On the Third Day
When Jesus was crucified his close followers were devastated. They had come to believe that he was the one who would bring God’s rule to earth. Instead, they had watched him die. These people had seen him wield his unique power and authority, not for himself, but for the good of others; they had heard him out-debate and out-position the sharpest Jewish minds. Whatever the situation, he had been in control. But ‘apparently,’ not this time, for now he was dead. They were torn with grief and despair.
Luke 24 is replete with surprises as three most unexpected, challenging and thrilling scenes unfold. Two themes dominate: first, Jesus was alive – the unthinkable had happened; second, the reason for his death is explained. Luke develops these themes in three scenes which take place on the same day: an empty tomb (24:1-12); a conversation on the Emmaus Road (24:13-35); and the Jerusalem Commission (24:36-53).
There would have been no joy in the hearts of a small group of women who took spices they had prepared for the proper burial of Jesus on that Sunday morning (24:1). We can picture them trudging to his grave in the grey light of dawn, each burdened with her own thoughts, filled with grief as they lugged heavy spices and ointments for the burial. On this morning after the Sabbath they were consumed with an overwhelming grief and sense of loss. But that was not all, for when they reached the tomb they found the stone sealing the opening had been rolled away and the body was gone. Perplexed and shaken they were totally out of their depth (24:2-3).
And now there was another surprise: suddenly two men stood by them in dazzling apparel (24:4). As we read in the other Gospel accounts, the figures were angels – God’s special envoys – in the form of men. Overawed, the women were frightened at this new development, and they bowed their faces to the ground (24:5). The angels asked an enigmatic question: ‘Why do you seek the living among the dead?’ Then the angels said something that was stunning and unexpected. In their shock and grief it would have seemed surreal: ‘He is not here, but has risen’ (24:6). Don’t think of Jesus as dead, but alive.
The angels’ words here were reminiscent of Jesus’ words to Mary and Joseph when he, at the age of 12, had caused them distress when they could not find him on the way home from Jerusalem. ‘How is it that you sought me?’ he had asked. ‘Did you not know that I would be in my Father’s house?’ (2:49). Here the angels asked the women, ‘Why are you here among the dead if you’re seeking the living one? If you want to find Jesus, there is no reason for you to be looking for him in a tomb.’ It was a gentle, but firm and very direct rebuke.
Clearly an explanation was needed. The angels thus stress the word of Jesus that the women had neglected but now can remember (8). What was that word? Luke has already told us in 9:21-22 and 18:31-34. But their visitors rehearse it for their convenience: ‘He is not here but has risen. Remember how he spoke to you while he was still in Galilee, saying, ‘The Son of Man must be handed over into the hands of sinful men and be crucified and on the third day rise again’ (vv6-7).
The two men assume that the women had heard this teaching. Verse 8 indicates they had. But, as Luke 18:34 shows, what is said clearly can ‘go right by’ someone.
A nurse who worked in a pediatric clinic sent an anecdote in to Reader’s Digest. She was up to the gills in a busy, crazy day at the clinic. She handed a young male patient a urine sample container and told him to fill it up in the restroom. He returned to the nurses’ station a few minutes later with an empty cup. ‘I didn’t need this after all; there was a toilet in there.’ One would think the procedure there was clear enough, but well, it ‘went right by’ him. It simply didn’t ‘take.’ (Recounted by Dale Ralph Davis in his commentary on Luke.)
So, heaven’s messengers place the stress on the word these women missed. And we ourselves dare not miss this – the clearest, most cogent reason for believing Jesus’ resurrection is the word of Jesus (‘how he spoke to you,’ v6). This may serve as a word of correction in our own day.
This Easter Sunday morning we will look at the Gospel of Luke 24:1-12. What is Luke communicating as he emphasizes a ‘missed’ word of Jesus and paints a picture of resurrection morning with the conspicuous absence of Jesus? What should we understand in this story? I hope you can join us this coming Easter as we hear the Word of the Lord.
Remember, that we have a special booklet for each child who comes to our service this week.
Because He Lives,