************ Sermon on Luke 24:5b ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on April 12, 1998
"Why Do You Look for the Living Among the Dead?"
Thinks are always a little confusing when you first move into a new house. You can't exactly remember where you put everything. For instance, right after we moved here we couldn't find the dog-clipper so we could give our dog Amber a hair-cut. We had seen it when we unpacked it, but none of us could remember what cupboard or closet we put it into. A couple of months ago I was looking for a theology book that I had been reading. I was positive I knew where I had put it, but I could not find it anywhere. A couple of weeks ago we were looking for a silver serving tray. Again, we remembered unpacking it, we even remembered seeing it a couple of times, but none of us could remember where we had put it. A few days ago I was looking for my mail-box key. I remember putting it in a good place so I wouldn't lose it, but I could not remember what that place was.
Where was the best spot to look for Amber's hair-clipper? Do you think, for instance, that I opened the fridge and looked in the milk carton? Where did I look for my book? Do you think I looked in the gas can for the lawn mower? Where did I look for my mail-box key? Do you think I stood in front of a mirror, opened my mouth, and checked the spaces between my teeth?
Whenever we lose something, whenever we search for something, then we should at least look for it in the spots it would most likely be. So we double-checked all the cupboards in the garage and the laundry-room for Amber's hair-clipper. And, I went through all of my book-shelves one-by-one to look for my book. And, I checked all the drawers of my desk for the mail-box key. To first look in any other place is not only a waste of time, it is also foolish.
This morning we see Mary Magdalene, Joanna, and Mary the mother of James searching for Jesus but they are looking in the wrong place, in a foolish place.
I The Wrong Place to Look for Jesus
A On Good Friday, Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women "stood at a distance" on Golgotha Hill, watching the crucifixion and death of Christ (Lk 23:49; cf 24:10). Later, they followed Joseph and saw the tomb and how Christ's body was laid in it (Lk 23:55). "They went home and prepared spices and perfumes. But they rested on the Sabbath in obedience to the commandment" (Lk 23:56).
The women may not have done any work on the Sabbath, yet I am sure their minds were busy all day planning what they would do on Sunday morning, the first day of the week, the day after the Sabbath. They would get up real early in the morning. Joanna and Mary would bring some spices, Mary Magdalene would bring some clean linens, and together they would go to the tomb where Joseph put Jesus. Once there it was their plan to give Jesus a proper burial by washing and anointing His body, putting spices in the burial cloths, and then carefully laying His body back in the tomb.
You see, the women loved Jesus so very much. Jesus meant so much to them. He had taught them so much. He had shown them the love of the Father. He had opened to them the meaning of the Scriptures. He had healed either them or their loved ones. So many times He had displayed to them His divine power. The least they could do now was give Him a proper burial.
Finally the Sabbath ends. It is daybreak on Sunday. You can almost see the women scurrying around, making sure they have everything they need, quietly asking each other, "Did you bring the spices?" "Did you remember the soap and sponges?" "Who has the burial cloths?"
And so these women hurry off. On the way they are still talking to each other. They know they have everything they will need but now they start wondering how they will get into the tomb. According to Mark's Gospel, they ask each other, "Who will roll the stone away from the entrance to the tomb?" (Mk 16:3).
And just as they are wondering about this, just as they are starting to get a little worried about this, they come to the tomb and find "the stone rolled away" (Lk 24:2).
They enter the tomb. To their great surprise the tomb is empty. There is no body.
Can't you just picture them standing in the tomb, looking around, their arms filled with spices, linens, sponges, and soap? They walk around the tomb looking into each of the burial chambers in turn. But they do not find the body of the Lord Jesus. Now what? They have come looking for Jesus, for the dead body of Jesus. And when they find it they will give Him the proper burial He deserves. They have done this before when friends or other loved ones have died. But this is the first time a body has gone missing. So now what?
B Then all of a sudden there is a bright light. Standing before them are two men in gleaming white robes (Lk 24:4). They are angels, sent by God Himself. The women tremble in fear and fall to the ground (Lk 24:5). And then they hear the question, the message of the angels, the message of God: "Why do you look for the living among the dead?"
You can almost hear the reproach: why are you doing something so foolish? Why are you doing something so unnecessary? It's like looking for Amber's hair-clipper in a milk carton. "Why do you look for the living among the dead?"
The women were looking for Jesus. They thought they could find Him in the tomb. And, if Jesus was dead, it only makes sense to look for Him there.
But Jesus is not dead. The grave could not keep Him. He is living. "He is not here," said the angels. "He has risen! Remember how he told you ..." (Lk 24:6).
Then they remembered. They should have known. He had told them what was going to happen, didn't He? How could they have forgotten? How could they be so foolish? Why do they look for the living among the dead? That's like looking for Amber's hair-clipper in a milk carton.
C The women are embarrassed and ashamed! Not because they are looking for Jesus. That is not the problem here. The women are so embarrassed and ashamed because they are looking for Jesus in a place where they know He could not be. They are looking for Jesus in the wrong place.
The women, unfortunately, have plenty of company. So many look for Jesus in the wrong place.
When Jesus was alive most of His countrymen looked for Him on David's throne — as someone who would throw off the rule of Rome. The disciples, for instance, fought and argued amongst themselves for position and authority in His Kingdom — thinking it was an earthly kingdom. And, the Palm Sunday crowds thought they would shortly see Jesus sitting on Herod's throne. The Jews and the disciples, like the women, were looking for Jesus in the wrong place.
Today, many look for Jesus in the Gospel of success. "Believe in Jesus," we are told, "and your business will prosper, your children will be obedient, your marriage will be fulfilling, your family will be healthy, and you will be wealthier than you can even imagine." Who can resist a come-on like that!? "Come to Jesus and all your problems, trials, and sufferings will disappear." Those who look for Jesus in the Gospel of success are as foolish as the women. For what did Jesus say? "Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God ... But woe to you who are rich, for you have already received your comfort" (Lk 6:20,24).
Still others identify Jesus with the minister. I remember the time I was in the grocery store. One of the children of the congregation saw me there. Turning to his grandmother he said, "Look, there is Mr. Jesus." Of course, we are all supposed to reflect Christ. Yet, it is the church as a whole, not the individual members, who are the body of Christ. To identify Christ with any one person — whether it be a preacher, an elder, or whoever — is to look for Christ in the wrong place. For when these people fall, as we all do from time to time, then Christ also falls.
II The Right Place to Look for Jesus
A "Why do you look for the living among the dead?" It's like looking for Amber's hair-clipper in a milk carton. To find the dead, you go to the place of the dead: a morgue, a funeral home, a grave yard. To find the living, you must look in the place of the living.
Jesus is not dead. He is alive. He is living.
This means the women must look for Jesus in the place of the living: in the Garden, for instance, or in Jerusalem, or in Galilee — but not in the tomb.
B Where must we look for Jesus? We too must look for Jesus in the place of the living.
We can start off with the church. It is within the church, the people of God, that we can find the Lord Jesus. His power, His life, His Spirit, His love, His care and concern, His grace, His holiness, His forgiveness, is to be found in us. Kind of scary, isn't it? People should be able to look at Trinity United Reformed Church and find the living Jesus here.
Many today do not want to look for Jesus in the church. "I believe in Jesus," they say, "but I want nothing to do with the church." So they claim belief in Jesus but rarely, if ever, attend church and certainly don't take on the responsibilities of church membership. Instead of looking for Jesus in the wrong place, these people are not looking for Jesus in the right place.
We are to see the living Jesus in the church at worship: a church singing, praying, praising, and testifying shows forth the living Jesus.
We see the living Jesus when, like the women, we spread the glad tidings that He has risen (Lk 24:9,10).
We see the living Jesus when Christians live as brothers and sisters in God's family. When believers are "like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose," there you see the living Christ (cf Phil 2:2). When believers "do nothing out of selfish conceit, but in humility consider others better than themselves," there you see the living Christ (cf Phil 2:3). When Christians wash each other's feet, serving and not lording over each other, there you see the living Jesus. When God's children use their material and spiritual gifts for the service and enrichment of others, there too you see the living Jesus.
Where else are we to look for the living Lord? Jesus is in places where people — in His name — give cups of cold water to the thirsty, feed the hungry, welcome the stranger, clothe the naked, look after the sick, visit the prisoner, and look not only to their own interests but also to the interests of others (Mt 25:34ff; Phil 2:4).
I'm so very thankful that Trinity, through her deacons, assists the poor and underprivileged of our community and around the world. I praise the Lord for those of our members involved in helping and teaching the disabled. It's wonderful to know there are Christians who visit or write with prisoners. I rejoice that time after time the sick and mourning tell me how members of Trinity reach out to them in love and with comfort. In all these acts and many more we see the living Jesus.
I am sure you have heard of those schools and churches who have tried to isolate and quarantine those who suffer from AIDS. Before the judgment throne today's church will have to answer to God for how she has responded to those suffering from this horrible affliction. If the living Christ is present in the church, then she looks for ways and means to love these people too. It is the world, and not the church, that tries to isolate and quarantine those suffering from this disease, refusing them all compassion, companionship, and human contact. Of course, we are to show love here without condoning homosexuality. In showing this love we see again the living Jesus.
We look for Jesus — the living Jesus — in our heart. If we only believe, then Jesus lives in us, making and shaping and molding us to be like Him:
I serve a risen Savior, he's in the world today;
I know that he is living, whatever people say;
I see his hand of mercy, I hear his voice of cheer,
and every time I need him he's always near.
He lives, he lives, Christ Jesus lives today!
He walks with me and talks with me along life's
He lives, he lives, salvation to impart!
You ask me how I know he lives? He lives within my heart.
Especially, though, we look for Jesus — a living Jesus — in heaven, seated at the right hand of God. And we, since we have been raised with Christ, set our hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. We set our minds on things above, not on earthly things (cf Col 3:1,2).
III Faith and Trust in Jesus
A "Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here; he has risen! Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee: "The Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, be crucified and on the third day be raised again"" (Lk 24:5b-7).
The women are embarrassed and ashamed not only because they look for Jesus in the wrong place, among the dead instead of among the living, but also because they did not take Jesus at His Word. They did not believe what Christ had said about His resurrection. They thought that Jesus was lost to them. They thought the cross and the grave spelled the end, even though Jesus Himself had said otherwise.
Notice what happens because the women did not take Jesus at His Word: they gave in to doubt and unbelief.
B What happened to the women also happens to us if we do not take Jesus at His Word: we also give in to doubt and unbelief. People do not take God at His Word anymore. So they no longer know what they believe and why. Our doubt and unbelief disappear only when we take God at His Word. Yes, our questions may remain, but they will remain within the context of faith and hope.
"Why do you look for the living among the dead?" It's like looking for Amber's hair-clipper in a milk carton. "He is not here; he has risen! Remember how he told you ..."
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