Luke 24:1-12 “Christ Arose! So What?”
Jesus Christ is risen! The grave could not hold him! Death could not keep him! The Romans could not guard him! The stone could not hinder him! He arose!
For some of you, this is wonderful news of great joy! But others of you aren’t sure if you can believe it. Still others may be asking, so what? Perhaps you are listening to this message wondering why Jesus’ resurrection from the dead is worth celebrating. Perhaps you wonder if a man who lived 2000 years ago, rose from the dead, and disappeared behind the clouds never to be seen since can possibly have anything to offer you today. Perhaps you are feeling the weight of the coronavirus and its effects. Maybe you feel numb, unable to ask the question which causes you to doubt God’s goodness; how could a loving, all powerful God allow a pandemic like the one we are facing? Or perhaps today you need some hope; not empty promises of prosperity or a shallow pep talk, but a hope into which you can sink your teeth, a hope which runs deep enough to anchor you in the midst of life’s storms. If any of these describe you, then beloved, today’s message is for you. We all need to hear the Living, Powerful, Inerrant, Infallible, Life-Giving, Word of Almighty God.
But before we read the text in Luke 24, let me give you a little context. Jesus Christ claimed to be one with God the Father. He claimed to be God’s one and only Son. He claimed to be divine, having existed since before Abraham. And for this claim to Divinity, he was condemned as a blasphemer to die a criminal’s death on a cross. He had twelve disciples who would be apostles, along with many other devoted followers. One of the twelve betrayed Jesus, selling him to the religious leaders of their day for 30 pieces of silver. The remaining eleven were grieving the death of their beloved King and Messiah, Jesus Christ. Our text picks up the narrative two days later, on Sunday morning.
Follow along with me as I read Luke 24:1-12 from the ESV:
But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they went to the tomb, taking the spices they had prepared. 2 And they found the stone rolled away from the tomb, 3 but when they went in they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. 4 While they were perplexed about this, behold, two men stood by them in dazzling apparel. 5 And as they were frightened and bowed their faces to the ground, the men said to them, “Why do you seek the living among the dead? 6 He is not here, but has risen. Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, 7 that the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men and be crucified and on the third day rise.” 8 And they remembered his words, 9 and returning from the tomb they told all these things to the eleven and to all the rest. 10 Now it was Mary Magdalene and Joanna and Mary the mother of James and the other women with them who told these things to the apostles, 11 but these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them. 12 But Peter rose and ran to the tomb; stooping and looking in, he saw the linen cloths by themselves; and he went home marveling at what had happened.
This is the Word of the Lord. Let us pray…
Before we can answer the question, ‘so what if Jesus rose from the dead?’, we need to briefly address a few issues.
First, there are those who believe that this is a mere story. In fact, many liberal presbyterian ministers deny the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. But not in our denomination. In our denomination we affirm the scriptures as the Inspired and Inerrant Word of God, so when the Bible tells us that Jesus rose from the dead bodily, we not only believe that he really did, but we also believe that every Word of this testimony is given to us by God for our salvation! We take the Word of God very seriously, for Jesus said that “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every Word which proceeds from the mouth of God.” When he said that, he taught us that the scripture is the Word of God because he was citing an old testament scripture found in Deuteronomy 8:3. Jesus believed that every Word of the Old Testament was the Word of God which gives us life. So do all pastors and officers of the Evangelical Presbyterian Church, of which our congregation is a part. We affirm the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. And we believe the scriptures which teach that Jesus Christ is right now bodily seated in heaven, and will return to this earth bodily in the future to raise from the dead everyone who has passed away, to judge the living and the dead, to cast all his enemies into the fires of hell, and to grant all his saints eternal and abundant life in their new resurrected bodies.
These liberal pastors would read this story about Jesus as an allegory, a story that can be interpreted to reveal a hidden meaning, to teach a moral. They would consider it good literature, but not an account of what really took place. And they might give a simple pep talk about how belief in a higher being can give you the encouragement to live a moral life, or about how an attitude of gratitude can put a smile on your face in the midst of difficult times. But they would miss the whole point. They would miss the good news, and their message would offer no real hope. Jesus’ words about eternal life would be meaningless. The conclusion of their message is that there is no hope for the next life, no real justice for the oppressed on judgment day, no reason to live a life of sacrifice, no reward for the godly. Their message is not compelling. And had the disciples believed what they preach, we would never have heard about Jesus, for they would not have had the courage to preach the gospel while being persecuted, the courage to die for the faith. And their message would not have inspired such persecution. But because Jesus is risen, they looked forward to being raised themselves, and that hope brought them joy even when they faced persecution, imprisonment, and martyrdom.
Still others of our day may reject the bodily resurrection of Jesus while claiming to be Christians. They may reject any teaching of his future, bodily return or of our bodily resurrection from the dead, arguing instead for a form of mysticism. They may emphasize a religious experience, a feeling of bliss, the comforting experience of good music and claiming the happy promises of God for your best life today. They may believe that heaven is a disembodied experience of pure bliss, and that worship is a mere taste of that experience. They may live in denial of the sufferings of this life, or of the severity of our sins and need for a savior. These doctrines have more in common with Buddhism than Christianity. Many so-called Christians sell the as an uplifting and judgment free form of christianity. But Jesus was crucified not for giving an uplifting message, but for loving people enough to tell them the truth. That they needed a Savior, God had to come and die that they might be saved. They needed God’s free gift of salvation, forgiveness of their sins, in order for them to gain eternal life.
If we believe the Bible is God’s true and inspired Word, then we must affirm the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. And when we consider our text, we must ask the questions, why did God give us this message? Why did the disciples need to know that Jesus had risen? How did Jesus’ resurrection from the dead change their lives? And are we in need of the same life-changing faith?
The disciples did not understand the kingdom of God. They were looking for an earthly, visible kingdom defined by numbers of people and money, complete with hierarchical rule, a system of man. But Jesus would not be that kind of King. He would reign from heaven, instructing his servants through the scriptures and empowering them to live holy lives through the indwelling work of the Holy Spirit.
But in order for God to establish His Kingdom on this earth, Christ had to die to pay for our sins. He had to go to the cross, die a criminal’s death, and bear the just wrath of God against all our sins. And then he had to defeat death itself, he had to rise from the dead. For if he didn’t, we would have no hope for eternal life. We would have no hope of being raised from the dead ourselves at his second coming.
The disciples didn’t go to the tomb on Sunday, the women did. They would be the first evangelists, the first to bear witness about Jesus resurrection from the dead. They would be the first to be spurned, ridiculed, and rejected for preaching the gospel. Their message was not well received by the apostles.
The text tells us that the women came to the tomb to wrap Jesus’ body with spices. They were grieving. Their hearts were heavy, but they served Jesus anyway. Their understanding was incomplete. They were not scholars, nor did they understand the teachings of Jesus. But they loved him. They came to serve him.
Beloved, it is often necessary for us to come to the end of our hope, the end of ourselves, the end of our understanding, in order to find Jesus. The women did not see Jesus, they saw the empty tomb. They heard the voice of the angels telling them that Jesus was risen. Their faith was not established because they saw Jesus rise from the dead, nor because Jesus appeared to them. They did not here meet Jesus. Rather, their faith was established by the testimony of two angels who reminded them about the words of Jesus. For Jesus had told them that he must be delivered to sinful men, crucified and die, then be raised on the third day. The angels merely told them the words of Jesus, and asked them why they were looking for Jesus among the dead. They pointed out the inconsistencies between the women’s stated faith and the walk. For these women were there to love and serve Jesus, yet they had not believed Jesus own teachings. Sometimes we may find ourselves in this same position. We may say that we follow Jesus, we may seek to do His will, but we may fail to understand or live according to Jesus’ own teachings. We need a messenger to explain to us the teachings of Jesus and show us how His resurrection from the dead changes everything.
And yes, Jesus’ resurrection changes everything. Later, Saul would persecute the early followers of Jesus. He was a religious leader, well trained, zealous for the God he thought he knew. But he persecuted those who followed Jesus’ teachings. He held the robes of those who stoned Stephen for preaching the gospel. But when he was on the road to Damascus, the resurrected Jesus appeared to him. He was converted that day, born again, redeemed, set free. But he was confused. He spent three years in the wilderness studying the Bible in light of the fact that all the scriptures testify about Jesus. He studied Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, and all the rest of the Old Testament to learn who Jesus was. And then he began to preach the gospel. And when it came time to tell the gentiles in Rome about how to be saved, he told them in Romans 10:9 that two things were required: First, one must confess that Jesus Christ is Lord. Yes, that is present tense. It is a claim that Jesus Christ currently reigns over all things, that all governments must bow to His Lordship, that there is no human authority with any legitimacy except insofar as they rule in accordance with the will of Christ. And second, that one believe in one’s heart that God raised Jesus from the dead. Paul did not tell the Romans that they must believe that Jesus died to pay the penalty for their sins, though he had spent much of the first half of his letter explaining that very truth, he focused on the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. Why? Because only those who believe in the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead are saved.
That’s right, those who teach that the resurrection of Jesus is an allegory, a moral story, a parable, a myth or a fable are not born again Christians. The church historical has declared them to be damnable heretics. This is why we do not ordain anyone who does not affirm the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ.
And why is this so important? Because on this truth hangs the balance of your eternity. For if you believe that God raised Jesus from the dead, then you believe the testimony of the scriptures. You believe that just as God raised Jesus from the dead, so God will raise you from the dead. Now it is important that we understand what it is to believe that God raised Jesus from the dead. For James tells us that the demons themselves believe this to be true, and tremble. But saving faith is not merely believing that something happened, it is choosing to depend upon this truth for eternal life.
I may look at a chair and believe that were I to sit in it, it would hold me. But I am not exercising faith in that chair until I place my whole weight on it. I may believe that the firetruck ladder outside my fourth story apartment window is strong enough to carry me to safety, but until I step out the window onto that ladder, I am not saved. In the same way, those who believe the overwhelming historical and literary evidence for the resurrection of Jesus yet trust in their own goodness to get to heaven are not truly placing their faith in the resurrection of Jesus Christ. We must abandon all pretenses of earning our salvation, and place our faith fully in the resurrected Jesus. And we must live in submission to His Word, the scriptures, for these tell us not only who God is, but also what He expects of us. For all who set foot on the ladder must also climb down it to safety, and all who first trust in Jesus and surrender to His Lordship must walk in the same manner until they are safe in the arms of Jesus after death.
The text says that the women remembered the words of Jesus. They were good students. There is no knowledge of salvation, no ability to believe without the preaching and teaching of the Word of God. And we must place our faith not in the evidence of Jesus resurrection, which was before the women’s very eyes that day, but in the Word of God. For it was when these women remembered the Words of Jesus that they believed and went to tell the apostles what had happened.
Yet when the women returned and told the eleven remaining disciples and the rest of the followers of Jesus that he had risen, they did not believe. Whether because they were too proud to hear the testimony of women, thinking too much of themselves as apostles, or because the idea that Jesus who raised Lazarus from the dead could not raise himself, or because they could not bear to hope in Jesus’ resurrection only to be disappointed later, they simply would not believe. Yet God was not finished with them. He would grant them saving faith yet!
According to the text, Peter was the one who dared to hope, who had the humility to listen to the women, then wrongfully considered inferior, and who wanted to see for himself. He went to the tomb himself to see. Yet even having seen the linen neatly folded, Peter went home marveling. He did not yet believe, he was confused. He didn’t know what to think. It was too much for him to take in. He wouldn’t believe until later, when Jesus appeared to the disciples himself.
Beloved, we need to be more like Peter. We need to humble ourselves enough to listen to others who tell us from the scriptures about Jesus and lead us to know him better. Peter thought he knew all about Jesus. He was one of Jesus’ closest friends. He was among the three who saw Jesus transfigured. But he had more to learn. And he listened humbly to the women. He was always seeking Jesus, even after he had denied knowing him three times. We all need to humble ourselves and continue to seek Jesus in the pages of scripture. We may not yet know him as well as we should.
But I haven’t answered the key question. So what? So what if Jesus rose from the dead? What does that mean for me? How can His resurrection have anything to do with me, 2000 years later?
Well, first and foremost, it means that Jesus is who he says he is. Jesus is God. It means that he did not die for his own sins, but died for the sins of others. It means that those who trust in him are trusting in God for their salvation. It means that God really does love us, that He was willing to suffer and bleed and die to make the way for us to be at peace with God. And it means that Jesus is right now seated on the throne in heaven reigning over all. It means that God is sovereign, that no trial which overtakes us can separate us from the love of God, that Jesus knows our weaknesses, our temptations, our struggles, and He cares. It means that when He said he would be with us to the ends of the earth as we serve Him, that he has the power to do so. It means that Jesus is with you now, if you have trusted in him alone for your salvation and submitted to His Kingship. It means that our hope is not in a peaceful or prosperous life now, but in a future resurrection. And it means that we can be certain of our salvation. No matter who you are, whether an upstanding citizen or a mass murderer, a Sunday school teacher or a thief, successful or poor, mature or a child, no matter who you are, there is forgiveness for your sins and a power offered to you for salvation. Paul argued that the same power which raised Jesus from the dead is now at work in those of us who are in Christ Jesus, working in our mortal bodies to sanctify us and free us from the bondage of sin. It means that whether you are facing addiction, feel guilty about your sins, or are struggling to believe in Jesus, God offers you in Jesus the power to heal you and set you free. It means that there is hope!
Some of us have happy families, a good job, money in the bank, good health, and no worries in the world. Some of us just want to hear that God loves us.
Jesus died for you. Will you trust Him alone for your future? Will you serve Him? Jesus is risen! He is our King!
Others of us have been broken by divorce, abuse, the loss of a loved one, financial worries, mental health issues, deep sorrow, addiction, fears, loneliness, or guilt and shame which weigh us down. Perhaps some of you feel like I often feel, like you are just not good enough. Sometimes I feel like I am failing as a father, a pastor, a husband, and a follower of Christ. I fall into an old sin for the thousandth time. I hurt someone unintentionally yet understand that I failed to love them the way I should have. And I need to hear this truth, that Jesus is risen! He is alive! And in Him I find forgiveness, salvation, and the power of God to change me and make me more like Jesus.
Beloved, this message is for you! Jesus Christ is not dead, he is not in the grave, he is not powerless. He paid for our sins, took away our guilt and shame, defeated sin, Satan and death itself, and offers to us His power and His salvation. Will you trust in Him today? When we trust in Him fully, we find true peace with God. My prayer is that God will not only give us all a deeper faith, but that we will also experience the deep peace of God in the midst of a crazy world. For one day Jesus will return, we will all be raised, and those who have trusted in Him will enter into His rest! Let us pray…