The Crucifixion: The Death of Death
4/20/2017 7:14:12 PM
“The Crucifixion: The Death of Death”
April 16, 2017
Rev. David Williams
I want you to imagine that you knew Jesus in the flesh. Imagine that you were one of Jesus’ followers while he was still here on earth. I’m not suggesting you imagine you’re one of the Apostles, one of the 12, unless that is helpful for you. But there were a number of other “disciples” who followed Jesus, learned from him, ministered in his name but were not part of the inner group of 12.
Imagine that you are one of Jesus’ disciples, one of his followers. Imagine what it would have been like after Jesus was crucified. Imagine the shock. Imagine the disillusionment. Imagine the sorrow that such a great friend, a wonderful leader, a man you loved was dead. Imagine the fear. Imagine the fear that you might be next! Now that the chief priest and temple authorities have gotten rid of Jesus, your leader, what will stand in the way of them hunting you down and doing the same to you? You saw how the fickle crowd in Jerusalem turned on Jesus in the matter of a few days. First they are cheering him into the city, “Hosanna! Hosanna!” and then, within days, they are screaming, “Crucify him! Crucify him!” Certainly that same crowd would turn on you and the other followers of Jesus.
Imagine what it would have been like in those first days after the death of Jesus. Imagine gathering together with some of the other followers, including the 11 apostles now that the traitor is gone. Imagine huddling with them, locked in the upper room, wondering what was going to happen next. Every knock on the door is a cause for alarm. Together, though, you find some comfort. You remember together what Jesus was like. You lament together his loss. The only thing worse than grieving Jesus’ loss would be grieving it alone.
Imagine, in your grief, that there is a knock at the door and an anxious chatter outside. Bartholomew opens the door and a handful of women scurry into the room, looking over their shoulders. They are babbling something. Mary and Joanna hush them and Mary Magdalene steps forward. She looks at all of you, but especially Peter. “We went to the tomb this morning. We took spices to tend to the body. But when we got there, Jesus was gone! There was no body! He’s alive!!”
Salome pipes in that they saw two angels at the tomb! One of the angels even spoke to them, asking why they were looking for the living among the dead. The angel said that Jesus was alive and to come tell you all.
What would you think in that moment? What would be going through your mind? Likely, you would not believe the women. They were just women after all. Would you think the body had been stolen perhaps? Maybe those cursed Romans had taken the body to feed to the dogs! Or maybe the Jewish leaders had taken it because they didn’t want the body of one they labelled a blasphemer to be properly buried. Maybe, but not likely, the women had gone to the wrong tomb? What would you think?
Let me tell you one thing you would not think! You would not be thinking that Jesus was alive! You would not be thinking, “Oh, great! Just as Jesus said! Now we can get on with the gospel.” You would not be thinking, “Yup! Right on time! It’s day 3!”
How do I know that’s not what you’d be thinking? Because none of the followers of Jesus were thinking that. None of them were thinking Jesus was alive. None of them expected the resurrection. They all doubted the words of the women. They thought it was nonsense. In fact, the Greek word used for nonsense in the case of the women “was used in every day Greek to refer to the delirious stories told by the very sick as they suffer in great pain or to tales told by those who fail to perceive reality.” [Darrell L. Bock, Luke, p. 381] Everybody who heard the women’s testimony that the tomb was empty and Jesus was alive thought the women were raving lunatics; thet they were hysterical with grief. None of Jesus’ followers realized what had happened. Why? Because none of them expected it!
Let’s read Luke account of that first Easter Sunday. We are going to read Luke 24:1-12. His account of that whole day continues through the whole chapter, but we are going to zero in on the first 12 verses, the first
“chunk” of the story.
What It Says
What does our passage say? Let’s take a closer look at a story many of us are familiar with, often to the point of taking it for granted. Verse 1 opens, “On the first day of the week….” That is, on Sunday, after Jesus was crucified on Friday and after the Sabbath of Saturday. This is why Christians gather together for worship on Sundays! Jesus was resurrected on a Sunday, so we celebrate together on Sundays!
Who does this passage focus on? We are told that “the women” went to the tomb. It’s interesting that the women went where the men did not think to go. We will come back to this. Why did the women go to the tomb? What were they expecting to find? We aren’t told explicitly, but we can deduce why they went and what they expected to find by what they took with them early that morning. We are told “the women took the spices they had prepared….” What does that mean? The women took spices to preserve Jesus’ body. As you may recall, Jesus was crucified on a Friday and his body was taken down at sunset, which marks the beginning of the Sabbath. Because it was late in the day, and because work is prohibited to Jews on the Sabbath, all they could do with his body was wrap it in a linen cloth. They couldn’t do the work of embalming the corpse. So they had to wait until Sunday morning to perform this task.
So we are told that they took embalming spices with them to the tomb. If you take embalming spices to a tomb, what are you expecting to find? Embalming spices imply the expectation of finding a dead body. The detail included here, that they took spices, tells us that they did not know that Jesus was alive. They were not expecting the resurrection. They were surprised by it! They expected to find Jesus’ corpse. They were coming to embalm it, which they had been preventing from doing on Good Friday because it was late in the day.
When they arrived, they saw that the tomb had been opened, the large stone rolled away. Even then, they didn’t expect Jesus was alive. They didn’t say, “Oh wow! He is risen!” No, they looked in the tomb. Verse 3 says, “They didn’t find the body of the Lord Jesus.” Verse 4 continues, “While they were wondering about this….” They didn’t know what happened to the body. They certainly didn’t connect that he had been resurrected.
It took divine intervention in the form of heavenly messengers, angels, to reveal to the women the truth of what happened. “Why do you look for the living among the dead?” It was only when the angels explained that the women remembered Jesus’ predictions that he, the Son of Man, would die.
Then the ladies went to tell the disciples, both the 11 and those other followers of Jesus with them. But the men didn’t believe the women! Why? Because they were expecting Jesus to be alive? No! Of course not! They thought Jesus was dead and staying dead just like everybody else who dies. They were surprised by the empty tomb too. When the women told them what they found, the disciples didn’t remember Jesus’ words. They didn’t say, “Oh yeah! That’s right! The Messiah is supposed to be resurrected.” Nope. They thought the women had gone off the deep end. The word Luke uses is the word for people overwhelmed with grief or out of touch with reality! [Bock, p. 381s]
Peter and John, however, at least go and see for themselves. We are not told what they were thinking. In fact, John’s Gospel is the only one that tells us he went with Peter. But they certainly were not expected a risen Jesus. They went to the tomb and found it empty as well. (So, for instance, we know the women didn’t go to the wrong tomb!) Peter even found the grave clothes folded up. He went away marvelling at what he found. He didn’t know, but he was amazed and left wondering why the tomb was empty. The same word for “wondered” is used in v. 41, “they still did not believe because of joy and amazement,” or “joy and wonder.”
Although we didn’t read the whole chapter, let me summarize for you. First, Jesus appears to 2 on the road to Emmaus. They have heard about the empty tomb, they were there when the women came and they heard Peter and John’s report, but haven’t understood the resurrection. Jesus has to explain to them from the beginning that the Saviour had to die and be raised again. They don’t get it until the end, when Jesus breaks bread with them and their eyes are opened. Then they get it!
These two run back to Jerusalem and find the other disciples. They are amazed too. Then, Jesus appears among them. He has to show them his hands and feet, and even eat food in front of them before they grasp that he is alive, that he’s not a ghost or apparition. It is amazing throughout this chapter how hard it is for people to be convinced that Jesus is alive! The common theme through this chapter is surprise. Nobody anticipated the resurrection. [Bock, p. 379]
Imagine how the text would read if Jesus’ followers had expected the resurrection. “Early on the first day of the week, the women went to see if the tomb was empty yet. Upon finding the stone rolled away, they celebrated and rejoiced that Jesus was risen, just as he said.”
Or, if the women hadn’t expected the resurrection but the men had, it would have read something like, “They told all these things to the Eleven and to all the others. The men began rejoicing because they knew Jesus had promised he would rise again.” Or “They chided the women and reminded them that Jesus promised to rise again from the dead. And they went back to waiting for Jesus to appear.”
If Peter had expected the resurrection, when he ran to the tomb and found it empty, he would have danced for joy! Instead, he went away and wondered what was going on.
“In a real sense [the disciples] were the first sceptics to become convinced that Jesus was raised.” [Bock, p. 380] They examined the evidence and still didn’t realize. It actually took divine intervention for the people to believe. The women were told by angels. The 2 on the road to Emmaus had “their eyes opened” [v. 31] and then, when Jesus appeared to the 11 and the others, “he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures.” [v. 45]
What we see, here, is that belief in the resurrection is based on examining the evidence and divine revelation to open our eyes. Yes, there is remarkable evidence, but the resurrection is so unexpected, so out of the ordinary, that we cannot come to believe in it without God’s work within our hearts and minds.
What It Means
So what does all of this mean? We’ve looked at the text. We’ve seen the common theme of surprise. We’ve seen the evidence of the empty tomb as well as a number of resurrection appearances. So what does it mean?
First, the resurrection accounts are not a case of wishful thinking. Nobody on that morning was expecting to find an empty tomb. Nobody was expecting the resurrection. They didn’t have an idea they wanted to confirm, they had to be convinced.
Second, the resurrection happened. The tomb was empty. Jesus was seen, heard and even touched. The resurrection is a fact of history. It is unique, not something expected or repeated yet to date, but still a fact of history. And that has significance. This is the importance of Easter.
I need to take us deep for a few minutes. I need to lead us through some important theology. Megan asked me the other day, “Why, if Jesus died on the cross for our sin, do we still sin? Why did Jesus have to die? I don’t understand.” I sat down and began to explain it to her, but she’s only 3. She lost interest before I could finish.
So let me challenge you: can you follow me longer than a 3 year old? Can you focus for a few minutes to understand why Easter happened? At least in your case I don’t think I have to explain sin and free will. That’s where I lost Megan.
We rebel against God. But God is the King of Kings. He is the creator of the universe. He is God. So rebelling against him is really, really bad. The higher the authority you rebel against, the worse the crime the rebellion is. Paul tells us in Romans 6:23 “The wages of sin is death.” That is, the consequence, the punishment for rebelling against God is death. Without going into a huge explanation, Paul is not just talking about our lives ending when we get old, sick or hurt. Death means eternal separation from God. At least in this context, that is what it means. Sin, rebellion against God, brings eternal separation from God.
But God is not happy with being separated from us for eternity. He chose since before creation to redeem us. His goal in creation was to be in relationship with us forever. So he sent his Son, Jesus to fix the problem of the wages of sin. We cannot pay the debt because we have no currency. Jesus, however, having lived a sinless life, did have currency to pay the debt of sin. He experienced physical death and a temporary separation from God. But it was not because of his own sin. It was by his choice out of grace. And so the death price for sin was paid. And in so doing, the power of sin and death was broken. Death died with the death of Christ.
When Christ came, he broke all the rules. He didn’t follow all the religious laws. He chose average people to be his disciples. He broke the Sabbath rules. He ate with sinners and tax collectors. He forgave sin. He claimed God’s worship for his own. He who was without sin, died the death of a sinner. He broke all the rules. Everything he did was counter-intuitive and unexpected. So, in the great culmination of this unexpected
life, his death broke the rules too. He didn’t stay dead. His life and death changed the rules about life and death. Through this work, God fulfilled justice, which changed our experience.
This is the glory of the empty tomb. This is the glory of Easter! The empty tomb means Jesus didn’t stay dead. Death could not hold Jesus. And so, when God imputes Jesus’ righteousness to us, death cannot hold us either! This is God’s elegant solution to the complex problem of sin. This is what had to be revealed to the women, the 2 on the road to Emmaus and the other disciples. This is what Jesus had to open their eyes to through the Scriptures. This is the message of the gospel, the good news that has earth shattering consequences.
Now, we who are sinful, can be reconciled to God. That is amazing! God who can stand no sin in his presence, allows sinners into his presence through his Son. Jesus was without sin and died, so we who are with sin don’t have to die eternally.
This is what Easter is about. This is why it matters that the tomb was empty. This is what Christianity is all about. This changes everything. It is the uniqueness of Christianity among all religions. It’s why we have hope. It’s why we trust Jesus for salvation. It’s why we commit our lives to Christ out of gratitude for the salvation he has brought us.
Why It Matters
That’s why the empty tomb matters. This is why Easter is important. So what are we to do about it? First, understand that even the disciples who knew Jesus personally had to be convinced of the resurrection. Why does this matter? In the church, we triumphantly proclaim the resurrection with great assurance. This is appropriate! But, we have to remember that belief takes evidence. We should not be surprised we need to convince people today, that we need patience as they come to believe, that we need to present evidence and address doubt even among those who “like” Jesus, his teaching, etc. As Christians, we should be aware of the evidence, including how God revealed the truth to us personally. We need to be ready to cooperate with the Holy Spirit to help people take steps towards faith in Christ, including presenting evidence to sceptics.
Let’s consider the women again. If you look through verses 1-12 again, take note of what the women did, the verbs, the actions they performed. The women went. They found [the stone rolled away]. They didn’t find [Jesus’ body]. They wondered. They bowed [to the angels]. They remembered. They told.
We need to follow a similar pattern. We need to seek, so that we can find. It’s ok for us to wonder. When come to know, though, we must go and tell. Jesus extends that command to his disciples formally when he meets them. The disciples are called to preach and by extension, all of us who are followers of Christ are called to preach, to proclaim, to tell the good news. The message we bring is a call to repentance based on the forgiveness of sin offered through Jesus’ name. We are not all called to preach in a formal capacity, like I am doing today. Rather, we are called to tell the news, to bear witness to the evidence and our own experience. We are called to be ambassadors who bring news from their king, news of reconciliation and peace where once there was enmity.
Jesus broke all the rules. He even broke the rules about death! This is the power of God at work in the world. This is the love of God triumphing over sin. This is the brilliance of God, using death to break death. This is the grace of God, taking sin upon himself and offering the results to us freely. We need to respond to God for what he has done. We need to love God for the love he has shown us. We need to praise God for what he has done, for who he is as demonstrated in the cross and the resurrection.
This is not something we take and apply to our lives. Rather, this is something we need to apply our whole lives to! This is not something we “add” to our life. This is what makes life worth living in the first place. This needs to be the central truth of our life. This needs to be what drives us each day, gets us up in the morning and keeps us going. This needs to be the core of our relationship with God, but also our relationship with other people. This is triumphal good news with earth shattering consequences! The tomb was empty! Jesus is risen! There is no greater truth to be told. Death is dead. Sin is vanquished. The curtain in the Temple was torn in 2.
This is the truth that is brighter than all other truth. This is the reason for creation in the first place. This is our destiny. This is our future. This is our life. This is our salvation. This is what it means to be a human being- to be reconciled to God so that we can know Him and enjoy Him forever. This is so much more important than what we learn in school, do for a living, report on our income tax, or anything else we think of as important. This is life. This is the abundant life Jesus came for us to have. This is the empty tomb. This is Easter. Amen.
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