Sunday, April 09, 2023

“What the Women Found” [Matt's Messages]

“What the Women Found”
Resurrection Sunday: April 9, 2023
Lanse Evangelical Free Church
Luke 24:1-12

I’m telling you. These women were taken by surprise! They ran up against something they certainly never ever expected to experience.

Luke chapter 24 gives us the story of the first people on the scene after Jesus’ resurrection. The first witnesses to say what had happened.

And their names were Mary, Mary, and Joanna (v.10). And there may have been more. Mark mentions a woman named Salome. Verse 10 says that there were others in the group like Salome. But they were all women. 

And they were the first on the scene. And they were the first to share this crazy story!

I would have never come up with this story in a million years. And I would never have told it this way. As I was reading it and re-reading it this week for this message, I kept thinking that, “I would never tell this story like this.” 

And, to me, that means that it has the ring of truth! I mean, for one thing, the miracle of the resurrection that we’ve been singing so loudly about this morning is never described. There are no witnesses to the actual moment of Jesus coming back from the dead.

We’re going to see the effects of it.
We’re going to hear that it has happened.
There will be plenty of evidence for this miracle.

But if this was a movie, we’d the see the body sit up. We’d see His legs twitch. It’d be a jump scare. Or we’d see the color return to His flesh. His chest go up and down again. We’d see Him swing around and stand up. We’d see the action of Him coming back from the dead, walking out of the tomb.

But God doesn’t tell His story that way. That all happened in the secrecy of the tomb. No witnesses but the Father, the Spirit, and the Son Himself. 

And then these first people on the scene are women. And I love that! I would have never come up with it. But I love it. I love it because women were, in that day, not trusted as reliable witnesses for public matters. Women often had second-class status in ancient near eastern cultures.

We’ll see in a few moments that they were not initially believed even by their brother disciples!

But in how God tells His story, these women were the first on the scene and the first with the good news. And that does at least two things at the same time:

First, it elevates the status of women. Which Jesus does at every turn. The Gospel of Luke is chock-ful of Jesus’ interactions with women, and they are overwhelming positive. Everywhere Jesus goes He lifts up and improves the lives of women. He treats women with dignity and respect. He often points out where His female disciples have been more faithful and more faith-filled than their male counterparts. Jesus cherishes women and lifts them up at every turn.

Ladies, if you have been taught that Christianity denigrates you, you have been taught wrong. Certainly, Christians have often done that, but Christ has not.

If you want to read more about that, I would recommend this book by Rebecca McLaughlin, Jesus Through the Eyes of Women: How the First Female Disciples Help Us to Know and Love the Lord. It’s a really good introduction to Jesus from the perspective of the women in His life. And, again, their status improves here as women are the first on the scene and the first with the good news.

But at the very same time, that lends credibility to the whole story, because, at the time, nobody would have come up with this!

In her book, McLaughlin says, “The fact that all four Gospels make the women central to their resurrection claim appeals to us as 21st-century readers. But it would have had the opposite effect on literate men in the Greco-Roman world...[quoting Richard Bauckham] ‘[W]omen were thought by educated men to be gullible in religious matters and especially prone to superstitious fantasy and excessive religious practices’...from [their] perspective, Mary Magdalene and the other weeping women who witnesses Jesus’ so-called resurrection were a joke. If the Gospel authors had been making up their stories, they could have made Joseph of Arimathea [the owner of the tomb] and Nicodemus the first resurrection witnesses: two well-respected men involved in Jesus’ burial. The only possible reason for the emphasis on the testimony of women–and weeping women at that–is if they really were the witnesses” (pg. 166-167).

I think that’s exactly right! This way of the telling this crazy story gives it the unmistakable ring of truth.

But we’ve gotten ahead of the story itself. Let’s look and see what Luke actually says actually happened. What these women actually found. Look with me at Luke chapter 24, verse 1.

“On the first day of the week, very early in the morning, the women took the spices they had prepared and went to the tomb. They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they entered, they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus” (vv.1-3).

I have four things I want to point out that these women surprisingly found on that fateful Sunday morning. And here’s number one:


According to Luke chapter 23, Jesus died on a Friday, and these women who had been following Him for a long time were there at His crucifixion (23:49). They stood at a distance and watched the awful thing happen to Him.

And then Jesus was buried in a tomb, and those same women saw the tomb and how His body was laid in it (23:55). And they had gone home and prepared spices to anoint His body after the Sabbath. They loved Him and wanted Jesus to be honored in His death. And, as obedient Jewish believers, they rested quietly on the Sabbath and waited for Sunday morning to come.

Luke says that it was very early the morning. The sun had just begun to send out beams over the horizon, and they set off for the tomb. They knew where it was. They didn’t know how they were going to get in. They thought they would have to come up with come of plan.

But they were surprised. They were greeted by an open tomb. That was the first clue that something big had happened. And the second clue was the biggest. There was no body there! V.2 again.

“They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they entered, they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus” (vv.2-3).

What’s even more amazing than what they found was what they did NOT find. They didn’t find any corpse! The tomb was not only open but empty.

That never happens, by the way. On Memorial day, you never go down to the cemetery to put flowers on your loved one’s grave, and there’s this great big gaping hole where they had been laid to rest. “Oh, they’re gone. I wonder where they went this weekend.”  The local funeral service has never had one get away from them!

The next verse says that “they were wondering about this,” and no wonder. This just doesn’t happen.

Unless there are grave robbers. That’s what Mary Magdalene thought at first. The Gospel of John says that she told the other disciples that theory that Jesus’ body had been stolen. We looked at that last year on Resurrection Sunday in John chapter 20. But it wasn’t grave robbers. Jesus’ body was not stolen.

And God sent two amazing messengers to make that clear. Verse 4.

“While they were wondering about this [while they were “perplexed”], suddenly two men in clothes that gleamed like lightning stood beside them.”

It’s angels! Can you imagine? Their clothes gleamed like lightning. Just think. That’s all the electricity these folks knew. They didn’t have electric lights. They didn’t have stadium lights. They didn’t have LED’s. All they knew was lightning, and these two men’s clothes gleamed like lightning!

How bright?! Ever looked at lightning and then closed your eyes and still see the silhouette, the outline of the lightning on your eyeballs? They were standing next to these two “men” with clothes like lightning! And that’s not the most amazing thing they’re going to see in their lifetimes!
These women hit the dirt. Verse 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? He is not here; he has risen! Remember how he told you, while he was still with you in Galilee: 'The Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, be crucified and on the third day be raised again.'’ Then they remembered his words.” (Vv.5-8).
Here’s the second big thing they found:


The angels tell the women that they shouldn’t be so surprised that Jesus is not there. Because He told them in advance that He was going to do this. He said that again and again. They just didn’t understand what He was saying. They just didn’t get it. But that’s why the angel rebukes them. He’s gentle, but the message is clear, “Why do you look for the living [Jesus] among the dead [the tomb]? Don’t you remember what He promised?

He told you that He was going to be betrayed. He knew about Judas. He told you that He was going to be crucified. On Thursday night, He had taken bread and said, “This is my body which is given for you.” He had taken the cup and said, “This is my blood which is poured out for you.” He told you that He was going to be executed by sinful men.

But He also said that He would eat that meal again. He said that He was going to be raised from the dead on the third day. 

And if He can keep that promise? There is no promise that He cannot keep!

There is unbelievable power at work here. The power to raise the dead! And the power to keep every one of His precious promises. 

This is such good news!  It’s good news because it means our salvation. Jesus’ crucifixion paid for the sins of His people, and His resurrection cements the deal. The Apostle Paul said, Jesus “was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification” (Rom. 4:25-5:1 NIVO). He came back to life to give us life. Like the choir sang, “Just as He promised. Just as He said.”

And it’s good news because it means that God’s plan is not derailed. Do you feel sometimes like God’s plan is off track?  You might have come to church this morning after a really rough week. May this week your life was like a country-western song. You lost your girl, you lost your job, you lost your truck, you lost your dog.

And I’m being funny, but maybe you didn’t have anything to laugh about this week. And you’re feeling like God’s plan must be off track. Have you seen the state of the world? Have you read the headlines?

Well, when these precious ladies got up that Sunday morning, they believed that the Lord Jesus Christ was a cadaver. And He had told them that He was going to die but not stay dead. And when these angels reminded them (v.8), “They remembered his words.”

“Oh yeah! Maybe we shouldn’t be surprised. Maybe all is not lost. Maybe God’s plan is still on track. Maybe Jesus is alive.”

And we say: Christ is Risen! 

Indeed He is. But not everyone believes. Look at verse 9.

“When they came back from the tomb, they told all these things to the Eleven and to all the others. It was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the others with them who told this to the apostles. But they did not believe the women, because their words seemed to them like nonsense” (vv.9-11).

Here’s the third thing the women found:


The apostles “did not believe the women.” It doesn’t say that they didn’t believe them because they were women, but, sadly, that probably didn’t help. 

But it was because “their words seemed to them like nonsense.” Like “idle tales.” Like foolishness.

“What are you saying? What do you mean the tomb is empty? What do you mean there were men shining like lightning? What do you mean that Jesus is alive? That’s crazy! Ladies, what are you talking about?"

Some of you may think that all of this stuff we’re talking about today is crazy. Some of you may be skeptics yourself and have been drug to church by someone you love.  I’m glad you’re here today. Thank you for coming.

I hope this is a chance for you to re-think the evidence and consider the case for the resurrection of Jesus Christ. It’s not a slam-dunk because these women said these things, but I sure think it has the ring of truth. 

We have a class right now called “Cold-Case Christianity” that is being taught by Keith Hurley here on Sunday mornings at 8:30. The guy who wrote the curriculum was a homicide detective that uses his knowledge of sifting through evidence to examine the claims of Christianity. Next week, they are talking about the standard of proof and debunking conspiracy theories.

Christianity is not something where you check your brain at the door and believe illogical things with no evidence. No, instead, Christianity is something where you engage your brain in weighing the evidence and then believing in amazing things because of it.

Yes, this is an amazing claim. We believe that Jesus Christ came back from the dead. And one of the reasons is because of these women who many people knew. Some of them are named here, Mary Magdalene, Joanna, and Mary the mother of James, and the some others who are not named but were there–gave evidence. They gave testimony.

They went to the tomb and found the stone rolled away and they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus (vv.2-3).

What do YOU think? If you are not sure, I challenge you to check it out yourself. I believe these women, and it makes all of the difference in everything.

The fourth thing that these women found:


At first the apostles didn’t believe, but then Peter said, “I’ve got to see for myself.” v.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.” He wasn’t sure yet either. He walks away scratching his head. Peter could see that the strips of linen were there. If someone stole the body, why would they leave His graveclothes? That just makes it seem like there was a resurrection.

Maybe there is a resurrection!

The Gospel of John tells us that the Apostle John ran with Peter to the tomb, and when John saw the empty tomb and the strips of linen that had been covering Jesus just lying there, John “got it” and believed!

First the women disciples.
Then the men disciples.
More and more people check it out.

And then Jesus starts appearing to them, too.

There are several accounts as this chapter closes. And then Paul documents even more. More than 500 people see Jesus alive over the next forty days! More than 500 people, at different times, will swear upon cross examination that Jesus Christ was alive again. Many of those people were not only willing to swear that Jesus was alive, they were willing to stake their entire life on it. They were willing to die for what they saw.

Peter was one of them. Historical tradition says that he was crucified upside down for saying that Jesus Christ had risen from the dead. First the women, then the men, then the church in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and to the outer most parts of the Earth.

Even to Central Pennsylvania! The good news has reached our ears. Jesus is alive, and it makes all of the difference in the world.

It means hope.
It means peace.
It means joy.

It means salvation.
It means eternal life.

I would have never come up with this crazy story, and I would have never told it this way.

But I wouldn’t change a thing.

Because what the women found truly changes everything.