The stone rolled shut and there was darkness and death. Jesus’ body, lifeless, wrapped in linens filled with spices and a cloth over his face. The shouts of ‘Hosanna’ were still in the air as the crowd turned on Him crying out ‘Crucify Him!’ He died quickly. Pilate was surprised, and his legs did not need to be broken. (If the ones being crucified did not die quickly enough, the Roman soldiers would break their legs to keep them from being able to take deep breaths causing them to drown more quickly from the internal bleeding caused from their wounds.) The sky turned black. Jesus cried out, then it was over. A great movement, a great man with great love murdered by those He had come to save.
Their weapons were words. They lied about Him. They made false accusations. They mischaracterized to put him in a bad light. Have you ever been murdered by the lies people tell? Have your heart bled out from the false accusations, hatred, and jealousy of others. There is no real tomb nor is there a real stone rolled into place, but the darkness and death we feel in our spirit is real. What do you do when people turn on you and even your closest friends deny you?
The Good News is that Jesus did not stay in the tomb. The Bible tells us of resurrection power by which His Father in Heaven drew Jesus out of the grip of death. Preachers will shout that when Jesus died and rose again, He conquered sin, death, and Hell. And to be certain, He did! But we mustn’t be confused by the terminology. There was no battle. Jesus nor His Father in Heaven struggled. They did not break a sweat. They simply willed it to be so. There is no power in Heaven or Earth, neither the depths of Hell that could have stopped Christ from reviving His own body to return to life. This is resurrection power. It is so far beyond the power of the Enemy. He was helpless to stop the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
This resurrection power is the same that is at work within us as believers of Jesus Christ. And when we find ourselves locked in the tombs of death, there is no power strong enough to keep us from running out of the grave. No devil, no witch, no hex, no momma, no daddy, no husband or wife, no job, no lie, no gossip, no angel can keep us locked in the tombs of our life. We have been filled with the resurrection power of Jesus Christ. It is only when we choose not to live in this power that we find ourselves stuck in the darkness of our own depression, anger, self-pity, jealousy, sadness.
When Christ came back to life, it would seem that He did so in the tomb. When the disciples ran into the tomb, they found the strips of linen laying there discarded. While the cloth that had been wrapped around his face in preparation for burial was folded up neatly. Jesus took special care to fold this piece of cloth while the strips of linen filled with spices were laid aside. These two things teach us much about how to put the resurrection power of Christ to work that we might come out of our graves.
As discussed in the previous blog, the strips of linen filled with spices represent our reputation. Jesus received 100 pounds of spices where the regular man might only receive one pound of spices. This was an indication of how much His followers thought of Him. At the same time, He was murdered because of so many hating Him. It is for this reason that we may discard what others think about us. We can not let what people think of us direct our life whether they are flattering us or demeaning us. We live for the audience of One, our Father in Heaven.
But the cloth that was folded reveals the second part of this truth. Most of the time when teachers or rabbis passed away, their face would be wrapped in their tallit or prayer cloth. These were fabricated according to Old Testament instruction with tassels on each corner. A tassel is made out of the fringes of fabric gathered together. The fringes along with the knots tied in the fringes within the tassels were to remind the people of the 613 Old Testament laws. It is a reminder that we must be in obedience to the Lord. But more than this, these were the prayer cloths. Jesus would have taken this cloth many times and pulled it up over his head for prayer. In doing this, teachers would tabernacle themselves with God in prayer, intimacy with the Father. This cloth, the symbol of intimacy and prayer with the Lord was honored while the linen with spices was set aside.
We tend to stay in our tombs because we honor the wrong things. We honor the linen with the spices. In this day an age of facebook, we want to see how many ‘likes’ we get or followers we have on Twitter. Not to demonize these, but this is a microcosm of our society and how we all live to please people. Or should we ever feel like we will never please people, we will live in defiance and rebellion to them. Either way, their opinion of us is dictating our life. But Jesus teaches that we should not give so much honor to what others think, but instead, it is our intimacy with the Father that we should honor.
The woman from Mark, chapter 5, with the issue of bleeding saw that Jesus was coming by and she thought to herself, “If I can just touch the hem of his garment, I will be healed.” The Hebrew word for ‘tassel’ is translated into the English word ‘hem.’ She was trying to touch these tassels on his prayer cloth.
Why didn’t she want to touch Him? Why His tassels? More than likely, it is because she had heard many times the words of the prophet:
But for you who revere my name, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its wings. And you will go out and leap like calves released from the stall. 3 Then you will trample down the wicked; they will be ashes under the soles of your feet on the day when I do these things,” says the Lord Almighty. (NIV 1984)
The Hebrew words for ‘fringes’ was tied closely to the words also translated into ‘rays’ and ‘wings.’ These tassels were sometimes referred to as the wings of God. This woman believed these tassels to be the wings from which healing would come. Again, these represent our prayer life. This woman fought through the crowds to touch the tassels. When was the last time you had a fighting attitude about your prayer life? When was the last time that you were willing to fight through your crowded calendar and your events so pressed in to make sure you had time for prayer, worship, meditation, and intimacy with the Lord?
I really don’t even like asking the question because I convict myself. But this is the key to coming out of the tombs of God. Intimacy with the Lord brings power for healing, power for freedom, and power for the future. Take some time right now and carve out some time for prayer and intimacy with God and get ready to run out of your grave.
“I am not going to do it! I need to lose some weight. I need to think about my health.” This is what I was thinking as I pushed away the butter-chess pie to the middle of the table. I had already eaten half of it and it was RICH! But my eyes would not move away. My heart began to pound. I thought to myself, “How often to I eat at Furr’s?” (This is the only place I know where I can get it.) That piece of pie seduced me with sultry eyes and a smokey voice calling to me, “Just one more bite…” I was suddenly unaware of any of my surroundings. Lost in a new world of butter-chess wonder, I sat frozen. The Cowboys were actually winning on the television just above me, but it didn’t matter. The tension was building and my blood was pumping. Everything came to a climax as the waitress said, “Can I take that away and clear some space for you?” Why must she be so mean?!? I blurted out my answer the my fate was sealed.
Some things are so difficult to throw away. They seem to be something good and something wonderful, but it is a lie straight from the pits of Hell and no, I am not just talking about butter-chess pie.
When Jesus came back to life after spending three days in the depth of the Earth, the Scripture says that He took the cloth that had been wrapped around him and just laid it down as if tossed without care, discarded to the floor of that tomb. Not so the piece of cloth they had placed around his face. But the cloth that had wrapped his dead body, he frivolously flung to the floor.
These were the strips of linen that those who loved him had filled with 75 to 100 pounds of spices. A common man might be wrapped in linen with one pound of spices, but Jesus was so well thought of by His followers that they overloaded the strips of cloth. It was a sign of honor. It represented His reputation in their mind.
When I first began to study this, I wondered why the face cloth was folded neatly, but these strips of linen were just discarded as if they had no value though so much had gone into them. And we know the Lord does nothing by accident. Before He leaves the tomb, He folds up one piece of cloth and throws away these spice-filled strips of linen. They had been wrapped tightly around His body, but now He disrobed and tossed His reputation to the side as if it didn’t matter what people thought of Him. It was not the first time He had done this. Philippians says that He disrobed His glory to make Himself of no reputation when He left Heaven to fill the womb of a modest woman. At the last supper, He disrobed again and placed a towel around his waist. Leaving his reputation on the floor even as Peter objected, the King became the servant. At his death, before the grave cloths, they removed his robe with great care. It was the robe they had placed on Him mocking Him as the King of the Jews. He diminished Himself to criminal on the cross for our sins. And now, before He breaks out of the tomb, He lays aside the opinion of people.
Our care of what people think of us must be tossed to the side if we ever want to live in the power of the resurrection. Though Jesus was loved by some and they wrapped him in such spices, others hated Him, crucified Him, and then He was placed in the tomb. The tombs of life remind us that we will never please everyone. We will never be liked, much less, loved and approved by everyone. There will always be those who think highly of us and others who want to tear us down. To care too much about what they think is like the grave clothes that wrapped Jesus’ dead body keeping Him limbs from moving freely. The purpose of those dark tomb moments are to reveal to us that we might care too much about what people think. In the darkness, we are alone. We can’t hear the cheers nor the jeers. We are there alone with the One who never leaves us nor forsakes us, even in the tombs. To roll away the stone, we must learn to live for His opinion alone. We must throw our reputation away.
I don’t mean to say that we don’t want to have a good reputation. But to live for the approval of people is a tomb. It brings death. We must live to please God and in doing so, some will think highly of us as we love them and live with integrity. Still others will despise us. If the world hated Christ, why do we take it so hard when people hate us. Allowing their opinions to weigh us down, keeping us from moving into God’s plan for our life is something that we must push away. And sometimes, it is the flattery of others that we must push to the middle of the table. If we let their compliments affect us to much, it is like eating the rest of that butter-chess pie. It tastes good, but for the rest of the afternoon, you will be laying on the couch moaning and groaning in discomfort. Trust me on this one…I know firsthand.
Let us humble ourselves, making ourselves of no reputation just as Christ did. When we learn to live like this, we will defy the spirit of death trying to destroy our life. Instead, we will live in the power of the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
One of the most devastating moments of my life, or at least it seemed that way at the time, was January 21st, 1979. We were living in a small apartment in Las Vegas, New Mexico. I was nine. We were watching my beloved Dallas Cowboys play the Pittsburgh Steelers in Super Bowl XIII. The Steelers had dominated the game and begun to celebrate on the sidelines what seemed to be a sure victory. The Cowboys and Roger Staubach, though, refused to quit. They scored twice in the closing minutes of the game but fell short. I walked out of our apartment and began to scream and cry and cry and scream. My world had just been crushed. There were others in the apartment building who were letting out victory shouts for the Steelers. I hated those people for several months 😊. I would not have my revenge until Super Bowl XXX when the Cowboys defeated the Steelers. They beat them down deep into the dirt of infamy, leaving nothing but their tears like dew on the grass. There was nothing left of them. They were beat. They were nothing. They were the losers and we were THE WINNERS! HAAAAAA!!!! ….Sorry, got a little carried away there.
One thing I have noticed in all of my years as a sports fanatic is that the fans of the winning team always celebrate. They always celebrate! I remember when I moved to San Antonio and I had the chance to go to David Robinson’s last game. The Spurs defeated the New York Nets and Jason Kidd for the NBA Championship. The city went nuts!! I had never seen anything like it. The other thing I have noticed is that the fans of the losing team are always distraught because of the loss of such a big game.
In Scripture the Apostle Paul used the analogy of sports to address life after death. It wasn’t football. I am pretty sure football as we know it did not exist in Biblical times, but had there been, the Cowboys would have DOMINATED!! But this was during the times of the great competitions soon to be known as the Olympics. Paul spoke of running a race and winning the race to teach us truth about the death of believers:
1 Corinthians 9:24-25
Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. (NIV 1984)
I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.
All of us who are mature should take such a view of things. (NIV 1984)
When a person dies with faith in God, they have won. They didn’t win something trivial like the Super Bowl which has no eternal significance. No, they have won the good fight of faith. We recently lost a very good friend. His name was Art. This man was such a good man. He lived to be like Christ. In his fight for cancer, every person who walked into his hospital room could not leave until Art took them by the hand and prayed for them. If I was there, as his pastor, he would ask me to pray. He was not afraid of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The Lord had given him so much influence for Christ. One can’t help but ask, “Why?” Why did the Lord allow Art to be taken? He was still young. It certainly seems that many people needed him in their life. For many, he was probably the only example of Christ in their life.
Haven’t you asked this of others who have gone on to be with the Lord? Death of a loved one can easily challenge our faith because it seems unfair, too soon. But what can we learn of Paul’s teachings? These that we love have fought the good fight and they have won. They are champions. They are champions forever. They are champions of life and champions in death. They wrestled with all the temptations, hardships, and heartaches and valiantly fought off every attack and they won. In Heaven, they understand this. This is why the angels usher the dead into the glory of Heaven (Luke 16:22, NIV). The angels become the entourage of the victor receiving eternal rewards. But here on Earth, because we don’t see the other side, we are like the fans of the winning team, but instead of celebrating their victory, we mourn the end of the season. Imagine the city of San Antonio becoming down in the mouth at the end of Game 6 because the season was over instead of running around like wild banshees in the street in celebration.
I have never seen an interview after a championship game where a reporter asked the winning coach, “Do you wish you would have lost the game?” Of course not, winning is the goal. Heaven is the goal. We struggle because the length of the season for each life seems to be different. A young teenager taken in a car accident or a child loses their fight with cancer and we struggle. They should have had more time. From this side of Heaven, we can say that, but when I think about how hard life is and how it seems to become more difficult the older I get, maybe the Lord favored them by saving them from the exceeding pressures of life that come as we age?
As we stood around Art’s bed and prayed with one another after his passing, Pastor David mentioned in his prayer that Art was in Heaven, I thought to myself, “You won Art! You are a champion forever!”
If we look at the death of believers as Paul teaches, it does not take away the pain nor the ache in our heart. It hurts knowing they will no longer be with us. As a Hospice Chaplain, I have sat with many families, months and years after their loss and they still hurt and they still cry. Many have apologized for crying because it has been so long since their loved one passed. My response is always the same, “What would it say if you didn’t cry? What would it say if it didn’t hurt?” Our tears memorialize and bring honor to those we have lost. There is a time to mourn, and it is not a set time. We should never let others set the time for our mourning. We must mourn and we must heal. We have to trust the Lord with this process and not some kind of dictated time frame of what is acceptable to others. After someone we love dies, life is never the same nor should it be. The mourning process transitions, but we will always mourn their loss. I know they celebrate in Heaven and we should celebrate with them, but we must mourn also. Mourning is evidence of our love for them, and their place in our heart.
The key to holding on to our faith is not allowing our inability to see through to the other side of death to cause us to believe that God is unfair or unkind. Instead, we should see that the Lord has shown great favor to our loved ones by delivering them from the struggles of this life. His favor has taken them to a place without regret, without tears, without fear, and full of the love of God.
Sometimes, it feels as if the Lord has been unfair to us because we needed those people in our life. We might feel that those we lost were our strength, our stability, our soul-mate. It is not unusual to feel this way, but not seeing them physically every day doesn’t mean they are not with us? With all sensitivity, I would say that they will only be absent from our life if we allow it to be so. The life we have lived with them is a gift and those memories should be cherished as greater than gold. They had such a great influence on our life and meant so much to us, but they continue in this still. They are in our heart. They are in our memories. With great kindness, the Lord will remind us of them when we need that memory the most and we are strengthened. We are encouraged. We feel the sadness again, but their spirit lives in our memory.
My best friend from high school died just a few short years ago. I dedicated my first book “Prepare For Greater Things” to him. He lost his battle with cancer but fought through some powerful temptations from Hell and held tight to his faith. He is a champion in Heaven. I think of him often and the Lord brings memories to my mind. I can’t help but think, “I can’t wait to see him again.” Whoo! Hoo! What a day that shall be!! This is God’s purpose for those who are left behind. Our love for those who have passed will draw us near to Him, near to Heaven, and near to those champions we no longer see.
In our pain, let us cheer them on. In the heavy ache of our heart, let’s celebrate their victory. In sadness, we thank God for His mercy to take them when He did. We fight for our own faith because of theirs. We thank Christ for making a way for them into Heaven and helping them hold on to their faith. And soon, soon, we shall stand arm in arm with those we have lost, before the throne of God, celebrating our victory over this life by the grace and mercy of our Savior, Jesus Christ.
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