He's Not There!

By Rev. Heidi L. Barham |  April 17, 2022

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Luke 24:1 – 12
As we look at this passage from Luke’s Gospel that describes the events that took place early in the morning on that first Resurrection Day… when the women went to the tomb with the spices they had prepared to anoint Jesus’ body… we can only imagine the thoughts that began to run through their minds when they found out that JESUS WAS NOT THERE!
Luke tells us that when the women left the tomb and went back and told the disciples, “HE’S NOT THERE,” the men did not believe the women because they thought their words sounded like nonsense.  In fact, Peter made it a point to go to the tomb so he could look for himself…
Perhaps he thought the women were looking in the wrong tomb or that they had just not looked closely enough and the body really was right where it had been since the night before… Maybe it was just a little too dark in that tomb… although there were two men in clothes that gleamed like lightening, so it’s doubtful the women would not have not been able to see…
And how did Peter and the disciples try to explain away the presence of the men who asked the women why they were looking for the living among the dead?  Oh, that’s right, I almost forgot… the men thought they were talking nonsense!
Now in Peter’s and the other disciples’ defense, the story that the women told must have seemed pretty fantastic… a vanishing dead body… men in glowing clothes saying, “HE’S NOT THERE…”  although we might pause and ask ourselves why the disciples would have been so skeptical.
After all, hadn’t Jesus told them exactly what was going to happen?  
So, why was everyone so surprised when these women, Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James and several others who were with them came back and told them, “HE’S NOT THERE” and that the tomb was empty? 
The text says that after the angels who appeared as men gleaming with light reminded the women of what Jesus had told them, verse 8 says that the women “remembered His words,” so they must have been listening when Jesus told them these things… they just needed to have their memories jogged.
Now time and time again, we read in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke that Jesus told the disciples that He would be betrayed into the hands of men, killed and then be raised again on the third day? 
For example, Matthew 16:21, Mark 8:31 and Luke 9:22 all read fairly similar:

From that time on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.
So, if the women were able to remember what Jesus had told them, shouldn’t the disciples have remembered as well? 
Especially if we consider the account in Mark’s gospel (8:32) … it is there that we read, “He [meaning Jesus] spoke plainly about this [in other words His death and resurrection], and Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him.”
Now, it does take a rather bold person to rebuke Jesus, but that is what the scriptures say that Peter did.  And it was all because he did not want to accept what Jesus had just told the disciples… that He was going to be killed and then be raised to life again. 
But let’s be honest, would any of us really want to hear that someone we cared about… someone that we had been following in ministry for three years… would we want to hear, much less believe, that person was going to be killed?  Even if he or she said they would be raised to life again in a matter of three days?
Peter is often described as being a hot-head… someone who acts first and asks questions later.  But who among us has not found ourselves in Peter’s shoes?  Reacting to the situation at hand and then second guessing ourselves after the fact?
That is why it should not seem all that surprising that Peter would have wanted to see for himself that the tomb where they had laid Jesus was in fact empty.  Which one of us would not have wanted to see it for ourselves rather than simply accept someone else’s report that HE’S NOT THERE?
Now, there is something that bears noticing in the text which says that even after Peter saw it for himself, “he went away, wondering to himself what had happened.”
It can be difficult to just accept someone else’s word at face value… especially when it comes to something so amazing as Jesus being raised from the dead… and there are even times, as in Peter’s case, when seeing ISN’T always believing.
And that is why when we share the Good News with others about our living Savior and talk about what we have read in the Bible… it is not too farfetched to think that someone might need a little extra reassurance before they will believe that HE’S NOT THERE… that the borrowed tomb was empty and remains empty to this day.
For some, it may sound like nonsense as it did for those disciples when they first heard the news.  While some may be like Peter, needing to look for themselves but still being left wondering. 
But once they have a personal encounter with Jesus and accept the fact of the Resurrection… then they will be able to commit their lives to Christ and begin serving Him.
And so, our job is to study the Scriptures for ourselves so we can point others in the right direction… showing them the truth.  And we also need to study so we can be prepared if someone comes along proclaiming this, that, or the other thing… we need to be prepared so we can determine whether or not what they are preaching actually lines up with THE TRUE GOSPEL of Jesus the Christ. 
We can get bombarded by all kinds of people talking about the prosperity gospel or the power of positive thinking or any number of other ideologies… and they may all SOUND good.  But the bigger question ought to be, does it line up with what God’s Word really says? 
The Apostle Paul cautioned his young protégé, Timothy:
Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction. For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths (2 Timothy 4:2-4).
And in order for us to be able to sort out fact from fiction, we need to know for ourselves what the Word of God says.
Quite some time ago, I had a conversation with a young man about this very subject.  He said many people will not take the time to open the Bible and study God’s Word for themselves, but will just take what someone else says as the truth and end up going down the wrong road.
And unfortunately, that does seem to happen more often than it should… especially as we hear all the political rhetoric being slung back and forth these days… some people are willing to accept as truth simply what best aligns with their way of thinking whether it is based on fact or not.
But Jesus did warn us about this.  In Matthew 7:15 we read, “Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves.  By their fruit you will recognize them.”
While back in the Old Testament in the book of 1 Samuel (16:7) we find, “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”
Just because someone may “look the part” and say all the “right words” that we want to hear… that does not necessarily mean that they have our best interest at heart.  Keep in mind, when Jesus was in the wilderness for those 40 days, Satan was quoting the Scriptures as he tried unsuccessfully to tempt Jesus… he may have had the right words but he clearly had the wrong motive.
But Jesus set the example for us of how we can resist falling prey to the temptation to follow after false prophets and teachers… those wolves in sheep’s clothing…  We have to know the Word for ourselves, just as Jesus did.  Satan tried to take words of scripture out of context to entice Jesus.  But because Jesus IS the Word, He had an answer for every trick that Satan tried to use.
And that is what we need to be prepared to do as well.  People will try to twist the scriptures to fit their own agenda… but the charge to us as disciples of Christ is made clear in 2 Timothy 2:15, “Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth” (KJV).
As we study God’s Word, we will find the truth about who God is calling us to be and what God is calling us to do.
In Matthew 28 (18-20) we read:
Then Jesus came to them and said, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.’
This passage from Matthew’s Gospel is typically referred to as “The Great Commission.”  It is Jesus’ directive to the disciples then as well as to His followers now.  Jesus said to go and make disciples and to baptize them in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  And He also said to teach them to obey everything that He has commanded. 
But here is the thing, as disciples, as followers of Christ, we cannot teach someone else what we do not know for ourselves… and we cannot and will not know it until we intentionally take the time to study God’s Word.
Now let me be the first to say, there is a LOT that we can study in the Bible.  In fact, it can be quite overwhelming to think about all that is contained in the Word of God. 
But it is also quite amazing to think about all the promises that God’s Word contains for us.  Promises that are just as true today as they were way back when they were first written.
Let me highlight just a couple that seem particularly fitting on this Resurrection Sunday.
The first is perhaps the most often quoted verse of scripture we will ever hear, which is John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”
The next comes from Romans 10:9-10:
If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved.
And the last comes from Ephesians 2:8-10:
For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.
I want to invite you to take some time to look closely at those scriptures.  You will see that there is absolutely nothing ambiguous about God’s promises… there is nothing that seems like nonsense… 
The Word says whoever believes shall not perish… and whoever declares with their mouth ‘Jesus is Lord’ and believes in their heart that God raised Him from the dead… that whoever does this WILL be saved.
And perhaps the best news is that it is all because of God’s grace that we have been saved through faith… not because of anything that we have done ourselves in order to get our acts together… but simply because of God’s grace… His unmerited favor.  We can’t earn it and certainly don’t deserve it but God gives us His grace… anyhow.
And God’s grace was willing to go all the way to a cross at Calvary so that we would have eternal life…
And although Christ was crucified on that cross at Calvary and took on the punishment that our sins rightfully deserved… the Scriptures assure us that HE IS NOT THERE… The tomb is empty because death did NOT have the final say! 
And that is why, on this Resurrection Sunday, we can say with confident assurance that Christ is risen… He is risen indeed!
We can look up at that cross, not as an emblem of suffering and shame, but as the source of hope and promise… we can say of the cross what was declared about the tomb HE’S NOT THERE!  And that really is good news for us today and always!