This was adapted from an Easter sermon Nathan preached in 2019
The Text: Luke 24:1-12
But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they (the women) went to the tomb, taking the spices they had prepared.
2 And they found the stone rolled away from the tomb, 3 but when they went in they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus.
4 While they were perplexed about this, behold, two men stood by them in shining garments. 5 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?
6 He is not here, but has risen. Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, 7 that the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men and be crucified and on the third day rise.”
8 And they remembered his words, 9 and returning from the tomb they told all these things to the eleven and to all the rest.
10 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, 11 but these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them.
12 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.
A day of death
This passage starts with the reality of death. We jump into the story and find a group of women. Women who stood beside a cross, a cruel instrument of torture used by the Romans to execute criminals. These women stood by that cross and they watched someone whom they deeply loved, their close friend and teacher, being tortured. His hands and his feet nailed to that piece of wood. Then they watched him breathe his last. They wept as he hung there motionless. They wept as the Roman guard plunged a spear into the side of the one on the cross just to make sure he was dead. These women watched as a man named Joseph took the body of their precious Jesus off the cross. The lifeless corpse lay motionless in his arms. This was a day of death. They watched as this man took the body of Jesus and laid it in a nearby tomb. They strained their eyes to see one last glimpse of his bruised and swollen face as a stone was rolled over the mouth of the tomb. He was gone. Hidden away from the outside world by the realities of death. His mother was among the women. She longed to reach out and touch him one last time, but the stone was now sealed. This was a day of death.
A few days ago, I held the lifeless, tiny, and precious body of my baby girl in my hand. My heart was weighed down by the reality of death. We live in a world of death. Some say we should just accept it as a natural part of life. But we know deep down that such an idea is ridiculous. How can we accept something as a natural part of life that is itself the very ending of life? No, human death is not natural. No matter what the naturalists tell us, we know profoundly that it must not be so. In the beginning, death was not a part of God’s good creation. This bitter cutting off of life is not the way it is supposed to be.
So where did death come from?
So where did death come from? God inspired men over thousands of years to write down the truths about him and about his world, in the Sacred Scriptures. Among those writings, we learn about the origin of death––this unnatural invader of God’s good world. God’s word declares that death entered the world through sin. “…sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned…” (Romans 5:12). Our earliest ancestor, Adam, was created to enjoy perfect relationship with the Creator, but he rebelled against God and brought the entire human race into slavery to sin. And the wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23). First, a spiritual death that severs our relationship with God, followed by physical death. So death is not natural but it has become normal. It has become normal because every human being is affected by sin even from conception, “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me.” (Psalm 51:5).
Death is so normal, in fact, that in this passage, these women on their way to the tomb that early Sunday morning expect to find Jesus’ dead body. That is what you or I would expect as well. Because that is the reality of our world. Death is a reality. And it has a certain finality about it. That is what’s so painful about death. There’s no coming back from it. That’s what these women know to be the normal thing. You die and you stay that way. It’s final. It’s over. That’s it. …Or is it? Is death not final after all?
The death of death in the death of Christ
To answer that question, we must ask another question, was the death of Jesus like any other death? Was he suffering the results of his sin like every other human? If all have sinned, and the wages (or penalty) of sin is death, then it is just for all of us to receive death. This isn’t popular, but it is what God tells us in his word. We so often compare ourselves with other people and we think that we’re not that bad or sinful, or that our sin really isn’t deserving of death. But the issue isn’t how we compare with others but how we stand before a perfect and holy God, a God who the Bible says is a consuming fire. When Julissa and I were living in Mexico City, we went to serve for a day in a Christian orphanage. We spent time hanging out with the kids and playing with them. And the kids invited me to join their soccer game. Now, they were pretty little so it wasn’t that hard to dominate the game, which of course made the kids on my team really happy. Sure, I missed a goal or two but overall I was the star. However, what would happen if all of a sudden I found myself out on the field with the Mexico National team? I would fall miserably short. There would be no comparison. I wouldn’t even come close or stand a chance. That is how it is with God, only more so. We can’t fathom how holy he is. We have all sinned against him and we all deserve death.
But what about Jesus? Was his death just like everyone else’s? Did he do anything to deserve death? No, Luke reminded us again and again in chapter 23 that Jesus was innocent, that he was without any blame whatsoever. So in the death of Jesus, we have something totally unique. Death is the penalty for sin, yet Jesus never sinned. So why did he die?
He died in order to put death to death. He died to condemn sin. God sent Jesus to deal with sin “By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh.” (Romans 8:3b). Jesus died to disarm the power of death, and to defeat the devil “[Jesus] too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil— 15 and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death.” (Hebrews 2:14b-15). We deserved to die. There was absolutely nothing we could do to escape that penalty. The God of justice would be perfectly just and good and right to bring his sword of justice upon us, but God… God himself in the person of Jesus stepped in and He took our place, and the sword came down upon him. The death we deserved, the separation from God that we deserved, was experienced by Jesus at the cross. He paid for our sin. He didn’t just make it possible for us to be set free from death. He actually took our eternal death upon himself. He actually purchased our salvation with his blood. He accomplished the rescue of his people by his death. He declared “it is finished” not just “it is possible.” To quote the old hymn that we like to sing often around here, “Jesus paid it all, now all to him we owe.”
Jesus died not for his own sins but for ours. So death had no right to hold him. “But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him.” (Acts 2:24) Death could not keep its grip on him. He was still the prince of life, and his death abolished death, and as John Gill writes, Jesus “had made full satisfaction for sin, and had brought in an everlasting righteousness, and therefore ought in justice to be discharged, and detained a prisoner no longer.” Jesus abolished death at the cross, therefore, death could not keep him in its prison. He paid the price for freedom from sin. He opened the path to a new creation, to creation restored. He paved the way back to unbroken fellowship with God. He has overcome the curse.
The Norm Has been Broken
So the women show up at the tomb to anoint the corpse but the angels correct their misled actions, their actions are based on the old paradigm. But the angels say (at the end of verse 5), “Why do you seek the living among the dead?” It’s as if the angels were saying, don’t you know that death isn’t a part of the way things are supposed to be? Don’t you know that Jesus is the king of the new creation––of creation restored? Don’t you know that he has broken the power of death?
Why would you expect to find his body here? verse 6 “He is not here, but has risen…”
Is this too good to be true?
Now, why should the women believe this? What basis do they have for rejecting the norm? The norm that people die and stay dead? Why should they reject that old paradigm?
Pay attention to the angels’ response. This is crucial for them and it is crucial for us as well. What do the angels point them to?
Look at the rest of verse 6 He is not here, but has risen. Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, 7 that the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men and be crucified and on the third day rise.” Notice what they emphasize, do you see it? “Remember how he told you” They ask the women to remember the words of Jesus. Why should they believe that Jesus is alive? Not chiefly because the tomb is empty. They even say to them, “why are you here looking for the living among the dead?” So they don’t first direct the women to the empty tomb but to the words of Jesus! They don’t say, “look at the empty tomb,” they don’t say, “look there he is,” they will in fact see him later on, and Matthew in his gospel does show us that the empty tomb matters, but that’s not the emphasis here. What they do say is this, “Remember his words. Remember what he told you when he was still with you” This seems crazy. But it is an obvious focus in this story. Notice verse 8 And they remembered his words, 9 and returning from the tomb they told all these things to the eleven and to all the rest. Notice that phrase, “they remembered his words.” This is significant. This stirred faith in their hearts. It led them to go and tell others. That’s not something you do lightly, it’s a bold move. I think they had the courage to do it, because they remembered his words. Compare them with the disciples in the next few verses, look at verse 10 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, 11 but these words seemed to them an idle tale (nonsense), and they did not believe them. The women had remembered HIS words, but their words seemed to the disciples… as what? …as nonsense, and so they did not believe them. Yes, Peter ran to the tomb, but even then he went home wondering about what had happened. 12 But Peter rose and ran to the tomb; stooping and looking in, he saw the linen cloths by themselves; and he went home marveling (wondering about) what had happened.
Do you see the contrast as Luke tells this story? The women remember his words and this stirs faith in their hearts. The disciples interpret these words as an idle tale, as nonsense, and it leads merely to curiosity and perhaps to fear as well.
Remembering His words makes all the difference
Remembering His words makes all the difference. Let’s look at two examples of this. In John’s gospel, we learn that when Jesus appeared to his remaining apostles, one of them was missing: Thomas. So the others tell Thomas when he gets back to the house that they have seen Jesus, but Thomas doesn’t believe them. However, eight days later, Jesus visits them again. We pick up the story in John 20:27
Then (Jesus) said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.” 28 Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” 29 Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” Hear that again, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”
So how will people believe if they haven’t seen? We have a concise answer in Romans 10:17 “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.” Does this sound familiar? How can you have faith that Jesus rose from the dead? By going and discovering the empty tomb somewhere in Jerusalem? The historical evidence for the resurrection is remarkably strong. But merely verifying the historical data isn’t going to change your heart. It is hearing the word of Christ that produces faith.
The Road to Emmaus
Later on, in Luke 24 we see that Jesus agrees, imagine that! He does something very similar to the angels who stood at his tomb. Jesus meets two of his followers as they walk along the road from Jerusalem to Emmaus. They don’t realize that it’s him, and they start talking about Jesus to Jesus. Look at verse 21 But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things happened. 22 Moreover, some women of our company amazed us. They were at the tomb early in the morning, 23 and when they did not find his body, they came back saying that they had even seen a vision of angels, who said that he was alive. 24 Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but him they did not see.” 25 And he said to them, “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! 26 Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” 27 And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.
Where does Jesus point them. Just like the angels directed the women to remember the words of Jesus, so Jesus directs these two men to remember the Scriptures. He is right there with them. But he points them to Scripture as a sufficient source of faith. Faith comes from hearing God’s word centered on Christ. Later on they say, in verse 32 ““Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the…” the what? “the Scriptures?”
God’s Word creates life
Both the angels as well as Jesus expect Christians to believe in the resurrection, not because of an empty tomb, but because of his words and the words of Moses and the prophets. In a similar way, what has sustained the church over the past two thousand years has not been the ability to verify the historical evidence for the resurrection (though again, the evidence is strong), but what has sustained the church over the past 2000 years has been the Spirit of God working through the Word of God. We stand in a long line of Christ-centered communities formed and nourished by the Word. Our brothers and sisters in Jesus over the centuries have given their lives and been willing to die for the name of Jesus, not because they had access to historical research but because they had the truth of God’s word proclaimed and embodied by little communities of believers. That was enough. This is why we are committed to preaching the Scriptures week after week because God’s word produces faith. This is why the enemy wants to get churches distracted doing all sorts of other things to attract people. Because he knows that there won’t be any faith or growth in faith apart from God’s word.
God’s word creates life. This all makes a ton of sense when you consider that the universe was created by the word of God. God spoke and galaxies came into existence. In a similar way, God speaks through his word and people like us who were dead in sin are brought to life. 1 Peter 1:23 “you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God.
The things concerning himself
But we don’t worship the Bible or think that the Bible is simply a mystical book that “magically” gives us faith. It is faith that comes from seeing the glory of God in the face of Jesus as he is revealed in the Bible. The religious leaders that wanted to crucify Jesus read the Scriptures, but they failed to see the glory that it was all pointing to. We see how Jesus understood and taught the Bible in verse 27 “And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.”
The Scriptures are about Jesus. So don’t stop at the surface. The Bible is like a window that we look through to see a glimpse of the glory of God in Christ Jesus who died for sinners like you and me. Death is an enemy that none of us could overcome but Jesus abolished death in his death and he overcame the grave by his resurrection. He is the firstborn of a new creation, because of his resurrection we have the hope of resurrection. He paved the way back to paradise. So we have hope beyond the grave. We have hope beyond this cursed world of sin and death. I have the hope that I will see my baby girl again.
54 When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written:
“Death is swallowed up in victory.”
55 “O death, where is your victory?
O death, where is your sting?”
56 The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. 57 But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
58 Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.
1 Corinthians 15:54-58
So because of the resurrection of Jesus, we can have hope that our labor (our efforts) to serve God and others are not a waste. They are not in vain.
Even when we don’t feel like our community is reaching people or growing. Or the person we’ve been trying to help and praying for hasn’t shown evidence of change.
Because of the resurrection, we power to love others, even those who have hurt us, we can love freely as servants of Jesus––who are loved unconditionally by the Father.
Because of the resurrection of Jesus, we can have hope that though outwardly we are wasting away (even though our bodies are breaking down with terminal illness or plagued by a disability that seems impossible to live with), inwardly we are being renewed day by day.
Because of the resurrection of Jesus, we can have hope that our momentary suffering and affliction are preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison.
Because of the resurrection of Jesus, we can have hope that though sorrow may last for the night, joy comes in the morning