There Has Never Been Better News – Luke 24:1-8

By: Northern Seminary

People can experience events so traumatic, or so different to anything they understand, or so contrary to any logical or reasonable expectation, that they simply cannot take in what’s happened.

That often occurs when there’s been a sudden death. Police inform a wife that her husband was badly injured at work, taken to hospital, but despite every effort to save him he was lost. Unable to really hear what’s been said, she says, “Yes, but he’ll be home soon, won’t he?” Or parents are told of a child’s death crossing a road, and they say, “That can’t be our boy; he’s so careful when there’s traffic around. It must be someone else.”

After Queen Victoria’s husband, Prince Albert, died, she had an extreme and lengthy period when she could not fully comprehend what had happened, or at least come to terms with it.

He was only 42, and they had planned a long life together. She knew he’d died, and yet she couldn’t resolve herself to that hard truth. She commanded that nothing must ever be changed about the room in which he’d lain, and his personal rooms in three different royal homes must be kept exactly as they were. The glass from which he’d sipped last was kept forever by his bedside. The table where he wrote his letters and the pen he used were never moved, and fresh flowers were placed on that writing table every day. Every morning hot water was brought as if he was about to wash, towels were changed, and clothes were laid out for Albert to wear. Victoria’s mind was fixed on the world she wanted to be true, and she struggled to believe in a world that was different, a world from which her beloved Albert was gone.

It is understandable how people find it difficult to accept an event wholly different to what they expect or can imagine.

Two thousand years ago people were well aware that when someone was dead they stayed dead. Everyone who had stood on Calvary’s hill to the end had seen Jesus die. That included women who had followed Jesus during his ministry. Devastated by his loss, they were determined to pay him the last piece of service they could. Early in the morning of the third day they set off to anoint his body. What happened next was incomprehensible to them.

Luke 24:1-8

On the first day of the week, very early in the morning, the women took the spices they had prepared and went to the tomb. 2 They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, 3 but when they entered, they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. 4 While they were wondering about this, suddenly two men in clothes that gleamed like lightning stood beside them. 5 In their fright the women bowed down with their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? 6 He is not here; he has risen! Remember how he told you, while he was still with you in Galilee: 7 ‘The Son of Man must be delivered over to the hands of sinners, be crucified and on the third day be raised again.’ 8 Then they remembered his words.

On that Sunday morning, there were two things these women did not expect.

  1. That the body would be gone.

That weekend, everything in the women’s minds was focused on preparing spices and anointing Jesus’ body. Now, looking ahead they must have realized they had two big difficulties, one physical and the other emotional.

The physical problem was how to get access into the tomb. They knew a heavy stone had been rolled in front of the entrance. It was there to keep thieves out, so it was well beyond their ability to move. In Mark’s gospel he describes how the women asked each other:

“Who will roll the stone away from the entrance of the tomb?” (Mark 16:3)

They don’t seem to have known the answer to their own question. Maybe they simply hoped someone would turn up who would help them.

The emotional problem was the task just ahead of them, applying their spices to Jesus’ body. In the haste to get everything done before sunset on the Friday evening – taking Jesus’ body down from the cross, wrapping it in a shroud, and placing it in a tomb – there can’t have been much opportunity to make the body presentable. His back and legs would be a bloodied mess from the scourging he’d experienced; his head and face would be cut and traumatized from the crown of thorns and the agony he’d suffered; his hands and feet would be torn by the nails that pierced them; his side would have a deep wound where a spear had been thrust.

This is their Savior. This is the one in whom they’d hoped and believed. This is the person they’d given their trust and their devotion. They wanted to pour out their love by treating his dead body well, but the ordeal they were about to experience would be significant.

What the women for certain did not expect was that they would not need to solve either the physical or the emotional problem. Luke writes:

“They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they entered, they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus.” (vs. 2-3)

The shock these women experienced at that moment is hard for us to imagine. It would be no less than for a bereaved family today to visit a loved one’s burial place a day or two after the funeral only to find the ground dug up and the grave empty.

At the tomb where they’d seen Jesus put, there was no heavy stone for the women to move – that was already done. And inside there was no body – that was already gone.

In a world of many possibilities, these two things had never been in their minds.

But the surprises were not finished. Next came the second thing the women did not expect.

  1. That angels would be there with news that Jesus had risen from the dead.

As the women stood wondering what had happened, suddenly they had company:

“Two men in clothes that gleamed like lightning stood beside them.” (v. 4)

These women were no more familiar with meeting angels than we are. Naturally they were frightened, but they did realize these were far more than ordinary men, and responded accordingly:

“In their fright the women bowed down with their faces to the ground.” (v. 5)

Luke goes out of his way to say there were two men. Likely he highlighted that because two was the minimum number required by Old Testament law to validate something as true.[1]

The women were startled and frightened at the appearance of these two figures. They bowed low because that showed respect and awe. But nothing of what was happening made any sense to them. They had no experience to draw on, no framework of thought into which this fitted. But at least they didn’t run. They might have.

I knew a godly older pastor called Jim whose preaching drew great crowds. His style belonged to a bygone generation, but his clear exposition of scripture and application to life brought many people to hear him. But some didn’t stay long. Jim himself said: “When you meet the real truth about God, it either pulls you in or it drives you away.”

These women were faced with a work of God beyond any imagining. It surprised them and scared them. But it didn’t drive them away.

Therefore they were able to hear the angels’ explanation:

“The men said to them, ‘Why do you look for the living among the dead?’” (v. 5)

It’s as if the angels said: “Of course he’s not here. Why would you expect to find someone who is alive in a place where dead people get buried?”

People can end up in odd places. I’ve seen people not pay close attention to signs and enter the wrong gender rest room. Not a good moment. I’ve known people turn up dressed casually for a dinner at which everyone else was dressed formally. Another not-good moment. I attended a large gathering of church leaders and sat back to watch the program unfold, and then heard myself called up to the platform and introduced not only as the speaker but the person who would bring the program for the evening. That was a seriously bad moment. I was not where I’d expected to be. But these things happen.

But the angels’ point is valid. You would not go looking for a living person among the dead. A Jesus who was alive would not be in a tomb, so why were they there?

The shock these women were experiencing as they listened to what was being said is incomprehensible to people like us who are familiar with the resurrection story. They weren’t. This was wholly outside their range of thinking, and it was overwhelming.

I imagine these women going home and a friend or a husband asks, “So did it go well with anointing Jesus’ body?”

And she says: “Not exactly.”

He says: “What do you mean, ‘not exactly?’”

“Well, he wasn’t there.”

“How could a dead body not be there?”

“Well we met angels, and they spoke to us, and they said he isn’t dead anymore.”

At that point all normal conversation would end. What would the husband think and say? I imagine him asking his wife how long she’d been out in the sun, for to him she’d sound completely crazy.

That is how strange the whole event was. People understand that someone dies, but no one expects that person to suddenly come alive again a couple of days later.

But the body was gone. And that’s what the angels said.

Thankfully, they said more.

  1. The amazing truth: he has risen from the dead.

“He is not here; he has risen!” (v. 6) said the angels. This is the news bulletin of the ages, the news that transforms the future for every man, woman and child with faith.

“He is not here; he has risen!”

“He is not here; he has risen!”

“He is not here; he has risen!”

At that moment there should have been not two angels, but all the angels, all the heavenly host like at his birth, but this time singing “He is not here; he has risen!”

There is a tiny grammatical detail but it’s important. The translation of what Luke wrote should never be: “He has been raised.” That would be passive but the verb is active. Jesus was not dug out of the tomb. He rose! He rose with strength, he rose in power, he rose in victory and he rose with great glory. As one writer puts it: “The stone’s removal was not to let Jesus out, but to let us in!”[2] Jesus rose! Spectacularly and triumphantly, he rose.

And the angels challenged the women to remember that he had told them this would happen. In fact he’d told them he “must” be delivered into the hands of sinners, be crucified, and on the third day rise again.[3]

Luke adds:

“Then they remembered his words.” (v. 8)

I’m sure they did. But this was certainly the first time they understood them or believed them.[4]

On an Easter Sunday morning I enjoy hearing the words often called the Paschal Greeting when the leader says loudly:

Christ is risen!

And all the people of God reply:

He is risen indeed!

It’s a glorious shout of triumph. Our Savior is alive. For sure he is alive. There is no doubt he is alive. Down through the generations people have affirmed that great, life and eternity changing truth.

But, on that first Easter morning, at the door of an empty tomb, it was news to these women. Their only expectation was to find a dead body and to anoint it with spices. But there was no body, and suddenly there were angels and they were frightened, and then words that told them their Savior had risen. It was all beyond anything they could comprehend, so they were astonished and confused.

Yet it was true. And after some difficult news sharing, soon everyone in their community would know. Before long all of Jerusalem would know. All of Judea would know. All around the Mediterranean and through Asia people would know. In time, and it’s still happening, the gospel will have reached to the ends of the earth, and then everyone will know. Jesus is not in the grave. Jesus has risen!

As Robert Lowry wrote in the old hymn, Low in the Grave He Lay:

Up from the grave he arose;

with a mighty triumph o’er his foes;

he arose a victor from the dark domain,

and he lives forever, with his saints to reign.

He arose! He arose! Hallelujah! Christ arose!

There has never been better news than that.

 

[1] Deut. 17:6; 19:15. Matthew and Mark’s gospels focus on a single angel or man (Matt. 28:2; Mark 16:5). John mentions two angels, but slightly later in the narrative (John 20:12).

[2] R.J. Utley, The Gospel according to Luke Vol. 3A (Marshall, TX, Bible Lessons International, 2004), Lk 24:2.

[3] Several earlier statements of Jesus are brought together by the angels: Luke 9:22; 9:44; 18:31-33.

[4] The Twelve alongside Jesus certainly had not understood his promises when first made: “The disciples did not understand any of this. Its meaning was hidden from them, and they did not know what he was talking about.” (Luke 18:34)

April 7, 2015




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