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Author:Rev. Stephen 't Hart
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Baldivis
 Baldivis, Western Australia
 frca.org.au/baldivis/
 
Title:Why do you seek the living among the dead?
Text:Luke 24:5,6 (View)
Occasion:Easter
Topic:Life in Christ
 
Preached:2012-04-08
Added:2012-05-08
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Songs from the 1984 Book of Praise
Bible version:  NKJV


Hymn 26:1,2

Psalm 43:3

Psalm 30:1,2,3

Hymn 29:1,2

Hymn 61:1,2,5,6

 

Read:  Luke 23:44 – 24:12

Text:  Luke 24:5,6

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Stephen 't Hart, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


Congregation of our Lord Jesus Christ.

I wonder what the women did with the spices?

In the early morning of Easter Sunday a group of women made their way to the tomb of Jesus, carrying with them the spices that they had prepared to use on the dead body of our Lord.  But when they came to the tomb, they saw no dead body; only two very much alive, and very real, angels.  And the angels asked them,

“Why do you seek the living among the dead?”

Why are you coming to the tomb with your hands filled with spices when the one you are seeking is not here but is alive? 

The women had come with those spices to cover up the stench of death, but they were confronted with the truth of the One who is the aroma of life!

I wonder what the women did with the spices?

But even more to the point, what did they do when on Easter morning they were confronted not with a dead friend but with their risen Lord?  What did it mean for them?  How were they changed by the message that Jesus Christ is Lord?

And not only the women, but what about you?  What about me?  What difference does it make to your life knowing that Jesus Christ has risen from the dead?  What difference does it make to your life that Jesus is not your dead hero but your living Lord?  For the message that He is risen continues to reverberate through the ages, and it calls you to seek your Lord and Saviour not among the dead but among those who are alive.

This Easter Sunday I preach to you the Gospel of the Resurrection taking my message from the question of the angels:

Why do you seek the living among the dead?

1.    He is not here!

2.    He told you so!

1. He is not here!

The gospel according to Luke begins in chapter 1 with Luke writing to Theophilus, telling him that what He was about to read was an orderly and carefully written account of the things that had been fulfilled among them.  And the reason why Luke wrote his gospel was

“. . . that you may know the certainty of those things in which you were instructed.”  (Luke 1:4)

And so as you read through the gospel, you are called to read it with the understanding that what is written is not some fancy fable but is a carefully researched and recorded account of the facts concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.  You can not read this gospel and then simply discard it as an interesting story, for the gospel demands an answer to this question:  Do you believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, the One who came to save His people from their sins?  And it is only those who do believe who may enjoy the benefits of having a Saviour who has risen from the dead.  Romans chapter 10:9 says that

“. . . if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.”

Sadly, however, there are many people, even so-called Christians, who do not believe that Jesus rose from the dead.  Such people may be interested in, even respect the Lord Jesus.  But they see Him as no more than a good man, a great teacher.  They may love His message of love, they may express appreciation for His Sermon on the Mount and they may smile at the way He stood up for the underprivileged. But they see the man Jesus as little more than an inspiration to be good just as he was good.  They see little real relevance in the truth of the resurrection story. What is important, they say, is that His memory lives on in the hearts of His disciples. 

But you are not like that!  For we are members of a church that not only confesses that “on the third day He arose from the dead”, but which also lives it and teaches it.  But it is of utmost importance that we remain convinced of the truth of the resurrection, convinced that the Christ of the Scriptures really and truly lived and really and truly died, and is now truly and truly alive again!  For if there was no resurrection, there would be no true Christian faith!  As the apostle Paul said in 1 Corinthians 15:17,

“And if Christ is not risen, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins.”

The Holy Spirit saw to it that we would have the gospel according to Luke, along with the gospels of Matthew, Mark and John, not so that we could read an interesting story about an interesting man who might or might not have done what the Bible says; rather the Holy Spirit saw to it that we might have an accurate and orderly account of what Jesus said and did so that we might be certain that it is true, that Jesus is the Christ, that He is truly risen from the dead and that He is our living Saviour.

And now we’ve come to Luke chapter 24, the climax of the book that Luke so carefully wrote.  And in this chapter, very early in the morning on a very real day in history, a group of very real women left the house they were staying in and made their way to the tomb where the very real body of the One they loved had been laid.  

These women had seen much and had gone through much.  These were the women who had gone with Jesus throughout much of His travels over the past three years, the ones whom Luke chapter 8:2,3 says provided for Him as He travelled through the land of Israel.  Some of them had been healed by Him and all of them loved Him and were loyal to Him to the end.  But that past Friday the end had come, and they had been there to see it.  While the eleven disciples, those big brave men from Galilee, had fled with only John staying to see the crucifixion, the women stayed to be close to their Lord.  As He breathed His last breath on the cross, Luke 23:49 says that

“. . . all His acquaintances, and the women who followed Him from Galilee, stood at a distance, watching these things.”

Then after Jesus had died, the women were there when a man named Joseph took the body of Jesus and, along with Nicodemus, wrapped it in linen and laid it in a tomb.  Luke 23:55,

“And the women who had come with Him from Galilee followed after, and they observed the tomb and how His body was laid.”

And so it was that in the early hours of Easter Sunday, it was the women who hurriedly made their way to the tomb while the men were hiding behind locked doors in a house in Jerusalem.  And although it is appropriate to honour the women for staying by their Lord even in death, while the men hid in fear, I want you to understand that what motivated both the men and the women was their conviction that Jesus of Nazareth was dead.  They had never understood His words that after three days He would rise again, and right they did not think for a moment that such a thing might happen.  They had had such great hopes that Jesus was the Christ, the Anointed One, the Consolation of Israel.  But now their hopes and dreams had all turned to dust.  Forget about fighting over who was going to sit where in the Kingdom, for there would be no kingdom to speak of.  When the Lord Jesus hung on the cross and said “It is finished” those disciples and followers who were there to hear it may well have said in their hearts, “It is finished indeed, and all our hopes and all our dreams are finished with it.”  As those two disciples on the road to Emmaus said in Luke 24:21,

“But we were hoping that it was He who was going to redeem Israel.”

We were hoping, but we were wrong.

But there was one more thing that needed to be done.  A dead body had to be buried.  And it was the custom of the Jews, John 19 tells us, to wrap a dead body in linen strips and to treat it with fragrant oils and spices.  And so when the men Joseph and Nicodemus lay Jesus in the tomb, they wrapped Him in linen cloths and soaked those cloths with about 100 pounds of myrrh and aloes.  But things had been done hastily on account of the rapidly approaching Sabbath, and now the women wanted to add the spices and oils that they had prepared for His body.  Now the reason for the spices was not to embalm the body as the Egyptians had done, but rather to cover up the smell of death.  It was a sign of respect for the body and also a sign of the hope for the resurrection of the body at the last day. 

And now the women were on their way to the tomb with spices in their hands, seeking the Master whom they had loved among the dead.

It must have been a distraught group of women who made that early start to the grave that Sunday morning.  They must have been shocked, exhausted and intensely sad, without a glimmer of hope for the future.   But as they made their way to the tomb with the spices in their hands, they knew what they had to do: enter the tomb to treat Christ’s body with that oil and the spices and then to go away and leave Him forever. 

But then, as they drew near to the tomb, they suddenly remembered something.  “Who will roll away the stone for us?” they asked  (Mark 16:3).  For a large round stone had been moved in front of the burial chamber, a stone that would the muscles of, for example, a group of fishermen to roll it away from the tomb.  (The tomb itself was a cave dug into the limestone hill, probably consisting of an entrance chamber and a second smaller chamber where they body was laid.)

But as the women make their way to the tomb, they find something that they had not expected:  “The stone!  It is not where it should be!  The stone!  It has been rolled away!”  And so with that heavy feeling of dread you get when you feel that something seems wrong, they went in but they did not find the body.

So there the women were: crowding in to the little tomb with the spices in their hands, and peering into that darkened second room where the body of Jesus was expected to be.  But they did not find the body.  There was nothing left but the linen that Jesus had been wrapped up in! 

Perhaps you would have thought that by now the penny would have dropped.  Perhaps you would have thought that now the women would have turned to one another in an excited chatter.  “Of course!  Why didn’t we think of this?  It is the resurrection!  It is just as He told us!  He is not here!  He must be alive!”

But they did not.  Not yet.  The absence of the body was not enough to suggest to the women, let alone convince them that Jesus was now alive.  Jesus had told them that this would happen but they had forgotten.  And that is always the case:  unbelief always forgets the promises of God.  The enemies had remembered: the gospel according to Matthew says that they had sealed and guarded the tomb.  But the women, along with the disciples who still did not dare to emerge from the house they were hiding in, forgot.

And so instead of rejoicing, the women were greatly perplexed, dumbfounded, unable to make sense of what they saw.  “What is this?!  What have they done with the Lord?!  What did they do to His body?  Where can it be?  How is it that the stone has been rolled away and His body is no longer here?”

And so the questions would have gone around and around with no answer forthcoming, except the Lord had sent down two angels to explain to the women just what had happened.  And thank God for His angels!  Just as He did with the other great events of the Messiah’s coming (His announced birth, His birth in a stable and also His ascension), the LORD in His goodness sent down His angels to announce what had happened and what the meaning of it all was. 

“And [so] it happened, as they were greatly perplexed about this, that behold, two men stood by them in shining garments.”  (Luke 24:4)

Two men.  Angels, the other gospels make clear.  And seeing the angels the women became afraid and bowed their heads to the ground.  And the angels said to them,

“Why do you seek the living among the dead?  He is not here, but is risen!”

Women, what are you doing?  Why have you come here with those spices in your hands?  Why do you seek the living among the dead?  There is no point in being here, because you are never going to find Jesus in the grave!  This is the resurrection!  He is not dead and decomposing in a hole in the ground - He is alive and He is the aroma of life!  Christ has risen - Hallelujah!

When the women had entered the tomb and did not find the body they were perplexed and no wonder.  For the women were not looking for a living person but a dead one, one whom they fully expected to remain dead and decompose in the grave.  That is why they had that stuff, that oil and spices, in their hands!  But now they are told that Jesus is alive! It is amazing!  It is incredible!  It is too good to be true!  That the One whom they loved, the One whom they had hoped would be the Promised Messiah, the One whom they had seen breathe His last breath, and speak His last words, was alive!

But the tomb is empty.  The linen was there.  But He is not.

“Women, why do you seek the living among the dead?”  If the women had answered this truthfully they would have said, “Because we believe that He is dead.  Because we saw Him die.  Because we saw water mixed with blood flow from His side.  Because we saw Him placed in this very tomb.  Because we did not think for a moment that He was anything but dead.

But what about you?  Are you also tempted to seek the living among the dead?  Who do you believe Jesus to be?  Is He your dead hero, or is He your living Lord?  Do you, in the way that you live your life, in the way that you express your faith, live in the truth of the resurrection?  Do you see your Lord Jesus as the One who not only lived but who continues to live?  As the One who has not only died to save you from your sin, but who is with you always, even to the close of the age?  Do you see Him as the One through whom the Father governs all things, the One who gathers, defends and preserves You, and the One who is to worshipped, honoured and obeyed?  What difference does the fact that He is risen have for you, for your faith, for your life?  You see, the resurrection changes everything.  It is through the resurrection that you receive a new life, a new hope and a new future.  It is because He is risen that Jesus Christ is not just Lord but He is your Lord and your Saviour.  Believe it.  Confess it.  And live in it.

2. He told you so!

 What would it have been like to have been at the empty tomb on Easter Sunday?  What would it have been like to come there, to find the linen carefully folded but no dead body?  What would it have been like to have seen the two angels that were there to announce the good news that Jesus is not here because He is risen?

It would have been amazing.  And yet we have something that these women did not have:  we have it all down in writing from beginning to end, an orderly account that we might be certain of these things.

People say that seeing is believing, but it is not always true.  Neither the empty tomb nor the presence of the angels convinced the women that the Resurrection had taken place.  But the angels had more to say. 

“Remember how He spoke to you when He was still in Galilee, saying, ;The Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, and be crucified, and the third day rise again.’”  (Luke 24:6,7).

Remember.   For indeed the Lord had told them that this would take place.

Luke 9:44,45

“Let these words sink down into your ears, for the Son of Man is about to be betrayed into the hands of men.  But they did not understand this saying, and it was hidden from them so that they did not perceive it; and they were afraid to ask Him about this saying.”

And Luke 18:31-34,

“Then He took the twelve aside and said to them, “Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem, and all things that are written by the prophets concerning the Son of Man will be accomplished.  For He will be delivered to the Gentiles and will be mocked and insulted and spit upon.  They will scourge Him and kill Him.  And the third day He will rise again.”  But they understood none of these things; this saying was hidden from them, and they did not know the things which were spoken.”

But now they begin to understand!  Now they remembered His words.  Now some things are slowly clicking in to place.  It must be true that he is risen, for the Lord had told them in advance that these things would take place!  It was all then a part of His great plan!  And if it was true that Christ ha risen from the dead, then this changes everything!  It means that they will see Jesus again.  It means that they will learn that their sins are forgiven.  It means that they will live forever with Him.

“Why do you seek the living among the dead?  He is not here, but is risen!  Remember that He told you so.”

And the women remembered.  They would indeed see Jesus again, some of them that very day.  But the angels first reminded them of the Lord’s own words, and they remembered. 

And suddenly the spices they held in their hands seemed to be so unnecessary, so out of place, so wrong.

And then the women left the tomb, returned to the disciples and told them all these things.  And how the words must have tumbled from their mouths. “The Tomb!  Empty!  Stone rolled away!  Angels!  Remember!  He is not there!  He is risen!  Alive!  He told us!  Remember?”

Remember?  But the disciples did not remember.  “No.  You are a bunch of babbling women.  What crazy talk!  It is nonsense I tell you!  Nonsense!  He’s dead.  It is over.  It is finished.”

Except for Peter.  (And John, one of the other gospels points out.)  Peter gets up and he runs to the tomb.  Peter sees that what the women said was true.  And so he departs, marvelling to himself at what had happened. 

When Peter saw these things, he was not perplexed but amazed.  And how he must have marvelled as he grappled with the meaning of the empty tomb.  For if Jesus was alive, then there must have been a reason for all that had taken place those last few days.  If Jesus was alive, then he would see Him again.  If Jesus was alive, then there might still be a way for him to be forgiven for denying his Lord.

And indeed Jesus is alive!  The women, Simon, the disciples on the road to Emmaus, the rest of the disciples, Thomas, and later even more saw the risen Lord with their own eyes.

But you have not seen Him.  He is now in heaven and will remain there until the last day, and that is why you  have not seen Him.  But you have His Word, you have the gospel.  And that is enough.

Sometimes we wish that we were there; sometimes we might wish that we were there at the tomb on that Easter morning.  But would it have been easier for you to believe if you saw that the tomb was empty?

In Luke 16, in the parable of the rich man and Lazarus, the rich man is in hell and he begs Abraham asking him to send Lazarus (who had also died) to warn his brothers lest they also end up in hell.  But Abraham said to him,

“They have Moses and the prophets; let them here them.” And he said, “No, father Abraham; but if one goes to them from the dead, they will repent.”  But he said to him, “If they do not hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded through one rise from the dead.”  (Luke 16:29-31)

 And that is so true.  You do not need any more evidence for the resurrection of Christ than you already have.  It was not the empty tomb that caused the women to believe in the first place, but when the angels pointed out to them the words that Christ had spoken to them earlier.  It was then that they remembered.

And the same is true for you, for this is how you may know for sure that Christ has risen:  by believing the gospel promise that Jesus died and rosed again.  It is all there, written in an orderly and accurate manner in the Bible.  Believe it and so worship not a dead hero but your living Saviour!

I wonder what the women did with the spices?  I don’t know.  All I know is that it was the wrong thing to be carrying on Easter Sunday!  What did the women do with the spices?  They probably dropped them, left them at the empty grave as they ran to the tell the disciples what they had seen and heard.

But what about you?  Are you still seeking the living among the dead?  Or do you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead?  And do you then live out of the gospel of the resurrection?  Do you live in the sure knowledge that not only has Christ died for you, but just as He has been raised from the dead so you have been raised to a new life in Him?  Do you prayerfully ask God for His grace and the Holy Spirit that you might live out of that new life more and more, rejoicing in the benefits of the resurrection?  For Christ has risen!  He, our Saviour, freed us from the powers of hell.  We are His!  In Him forever we have triumphed over all.

Why do you seek the living among the dead?  He is not here but is risen!  Come and see where He lay.  Come and behold where He now is.  For He is no longer wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.  And He is no longer wrapped in linen cloths and lying in the grave.  But He is risen!  And Now He is clothed in glory, seated at the right hand of God!  Therefore praise Him, glorify Him, love Him, and serve Him.  Amen.




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Stephen 't Hart, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2012, Rev. Stephen 't Hart

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