Easter Sunday| April 21, 2019| Rev. Rolf Preus| Luke 24:1-12
Now on the first day of the week, very early in the morning, they, and certain other women with them, came to the tomb bringing the spices which they had prepared. But they found the stone rolled away from the tomb. Then they went in and did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. And it happened, as they were greatly perplexed about this, that behold, two men stood by them in shining garments. Then, as they were afraid and bowed their faces to the earth, they said to them, “Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here, but is risen! Remember how He spoke to you when He was still in Galilee, saying, ‘The Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, and be crucified, and the third day rise again.’ ” And they remembered His words. Then they returned from the tomb and told all these things to the eleven and to all the rest. It was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them, who told these things to the apostles. And their words seemed to them like idle tales, and they did not believe them. But Peter arose and ran to the tomb; and stooping down, he saw the linen cloths lying by themselves; and he departed, marveling to himself at what had happened. Luke 24:1-12
The women did not expect to find an empty tomb. They went to show respect for Jesus’ dead body. When they found the tomb empty, they were confused about what it meant. The two men who stood by in shining garments were angels. They reflected God’s glory. The women were scared. They bowed down and averted their eyes. Then the messengers of God spoke from God. They asked them why they were looking for the living among the dead. They told the women that Jesus was not in the tomb because he had risen from the dead. They reminded them of what Jesus had said. Jesus had said that he would be delivered into the hands of sinful men, be crucified, and rise from the dead on the third day. When reminded of what Jesus had said to them, the women remembered Jesus saying it. They quickly left to tell the apostles all about it. But the apostles did not believe the women.
Is that excusable? Should they have believed the women? Should we chide those chauvinistic men for dismissing the report of women as if women are more prone to flights of fancy? You may if you wish, but that misses the point. The point is that the angels reminded the women of what Jesus had said. As Luke writes,
And they [the women] remembered His [Jesus’] words. Then they returned from the tomb and told all these things to the eleven and to all the rest.
The women not only told the men what they had seen – the empty tomb – they told the men what they had heard from the angels. The angels reminded the women of what Jesus had said. The women reminded the men of what Jesus said. And Jesus did say it, more than once. We read in St. Matthew’s Gospel, chapter 16,
From that time Jesus began to show to His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem, and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised the third day. Then Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke Him, saying, “Far be it from You, Lord; this shall not happen to You!” But He turned and said to Peter, “Get behind Me, Satan! You are an offense to Me, for you are not mindful of the things of God, but the things of men.” (Matthew 16:21-23)
Jesus made it crystal clear that he would suffer, and die, and on the third day rise from the dead. When Peter rebuked Jesus for saying this, Jesus called Peter Satan. Peter was not thinking the things of God but the things of men. Matthew records again, in chapter 17,
Now while they were staying in Galilee, Jesus said to them, “The Son of Man is about to be betrayed into the hands of men, and they will kill Him, and the third day He will be raised up.” And they were exceedingly sorrowful. (Matthew 17:22-23)
The women are the first post-resurrection Christian congregation. The men are going to be the first pastors of the post-resurrection Christian church. The congregation says to the pastors what God says. The congregation confesses her faith in the words of the Creed. Then the pastor is to preach according to the faith of the church. The church confesses her faith. The pastors preach it. But, as Luke’s account of Christ’s resurrection makes plain, the preachers are no more Bible believing than the people to whom they are called to preach.
The women went to anoint a dead body. They went to find Jesus in death. The angels asked a perfectly rational question. “Why do you seek the living among the dead?” Look. His body is gone. The reason his body is gone is because he is risen. You should have known this. You didn’t know because you ignored what Jesus said.
Sometimes you wonder how God can do what he does with what he’s got to work with. Consider. The angels speak for Christ. The first Christians who hear Christ’s words from the angels believe the words they hear. But when the women tell the future preachers they don’t believe. Peter ran to the tomb and saw for himself that Jesus was not there. He marveled. He was amazed.
We Bible believing Christians rightly criticize those churches and preachers who have departed from God’s written word and promote all sorts of false doctrine invented by men. But we need to stop and consider ourselves. First, consider Peter. He was a great hero of the faith. He was a bold and fearless preacher. But when Jesus told him that he, Jesus, would have to suffer and die, Peter rejected it. The first Christians were overwhelmed by grief and fear. They foolishly looked for the risen Lord Jesus in a tomb. Why would he rise from the dead only to remain the tomb? Clearly, they didn’t believe in the resurrection of the dead.
Oh, we believe. Theoretically. “I believe in the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting.” “I look for the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come.” So we say. So we confess. And then we face death up close and personal. The feelings we feel overwhelm the faith we confess. Words of comfort and encouragement come into our ears, but our hearts are stuck with what we have seen. Our suffering and pain become the interpretive principle of our faith and our faith sags into weakness.
He is not here, but is risen! Remember how He spoke to you when He was still in Galilee, saying, ‘The Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, and be crucified, and the third day rise again.’
The Son of Man ~must~ be delivered, crucified, and the third day rise again. This must be. Why? Because God said so. Because God promised so. Because God loves you and his love requires it to be so. Jesus must suffer. He must die. He must rise from the dead. All of this must happen. God’s word says so and what God’s word says must be so.
Back in the sixties, trendy theologians looked for ways to repackage the gospel to make it more interesting to those who had started to tune Christianity out. They thought that all this talk about sin, death, and resurrection may not resonate. Let’s define the gospel more broadly as good news for a bad situation. That way, it will apply to everyone. Everyone faces troubles. God wants to help us out of our troubles. See? This definition of the gospel works!
No, it doesn’t. There are many bad situations we face that the gospel isn’t going to change. If you lose your job, your money, your friends, your spouse; if you suffer betrayal; if you go blind; does the gospel of Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection give you a better job, make you more money, secure for your more friends, bring back your lost love, or restore you to soundness of body? No. The gospel is not some generic good news for a bad situation. It’s very specific. And that is its greatest comfort.
It was specifically Jesus who died. Not someone else. The same Jesus who died rose. He said he would die and rise.
What does this mean? It means that his word is true. He said he would die and rise and he died and rose. He speaks the truth.
What does this mean? Since he died for the sin of the world, bearing in his body the guilt of the entire human race, becoming the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, what does his resurrection from the dead mean? It means he really took away the sin of the world. Sin pays off in death. Jesus faced death in his innocence. He bore sin’s wages. He paid sin’s debt. His payment was accepted by God. His resurrection proves it. It proves that our sins are forgiven. God accepted the offering for sin that Jesus offered. Christ’s resurrection is our absolution.
What does this mean? It means that we who are united with Christ by baptism and faith will rise from the dead on the last day with glorified bodies to enjoy eternity in the new heavens and the new earth that Christ is preparing for us. It means that we are forgiven of all our sins, enjoy peace with God, have no worries about dying, and know the God who governs this world as our own loving Father.
Those whose greatest love is in their job, their money, their friends, their spouse, their earthly comfort, or something else of this world may not find great joy in the message of Easter. But those whose sins burden their conscience, who love God but know their love for him is weak and feeble, who are sorry for their sins but powerless to make things right, who yearn for a life set free from the temptations of the flesh, the sins of the world, and the attacks of the devil, for them Easter is a constant source of joy.
They feel the burdens of being sinners in this sinful world. They run to church where every Sunday is Easter. Their hearts may be oppressed and their minds confused, but God meets them in his word. What it says must be must be. It says that Jesus had to die. He had to be crucified. He had to bear the sin of the world. He had to rise from the dead. He said he had to do these things because he had to do them. And why? Because God loves you – that’s why. God wants you here. He wants you to celebrate Christ’s death and resurrection in sincerity and truth. He wants to give you a new life to live. He promises you that every time you come to Christ’s church to find your Savior Jesus, he will give you the forgiveness he won for you on Calvary and he will give to you the life he died and rose to give you. Let us pray:
Thou hast died for my transgression,
All my sins on thee were laid;
Thou hast won for me salvation,
On the cross my debt was paid.
From the grave I shall arise
And shall meet thee in the skies.
Death itself is transitory;
I shall life my head in glory.