Well as we come to the preaching of God’s Word, let me invite you to take up your Scriptures, the Bibles, and turn with me to the gospel of Luke, chapter 24. Friends, if ever there was a day that reminds us and gives us hope it’s Resurrection Sunday, isn’t it? It’s a celebration that Jesus is alive, that in Him we have hope both in the here and now but also hope in the life hereafter. It’s the hope of forgiveness. It’s the hope of peace with God. It’s the hope that we have assurance that what God has begun He will bring to completion. It’s the hope of heaven and being with Jesus Christ, seeing Him face to face. And you see, all of our hope is centered in the person and work of Jesus Christ Himself.
Now one thing that can be said with absolute certainty is that irrespective of who you are, rich or poor, strong or weak, male or female, every single one of us will face death. Voddie Baucham said it this way. He said, “Last time I checked, the death rate was one per person.” And there’s a sense in which we smile at that because it’s a simple but truthful statement. And this being true, it really ought to matter to us whether the account of Jesus’ resurrection is mere myth or whether it is based on historical facts and is therefore true. Truth that has been relayed to us by witnesses who were willing to give of their life in the face of the threats and the torture and even death itself. And not one of them would recant the message that they proclaimed. Why would they do that? It’s simply because each one had seen Jesus Christ dead, and a couple of days later they saw Him alive. And then for the next forty days He spoke with them and He ate with them and He spent time with them teaching them and reminding them of all that He had said.
Now some of you will know that the 2017 online word of the year was “fake news.” Fake news is a phrase that is used to refer to the half-truth, the blatant lies, and of course the rhetorical spin that often is used to create alternative facts that contradict reality; kind of like a smokescreen to take our attention off what is really vitally important and true. And we mustn’t think for a moment that fake news is the 20th and the 21st century phenomenon. This goes way back. It goes back to the times of Jesus, if not before that, obviously. But in the times of Jesus when the authorities couldn’t find the body, they had to spin a story in order to justify what had taken place. So we have various theories that emerged – the swoon theory or the stolen body theory. And each of those, when looked upon in light of Scripture, is easily disproven. Friends, the resurrection is true and it’s a glorious new beginning where Christ has made all things new as Colossians tells us. And His victory is the believer’s victory so that the power of sin and death and hell has been severed once and for all. Christianity, as C.F. Evans has stated, “Christianity is a religion of the resurrection, so much so that our Savior’s being or not being the Messiah stands or falls with the resurrection.”
So with that statement fresh in our minds as we come to God’s Word, let’s remember that we are reading God’s inspired Word given to us as an attestation of the truth claims concerning the resurrection. So let’s read from the gospel of Luke, chapter 24 and verses 1 through 12:
“But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they went to the tomb, taking the spices they had prepared. And they found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they went in they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. While they were perplexed about this, behold, two men stood by them in dazzling apparel. And as they were frightened and bowed their faces to the ground, the men said to them, ‘Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen. Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men and be crucified and on the third day rise.’ And they remembered his words, and returning from the tomb they told all these things to the eleven and to all the rest. Now it was Mary Magdalene and Joanna and Mary the mother of James and the other women with them who told these things to the apostles, but these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them. But Peter rose and ran to the tomb; stooping and looking in, he saw the linen cloths by themselves; and he went home marveling at what had happened.”
Let’s bow before the Lord in prayer. Let’s pray.
Father, thank You for Your Word. Thank You for its truth claims and how it ministers to each and every one of our lives. Father, we pray that You would take it by Your Spirit, cut us to the heart, change us, and allow us to believe more fervently. And we pray this in Christ’s name, amen.
Now many of you will know that Luke’s account is one of the four records we have that detail the life and the ministry and the death and the resurrection of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Like each of the synoptic gospels, Luke sets aside twenty-five percent of his narrative to the final week in Jesus’ life. And so it begins in Luke 19 where we are reminded that His final week begins with His entrance into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. The crowds rejoiced and they praised God, we are told, for all the mighty works they had seen in His life and ministry. And yet when you read the narrative, you realize that there’s also a stark juxtaposition that’s taking place here because in the midst of rejoicing and celebrations, amidst the crowds hanging on every word that is uttered from the mouth of Jesus Christ during that final week, we also know that behind the scenes, in the shadows if you’d like, are the religious leaders. And the religious leaders are listening to the words of Christ in order to find a reason to destroy Jesus. And yet the text of Scripture reminds us that they found nothing that they could pin on Him.
And yet in the midst of them not finding anything to justify the arrest and ultimately to destroy Him, we also know that God’s eternal purpose and plan must come to pass; it had to come to pass. And so it came not through something errant in Christ, because that could not be; He is sinless. But rather, it came about through one of Jesus’ own apostles, Judas Iscariot, who would agree to betray Jesus to the religious leaders and authorities for a mere thirty pieces of silver. So after the Passover meal, Jesus and the disciples headed out to the Mount of Olives. And in the Garden of Gethsemane, it is there that Judas would betray Jesus with a kiss. It’s interesting that this very gesture of love and friendship and care, this expression of friendship and dear friendship at that, becomes the very means that led to death. And so Jesus was arrested, He was put on trial, He was found guilty, and despite Pilate finding no guilt deserving of death in Jesus, in order to appease the crowd he hands Jesus over to be crucified. And on Friday morning, Jesus was crucified between two thieves. And by mid-afternoon, the Messiah was verifiably dead.
And this of course is attested to us in Scripture when the Roman soldiers pierced Jesus’ side with a spear and both blood and water flowed out. Don’t think for a moment that these Roman soldiers didn’t know what they were doing. They were professional killers. They knew what to be looking for in order to attest and verify that someone was dead, and Jesus was dead. Well by the end of that Friday as the people were preparing for the Sabbath, Joseph of Arimathea had approached Pilate and asked him to take down the body of Christ. And he did that and he wrapped Him in linen cloths and placed Him in a tomb that had never been used before. And along with Joseph, both Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and of course other women, they were there and saw the tomb in which Jesus was placed. They saw Him lying on the slab, inside lying there wrapped in linen cloths. And it would be these same women that would return on Sunday morning with spices and ointments in hand to complete the burial process.
Now please understand that that Saturday, that Sabbath, they rested as per the commandment. They were not to do any work on the Sabbath. But we need to remind ourselves that in the waiting, these women and the disciples and the apostles would have been filled with grief and sadness. Perhaps fear and anxiety with regards to the future – what would it all entail and hold for them? You see, Jesus, their beloved Master, was no longer with them. And so friends, when the women arrived at the tomb on Sunday morning, they expected to find the light of the world encased in death and darkness – behind the stone, wrapped in linen, lying on the slab alone and completely isolated, in darkness and decay setting in. Never in a million years would they have expected to find what they eventually found.
They Were Perplexed
And so firstly, what I want us to consider from the text is I want you to notice how the women were initially perplexed. They were initially perplexed. We see that in the first four verses. You know, one of the difficulties that many of us have with the Easter story is our familiarity with the text and the details thereof. We know and we believe that Jesus rose from the dead on the first Easter Sunday morning. We know the end in other words. And the danger is, we read the narrative of Friday and Saturday through the grid of the resultant end. That was not the case with any of the followers of Jesus. They didn’t have the privilege of knowing how it was going to turn out at that point. And so the women, on their way to the tomb, they would have been grief-stricken, depressed, exhausted; perhaps not having slept for 24 to 48 hours. All their plans, all their hopes, their meaning for daily existence had been shattered and stripped away. I mean, you just think of Mary Magdalene. She was from Magdala and she was the one that was released from multiple demons by the hand of Jesus. The whole text of Scripture shows how she owed her entire life to the Messiah. And now He was gone. In a sense, they had been brought to the end of themselves as they moved from the anguish of Friday to the wait, the long wait of Saturday, to the trepidation of Sunday.
And you see, it’s often the waiting, perhaps the long waiting, which is most torturous. Emotionally, spiritually, mentally it can be exhausting. Isn’t that true for many of us in this season of our lives where this generation is facing these restrictions at this time which previous generations didn’t have to face. We’re waiting for the COVID-19 restrictions to be lifted, and we’re waiting, and we’re waiting. And sometimes fear and anxiety and the trial and the trouble that comes with that gets the better of us. And yet sometimes in Scripture we recognize and we see how the waiting is actually part of the grace of God towards us. It is a grace that is given for us to recuperate, to sit at His feet, to grow, to intercede, to ask the Lord to prepare us for when the morning will come.
These women expected that day to complete the burial process, to shed some more tears, absolutely, and then finally they expected to close the tomb, to walk away, to go home and try to figure out what life was going to look like from that point forward. I mean, which one of us, who of us would go to a cemetery with flowers in hand and expect to find our loved one standing next to the grave in which we found them to be buried a short while ago? But they arrived there that Sunday morning to find that the stone had been rolled away. That might have been a relief in many a way because they might have been wondering how they were going to get in, in order to complete the burial process. And so they arrive there and they enter the tomb and there’s no body, only the linen cloths. And you can understand how the women were perplexed. They had no category in their thinking or their understanding that would help them to understand where the body of Jesus had gone to. In the gospel of John, we hear how Mary turns to the person that she thinks is the gardener and says, “Where is the body? They’ve taken the body of my Lord!” You see, all this additional uncertainty merely intensifies their grief.
Isn’t it also true that uncertainty, concern about what tomorrow may bring, it tends to intensify the undergirding operating emotions of our life? It brings it to the surface. Once again, it’s also a grace because God in His mercy shows us perhaps where the idols of our life are deeply hidden and rooted, and so we have the opportunity to actually bring that before His throne and to confess our inadequacy and our weakness, asking for Him to strengthen us once again.
They Were Confronted
And that brings us to the second point, and that is to notice that they were then confronted, they were confronted. We see that in verse 4, the second part of verse 4 through to verse 6. And it’s interesting because as much as they were perplexed, they had still not grasped the significance of the empty tomb. It’s not immediately obvious to them. When things are beyond what the finite mind can grasp, brothers and sisters, is it not true that it requires divine revelation often to bring an explanation so that we can rest in the hands of a sovereign God? So we have the final word of Scripture here, divine revelation given to us so we may be encouraged and find comfort with each passing day.
But in this case, I want you to notice how the text tells us that all of a sudden two men stood by them in dazzling apparel. These two men were in fact angels, supernatural beings; they were messengers who belonged to and who descended from the realm of splendor and pure, radiant glory, hence their clothes were a reflection of where they had come from. In some sense I wonder if that description of dazzling apparel is not meant to get our minds to be cast back to Jesus at the transfiguration where His clothes were transformed and they were blazing in terms of white appearance. We’ll also come across again two other men, perhaps the same two angels, at the ascension who have white, dazzling robes who then tell the disciples that as Jesus is going, so He will return one day.
You see, these angels, they were mere messengers, mere messengers. They were not there to draw attention to themselves, but they had been sent in order to confront the women’s unbelief and to remind them of what Jesus had previously said, to remind them of the words of life. And we see this when these frightened women, when they bow their faces to the ground, the angels do not try to comfort them or give them some sort of assurance, because the focus was not about the angels. But immediately the angels say, “Why do you seek the living among the dead?” That’s not a harmless question. The angels are confronting the real issue here, and that was unbelief. “Why are you here? Why are you trying and desiring to anoint the risen Lord Jesus? He is not dead. He is alive ,as He said these things will take place.”
They Were Reminded
And that brings us to the third point for us to consider and that was they were reminded. They were reminded. We see that in verses 6 through 8. Just in case the women fail to understand what the angel was saying when they said initially, “Why do you seek the living among the dead?” the angels reiterate, “He is not here. He is risen.” And then while they are busy processing these glorious words, the angels continue to explain, “Remember how He told you while He was still in Galilee.” Again, the angels are not there to draw attention to their own words for these women. No, not at all. They quote Jesus’ words concerning what must take place and this is what results in the women remembering the words of the Messiah. It was about Jesus. They were there simply to convey and remind them what they had already been told.
But the question that obviously arises is, “When did Jesus teach the words that the angels quoted?” Well there’s a number of instances. A couple would be just after Peter’s confession of Jesus as the Christ, Jesus said this. He said, “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed and on the third day be raised.” On another occasion immediately after Jesus’ transfiguration He said this. “The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men and they will kill Him. And when He is killed, after three days, He will rise again.” Again, upon leaving Galilee for Jerusalem with His disciples, in Luke chapter 18 – probably about 8 to 10 days prior to the events that are happening here – Jesus said this. He said, “See, we are going up to Jerusalem and everything that is written about the Son of Man by the prophets,” in other words, by the Old Testament, “will be accomplished, for He will be delivered over to the Gentiles and will be mocked and shamefully treated and spit upon. And after flogging Him they will kill Him, and on the third day He will rise again.”
You see, friends, this was the consistent message of Jesus Christ throughout His three years or so of ministry. We see it in some of the parables. We see it in some of the metaphors that He uses where He will break down this temple and in three days it will be raised up again. He was to be killed, but the grave would not hold Him. He would rise, and He would rise in order to save His people from their sins.
Now don’t miss the beautiful detail in our text that after the angels reiterate Jesus’ words the women remembered and they returned changed. No longer were they overwhelmed with fear and anxiety, perhaps grief and sadness. There was a change in their disposition as they headed back to go and relay this and what they had seen and what they had been told to the others. You see, remembering the words of Jesus had taken the focus off of themselves. It had taken the focus off of what they could see visibly and rather it had reignited their faith and it had reordered their gaze upon their Rock, upon the Shepherd, upon the one who is the Word of life, upon Christ Himself. The same would happen later on in the text when Jesus confronted the two disciples on the way to Emmaus and the other apostles in Jerusalem, He would remind them of all that He had said. Each of them would believe in turn. In fact, their hearts burned, we’re told, while He spoke to them from Scripture.
They Became Ambassadors
And that brings us to the final point that I want us to consider, and that is, they became ambassadors. They became ambassadors. Because friends, how does anyone ever believe the good news that Jesus has risen from the dead? The truth is, that each of us comes to believe the good news because we believe the Word of God. We are meant to be people of the book, so let us be people of the book. Even in our day and age, let us be people of the book where we read the Word of God and we believe the Word of God and we reflect upon the Word of God and we pray the Word of God and we live out the Word of God. And so having remembered Jesus’ words and understanding that Jesus was indeed alive, they became ambassadors. No longer is it in the past, but not it’s in the present/future. They were perplexed, they were confronted, and they were reminded, but now they became ambassadors. And so Mary Magdalene, Joanna, and Mary the mother of James and the other women, they returned from the tomb to tell the apostles of all the things that had taken place. They couldn’t help themselves. They needed to tell the others who were still trapped in fear and anxiety and uncertainty and grief, who were at the end of themselves just as they had been just a short while previously.
Isn’t that Christian love? When the truth sets us free, isn’t it true that we want others who are still encased in grief and in fear and in anxiety and sin and spiritual death, don’t we long for them to know freedom? One of the astonishing things that we read in this text in verses 11 and 12 is that upon receiving this good news the disciples wrote it off as an idle tale. You see, they did not believe it because it was just unbelievable. No one had seen this kind of event before. But it did spur Peter on in his rambunctious character and personality to run towards the tomb. And in the gospel of John we’re told that both John and Peter headed out to the tomb that morning. John arrived first, but Peter didn’t stop outside like John did. He ran straight into the tomb and he saw that there was only the linen cloths and no body. John followed shortly thereafter. And yet the text tells us that even when they saw the linen cloths with no body, they did not understand the Scripture that Jesus must rise from the dead. It appears that they still did not understand. They understood the body was missing, but they didn’t understand the implications until Peter saw and he spoke with Jesus later that day. Then he believed in the resurrected Messiah. When Jesus reminded them of the words of life that He had previously spoken, the world was never the same as a result when it captured and inflamed their hearts. They remembered all that He had said and they then went out and they proclaimed it and the world was not the same. They would proclaim it even to their own deaths.
So let me say this in closing. A brief excursus of Luke 24 or any of the other gospels, any passages in the New Testament, Paul’s writings to the Corinthians, they all testify to the truth claims of Jesus rising bodily from death by the power of God., that He is indeed alive. And because He is alive and He is the risen Savior of humanity, we are called to repent and to believe. And so my question to those of you who are looking and are streaming here this evening, “Where do you stand on this? Do you believe that Jesus truly has risen from the dead and that it changes your life and your whole perspective on life itself?” The evidence is there in Scripture if you will read. And I would urge you to believe that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures.
One more thing. You know that the last few weeks have left many of us perplexed. It’s caught many of us off guard what has taken place in the last couple of months. And yet the question that each and every one of us is forced to contend with is simply this, “Which gives you the most anxiety – is it your sin or is it the coronavirus and the misfortune that is taking place in your life?” The one has temporal ramifications, but the second one, the other one has eternal implications. Friends, we may be perplexed with all that is taking place, but we are still safe and secure in the hands of a sovereign God. Perhaps this season, God has also used it to confront our lack of faith, our own failure to remember who God is and what God has promised to all of us in Christ Jesus as we repent and believe, as we are His followers. You see, all too often it’s only when we are brought to the end of ourselves and we are confronted by the living God that we are driven back to the Scriptures where we read and where we remember the truth that remains steadfast from generation to generation. You see, we need to be reminded. We need to be reminded every day by going back to the Word, being saturated with truth, to hear the same old story “of Jesus and His love” as we would sing so that it allays our fears and our anxieties, that it helps us to comprehend and believe the truth of the Gospel with a greater fervency and that ultimately we will be emboldened, when the morning comes we will be emboldened to go and share this good news.
You see, the fact that Jesus is alive changes the way that we respond to everything. He is our great hope both today and for tomorrow and for all eternity. And so we praise God for giving His Son, Jesus Christ, but we praise God today for the hope that we have in the resurrection of our great and glorious Savior. Let’s bow our heads in prayer. Let’s pray.
Our Father in heaven, we do thank You and we do praise You, we adore You for Your Son, Jesus Christ. We thank You that the whole of Scripture that attests and told that these things will take place came to pass at Your appointed time. Father, teach us, just as you had to teach these women and teach the disciples, Lord, teach us what it means to remember all that You have said so that those truths inflame our hearts, give us courage and embolden us to be a people that You have called us to be. Be at work in each of our lives, for Christ’s sake and glory we pray. Amen.
© 2019 First Presbyterian Church.
This transcribed message has been lightly edited and formatted for the Web site. No attempt has been made, however, to alter the basic extemporaneous delivery style, or to produce a grammatically accurate, publication-ready manuscript conforming to an established style template.
Should there be questions regarding grammar or theological content, the reader should presume any website error to be with the webmaster/transcriber/editor rather than with the original speaker. For full copyright, reproduction and permission information, please visit the First Presbyterian Church Copyright, Reproduction & Permission statement.