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Sermon on Luke 24.1-12

This is a copy of my notes for a sermon I preached a few months ago. I always have mixed feelings about posting such things since what I write, and what I end up saying, often don't match-up very well — plus there is something that occurs in a public dialogue that really can't be captured on paper. Regardless, I like to keep some sort of record of these things.
Intro: The story so far…
• Luke’s gospel is supposed to be good news, after all that’s what “gospel” means.
• In particular, it is supposed to be good news to the poor. Thus, in Jesus’ first act of public teaching he announces what today would be considered his “mission statement.” This is what he says:
o The Spirit of the LORD is upon me, because he anointed me to preach good news to the poor, he has sent me to proclaim release to the captives, and recovery of sight to the blind, to set free those who are oppressed, to proclaim the favourable year of the LORD (Lk 4).
• Then, as we followed Jesus’ ministry, it really looked like all this good stuff was happening. Jesus was healing the sick, casting demons out of the possessed, empowering the marginalized, freeing the oppressed, and showing those who were rejected by the religious leaders as “sinners” that they were, in fact, God’s beloved children.
• It must have been terribly exciting for the disciples to watch. The disciples – who mostly consisted of people who were poor, and people who were rejected by the healthy, the wealthy, and the religious – watched all sorts of wonderful things occur. Yes, they thought, God has forgiven our sins, he has come back to heal us, to set us free, and to bless us.
• The disciples were a part of a people who were singing, “O come, O come, Emmanuel, and ransom captive Israel,” [I requested that we sing this song during worship] and in Jesus they thought Emmanuel had come and they thought that they were being set free. Free from the Roman military that persecuted them and taxed them, free from the religious leaders who rejected them and taxed them some more, and free from illness and demon possession.
• But then, everything goes terribly wrong. Jesus, who was supposed to save them from all these oppressive powers, ends up being defeated. The religious leaders capture him, condemn him and hand him over to the political leaders who beat him and crucify him. On the cross, Jesus cries out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” but God doesn’t answer.
• So Jesus dies. The disciples thought he was going to set them all free, they had surrendered everything to follow Jesus, but at the end of the day, Jesus is crushed by the same powers that crush the poo and the sick and the “sinners.”
• Can we imagine how devastating this must be for them?
1. Lk 24.1-12: Something new has started…
• But then we get to the passage we’re looking at today and we hit a turning point – not just of the story, this is the turning-point of history. Something so dramatic, something so incredible, has occurred, that those of us who are used to hearing the story often forget just how crazy it all sounds.
• Keeping the story-so-far in mind, let’s read the passage trying to think like the characters in the story:
o But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, [the women] came to the tomb bringing the spices which they had prepared. And they found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they entered, they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. While they were perplexed about this, behold, two men suddenly stood near them in dazzling clothing; and as the women were terrified and bowed their faces to the ground, the men said to them, “Why do you seek the living One among the dead? He is not here, but he has risen. Remember how he spoke to you while he was still in Galilee, saying that the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, and be crucified, and the third day rise again.” And they remembered his words, and returned from the tomb and reported all these things to the eleven and to all the rest. Now they were Mary Magdalene and Joanna and Mary the mother of James; also the other women with them were telling these things to the apostles. But these words appeared to them as nonsense, and they would not believe them. But Peter got up and ran to the tomb; stooping and looking in, he saw the linen wrappings only; and he want away to his home, marveling at what had happened.
• So, what is going on here?
• Well, one thing is certain: we see a group of people who are certain that Jesus is dead. Everybody is sure that Jesus is defeated. Nobody at the time of Jesus was expecting a Messiah that would die and then be raised again to new life. And so the women go to the tomb, not because they expect or even hope to find it empty, but because they want to anoint Jesus’ dead body with burial spices.
• Of course, it is interesting to note that it is women who go to the tomb. Women, after all, were considered to be not-as-fully-human as men during the time of Jesus. Women were subservient to men, they did not have a lot of the rights and privileges that men had. Thus, Luke is continuing to demonstrate his interested in the marginalized. Whereas in the last few chapters we have seen the men betray Jesus (Judas), deny Jesus (Peter), and run away from Jesus (all the rest), it is the women who love Jesus enough that they follow him to the cross, and they are the one’s who love him enough to go out and anoint his dead body. Furthermore, they are those who are brave enough to go to Jesus’ tomb. After all, if Jesus was condemned, then those who followed him could face similar penalties – especially those who were close to him. However, while the male apostles hide away in their homes, the women have the courage to go to Jesus’ tomb.
• But they were sure that Jesus was dead. So it is no wonder that they are perplexed when they get to the tomb and find that it is empty. What has happened? Maybe somebody has broken into the tomb and stolen the body? Maybe, in their grief, they got confused about which tomb Jesus was buried in?
• You can, therefore, imagine their shock when the angels appear to them to tell them that Jesus is risen. However, it is important to notice that it is not the presence of the angels that is convincing. Rather, what convinces the women is the remembrance of what Jesus said. The empty tomb can only be understood as shockingly good news when it is understood in light of Jesus’ words and deeds prior to his death. As things play out with the women, remembrance brings understanding, which inspires new actions – without being told to do so, they rush back to tell the apostles the good news.
• But nobody believes them. In fact, in first-century Jewish society, women were never considered to be reliable witnesses. Thus, for example, if a person was being tried for a crime, and a woman witnessed the crime, her testimony would not be considered valid in a court of law. Because they are female, their story and their testimony is dismissed as hysterical babbling.
• Peter, however, at least goes to the tomb to check things out. But Peter doesn’t go into the tomb. He just looks in and ends up being puzzled because he says the linen that was wrapped around Jesus’ body. Why is he puzzled? Because he doesn’t believe that Jesus is risen. And so he probably wonders why the linens are there – after all, if somebody had stolen Jesus’ body they would probably not take the time to strip the body before removing it from the tomb. Peter, unlike the women, still doesn’t believe, and still doesn’t know what is going on. Like the rest of the apostles, he will need more proof before he gets what is going on.
2. Application: Victory, Fearless Love, Women, & Entering Empty Tombs
• So here we are, 2000 years later, and what are we supposed to make of all this? Well, I want to suggest that there are four key points – four pieces of good news – that we should take away from this. The first relates to the nature of the victory that Jesus won, the second relates to the role the women play in the story, the third relates to remembering these stories, and the fourth relates to entering the (empty) tomb.
Victory: Luke’s gospel, like we said at the beginning, is supposed to be good news. Jesus was supposed to be setting people free – free from oppression, from sickness, from poverty, from rejection, from sin. And it looked like he was doing it. But then he was killed by the oppressors and by the wealthy and influential powers that make sure that the poor stay poor and that the sick die alone. So what happened?
• By choosing to go to the cross to die, Jesus reveals who the true enemy is. Jesus reveals that, ultimately, Sin, Death, and the Devil, are the true powers that lurk behind the political powers that oppress the poor, and behind the religious powers that reject those that they label as “sinners.” Thus, Jesus reveals that setting out to fight and conquer the Romans, or fight and conquer the religious leaders is focusing on the wrong enemy. Even if one defeats these people, one will still be enslaved because Sin, Death, and Devil are the true powers that perpetuate oppression, poverty, and illness. Thus, Jesus goes behind the religious and political powers to get to the root of things.
• And by getting to the root of things Jesus thus triumphs over all things! The resurrection of Jesus shows that he has conquered death, and by conquering death, he conquers sin (because death is the consequence of sin), and by conquering sin, he conquers the devil (who is powerless without sin and death). Thus, in Phil 2, Paul realizes that, through the cross and resurrection, Jesus becomes Lord of all. As he says:
o Because [Jesus] existed in the form of God, [he] did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself taking the form of a slave and being made in the likeness of humanity. Being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. For this reason also, God highly exalted him, and bestowed on him the name which is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
Luke is hinting at this at when he writes that the women did not find the body of “the Lord Jesus” when they entered the tomb. Luke realizes that the tomb is empty because Jesus is Lord. This then shows that, even after the tragedy, we are receiving good news.
Therefore, because of this good news, we no longer need to live in fear of our enemies. In fact, we don’t even need to fight our enemies; instead, we are empowered to resist our enemies by loving them. Because we are not afraid of our enemies, we can resist them and refuse to let them control us. And because Jesus, rather than sin and death, is our Lord, we can love our enemies.
• Even if our enemies hurt us, we know that they cannot triumph over us. We are the people of the resurrection. We know that even in our suffering, we are victorious.
• Thus Paul writes in Ro 8:
o Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? Just as it is written, “For your sake we are being put to death all day long; we were considered as sheep to be slaughtered.” But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through him who loved. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus or Lord.
• In fact, that’s one of the reasons why I love Mosaic, here, I feel like I’m getting a glimpse of resurrection happening all around me. We are all broken, like Jesus on the cross, but we are all being raised up and made new, like beautiful pieces of art.
Being the Women: Now to turn to the second point: that Luke focuses on the women as the central characters of this story. As we mentioned before, women, in Jesus’ day, weren’t considered valid witnesses, and their testimony is dismissed. Therefore, the fact that only the women are witnesses to the empty tomb is quite significant.
• This fact is significant for us, because we at Mosaic are like the women in the story. We are not the kind of people who are in charge, we are not the sort of people who have a voice – either in society or in the rest of the church – in fact, we are the type of people who are ignored by society and abandoned by the rest of the church. We’re too poor, or too young, or too uneducated, or too old, or too rough, or just too broken to matter.
• But we learn from this passage that our voices matter. In fact, our voices are crucial – without the women’s testimony, we would never know about the empty tomb, and without our voices today, there’s a chance that many in both society and the church will never understand what it means to say that Jesus is Lord.
• Thus, in the midst of our brokenness, we bear witness to Jesus, and we embrace the things that make us insignificant because we believe that God is revealed in those very things. Paul understand this point, so he writes to the Corinthians:
o But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things – the things that are not – to nullify the things that are… [for God has said to me] “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore, I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong (1 Cor 1; 2 Cor 12).
• All that is needed is for us to, like the women, love Jesus enough, and be brave enough, to share this gospel with society, and with the parts of the church that have gotten so wealthy and comfortable that they have forgotten what the gospel is.
• And how do we do this? We do this be embracing our weakness. We embrace our brokenness, and our poverty and our insignificance; instead of trying to hide these things, we show that Jesus is risen because here, in the midst of our brokenness, power of resurrection is at work. This is surely good news for us!
Entering the Tomb: This idea leads me to the next point: instead of being like Peter, who only looks into the tomb, we need to be like the women and enter the tomb. What do I mean by this?
• By this I mean that following Jesus doesn’t just stop at the point of coming to listen to his teachings. Following Jesus means following Jesus to the cross. And it means that we even go so far as to follow Jesus into the grave.
• This means that Christians are often completely wrong about the way in which they present Christianity. Christianity is often offered like some sort of spiritual prozac. We’re told: Come to Jesus and all your problems will go away, come to Jesus and everything will get better, come to Jesus and you’ll always be happy. But that’s not true. Following Jesus into the tomb means that when we follow Jesus, sometimes things don’t get better. In fact, sometimes following Jesus makes everything harder. That’s why Jesus is always warning people to count the cost before they decide to be his disciples. As it says earlier in Lk:
o Large crowds were traveling with Jesus, and turning to them he said: “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters—yes, even his own life—he cannot be my disciple. And anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple. Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Will he not first sit down and estimate the cost to see if he has enough money to complete it? For if he lays the foundation and is not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule him, saying, 'This fellow began to build and was not able to finish. Or suppose a king is about to go to war against another king. Will he not first sit down and consider whether he is able with ten thousand men to oppose the one coming against him with twenty thousand? If he is not able, he will send a delegation while the other is still a long way off and will ask for terms of peace. In the same way, any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple” (Lk 14).
• It is true that we are resurrection people, but to be resurrection people we also need to be cross-shaped people.
• This will be the difference between people who actually follow Jesus and people who only admire Jesus. In our society, there are a lot of people who admire Jesus, there are a lot of people who think Jesus was a good person who said a lot of really nice things about love and peace and all that good stuff. However, there are only a small amount of people who actually follow Jesus down the road to the cross and into the tomb.
• Summation — victory, fearless love, becoming the women, and entering the tomb — and conclusion.

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