“And the angel answered and said unto the women, Fear not ye: for I know that ye seek Jesus, which was crucified. He is not here: for he is risen, as he said. Come, see the place where the Lord lay. And go quickly, and tell his disciples that he is risen from the dead; and, behold, he goeth before you into Galilee; there shall ye see him: lo, I have told you.”
The first Easter message!
Spoken to women by an angel from heaven!
A comparison of the gospels will help to identify in part these women, who were the first to receive the blessed tidings: the Lord is risen from the dead!
Mary Magdalene, out of whom Jesus had cast seven devils, is mentioned first as being in the company of women who had come early in the morning to pay their last respects to the crucified, and now, as they supposed, dead Christ. On the way to the tomb they had discussed among themselves who would roll away for them the stone that covered the entrance. As they approached the tomb, however, they observed in the dim morning light that the stone was already rolled away. According to John’s gospel, Mary must have concluded that someone had been there earlier and removed the body. Consequently she must have left the company to seek out Peter and John to inform them of her conclusion. Consequently, too, she could not have been with the women who were addressed by the angel.
We conclude, therefore, that among the women who heard the message of the angel were Mary, the mother of James and Joses, who was the wife of Cleopas, and probably a sister of the mother of Jesus; Salome, who was the mother of James and John, and the wife of Zebedee; Joanna, the wife of Chuza, Herod’s steward. And Mark leaves us with the impression that many other women who had followed Jesus from Galilee to Jerusalem, who had also witnessed the crucifixion, were among them.
Altogether women they were who had cared for Jesus’ earthly needs during His ministry, who had been present at the cross to witness the end, and who had followed Joseph and Nicodernus on Friday afternoon as they bore the body of Jesus to Joseph’s cemetery.
They had come in the early morning hour, after the Sabbath was ended, to finish the embalming process begun at the time the body was laid in the tomb. With hearts that were heavy with sorrow, they had come to show their last respects and devotion to what they supposed was a crucified and a dead Lord.
One cannot fail to be troubled with the question: Where were the men?
Striking it is that of all the twelve apostles, John is the only one of whom the gospels inform us that he was present at the crucifixion. It appears that with the death of Christ all their hopes ended in despair. Perhaps the thoughts of their souls can no better be expressed than by the mouth of Cleopas, one of the travelers to Emmaus: “Concerning Jesus of Nazareth, which was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people. But we trusted that it had been he which should have redeemed Israel. . .
That Peter would not be there seems quite understandable. Was he not suffering remorse and brooding over the fact that he had willfully denied his Lord in the moment when it would be expected he would most confess Him? But he does his brooding at home, for you do not find him at the cross, or weeping at the tomb.
And so it is that women, not men, are the first to visit the tomb,—now an empty tomb.
They are greeted by an angel who had rolled away the stone, and was sitting upon it.
Luke informs us in his gospel, that when the women observed that the stone was rolled away, they entered into the tomb and found not the body of the Lord Jesus. And it came to pass, as they were much perplexed thereabout, behold, two men stood by them in shining garments: and as they were afraid, and bowed down their faces to the earth, they began to speak to them.
In our text we are told there was one angel, There is really no discrepancy, when you consider that most naturally there would be only one who spoke. Whether there were a thousand or only one, makes no difference really, because the emphasis is not on the angels, but on the fact that God has a message to bring from heaven for His elect, for whom the angels are appointed as ministering spirits. It was a message of such great importance, that it forms the basis for the gospel of redemption that must presently be preached in all the world by the redeemed church. In the resurrection of Christ, death is swallowed up in victory! In His resurrection we have the certification of our justification!
A glorious message!
To perplexed and affrighted women!
Who cannot understand their fear? First of all, there was the stone which had now been rolled away. Those bent on spending a few moments of devotion to a dead body, could only draw the conclusion that Mary made,—some one had come to take that body away. For such fear they had no answer. Secondly, that fear could only be aggravated and increased when they saw not His body. And thirdly, that fear reaches its height when instead they are confronted by shining creatures who had just descended from the glories of heaven.
They are in need of a message that must allay all their fear!
Fear not ye…!
For I know that ye seek Jesus, which was crucified!
He is not here: for He is risen, as He said!
Glorious message, indeed!
Source of great joy!
Ye seek Jesus, the crucified, I know! Him, Whom they nailed to the accursed tree. Him, Whom ye saw writhing in pain, not only the pain imposed upon Him by wicked hands, but more particularly that imposed upon Him by His God; so that He cried out as one forsaken of God. That Jesus, Whom ye saw die on that cross, Who, when He was sure that He had finished the work of redemption, committed His spirit unto the Father Who gave it. That Jesus, Who did no evil, neither was there any guile found in His mouth; but Who nevertheless was treated as the worst of criminals, and executed before the eyes of all the world.
I know Whom ye seek!
But, He is not here!
The grave could hold him no longer! He is no longer in the darkness of Sheol, the sphere of the weak, the mortal, the corruptible, the sphere of flesh and blood of which death is the end.
He is risen, as He said!
Very early this morning, for it is the third day, before you could reach the tomb, the earth quaked, and the rocks did split, and the Prince of life broke the bands of death, and emerged on the other side of the grave, as the first fruit of the dead. Do ye not remember that He said to you: On the third day I shall rise again? Indeed, it is the third day! For there was one day that ended in the awful death on the cross, and there was another day in which He was swallowed up in the darkness of the tomb, and now, today, is the third day, when He is risen from the dead, as He said.
Fear not ye!
Let the enemies fear!
And, O, how they feared! They remembered how He had said that He would rise again, and so they sought to secure the grave, pleading with Pilate for a seal and a guard, that would make it impossible for the word to get out that He was risen from the dead. And when the guard beheld the angel who came to roll back the stone and to announce the resurrection, they feared and became as dead men. That power of darkness that crucified the Lord and would crucify Him again if they had the opportunity, which hates the doctrine of the resurrection as it hates the risen Lord, which manufactures the story that the disciples came while the guard slept and stole the body of Jesus,—that world is fearful. That fear, which knows no end, will be revealed again when the risen and glorified Lord appears on the clouds of heaven, when they shall cry out to the rocks and mountains to cover them from the face of Him with Whom they have to do.
But fear not ye!
For I know that ye seek Jesus, which was crucified!
O, indeed, if all you are seeking is a dead Jesus, then your seeking is misdirected, and will all be in vain. But, on the other hand, if you are seeking Jesus Who was crucified, then that seeking is salutary and good. Then there is much reason for rejoicing; for they who seek the crucified Christ, must find the risen Lord! Shall you find the risen Lord you must first seek the crucified Jesus! Not a noble man, a wise master, a perfect example, a mighty leader must ye seek. But a Mediator and Saviour Who sheds His life’s blood, Who brings atonement for your sins, Who satisfies the justice of God in payment for your guilt on the accursed tree.
They who diligently seek the crucified Christ, shall, indeed, find that He is risen from the dead as the seal of their justification!
Come, see the place where the Lord lay! Come, and see all the evidences of the fact that the Lord is risen, indeed!
To be sure, there is first of all the empty tomb. He is not here! Not because, as you may have feared, some one has come to steal or remove His body. But because He is risen, as He said.
But, in the second place, observe particularly the place where the Lord lay! Not merely the slab on which you saw His emaciated body laid on Good Friday afternoon, but especially behold His grave clothes. See how they lie there undisturbed, and precisely as they had been when they were about His body. And see for yourselves that His body is not in them. Notice that head piece, which lies there by itself. As the Lord left the grave with no need that one should come to remove the stone to let Him out, so He could leave the clothes undisturbed.
The resurrection, a wonder, indeed!
And the marvel of it all is that the resurrection is not a returning, but a going on! Not a return to the earthly, the mundane; but an ascension to the glorious life of the heavenlies!
Go quickly, and tell His disciples that He is risen from the dead; and, behold, He goeth before you into Galilee; there shall ye see Him: Lo, I have told you!
Witnesses they must be of the resurrection who will bring those disciples word, that they in turn may have a message to bring into all the world. And the evidences shall not rest only on their word, but on the fact that with their own eyes they shall see Him, as He had promised.
Joyous commission for the women, for they departed quickly from the sepulchre with fear and great joy; and did run to bring the disciples word.
Joyous commission also for the church of Christ, which presently may go into all the world bearing the good tidings:
The crucified Saviour is become the risen Lord!