Looking for Jesus in the Wrong Place

The spread of the coronavirus, our current lockdown, and the economic fallout are having a profound impact on our lives. But this morning, focus on something even more important: the question, where do you find Jesus? In Luke 24:5–8 the Gospel writer describes people looking in the wrong place, but then being corrected by angelic messengers.

Don’t seek Jesus among the dead. Jesus really was dead. The cemetery was the right place. The women were sure of it. Where else, but the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea, would they find the body of Jesus, laid there reverently three days earlier? These women, who had followed Jesus, knew that he had died. They are specifically identified as witnesses to Jesus’s death, Luke 23:49. They had followed Joseph of Arimathea as he took down the body from the cross, wrapped it in linen, and laid it in his own, unused, rock-hewn tomb, Luke 23:55,56. Now they were coming to complete the task which had been interrupted by the Sabbath rest–the proper anointing of Jesus’ body for burial. Their motives were good. They were seeking to honor their Lord, even if they did not recall what he had said about his resurrection. In the women you see a commitment that is noticeably absent even in the disciples. You can be sure that Jesus died. The Roman authorities knew that Jesus was dead. Luke describes the reaction of the centurion to his death, Luke 23:47. He is silent about some matters we learn from the other Gospels: the spear thrust by the soldiers into Jesus’ side (John 19:34), the guard’s certification to Pilate that Jesus was dead (Mark 15:44,45), and the posting of the guard at the tomb (Matthew 27:65,66). Alternative theories, such as Jesus merely being in a deep coma, do not fit the data which the Gospels present. The death of Jesus is an essential element of his work. He came to die for his people. He is the sacrificial lamb, offered in your place.

Do not look for the living among the dead. The women were told that the tomb was the wrong place to look for Jesus. Two angels, appearing in the form of men, spoke to the women. Luke’s Gospel emphasized the work of angels at the beginning of the book. Gabriel appeared to Zechariah, and then to Mary. An angel, later joined by a heavenly army, speaks to the shepherds outside Bethlehem. Now, at the end of the Gospel, angels appear to explain the crucial event in the history of redemption. The tomb was the wrong place to look for Jesus, because he was no longer dead, but alive. Many still look for Jesus among the dead. Modern man is too sophisticated, too enamored of his scientific method, to believe that the dead Jesus Christ actually came back to life and continues to live. A risen Christ requires you to respond to him. He is more conveniently left in the grave–with the Gospel account explained away by some human theory. Even in theological circles a more subtle denial takes place. There may be closet atheists in some pulpits. But even some of those who consider themselves people of faith may talk about the importance of faith in the resurrection, and the disciples’ belief in the resurrection, but still deny that any such event took place in the real world in which we live. Updike’s poem, “Seven Stanzas at Easter” drives home a very valid point.

Make no mistake: if He rose at all

it was as His body;

if the cells’ dissolution did not reverse, the molecules

reknit, the amino acids rekindle,

the Church will fall.

As evangelical believers, of course we would never deny the resurrection. But perhaps our daily lives sometimes display a practical skepticism about the resurrection. Do you live each day aware of the presence of the risen Lord? What are specific ways your life is different because of the resurrection of Jesus? “Thankfully, our mediator did not remain in the grave. As Paul reminds us in I Corinthians 15, it is not only a matter ‘of first importance’ that ‘Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures’, and ‘that he was buried’; it is also a matter of first importance that ‘he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures’ (I Cor. 15:3, 4). The Father was pleased with his Son’s work: all that was necessary for our salvation was accomplished; and so he raised our Saviour from the dead and provided witnesses to testify to this astonishing event (I Cor. 15:5). He also provided a doubting Thomas who wondered if Jesus had actually risen in his own physical body, a reality Jesus insisted on with all his disciples (e.g.,John 20:25–27). (Chad Van Dixhoorn, Confessing the Faith, p. 118).

Jesus is alive, as he said. Rejoice, for the Savior is indeed alive! The tomb is empty. The Savior is not there, for he has risen! Not only is the tomb empty, but God had sent heavenly messengers to explain why it was empty. God not only accomplishes your salvation, he explains it to you as well. The resurrection is at the heart of the good news which must be spread abroad. The women returned from the tomb and told all this to the eleven and the other believers, v.9. Not surprisingly, the response was skepticism, and even unbelief, v.11. The news is too big, too good, to life-altering for human minds to grasp apart from the enlightening work of God’s Spirit. (Luke’s second volume will go on to emphasize the work of the Spirit.) This bodily resurrection, this reknitting of molecules, changes the way you live your daily lives. It teaches you that the sometimes grimy details of life are connected with the risen Lord. The bodily resurrection of our Lord has implications for our future hope–not just a temporary dwelling of our souls in heaven, not just the restoration of Eden, but moving beyond that to the day of resurrection, and a life of eternal joy, fellowship, and service in a reunited new heavens and earth. “The death of Christ is not an end in itself. It is subordinate to a great purpose that can be achieved only through resurrection.” (Collected Writings of John Murray, Vol. 4, p. 88).

Remember that Jesus said he would rise. The angels call the women (and you) to remember Jesus’ words. Jesus had spoken to his followers in Galilee. The resurrection should not have been a surprising event. The women should have known not to look for their Lord among the dead. (We can understand the women in their grief doing so. We are with less excuse.) Luke wants his original reader, Theophilus, and you, to understand that the resurrection is at the heart of Jesus’ work. “Luke, therefore, far more explicitly than the others, calls attention to the fulfilment of the prophecies of Jesus concerning His passion and resurrection, and thus indicates the integration of the ministry of Christ in its various phases. And the recollection of the prophecies just at this point serves to focus attention upon the conviction that the resurrection of Christ was the goal of His ministry as of Luke’s narrative.” (Ned B. Stonehouse, The Witness of Luke to Christ, p. 147). Luke emphasizes the importance of remembering Jesus’ words, vv. 6, 8. We need the regular, weekly reminder of the resurrection of Jesus. The resurrection (along with the rest of the complex of events: his death, ascension, and Pentecost) form the heart of the gospel. This was the message that Jesus proclaimed as the Son of Man, v.7. This was the heart of the public ministry of Jesus. This complex of events forms the hinge of Luke’s two-volume work. The resurrection lies at the heart of apostolic preaching in the book of Acts. Your union with the risen Lord is at the very heart of your salvation. Luke writes his Gospel so that you will find Jesus, not in a grave, not in some myth, not just as an element in a theological system, but as your Savior, as your Lord.

Where do you find yourself looking for Christ? Has the good news of his resurrection, good news that he had proclaimed while on earth, and that continues to be proclaimed, has that good news penetrated, so that with the women and with Theophilus you can affirm, the Lord is risen indeed?

About jwm

I serve as pastor of Trinity Presbyterian Church, Newberg, Oregon.
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