The Dead Really DO Speak

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I was still living in Medellín, Colombia when, in March, 1983, a 5.5 magnitude earthquake struck the city of Popayán, some distance to the south of us. As earthquakes go, a 5.5 isn’t all that significant, but the city was made up of old buildings without much support. The result was devastating for the city’s inhabitants. But most traumatizing was the destruction that took place in the cemetery. The movement of the earth was so forceful that graves were opened and caskets popped to the surface and opened, exposing the bones of the dead.

They stayed dead. We wouldn't expect anything else.

But in Matthew 27:50-53, something amazing happens in the midst of the trauma of Jesus’ death. It’s seldom commented on, probably because no one can explain it, but there it is.

And when Jesus had cried out again in a loud voice, he gave up his spirit. At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook and the rocks split. The tombs broke open and the bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life. They came out of the tombs, and after Jesus’ resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many people.”

So, how DO you explain to your neighbours why great-granddad, who died twenty-five years earlier, is now sitting in your kitchen eating lentil stew?

Packed into these verses is a whole lot of truth. Christ died to bring new life both before and after death. He died to make access to a holy God possible for sinful creatures. What happened in the cemetery when Jesus died was a powerful illustration of what He had come to accomplish and a powerful testimony to His ability to do what He had said He would do.

Dead men walking and talking can’t be denied.

Weeks later, when the city was full of strangers from all over the world of that day, were gathered in Jerusalem to celebrate the Feast of the Passover, we can assume they heard the stories of what had happened. Perhaps they heard about the carpenter’s son from Galilee who, claiming to be the Messiah, had been crucified. The story of His resurrection would have circulated and the testimonies about His appearances and ascension would have been told. But He wasn’t around. But there in that city, great-granddad and other holy people were sitting around eating lentil stew and telling their stories of death to life.

When Peter stood up to preach on the day of Pentecost and told the story of Jesus of Nazareth (Acts 2:14-41), it was likely not to a crowd that hadn’t heard a few other stories—some firsthand from those who had once been held in the grip of death but who were now alive.

A friend asked me last night to research “transcendent hope” for her. When I got home I looked up the word. Here is what I found:

Transcendent:
    •    beyond or above the range of normal or merely physical human experience
    •    surpassing the ordinary; exceptional
    •    (of God) existing apart from and not subject to the limitations of the material universe.

What happened in those cemeteries fits perfectly into the definition of "transcendent” and demonstrates to us the incredible truth of our salvation—we were dead, but now we are alive. We will die physically, but be raised again to life that will never be touched by death again. That is our transcendent hope. It's something only God can provide because He has no limitations.

And a bunch of great-granddads and moms were living proof of just how incredible the hope of eternal life really is.

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