The story is told of an Easter dawn in a Russian prison camp in the days of the USSR. A voice called out, ‘Christ is risen!’ and, despite the command for silence, a chorus of voices responded, ‘He is risen indeed!’
The events of the first Easter Day awakened the world to the dawning of a new era and with it the assurance that there is more to life than our experiences now.
In our troubled, conflicted and war-ravaged world, how encouraging this is. The resurrection of Jesus reveals that death need not be the end, but the door to life in all its fullness and joy.
Now you may dismiss the resurrection as fake news because it conflicts with the natural laws, the regularities scientists observe about the operation of the universe. However, such laws don’t prevent God from intervening and overruling whenever he chooses – bringing about an event that we speak of as a miracle.
In the opening lines of Luke 24 we read: But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they (the women) came to the tomb, taking the spices that they had prepared. They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they went in, they did not find the body.
The first witnesses. There would have been no joy in the hearts of those women in that early morning. They had watched as Jesus died. Now, filled with grief as they trudged to his grave, laden with heavy spices and ointments for his burial, they were confused and despairing.
But more disquieting news was to come. When they arrived at the grave, they found the massive stone that had closed the grave entrance, had been rolled away. What could have happened? Was it thieves? Was it some underhand action on the part of the authorities? They were totally out of their depth.
While they were perplexed about this, suddenly two men in dazzling clothes stood beside them. And as they were terrified and bowed their faces to the ground, the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen…” (24:4-6a).
‘If you want to find Jesus, you’ve come to the wrong place,’ the angels said. “Remember how he told you while he was still with you in Galilee: ‘the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men and be crucified and on the third day rise again…’” (24:6b,7).
The angels themselves could have explained the empty tomb. But instead, they focussed on the weight and authority of Jesus’ own words: ‘Remember what he told you,’ they said.
How important this is. The gospel writers want us to hear Jesus’ explanation of what he did and why. He had spoken of the events that had now come to pass. He had already explained why it had to happen. And, with this reminder, the women remembered (24:8).
It is easy for us today to forget Jesus’ words when we learn troubling news. We forget that Jesus not only predicted his death and resurrection, as well as the fall of Jerusalem (which occurred in 70AD), but he also spoke of earthquakes, conflicts and wars that would occur before his return.
As Paul in his Letter to the Romans writes, We know that the whole of creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; and not only creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies. For in hope we were saved … But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience (Romans 8:22-24a, 25).
During his ministry, Jesus had spoken twice about his death and resurrection. He had come as the savior who would address our greatest human need. He would deliver us from God’s just judgement and open the great doors into God’s kingdom.
Jesus’ words at the Last Supper are key: ‘This is my body given for you,’ he said. ‘This is my blood shed for you.’ Scholars agree that these words are probably the most reliably preserved statements of earliest Christianity. We find them in First Corinthians, written around 50AD, and also in Matthew, Mark and Luke, written no later than the 60s.
‘Love it or hate it, the evidence that Jesus thought of his death as a sacrifice or ransom for sins is strong.’ In fact, when we read Luke as a whole we see that his emphasis on Jesus’ death is so strong we begin to understand that the crucifixion is about God’s justice and love. It was why Jesus came.
Love and justice both matter to God. To say, as some do, that Jesus death was some kind of cosmic child abuse, is to forget that the New Testament insists that he was not coerced into dying at Calvary. Jesus laid down his life voluntarily. In John chapter 10, verse 18 we read Jesus’ words: ‘No one takes it (my life) from me, but I lay it down of my own accord…’
The New Testament is clear. In the case of men and women God is the wronged party. Yet, in his love, he chose to enter the world in person and bear the punishment that we, the wrong-doers deserve. He, the judge has paid the fine owed to him by us.
Jesus’ resurrection confirms for us the truth and trustworthiness of what he has done.
The women who went to the tomb did remember Jesus’ words. And what a difference it made. They didn’t stay at the tomb. Suddenly energised with new vitality and joy they rushed off to tell their friends the breaking news. Who doesn’t want to share good news?
And Dr Luke, that very careful historian, wants us to know that even though the first witnesses to the empty tomb were women, their witness is true. It’s one of the reasons he identifies them by name: Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James (Luke 24:10). They were perfectly sane and sensible people, people of integrity. In fact, Luke implies, if you want to find out for yourself, go and talk to them.
How important remembering is for us. How often we forget the words of Scripture. In good times we forget because things are going well. But we also forget God’s words of comfort and assurance when life gets tough – in times of drought or flood, injustice and war. Or you may be single, longing for a partner; you may be in a loveless marriage; you may be longing for a job; you may have a sick or dying loved one.
We need to remember that we are never alone. We have a secure hope. Through his death and resurrection Jesus is the pioneer who leads us into life in a new era in all its fullness and joy.
A prayer. Almighty God, you have conquered death through your dearly beloved Son Jesus Christ and have opened to us the gate of everlasting life: grant us by your grace to set our mind on things above, so that by your continual help our whole life may be transformed; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who is alive and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit in everlasting glory. Amen.
You may want to listen to Christ is Risen, He’s Risen Indeed from Keith and Kristyn Getty.
© John G. Mason