Imagine our world, minus the cross and the empty tomb. What sort of world would that be?
The idea of parallel universes has been explored by writers such as the Australian theoretical physicist Paul Davies. In his book Other Worlds, Davies argues for the possible existence of countless parallel universes besides our own. The popular television series Sliders is based on such ideas. In this series, the sliders travel not only through time but also through parallel universes. Every possible world is said to exist somewhere in different permutations and combinations.
Can one, therefore, imagine a world without the cross and empty tomb? Only if one can also imagine a world without sin and death.
We know from the Bible that in the early days of human history, sin and death entered the human experience. The significance of the third chapter of Genesis is that it tells us how this came about. Tempted by the serpent in the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve disobeyed God by eating forbidden fruits. It was not as if the couple did not know what they were doing or what they were biting into. God had earlier warned them, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die.” (Gen. 2:16-17).
Unfortunately, Adam and Eve fell prey to the deceptions of the evil one and to their own ungodly desires. When they ate the fruits they swallowed the two curses of sin and death. And the human race has been infected by these ever since. Adam and Eve stood guilty before God and were alienated from Him and from each other. They were driven from the Garden and could not eat from the other tree that was in the Garden’s centre – the tree of life (Gen. 2:9). The guilt of sin and the anxiety of death became integral parts of the human condition.
No matter how much we deny it or rationalise it away, we know deep inside that we are guilty of sin. Even the best of us is not free of sin. The prophet Isaiah declared that all our righteous acts are, pathetically, like filthy rags (Is. 64:6). Sin is not just a matter of breaking the laws of God, and cannot be simply measured in terms of particular acts. Our problem is not just confined to specific deeds. Our dilemma is that sin is a condition we suffer from. The apostle Paul wrote that sin is a condition suffered by all human beings who are by nature dead in trespasses and sins and are the children of wrath (Eph. 2:1-3). In other words, sin is like an incurable terminal illness that we all suffer from. Or we can also say that we have the death sentence, for the wages of sin is death (Rom. 6:23)
On our own we are helpless. We cannot heal or save ourselves. The thoughtful and honest prophet asked the rhetorical question with the obviously depressing answer, “Can the leopard change his spots?” (Jer. 13:23). The history of the world demonstrates that this question is as relevant today as it was 2500 years ago. Both our public newspaper headlines as well as our private diary entries are proof that the fundamental problem of the human race is its sinfulness, and its inability to cure itself of this condition. Good governance, education, and science have failed to eradicate sin from our hearts.
The same can be said of the reality of death in our lives. At some point in our life journeys, each of us discovers the painful truth that we will die. The death of those close to us and those from our own generation makes this all the more real. No amount of sanitising death can remove from it the awfulness and tragedy of death in our world. Everyone dies.
The good news is that God did not turn His face away from the human race after the Eden tragedy. God sent His Son Jesus to help us in our helplessness and to deal decisively with the curse of sin and death in the human race. The Gospel of Christ in fact deals essentially with these two problems. All other matters are secondary.
The cross of Christ and His empty tomb are the powerful and effective ways in which God has dealt with sin and death. On the cross Jesus bore our sins and died for us. The entire weight of human sin was placed on Him and it crushed Him. He shed His blood so that we can be cleansed of our sins. He died a lonely death so that we can enjoy the presence of God. He was humiliated so that our shame can be removed.
The story of Jesus does not end at the cross. The empty tomb is a demonstration of Christ’s victory over death. The cross and the empty tomb stand together logically and theologically. In dealing decisively with human sin, Christ has also dealt decisively with the problem of death. In conquering sin, He has also conquered its consequence – death. One is the evidence for the other. Hence, Paul’s argument: “And if Christ has not been raised…you are still in your sins.” (1 Cor. 15:17).
The sting of death has been removed. It has now become, in Martin Luther’s words, a fangless serpent coiled impotently around us.
In one short lifetime, Jesus did what no one else could. He took care of our guilt with regard to sin and our anxiety with regard to death. If we belief, we can then experience the deep relief that Jesus brings to us through His cross and empty tomb.
If there was no cross, then we are lost. We will drown in our guilt and suffocate in our sin. Our victories would be hollow and our songs empty. Our best efforts to reach heaven will fall back to earth in shattered pieces.
If the tomb was not empty andChrist had not been resurrected, then our hopes of the future, in this world and the next, are in vain (1 Cor 15:14). There would be nothing to sing about, nothing really significant to look forward to.
A world with no cross and empty tomb? Who wants to live in that kind of world? And especially with the kind of history and stories we are used to. Thank God for Jesus. And for His cross and empty tomb. They make all the difference in the real world we know.