When I was growing up in Houston, our family lived across the street from a man and woman who had married later in life. Ms. Brill met and married Mr. Roberts after her childbearing years had passed, so the two of them enjoyed a honeymoon that lasted well into retirement. He was a wonderful, doting husband who loved her deeply, and she found great joy in the man of her dreams. Mr. Roberts was not only the light of her life; he provided much of its meaning. Then, a sudden heart attack took him from her. Her grief knew no bounds.
In the weeks that followed the funeral, my mother watched Mrs. Roberts leave the house every day to visit his gravesite. Like many often do, she spent hours there, talking, crying, seeking some kind of connection with her departed soul mate. Each day as she left that lonely house for the cemetery, her despair worsened. You see, our neighbor was a fine, morally upright woman, but she had no personal relationship with Christ. Over the years, my mother had attempted to reach her with the gospel, but Mrs. Roberts was never particularly receptive. And because she had no hope in Jesus Christ, she had no hope in His resurrection, no hope of happiness that would not tragically end again, and certainly no hope of heaven.
I’ll never forget the day my mother said to me, “Charles, I want you to pray that Mrs. Roberts’s heart will be open to what I have to say.” And within a few minutes, she was across the street with a batch of warm cookies and a pitcher of lemonade. That very afternoon, Mrs. Roberts embraced the truth: because Jesus rose from the dead, death does not lay claim to the final victory.
Stop for a moment and think about this: What if Jesus’s resurrection was a fraud, perpetrated by a small band of zealots trying to start a new religion? What, then, is the meaning of your fleeting seventy years on Earth? As Mrs. Roberts looked back on her delightful years with her husband—years that ended so suddenly, so absurdly to her—she had no answer. And her futile graveside attempts to reconnect only further confused her and deepened her hopelessness.
Let’s face it. If Jesus didn’t stand up that first Easter morning, lay aside His burial wrappings, and leave the tomb to walk among those who loved Him, nothing really matters. Let me write that another way. If Jesus didn’t rise from the dead, or if His resurrection was a hoax, then nothing—absolutely nothing—has any meaning at all. Any blessing you enjoy will come to a sudden, heartbreaking end. Any good work we accomplish will either decay or quickly become obsolete. When our life has passed—a mere twinkling of a moment when compared to the eons before and after you—any impact we leave will be washed away like footprints in wave-washed sand. Furthermore, we waste our time trusting in some strange, dead god.
The apostle Paul wrote it this way in his letter to the church in Corinth:
If Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is vain, your faith also is vain. Moreover we are even found to be false witnesses of God, because we testified against God that He raised Christ, whom He did not raise, if in fact the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised; and if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If we have hoped in Christ in this life only, we are of all men most to be pitied. (1 Corinthians 15:14-19)
How pointless is our belief in a dead Lord! How futile to trust a lying God! How fleeting is any happiness or any future or any hope that will only end with death!
On the other hand, because Christ has indeed risen, we have every reason to live well, worship God, and savor the blessings we enjoy today because they are only a taste of so much more to come. The resurrection of Jesus Christ is our promise that the life we live is not vain. We have significance both temporally and eternally. Our lives have purpose beyond the seventy-or-so years we spend on Earth because the living God has promised us that our investments in eternity will not come back empty. Because Jesus conquered death, and because of our faith in Him, we now anticipate victory over the grave. That triumph gives us the courage to endure all temporal tragedies and the wisdom to relish every earthly delight. His victory over the final evil, death, assures us that nothing is too dead for Him to revive. So whatever our circumstances, we can be confident that better days are coming.
Mrs. Roberts embraced this truth the day my mother returned with an empty pitcher and a full heart. But her trips to the cemetery didn’t stop. In her many gravesite visits, she had noticed other people weeping over and talking to cold stones, trying in vain to contact the dead in hopes of recapturing the relationships they once enjoyed. She understood their despair . . . but now she held a truth they desperately needed to hear and believe.
And that’s how Mrs. Roberts became the only cemetery evangelist I ever knew. With her little New Testament and a few well-chosen words, this transformed lady comforted mourners as they wept, then offered them the very hope that had given her life eternal meaning: Jesus Christ lives!