Believing in what?
Time drags sometimes doesn’t it? You’ve got an important
appointment coming up and it dominates your thinking but it’s still a day away.
Or maybe you’re going away on a long-planned for holiday and the departure date
has almost arrived. You’ve got everything ready and... you’ve just got to wait.
But then the day comes and you’re up early and on your way.
It was like that for those ladies who are mentioned in v.10
of Lk.24. Some of them are named: Mary Magadalene, Joanna and another Mary
but there were others there too whose names we haven’t been told. These women
had been there when Jesus was executed. They had stood nearby watching as Jesus
was crucified. And they had continued to watch when his dead body was taken
down from the cross and placed in a borrowed tomb. And then when everything was
over they had returned home to prepare their spices and ointments which they
planned to use to complete the funeral rites to honour their former friend.
Then the Sabbath intervened and they could do nothing,
nothing but wait. It must have been a long day as they waited but at last the
Sabbath came to an end. As the first day of a new week began to dawn these
women were to be found making their way once again to the garden tomb where
they fully expected to find Jesus’ dead body.
They certainly weren’t expecting what happened next and
initially they found it all very distressing. Come with me and let’s look
together at what was about to unfold.
An Empty Tomb
After Jesus’ body had been laid out in the tomb a great stone
had been rolled against the entrance to close it off but as the women
approached they soon discovered that things at the site had changed.
As they had made their way towards the tomb in the early
morning quietness before the city bustled into life the women had talked together.
What were they going to do about that stone? If they were to anoint Jesus’ body
then someone would have to move the stone for them, but who would do that?
Then as they neared the tomb they were met by an unexpected
sight - the sealed tomb was no longer sealed – it was open! That great stone
had been rolled out of the way already!
It’s hard to imagine how they must have felt. What was going
on? They couldn’t stop now and so they pressed on and entered the tomb to see
what they could see. And to put it quite simply they didn’t see what they
expected to see – the body of Jesus had gone and they didn’t have a clue as to
what to make of it all.
The word that Luke chose to describe their reaction to what
they saw, or rather to what they didn’t see, was the word “perplexed”. If they
had been expecting a resurrection then we might have expected to hear that they
were excited or perhaps filled with throbbing anticipation but that wasn’t the
case. They couldn’t make sense of what they were seeing - they were perplexed.
And that means that they were confused and that they were worried.
Something had occurred that took them by surprise and they
weren’t happy about it. What was going on?
It was while they were still in this anxious state that they
became aware that there were two men standing beside them and these were no
ordinary men either – they were dressed in dazzling apparel – their clothes
were shining – were these men or angels?
If the women had been perplexed a few moments before their
perplexity now morphed into something else, fear. They hadn’t been prepared for
any of this and they were frightened and in their fear they didn’t dare to look
at these men but turned their gaze towards the ground.
And the men spoke! They asked a question and what a question
it was! It wasn’t the type of question that waits for an answer though. It was
the type of question that lets you know that you’ve been making some big
mistakes: your understanding is all skew-whiff and because of that you’ve been
acting very foolishly indeed. This is what they asked:
v.5 “Why do you seek the living among the
You can’t really answer a question like that, can you? It
really is a challenge to rethink the whole situation.
Of course the women were there looking for the body of a man
they had seen crucified. They had seen and heard what had gone on. They had
watched as a spear had pierced his side when the soldiers assured themselves
that he was well and truly dead. They had observed others take his dead body
down from the cross, bind it with spices and a shroud and lay it in a stone
cold tomb. And now their plans had nothing to do with seeking “the living” instead
they were sadly seeking “the dead”, that’s why they were there. After all,
where else were they to go to find the dead body of their dead friend. They
didn’t expect to see him alive again – he must be among the dead!
But the question that the men/angels put was founded upon a
sure foundation. It flowed out of a reality that these women as yet did not
understand – though, as we shall see, it was a reality they ought to have
understood! You see while their hearts might have been full of compassion their
heads were empty, they weren’t thinking properly at all.
The men had a message to share with these women and through
them that message would be shared with the group of scared disciples and
through them the same message would be proclaimed to a lost world. This is what
that message said and it spoke about Jesus:
He is not here
He is risen
Remember what he told you
And now we must spend some time thinking about this.
There are a number of significant implications that flow from
the explanation that these men/angels shared with the women.
When they said that “he is not here” their words point to a
genuine, literal fact. Jesus’ body was no longer present in the tomb. And when
this is taken together with the further explanation of “he is risen” we are
clearly being presented with a literal and physical resurrection from the dead!
And this is crucially important.
You see some people can’t cope with the idea of a real resurrection
and they dream up their ridiculous theories as they try to water the idea of
resurrection right down. These people try to tell us that all the gospel
writers meant to convey was that Jesus’ memory somehow lived on among his
followers, that his teaching continued to inspire them.
Well it’s certainly true that Jesus’ followers didn’t forget
him nor did they forget his teaching but resurrection means far more than just
that. After all why is it important for the gospel writers to tell us that “he
is not here” and “he is risen” if his memory and his teaching is all that matters?
If that were true then his corpse would still have to be somewhere! But the
corpse wasn’t there – or anywhere else for that matter. No-one has ever been
able to throw down Jesus’ dead body and say “Here it is! All those stories
about rising from the dead are false.” How the Jewish leaders would have loved
to have been able to produce his corpse but they couldn’t, indeed no-one could,
because his corpse wasn’t a corpse any more for Jesus was risen from the dead!
He is risen and he is alive!
And this means that death had lost its grip on one of its
The enemy that stands opposed to you and me is no longer the
all-powerful foe it once was! There is life beyond the grave and Jesus’
resurrection offers hope to all of us who will put our trust in him.
Don’t you go wasting your time and effort looking for the
wrong thing in the wrong place. You can be just as misguided as those women
were that first resurrection morning. They should have known better and you
should know better too!
Now why do I say that?
Well just look at the third element to the angels’
explanation. Having made it clear that they were talking about a literal,
physical resurrection the angels told the women shouldn’t have been surprised
because they should have been expecting just that. After all they already were
in possession of all the information they needed and had they acted upon it
they would have behaved in a very different manner. They certainly wouldn’t
have become perplexed and frightened and they wouldn’t have tried to “seek the
living among the dead”.
Remember, remember! Don’t you remember what Jesus taught you
all while he was still up north in Galilee?
What these women were observing was no recent and novel idea
it was the fulfilment of a carefully constructed plan, one Jesus had told them
about some time ago. The angels continued to explain reminding the women of
what Jesus had taught:
He must be handed over – and, yes, he had been
He must be crucified – and, yes, he had been
He must rise again on the third day – and it was that
third day and, yes, he had been raised! He was and is alive!!
Jesus had risen and the women really ought to believe it for
the first and most important reason that Jesus had said beforehand that this
was going to happen!
And this is the first and foremost reason why you too should
believe that Jesus is risen from the dead! You haven’t seen an empty tomb and
some folded grave clothes but you don’t need to! You have the word of Jesus
How powerful and how dependable is the word of God! How we
ought to savour it, to believe it and to trust it! And how foolish we are when
like those women we also fail to remember the truth that we too have been told!
How easy it is for us to have empty heads too!
Now the type of question that the angels put to those women
could so easily be repeated in slightly different words to us:
If the question came to the women:
Why did they seek the living among
then surely we could be
Why do you often behave as if Jesus
is not alive?
Why do you act as if there is no God
Why do you think everything depends
Most of us I imagine want to be sure about the facts of our
faith and it is certainly a good thing to be confirmed in our beliefs, but I
wonder if some of us are looking for the evidence we feel we need in the wrong
place. We can turn to a variety of resources: the archaeological record, the
history of the church, logical arguments – the list can doubtless be prolonged
and all will serve to confirm the truth of the resurrection – but none of these
is as important as the Word of God. If you want the truth don’t think you’ll
find it by ignoring the Bible.
The perplexity and fear that those women experienced would
never have been felt had they done the simple thing, the right thing. And what
was that you may ask? It was to remember what Jesus had already told them!
And maybe that’s just what some of us need to do – we may
have heard it all before but we need our own memories jogged.
So we need to go back to the Bible, to where God has spoken
to us. We need to go back to the Bible where Jesus’ coming into the world is
described and explained. We need to go back to the Bible to read it and to
Now this is hardly rocket science is it? But just because
something is simple doesn’t mean I’m automatically going to be doing it? Am I
reading my Bible? Are you?
All of us need our memories need jogging from time to time.
It’s all too easy to have heard the truth and to have known and even understood
the truth but then to drift and to gradually forget what we once knew. How easy
it is to let the really important things to be pushed onto the back-burner where
they soon end up no longer exercising any influence on our lives either in what
we think or in what we do!
It would appear that those women had not spent their Sabbath
Day of rest reflecting or meditating on those important truths that Jesus had
taught them on more than one occasion. He had spoken about his sufferings and
death and also about what would happen next but the women (as the rest of the
disciples) weren’t listening. The result was that instead of interpreting the
events that were taking place in the light of God’s word these women were relying
upon their own faulty understanding. And their interpretation of what was going
on was quite wrong.
You see, when you side-line God’s word and prefer your own
wisdom to that of the Bible, you’re going to draw some very mixed up
conclusions. The result for these women was that they were not at all prepared
for the reality that confronted them. It was staring them in the face but they
simply weren’t ready for the resurrection.
There are important lessons for us to learn from all this.
The lessons are by no means new and you have probably heard them all before. In
fact, I have mentioned them already this morning but I must press them upon
you. I do so knowing that these lessons are so simple that I fear that my
exhortations will fall on deaf ears. Some of you listening to me will do what
you’ve done before with them – you’ll simply smile, perhaps nodding in
agreement, before you totally ignore them. But I must still press on and
encourage you to take these matters seriously.
Read the Bible regularly for yourself. Don’t be content to
own a copy and then leave it gathering dust somewhere. Read it. If you find
that the size print in the copy you have has shrunk over the years be daring
and buy yourself a new copy. If the English is difficult to understand buy
yourself one which you can understand. Then read it. Yes, I know that some of
the Bible is difficult to understand but I also know that a great deal is very
easy – so begin with the easy bits before you move progressively on to that
which is deeper and more profound.
Some of you may have read the Bible a long time ago and you
think that’s good enough – it isn’t. Don’t be satisfied with a casual, nodding
sort of acquaintance with the Bible. Do what you can to grow in your
understanding. Make sure you really do understand the basics of the faith but
don’t stop with the elementary doctrine of Christ – press on to maturity. Don’t
be content to be a baby Christian all your life as though milk is all the
satisfying diet you need and want – just as a normal baby moves on from milk to
solid food so should you if you’ve become a real Christian.
Attend church services regularly where truth is proclaimed,
where you can be reminded of what you already know and where you can be taken
further to discover more truth. Don’t starve your own soul by trying to get by
on a strict minimum.
And think about the truth that you know and what you are
It was when the angels reminded the women about what Jesus
had taught them that the women did remember and when they did suddenly lots
fell into place for them. But they received more than just personal help, they
were now in a position to be of help to others too.
So when the encounter with the angels ended the women went
back to the other followers of Jesus who were there in the city and they tried
to share with them what they had learned and what they had been brought to
But my! can’t Christians be obtuse and discouraging at times!
This little group of women brought exciting news back to the disciples but it turned
out that these disciples weren’t in any hurry to believe or to allow themselves
to be influenced by these women. Yes, they were discouraged but they were also in
danger of becoming cynical as they pursued a path that would only serve to make
their discouragement worse. What did those women know anyway? Why were they
making up these idle tales and talking such nonsense?
I wonder do you welcome the enthusiastic witness of others to
help and encourage you or have you allowed yourself to become cynical over the
years. Perhaps you began the Christian life with great hopes but over time
you’ve become disillusioned. You’ve not given up the name of Christian but
you’ve so watered down your expectations that you are ready to treat with scorn
any advice that invites you to change your mind and to do things differently.
If you have, then let me urge you to focus on the facts rather than on your
feelings or even your past experiences. When the women spoke to the disciples
they spoke the truth and it was the disciples who needed to change.
Well those women spoke not only of what they had seen at the
tomb but also how they had been reminded of what Jesus had taught. It was the
reminder of that teaching that had shaken them and brought them to their senses
– but it didn’t seem to move the others very much at all. And yet it was the
ladies who were right, they were the ones who had begun to think properly. The majority who dismissed their report as a
fairy tale were the ones who were missing out on the joy of the resurrection
and the new hope it was bringing. Don’t be like them!
Not everyone was left unaffected however by their testimony. And
you don’t need to go on unaffected either. While the reaction of the majority
was rather disappointing and discouraging Luke tells us that at least one
person reacted differently.
Just because many of the people you perhaps talk to about the
Christian faith react to you as though you too are telling make-believe stories
there may well be others who, like Peter, react differently. Peter did what he
could to find out whether what the women had had to say could be corroborated –
so he went to see for himself.
And when he got to the tomb he saw a pile of linen grave
cloths. That was it – it doesn’t seem like much does it? But it fitted with
what the women had said; it fitted with what Jesus had taught. That was all
that Peter saw but it was enough to send him on his way back home marvelling.
He now knew something extraordinary had taken place and it filled him with
wonder and amazement. I don’t know at quite what point Peter believed but he
was most certainly on his way to believing in the resurrection of his Lord and
Master Jesus Christ and the journey involved a real sense of astonishment.
Do you know anything of such astonishment? I hope you do
because the gospel story really is astonishing when you stop to think about it.
The God who has been offended and ignored by his creatures sends his choicest
possession, his own unique Son, to save the offenders from their sin. Yet those
offenders don’t want him and, in their desire to do things their way, they reject
his love and hound him off to death of a cross. But that is not the end of it.
This dead Son lives again and offers forgiveness of sins and eternal life to
those doubly guilty offenders.
My friends, Christianity is truly astonishing and if you are
never amazed by the different elements of God’s wonderful plan of salvation
then I fear you know very little about Christianity at all. But not only is
Christianity astonishing it is so because it is really true!
Do you believe that Jesus rose from the dead? And have you
put your trust in the Living Lord Jesus to be your Saviour?
May God grant us all that living faith which unites us to
Jesus and keeps us untied to him for eternity.