The First Easter Sermon
The first Easter sermon was preached by the women who were first to hear the good news of Jesus’ resurrection. When Jesus had died, they had seen where he had been laid in the borrowed tomb of Joseph of Arimathea. They had prepared spices and perfumes for the embalming of the body, but had not had time to complete their purpose before the Sabbath had begun at sundown on Friday. So, “On the first day of the week, very early in the morning” (vs. 1) the women went to the tomb to complete their service of love to him.
But, instead of finding what they expected—the dead body of Jesus—they found the tomb open and the body of the Lord gone. Luke says, “they were wondering about this.” They were confused. “How could this be? We saw the Lord laid here. How could he be gone?”
Their perplexity is understandable. They had seen him die. They had seen him buried. They came to the tomb that morning expecting to find a dead body. That is why they had brought the spices and perfumes, after all. Dead people just don’t get up and walk away.
Luke tells us, “While they were wondering about this, suddenly two men in clothes that gleamed like lightning stood beside them” (vs. 4). These are, of course, angels. We know that because Luke himself tells us later that this was the case (Luke 24:23).
Angels are the messengers of God. We don’t see them often in the Scriptures, but when we do, they are almost invariably described in this way—as men in shining garments. The women react to the appearance of the angels in the way that people usually reacted—with fear. Luke says, “In their fright the women bowed down with their faces to the ground” (vs. 5).
The angels begin their announcement by delivering what we might call a gentle rebuke to the women, “Why do you look for the living among the dead?” It’s a gentle way of saying that these women are working on the basis of a mistaken premise of assuming that Jesus is dead. That’s why they’re at the tomb. That’s why their carrying the spices for embalming. They believe that Jesus is dead. And what is the place that we look for the dead? Well, in a graveyard, of course. But they were in the wrong place. It was the wrong premise altogether. Jesus was not dead, he was alive. “He is not here; he has risen,” the angels told them. If Jesus was not dead, then this is the wrong place to look for him. If he is a living Lord, then you will not find him in any tomb.
Now let’s be clear what we mean when we say that Jesus has risen from the dead. We do not mean that he is alive in our hearts, or that he lives in our memories. We do not even mean that his soul is immortal. We are referring to something that happened to a corpse. We are saying that the physical body of Jesus was raised by the power of God from death to life. This is what the angels were sent to announce on that first Easter morning.
How gracious of God to send them there. The angels said to the women that they are in the wrong place, implying that they should not be there, and yet God is there, sending his angels in ahead of time to say, “Yes, this is the place where he was buried, but now, won’t you believe in my Son?” How often does God come to us in all the wrong places where go in life and meets us there with a messenger appointed to send us back to Jesus and his salvation.
How could the women know that it was true that Jesus had risen from the dead? As far as they were concerned he was merely missing. He is not here. You do not see the risen Christ in these first verses of Luke 24. He doesn’t appear until verse 15, to the two disciples on the road to Emmaus. So, how could they believe in the resurrection of Jesus unless they could see him with their own eyes? Or to bring the question home, how can we believe in a risen Jesus if we cannot see him with our own eyes?
Unlike other faiths, Christianity depends on the truth of certain historical events. It doesn’t really matter to the Buddhist if Buddha actually lived. What matters are his teachings. The same is true for Islam—if Mohammed had never really existed and his writing were the product of another hand, it wouldn’t really matter because it’s the content of the teaching that matters. But if Jesus never really lived, never died on the cross for our sins, never rose again from the dead, then the entire fabric of Christianity dissolves. The Apostle Paul declares that if the resurrection of Christ did not occur then our faith is futile (1 Corinthians 15:17).
So, how can we know that it’s all true?
Well, you can argue based on the historical record. There is a proper time and place for that. In fact, the empty tomb itself is a powerful evidence. The body of Jesus disappeared from the tomb in which it was buried. How did that happen?
Some say the disciples stole it and then told everybody that Jesus had risen. But does that make sense? Would these people have continued to declare that which they knew to be a lie in the face of persecution and even death?
Some say the Jewish authorities took the body. But if they had the body of Jesus, or knew where it was, why did they not produce it and put an end to the whole Jesus movement which they so despised?
It is possible to argue for the truth of the resurrection on such historical considerations, but the angels don’t do that. No, they simply told the women at the tomb and, by extension, us to remember what Jesus said. “Remember how he told you while he was still in Galilee: ‘The Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, be crucified and on the third day be raised again’” (vss. 4-5).
The women are to believe in the resurrection based on what Jesus said. The empty tomb isn’t self-explanatory. God has given a word that explains the deed. This word is the declaration of the Gospel that Jesus died and rose again to new life.
Jesus had told his disciples at least two times in the Gospel of Luke (9:22; 18:31-33) that he would be delivered into the hands of the Gentiles, that he would be crucified and on the third day be raised. Now, everything had happened just as he had said: he had been arrested and crucified, and now, it was the third day—the day that Jesus had said he would rise—and when the women saw the empty tomb they should have known that he was alive. Risen from the dead, just as he had told them.
The reason that they were so perplexed was because they had not believed what Jesus said. By the way, we will often find that to be the case in life. We often find that things are quite perplexing when we do not believe what Jesus has said. But how many things fall into place in life and eternity when we take him at his word.
I think this is why Jesus is missing from this passage. Jesus is absent here, but his word is present. And this is how we know for sure. We are given again the Gospel promise that Jesus died and that he rose, and that should be enough as it should have been enough for the women. Remember and believe the promise of Jesus that he died on the cross for our forgiveness and that he rose to new life that we might have new life, then you will have everlasting life and death will not be the end for you, any more than it was the end for Jesus.
How did people respond to this message? We see that in verses 8-11. It raises the question; how should we respond?
The women responded in faith. “Then they remembered his words” (vs. 8). Then they went and told the disciples what had happened (vss. 9-10). These godly women had been with Jesus almost from the beginning, they had served him. When they remembered his words, their perplexity ended. Now they understood why the tomb was empty. Jesus was not among the dead, he was alive.
This was the best of all possible news. It meant that they would see Jesus again. It meant that death would not be the end for them, but that they would know everlasting life. It meant that their sins were forgiven. This news was too good to keep to themselves. They went and found the Eleven, Jesus’ chosen apostles, and they told them what they had seen and heard. This is the “First Easter Sermon”.
This is the way for us to respond to the resurrection; by remembering what Jesus said, believing what Jesus did and by telling others about it. It’s that scary word that we Christians sometimes talk about—evangelism. It’s not about “shoving religion down people’s throats” it’s just about telling people what you have seen and heard—that Jesus died and rose again and that anyone, by believing in him, might have eternal life.
How did the disciples respond to the first Easter sermon? Well, they didn’t respond in faith, they responded in unbelief. Luke says, “Their words seemed to them like nonsense” (vs. 11). The Greek word is a word that was used in the medical field (Luke was a doctor, after all) to describe the ravings of a delirious person. What the women said about the empty tomb and Jesus rising from the dead sounded insane. They simply did not believe that Jesus has risen from the dead.
Isn’t that the way it often is today? Many, perhaps most, people do not believe that the Bible is true. They don’t believe that Jesus died on the cross for their sins and they certainly don’t believe that he rose from the dead. How encouraging it is to see these disciples of Jesus—the people who knew him best—who, of all people, should have understood—just as skeptical. They didn’t believe in the resurrection at first, either. Later they came through their doubt to a place of strong faith in the resurrection of Jesus. Some even giving their lives for that truth.
That gives us reason to hope for those who we wish to see come to faith in Christ. Like the disciples, they may come through their doubt into faith. It also encourages us if we are doubting. If we are not sure about Jesus; if we are not sure that we can trust what the Bible says about him; take courage from these men who didn’t at first believe but later came to faith—that there is hope.
And if you have doubts, you would be wise to follow the example of Peter. Look at what he does in vs. 12. When the others can’t believe what the women are saying, Peter decides to check things out for himself. He wants to see for himself if things are as he has been told. Typical of Peter, he runs to the tomb and looks in and “sees the strips of linen which had wrapped the body of Jesus lying by themselves, and went away, wondering what had happened.”
It seems that when Peter saw the empty tomb he still wasn’t sure. He wondered what had happened, meaning, I think, that he still didn’t understand the full implications of what he was seeing but that he would continue to think things through until he understood what God wanted him to know about Jesus.
What about us? Have we thought about the implications for us of the empty tomb? Do we understand what God wants us to understand about Jesus? Have we examined the evidence, as Peter did?
The testimony of the Gospel of Luke is that Jesus not among the dead but among the living. Will you believe the witness of the faithful women at the tomb? Or that of the disciples, who at first, would not believe but later became witnesses to the power of Christ’s resurrection? If not those will you believe the words of Jesus himself who declared “The Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men be crucified and on the third day be raised again”? And by believing receive life eternal through the power of his indestructible life.