RPM, Volume 17, Number 52, December 20 to December 26, 2015

Resurrection Nonsense

Luke 24:1-12

By D. Marion Clark


Men! Sometimes you want to just shake one of them and say, "Can't you just get it in your head what I am trying to tell you?" No doubt these women were feeling such frustration with the eleven disciples.

The Doubters

Let's reviewed what happened as Luke tells us. We know the story well. Mary Magdalene and other women go to the tomb early in the morning with the intention to complete the preparations of the body for burial according to the customs of the day. They could not complete the work before burial because of the onset of the Sabbath. So they go; they find the tomb empty; two men in glowing garments appear and tell them that Jesus has risen. They rush back to tell the joyous news to the disciples.

So far so good. However, the celebration atmosphere stops cold here. The men…well, what can we say? The men find it all just too hard to believe. . 11 But they did not believe the women, because their words seemed to them like nonsense. 12 Peter, however, got up and ran to the tomb. Bending over, he saw the strips of linen lying by themselves, and he went away, wondering to himself what had happened.

Oh, the poor women, thought the disciples. The ordeal has been too much for them. They don't realize what nonsense they are saying. Of course, women do tend to become irrational in times of grief.

Peter seems to be the one ray of hope. It actually checks out their story. He runs to the tomb, evidently in hope that the women are right. Sure enough, the tomb is emptied and the grave clothes mysteriously lie by themselves, i.e. where the body should be but is gone. John's Gospel spells out what he sees: He saw the strips of linen lying there, 7 as well as the burial cloth that had been around Jesus' head. The cloth was folded up by itself, separate from the linen (20:6,7). It would have been as if the body had simply vanished, leaving the clothing to collapse in the emptied space. So what is Peter's reaction? "Gee, I wondered what happened?"

You can hear Mary now, "What part of my message do you not understand, Peter?" The tomb is emptied because Jesus rose from the dead.

According to Luke, the only thing that separates the women from the men is that the two angels had spoken to them. Before the angels had explained things, the women also were wondering what had happened. That is a difference, but not as big as it may seem. The women did convey the angels' message to the men. The men did not see the angels, but they heard about them and heard the same message.

The men had to discount the women's story about the angels. They somehow had to excuse the corroboration of at least four women of a scene that could have taken place less than an hour earlier. Maybe they went to the wrong tomb. Peter checked that out. Maybe those angels were just men who made up the story. Hhmm, maybe that's it. That sounds reasonable. A couple of jokesters were having some fun with the befuddled ladies.

It is precisely at this point, however, that the women proved themselves to be sharper with their minds than the men. Go back to the message of the messengers:

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? 6 He 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.

Note again the last half of the message: 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.

Jesus had said that. In fact he had spoken of it several times. Here is one of them. 31 He then began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again. 32 He spoke plainly about this (Mark 8:31,32). And the women remembered! "That's right! Jesus had talked about those things. We didn't understand then, but it now all makes sense."

Surely the disciples would agree. Indeed, it was specifically to the disciples that Jesus had made these predictions. Peter even went so far as to argue with Jesus about the matter. Surely he would remember. But no, it all sounds too much like nonsense. Gee, wonder what could have happened?

Just what is it with these doubting disciples? The women were only confirming what their Master had promised. They had seen Jesus even raise the dead and they still could not make sense of the empty tomb. The most exasperating scene takes place later in the day when two disciples are walking to Emmaus and come unknowingly upon Jesus. We will pick up in the story with the question he asks.

He asked them, "What are you discussing together as you walk along?"
They stood still, their faces downcast. 18 One of them, named Cleopas, asked him, "Are you only a visitor to Jerusalem and do not know the things that have happened there in these days?"
19 "What things?" he asked.
"About Jesus of Nazareth," they replied. "He was a prophet, powerful in word and deed before God and all the people. 20 The chief priests and our rulers handed him over to be sentenced to death, and they crucified him; 21 but we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel. And what is more, it is the third day since all this took place. 22 In addition, some of our women amazed us. They went to the tomb early this morning 23 but didn't find his body. They came and told us that they had seen a vision of angels, who said he was alive. 24 Then some of our companions went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but him they did not see" (Luke 24:17-24).

You would think with that phrase, some of our women amazed us, that they might be considering that maybe — just maybe — the women were right. But evidently not. They stand still with their faces downcast when asked about what has gone on. They give away their disappointment in explaining to Jesus the events that had happened. We had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel. But obviously he was not. There is no such thing as a crucified Messiah.

Now it is time for Jesus to speak up. He said to them, "How foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken!" (Luke 24:25). Come on, guys. We've been through this before. The prophets talked about this already. I talked about this.

You wives know what is going on. How many times have your husbands said, "I didn't know; nobody told me"? "What do you mean I didn't tell you? We've talked about it. I've reminded you. I've placed it in your calendar. I've asked if you remembered and you said yes." "I don't remember. You must be confused."

The Doubt that Lingers

Well, as we know, the disciples finally come around because Jesus appears before them, not once, but many times over the course of about six weeks. He spends a lot of time teaching them and even has meals with them. They become believers because there is nothing left for them to doubt. They must believe unless they deny what their own senses and experience make absolutely clear.

Why was it so difficult for them to believe in Jesus' resurrection? Whatever the reason, consider how difficult it is for people today to believe. If Jesus' own disciples had trouble coming around, how much more for people of another culture and era to accept Jesus' physical resurrection. The disciples heard his own prophecies and saw him work mighty miracles, and they still misinterpreted his teaching and mission. The resurrection was to them nonsense. They were not the only ones to think so. When Paul was in Athens, he was invited to speak by the philosophers in the main assembly area. They listened politely until he got to the resurrection, at which time some openly sneered and the meeting broke up. Another time, when Paul was explaining his case to Agrippa and Festus, he spoke also of Jesus' resurrection. At that point, Festus shouted out that Paul was mad.

The resurrection is nonsense to every reasonable mind. Dead men, especially crucified, buried dead men, do not rise to life. It is not only reasonable to not believe, it seems unreasonable to believe. Most people don't. Even many people who call themselves Christians don't really believe. Surely the Gospels writers are merely writing a parable about new life. Surely they mean for us to understand a spiritual resurrection. Anything is more reasonable than to believe an actual resurrection.

We will consider that statement in full later in the worship service, but let me state here that we were never called to become reasonable people for Christ's sake; we were called to become fools. We were called to show that the foolishness of God is greater than the wisdom of man. We were called to live lives that must be construed as pitiable and delusional if indeed Christ did not rise. The Bible speaks of us as being aliens in the world. We do seem like aliens when we profess faith in the resurrection and place our hope in it.

Nothing is more foolish than what we are doing this morning. Our little band gathered on the front lawn in front of a highway seems silly to those who drive by, just as the group that is gathering together now on Rittenhouse Square in Philadelphia, and the little group standing in the cold on the beach in Beverly Farms, Massachusetts, and the group gathered in the cemetery in Bessemer City, N.C. all seem silly to passersby.

But for us who believe, no wisdom is so profound, no event is greater than the resurrection of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who bore our sins upon the cross. Nothing connects us with reality — with the real plan of the cosmos — than the resurrection that we celebrate this morning.

Praise be to our Lord whose words have been fulfilled in every generation since his resurrection: blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed (John 20:29).

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