April 12, 2020
“Why Do You Seek the Living One Among the Dead?”
I’m sure the last thing you want to hear on Easter Sunday morning is more about the global pandemic called COVID-19. But it is undoubtedly a pressing issue for us. So just briefly, by way of introduction, let’s address it. But can we put the health impact aside for a moment. As the world, and especially the US economies have come to a screeching halt, there have been some significant financial implications:
Certainly there is the good news of checks coming in the mail from the government to American taxpayers, as well as financial help offered to US businesses. I’m neither a politician nor an economist, but the jury is out as to how much help that will all actually provide. But I’m thankful for the attempt.
The fact remains, many small businesses have been closed by government mandate, and some will not recover. Many have lost jobs – the unemployment claims have reached an all time high in our country, and many wonder whether there will be businesses to which you can return.
The Stock Market – wow – has lost some 20% of its value during this crisis. Will it recover? Well, again, I’m not an economist, so I guess we’ll see. Of course, for many of us, that means our 401ks have been greatly affected. I figure I’m preaching till I’m 80 now.
So what has all that news done for you? Has it been unsettling? I’m sure it has. Maybe even crushing. Is there an appropriate response for Christians in the midst of this economic crisis? What about you, who may be tuning in, who are not yet Christians – what has this done to you, and your hope for the future? Of course, add to all that, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders has ended his bid for the presidency. Does that cause you concern as you hoped we were headed for a socialist utopia? Or does that cause celebration because you thought we were headed for a socialist nightmare? I guess I can sum it all up by asking, where does your hope lie? Has it gone up in smoke?
Or I could ask it this way, what is your treasure? What is it you are collecting, saving, valuing, that you think will give you a sense of meaning, purpose and fulfillment – that will give you life? Where is it that you are seeking life and hope?
You may say, well, it isn’t in mere stuff – what I collect has real value – material value. Jewelry, bank accounts, bonds, real estate – property, houses, cars – stuff that is really worth something – I can cash it in – it has real value. And I suspect that may be true for some of you, but the question remains, does all that really bring you the sense of joy and purpose and fulfillment for which you long? That’s the question today – where is it you are seeking life – and is it working?
You say, well, my source of life isn’t found in stuff – I’m deeper than that. I find life in my education, my job or career, in my professional recognition, my accomplishments, in my success, my status. Is that fulfilling for you – all that is here one day and gone the next? Carried off like so much junk to the city dump? I read a quote recently, “In one hundred years, all new people.”
Maybe you say, no, that’s not it either – that all sounds so selfish – so self-centered. Besides, we’re living in a postmodern culture, Scott, and we realize purpose and fulfillment is not found in those dead things that secularization and the modern age had to offer. We realize life, purpose, meaning, is found in worthwhile causes, whether it’s preserving the environment or feeding the poor. Both of those are good.
Or, you say, it’s found in meaningful relationships; it’s found in my friends, my girlfriend, my boyfriend, in my family, my husband, my wife, my children. Problem is, relationships often end – husbands leave, wives leave, children leave – and even if they don’t, they will let you down in some way – ultimately, they can never fill the hole, the longing – they can never be the source of inner peace and joy for which you long. You know there’s a hole – how do you fill it?
The fact is, most of us search for life in dead things – or at best, temporary, fleeting things. My hope for you this morning is to introduce, or reintroduce to you the source of real life and eternal hope and joy. It is, after all, only found in one place. In fact, some angels asked some women the same question I’m asking you this morning. It’s found in Luke’s account of the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Yes, of course I’m going to talk about the resurrection today. Yes, the story is told of a man who only attended church on Christmas and Easter. He was overheard saying one day, “I’d go to church more often, but our pastor only preaches the same two messages.”
Yes, I’m going to talk about the resurrection, because I believe with all my heart that the true source of life and purpose and meaning and joy is found in that story alone. And I want you to experience that life, too. And I’m not just talking to perhaps non-Christians who may have tuned in this Easter Sunday morning, although I am talking to you. I’m talking to every one of us – to include those of you who may have wandered away and begun collecting, whatever, as your treasure. And now your would is crashing. Where is it you are seeking life?
This story is so important it’s found in all four gospels, but we’ll look at the one found at the end of the book of Luke. Follow along as I read. Luke 23:55-24:12.
Did you see the question? It’s the simple question I have for you today – where are you seeking life? Or, why are you seeking life in dead places? Among the tombs. The true source of life and purpose and meaning is found in one place – in a living Savior, Jesus Christ. Look at the story with me. If you’re interested in outlines, it goes like this:
- The Preparation for the Body (23:55-24:1)
- The Problem at the Tomb (24:2-8)
- The Proclamation to the Disciples (9-12)
Let me give you some context. In the first 18 chapters, we learn about the birth of Jesus, and His first 33 years of life. In His three year ministry, He did some amazing teaching, and amazing miracles, proving He was the Son of God. Then, from chapter 19 on, we read about the events of Passion Week or Holy Week – the last week of Jesus’ life. He entered Jerusalem in what we call the Triumphal Entry on Palm Sunday in chapter 19. In chapter 20, on Monday and Tuesday, He battled with the religious leaders who sought to discredit Him, to trip Him up, to trap Him.
In chapter 21, He gave His disciples some final, important teaching on things to come. In the pivotal chapter 22, we read about the Last Supper on Thursday night, about the Garden of Gethsemane, and about His arrest and appearance before the Sanhedrin. Finally, in chapter 23, we read about the events of Good Friday, when Jesus appeared before Pilate and Herod, when He was mocked, scourged, condemned, and finally crucified. Just recently, my wife Tana and I and some others from the church were privileged to visit Jerusalem. We were able to see what most believe to be Golgotha, the Place of the Skull – the site of the crucifixion.
The end of chapter 23, which we just read a moment ago, tells of His burial. Joseph of Arimathea, a member of the Sanhedrin and a secret follower of Christ asked Pilate for the lifeless body of Jesus. After a speedy preparation which included burial spices and ointments and being wrapped head to foot in linen, Jesus was placed in a new tomb hewn from the rock in a nearby garden. Again, we were able to visit what many believe to be the likely burial tomb of Jesus right outside the old city wall of Jerusalem, and right beside Golgotha. As our guide said, it was either in this tomb or one just like it – but in the end, it doesn’t really matter – Jesus didn’t need it very long.
Well, all four gospels make clear that some women closely observed where Jesus was buried so they could return after the Sabbath and anoint His body on Sunday, the first day of the week. You see, He was likely crucified on Friday, hastily prepared and buried before the Sabbath began at 6:00 in the evening. The next day, the Scripture is totally silent on the happenings in and around Jerusalem. It’s called Holy Saturday. Can you imagine – all the hopes of the disciples who had followed Jesus for three years came crashing down. Hopes dashed. Talk about concern, hopelessness. They had invested all their future, all their dreams in Him.
Well, early on Sunday morning, these women made their way to the tomb with their prepared spices. They aren’t identified until verse 10. By comparing this verse with the other gospels, we find Mary Magdalene, Salome – the mother of James and John, Mary – the wife of Clopas, the other Mary – the mother of James, and another woman named Joanna were all present. They arrived at the tomb early in the morning, on the first day of the week – Sunday – the first Easter, with the prepared spices, hoping to anoint the body of Jesus.
Just an aside – I find it incredibly interesting and exciting that God used women, who in that society were not considered credible enough to be witnesses in a court of law. God used women to be the first credible witnesses to the resurrection. I love the way God elevated women in a society that demeaned them.
But, as these women arrived at the burial site, there was a problem, which leads us to our second point – the Problem at the Tomb in verses 2-8. Most of us know this part of the story well. Luke tells us when the women arrived, they found the stone rolled away. It was probably a circular disk that fit along a channel in front of the entrance to the tomb. It would have been a large stone, which the women would have had difficulty moving by themselves, especially with the Roman soldiers guarding the tomb. Matthew, tells us though, when the angels appeared, the soldiers froze and fell to the ground in a catatonic state like dead men.
That’s the picture – soldiers lying on the ground, the stone rolled away. Listen, the stone was not rolled away to let Jesus out – the stone was rolled away to let the women go in. And so, the women cautiously entered the tomb, but they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. Luke tells us they were perplexed. Now, some skeptics would like to suggest they came to the wrong tomb, but remember, they had marked its location well – plus, the presence of the angels as well as the soldiers made it clear they were at the right location. Either that or everyone was confused about which tomb was which – not likely. It would take Mission Impossible to pull off that kind of deception.
The women were perplexed – at a loss to understand what was going on – wondering what happened to the body of their Master. And behold – that word is important – it’s meant to be an exclamation of something incredible – this is unbelievable. The point is, this was a significant event – the event of all history – Luke wants you to visualize it. See it, behold, at that moment, two men suddenly stood before them in dazzling clothing. Verse 23 makes it clear these were angels. Dazzling clothing speaks of clothes that were flashing with light – not like those children’s shoes that light up when they walk – I’m talking dazzling – it’s the same word Luke used of Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration. This was of heavenly origin.
This was a brilliant display, and as is usually the response of people in the presence of angels, the women were terrified and bowed with their faces to the ground. And then came the question – only Luke records it. I believe it is the question of the ages, one everyone listening in must eventually answer, “Why do you seek the living One among the dead?” It is the question I have for you today. You see, I believe people are looking for life in death – in all the wrong places. Life can’t be found in dead corpses. It can only be found in one place – in the living Savior.
They had come to a tomb, and were seeking a dead man – seeking to soothe their grief by anointing Him. But Jesus was not there. The reason is obvious – tombs are dead people apartments, Jesus wasn’t dead, and therefore, not there. I love the way Peter later said it in his first sermon in Acts 2:24, “But God raised Him up again, putting an end to the agony of death, since it was impossible for Him to be held in its power.” Do you see that? Death could not hold Him. He had finished His work, God approved and proved it by raising Him from the dead.
At this point, the angels mildly rebuked the women, reminding them, “He is not here, but He has risen. Remember how He spoke to you while He was still in Galilee, saying that the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, and be crucified, and the third day rise again.” Don’t you remember that?
He told you this was coming. In Luke 9, after Peter confessed his faith that Jesus was the Christ, the Son of the Living God, Jesus said, “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed and be raised up on the third day.”
Notice, Jesus said, the Son of Man must suffer – theologians call that the divine necessity – if there was to be salvation for humankind, then Jesus must go to the cross to bear our sins in His body. So He did – just as He said He would. He died for my sins, and for yours – He is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world – and He can take away your sins this morning. That’s what Easter is about. There is life – eternal life and forgiveness in one place only – in the living Savior, Jesus Christ.
Jesus told them a second time what was coming in Luke 18, where He said:
31 Then He took the twelve aside and said to them, “Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem, and all things which are written through the prophets about the Son of Man will be accomplished.
32 “For He will be handed over to the Gentiles, and will be mocked and mistreated and spit upon, 33 and after they have scourged Him, they will kill Him; and the third day He will rise again.”
Jesus had told them plainly, He was to be killed – in Matthew, He even identifies what kind of death He would suffer – He would be crucified. But amazingly, they didn’t get it. In fact, the next verse in Luke 18 says:
34 But the disciples understood none of these things, and the meaning of this statement was hidden from them, and they did not comprehend the things that were said.
There is this thing called controlled belief – that is, when we believe something, right or wrong, if somebody says something to contradict that belief, we’ll often reinterpret what we hear to make sense of it. The disciples didn’t believe the Messiah would die. So even though Jesus told them plainly, while I’m not sure what they heard or how they interpreted it, they didn’t understand it. So that, when He died, it caught them completely off guard. And when the women came to the tomb on the third day, if they had understood it, the empty tomb would not have perplexed them. They would have known. Just like some of you don’t get it – but my prayer for you this week has been God would remove the blindness from your eyes, the veil over your hearts, so that you will see, and believe.
God graciously did that for the women. He sent the angels to open their eyes. And after hearing the announcement of the angels, Luke says, “And they remembered His words.” Whether or not there was faith or belief or understanding or just remembering, I don’t know. The fact is, Jesus said He would suffer at the hands of the religious leaders, and He did. He said He would die by crucifixion, and He did. And He said He would be raised on the third day, and He was. And I want to remind you this morning Jesus also said that by doing so, there would be life in Him – and Him alone – and there is. Do you believe that?
Well, the women tried to proclaim the truth of the resurrection, at least to some degree, to the disciples in verses 9-12, which brings us to our last point, The Proclamation to the Disciples.
They returned to the room where the eleven and the rest were hiding – notice, it’s eleven – the twelfth, Judas, had hung himself by now. So, the women went back and reported all these things to the eleven and the rest – the very small band of maybe 120 who had not yet deserted. As we saw earlier, the women are identified in verse 10. But here’s the important part – notice the initial response to their report – verse 11 – “these words appeared as nonsense, and they would not believe them.”
Which is exactly where some of you have been, and maybe are right now. You see, there’s a sense in which I stand in the place of those women today – and I am reporting to you all these things – all that happened when Jesus died for you. He loves you, He took your sins upon Himself so that you could be forgiven – and He was raised from the dead. As a result, all that is left for you to do is turn from your sin, we call that repentance, and turn in faith to Jesus Christ. Confess that you believe this report, and you can be saved.
I want to say to you again, it is in Jesus, the living Savior, and in Him alone, that you will find the life for which you are longing. You will not find it in dead things, in the passing stuff this world has to offer – in one hundred years, all new people – why are you looking for life there? I am offering you today the truth of the death, burial and resurrection of Christ – He did it for you.
But the fact is, you can have the response of these who first heard the report. You can hear it, and choose to reject it – these words, this report can sound like nonsense to you. And you can dismiss it and choose not to believe. And you can continue to seek life where there is no life.
Or, the other response is found in verse 12, “But…Peter got up and ran to the tomb, stooping and looking in [those words speak of a careful investigation], he saw the linen wrappings only [that is, no body]; and he went away to his home, marveling at what had happened.”
I don’t know what marveling meant for Peter, but my desire for you as we close this morning is that you go away more than marveling. My desire is that you go away, believing. I am asking you to believe. I need you to listen carefully. We often speak of the free gift of eternal life – some of you have heard it over and over – others of you have heard it for the first time.
And so I’m asking you to do something. Maybe you’re a believer this morning, but you’ve been sidetracked. You know Jesus, you’ve confessed Him as your Savior and Lord, but you’ve started seeking life in things that can never give life. And the economic impact of this pandemic has slapped you in the face. I want to remind you – all this life has to offer is temporary – and is nothing compared to the treasure of Christ. And I want you to invite you to spend some time praying – I’m asking you to recommit your life to the life-giving Savior. You won’t find life anywhere else, and you know that.
And for those of you who have never confessed faith in Jesus – I’m asking you to believe. To become a follower of Jesus Christ. I promise you – you will find the life for which you are longing. That hole in your heart? He and He alone can fill it. You will find eternal life, abundant life that only Jesus offers. Why are you seeking life from dead things that can never give life?