On the first day of the week, at early dawn, they went to the tomb, taking the spices they had prepared. And they found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they went in they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. While they were perplexed about this, behold, two men stood by them in dazzling apparel. And as they were frightened and bowed their faces to the ground, the men said to them, “Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen. Remember how He told you, while He was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men and be crucified and on the third day rise.” And they remembered His words, and returning from the tomb they told all these things to the eleven and to all the rest. Now it was Mary Magdalene and Joanna and Mary the mother of James and the other women with them who told these things to the apostles, but these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them. But Peter rose and ran to the tomb; stooping and looking in, he saw the linen cloths by themselves; and he went home marveling at what had happened (Luke 24:1–12).
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!
Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!
Easter can be an emotional day. The pastor feels exhausted from the past forty days of extra services and preparation. The church musician feels the pressure to make sure every note is perfect because of all the guests. The man in the back is anxious because he fears someone will ask him where he has been for the last year.[i]
One person is excited because they picked the best Easter hymns, while another feels disappointed because they left the best ones out. The boy with allergies feels overwhelmed by the lilies and wonders if he will be able to make it through the whole service. The widower in the third row feels the emptiness of the space to his right, where his beloved bride sat with him for so many Sundays for so many years. Easter can be an emotional day.[ii]
Pride that the whole family made it. Concern for the one who did not. Guilt over missing so many Sundays. Hope for the resurrection on the Last Day. Fear that the preacher will bring up the shame of past sins. Joy that the alleluias are back. Easter can be an emotional day.
The first Easter was just as loaded with emotions. Some of the emotions and mental states are explicitly named: Perplexed (24:4), frightened (24:5), reminiscent (24:8), unbelieving (24:11), and marveling (24:12).
For all the joyous celebration that Easter brings, there’s a whole lot of puzzlement and perplexity in our Gospel lesson for the Feast of the Resurrection. There’s not a single person who isn’t confused and bewildered.
Look at the women headed to the tomb at the break of the first day after the Sabbath, and it’s no mystery why they’re going. They intend to care for Jesus’ dead body properly before He is entombed forever. This is beautifully loving, but it misses the message and mission of Jesus. They’re acting in love, not in faith. There’s no hope or expectation of anything other than tending to His dead body. He was alive, and then He died. That’s what always happens. If they can get the stone rolled away, they’re going to pay their final respects.
But the stone is rolled away already, and inside they cannot find the body of the Lord Jesus. It’s gone. That’s perplexing enough: who would have taken it? And why? Now, add some fright to their confusion: two men stand by them, with no hint of how they got there. Their robes are dazzling in appearance, not just white but radiating—angels reflecting the glory of God. The women are terrified and bow their faces to the ground. This is not what they expected.
What does all of this mean?
One of the angels speaks. He says, “Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here but has risen. Remember how He told you, while He was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men and be crucified and on the third day rise.” That’s why. That explains it. Christ is risen from the dead. His body has life again. That’s why He’s not in the grave.
So, the women remember. Hearing the Lord’s Word from the angels, they also remember the Word straight from Jesus’ mouth back in Galilee. He told them all of this would happen—this is all according to plan. They remember. It “clicks.” They believe. It doesn’t happen right away. From the Gospel of Mark, we know that the women flee from the tomb, astonished and afraid. The News is too Good to believe—at least by their own reason and strength; but the Lord’s Word gives faith along with knowledge, and they eventually believe and tell the disciples.
One might expect a joyous reaction as Jesus’ closest followers hear the news; but they don’t believe it either. They dismiss the news as an idle tale. That’s right: when the eleven first hear the Word of the Lord about the resurrection, they don’t believe it. Peter rises and runs to the tomb. He stoops down and looks in, and he sees the linen cloths by themselves. He marvels, but that doesn’t mean he believes. All Peter knows for sure is that the body is gone. Maybe someone took it… but who would unwrap it and leave the cloths behind? And what of the women’s “idle tale”? Confusion and perplexity reign.
At least, they do for a little while; but you know the story doesn’t end there. Christ will appear to them that evening, showing them His hands and His side. And where the women believed from the Word they remembered, the risen Lord will speak peace to His disciples and give them faith by His Word, too. Christ is risen from the dead. He is risen before His people know it. He is risen before His people believe it. He is risen to give them faith and life; and so, He is risen for you.
Isn’t it a little refreshing and reassuring to hear how even “the people in the Bible” did not believe and did not understand? Jesus did not die and rise for perfect people who had it all figured out. Jesus died and rose for the people who would betray Him, ignore His Word, forget His promises, and doubt His messengers. Jesus died for people who put Him to death. Jesus rose for the people whose minds rejected the idea of a resurrection.
The Church is not a club for the good people, the smart people, or the most faithful people. It is a gathering of the forgetful and the doubtful. It is a community, unified not in our polished comprehension or piety, but in our Savior’s life, death, and resurrection. What we share with each other is the same thing we share in common with the people in Luke 24: Jesus is risen! His resurrection binds us together in Him because it is bigger than anything in or between us.[iii]
No one said that everything would make sense if you are a Christian. Well, somebody probably has said that, but they’re wrong. Don’t be surprised if you find yourself bewildered and puzzled and confused from time to time—whether it be matters of faith or matters of life or whatever.
But this you know for sure—of this you can be certain: Christ has died, and Christ is risen from the dead. You haven’t seen Him face to face yet, but He tells you it is so in His Word. Faith comes by hearing, not by seeing; and as the resurrected Jesus said to Thomas, “Blessed are those who have not seen, and yet believe.” That’s you.
So don’t take confusion or bewilderment about life to be a sign that you’re without faith. It’s very possible to be both confused and a believer at the same time. Most of all, though, be on guard against those foes who would try to confuse you about Christ’s resurrection.
Every year near Easter, news magazines and TV specials bring special reports on “the real Jesus,” the “real Jesus” being not the One proclaimed in the Bible. The articles and documentaries will proceed to tell you why the Bible can’t be trusted, why the accounts of Jesus’ resurrection are just an idle tale.
It is a curious double-standard on the part of the world. Usually, when an old manuscript is found, the world applauds it as a clear window to the past; and when the manuscript is critical of Christianity, it is deemed to be especially precious. Scripture must be the best-preserved record in history, verified by so many witnesses; and yet the world dismisses it as unreliable.
Dear friends, the world doesn’t have much use for Christ’s death and resurrection. That should come as absolutely no surprise to you and me, because without God-given faith it is impossible to believe in Christ. The women at the tomb didn’t reach the right conclusion until the angels spoke that faith-giving Word to them. The disciples didn’t believe for a while, even after the women told them the Word. As long as the world rejects the Gospel, it will always question the resurrection of Christ, and consider it an idle tale. It can be no other way.
But along with the world’s perplexity and rejection of the faith, there’s enough other stuff to bring you puzzlement and doubt, too. The problem for you is not just that you can’t currently see the risen Christ, but also that you can see all sorts of trouble. You can see natural disasters around the world and the effects of inflation and supply chain disruptions. You can see the lab results with the troubling indicators. You can see the co-worker who makes your life miserable, and you can see the empty places where friends and loved ones used to be but aren’t anymore. Your conscience can see your past sins and transgressions, as well as the lingering damage they have done.
Those various sights and sufferings would seek to leave you troubled and doubting that the Lord is really there. If Satan cannot use them to attack your faith, he will use every last one of those trials to distract you from the cross and make you forget or reject the resurrection.
But you live by faith not by sight. As the Lord sent angels to tell the women, so He still sends messengers to you to say, “Do not be afraid.” Do not be afraid. Christ is not among the dead, but among the living. He is risen from the dead and He is the Life of all the living. He is risen, never to die again.
Do not be afraid, for the joy of Easter is not just that Jesus died, and Jesus rose, but that Jesus died and rose for you. He has borne your sin to the cross, and He has suffered for it there. He has died your death and been laid the tomb, but now the tomb is empty. So will yours be, for Christ is risen to raise you, too.
Do not be afraid, for the risen Lord has not forsaken you. He who has accomplished your salvation still sits at His Father’s right hand to intercede for you, to watch over you. Some of your days on this earth will be like the first day of the week before the angels arrived, where you only have bits and pieces of information and don’t know what to make of it all. Some of your days will be like Holy Saturday, perplexed and disappointed, and wondering where to go from here. And some days will have all the appearance of Good Friday, where death and despair look to reign supreme. But do not be afraid. Christ has died and Christ is risen for you. While your afflictions and enemies can put on a good show to upset your eyes, Christ speaks His Word to tell you He has conquered all of your enemies. If they are to do any actual harm, they must go through Him to get to you.
They cannot, and so they are conquered enemies, permitted to howl for a while so that you might be reminded to look to Christ and the life that He offers. He has wrapped you in His own righteousness by baptism, for there you already died with Him, and you are risen with Him. He feeds you with His holy Supper, His risen body and blood. And He speaks His Word to you: the Word that comforted the women at the tomb. The Word that brought the disciples back to faith. The same Word that brought Lazarus out of His tomb. The same Word that will call you out of yours.
Dear friends, as long as you are in this world, there will be confusion and perplexity. But for you, there need be no fear—not of what it ultimately means. This is not an idle tale. You’ve got God’s Word on it that Christ has died, and Christ is risen from the dead, never to die again. And if Christ is never to die again, there is not one moment or situation in your life where He is not using all things for your good. His victory is your victory because you are forgiven for all of your sins. In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
[i] Gospel: Luke 24:1-12 (Easter Sunday: Series C) | 1517, https://www.1517.org/articles/gospel-luke-241-12-easter-sunday-series-c-2.
[ii] Gospel: Luke 24:1-12 (Easter Sunday: Series C) | 1517, https://www.1517.org/articles/gospel-luke-241-12-easter-sunday-series-c-2.
[iii] Gospel: Luke 24:1-12 (Easter Sunday: Series C) | 1517, https://www.1517.org/articles/gospel-luke-241-12-easter-sunday-series-c-2.