Sermon preached on Luke 24:1-12 by Rev. W. Reid Hankins during the Morning Worship Service at Trinity Presbyterian Church (OPC) on 4/16/2017 in Novato, CA.
Good Friday services tend to be somber. There, we are reflecting on the suffering and death of Christ that he went through, in our place, for our salvation. On the other hand, Easter services tend to be the opposite. They are typically full of great joy and happiness that Jesus Christ is risen. And yet as we recall the first events on that Sunday morning after Jesus’ death, it began in that more somber spirit. Christ’s followers evidently believed Jesus was dead and gone and their “movement”, if I can call it that, was over.
That should not have been their attitude, of course, as we’ll see today. They should have been expecting the resurrection with great faith and anticipation. But they were not. We will see that today. And I want to this morning especially draw us into the lives of the women mentioned here in verses 1-12. They are the first to learn of Jesus’ resurrection! And we get to see them go through this change as they learn of Christ’s resurrection. Surely, they go from sorrow to joy and from unbelief to belief. We see how they then become the first witnesses to the risen Lord Jesus. They witness even to the apostles themselves! And so, join with me as we study this passage and consider the experiences on these women disciples of Christ as they discover the resurrection of Jesus.
We begin first by considering the women going to the tomb. Let’s start in verse 1. If we jump into the story right here, we might be confused at who it is referring to when it talks of “they and certain other women with them” going to the tomb. But I refer you back to the end of the previous chapter, verse 55. There it mentions that there were women disciples of Jesus who had come with him from Galilee. It notes that these women disciples had been there with Jesus at his crucifixion and they observed carefully afterwards where Jesus was buried. Verse 1 then mentions that in addition to these women who were that at Jesus’ crucifixion and burial, other women joined them that Sunday morning when they went back to the tomb. Verse 8 then adds more details for us. It mentions a few of the women by name, Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, along with others. Mary Magdalene, I might remind you was the one that Jesus had earlier healed of seven demons. Back in chapter 8 it mentions some of these same women as well as other women who basically traveled along with Jesus and his disciples. Some of them even provided financial support for Jesus and his ministry.
And so, the devotion of these women to Jesus continues even here. In last chapter, verse 56, it says that when Jesus died and was buried these women went and prepared spices and fragrant oils. These would have been to anoint Jesus’ dead body with. But they weren’t able to actually anoint Jesus body that day because nightfall came and they then needed to rest on the Sabbath before they could go back to the tomb to anoint Jesus. But now that the Sabbath had ended, it was Sunday, the first day of the week, and so they decide to go back to the tomb and anoint him with the spices they prepared. This is again still in verse 1.
So, they arrive to the tomb, and that is when their expectations are upturned. They quickly find that things are not what they were expecting. In verse 2, they find the stone rolled away. In verse 3 they go into the tomb and find it empty! Jesus’ body is not there! Notice their mental state at this point per verse 4. They are greatly perplexed. This shows that they weren’t expecting Jesus’ resurrection. They came there expecting to find a dead Jesus. They didn’t believe that he would be raised that day from the dead. So, when they find the tomb like this they are confused. They don’t know what to think!
And then they find the two angels, verse 4. And this is when things will finally begin to make sense to them. As the angels offer their own angelic testimony, it helps to interpret the situation for them. And so, this leads us to our second point for today. I want us to look next at the angels’ testimony.
For starters, let me indeed clarify that these are in fact angels. When women see them in verse 4, they are described as two men. Yet it is not uncommon that angels have appeared in the form of men (e.g. Daniel 8:15). And it is clear from the context that these were not just ordinary humans. First off, they are wearing shining garments, according to verse 4. It’s not that these were clothes washed with some super whitening detergent. No, the language here is these clothes were gleaming. There was something bright and dazzling about their apparel. They must have brought with them some of that heavenly glory. I remember how in the transfiguration Jesus’ appearance changed in some bright and glorious fashion. Well, here these two angels though having an appearance as men, also are clothed in some sort of glorious shining clothing. This should clue you in right away that these aren’t ordinary men. Clearly, they are angels. The instant reaction of the women also shows us that they knew this. Verse 5 shows that the women immediately respond with terror and they bow to the ground in that fear. This is again a typical response we see in the Bible to angels – it’s what Daniel did, for example, in Daniel 8 when an angel visited him. As a final confirmation that these are angels, we see verse 23. When the disciples there recount the women’s testimony, the say that the women reported receiving a vision of angels. So, there it confirms that the women knew these were angels.
But I digress. It’s important to establish that these were angels because it obviously speaks to their credibility to know what they know. These weren’t just some random crazy people. They were angelic messengers. That being said, the real exciting thing is not that they are angels, but what their testimony is. The first thing they say to the women is actually a question and a subtle rebuke, “Why do you seek the living among the dead?” This addresses the same issue about why they were perplexed when they found the empty tomb. Really, they shouldn’t even be bringing these embalming spices to Jesus’ tomb. That alone shows they were expecting Jesus to be dead. But the angels challenge that here. They were looking for someone dead who wasn’t dead! The angels then say just that. These words have become famous! They’ve become a victory chant! “He is not here, but is risen!” Jesus Christ is risen indeed!
Then the angels call the women to remember what Jesus had previously spoken. “Remember how he spoke to you when he was still in Galilee.” Remember, these women were disciples of Jesus, that had went around with Jesus. Not only had the twelve heard these words, but these ladies had too! So, then the angels repeat Jesus’ words. “The Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, and be crucified, and the third day rise again.” These words by Jesus were a prediction, a prophecy, a foretelling of the future. And the angels are testifying that they have now come to pass. A prophet is proven when his prophecies come true. Here, Jesus’ words had come true.
I love the response. When the women had first seen the empty tomb, their response had been immediate bewilderment. When they had then seen the angels in their dazzling apparel, they again had an immediate reaction – they became afraid. Now, in response to the testimony of these angels, we see their response in verse 8. And they remembered His words. They remembered! It’s like as soon as they hear the angels repeat Jesus’ words that light bulbs went off in their heads! They had somehow forgotten this important prediction by Jesus. Notice that there is never any evidence that the women and the other disciples had just not believed that prediction. It’s more that they forgot it. And they probably forgot it because they didn’t understand it in the first place. When Jesus gave them those words, they were probably confused and then somehow forget all about. But here now the angels remind the women. And when they are told, then they remember. The implication of verse 8 in this remembrance is that surely this caused a change with them. That at least in some degree they not only remembered but began to believe. They began to understand why the tomb was empty and why the angels were here. Because Jesus was truly risen from the dead. And it seems that what really solidified things for these women were Jesus’ own words.
That the women had come to at least some point of faith is seen by what they do next. This leads us to our third point for today’s message. The women become the testifiers. They had received angelic testimony. Now, they would be the ones to give the testimony. In verse 9 they leave the tomb and go to the eleven (Remember it’s the eleven now, not the twelve, since Judas Iscariot had betrayed Jesus. And not only did they come that inner circle of the disciples, but verse 9 says “and to all the rest.” So, there were evidently other disciples there too with the eleven. The women know they can’t sit on this information. It’s too wonderful! So, they immediately go in their excitement and zeal to tell the other disciples of Jesus.
As a side note, it is interesting that God chooses to have all these women be the first humans to testify about the resurrection. At that time, the testimony of women was not even ordinally admissible as evidence in Jewish courts. But, here God chooses this multitude of women to be the first witnesses to Christ’s resurrection. I think that is wonderful. The eleven disciples would soon become the apostles that are commissioned by Christ to be eye-witnesses to the world about the resurrection. But before that, they first receive witness from these women. How wonderful. When you read that, it’s like you just can’t make this stuff up. If you wanted to fabricate a resurrection story at that time and try to get everyone to believe it, you just surely wouldn’t have a bunch of women be the first witnesses to the resurrection. That wouldn’t be conventional wisdom. But this wasn’t a fabrication and God’s doesn’t operate on man’s wisdom. In his glorious wisdom, God honored these faithful, loyal, women disciples so that they would be the first to learn that Jesus is risen!
So then, the women testified to the disciples about what they saw and learned at the tomb and from the angels. Verse 9 says they recounted to the disciples everything that happened. So, then we see the result of women’s testimony in verse 11. They don’t believe them. The eleven and the other disciples think the women’s words are “idle tales”. The word for idle tales here could also be translated as nonsense or silly talk. The word sometimes was used in Greek as an exclamation. Like if someone tells you some fanciful story and you shout out, “humbug”, or “nonsense”! That’s sadly how the disciples responded. They said the women had brought them nonsense.
It’s interesting the contrast here. The women seemed to have a change of heart and mind, not only after they saw what they saw, but as they remembered Jesus’ words. Here, the disciples are reminded from the women about the words of Jesus, but that doesn’t seem to change their minds. They disregard their testimony. They dismiss it as essentially fairy tales or wishful thinking. But they don’t, won’t, can’t believe it to be true.
Though more can be said of the disciples’ response. We see more there in verse 12. Peter may not yet believe, but there’s a stirring going on within him. Because he immediately jumps us and runs to the tomb. He goes to investigate things for himself. That’s commendable of Peter to search out such things himself. He wants to verify what the women told him. John’s gospel tells us that the Apostle John also went with Peter in that investigation. John tells us that it was when John saw the empty tomb that he himself began to believe (John 20:8). We aren’t told at what point Peter began to believe. but in our chapter, in verse 12, Peter certainly is wrestling with the evidence. He sees the empty tomb and the linen cloths and he sees that there is no body, and begins to marvel to himself about everything. And as this chapter goes on to mention in verse 34, soon enough Peter himself receives a visit from the Lord. Surely by then, Peter had come to believe that Jesus was risen.
It’s also interesting to see how the women’s testimony gets brought into the Road to Emmaus episode in verses 13-35. The two disciples are explaining to Jesus without knowing it’s the risen Jesus about everything that went on. It’s the women’s testimony that they recounted in verses 22-23 that especially is troubling to these disciples. They just don’t know what to do with that testimony. Obviously, it seemed like idle tales to them, but they were still left unsettled. They weren’t at cognitive rest about it all. And it’s really at this point that the Lord interrupts the two disciples’ story with a strong rebuke. In verses 25-27, Jesus tells them that they are the foolish ones. It’s not the women who are foolish with foolish stories. No, the disciples who discount their testimony had been not only foolish, but slow of heart to believe in all that the prophets had spoken! In other words, Jesus points them back to more revelation. This time not to Jesus’ own words. Rather, he reminds them of all the Old Testament Scriptures. He reminds them of all these words that should have given the disciples every reason to believe that Jesus was risen. If the disciples had remembered and believed the Scriptures, they wouldn’t have thought the women’s testimony was idle tales. They would have seen clearly how the Scriptures were being fulfilled and rejoiced.
To sum this all up, this chapter is showing all the different reasons that the disciples should have believed that Jesus had risen from the dead. All this evidence comes to us today as reasons why we too should put our faith and trust in Jesus, that he is truly risen from the dead. Think through all the sources presented here for why they should believe in Jesus’ resurrection. They had the very words of Jesus which predicted his death and resurrection beforehand. They had the witness of the Old Testament Scriptures that spoke throughout it of Christ and his sufferings and subsequent glories. Then they had the evidence of the empty tomb, which even Peter and others verified. Then there was the testimony of angels. And of course, the testimony of the women. If we were to stop right there, then that is enough reason for them and us to believe. But then Jesus started to appear to people. This passage only mentions a few of the appearances. He appears to the two on the Road to Emmaus. He appears individually to Simon Peter, verse 34. Then he appears to the eleven and company starting in verse 36. The other gospels and 1 Corinthians 15 mention a number of other appearances as well, including to five hundred people at a time in one instance. Jesus’ resurrection has so many reasons given of why they and we should believe in it!
And yet, Trinity Presbyterian Church, we stand here again today knowing that so many in this world do not believe in Jesus’ resurrection. The response in verse 11 is exactly how so many people in the world respond today when you tell them about the gospel of Jesus Christ. They essentially say humbug! They say that this is foolishness! They think the gospel is but a fairy tale; some myth or legend that isn’t really true. But I stand here again today to testify to you that the resurrection of Jesus Christ is not some cleverly devised myth meant to deceive you. No, it is the truth and demands a response of faith.
You see, the Bible says that every human has sinned and deserves God’s wrath and curse. Yet, God in his pity toward us sent his son to die on the cross to pay for the sins of his people. God says that you too can have your sins paid for and forgiven if you put your trust in Jesus and his death on the cross. And Jesus didn’t just stay dead. We have testified again today that Jesus rose from the dead. This not only shows his power over death, but it is a wonderful verification of everything that he taught and claimed.
If you are a visitor here today and have not yet become a Christian, I urge you to do so today. The Bible says that apart from Christ, we are condemned and doomed to an eternal punishment from God. But if we receive by faith the gift of salvation, we will not only be forgiven, but are assured of a blessed eternal life with our Lord. Trust in Jesus today and be saved.
Maybe you’ve resisted this because you’ve thought all of this was just some idle tale. If that has been you, I urge you to see all the reasons to believe that we’ve seen today. And I encourage you as well to be like Peter and to further search these things out. There is more testimony to the truth of this found in the other gospel accounts as well. Become a student of these truths. Ultimately it is my hope that you will become a student of Jesus.
How good it is brothers and sisters to rejoice again today in the resurrection of Jesus Christ! Amen.
Copyright © 2017 Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
All Rights Reserved.