Resurrection

In the Bordeaux Pilgrim (AD 333), there is mention of the location. St. Cyril of Jerusalem makes reference to it several times. In the days of the church historian Eusebius (first half of fourth century), there was no doubt as to the location of the empty tomb. No doubt that even today, there will be a guided tour near Jerusalem which will walk right past the site. One Sunday morning nearly two millenia ago, several women made a trek to the precise location of the the tomb of Jesus. As mentioned in the previous section (Luke 23.55), these women were familiar with the location of the tomb, having seen Jesus’ body placed in it just days before. There was no doubt in their minds as to where to go “after the Sabbath.”

John Calvin calls this “the closing section of our redemption.” J. C. Ryle calls the resurrection of Jesus “one of the great foundation-stones of the Christian religion.” Indeed, in the words of Paul, “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins” (1 Cor 15.17, ESV). In other words, “Christianity stands or falls with the Resurrection” (Theodsus Harnack, quoted in McDowell’s The New Evidence that Demands a Verdict, pg.205). The resurrection of Jesus Christ is either “one of the most wicked, vicious, heartless hoaxes ever foisted upon the minds of men, OR it is the most fantastic fact of history” (McDowell, 203). The bottom line is we, Christians, need the resurrection. If Jesus was not resurrected, He can no more save me than condemn me. And if there is no resurrection, “let us eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die.” In other words, drive the morality bus off the cliff if the dead are not raised. There’s no point in being a good, moral person since Christianity has toppled. Those who would argue for morality in the absence of the Christian religion should understand this. Morality is pointless without a supreme moral authority.

Truly, then, the whole world needs the resurrection of Jesus. Woven into the fabric of human history is the need for the resurrection of Jesus. Everything before points forward to it and everything since points backward to it. Indeed, everyone who has ever or will ever live by faith find their vindication in three simple yet striking words: “He has risen.” In Luke 24.1-12, the subject is the resurrection.

The Empty Tomb

The women of this context would appear to be the women of the previous context: “women who had followed him from Galilee” (23.49). The spices they bring were prepared just before the Sabbath, the day Jesus was placed in the tomb (23.56). They had rested on the Sabbath (23.56b) and now return to the tomb to anoint the body of Jesus very early Sunday morning.

First, note that they went to “the tomb;” that is, they went to the tomb they had visited just a couple days earlier and “saw the tomb and how his body was laid.” There is not mistaking – they went to the right tomb. And if they had gone to the wrong tomb, surely on Pentecost day when Peter preaches the resurrection, someone would have pointed them in the direction of the right tomb with the body still within. Or the authorities when the apostles preached the resurrection would certainly have squelched this fable in the same manner. The fact of history is that the women and then the apostles Peter and John went to the tomb where Jesus had been laid following His crucifixion. However, things are different this Sunday morning.

Second, notice the tomb is open (v.2). Luke did not mention a stone being placed over the entrance of the tomb. It would appear he takes for granted the knowledge of his audience. That is, Luke seems to know that Theophilus would be aware of the large stone placed over the mouth of the tomb, sealing the body of Jesus inside. The women had discussed along the way the problem of removing the stone so they could continue and/or complete the burial of Jesus (Mark 16.3). When they arrive, though, the tomb is already open.

Third, in addition, the tomb was also empty (v.3). Since the stone was rolled away, they went into the tomb, perhaps ready and eager to accomplish their mission before someone return and replace the stone (which John seems to imply by the language employed that the stone was completely removed off its track, John 20.1). However, once inside, “they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus.” A Bishop Brownrig has noted that this is the first occasion when this terminology (“Lord Jesus”) is used of the Savior in the New Testament. It is the first time Luke has used it and he will continue to use it into his next work (Acts). Rightly so, since He is now demonstrated by God to be both Lord and Christ (Acts 2.36).

The open and empty tomb causes the women to be “perplexed.” The word used here signifies a state of great confusion and anxiety. They are at a total loss of making sense of this whole picture. They don’t know what to do, what to think, how to feel. Put yourself in their shoes – all the emotion and commotion from just a couple days prior. Their beloved Teacher was killed and they were not expecting a resurrection. Of course their confused. However, two men, angels, in “dazzling apparel” stand nearby. This same term for “dazzling” was also used of Jesus at the Transfiguration (9.29) when His clothes were dazzling bright. The term denotes something like lightning, bright and brilliant.

The Ethereal Tidings

Confusion turns to fear for the women and like the prophets of old, the seemingly lose control of bodily functions. Like Daniel or Ezekiel, they end up face down before the messengers of God out of respect. But these messengers bring a slight rebuke and subtle reminder for these courageous women. First, the slight rebuke is “Why do you seek the living with the dead?” The resurrected Jesus is alive. Therefore, His tomb is empty. He is not with the dead any longer. So of course “He is not here” for “He has risen.” Here is the angelic proclamation of the resurrection of Jesus. Angels are highlighted in Luke’s gospel account. They announced to Zachariah the coming of his son John the Baptist; they spoke to Mary concerning her conception of Jesus; angels serenaded shepherds when Jesus was born. Now the angels are the messengers announcing the triumph of the Son of God over death. “He has risen.” How fantastic a thought that God has blessed men to carry this simple yet profound message of resurrection!

Second, the angels has a subtle reminder. “Remember” is how they begin. Jesus had told them this would happen (Luke 9.22; 18.33), namely, that He would rise from the dead on the third day. Here it is the third day and the tomb is empty. Just so there is no confusion, the angels specify what Jesus had said: 1) the Son of Man (favorite term of Jesus to describe Himself) would be delivered into the hands of sinful men, 2) death by crucifixion, 3) resurrection on the third day. While He was ministering in Galilee, Jesus made His disciples of these things. Luke tells us, though, they didn’t get it, understand it for “it was concealed from them” (9.45).

The Eyewitness Testimony

This angelic reminder causes the women to remember the words of Jesus. They leave the tomb and find the eleven and tell them. Note Luke says eleven and not twelve. Judas has already hung himself. In Luke’s next work, Acts, he will detail the death of Judas. But this is the first he speaks of the eleven. These women act as the first human agents of commnicating the good news of the resurrection of the dead. They are the first evangelists, tell others the good news of the resurrection of the dead. “To all the rest” is a vague statement and exactly who “the rest” are is uncertain. Some point to the 120 who would be with the apostles during the ten days after the ascension and before Pentecost (See Acts 1.15). Of course, during His ministry, Jesus had others whom He called and sent out (see Luke 10.1). Again, who exactly “the rest” are is unknown. Nevertheless, they hear about the empty from the women also.

Luke gives a detailed description of who these women are in verse 10: they are Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James and “other women with them.” Perhaps Salome (she is mentioned in Mark 16.1 as part of the company of women at the tomb) and Susanna (Luke 8.3) are also part of this number. It is the women who tell the apostles about the bewildering scene at the tomb. So fantastic is their message that the apostles cannot believe it. To them it is an “idle tale” or nonsense. Don’t be too hasty, ladies; remember just a few verses prior to this the women were experiencing something akin to this before two angels helped their unbelief.

However, there is one apostle who goes to the tomb: Peter. Just a couple days earlier he had denied Jesus and had had to look Jesus in the face immediately after the third denial (Luke 22.54-62). Luke graphically describes his reaction to hearing the women’s story: he “rose and ran to the tomb.” He left his fellow disciples and went to the tomb. John records that he went with Peter to the tomb. Peter arrives and “stooping and looking in” he sees the grave clothes of Jesus lying there. All this matches with with John very nearly except John has Peter entering the tomb. The empty tomb has a profound effect on Peter: he’s left “marveling” to himself. This is not a lack of faith but rather it seems Peter is trying to make sense of everything. What happened? Truly this has been the struggle for many people ever since the tomb was found open, empty, and the grave clothes lying empty. How should we understand this? The gospel writers present us with the facts of history and these facts demand an answer. The only answer which fits with the historical facts is that Jesus of Nazareth was resurrected by the power of God on the third just as He predicted would happen.

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Burial

What do you do with a dead body? There are all sorts of things people around the world do with death bodies, but the common practice of many is to bury it. It makes sense: you bury dead bodies. In Luke 23.44-49, we witnessed through the lens of Luke’s account the death of Jesus. He is dead and so He must be buried. From Mark (15.44-45) we learn that Pilate is surprised to hear Jesus is dead already and has to consult with a centurion to ensure that in fact Jesus is dead. The centurion, someone who deals in death on a regular basis and can tell dead from alive, confirms the reports Pilate is hearing: Jesus, the king of the Jews, is dead.

This is an important historical fact for a number of reasons. First, there are those who claim Jesus did not die on the cross but merely swooned and in the coolness of the tomb was revived. The evidence points to the contrary – Jesus, according to all accounts, died on the cross. Second, if Jesus does not die on the cross for our sins as he predicted He would, He is false prophet who can no more save than any other false prophet and we are still guilty of our sins. The bottom line is we need Jesus to die on the cross so that He can make propitiation and give His life for ours. Without this, there is no good news saving message; only the terrible news that there is no salvation.

At the death of Jesus, his friends and the women who had minister to Him during His ministry “stood at a distance” (v.49). It would seem they had neither the courage nor the capital to proceed with burial. However, there is one man who seemingly “stood at a distance” during the ministry of Jesus who comes forward from his secret discipleship that He might provide Jesus a proper burial. This man is Joseph of Arimathea.

The Measure of the Man

Luke records for us that Joseph was a man from Arimathea. Commentators seem somewhat divided about this. One authority said that Arimathea’s location is unknown. Another says that it was a famous Jewish town from which Samuel the prophet came – Ramathaim Zophim. Still another gives a more precise location of 20 miles NW of Jerusalem on the border of Judea and Samaria. At any rate, he seems to have taken up residence in Jerusalem since he sat on the council of the Sanhedrin. He is “a good and righteous man” according to Luke who is honorable and respected (Mark 15.43). He is also rich (Matt 27.57) and followed Jesus, although his discipleship was done in secret for fear of the Jews (John 19.38). Luke seems to allude to the discipleship of Joseph by saying that “he was looking for the kingdom of God” (v.51). This is the same kind of language used by Luke in describing two other individuals early in this gospel account: Simeon and Anna (2.25, 38). They were waiting for the redemption and consolation of Israel. So it is with Joseph of Arimathea and it would seem that in his heart of hearts he believed Jesus to be the bringer of the kingdom. As a result, when the Council was casting their vote against Jesus and condemned Him, Joseph was either left out or driven out because the Council had been unanimous (Mark 14.64).

It is interesting that all four gospel writers speak of Joseph of Arimathea in a relatively positive, even ideal manner. One writer put it this way: Matthew calls him rich, the Jewish ideal (?); Mark calls him a respected member of the council, the Roman ideal; Luke calls him a good and just (kalos kagathos), the Greek ideal; and John calls him a disciple of Jesus, the johannine ideal. An interesting tradition about Joseph of Arimathea is that around 63AD he made his way to England and settled in Glastonbury, settling up the first Christian oratory. Whatever the case, it is this man who comes forward to request of Pilate the body of Jesus so that he might bury it. Pilate grants him his request.

The Methods of the Man

As mentioned, he first requested to have the body of Jesus so he might prepare it for burial. Upon receiving permission, he took the body of Jesus down from the cross. No doubt the body is beaten, battered, and bloody. What a picture of a rich man removing the bludgened body of this carpenter from a cross! It may be assumed Joseph had on the garments of a rich man and as he brings the body down they are smeared and spattered with the blood of Jesus. Pure speculation, of course. Next, he wraps the body in fine linen. The word “shroud” is supplied in the English, unnecessarily it would seem since John makes it clear that the body was prepared and wrapped according to the custom of the Jews (John 19.40). That means that the body was “bound hand and foot” as in the case of Lazarus (John 11.44). In addition, there was also a cloth that was used to cover the face also which John records that at the resurrection of Jesus was folded neatly and placed in the corner (John 20.9). Finally, he places the wrapped body of Jesus in a “new tomb” (Matt 27.60) “where no one had ever yet been laid” (Luke 23.53). Calvin says this appropriate and according to the providence of God for Jesus is the “firstborn from the dead” (Col 1.18).

Inasmuch as it was the day of Preparation and the Sabbath was near beginning, the women take note of where Jesus is buried and go home to obeserve the Sabbath. Luke says the Sabbath was dawning. This is an interesting way to saying this and may seem foreign to our minds since we count time midnight to midnight. The Jewish day began at sunset and Luke may be alluding to the time when the lamps were lit. Be careful to notice that the women see where and how the body was laid. There are some who would claim that Sunday morning, the day of the resurrection, these same women went to the wrong tomb. However, Luke careful records that they knew exactly where to go so that they could annoint the body with the spices and ointments they were going to prepare.

It would seem that they had just enough to prepare their spices and ointments just before the Sabbath and would bring them Sunday, following the Sabbath (see Mark 16.1). Nicodemus had brought and presented some spices he had (John 19.39) and apparently placed those in the tomb with the body to be used by the women later. Everything seems to be done in haste since the Sabbath is fast approaching. There is also a sense in which the women and friends do not expect Jesus to be raised from the dead. He had predicted His death and even the manner of His death (crucifixion) multiple times and in nearly the same breath had said He would be raised on the third day. However, it appears all this is forgot and gives way to the grief and sorrow of Jesus’ death.

“On the Sabbath they rested according to the commandment” (v.56b). Here is the final time the followers of Jesus would observe the Sabbath, not according to the traditions of their fathers, but according to the Law of Moses, even the commandment of God. This is of course the fourth commandment given in the Law. J. C. Ryle, though, has an interesting obeservation concerning the Sabbath and the Christian: “Let us not doubt that the Apostles were taught by our Lord to change the day [of the Sabbath] from the last day of the week to the first…Above all, let us regard the Sabbath as an institution of primary importance to man’s soul, and contend earnestly for its preservation amongst us in all its integrity. It is good for the body, mind, and soul. It is good for the nation which observes it, and for the church which gives it honor. It is but a few steps from ‘no Sabbath’ to ‘no God.’ The man who would make the Sabbath a day for business and pleasure, is an enemy to the best interests of his fellow-creatures.”

Death

People die everyday and all the time.  In fact, according to the statistics I could find, there are nearly two (2) deaths every second worldwide. That’s right; in the time it took to read to this point, somewhere in the neighborhood of 20-30 people died. By the time you finish, depending upon your reading speed, between 500-1000 people will have died. So a Jewish rabbi is crucified and dies nearly 2,000 years ago and the whole world shifts, as it were. Nothing is ever the same. Lives change. As we turn our attention to Luke 23.44-49, we find the death of Jesus of Nazareth.

Miraculous Signs

There was darkness for three hours. All three synoptics record this event (See Matt 26.45; Mark 15.33). For three hours (noon-3PM) the “sun’s light failed” (ESV). This historical fact is ungettaroundable: there was darkness at the death of Jesus. Some have tried to explain it away. In fact, Tertullian in his Apology (ch.21), makes reference to the fact that even by his time (2nd-3rd cent.) this erroneous rumor was circulating. Further, Julius Africanus (3rd cent.) in the extant fragments we have of his five books of chronography, talks about Thallus who explained the darkness at the death of Jesus away as an eclipse which Africanus refutes (impossible because of the season in which Jesus was crucified). Others have merely scoffed at the idea. Origen (early 3rd cent.) in Against Celsus (ch.33) refutes the scoffing of Celsus who refuses to believe in the Gospel because of the miraculous signs present in Jesus’ life and death.

The sun’s failure to shine is often present in prophecy when God is pictured as bringing judgment upon a people (cf. Exo 10.21-23; Isa 24.23; Joel 2.31; etc.). Here, at the death of Jesus, it would seem we have the sun’s refusal to shine as a testimony to the fact that in Christ God is judging the sins of the world and through His sacrifice, Jesus is satisfying the justice of God. Also, note the connection here between what happens at the death and what Jesus has already said in Luke 22.53: “But this is your hour, and the power of darkness.” One commentator writes: “The narrative does not oblige us to think of anything more than an indescribable and oppresive darkness” (Pulpit Commentary).

Elsewhere in the gospels, we know there were earthquake and rocks splitting (Matt 26.51), dead bodies coming back to life (Matt 26.52b-53). Why Luke does not include these details is uncertain. Some would argue that it is because he knew that Matthew and Mark already covered these events. But why include the darkness? The answer to this would be only speculation. Perhaps there is some message in the darkness so profound that Luke felt compelled (by the Holy Spirit) to include it in his gospel narrative.

Luke also records the tearing of the temple curtain. This was the curtain or veil that separated the Holy Place from the Most Holy Place. It was 60 feet long and 30 feet wide and was very costly and very heavy. Luke tells us it was “torn in two.” Matthew gives a bit more detail, saying that it was torn “from top to bottom” (Matt 27.51). Most commentators say this is emblematic. Clarke says that it points to the end of the separation between Jew and Gentile and the privilege of the high priest is communicated to all mankind. Most speak about how this symbolized freer access to God for all men who come to God through faith in Christ. Surely it was also a sign to the priests, many of whom had just a few hours earlier condemned Jesus to death. And now, as Jesus gives up His spirit, the temple is rent in two. Since this was a high day, one commentator imagines that Caiaphas the high priest is offering incense before the veil when this event takes place.

Memorable Speech

During this darkness, there are no more mocking cries or shouts of derision. Only silence, so it would seem, as Christ suffers the full force of the justice and wrath of God upon the cross. The other synoptists each record another saying of Jesus from the cross left out by Luke. At the ninth hour, He cries out, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” (Matt 27.46; Mark 15.34) Then, as His time draws short, the silence is broken by the final cry of Jesus from the cross: “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit” (v.46). One source says this was a bedtime prayer said by Jewish children (Bible Exposition Commentary).

Jesus had said during His ministry that no one took His life from Him; rather, he laid it down of His own accord (see John 10.18). Here is Jesus, at the end of His salvific mission, even expressing that very idea. In other words, Jesus is dying right on time, even following the timetable of God. And it’s a “loud” cry, not the feeble murmur we would expect of a dying man. Some would say this indicates the strength and life yet in the the body of Jesus when He decides the justice of God has been satisfied. Whatever the case, Jesus was on the cross for the exact amount of time He needed to be and “breathed his last” at the precise moment ordained for Him.

In this final act, Jesus seems to capture the attitude every Christian should possess when they face death. Less than 24 hours before this, Jesus had to steel Himself as a man through prayer so that He could finish the mission of Messiah. Now we see Him fulfill the purposes of God and He faces His death with a last prayer, committing Himself to the care of the Supreme Sovereign who is at the same time the Faithful Father. Christians do not face death as the world does. Let us unite our attitude with our Lord so that when we leave this world, we can likewise cry out, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!”

Mixed Sentiments

As is true today so was it true then: not everyone responds to the death of Jesus the same way. There are three groups of onlookers who each have very different reactions when Jesus dies.

First, the centurion who seems to be near the cross responds with praise to God (v.47). This man no doubt had stood on watch in command of the scene where three men were slowly dying. He had no doubt seen the darkness, felt the earthquake, and seen the rocks split. He had heard the seven sayings of Jesus from the cross, heard Him pray and face death triumphantly. All of this seems to impress this centurion so much so that he praises and gives honor to God. This is captured further in his words, “This man was innocent.”

Second, we see the crowds who go home beating their breasts (v.48). It would seem these people, perhaps some of them guilty of condemning an innocent man and crying out “Crucify Him”, are convicted, pricked in their own hearts and minds after witnessing this public spectacle. They “saw what had taken place” the same as the centurion; the earthquake, darkness, rocks splitting. However, unlike the centurion, there is no praise to God and it would seem there is no repentance. They regret the act, but their sorrow does not produce repentance. It should be noted, though, some believe that this sorrow will soon lead to repentance. Their hearts are prepared for the gospel sermon of Peter on the Day of Pentecost some 50 days in the near future (Acts 2).

Third, we have the friends of Jesus standing at a distance (v.49). As Jehovah of the Old Testament, Jesus has “tred the winepress alone and from the peoples no one was with me” (Isa 63.3). But indeed, He is the only one who could fulfill redemption’s plan. They, too, have been “watching these things” take place, eyewitnesses to this seemingly final act of Jesus, the man from Nazareth who claimed to be Messiah. There are women present, too. They had accompanied and supported the work of Jesus (see Luke 8.1-3). Some of them have had their life touched by the Master. They “stood at a distance.” None courageous enough to be by the Lord’s side during this darkest hour. We must careful not to be too hard on these friends; would we have been any different?