Easter Sunday AM 2018
Late on Friday afternoon Jesus had died. He had been nailed to a cross on a hill outside the city walls of Jerusalem. The next day was Saturday, the Jewish Sabbath, and it had been a quiet day. The Jews kept the Sabbath carefully: not only was work banned that day but even journeys were only possible over a short distance.
Pious Jews would, of course, attend the synagogue or the Temple to worship but not much else was done on the Sabbath. When Jesus had been alive he too had gone to various synagogues where he taught and where on several occasions he backed up his teaching with a number of healing miracles. This had shocked the religious leaders and the Jewish authorities had frowned upon such behaviour – miracle-
But now Jesus was dead and no healings occurred on that Sabbath.
Soon enough the Sabbath was over and the new day, Sunday, the first day of the week was dawning.
Mind that was in keeping with the last few days – the events that had unfolded then had taken everyone by surprise, everyone that is except for Jesus.
The Jewish authorities who had for so long wanted to get rid of Jesus had been plotting against him but they needed to act with caution. They didn’t want to do anything during the feast when there were so many pilgrims in the city many of whom were sympathetic to this prophet from Galilee. So as they plotted they determined amongst themselves:
Mt.26:5 "Not during the feast, lest there be an uproar among the people."
And yet, and yet... Against all their plans they found circumstances seemingly turning in their favour and they acted against Jesus during that same feast. In fact they did not according to what they had planned to do but they had done exactly what Jesus said they would do.
They might have been surprised at the turn of events but Jesus hadn’t been.
The same can be said for his disciples. Jesus had repeatedly told them what was going to happen when he got to Jerusalem. On three separate occasions on his way to Jerusalem Jesus took his disciples to one side and began to explain to them what was going to happen. He spoke straightforwardly about betrayal, arrest, suffering and death.
The first time he did so Peter rebuked him for negative, defeatist talk and received the sternest of rebukes.
A little later Jesus spoke to them again but still they weren’t able to understand what he was talking about – it couldn’t happen like that, they thought. This could never happen to their Master -
Then shortly before arriving at Jerusalem Jesus was striding ahead so purposefully that his disciples were amazed – they had not seen him like this before. Their amazement was tinged with fear. And Jesus stopped and told them all over again what was going to take place when they got to Jerusalem. His explanation included more detail and more precision than ever before.
But none of his words had the desired effect upon them – these disciples may have entered Jerusalem in the company of their Master but unlike him they were totally unprepared for what was about to happen.
You see the things he had told them just didn’t fit in with what they wanted to hear or expected to hear and consequently they shut it out of their mind.
If you shut out from your own the truth as it is in Jesus they you do so at your peril. If in hearing about Jesus his death and resurrection this Easter time you hear things that don’t fit in with your preconceived ideas and prejudices about Christianity and what Christianity ought to be about then be very careful that you don’t simply dismiss what you hear as impossible. Jesus’ first disciples did that and they were left utterly unprepared for what was to come.
Perhaps you contest that – perhaps you argue that your way of looking at things accords with what you see in the world. Well do you know the disciples could have argued just like that too. You see when they arrived at Jerusalem things seemed to them to be turning out much more positively than Jesus had said they would. Hadn’t the crowds enthusiastically welcomed Jesus into Jerusalem as the rightful King coming to rule over his people? Didn’t this prove that the disciples were right?
No is the answer. They hadn’t been right at all. Because the rapturous welcome which Jesus received upon arriving at Jerusalem was quickly replaced with another set of facts and circumstances that proved he had known better than them what he was talking about.
Consequently when Judas betrayed his Master and the Jewish authorities arrested Jesus the disciples didn’t know what to do. When Jesus was actually handed over to the Romans most of his followers were in fact nowhere to be seen. And when Jesus, the one in whom they had placed all their hopes was tried, condemned and executed they were distraught, they weren’t prepared in the slightest for this strange turn of events.
And now it was all over.
The disciples thought that. The women who had accompanied them to Jerusalem and who even then were making their way to the tomb to carry out the funerary rites, thought that. The Jewish authorities too hoped beyond hope that it was all over.
The reality was stunningly different!
The disciples had rejected the idea of suffering and death and so had no place in their thinking for resurrection. Resurrection only has any meaning if death has first intervened!
And death had intervened – in fact it had all turned out exactly as Jesus had said it would! If only the disciples and the women had taken his teaching seriously they would have been encouraged to see that everything happened just as he had announced beforehand. And if all that which had seemed so unlikely had been so accurately foretold then they might have looked forward trustingly to the final elements falling into place – resurrection.
What was the point of going to anoint a body for the grave if that body was to be raised from the dead?
What was the point of being scared of their enemies when their Master was about to overcome the last and greatest enemy that all of us will have to face?
Ironically it was the morally repulsive Jewish leadership that came closest to taking Jesus’ teaching seriously. Somehow word had got out about "rising from the dead on the third day" and while they didn’t believe it they did think it might influence his disciples! They thought his disciples might come and steal away their Master’s dead corpse and try to make out that he had indeed risen from the dead. To foil such an attempt the Jewish leaders arranged for a guard to be sent to keep the tomb safe from grave robbers.
They had had a day to plan and prepare for the funeral rites. Then, as the Sabbath, ended they were off to the tomb. They only had thoughts for the task in hand and they were anxious about how they might even gain access to the dead body because they knew that a great stone had been placed across the entrance to the tomb sealing it off.
As they arrive at the tomb they suddenly see that the stone is no longer in its closed position. It has been rolled away.
I imagine that they were tense and on edge and so advanced stealthily to the tomb itself and entered it cautiously. When they got inside they got a shock!
They weren’t the only ones there!
Now I know they weren’t expecting an empty tomb they were expecting to find a dead body inside but that’s not what they found. They found that there was a young man, dressed in white, sitting inside – on the right hand side (what an interesting detail – an indication of an eye witness account!). The sight of him causes the women, not unsurprisingly, to be afraid – after all the unexpected things that had been happening here was yet one more.
Quickly he spoke to them and what news he had to pass on! Listen to what just what this young man (who may well have been an angel) had to say to them:
He begins by addressing their nervous emotional state "Don’t be alarmed, there’s nothing to worry about let me explain why."
And so the young man continues to supply them with information:
He knew what they were doing there, he knew that they had come for Jesus – not to steal him away but to honour him in death and to make what they thought would be one last demonstration of love for this unique man.
He clearly identifies the person they are seeking – there’s no mistake – they had come for Jesus of Nazareth, the very same man who had been crucified just a few days before, and it is precisely about this one that the young man wants to tell them some great news.
How simply the news is given:
"You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen"
And perhaps as some of the women were peering into the darkness of the interior of the tomb he added: "he is not here."
Why would he be? Why remain in the place reserved for the dead when he was no longer dead but alive! Jesus himself had told his disciples that this would happen but they hadn’t believed. Jesus had spoken about what he would do after his resurrection but no-
It was a totally unexpected encounter and it was totally unexpected information that the women received. There was no precedent in history for such news to be shared. Yes, Jesus had raised a handful of people from the dead but impressive as that had been it was nothing like this! This was the first after-
What else would you expect given the total lack of expectation that marked everyone at the time?
As the young man finished passing on his message with its briefest of explanations the women fled out of the tomb back towards the city. They were trembling, they were astonished and they were afraid all bundled into one.
Let us stop for a moment and consider.
This is not the final worked out explanation of resurrection and of all its theological and salvific implications. In fact there is no theological explanation at all of what has just taken place. This is not the fully developed understanding that the church of Jesus Christ would be brought too subsequently. No, let us consider this for what it was:
This is the first declaration of the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead!
How important it was that the historicity of the fact be declared first and established first. Of course our understanding of what it all means and signifies must come but that understanding must be based upon a solid historical foundation and here we have the first part.
You see the resurrection from the dead is not some philosophical idea, it is not the continuation of the Jesus idea or the Jesus movement. The Christian doctrine of the resurrection is that the body that was battered and bruised and void of life was filled again with vital pulsating life. Jesus was no mere survivor of his sufferings – he had truly died of them – but now here he is alive again with a newness, a freshness that would never ever be taken away.
For the moment the women haven’t seen the risen Lord Jesus, for the moment all they have to go on is the testimony of this young messenger backed up by the circumstantial evidence of the absence of the corpse they had gone to anoint and all in harmony with what Jesus had taught plainly before his was put to death.
Over the hours, days and weeks that would follow Jesus would add to the understanding of his followers as he would meet with them in a wide range of different places. He would meet with some individually, with some in small groups, he would meet with a large crowd of them. In many and varied ways he would give them irrefutable proof that it was indeed Jesus of Nazareth who was alive the Victor over death. He would teach them further unpacking for them what it all meant. He would use the coming weeks to prepare this small body of his followers to make them ready for the mission he was to give them of taking the good news of salvation into the entire world.
Later in the face of opposition and hostility they would turn the world upside down as they proclaimed Jesus and the resurrection – indeed they were so convinced of the resurrection and talked so much about it that uniformed hearers thought they were speaking of another god.
It is this message that has transformed every society it has penetrated and it is the same risen Lord Jesus Christ who calls upon you too to cease your hostility, to lay down your arms and to come follow him.
But for the moment on the first Easter Sunday morning the women knew little of what it would all mean but they were told as we are being told again this morning that Jesus Christ is alive and well. Don’t seek the living amongst the deadness of religious moralism – Jesus Christ is at the Father’s right hand and from there he will return in glory. He has said so and everything else this remarkable man has said he has done!
You may find all this news disconcerting, troubling and even frightening as it turns your comfortable little world inside out and upside down. If that is your immediate reaction, don’t worry, you’re in good company. Don’t worry for it does suggest that you have understood at least something of the magnitude of the matter that is Jesus’ resurrection from amongst the dead. But don’t worry either for the disciples came to a great joy as they met the Living Lord Jesus and so have men and women, boys and girls down through the centuries. We meet him not as they did in some physical encounter in the ME we meet him by faith as we call out to him in prayer and listen to his voice in the Word of God.
What a wonderful thing it is to have such a mighty one as friend and Saviour and Lord. Come to Jesus Christ risen from the dead!
And to God be the glory.