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By about 3pm on Friday Jesus has died. By 6 pm, his body has been taken down by prominent Jews Joseph and Nicodemus, washed, wrapped in special cloths, packed around with spices to stop it stinking, and buried in a tomb.
The women who followed Jesus from Galilee and who were just over there when he died, were again just over there, checking out this burial.
On Friday afternoon, they saw the body go into the tomb, and they saw the tomb sealed with a huge rock. They spent Saturday preparing spices so Jesus would be properly buried. It is now Sunday. They are back at the cemetery to finish the job properly.
How did they think they were going to move the stone that sealed the tomb? It seems they had not thought about that until they are almost there. But someone or something else has moved the stone. When they get inside, to do their loving work, there is no body.
It went in on Friday. It is now missing on Sunday.
It is not as though it is lying somewhere else. Two angels ask these women “Why do you seek the living among the dead?” (v5) This is a cemetery, it is for dead bodies. Since Jesus is no longer dead, this is not where you will find him.
What shall we learn from the way in which Luke tells us about this? I would like to draw out two themes.
1. JESUS’ RESURRECTION IS REAL AND IT IS BIG
It is not just that his spirit lives on, in us, and that the dust of his body is somewhere in Palestine. Like some important Anglican and Uniting Church preachers and a whole lot of others want to say.
When I say ‘resurrection’, I mean his physical coming back to life, bodily, having physically really died.
Matthew, Mark, Luke and John all tell us that Jesus’ body went into the grave late Friday, and all that is there on Sunday are some burial cloths, and a couple of frightening angels. So, where was it?
Had the Romans or the Jews whisked it away? Whatever for? They may have acted out of evil when they hounded him to death, but they are not stupid. Why do something that would only feed the very beliefs they are trying to squash?
Anyway, if they had, it would be a triumph to wheel it out. Alternatively, they could get a participant who had moved it to inform the local paper. “Jesus alive? Here is the body. These men who want you to believe in a risen Jesus are all frauds.”
Then, had Jesus’ friends whisked it away? Whatever for? They believed that when you are dead, you are dead. When the women find the cave empty, they don’t say “Ah, this must be the resurrection.” That was the last thing on their minds.
If they had taken the body, and are preaching a risen Jesus, which they know is a myth, why would they die for that? It is hard enough to die for something you know is true, let alone for a fairy tale you have invented.
I heard Alistair Begg say that for the 11 disciples, itis like a soccer match at half time when your team is losing 10 nil, and your captain has walked away, no one wants to play the second half. When Jesus dies, it is all over, and it is time to shut up shop.
What gets these disciples back and focussed? A myth they have invented? They are often slow to understand, but they are not stupid.
There is something strange here about the women.
The men are missing; it is the women who are in attendance. They weep as Jesus is stumbling out to be crucified (23:27). The women who have followed him from Galilee stay by him all those long hours of his dying (23:49). The women follow Joseph and Nicodemus carrying the body of Jesus to its burial, and see how it is laid in that tomb (23:55). The women are the first to see the empty tomb and the vacant burial shrouds. The same women who tell the apostles Jesus is alive.
What is so strange about that? If you lived back here, women had little value or authority. In a first century Jewish law court, the testimony of a woman was not acceptable. Which maybe is why the apostles would not believe them when they told them what they had seen.
Culture has never been important to Jesus. In fact I am beginning to wonder if ‘culture’ is an invention to keep God at arm’s length. Since when is it so important?
In the kingdom of Jesus just about everything runs counter to culture, and we had better get used to that. Only big people in his kingdom? No – even children. Only good people? No, only bad people. Only men? No women are clearly visible and active there.
Go back to chapter 1 of Luke, to when Mary sang when she was told she would give birth to Jesus: “he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts he has brought down the mighty from their thrones and exalted those of humble estate; he has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent empty away.” (Vv51-53)
All the things we build into our culture, whether it is feminist, macho, who is valued and who is not: it decides nothing that ultimately matters. Instead it is Jesus who does.
The normal court rules as to whom you can trust. Maybe that is why God names three of the women who saw the empty grave – go and ask them, he is saying. Their testimony is good.
Indeed, we should ask them. Did it really happen like this? Is there any better explanation for what happened than that Jesus really did rise? This can be tested in a court, as it were, using the usual rules of evidence and proof, motive and outcome.
By placing the women in such a prominent position, God is telling us that you need more than the normal rules of evidence and proof when there is something as extraordinary as a resurrection on trial.
In this case, angels are present. Not the white fluffy make-believe kind, but the kind that are so startling and out-of-this world that if you met them, you would be scared.
In this case, the body has gone, through the clothes in which it was buried. In this case, there is no precedent you can go back to. This is something that has never, ever happened before.
The resurrection of Jesus is real, and it is big. Really big.
2. JESUS’ BIG Resurrection points to something bigger
Luke tells us of stories of 3 groups of people in this last chapter. The first, here in verses 1-12, are the women. The second is a couple on their way home. The third group is the apostles.
All three groups are similar. They are all sad, or confused. And they are all rebuked for their unbelief:
· The women: “Why do you seek the living among the dead?” (v5)
· The couple on the road: “O foolish ones, slow of heart to believe” (v25)
· The apostles: “Why do doubts rise in your hearts?” (v38)
The answer for them all is the same:
· The women: “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.” (vv6-8)
· The couple on the road: “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things, and enter into his glory?” And beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.” (vv25-27) Then we read what they later said to one another: “Did not our hearts burn within us, while he talked with us on the road, while he opened to us the Scriptures?” (v32)
· The apostles: “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets must be fulfilled.” Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures ...” (vv44,45)
What is the common theme? They should all have expected Jesus to rise, because he had already told them he would. For these dear ladies, they suddenly understood. The key for them? “They remembered his words”.
His rising was already there in what he had said to them. And the wonderful life-changing nature of what he had said is now confirmed by the fact of his rising. The significance is in his words.
It has always been like that. Luke has already written up the story Jesus told of the rich man and the beggar who both died. From his place of torment, the rich men instructed God to send someone to his brothers to warn them lest they also come into this place. But God said “Even if someone rises from the dead, they will not believe; they have Moses and the prophets – let them hear them.” (Luke 16:29)
In God’s purposes, what convinces people of the truth about God is his Word. Seeing is NOT believing, but hearing is believing. It has always, always, always been like that.
Does the resurrection matter? Yes, is really big, but what Jesus has spoken is even bigger. His words are the big deal.
Only a handful saw the resurrection and the other miracles. Are the rest of us are left out? No, it is the same rule for all of us. Jesus asked Thomas: “Have you believed because you have seen me? “Blessed are they who have not seen, and yet believe.” (John 20:29).
When Colton Burpo was 3, he temporarily died, and went to heaven, he later said. His father wrote the story up in a book “Heaven is for Real”, which sold 10 million copies, and in 2014 was made into a movie which has already grossed about $130 million.
In 2015 Colton Burpo confessed none of it was true. But still, Heaven Tourism books keep selling with Don Piper’s “90 Minutes in Heaven” being a New York Times best seller. Which only proves that ‘fools and their money are soon parted’.
Do we know heaven is real because some child is supposed to have seen it? Or do we know because Jesus says it is real?
The resurrection of Jesus is a world-changing event. It is so real, and it is so big. But it points us to something that is even more real, if I may put it that way, and to something that is bigger and even better: what he has told us.
I know we have said it so many times, but it is a neglected fact: for those who want to know Jesus, and for those who want to follow him, the focus is always the spectacular words which God has spoken. Not the spectacular things that God has done.
I am sure that our searching for some miracle, and our belief that if our friends see one then they will be converted, is not in fact a sign of our faith, but a sign of the lack of biblical faith.
The miracles he does are explained and interpreted by his words, and those miracles confirm the truth of his words. We live by his words, not by what we see. We walk by faith in his words, and not by sight of something even as big as the resurrection.
· Does he rule the whole world, and every atom in it? He says he does.
· Does life make sense only in the light of who he is? He says it does.
· Does his death really wipe away our sins? He says it does.
· Does his rising guarantee we also shall rise? He says it does.
· Will we never be lost from his hand between now and the day of our rising? He says we shall not.
· Is his heavenly Father the only true and living God? He says he is.
· Will following him mean a life of liberty and joy, rather than of death and restriction? He says it will.
· Is his gospel the only, only, hope for a lost, lost world? He says it is.
Let us live backward from his rising up to his words. From what is really big, to what is even bigger.
Do you think we would lose anything that really mattered, if we lived that way? Anything?