"It's nonsense!" That was the conclusion of the best of the best, those who had been taught by Jesus for 3 years. All this talk of an empty tomb and a risen Jesus was laros. A Greek word meaning nonsense, idle talk, humbug, the wild talk of a delirious person. I'll tell you what nonsense is.
It's nonsense to "embalm" the person you call Lord. That's what the women set out to do. That's what they had planned on doing since Good Friday going out and buying the spices to do it after the Sabbath. This was no spur of the moment decision. And they set out "very early" in the morning because they were expecting some state of decomposition.
We know from the first verse they were going to "embalm" someone. We know from the 3rd it was the Lord Jesus. Emperor Julian the Apostate said that Christians were irreligious because they "'have turned aside from the gods to worship corpses'" (Christianity & Classical Culture, 284). They aren't going to the tomb to worship the corpse of Jesus, but they are going to properly bury the body of their Lord. What sort of Lord needs His body embalmed?
But we do that too. We wish to preserve Jesus as a dead Lord. A dead Lord can be kept out of your life in the place you put Him. He doesn't reign and rule over your life. He's a fixture in your life like a picture or crucifix on the wall. You can go it, look at it, think about it when you want to, but He doesn't come down from His cross or off His place on the wall. He is part of your worldview but He doesn't shape it, direct it, maintain it.
To the apostles who did not believe the women their talk of a resurrected Jesus was nonsense. I'll tell you what is nonsense. To seek the living with the dead. Virtually all English translations have "among the dead" except for Young's Literal which has with the dead.' "Among" isn't even listed in some dictionaries as a translation. In fact the King James only 5 of the 473 times it's used translates among." Why does this matter? Because it's true to say that the living Lord Jesus is not with the dead but He is among them.
David preaches that in Ps. 139, "If I make my bed in the grave, You are there." Job does too. "The realm of the dead is naked before God" (26:6). Pr. 15:11 proclaims that the realm of the dead is before the Lord. Those in Christ lost to us on this side of death aren't lost to Him on the other side. He is very much among them, and Jesus being among them makes them very much alive to Him and to us. Jesus proclaims that the Lord is among the dead, and they aren't dead to Him. When He says I am the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, He is proving that He is not the God of the dead but of the living for they are all alive to Him.
It is nonsense to seek Jesus with the dead presidents, kings, or gods of the past. They are all "was-es." You know how painful it is when a loved one first dies and you catch yourself talking of them in the present tense and quickly change to the past? Because Jesus is among the dead and Jesus isn't a past tense no one who has died in Christ is in the past tense either.
Augustine said that Jesus "entered death as a lamb; He devoured it as a lion" (ACC, XII, 73). Paul said in Christ we can taunt Death: "O death where is your victory? O Death where is your sting?" Novelist Taylor Caldwell said that "he who laughs remains untouched by death" (The Arm and the Darkness, 578).
Can we really laugh at Death after it has drained the life out of a loved one and relentlessly approaches us to do the same? It's nonsense to laugh at death! Not if the living Jesus is among the dead victorious over the sin that killed them, the law that sentenced them to death, and the Devil that held them. O Death is still real, but now that Jesus is no longer with the dead but raised victorious over death to walk among the dead Death is a mere shadow.
That's what your beloved Ps. 23 says. The valley of death is a shadow because the Lord our Good Shepherd is with us. "Yeah though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil for though art with me." Jesus' remains with - same Greek word - the living even in Death because in Him Death is a shadow, a specter, a phantasm without substance.
Theologian Donald Barnhouse was driving his young children home from their mother's funeral. There were inconsolable. Suddenly a truck passed them engulfing the car in its shadow. He said, "'Children would you rather be run over by a truck or by its shadow?' the children said, "Well, of course, Dad, we'd much rather be run over by a shadow! That can't hurt us at all.' Dr. Barnhouse said, Did you know that 2,000 years ago the truck of death ran over the Lord Jesusin order that only its shadow might run over us'" (Illustrations for Biblical Preaching, 91).
Could it be? Could it really be? That the monster who took your loved one away, that dark feeling you felt at the grave, and can plague you still today is only a shadow? Sometimes walking at night beside dark Howard Lane a distant car behind me will cast my shadow on to a nearby bush, lost in thought I jump when I see it laughing that I am frightened by a shadow. Is the monster Death no more than that? In Jesus it is.
To the apostles it was nonsense that Jesus had risen victorious over such a bloody, tortuous Death, a death He said He was dying while carrying the sins of the world. He told them on Thursday night that He would pour out His blood for the forgiveness of sins. Well He had done that. Peter saw Jesus bloodied and battered in the High Priest's courtyard. John had seen Jesus dying drop by bloody drop on the cross. So horrible the dying, so complete the death, it was nonsense to say He is risen. No, I'll tell you what nonsense is: to embalm the Lord; to seek one living with the dead, and it is nonsense to forget the rhema of God.
There are two Greek words for word.' The more familiar logos and the less familiar rhema. Logos stresses the thought expressed; rhema on the fact God spoke (Lenski, Hebrews, 83). Remember those commercials when E. F. Hutton speaks people listen? When God speaks how much more so? No one can believe the dead rise who doesn't hear God speak. The soldiers guarding the tomb saw the resurrection and not only didn't believe it they were willing to lie about it. Jesus says in Luke 16 if people don't listen to God's Word they won't be convinced even though someone should rise from the dead.
This was the women Good Friday night, after the Sabbath as they bought the spices, and on their way to the tomb at deep dawn. They didn't remember the rhema the Lord Jesus had spoken to them. No one on their own does in the face of Death. So the angels preach God's Word to the women. They say that Jesus had to be betrayed to the hands of sinful men and be crucified. Someone had to answer for all the sin, the sewage, the sinfulness that infests God's good creation. Someone had to pay for the sin of unbelief. Someone had to pay for all those casual yet blasphemous "O my God's." Someone had to pay for God's Word not being gladly heard and learned. And the payment was death and not just death but damnation.
Jesus had told them that He must be betrayed into the hands of sinful men. But why must it be Him? Because otherwise it would be you, and God loved you too much to do that. So instead of You, God betrayed His perfect Son who was a gentle, spotless Lamb, who had never hurt a fly, never doubted Him, never misused His name, always gladly heard and learned His Word. The Father handed His beloved Son over to sinners, over to the Devil, over to Death itself and all 3 savaged Him, punished Him, damned Him, till there was no life in Him. But as certainly as the Son must be betrayed, must be crucified, so must He rise on the Third day.
That did it. The memories came flooding back the way a song remembers when, a smell transports you decades back, a sight sends you a 1,000 miles away. They didn't remind themselves. It's a Greek passive. God did the reminding. God caused them to remember and He did it through His rhema while they were standing in a tomb with no risen Jesus in sight. Yet by God's grace they were reminded and believed.
How joyous the trip to the apostles was! What great news they had to tell! But what's more nonsensical then forgetting the holy rhema of God is to be reminded of it and think it's nonsense. St. Augustine says that in his day, 400 A.D., if someone thought the resurrection was idle talk people say "he's all twisted up." Everybody loathes and detests what he says, turns away, closes their ears and refuses to listen to him (ACC, III, 376).
Ah, but the Church was only 400 years away from Easter then; we're thousands. C.S Lewis comments on that: Even though Christ's Resurrection is the first fruits of the coming cosmic summer, it still feels like winter, but often in the early spring it feels like that. However, that doesn't take away the nearness of spring at all. 2,000 years are only a day or two in a cosmic scale. A man can say, The Resurrection happened 2,000 years ago' the same way he says, I saw a Red Bud yesterday' (God in the Dock, 87). The fact that in early spring you can still feel winter's blast doesn't take away from the Red Bud's truthful preaching that spring is near.
Wow that's a lot to believe! Not even the apostles did at first. Our text stops
before verse 12 tells you that after Peter heard the women and thought what
they said was nonsense, he nevertheless ran to the tomb, looked in, saw the
empty grave cloths, and went away shaking his head. He still didn't believe,
but he moved from nonsense to marvel. I'll tell you what is nonsense. After 2,000
years of Christianity celebrating an empty tomb, not at least going and looking
for yourself. You don't even have to run. It will still be empty no matter when
you get there. Amen
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
The Resurrection of our Lord (20160327); Luke 24: 1-11