“The Marvel of Easter”
Easter Sunday 2013
- Take your Bibles and join me in Luke, chapter 24 (page 712; YouVersion).
This morning we’re going to look at perhaps the most popular passage that details the Easter events. It never really occurred to me until this past week that in chapter 24 Luke records three Easter events corresponding to the three times of the day–morning, afternoon, and evening. Verses 1-12 tell what happened that first Easter morning, then verses 13-35 tell what happened that first Easter afternoon, and then verses 36 and following tell us what happened that first Easter evening.
We’re going to be looking at what happened that first Easter morning, verses 1-12. These verses need little setting up as most of us are familiar with the Easter passage.
Now interestingly, no Gospel writer records the actual events of the resurrection. That is, no one claims to have been there to see Jesus’ body as it was rising from the dead in sequential, or chronological time. No one claims that he or she was actually there at the tomb and saw Jesus’ body actually rise from the grave and change in form from a bloodied and beaten corpse into a glorified body of newness and incorruption. No one claims to have actually witnessed the entire resurrection transformation.
At the very least this should give pause to those who think the Gospels are merely the work of myth-makers and legend-writers. Think of it: If a person were merely spinning a yarn about the resurrection, why would he not also write about seeing the grave burst forth and witnessing Christ’s body rising from the tomb and watching it transform into a new body? I mean if you’re making it all up, why leave out these details?
The answer is, of course, that the Gospels are not the work of myth-makers. The Gospels are factual records, written by honest writers concerned with absolute truth. So the reason the Gospels are silent on the real-time details of Christ’s body rising from the grave is because no one was there to see it. The Gospel writers are not going to lie about having seen things they did not see. The writers, rather, will record only what either they themselves saw or what others had told them that they had seen.
Well, what was seen that first Easter Sunday? Who was there and when were they there and what did they hear, see, and find? Luke, the physician and careful historian, tells us in verses 1-12.
- Please stand in honor of the reading of God’s Word.
1 Now on the first day of the week, very early in the morning, they, and certain other women with them, came to the tomb bringing the spices which they had prepared.
2 But they found the stone rolled away from the tomb.
3 Then they went in and did not find the body of the Lord Jesus.
4 And it happened, as they were greatly perplexed about this, that behold, two men stood by them in shining garments.
5 Then, as they were afraid and bowed their faces to the earth, they said to them, “Why do you seek the living among the dead?
6 He is not here, but is risen! Remember how He spoke to you when He was still in Galilee,
7 saying, “The Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, and be crucified, and the third day rise again.’ ”
8 And they remembered His words.
9 Then they returned from the tomb and told all these things to the eleven and to all the rest.
10 It was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them, who told these things to the apostles.
11 And their words seemed to them like idle tales, and they did not believe them.
12 But Peter arose and ran to the tomb; and stooping down, he saw the linen cloths lying by themselves; and he departed, marveling to himself at what had happened.
It is sometimes said that the Bible is a book you wouldn’t write if you could and couldn’t write if you would. That is, the Bible is unique in nature and uniquely written.
We spoke earlier about a skeptic questioning the biblical record of the resurrection. Some people believe the biblical writers made up all of this stuff about Christ’s rising from the dead. And we suggested that if we were making up the story of the resurrection we would have written it differently.
I mean we wouldn’t have written it like Luke has written it here. For one, you wouldn’t have women being the first witnesses of the empty tomb. In Bible days, women’s testimony was not considered reliable. Nor would you have described these women as Luke does in verse 4, “greatly perplexed” about what they had seen. You likely also would not have written in verse 5 that “they were afraid.” Nor is it even likely you would have written that they had to be reminded by angels to remember Christ’s words about His coming death and resurrection. Odds are you would have left the women out altogether and would have written something like, “The disciples were there early that morning and personally witnessed Christ’s body rising from the dead just as they had been told and they rejoiced!”
But even the disciples are presented here as bewildered and doubting. Verse 11 says that when the women told the disciples about the empty tomb that “their words seemed to them like idle tales, and they did not believe them.” I don’t think I would have written that if I were making this up. Again, wouldn’t we have written something like, “The disciples were not surprised at all in what they had witnessed! After all, Jesus Himself had said He would rise from the dead so they were there in great faith, awaiting the power of Christ’s defeat over sin, death, hell, and the grave. They were right there and saw everything themselves with their own eyes and it was fantastic and supernatural!”
But that’s not what we read. See, the very odd nature of the details of the resurrection, and the bewilderment of the disciples, and the awkwardness of the whole situation argue strongly for the historical reliability and authenticity of the biblical record. You can’t make up stuff like this. It’s a truth stranger than fiction. It really happened.
Picking up on Luke’s description of Peter as Peter walks away from the empty tomb, “marveling to himself at what had happened,” I’d like to lead us this morning to marvel; to marvel at some of the facts of Easter. First, Let us Marvel at:
I. The Person of Easter
Of course the Person of Easter is Christ Himself. Jesus Christ is the supreme focus of the Easter event. I’ll not clutter your mind with statistics and stories about how contemporary America has largely forgotten that Jesus Christ is the supreme focus of Easter. We’re not here this morning to rail against the culture and to complain about its failure to acknowledge Christ as the Person of Easter. Most of us know that to be the case and, in fact, some of you may be here this morning as those for whom Easter is nothing more than an opportunity to come together as family, enjoy a meal, and hunt eggs and so forth.
Easter is a special time for family and certainly we appreciate the warmth of Spring and buds and blooms and the joy of changing seasons, but the biblical record tells us that Easter is primarily about Jesus Christ and His resurrection.
The women here in the text loved Jesus. The previous chapter ends by telling us that the women had gone home to keep the Sabbath. The Old Testament law required the Sabbath to be kept from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday. So the women kept the Sabbath before gathering up the spices and visiting the tomb (Luke 23:56).
Their bringing spices to the tomb was like our bringing flowers to a grave. It demonstrated love of these women for the one who had died. They loved the Person of Easter, our Lord Jesus.
So they came to the tomb not expecting it to be empty, but to be full. They expected to find the body of Christ. So the angels are there and the angels ask the women in verse 5, “Why do you seek the living among the dead?” It really is quite a question, isn’t it? Why do you seek the living among the dead? They could as well have said, “Seek the Living among the living. He is not here. He lives. Christ has risen!”
We could ask the same question of many religious people today. Why seek the living among the dead? In every other major religion, the tomb is full. With no disrespect to these other religious systems or philosophies, we find a tomb that is full. You can visit places and see today the bodies of Mohammed, Buddha, and Confucius. Christianity is the only major religion founded by someone who came back from the dead. The tomb is not full, but empty.
But you don’t have to go outside Christianity to find people who are seeking the living among the dead. Many who profess to be Christians fail to understand the necessity of the bodily resurrection of Christ. Some who say they are Christians do not believe Jesus literally rose from the dead in bodily form. They regard passages in the New Testament that speak to the matter of the resurrection to be things the early church “added-on” to the record.
They see Jesus as merely a good moral teacher, a preacher of good words such as the Sermon on the Mount, “Be kind to your enemies, love people, turn the other cheek,” and so forth. But if you see Jesus as merely a good moral man who preached the Sermon on the Mount then He is now nothing more than a dead teacher. You seek the Living among the dead.
Jesus Christ is more than a dead teacher. The entirety of the Scriptures teach us that He is God in the flesh, resurrected in bodily form and now at the right hand of the Father. This truth about the Person of Easter is related to the second truth:
II. The Plan of Easter
I’d like for us to consider the plan of Easter. The death and burial of Christ was neither an accident nor an afterthought. The death, burial, and resurrection of Christ was a deliberate plan of the Heavenly Father’s.
The angels reminded the women that Jesus had accurately predicted all that had happened to him. The angels said, “Don’t you remember how He had told of this plan–verse 7–this plan that “the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, and be crucified, and the third day rise again.”
And Jesus had spoken previously of this plan no less than three times in Luke’s Gospel in Luke 9:22, Luke 9:44, and Luke 18:31-33.
From eternity, God planned to save sinful men. God planned to save you and me through the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Here is as good a place as any to remind us that we are all sinners. All of us. We are sinners by nature and sinners by choice. The Bible says in Romans 3:10, “There is no one righteous, not one.”
If you’ve ever tried to reform your behavior or start “being good,” you find that you fail. Despite repeated attempts to “clean up your life” you continually fail. Why? Because you have this disease called sin. Apart from God your disease is incurable. It is fatal. It will lead to death. And it will lead to eternal separation from God.
The Gospel–which means Good News–the Gospel is the cure for the diseases of sin. And the Gospel is that rather than our trying to reform our behavior and “be good” so that God will accept us, God comes to us in the person of Christ. In Christ, God is good for us. In Christ, God does everything for us. He takes the punishment for sin that we deserved after having lived a perfect life of obedience to God’s law. So Christ suffers for us, dies for us, and rises from the dead for us, that we may have life and be forgiven.
That’s God’s plan, the plan of Easter. The choir sang about this earlier in their special, “Listen to the Hammer Ring,” a song about Christ’s death on the cross. It was not an accident. The cross is the cause for our joy. Remember these words the choir sang:
Now You might say I’m callous
When you see this joy in me
But every blow was planned by God
And taken willingly
Every blow to the Savior was planned by God and taken willingly upon Himself. This is in fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecy in Isaiah 53:10, “It pleased the Lord to crush Him.” It pleased God the Father to send His Son to die on the cross, taking the penalty for sin that we deserved, taking that upon Himself that we may be saved and forgiven.
See, without the resurrection, how would we know that the Father had accepted the work of His Son on the cross? Without the resurrection, how would we know that the Father’s holy wrath against sin had been appeased? How would we know whether Jesus had really “paid it all?” How would we know whether Jesus was correct when He said from the cross, “It is finished?” How would we know any of this to be true if Christ had not been raised?
The resurrection of Christ is God the Father’s, “Amen,” of Christ’s work on our behalf. This is why Paul says in Romans 4:25, “He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification (NIV).” The resurrection is God’s “Amen” on the finished work of His Son, God’s “Amen” that Jesus “paid it all.”
The resurrection is part of God’s overarching plan to save men and women from sin, death, hell, and the grave. So we have the Person of Easter, and the Plan of Easter, which takes us to number three, thirdly:
III. The Power of Easter
The same power that rolled away the stone that first Easter morning, the same power that raised Christ from the dead, is the power available to every single one of us this morning. The power of Easter is granted through the power of salvation.
My first car was a 1971 Ford Maverick. I paid only a thousand dollars for that car and boy was I proud of it. It had a lot of wear and tear on it but I loved it. It had that 302 engine, you know. It was a hot little car. But the sound system left something to be desired. It just didn’t put out much power. So one day I saw this thing at the store called a “power booster” and I installed it into my car stereo. Now, when I turned on the radio I had power. In fact, I had so much power that I totally blew out the car’s speakers! They blew out because the power could not be contained by the speakers. The power burst through the speakers.
Two thousand years ago a tomb just outside Jerusalem could not contain the power of its contents. Two thousand years ago, Jesus Christ burst forth from the grave in glorious splendor and power.
We sang it earlier:
Death in vain forbids him rise,
Christ has opened paradise,
Made like him, like him we rise.
The Power of Easter is the power of salvation to all who believe. The resurrection means power to accomplish justification, sanctification, and glorification.
Think of it: the resurrection power means power to accomplish our justification. Recall again Romans 4:25, “[Christ] was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification (NIV).”
Jesus Christ was raised from the dead “for our justification,” so that we Christians could be declared “not guilty” of our sin, of all sin–past, present, and future. The resurrection means power to accomplish justification.
But not only justification, the resurrection means power to accomplish our sanctification. Paul says in Ephesians 1 that the same power that raised Christ from the dead now works in us, in Christians. He says in Ephesians 1:19-20 that he wants Christians to know “the exceeding greatness of His power toward us who believe, according to the working of His mighty power 20 which He worked in Christ when He raised Him from the dead,”
The power that raised Christ from the dead is the same power available to you and me as we grow in our sanctification, becoming more and more like Jesus.
This is why there is hope for the alcoholic. This is why there is hope for the one battling lustful thoughts. This is why there is hope for the down-and-out, the oppressed, and the defeated. The power that raised Christ from the dead is the same power that raises you to new heights of victory over sin. You can rise above those temptations when you yield yourself to the Holy Spirit’s wonder-working resurrection power.
Resurrection power means power to accomplish our justification and power to accomplish our sanctification. But not only does the resurrection mean power to accomplish our justification and our sanctification, but the resurrection also means there is power to accomplish our glorification.
Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15 that Jesus Christ’s resurrection means that Christ “has become the first-fruits of those who have died (1 Corinthians 15:20).” The “first-fruits” are the farmer’s first produce of the harvest, the promise of a greater harvest to come.
Christ’s resurrected body is the promise that the Christian will also receive a resurrected body–a glorified body–like unto the body of our Lord’s. As we sang earlier:
Made like him, like him we rise,
One day Christians will receive a glorified body, a body that will never break down, a body that is not subject to disease, despair, or death. Whatever struggles you and I face as Christians living in this fallen world, all those struggles will be as the snap of a finger compared to the future state of glorification.
Resurrection power means power to accomplish our justification, power to accomplish our sanctification, and power to accomplish our glorification. The power of Easter.
Peter came seeking and left marveling.
If you have come seeking this morning, I trust you too will leave marveling–marveling at the Person of Easter, the Plan of Easter, and the Power of Easter.
- Stand for prayer.