If I told you a couple of months ago half the world would be in lock down mode along with everything else that’s happened, you probably wouldn’t have believed a time could be possible. Things like this are a once in a generation experience. I read one article which said the world hasn’t been in such turmoil since the Second World War – 75 years ago. We’re just not used to this sort of thing and we’ve had to experience it to believe it.
What about a once in the history of the world experience?
When the women returned from the empty tomb, recorded in our reading from Luke 24, “these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them” (v.11). That phrase “idle tale” means “pure nonsense”. Despite what Jesus had told them during his ministry, that he would rise again, words that the apostles remembered (v.8) they still couldn’t believe it until they saw it for themselves.
The first 12 verses of the chapter form a neat chiastic structure pointing to a central lesson that all of us need to understand. The section is framed by the experiences of the women (verses 1-3) and on the other side of the frame, the experience of Peter (verse 12), both of whom came to the tomb and found it empty. Both groups had a message delivered to them regarding the resurrection of Christ. The women by two angels (verses 4-6) and the apostles by the women (verses 9-11). The message in each case was to remember the words of Christ. Verse 6 says of the women “Remember how he told you” and then verse 8 says of the apostles “they remembered his words”. This is emphasizing the central words in the chiasm where it says, “the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men and be crucified and on the third day rise” (verse 7).
However, until it happened, and they saw the empty tomb, the fulfilment of those words seemed to be utter nonsense to the apostles. Just like them, we have a hard time believing things outside our normal experience. Well, right now we’re going through a very abnormal experience and we firmly believe in the existence of an invisible virus causing havoc across the globe. One thing we can learn from all this is to believe that abnormal things can and do happen and an event will soon occur that is another once in a history of the world experience, the return of our Lord Jesus Christ and the resurrection of those who have fallen asleep in him. The fundamental lesson for us is not only to remember the words of scripture which teach these things, but to firmly believe them.
That lesson is pressed home in the rest of Luke 24 when the risen Lord interacted with the two disciples on the road to Emmaus. They were “amazed” (v.22) at what happened, and Jesus responded to their amazement with the following words: “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 his glory?”And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.” (v.25-27). He said a similar thing to the apostles when he appeared to them later. They were “startled and frightened” (v.37) by his appearance but he told them, “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.” (v.39-39). Despite that they “still disbelieved for joy and were marveling” (v.41) before Jesus said, “’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.’ Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures” (v.44-45).
Again, the lesson throughout the chapter is not just to know and remember these things, but to believe them. Really believe them. It’s written in the word of God and therefore it will come to pass. It’s that belief – or faith and trust – in the word of God which will see us through.
Consider the words of the angels when they met the women at the tomb: “Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen” (v.5-6). Why do you suppose the angels asked that question? The women should have believed what Jesus said – he would be alive again on the third day. So why were they looking for him in a tomb, the abode of the dead? But there’s a little more to it than that because their words echo the prophet Isaiah: “And when they say to you, ’Seek those who are mediums and wizards, who whisper and mutter,’ should not a people seek their God? Should they seek the dead on behalf of the living?” (Isa. 8:19).” The people in Isaiah’s time had resorted to using mediums and wizards. We might call them the self-help gurus of the ancient world. They were people believed to talk to the dead, but Isaiah says we should be seeking for the living God instead. It’s what the prophet says next which sums up the lesson from Luke 24 – “To the teaching and to the testimony! If they will not speak according to this word, it is because they have no dawn” (v.20). Despite their claims to be able to speak to the dead, no wizard or medium could raise the dead – there was no “dawn” – no resurrection morning.
For us the lesson is to always go “to the teaching and to the testimony”. Some of what it says is outside of anything we have ever experienced, but we must still believe it, however abnormal it is to what we know. I remember my mum telling me years ago she wondered if, when our Lord returns, that we’ll be called to stand before the Son of Man by someone we loved having risen from the dead and appearing to us. For her, in her vision, it was my grandpa, in the grave now for many years. But one day he, along with all the faithful of old, will see a new dawn. Our loved ones, along with all the faithful throughout history, will be there with our Lord and we will be there with them. It’s really going to happen. It’s not an idle tale or utter nonsense. And while we might at first react like the disciples “startled and frightened”, disbelieving for joy, it’s still going to happen despite our struggle to believe. May the surreal events we’re experiencing now get our minds in the right place to believe the humanly impossible will surely come to pass.
Simi Hills, CA