were etched upon my heart. I am so grateful that God sent his Son, Jesus, and that he died to heal us and forgive us for our sins. Otherwise, my dad and everyone else in this world, including me, would be without eternal hope.
This month, on Good Friday, Christians all around our world will commemorate the death of our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ. They will do so because as the song indicates above, “He lived and died to buy our pardon”. That’s why Christians celebrate his death–without his death, there would be no pardon for our sins.
Paul explained why Jesus had to die to the Colossian believers: “For God in all his fullness was pleased to live in Christ, and through him God reconciled everything to himself. He made peace with everything in heaven and on earth by means of Christ’s blood on the cross. This includes you who were once far away from God. You were his enemies, separated from him by your evil thoughts and actions. Yet now he has reconciled you to himself through the death of Christ in his physical body (Col. (1:19-22).”
Every one of us is estranged from God because of our sins and evil thoughts; but Christ’s death provides hope for a new beginning. Now, when we choose to believe in Jesus and follow him, we can find forgiveness. The Apostle Peter explained it like this, “Christ carried our sins in his body on the cross so we would stop living for sin and start living for what is right. And you are healed because of his wounds (1 Peter 2:24)”.
When Christ died that day, many people grieved because they didn’t realize the full importance and necessity of Christ’s death. As a pastor, I have watched countless people become overwhelmed with sorrow at funerals all because they had no hope. When a person doesn’t know Christ and the joy of their sins forgiven, death brings a deep sorrow.
As I listened to the choir sing that day, “He lived and died to buy my pardon,” they continued with the words, “An empty grave is there to prove my Savior lives”.
The ultimate victory for all of us was not just his death, but his empty tomb and resurrection. This is our eternal hope as Christ’s followers. Paul speaks of this hope: “Brothers and sisters, we want you to know about those Christians who have died so you will not be sad, as others who have no hope. We believe that Jesus died and that he rose again. So, because of him, God will raise with Jesus those who have died (1 Thess. 4:13-14).
We don’t have to sorrow like those who have no hope. Christ’s resurrection separates Christianity from all other religions. Only Christianity gives us the hope of life eternal because we have a risen Saviour!
This Easter, remember Jesus died for your sins. Without Christ, we all stand guilty before God. The Apostle John said, “If we claim we have no sin, we are only fooling ourselves and not living in the truth. But if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness (1 John 1:8-9). Why not confess your sins today? He is gracious and willing to forgive you.
Put your trust and hope in him today. He is alive and wants to have a relationship with you. Jesus said, "For God so loved the world [put your own name in here] that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life (Jn.3:16)”.
My father believed in Jesus and found that hope in Christ. I found that hope. You can have that hope too, if you choose to accept Jesus as your personal Lord and Saviour. Choose this day to follow Jesus, the risen Lord.