1 On the first day of the week, very early in the morning, the women took the spices they had prepared and went to the tomb. 2They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, 3 but when they entered, they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. 4 While they were wondering about this, suddenly two men in clothes that gleamed like lightning stood beside them. 5 In their fright the women bowed down with their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? 6He is not here; he has risen! Remember how he told you, while he was still with you in Galilee: 7 ’The Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, be crucified and on the third day be raised again.’ ” 8 Then they remembered his words.
Verse 1 opens with the women walking to the Lord’s tomb very early in the morning. These women have names and they have stories. Verse 10 tells us Mary Magdalene walked with them. The Lord cast seven demons out of this Mary. Joanna went with them to the tomb. Luke 8:3 tells us that Joanna traveled with Jesus. Her husband was a manger of King Herod’s household, and she helped support Jesus’ travels and preaching from her own financial means. Then there Mary the mother of James, the mother of an apostle chosen by Jesus, journeyed to the tomb. These were women with names and with stories.
They traveled “very early in the morning.” Literally at “deep dawn” or twilight. When the sky blends with purples from night and orange from morning, making up its mind whether to go on sleeping or shine in glory.
Do you think they walked slowly or quickly? Did they chat a lot or step in silence? Did the walk seem long or short?
I imagine their walk was too purposeful to be a slow trudging. But perhaps they were too exhausted to walk briskly.
Remember the events of the last three days. Just three days earlier Jesus was betrayed and sentenced to death. The betrayal broke their hearts in two ways. First, their long-awaited Messiah was dead. Second, one of their trusted leaders, one of the Twelve, sold Jesus out for 30 pieces of silver. The entire nation seemed to turn against them over night—the religious leaders, the Roman government, the people. The movement they believed in seemed to be over. And that wasn’t the worst part.
They were there. They experienced the mid-day darkness (vv. 44-45a). They heard that terrible scream: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matt. 27:46). And they watched him breathe His last breath (v. 49). It wasn’t just a song for them. They were there when they crucified our Lord.
They knew Joseph of Aramathea had requested the body and prepared a tomb. Verse 55: “The women who had come with Jesus from Galilee followed Joseph and saw the tomb and how his body was laid in it.” They were there. Jesus was buried on the day before the Sabbath, Preparation Day. On preparation Day, “they went home and prepared spices and perfumes” to bury Jesus properly. But how can you be prepared to bury the Son of God?
That was three days ago. The day after that was the Sabbath. Verse 56 says: “they rested on the Sabbath in obedience to the commandment.” I’m quite sure they obeyed the Law and stopped their activities. But have you ever tried to rest after a loved one’s death? Their minds no doubt replayed the scenes all day long. Their hearts grieved over and over again. With nothing to do to distract them, they probably found no rest for their souls. And there were still things to do to properly bury the Lord.
So, on the third day, the first day of the week, Sunday, they rose very early in the morning and walked to the tomb. Heaviness was in their hearts. Sorrow was in their steps. Mourning was on their minds. Verse 1: “They took the spices they had prepared and they went to the tomb.” They expected to complete their mourning rituals even if they didn’t complete their mourning.
But often in the Bible, dawn or early morning is the time God uses to make new revelations. That’s when the Lord often surprises His people. The women that morning were surprised with three startling things.
First, “They found the stone rolled away from the tomb.” (v. 2). Matthew 28:60 tells us it was Joseph of Aramathea who “rolled a big stone in front of the entrance to the tomb.” Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James sat opposite the tomb watching Joseph as he sealed the grave with the stone. Mark 16:3 tells us that on the way to the tomb, “They had asked each other, ‘Who will roll the stone away from the entrance of the tomb?’” The women expected a very difficult barrier. But to their surprise, “when they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large had been rolled away” (Mark 16:4).
Second, “when they entered, they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus” (v. 3). Nothing is where it’s supposed to be. They found the stone moved. They found the body missing. Imagine the rush of confusion and fear. You witness the Lord crucified and die. You watched Joseph bury the Lord deal the tomb. You’re certain Jesus is dead. But now the grave is empty.
Imagine the fear and the anger. Who took the body? Who would be so godless as to do it on the Sabbath during the holiest religious festival of all?
John 19:1-2 tells us Mary Magdalene took off running as soon as she saw the stone was rolled away. She ran to Peter and John saying, “they have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!” She was thinking grave robbers, not the grave robbed. The rest of the women stood there “wondering.” Mark describes them as “trembling and bewildered” (Mark 16:8). The body was gone!
Third, “suddenly two men in clothes that gleamed like lightning stood beside them” (v. 4). They were surprised by a stone that was out of place. They were surprised by a body that was missing. Now they’re surprised by two visitors from another world. Mark says “a young man dressed in a white robe” sat on the right side of the empty tomb. Matthew says an angel had come from heaven, rolled back the stone, and sat on it. John doesn’t mention the angels but focuses on the folded grave clothes instead. Luke tells us in verse 23 that the two men were, in fact, angels.
Angels beaming and glorious frightened the women. The ladies bowed their faces to the ground. This was not just to hide their faces from the frightening bright light. Simply turning away would do that. They bow in reverence. They’re in awe of such majestic beings.
But what these angels said next was perhaps the greatest surprise. It was a question: “Why do you look for the living among the dead?” (v. 5)
It’s a question that reorients and redirects everything. The question produces a Copernican revolution in the way we view all of life and all of existence. It reorients and redirects us in six ways.
1. Redirects Us from Death to Life
Clearly the women visited the tomb to see a dead man. We don’t stop by a graveside to entertain living people. These women had seen Jesus die and be buried. Their minds were on death. But the death of Jesus means the death of death itself. It’s clear from the angel’s question that they won’t find Jesus among the dead. The Lord is not to be thought of as dead. ”He is not here; He is risen!” He is not dead; He is alive! Now life’s terminal is no longer death but life–everlasting, resurrection life.
All life lived apart from the resurrection is really a slow death. So many people simply live to die, and some are dying to live. But the resurrection means you live to live. We don’t visit tombs to meet with God. We visit the Alpha and the Omega, the Resurrection and the Life. This question—if we listen and receive it—reorients us from death to life. It calls us to seek the living Savior and the life He gives.
2. Redirects Us from the Cross to the Resurrection
We Christians rightly love the cross. The cross is the symbol and proof of God’s love for sinful humanity. We rightly make our boast in the cross. But this question—”Why do you look for the living among the dead?”—exposes something that’s too true for some of us. Sometimes we forget—like these Sunday morning mourners—that there’s something magnificent beyond the cross that gives the cross it’s glory. If we get stuck on the cross without going on to the resurrection, then our faith feels like death rather than life. Our faith remains stuck on tragedy without triumph. The resurrection adds triumph to the tragedy!
This question—”Why do you look for the living among the dead?”—reminds us that Jesus rose from the grave. God raised Him up. When we embrace the meaning and import of this question, we find ourselves reoriented… no longer bound by the decades of life we have on earth, but expecting the resurrection life that will never end. These women must look for Jesus among the resurrected living, and we too look for Jesus in the resurrection that is to come! We live this life like people who will be raised to life again.
Do you live with death in view or with the resurrection in view? Do we actively live as though God raised the dead? What would that look like?
Hebrews 11:17-19 gives part of the picture. It tells us how Abraham’s belief in the resurrection prepared him to make radical sacrifices for God.
17 By faith Abraham, when God tested him, offered Isaac as a sacrifice. He who had received the promises was about to sacrifice his one and only son, 18 even though God had said to him, “It is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned.” 19Abraham reasoned that God could raise the dead, and figuratively speaking, he did receive Isaac back from death.
We get another part of the picture from the Gospel of John. Being redirected from the death of the cross to the life of the resurrection looks like a life of sacrificial love. Jesus teaches us this in John 10:14—”I lay down my life for the sheep.” In John 10:17-18 the Master tells us how the Resurrection enables Him to do that. “The reason the Father loves me is that I lay down my life—only to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down on my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again.” John looks at Jesus’ example of radical love and tells us that every Christian should love this way. 1 John 3:16—”This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down His life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers.” Why not? Our lives will be raised again together with our Risen Lord.
We get a third part of the picture from the Apostle Paul. If our lives are oriented toward the resurrection, then we will live and strive as though knowing Jesus and being with Jesus is the greatest possible future. We learn that from the apostle Paul in Philippians 3:10—“I want to know Christ and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in His sufferings, becoming like Him in His death, and so, somehow to attain to the resurrection from the dead.”
“Why do you look for the living among the dead” moves us from the death of the cross to the life of the resurrection. That redirection enables us to live lives of radical sacrifice, love, and hope.
3. Redirects us from Feeling to Scripture (vv. 6-7)
Imagine the range of emotions these women and the other disciples experienced over those three day. Mourning. Wondering (v. 4). Fright (v. 5). With all the swirling emotions they’re tempted to interpret everything through their feelings. We can feel so deeply that we give our feelings the last word. We can say to ourselves or others, “I don’t care what they say or what the facts are or even what the Bible says. I know how I feel!!”
But this question—”Why do you look for the living among the dead?”—confronts their feelings. The question confronts the authority of their feelings by pointing to a higher authority, a more sure source of knowing. The question points to God’s word. Specifically, it points to Jesus’ teaching in Galilee in verses 6-7. “Remember how He told you while He was still with you 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’.” Notice that key word “Remember.” Never underestimate how remembering God’s word will change and steady your emotions when the most tragic and surprising things happen in life. Their feelings should have been rooted not in their experiences but in Jesus’ teaching. They should have been oriented to God’s promises found in His word. The Lord himself had tried to prepare them by turning them from their feelings to His promise. Do you remember how He did that in John 14:1-4—
1 “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me. 2 In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. 3 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. 4 You know the way to the place where I am going.”
We most need that redirection from feeling to Scripture when our feelings are strongest and our experiences most surprising. That’s when we need to be turned to God’s word because that’s when our feeble hearts and minds are most vulnerable. This question powerfully redirects the mourning disciples from their feelings and fear to the solid promises and reality of the Gospel. Living in light of the resurrection keeps us living in light of God’s promises. Do you actively live in that light?
4. Redirects Us from Current Events to God’s Providence
These women were shaken by recent events. All the disciples were shaken by the happenings of the last three days. The same was true of the men on the Emmaus Road in verses 13-18. Ironically, so-called current events had them locked in the past and unaware of the future. They weren’t very current at all. They see the actions of men but they were in danger of missing the actions of God.
We can be like that, too. All we see is what has happened lately. We start to sound like Janet Jackson, saying to God, “What have you done for me lately?” But then comes God’s question back to us: “Why do you look for the living among the dead?” It’s a question that reorients us from current events to God’s providence.
When the angels explain what they mean by the question, there’s one little word that tips us off to the importance of recognizing God’s sovereign providence. Do you see that word “must” in verse 7? “The Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, be crucified and on the third day be raised again.” All the verbs are passive. These are things men are doing to Jesus, not things Jesus does to himself. But that word “must” tells us someone else is acting in, through, behind and above sinful men. Providence is at work. The invisible hand of God is bringing about things that must happen according to His plan. The resurrection above all other events reminds us to look for God’s providence in history.
To see this most clearly, consider Acts 2:22-24. There, on the day of Pentecost, the Apostle Peter stands up to preach the first recorded Christian sermon. And this is what Peter says:
22 “Men of Israel, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know. 23 This man was handed over to you by God’s set purpose and foreknowledge [that's a fancy theological way of saying 'must']; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross.[that's 'handed over and crucified'] 24 But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him. [that's raised on the third day]
The angels’ question and explanation are designed to help the disciples see the invisible hand of God moving in and through and beyond mere current events. The question frees them and frees us from being stuck in the sorrowfully recounting of current events. The question frees them and frees us to look to God’s greater plan and purpose.
Providence teaches us that history is not a blind, aimless march into nothingness and meaninglessness. History is the recorded orchestration of God’s work in redeeming man through the cross and resurrection of our Lord. There really is a man behind the curtain. Do pay attention to Him! He is God and He wants us to observe His providence and plan. Looking to His providence reminds us that current events and history are going somewhere. God is up to something good! The greatest proof of that is Jesus is alive not dead!
5. Redirects Us from the Law to the Gospel.
Isn’t it interesting that the each of the Gospel writers tell us about these good Jewish followers of Jesus being obedient to the Law, specifically the Sabbath commands (v. 56)? Some people will make of that fact. But they won’t make what they should of this fact.
Notice how the angels’ question redirects them. The question turns them away from the Law to the Gospel—to the Good News of Jesus’ crucifixion, burial, and resurrection. The death, burial and resurrection frees us from keeping the Law in order to be reconciled with and justified before God. Christ has fulfilled the Law in our place. We turn now to God through faith in Christ.
Jesus teaches this about himself in Matthew 5:17—”Do not think I have come to abolish the Law and the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.”
This is what Paul teaches us in the book of Romans. Romans 1:17—”For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: ‘The righteous shall live by faith’.” In many ways, the remainder of the book of Romans simply expands and explains the truth of Romans 1:17. So, for example, turn over to Romans 10:4—”Christ is the end of the Law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes.” Or look back at Romans 4:25 where righteousness and the resurrection are connected explicitly. “He was delivered over to death for our sins and raised to life for our justification.”
The resurrection turns us from Law-keeping to Gospel-believing. The resurrection turns us from self-righteousness to trust in Jesus’ righteousness. The resurrection turns us from trying to earn God’s love by our good deeds to freely accepting God’s love as a gift through faith in His Son. The resurrection turns us from the death that the Law requires to the eternal life that Jesus purchased!
Christian, our every day and every moment can be a turning again, a re-orienting and redirection to the Gospel of our Lord. It is our privilege to keep preaching the gospel to ourselves and to one another rather than listening to the condemnation of the Law. We get to look deeper and deeper into the good news of Jesus’ death and resurrection every day so that we may live in the riches of God’s grace through Christ. “Why do you look for the living among the dead?” reminds us, Christian, that we live in the completed work of Jesus Christ—sins completely forgiven, atonement completely made, justification completely declared, adoption completely accomplished, and glory completely secured. It is finished!
The women had come to the tomb thinking about what the Law required and what the Law forbid. But with that question—”Why do you look for the living among the dead?”—they would soon discover that though they came like good Jews they could leave like forgiven, justified sinners. They could live in the resurrection realities of the gospel through faith.
My friend, if you’re not yet a Christian, you can live in the reality of the resurrection, too. This gospel is for you, too. Right now, God’s law requires your death. Death is the penalty of sin. Death is an agonizing judgment, a curse from God, an enemy that separates those who die in sin from God forever. But the Good News is that Jesus lived the perfectly obedient life to God that you and I could not. That’s how He became our righteousness. Then Jesus died and suffered God’s wrath and judgment in our place on the cross. That’s how He takes away our sin and guilt. Three days later God raised Jesus from death to life to prove He had accepted Jesus’ sacrifice on our behalf. Now, God the Father calls everyone to repent of their sins and to trust in Jesus as their God and Savior in order to be rescued from death, forgiven of sin, made alive again through faith, and live eternally with God forever. That’s the wonderfully good news. All those who trust in Jesus—even if they die—will live again in the power of the resurrection and in the eternal fellowship of God’s love.
6. Redirects Us from Grief to Joy
This final point should be obvious. If Jesus is alive and is not dead, then all who trust in Him have the supreme reason to rejoice.
1 Peter 1:3-4—
“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In His great mercy He has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead….”
“In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials.”
Because of the resurrection, we have a new birth and an eternal inheritance that gives us joy and praise greater than our grief. So much so, Peter writes in verses 8-9:
“Though you have not seen Him, you love Him; and even though you do not see Him now [while suffering various trials] “you believe in Him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls.”
Would you be happy and full of joy in this life and the life to come? Embrace and remember the resurrection. Because Jesus was raised from the dead and keeps our inheritance in heaven by His power—He puts our joy safely beyond the reach of all our enemies, including the enemy of death. If you would know pure joy, trust that Jesus has done it all!