It’s a weird thing really, but I love to read epitaphs. You know those carefully — well sometimes carefully — chosen words that are found on tombstones. The world is filled with funny and thought-provoking sayings littered throughout graveyards at home and abroad. Some of my favorites include “Here lies Butch, We planted him raw, He was quick on the trigger, But slow on the draw!” How about this one: “Under the sod, under the trees, Lies the body of Solomon Pease, He is not here, there is only the pod, Pease shelled out and went home to God.” And, lastly, in a cemetery in England: “Remember me as you walk by, as you are now so once was I, remember this and follow me,” to which someone replied by writing on the tombstone, “To follow you I’ll not consent, until I know which way you went.” Addicting, isn’t it?
Enough of tombstones for now. But with that last one in mind, let me draw your attention to the resurrection chapter of the New Testament, 1st Corinthians chapter 15. Here are a few selected verses: “If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable. But now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the first fruits of them that slept. For since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.” Now here is an epitaph for you: “O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory? The sting of death is sin; and the strength of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” Interesting isn’t it how some gravestones point to only the futility of this life, and yet others point far beyond? I believe Paul here is pointing us far ahead of what we see and experience today. To an eternal day of peace and joy in the presence of a Risen Savior.
There once was a man named George Thomas, a pastor in a small New England town. One Easter Sunday morning, he came to the church carrying a rusty, bent, old bird cage, and set it by the pulpit. Several eyebrows were raised and, as if in response, Pastor Thomas began to speak. “I was walking through town yesterday when I saw a young boy coming toward me swinging this bird cage. On the bottom of the cage were three little wild birds, shivering with cold and fright. I stopped the lad and asked, “What you got there, son?” “Just some old birds,” came the reply. “What are you gonna do with them?” I asked. “Take ‘em home and have fun with ‘em,” he answered. “I’m gonna tease ‘em and pull out their feathers to make ‘em fight. “But you’ll get tired of those birds sooner or later. What will you do then?” “Oh, I got some cats,” said the little boy. “They like birds. I’ll take ‘em to them.” The pastor was silent for a moment. “How much do you want for those birds, son?” “Huh? Why, you don’t want them birds, mister. They’re just plain old field birds. They don’t sing and they ain’t even pretty!” “How much?” the pastor asked again. The boy sized up the pastor as if he were crazy and said, “$10.” The pastor reached in his pocket and took out a $10 bill. He placed it in the boy’s hand. In a flash, the boy was gone. The pastor picked up the cage and gently carried it to the end of the alley where there was a tree and a grassy spot. Setting the cage down, he opened the door, and by softly tapping the bars persuaded the birds out, setting them free. Well, that explained the empty birdcage on the pulpit, and then the pastor began to tell this story.
“One day, Satan and Jesus were having a conversation. Satan had just come from the Garden of Eden, and he was gloating and boasting. “Yes, sir, I just caught the world full of people down there. Set me a trap, used bait I knew they couldn’t resist. Got ‘em all!” “What are you going to do with them?” Jesus asked. Satan replied, “Oh, I’m gonna have fun. I’m gonna teach them how to marry and divorce each other, how to hate and abuse each other, how to drink and smoke and curse. I’m gonna teach them how to invent guns and bombs and kill each other. I’m really gonna have fun.” “And what will you do when you get done with them?” Jesus asked. “Oh, I’ll kill ‘em,” Satan glared proudly. “How much do you want for them?” Jesus asked. “Oh, you don’t want those people. They ain’t no good. Why, you’ll take them and they’ll just hate you. They’ll spit on you, curse you and kill you. You don’t want those people” “How much?” He asked again. Satan looked at Jesus and sneered, “All your tears, and all your blood.” Jesus said, “DONE.” Then He paid the price.
The pastor picked up the cage, he opened the door, and he walked from the pulpit. Sermon over, message received.
Tim Throckmorton is the former executive pastor for Plymouth Heights Church of the Nazarene in Franklin Furnace, Ohio, and Portsmouth First Church of the Nazarene. He is currently senior pastor at Crossroads Church in Circleville, Ohio.