Different people can look at the same set of circumstances and draw different conclusions. A woman’s husband had been slipping in and out of a coma for several months. She had stayed by his bedside every single day. One day, when he came to, he whispered with his eyes filled of tears, “You have been with me all through the bad times. When I got fired, you were there to support me. When my business failed, you were there. When I got shot, you were by my side. When we lost the house, you stayed right here. When my health started failing, you were still by my side. You know what?” “What dear?” She asked, smiling as her heart began to fill with warmth. “I think you’re bad luck.”
Years ago, there was a bear who lived in a nine-foot-by-nine-foot cage. His cage was placed as a living billboard, near the entrance to the fairgrounds where the circus was performing. When the circus went bankrupt the animal were dispersed to zoos. The bear was sent to a wonderful zoo, where the animals’ quarters resembled their natural habitat with protective barriers and no cages. But this unfortunate bear had been in his cage too long. Even though he was free to wander the large, vegetation-filled enclosure, he never ventured beyond a nine-foot-by-nine-foot area. This bear was limited, now not by a cage, but by his own mind and experiences. He couldn’t envision the freedom that was now his.
Studies have shown that ceiling heights can have an effect on our thought processes. People who need to focus on detail work better in areas with low ceilings. People who need to do goal-setting, plan strategies, or come up with innovative concepts work more effectively in areas with high ceilings.
It is probably not an accident that churches traditionally have very high ceilings, a problem to heat and cool, but wonderful for envisioning big things, like the nature of God, the purpose of existence, and life beyond the grave.
Death, in contrast, is the ultimate “low-ceiling” problem, no matter how nice the coffin or the crypt. Tombs are okay for the dead, but if you are alive, they are no place to linger.
But you don’t have to actually die to get stuck under a low ceiling in life. Life is hard, and we can get bogged down in the routine of just trying to making a living, paying the bills, dealing with stuff that goes crazy, and trying to keep up with the demands placed upon us. We don’t take time for much high-ceiling thinking.
Against all of that, Jesus comes along and says, “I am the Resurrection and the Life. Those who believe in Me, even though they die, will live.” John 11:25
That’s high-ceiling thinking! Jesus clearly had a “Think outside of the grave” mentality, something His disciples didn’t share, at least, not at first. The early followers of Christ had great difficulty moving beyond what they considered to be the reality of life and death.
Like them, we have trouble seeing life from an Easter perspective. What would change if we could “think outside the tomb?”
Look at a conversation Jesus has with Martha. Her brother Lazarus died and has been in the tomb 4 days. Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” Martha answered, “I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.” Jesus said to her, “I am the Resurrection and the Life. He who believes in Me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in Me will never die. Do you believe this?” “Yes, Lord,” she told Him, “I believe that You are the Christ, the Son of God, who was to come into the world.” John 11:23-27
What a powerful, wonderful, confession of faith. It sounds like Martha understands. But let’s keep reading. Jesus, once more deeply moved, came to the tomb… “Take away the stone,” He said. “But, Lord,” said Martha, the sister of the dead man, “by this time there is a bad odor, for he has been there four days.” Then Jesus said, “Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?” John 11:38-40
She believes in Jesus but in her mind, in her perception, you don’t disturb a body that has been in the tomb for four days. She could not envision what Jesus had in mind. Jesus raises her brother Lazarus from the dead. This story prepares us for what is to come. It shatters perceptions. It brings us to something higher.
I. Jesus is the Resurrection and the Life! The story is not about an isolated miracle. Life comes from Jesus. He is the source. He is the one who gives life meaning and purpose. With Him there is life. Without Him there is no life. It is our faith in Him that changes things.
II. Death is not what it used to be! It is not final. It does not get the last word. God is greater than life. God is greater than death.
III. It can happen here and now! Martha was okay believing in a future resurrection of the dead, on the last day. She was not prepared for what Jesus would do that day.
We understand that Easter means life will eventually triumph over death.
What we don’t understand is that it can happen here and now.
Right now, it can change the way we view life. It can change the way we handle our problems. It can change the way we make decisions. If Jesus is the Resurrection and the Life, it changes everything.
Consider the experience of Mary Magdalene. We can’t really imagine the confusion she must have felt that Sunday morning. She went to the tomb expecting one thing and she saw another; the tomb was empty. She draws the wrong conclusion. She thinks someone has stolen His body. She is crying. She is upset. She speaks to someone she assumes is the gardener, “Sir, if you have carried Him away, tell me where you have put Him, and I will get Him.” Jesus said to her, “Mary.” She turned toward Him and cried out in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” John 20:15-16
It is hard for her to believe her eyes and her ears. He calls her by name and it changes everything. For Mary Magdalene, none of this is abstract philosophy. It has become real and personal. She is with Jesus the Resurrection and the Life.
It can be real and personal for you as well. Not only did Jesus die for you. He rose from the dead for you! The Risen Lord calls your name. He changes your life. Regardless of what you have done, what sins you have committed, those sins can be nailed to the cross so that you can truly live. There is reason for hope, courage and peace! Regardless of the crisis or problems you are facing, nothing is too big for the Risen Lord. Place it in His hands. Trust Him. Seek Him.
Faith changes everything! Can you see beyond the ceiling? Are you like the bear that had been caged? Can you think outside the tomb? Jesus offers you life. Real life, here and now. Jesus offers you forgiveness, hope and strength. This life is not all there is. God has something greater.