It is Easter Sunday! It is the day that the church all over the world celebrates the resurrection of Jesus. The horror of the brutal death of Jesus on the cross of Calvary on Good Friday gives way to celebration and joy in the truth that Satan, Sin, and Death have been defeated once and for all in the resurrection and empty tomb of Jesus.
I think about what the last couple of days would have been like for Jesus’ followers in the first century. I wonder how devastating it would have been for those who walked with him for three years leading up to the night of his false arrest and execution on trumped up charges. I remember what an emotional blur it was for me the day that my mom died, and I remember what the next few days and months were like as I came to grips with the reality that she was no longer alive.
As emotionally devastating as those days were for me, I still cannot imagine what it must have been like for Jesus’ disciples. It was not that they were merely close friends or family members; Jesus’ followers had looked forward with anticipation to the coming of the Messiah for centuries as they hoped for redemption from their earthly enemies.
Living under the oppression of foreign rulers for many years would have caused Jesus’ followers to feel like he was their last and only hope. In Jesus, they encountered the man whom they believed would annihilate their enemies and set them free for eternity. But now those hopes were crushed in the horror of Good Friday; until the Son rose on Sunday morning! The events of that day are absolutely shocking as some of his followers find the tomb empty (vv. 1 – 12), some of them have a conversation with him on a dirt road not far from Jerusalem (vv. 13 – 35), and then to top things off, Jesus shows up in a room with them at the end of the day (vv. 36 – 49). Look at the text with me…
1But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they went to the tomb, taking the spices they had prepared. 2And they found the stone rolled away from the tomb, 3but when they went in, they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. 4While they were perplexed about this, behold, two men stood by them in dazzling apparel. 5And 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? 6He is not here, but has risen. Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, 7that the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men and be crucified and on the third day rise.” 8And they remembered his words, 9and returning from the tomb they told all these things to the eleven and to all the rest. 10Now 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, 11but these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them. 12But 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.
13That very day two of them were going to a village named Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, 14and they were talking with each other about these things that had happened. 15While they were talking and discussing together, Jesus himself drew near and went with them. 16But their eyes were kept from recognizing him. 17And he said to them, “What is this conversation that you are holding with each other as you walk?” And they stood still, looking sad. 18Then one of them, named Cleopas, answered him, “Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?” 19And he said to them, “What things?” And they said to him, “Concerning Jesus of Nazareth, a man who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, 20and how our chief priests and rulers delivered him up to be condemned to death and crucified him. 21But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things happened. 22Moreover, some women of our company amazed us. They were at the tomb early in the morning, 23and when they did not find his body, they came back saying that they had even seen a vision of angels, who said that he was alive. 24Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but him they did not see.” 25And he said to them, “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! 26Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” 27And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.
28So they drew near to the village to which they were going. He acted as if he were going farther, 29but they urged him strongly, saying, “Stay with us, for it is toward evening and the day is now far spent.” So, he went in to stay with them. 30When he was at table with them, he took the bread and blessed and broke it and gave it to them. 31And their eyes were opened, and they recognized him. And he vanished from their sight. 32They said to each other, “Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road while he opened to us the Scriptures?” 33And they rose that same hour and returned to Jerusalem. And they found the eleven and those who were with them gathered together, 34saying, “The Lord has risen indeed, and has appeared to Simon!” 35Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he was known to them in the breaking of the bread.
36As they were talking about these things, Jesus himself stood among them, and said to them, “Peace to you!” 37But they were startled and frightened and thought they saw a spirit. 38And he said to them, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? 39See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself. Touch me, and see. For a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.” 40And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet. 41And while they still disbelieved for joy and were marveling, he said to them, “Have you anything here to eat?” 42They gave him a piece of broiled fish, 43and he took it and ate before them.
44Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” 45Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, 46and said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, 47and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. 48You are witnesses of these things. 49And behold, I am sending the promise of my Father upon you. But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.”
#1: THE WOMEN FIND THE TOMB EMPTY (VV. 1 – 12)
In verses 1 – 12, Luke tells us that Mary Magdalene and a group of women visit Jesus’ tomb early on Sunday morning immediately following the Sabbath. Jesus has been dead in the tomb for three days. So, the women bring some spices to anoint him with to keep his body from stinking. When they arrive, they find the stone rolled away, the tomb is empty, and two angels appear beside them, and they ask 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” (vv. 5 – 7). As soon as the women heard these words they ran back and told the disciples, who thought they were just telling stories. So, Peter ran to the empty tomb and Luke tells us that after he saw the empty tomb, he “went home marveling at what had happened” (v. 12).
I am absolutely convinced that the proper response to the truth of the resurrection is a response of absolute shock and awe. I am also absolutely convinced that every aspect of the Christian faith is staked on the truth of the empty tomb. The great Apostle Paul, who once was a terrorist who was responsible for the murder of Christians shortly after the resurrection, before encountering the resurrected Jesus on the road to Damascus (Acts 9), said that “if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile” (1 Cor. 15:17). The only thing that transforms a Christian – murdering terrorist into one of the greatest evangelists and church planters the world has ever seen, is none other than an encounter with the resurrected Christ. An encounter with the resurrected Christ will radically transform your life.
There is nothing about Christianity that is even remotely helpful if the resurrection is not true; if the resurrection is not true then the church is merely a country club. But if the resurrection is true, then Christianity is the answer for all of humanity’s problems. Namely the problem of sin; there is not one problem in the world today that does not find its roots in the problem of sin and rebellion against a holy God. And the only answer to that problem of sin against a holy God is none other than the bloody murder of his one and only Son and his victorious resurrection three days later, proving that he is in fact the King of kings and the Lord of lords over Satan, Sin, and Death.
This is what makes the discovery of the empty tomb by the women and Peter so significant. It is true that the women and Peter were hoping for a nationalistic Savior – one who would set Israel free from the oppression of their enemies – but the reality is that Jesus came to set them – and us – free from so much more. When Jesus rose from the dead, he fulfilled centuries of prophecies that foretold God’s plan of redemption for all eternity. This is exactly the conversation Jesus has with a couple of disciples in the next section of our story.
#2: JESUS TALKS WITH TWO DISCIPLES ON A DIRT ROAD (VV. 13 – 35)
In verses 13 – 35, Luke tells us that on the same day there were two disciples taking a road trip to a city called Emmaus that was about seven miles from Jerusalem. As they were traveling, Jesus appeared incognito, walking with them and as they walked along Jesus asked what they had been talking about. The two disciples were dismayed that somehow their fellow traveler had not yet heard the horrible news. So, they recounted for him the gruesome events of Jesus’ betrayal, arrest, and crucifixion even though he was a prophet who was mighty in word and in deed. These two disciples also recounted the bizarre news that they had heard from the women that Jesus’ tomb was empty.
Jesus’ response to hearing the story of his own death and resurrection is almost amusing. He says “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into glory?” (vv. 25 – 26). Luke also adds this other detail, that after Jesus asked his question, that “Beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself” (v. 27).
Jesus literally held a Bible study as they walked on the road to Emmaus and as he taught them, he showed them that Christianity is not about political issues, social issues, or even religious issues. Christianity is not about trying to do the right things so that God will like you more, and it is certainly not about trying to be a better person. Christianity is all about Jesus, the Messiah, the Savior, the One who gave his life as a ransom to make sinners into family members.
Now, once the two disciples and Jesus arrived at the town of Emmaus, the two disciples invited Jesus to stay with them and as they were eating dinner Luke tells us that “he [Jesus] took the bread and blessed it and gave it to them. And their eyes were opened, and they recognized him. And he vanished from their sight.” (vv. 30 – 31). I can not imagine how unbelievably startling this event would have been. The two disciples looked at each other and said, “Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road while he opened to us the Scriptures?” (vv. 31 – 32). This moment would have been moment that was not filled with guilt or shame for not understanding things earlier. This moment would have been a moment of clear hearted conviction of the truth of the gospel.
What do you do when Jesus reveals himself to you, fully alive, and fully capable of opening your eyes to the truth of the Bible like you have never seen it before? Luke tells us that these two disciples jump up and they run the seven miles back to Jerusalem where they find the other disciples and they proclaim: “The Lord has risen indeed, and has appeared to Simon” (vv. 33 – 34) and then they relay how Jesus appeared to them and made himself known to them as he broke the bread and served it to them.
It seems so appropriate to me that their eyes were opened as he broke the bread and served it to them. Their minds would have been flooded with memories of eating the Passover meal a few nights ago and the things he said about how the bread was a representation of his body that would be broken for them; and then they would have remembered what happened at the cross of Calvary where Jesus’ body was in fact broken in the most horrific and humiliating of ways. It is this message that those two disciples ran back to the other disciples in Jerusalem with. It is that message that they were discussing when Jesus showed up in the room.
#3: JESUS APPEARS TO ALL THE DISCIPLES (VV. 36 – 49)
In verses 36 – 49, Luke tells us that as all of the disciples were discussing the crazy events of the day, Jesus himself appeared among them, which startled all of them into thinking that there was a ghost in the room. But Jesus calmed them down and said “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself. Touch me, and see. For a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have” (vv. 38 – 39).
In these moments, Jesus was proving once and for all that all of the stories we hear – about how his body was stolen, or that he had a twin brother, or that he somehow rolled the stone away on his own, or that his appearances were merely apparitions of depressed minds – are not true. The only story that is true, is that Jesus is the only quote-un-quote religious leader who is not dead! He proved it that night and over the course of the next few days as he continued to appear to more than five hundred of his followers in the very same way (1 Cor. 15:3 – 11).
After Jesus proved to the disciples that he was not a ghost, he asked them for some food and then while they ate he reminded them that “everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled… that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem” (vv. 44 – 47) and then he wrapped everything up by letting them know that they would be his witnesses throughout the world once the Holy Spirit came and filled them with his empowering presence.
In conclusion, I want you to think about the power of the resurrection with me for a few moments. Jesus’ final words here to his disciples, are words about the essence of the gospel – sin, salvation, forgiveness – and being his witnesses to the ends of the earth. Jesus is literally telling his friends – who completely abandoned him on Friday evening in fear – that they are going to be responsible for telling the entire world about him, about his death and resurrection, about sin, and about forgiveness, as his Spirit enables them to.
Once again, this is about so much more than transforming the nationalistic situation of Israel; it is about so much more than changing the political landscape; it is about so much more than trying to position the church in the center of the culture; it is about true spiritual transformation. This is about Jesus being the one who turns religion upside down with a cross and an empty tomb. This is about Jesus being the one who flips religious conversations on the dirt roads of life into life changing encounters with the living God. This is about Jesus taking weak, sinful, depressed, confused, lonely, rebellious people and transforming them into mouthpieces for the glory of God to the ends of the earth.
If you are with us today and you are a believer who has been going through the motions, barely engaged, rarely reading your Bible, only praying when things hit the fan, worried about where we are headed as a nation, hurt or disenfranchised with the church, struggling with some secret sin as you hang on with what feels like the last ounce of energy you have; I pray that the power of the resurrection would awaken your heart and bring strength to your soul: the tomb is empty, there is absolutely nothing that is beyond God’s power to fix.
If you are hearing this message and you are not yet a believer, you are here because it is Easter or you are here because someone invited you or you are here because your life is in shambles – regardless of what brought you here today, I want you to know that God loves you more than you could ever imagine. Not only did he orchestrate your very presence here today, but he made a plan before time began to send his Son, Jesus, to the cross in your place and in my place.
Jesus went to the cross willingly, and he died brutally with your name and picture in his pocket; he did not die for faceless or nameless people; he died for each and every person that he intended to save. That person might be you. That might be the reason you are here today; so that you could confess your sin and your need of Jesus to save you from the penalty, the presence, and the power of your sin through his work at the cross of Calvary and the empty tomb. I pray that if this is you today, that you would surrender to him right now and trust him to radically transform your life: the tomb is empty and there is absolutely nothing that is beyond God’s power to fix.
This is the power of the empty tomb of Jesus: Satan cannot stop him, Sin has no hold over him, Death has been defeated by him; your doubt, your depression, your confusion, your addiction, your broken family, your coldness towards him all these years… none of those things has an edge on the power of Christ Jesus who died so that you might be forgiven and rose so that you might be transformed! This is the power of the empty tomb that radically transforms people’s lives for all of eternity! Amen!
1 Unless otherwise specified, all Bible references in this paper are to the English Standard Version Bible, The New Classic Reference Edition (ESV) (Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers, 2001).