“And as they were afraid, and bowed down their faces to the earth, they said unto them, Why seek ye the living among the dead? He is not here, but is risen: remember how he spake unto you when he was yet in Galilee, saying, The Son of man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, and be crucified, and the third day rise again, And remembered his words.”
Perplexed and afraid!
These are the words Scripture chooses to describe the frame of mind and the emotions of the audience which was first to hear the glorious gospel of the resurrection.
It pleased the Lord that the very first to hear thegood tidings should be those women who had followed Jesus throughout His earthly ministry, some of whom are mentioned by name, such as Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and Salome. Women they were who had ministered unto Jesus’ earthly needs; and who had been with Him to the last, even witnessing afar off His crucifixion and death, and who followed after when His body was taken from the cross and brought to the tomb of Joseph where they observed how His body was laid. And now after the Sabbath was ended, and very early in the morning of the first day of the week, they had returned to the sepulchre intentionally to finish the task of embalming the body of Jesus.
Perplexed they were when they discovered that the stone was rolled away from the door of the tomb, and still more when they found that the body of Jesus was no longer there. Afraid they became when two men suddenly appeared to them in shining garments, who were about to deliver to them the first resurrection gospel.
Heavenly messengers sent of the Lord to deliver the good tidings of the resurrection!
The church, whose calling it is to preach the gospel in all nations, was apparently not yet ready for this glorious task. She must wait for the day of Pentecost and the outpouring of the Spirit of the resurrected Lord before this calling could be realized. In the meantime God sees to it that the good news concerning the resurrection is proclaimed by these ministering spirits sent forth to minister unto His elect. And they begin their message with a penetrating question.
Why seek ye the living among the dead?
Humiliating it was because it intended to make plain to the women that what they contemplated doing was most absurd.
Farthest from their thoughts was the truth that their Lord was alive. They had come seeking a dead Christ, and with only one purpose in mind—to keep Him permanently in death. What they had witnessed on Friday afternoon concerning the crucifixion, death, and burial of Jesus signaled for them the end of all earthly relationships with Him. There was only one thing left for them to do and that was the task for devoted hands—namely, to finish that which had been left undone because the Sabbath drew nigh, the task of preparing the body of Jesus for permanent burial. Indeed, they were not seeking the living among the dead, but only the dead.
But the question suggests that He Who was dead is alive. Seen in that light, is it not absurd that they should be looking for Him among the dead?
Why seek ye the living among the dead?
Not only because it reveals that the resurrection of the Lord had taken place, but more significantly that the risen Lord is the Living One. The question is: Why seek ye the Living One among the dead? The One Who repeatedly had testified during His earthly ministry that He was the Prince of Life. Did He not plainly declare at the resurrection of Lazarus: “I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live?” Had He not clearly testified that “in Him was life; and the life was the light of men?” Had they not heard Him say: “For as the Father hath life in himself; so hath he given to the Son to have life in Himself?” Had they forgotten that He said: “I am the Bread of life” and I am the Water of life?” Cannot they remember how He spoke unto Thomas in the presence of all His disciples: “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me?” And why did they not remember how He spake unto them shortly before His decease: “Yet a little while, and the world seeth me no more; but ye see me; because I live, ye shall live also?”
O, indeed, He is the Living One!
Who has life in Himself. Who is the Author, the Creator of life. Apart from whom there is no life. Who so possessed the power of life that He could lay it down and take it up again.
The Lord is risen indeed, as He said unto them. His word to them had not failed. Precisely as He had informed them, so it came to pass—He would suffer and die, and after three days would rise again. But they understood not His words. They seemed as idle tales to them, simply because of their earthly conception of Him. O, they believed in the resurrection at the last day, for they were no Sadducees. And therefore they would prepare His body with a view to that resurrection. But as the Living One they had not perceived Him. It is this truth that the question of the heavenly messengers suggests to them. And looking at it in this light, isn’t it absurd for them to be seeking the Living One among the dead?
Indeed, an humiliating question!
Only when they are prepared by this question to see the absurdity of their proposed endeavor, are they also prepared to hear the rest of the heavenly message.
Hence follows a glorious explanation!
He is not here!
But is risen!
The grave could no longer hold Him. Witness the empty tomb. Behold the grave clothes lying exactly in the position of last Friday afternoon when they had wrapped about the body the linen cloths. And the napkin, that was about His head, not lying with the linen clothes, but wrapped together in a place by itself. All this indicating that the burial clothes had not been disturbed or unwrapped and thrown together in a heap as when one would undress and put on other clothes. Also indicating that the resurrection had taken place which knows no bonds.
He is not here! For death hath no dominion over Him!
O, indeed, He truly died! They saw correctly when He commended His spirit to the Father, bowed death! His head and yielded up the ghost. They witnessed without mistake when His limp body was carried to the garden of Joseph, and with tender care was deposited in Joseph’s tomb. No one could say He was only in a swoon, that He merely entered into a coma from which He later would arouse. No—all the evidences pointed to the truth that He had laid down His life.
But now He is risen! Transcendent He is above death!
He, the Living One, had broken the bands of death. As with the mighty Samson, the green withes became as a thread of tow is broken when it toucheth the fire; so the mighty Defender of the cause of God’s covenant broke the shackles of death as tender threads and emerged victoriously as the Prince of life.
Nor was it so that He Who died returned from death as a Lazarus emerging from the tomb. But as the Living One He went through death and the grave, destroying its power, and standing on the other side, proclaiming to us His victory, and showing unto us the pathway of life.
Remember how He spake unto you when He was yet in Galilee?
It is imperative that you recollect!
That you recall that He told you; the Son of man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, and be crucified, and the third day rise again.
How could they ever forget that memorable occasion in Caesarea Philippi when Peter, speaking for all the disciples, declared that Jesus was the Christ, the Son of the living God; how the Lord had declared that on that confession He would build His church; and that from that time forth Jesus began to shew unto His disciples “how that He must go unto Jerusalem, and suffer many things of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised again the third day.” And a little later as they were coming from Galilee to Jerusalem the Lord had said unto them: “Behold, we go up to Jerusalem; and the Son of man shall beg betrayed unto the chief priests and unto the scribes, and they shall condemn him to death, and shall deliver him to the Gentiles to mock, and to scourge, and to crucify him: and the third day he shall rise again.” But now it is imperative that they recall this saying for more than one reason.
O, to be sure, at the time when the Lord told them these things they understood not, and the saying was hid from them to the point that the seriousness of it did not register with them.
But now it is imperative that they recall this saying for more than one reason.
First of all, from the point of view of the messengers of the resurrection gospel. Their message must not be branded by the audience as an idle tale. It must be seen and clearly understood that what they have to say concerning the risen Lord rests entirely on the Word of the Lord. It is the truth and no lie!
But in the second place, it is imperative that they recall from their own point of view. That Word some how lies deeply buried in their sub-conscious minds. It must come forth now into their consciousness. Thus all unbelief concerning the resurrection will be abandoned, and the faith in them will be strengthened.
And thanks be unto God, the message of the gospel had this effect!
And they remembered His words!
The truth of the resurrection cannot rest on the basis of mere human reason, nor on mere human perception. Nor can this truth be embraced by faith on these bases.
Shall the comfort of faith in the resurrection send us on our way rejoicing, it must rest on His infallible Word which faith is able to remember and which the gospel is able to stir up in us mightily.
When that first Easter sermon was ended, the congregation went home rejoicing!
The gospel of the risen Lord had shown unto them that their sins had been blotted out in the blood of His cross, and their justification had been sealed unto them in the power of His resurrection life.