One of the most interesting characters in American life is Harry Houdini, the great magician. He used to have himself handcuffed, chained, padlocked, put into a chest, the chest nailed shut and then that thrown into the sea. He would emerge unscathed. It's no problem to understand that if you've read the life of Harry Houdini. First, he became an expert on locks. He knew more about them than the people who made them. Then he learned how to expand his body so that when they bound him with chains his body was puffed up larger. Inside the chest he would contract the muscles and make himself smaller and slide right out. He learned how to pull out the nails in the lid of the chest from the inside. When that chest hit the water, he was already free inside of it and had only to burst forth and swim to the surface.
It's no problem to understand that, though it took Houdini years to learn how to do it.
With Christ in the tomb you have a wholly different proposition. They put a seal on the tomb. It was only a piece of wax, but behind it lay all the power of Rome, the most powerful nation then on earth. Its armies had never known defeat. It stretched to the outer edges of civilization. That most powerful of nations could not keep Christ in His tomb.
Some years after Christ one of His followers was about to be executed. Taunting him, a Roman soldier said, "Where is your carpenter now?" The Christian replied, "He is out in the world, building a coffin for the Empire." That's exactly what that carpenter did. Not only did Christ break the seal of Rome, He broke the power of Rome. After a few years, the very city that had been the seat of Roman political power became the capital of the church.
In our own day, Communism is trying to do what Rome failed to do, but Communism is failing, too. Churches in the western world are crowded on Easter. In the Communist world they are crowded every Sunday. Every service is packed with people standing in the aisles and around the walls. They tried to seal Christ in, but they have failed and the church is strong still.
Nature could not keep him in. That stone was a solid wheel of stone that lay in a trench. One could roll it down the trench and before the opening, thus closing the door of the tomb. But in order to roll it you had to be on the outside, where you could get your shoulder against it.
Some say that Jesus only went into a coma on the cross. They say that He revived in the coolness of the tomb, pushed the stone away and came out. But remember Christ had been severely beaten. He had been pierced in head and hands and feet and side. The loss of blood was enormous. He hung on the cross for six hours. Is it possible to believe that this beaten, weak, semi-comatose man was strong enough to roll back the stone, from the inside? Three strong, healthy women didn't think they could do it from the outside! How was it possible for Him to do it from the inside? It was impossible, except there be a miracle! We talk about the empty tomb, but the tomb was not empty. There was something in it. It was the graveclothes. You know how they prepared a body for burial in those days. They put the body in a winding sheet. It was like a very long and very large bandage. They wound it round and round like the mummies in ancient Egypt. Is it possible to believe that this semi-comatose man got out of that winding sheet from the inside? It was impossible, except there be a miracle.
Death itself could not keep Jesus in. He truly died, and He was truly raised from the dead. Death seems to us so strong, so final, so irrevocable. Death seems to us to end all things, but death could not keep Him prisoner.
But there is a strange thing here. In the Bible it was the enemies of Jesus who tried to seal Him in. In life, it is His friends who try to seal Him in. We try to seal Him in our human organizations. We try to monopolize Him. We think that anyone who wants Him must go through us. We confine Him to our understanding of the Christian gospel. But is there one of us who understands it perfectly? We cannot confine Him. We cannot lock Him away in a church building, supposing that we can see Him when we need Him but that He will not interfere when we don't want Him. We like to think we know where to find Him, but we don't want to worry about confronting Him at some embarrassing moment in life. But all our efforts to contain Christ fail. He keeps confronting us, even in places where we didn't expect to find Him. He is alive and loose in the world and neither His friends nor His enemies can seal him in.
As He could not be sealed in, so He could not be shut out. His disciples had no intention of shutting Him out. There were others they wanted to shut out. They didn't realize that in shutting out others, they were shutting Him out, too.
Is there someone you are shutting out of your life? Perhaps it's someone in your family, or a friend, or an enemy. The disciples only wanted to shut out their enemies, but in shutting out their enemies they also were shutting out Christ. But Christ came through those closed doors. When He did, He opened up the way for others to come in, too. In the same way He'll burst into your life. He's not going to let you shut Him out. When He comes in He's going to open up a way for all the people you tried to shut out. Perhaps they were people with needs and you didn't want to be bothered about them. Perhaps they were people who were hurting and you didn't want to take the time to help. All the people you try to shut out are going to come in. Just as Christ breaks open the door to life, so He breaks open the door to the church.
We try to shut Him out by our selfishness. Suddenly, we are confronted with a truly unselfish person who does a truly unselfish deed - for us. Then all our barriers come down. Sometimes through our bitterness we try to shut Him out. A very cultured and well-educated lady once asked, "Why does God let innocent people suffer?" I'm not sure I answered it very well at the time. But I do know now what I should have said. For the answer is another question. "Why does God let us enjoy undeserved love and goodness? Why are there those who do for others great and heroic and unselfish deeds?" She can no more answer my question than I can answer hers.
The second part of the response is this: God suffers. That may not help us to understand it, but it does help us to accept it. There must be a good reason for it, if God himself suffers. In our bitterness we try to shut Christ out, but in the sweetness of His grace He melts our defenses.
Compromise can shut Him out. We make so many of them. Then we are confronted with someone who cannot compromise right and wrong, and who will not. In that firmness we are confronted with Christ again. In our disbelief we try to shut Him out and He just piles up the evidence.
Perhaps you have been to Washington, D.C. Perhaps you've climbed up all those stairs to the top of the Washington monument. As you climbed up the dark interior of that stairway, now and then you came across a little window - not very big, but big enough to let some shafts of light into the dark interior and big enough to let you look out and enjoy the view. That's the way it works. We live our lives shrouded by darkness, and yet Christ keeps shining little shafts of light in upon us. They dispel for a time the darkness and open up for us new views of life and the world and Heaven itself!
Science tells us that in the long process of evolution from nonliving things there came living things . . . and from non-reason-ing things there came reasoning things. Then we are asked to deny that from us living things there may come to be eternal things. How can men accept one and reject the other?
If it is in any sense reasonable to think that the living came from the non-living, how much more reasonable to think that from the living there should come the eternal.
Are we to suppose that all the promises of the Bible are only so many worthless checks and that we must come back from the bank empty-handed? Are those promises like the gold stock or the oil stock that people bought years ago, and all they had to show for their investment was a piece of paper?
There is a wing on the bird. Is it conceivable that there should be no air for it to beat against? There is a fin on the fish. Is it conceivable that there should be no water for it to brush against? Man has this deep longing for eternity. Is it conceivable that there is no eternity?
Look at yourself. You know that you were not made for this world. You know you were made for something better and more lasting. The evidence is everywhere. And neither our selfishness, nor our bitterness, nor our compromises, nor our disbelief can ever finally shut Christ out. He keeps bursting into your life, crying, "Believe! Believe!"
Do you remember the story of the ugly duckling?
He didn't walk like a duck, he didn't quack like a duck, and he didn't
look like a duck, but he lived among the ducks in the barnyard. Then
one fine day, he heard a call from above. He had never heard it before,
but in him was an instinct that answered that call. In the sky he
saw a speck. The speck became a long trail. The call became
louder and more insistent. The ugly duckling began to flap his wings.
He found that he could fly. Up above the barnyard, higher and higher
he flew, to answer that call and to join that company. He disappeared
from the barnyard. The ducks never saw him again. They said
that he died, but we know better. "They that wait upon the Lord shall
renew their strength. They shall mount up with wings as eagles."