The tragic, sober reality of life
“Ain’t no grave gonna hold my body down.”
Johnny Cash sang these words about the hope of life after the grave nearly 16 years ago. Recently, Molly Skaggs did a powerful remake of that famous song. While the remake takes a few liberties and departures from the original lyrics, what can’t be missed in either version is the biblical truth that both songs point to — life after death.
Life is truly an amazing gift.
At times, we can feel invincible and indestructible as we are energized and electrified by life’s experiences. At other times, we are left in awe by the wonder and beauty that life has to offer.
But with the great gift of life comes a cold, hard reality. One day, for everyone, this life of beauty and wonder will be interrupted by the grave.
For some, this will happen suddenly and unexpectedly, adding to the tragic nature of death. For others, it will come expectedly, after a season of sickness.
But either way, make no doubt about it, the tragic, sober reality of life is the grave.
During the earthly ministry of Jesus Christ, he experienced firsthand the heartbreaking pain caused by death. In fact, Scripture says he even wept over it.
One day, news reached Jesus that his good friend Lazarus had fallen ill and died as a result. After he had been placed in a tomb, Jesus came to visit.
When he arrived, there were many there at the cemetery weeping and mourning over Lazarus, including his two sisters. As Jesus surveyed the scene, along with the despair and pain that death had caused, Scripture simply says, “Jesus wept.”
God knows personally the agonizing sorrow caused by the grave. He saw firsthand the emptiness and void caused by friends and family who depart from this life.
Despite his grief, in the middle of their mourning, Jesus spoke words of great comfort and hope about life beyond the grave. Speaking to the sister of Lazarus, he told her, “Your brother will rise again.”
What a bold statement on such a tragic day. How could he say something so scandalous in the middle of a cemetery where all the evidence screams of a different reality? How dare Jesus play with their emotions that way.
Unless, of course, what he said was true.
The sister of Lazarus acknowledged his bold claim by quoting the Hebrew tradition of a resurrection on the last day. But Jesus takes her statement a step further and clarifies, saying, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live even if he dies.”
Then to prove the validity of his claim, he called Lazarus back to life.
After he commanded that the stone covering the entrance to the tomb of Lazarus be removed, it says Jesus spoke with a loud voice, saying, “Come forth,” and Lazarus came forth.
The resurrection of Lazarus that day foreshadows the great resurrection that God has promised will happen in the near future at the second coming of Jesus Christ, at the end of the age.
We are told by Scripture that on that day, the Lord will descend from heaven with a shout, the voice of the archangel and the trumpet of God. Then the dead in Christ will rise out of their graves, just like Lazarus.
While the details of this great miracle are somewhat of a mystery, God’s word does explain that the resurrection will change everything. Those who are in Christ will be changed in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye. Lives that once were perishable and mortal will be transformed into bodies that are imperishable and immortal.
The power of death to interrupt the beauty and wonder of life will be conquered once and for all. No longer will the sting and sorrow of death be felt. In fact, we are given the picture that God himself will wipe away every tear shed by the pain caused by death, as the former things will have passed away.
This is our great hope despite the sad reality of the grave.
In Molly Skaggs’ remake of “Ain’t No Grave,” at the end of the song, a cadence is taken up with the lyrics, “If you walked out of the grave, I’m a walkin’ too.”
This points to the most famous and powerful of all resurrections as the foundation and hope for all future resurrections, that of Christ himself.
Even though Jesus was placed in a tomb, three days later he powerfully rose to life again.
Therefore, may the words of Jesus guide us: “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live even if he dies, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?”
Chad Cummings is pastor at Gospel Open Bible Church on South Grimmell Road.