It’s Easter. It is the first Sunday of Easter. This is a day to celebrate the resurrection of the Lord!
This is a day to declare the death of desperation. For those who know the miracle that transpired two thousand years ago also know that words like despair, emptiness, hopelessness, anxiety, depression, doubt, and fear of anything in this world are sent to the grave and there they should remain.
Jesus was sent to the grave, but the grave could not contain him.
Jesus, who before he raised Lazarus from the dead, told Martha, “I am the resurrection and the life.” Today we celebrate the evidence of the authority of Jesus over the grave.
As we consider that first day of the week after Jesus had been put in the tomb of Joseph of Arimathia before sundown the preceding Friday, we find women have come to see the tomb. Other gospels may say they came with spices. They may say that the women talked about who would roll away the stone. Matthew’s gospel says they came “to see”. Literally, they came to understand.
Jesus had proclaimed that he would rise again on the third day and they wanted to see what that meant. There was some risk involved. There was risk in being associated with this Jesus who had been put to death by both the religious and the political powers of their world. There was risk in coming to the area of the tomb as Pilate had posted a guard. Realize that the term guard did not necessarily mean a single person. The “guard” was likely a detachment of guards. Perhaps two would be sufficient to ensure that no one tampered with the tomb. Guards were probably rotated in four hour shifts.
In any case, there was some risk in coming to the tomb, but the women came anyway. Which brings us to the question, “Where were the disciples?”
We will return to this later.
The women arrived and there was an earthquake. This was the second shaking of the earth in three days. It was a good indicator that something special would happen that morning of the first day.
Then an angel of the Lord rolled away the stone from the tomb and sat on it. The guards shook with fear and became like dead men. These could be just the facts, but they surely are ripe for interpretation. The angel atop the bolder points to God’s authority over the earth. The Roman soldiers appearing as if they were dead surely represent God’s authority over the empires of the world. God had out-empired the empire of the day.
The fear of the Lord prevailed, but the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid.” He invited them to see the place where Jesus had been. He told them that Jesus has been raised from the dead.
What a heart-pounding experience! While the Roman soldiers were scared to their core; these women surely found more than they expected at the onset of their trip to the tomb. People pay big bucks today to get on contraptions at Six Flags, Universal, and Disney that will sling them all over the place and provide that special mix of fear and exhilaration.
Again, we ask, “Where were the disciples?”
The angel told the women to go immediately and tell the disciples that he has been raised from the dead and will go ahead of them to Galilee.
The gospel writer tells us that the women left with fear and great joy as they set out to deliver their message to the disciples. We are told that they ran. Most people when they get off of a roller coaster ride want to catch their breath. The women broke into a run.
Then we are told that suddenly, Jesus met them. We don’t know if he just appeared in their path or they were so consumed with the good news that they carried that they didn’t notice him from a distance, but in either case; there he was.
Jesus greeted the ladies. They fell to the ground and worshiped him, but Jesus did not impede their task. In fact, he reinforced the message they were already carrying. He told these women not to fear, but to tell his disciples to get to Galilee. There he would meet with his brothers.
Where were the disciples?
They were scattered in Gethsemane. By now they have regrouped, but they are in hiding. Jesus told them that this would happen to fulfill prophecy, but on this first day of the week, not one comes to the tomb in expectation. We know from other gospels that some checked later after the women delivered the news of an empty tomb, but none came “to see” as the women had done. None came wondering what would transpire.
In the modern world before the internet and the web delivered near instantaneous news, there were three main forms of immediate communication. They were telephone, telegraph, and tell a woman. In California, someone is already filing a lawsuit against me for using this oldie but goodie as an illustration.
Before the feminist rights brigades launch a frontal assault, let’s look at one more revelation. These women were the first to carry the good news. These women were the first to venture into the world and proclaim, “Jesus lives!” They were the first humans on the planet to run to their destination with the words, “He is risen!”
Their message had two parts. The first is what we celebrate every Easter, and truly are called to celebrate every day. Christ the Lord is risen today!
The second part was action oriented. The second part tasked the disciples to go. The disciples knew this word. In Greek it is Poreuomai. The disciples were always going somewhere. This was the first time in the last three years that they had not been nomadic. They were in hiding.
The word Poreuomai has many meanings. Obviously, the women knew it meant to get it in gear and get this most vital message to the disciples. They ran.
The disciples would understand that they were to go to Galilee, and surely some urgency would accompany such news.
Later, in the Great Commission, the disciples would be told, “Therefore go.” Poreuomai is a wonderfully encompassing word. Let’s consider what that original Greek term entailed.
· to lead over, carry over, transfer
· to pursue the journey on which one has entered, to continue on one's journey
· to depart from life
· to follow one, that is: become his adherent or disciple
· to lead or order one's life
Sometimes we celebrate Easter and forget that the original good news had two basic elements:
· He lives!
These days we sometimes get lost in doctrines. Some of our religious doctrine becomes so rigid as to become dogma. Sometimes we lose the sense of fear and exhilaration that came with the initial delivery of the good news.
It seems that in this 21st century, we treat the good news as old news as if everyone has heard it. Of course we caveat that with a comment about somewhere in Tibet or the deepest parts of Africa there are probably people who have not heard the good news of salvation through Jesus Christ. In America? Among television, the internet, and those emails that go around the world every few years, surely everyone has heard the good news.
I tell you with certainty that only the smallest percentage of people in this country have heard the good news of Jesus Christ. Good news isn’t something you inherit. It must be told. In Christian families, it has a good chance of being told, but what about those children of families who heard of Jesus and dismissed him. How many generations have passed since anyone carried the good news to those families? What of those who heard of a risen Savior in the same way they hear about insurance quotes or the farm and ranch report?
I tell you that most in this nation have not heard the good news because it has not been told with the same fear and exhilaration and joy as it was the very first time.
We don’t get the words of the women in Matthew’s gospel, but rest assured they were coming out of their mouths at 800 to 1000 words per minute when they reached the disciples.
For “good news” to be good news it really has to be good news. We treat the gospel of salvation like it is the farm and ranch report. “I’ll say something if it comes up in conversation.”
This is for the old people who are reading at his point. By old people, I mean my age. What happens when you get a new picture of one of your grandkids? Do you keep it in your desk drawer and say I will break it out if someone comes by and specifically says, “Do you have any grandchildren and might you have a new photo close by, perhaps even in your desk drawer?”
Of course not! You are showing off that grandbaby from birth to college graduation or enlistment in the Marine Corps. You break out your pictures for close friends, work associates, and people you just bump into at the post office. “There sure is a line to get stamps today wannaseemygrandson?” That picture is out and in front of the man you have known only for the thirty-six seconds in which you have been standing in line behind him.
Not so with the good news of salvation. We seem to be looking for that one exact moment in which we are to share with someone that we know for sure wants to hear about Jesus, or at least about going to church, or at least about be a pretty good person, or at least not being an axe murderer. We could testify that axe murderers are bad. Yeah, we could do that.
We are a nation of wimps when it comes to sharing our faith!
We might be in line at the post office. There are only two people in line. We have been praying occasionally that God would make this witnessing stuff straightforward for us. The man in front of us turns around and with tears rolling down his face says, “My life is a mess. I wish someone would tell me about God.”
What do we do?
We silently ask God, “Please give me a sign. Is this the one?”
We are a nation of wimps when it comes to sharing our faith. How can we expect God to be in our schools and government buildings and at work and in our homes and even in our churches if we can’t share what we believe on a one-to-one basis?
How do we expect anyone to be interested in what we share if there isn’t a little fear and exhilaration, and most of all joy mixed in our message?
It seems that we Christians have spent generations in a massive exercise in missing the mark. Spreading the good news is not our duty. It is not our burden. It is not something that we have to do. Spreading the good news is something that we must do. Knowing firsthand the love of the one true God as revealed to us in the shed blood of Jesus Christ, how could we do anything else?
And I am compelled to go and tell somebody about what good news that is!
I am compelled! The good news is an irresistible force within me that cannot be contained.
This Easter we should seek to be more like the women who came to the tomb to understand and left running with fear and joy because they really had good news.
Let us be more like these women.
Let us not leave the world asking, “Where are the disciples?”
The world should have no doubt who we are! We should be everywhere with the good news!