At any moment I was going to be walking behind my small automobile, pushing it into the nearest gas station. There was no problem with the carburetor valve or hyper-compression chamber. All of the pistons were hitting the right manifold plates just like they were supposed to be. My car was running just fine except for one problem – my gas tank was empty.
I coasted off of the exit ramp and into the nearest gas station on fumes and prayer. I made it! I fought the gas tank and I won. Books would be written about how no man ever dared to stand up against his gas tank like the great Jay Sanders. And then I noticed yet another problem – my wallet was empty.
Hold off on the book deal. How do I get out of a situation like this? My options, as I saw them, were few.
- Check out the give a penny, take a penny tray over at the counter and focus more on the taking of pennies.
- Walk up to the stranger over on pump 3 and ask if I could borrow some gas, or some money, or his car.
- Look under my seats for loose change.
I went with the third option. I found less than a dollar in spare change. Thankfully, this was back in the day when gas hovered around a dollar so I was able to get enough gas to make it home. On a side note, nothing is better for one’s humility than putting gas in your car and going to pay for it with two dimes, a nickel and 13 pennies one of which had some gnarly combination of gum and hair wrapped all over it.
As frightening as this was for me, there is a much more horrific emptiness than gas tanks and wallets. Some struggle with the loneliness of an empty home and others the heartache of an empty baby room. Emptiness means pain.
This pain is the result of an even more horrific emptiness that traces back to man’s rebellion against God in the garden. Adam and Eve’s sin meant their expulsion from the one place where they enjoyed perfect communion with God and one another. Because of sin, man was rightfully kicked out of the garden (Genesis 3:24) and now every human being has carried that emptiness (Psalm 51:5; Romans 3:23). Emptiness means pain.
Throughout the rest of the Old Testament we see man trying to fill his emptiness with anything other than his Creator God. Aaron and the rest of Israel thought that a golden calf would make a good replacement (Exodus 32). The nation of Israel demanded a king so that they could be like the other nations (1 Samuel 8:1-9). Surely that would fill the emptiness. What’s the worst that could happen (1 Samuel 8:19-22)? David relied on a deadly combination of lust and power to remedy his emptiness (2 Samuel 11) and the story goes on and on and on. Emptiness means pain.
Which brings us to the cross where we are forced to grapple, not only with the effects of our emptiness but the cause as well. The dark sky, the agonizing words from the mouth of Christ, the trembling earth and the lifeless body all take us back to the empty garden and the part each of us played in it. Emptiness means pain.
For as long as I’ve known my grandfather, he’s been a worker. He’s one of those that probably would have died 15 years earlier if he ever slowed down. One of his hobbies was going to the local cemetery and cleaning up around the family plot and usually around neighboring plots as well.
One of the things that always stuck out to me was the grave marker for my grandfather – you know the one that was doing all of the weed eating. I always thought that it must be strange to take care of your own gravesite but for probably 25 years, that’s what he did – took care of his own empty grave.
If I go back to that gravesite today, I don’t have the same kind of happiness I did when I went with my grandfather. Now his grave isn’t empty anymore. Now, my mother is buried out there right next to my brother who died right after he was born. Instead of going to cut down weeds and place flowers on empty graves, I go to mourn over ones that are full.
That’s what Mary Magdalene and her friends were going to do in Mark 16, if they could only figure out a way to get around the big rock that sealed off the tomb where Jesus was buried. As they looked up and saw that the tomb was open they walked in and saw an angel with the greatest news of emptiness the world has ever known – “You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen; he is not here.” The tomb that once held the lifeless and battered body of Jesus couldn’t hold it for very long. It was empty.
I don’t have all the answers about how much we’ll know family and friends in heaven and what our relationships with them will be like. I do know that Christ is there and not in his tomb and being with him will be more than enough. I also know that one day, because of Jesus’ victory over the grave, the grave of Leman Sanders and every other person who came to Christ in repentance and faith will finally be empty again.
For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep.
(1 Thessalonians 4:14 ESV)