************ Sermon on Luke 24:8 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on April 11, 2004
"The Women Believe: He has Risen"
The earliest creed of the church was simple: "the Lord has risen! He has risen indeed!" The entire Christian religion stands or falls with this statement. The Bible insists that the Easter resurrection was an historical event – not an hoax perpetrated by His disciples, not a wish-projection from those who followed Him, not a lie to suck in thousands of millions of gullible souls.
But, as we will see when we look at this morning's Bible reading, those who became the first Christians did not easily and quickly accept the doctrine of Christ's resurrection. The Lord had to bring them to the point of accepting and believing this most basic of all Christian beliefs.
I He is Dead
As far as the women were first concerned, Jesus was dead.
The women were watching Jesus when "he breathed his last" (Lk 23:46,49). We can assume they were watching when Joseph took Jesus' body down from the cross. We are told they followed Joseph to the tomb. There they saw the tomb and how Jesus' body was laid in it (Lk 23:55).
Then the women went home and prepared spices and perfumes (Lk 23:56). The spices and perfumes were used to prepare a body for burial. We use undertakers and funeral homes to do that but back then it was family and friends who prepared a body for burial.
On the first day of the week the women took the spices they had prepared and went to the tomb (Lk 24:1). They were going to properly anoint Jesus' body for burial. They went into the tomb and actually looked for Jesus' body (Lk 24:3).
Do you hear Luke's message here? He wants to get across the point that the women thought Jesus was dead. Buried. Gone. Luke wants to get across the point that as far as the women were concerned Jesus was just like the dead husbands, sons, parents, or children some of them had already buried.
II Is He Dead?
The women came to the tomb and found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they entered they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus.
Scripture tells us they were "wondering about this" (Lk 24:4). Mentally, there were at a loss to explain what was going on. The open and empty tomb left them perplexed and puzzled. It was mysterious. It was a puzzle they couldn't figure out. Something was going on that they could not understand. We see here that they were beginning to have doubts about whether or not Jesus really was dead.
I have a puzzle here (HOLD UP HORSESHOES; EXPLAIN THAT THE CENTER RING IS SUPPOSED TO BE REMOVED). At first glance you would say it is impossible for the ring to come off. Likewise, the women thought it was impossible for Jesus to be anything other than dead.
But the open and empty tomb left them wondering if it really was impossible. (HOLD UP HORSESHOES AND REMOVE RING).
Do you see the progress the women were making? They came to the tomb for a dead Jesus, they came to the tomb to anoint the body of a dead Jesus, but now they were beginning to wonder if He really and truly was dead. It wasn't full-fledged faith yet. But their mind was at least open to possibilities other than death.
III He is Alive
A What, then, convinced the women that "He has risen! He has risen indeed!"?
Luke starts off by telling us that after the events of Good Friday the women "rested on the Sabbath in obedience to the commandment" (Lk 23:56). Luke wants to make clear to his audience that these first witnesses and believers in the resurrection were not crazy, raving, fanatical lunatics. Luke wants to get through that they were credible witnesses. Luke is making the point that the women were loyal, pious Jews just like those in the birth stories of Jesus. The women at the grave, in other words, stand in line with Zechariah, Elizabeth, Mary, Joseph, Simeon, and Anna.
So, what convinced these loyal, pious Jewish women to believe "He has risen! He has risen indeed!"?
B First, it started already with the stone. The women came to the tomb "and found the stone rolled away." But the stone, by itself, proves nothing. It could have been grave robbers or soldiers or even some of the disciples who moved the stone. And, you need to realize that the stone was not rolled away to let Jesus out – Jesus, after all, had no problems entering closed rooms or going through barred doors. No, the stone was not rolled away to let Jesus out. It was rolled away to let the women in. It was rolled away to let Peter and John in. It was rolled away so there would be witnesses to the empty tomb and to the discarded burial wrappings.
C Second, there was the empty tomb. But by itself, the empty tomb is an empty message to those who don't want to believe. They argue that perhaps the women were insane with grief and did not see the body. Or, perhaps the women were in the wrong tomb and maybe even in the wrong garden. But Luke killed this argument when he tells us that the women "followed Joseph and saw the tomb and how his body was laid in it" (Lk 23:55). The women knew which tomb Jesus was in. They knew which part of the tomb Jesus' body was laid. They even knew how His body was laid.
Luke tips his hand when he tells us they searched the tomb but did not find the body of "the Lord Jesus." It wasn't just a man, a friend, or a teacher they were looking for. They were looking for the body of "the Lord Jesus." This phrase declares the new status of the risen Jesus. He, together, with the heavenly Father, is worthy of our worship and praise and adoration. He, together with the heavenly Father, should be obeyed and honored and revered. At His name every knee should bow and every tongue confess He is Lord to the glory of God the Father.
D Third, there was the appearance of the angels. Actually, Luke describes them as "two men in clothes that gleamed like lightning" (Lk 24:4). Luke uses similar language to describe Jesus' transfiguration on the mountain; at that time, if you remember, there were two other heavenly visitors and God's voice came from the cloud and said, "This is my Son, whom I have chosen; listen to him" (Lk 9:28-36).
"Clothes that gleamed like lightning." It hurts our eyes and makes us momentarily blind to look at even a single streak of lightning. So you can well imagine why the women were scared and bowed their faces down to the ground. The glory was too awesome and bright for them to look at.
Throughout the Bible angels are God's messengers. Actually, the Hebrew and Greek words that we translate as "angel" really means "messenger." Angels are God's messengers; they are God's ambassadors or representatives who speak and act for God. When we look through the Bible we see that they bring messages from God at strategic points in the history of redemption. In the Old Testament we see them in the establishment of the seed of Abraham (Gen 19:1; 22:11; 28:12), in Israel's exodus from Egypt and her possession of the land of Canaan, and in the return of the remnant from the Babylonian exile. In the New Testament they announce the birth (Mt 1:20; Lk 1:11f; 1:26f; 2:9f), resurrection (Mt 28:5f; Lk 24:5f), ascension (Acts 1:10f), and coming again of the Messiah.
Without a single word being said, the women knew something special was going on, something that stood in a long line from Abraham, to Moses, to Joshua, to Daniel and Ezekiel, to Jesus' birth and transfiguration. But still we neither see nor hear a believing response.
E So what, then, convinced the women that "He has risen! He has risen indeed!"? Here we come to the fourth and last thing mentioned by our passage: the words of Christ Himself!
The angels reminded the women of what Jesus had said, of His prophecy about the cross and the grave.
(Lk 24:6-7) He is not here; he has risen! Remember how he told you, while he was still with you in Galilee: (7) 'The Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, be crucified and on the third day be raised again.'"When you look through the Gospels you see Jesus making three such predictions of His crucifixion and resurrection, of the cross and the grave (Lk 9:21-22; 9:44; 18:31-33; cf Mk 8:31; 9:31; 10:32-34).
"Then they remembered His words." They remembered. And, we can safely conclude, they believed. I say that because of what we are told happened next:
(Luke 24:9) When they came back from the tomb, they told all these things to the Eleven and to all the others.In other words, they no longer believed Jesus was dead. In other words, they had now moved beyond wondering. In other words, they now believed "He has risen! He has risen indeed!"
Why did the women believe? Why does anyone believe? Not because of the stone, not because of the empty tomb, not because of the angels, not because of the burial wrappings.
Why did the women believe? Why does anyone believe? Because of the prophecy of Jesus. Because of the Word.
Do you respond in disbelief to the Easter story? Do you find yourself unconvinced by the stone and the empty tomb and the burial wrappings and the angels? Do you find yourself merely wondering like the women first did? It is because the Word has not taken root in your heart!
Do you believe Jesus arose from the grave? Do you believe in Easter's resurrection? Do you believe "He has risen! He has risen indeed!"? If you do, it is only because the Word has taken root in your heart.
Luke reminds us here that there is only one way to faith in Easter's resurrection– and that is through the Word. There is only one way to believe – and that is through the Word. There is only way to be saved – and that is through the Word. That's why the preaching of the Word is so important. That's why Luke 24 ends with the Great Commission – that the Good News of the Gospel must be preached to all nations.
Look through the book of Acts. Why did some 3000 of the Pentecost-day crowd end up believing in Jesus? It is because Peter preached the Word to them (Acts 2). Why did the Ethiopian eunuch believe in Jesus? It is because Philip preached to him (Acts 8). Why was Saul converted? It is because he heard the Word of Jesus (Acts 9). Why did Cornelius believe? It is because Peter preached to him and his household. Why did Lydia or the Philippian jailor believe? Because Paul preached the Word to them (Acts 16). Everyone who has ever believed the Easter resurrection does so the exact same way – because of the Word! It is only through the Word that anyone ends up believing.
Lest you get the wrong impression, let me also hasten to add that the Word never operates by itself. It is always the Spirit that takes the Word and plants faith in the heart.
Do you see the progress the women made? They came to the tomb for a dead Jesus. They came to the tomb to anoint the body of a dead Jesus. Then they were beginning to wonder if Jesus really and truly was dead. It wasn't full-fledged faith yet. But their mind was at least open to possibilities other than death. Then, because of the Word, they believed in Easter's resurrection.
I invite you, congregation, to turn to the Word. Read it. Study it. Meditate upon it. Put yourself under its preaching. For, that is the only way – with the Spirit's help – that you also will believe in Easter's resurrection.
And, one final point, those who believe in Easter's resurrection acknowledge Who the risen Jesus really is. He, together, with the heavenly Father, is worthy of our worship and praise and adoration. He, together with the heavenly Father, should be obeyed and honored and revered. At His name every knee should bow and every tongue confess He is Lord to the glory of God the Father.
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