April 8, 2012 at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran Church – Mechanicsburg, PA
“[The angel] said to [the women]: ‘Do not be alarmed. You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen; He is not here. See the place where they laid Him. But go, tell His disciples and Peter that He is going before you to Galilee. There you will see Him, just as He told you.’”
The angel’s words bring an unexpected message to the women. Their trek to Jesus’ tomb had a particular intended purpose: “When the Sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint Him.” They came to finish a task that could not be completed right the first time. The women carry spices and oils to place on a dead body, the corpse of an honored and loved one. But all this changes when they reach the tomb.
The Gospel Writer captures the women’s initial shock: “And they were saying to one another, ‘Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance of the tomb?’ And looking up, they saw that the stone had been rolled back—it was very large.” Their eyes behold a disturbed tomb, one that has been opened. But there is more; the tomb is occupied by someone unanticipated: “And entering the tomb, they saw a young man sitting on the right side, dressed in a white robe, and they were alarmed.” And then the capper; the expected body is not there: “And he said to them, ‘Do not be alarmed. You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen; He is not here. See the place where they laid Him.’”
The angel was correct: the women were seeking Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. They sought Him in the tomb, because that is where dead people are meant to be. Those who have died are to be found where they were laid to rest. But that is not what was meant to be for Jesus. In fact, He had declared it so. That is what the angel reveals to the women and instructs them to remind Jesus’ disciples: “But go, tell His disciples and Peter that He is going before you to Galilee. There you will see Him, just as He told you.” While the resurrection of anyone is unexpected, Jesus’ rising had been foretold—not only by Him, but prophesied centuries before: “For You will not abandon my soul to Sheol, or let Your holy one see corruption.”
This resurrection of Jesus means a reversal of what is expected. That is so not only for the women who traveled to Jesus’ tomb, but for you. There is a new end to expect, a new fate to anticipate. This is what the Lord has revealed in word and deed. His promise was made through the prophet: “On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wine, of rich food full of marrow, of aged wine well refined. And He will swallow up on this mountain the covering that is cast over all peoples, the veil that is spread over all nations. He will swallow up death forever; and the Lord God will wipe away tears from all faces, and the reproach of His people He will take away from all the earth, for the Lord has spoken.”
The Lord’s words allude to what people normally expect and experience: death, sorrow, shame. They are the result of sin—people’s own sin, other people’s sin, just the plain old imperfection that is found in the world. That drives what happens in the world. It is why you anticipate your own death, even if you don’t spend hours dwelling on it. You know well the sadness that comes from the events of life, even the sorrow of going to tombs where you have laid your loved ones. All of you encounter shame in some way: shame at what you’ve done, shame at what others think of you, shame at what family and friends do, even some shame at what you believe. These form your experience in this world. But the Lord’s word of promise says that this is going to come to an end—death will be swallowed up, tears will be wiped away, reproach will be removed.
Yet the Lord does not simply make a promise; He gives an action that shows its validity and possibility. That is what Jesus’ resurrection achieves. Had Jesus remained deceased, there would be no reason to put trust in the Lord’s promise. How could He swallow up death, if He was powerless over it? How could He wipe away tears from your faces, if He could not even end the grief of His closest followers? How could He take away the reproach of His people, if all the claims of lying and deceit made against Him were shown to be true? But the Lord is shown to be trustworthy through the raising of Jesus. It establishes that He can do what He says He will.
So now there is a new expectation for you. That is what Jesus’ resurrection shows. It is the heart of your faith, what you anticipate to receive from the Lord. This is what the apostle means with his statement: “Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that He was buried, that He was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that He appeared to Cephas, then to the Twelve.” Jesus’ resurrection takes place in accordance with what the Lord has said. It is the way that salvation is given to you. You hold fast to what is of first importance: that Jesus’ death atoned for your sin and that His raising from death has provided life for you.
What the Lord has revealed in word and deed is now the object of your faith. Your trust is put in Him, believing what He promises and relying on what He does. So now you look forward to receiving what He has said He will give. Your eyes are not only focused on what you see here and now—death, sorrow, shame. No, you look up and see the empty tomb of Jesus. Because of that, you look forward to what is yet to come: the time when the Lord will prepare the feast of victory for you to experience forever. You expect what the Lord has said about you: “It will be said on that day, ‘Behold, this is our God; we have waited for Him, that He might save us. This is the Lord; we have waited for Him; let us be glad and rejoice in His salvation.’”
Why do you wait on the Lord? Because He has acted for you and has promised more. Jesus’ death and resurrection is the way He has brought you forgiveness, life, and salvation. It is a proof of what He will do for you in the future. Your faith, hope, and trust are put in Him. So you can pray the words of the psalm, believing that it is so: “Preserve me, O God, for in You I take refuge. I say to the Lord, ‘You are my Lord; I have no good apart from You.’ … I have set the Lord always before me; because He is at my right hand, I shall not be shaken. Therefore my heart is glad, and my whole being rejoices; my flesh also dwells secure. For You will not abandon my soul to Sheol, or let Your holy one see corruption. You make known to me the path of life; in Your presence there is fullness of joy; at Your right hand are pleasures forevermore.”
With the resurrection of Jesus, those words become your own. There is a change in expectations. Hearing about empty tombs is not unexpected. Hearing that Jesus is raised from the dead is not unexpected. Hearing that He goes before you and that you will see Him is not unexpected. No, this is what you now anticipate. It is your great expectation. That is the great news of Easter Day for you to carry all the days of your life. That is the message of first importance received by the women and the apostles that they have delivered to you: “Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that He was buried, that He was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that He appeared to Cephas, then to the Twelve.”
So you are not alarmed at what the angel said; instead you expect it. You are not full of trembling and astonishment; instead you are glad and rejoice greatly about it. Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified, is no longer in the tomb. He has risen. He has abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel for you to receive. And He goes before you—through death and the grave to resurrection and Paradise, where you also will see Him—just as He said. That is now what is meant to be.
+ In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.