Summary: Because of Christ’s resurrection, God’s power is available for you.
What limits you? What ties you down? What holds you back? What keeps you from becoming all you intended to become and from doing all you long to accomplish? Remember the Capital One credit card ads where the agent always says, “No,” No, No” Does it feel like you keep getting “NO” as your answer too? (Set up a sign that says “NO.”) Will I ever overcome this problem? No. Will my job situation ever improve? No. Will I get on track financially soon? No. Will I ever find real satisfaction with life? No. Does it seem like your dreams keep getting beaten down and new problems keep popping up?
If so, you’re not alone. In fact, this may help you identify with the women in our Bible story today. They were painfully aware of the limitations of life. The cross had just said NO to the most awesome and abundant life they had ever known. If this could happen to him, what hope was there for them? They were heading to the tomb to pay their final respects by anointing his body for burial.
As an aside here, the fact that women were the first witnesses of the resurrection is really a cool thing. The testimony of women was not acceptable in courts of law at that time. Only men were considered credible witnesses. So this actually gives greater credibility to the resurrection story. If someone had made up the story, if it was fabricated, they certainly would not have made women the first witnesses. They would have made it Peter or John or some other respected man. But women are the first witnesses in the gospels, because they’re not made up. That’s what really happened.
Jesus’ body was placed in the tomb just moments before the Sabbath began, so there wasn’t time to complete the burial procedures before the Sabbath. And Sabbath laws forbade work on the Sabbath. So as soon as the Sabbath was over on Saturday at sundown, the women went to the local shop and bought burial spices. By then it was dark, so they waited through another long night until first light on Sunday morning, when they went to the tomb. They certainly didn’t expect the resurrection. They were overcome with grief.
As they made their way to the tomb, it dawned on them. “What about the stone? Who will roll the stone away for us?” It was way too big for them to move themselves. Who could move it? In a way that stone is a reminder of life’s insurmountable problems and barriers for us. They block our way. They’re too big for us to move. And we don’t know what we can do about them.
As they arrive at the tomb, the women look up, and the stone is already rolled back. God takes care of those barriers even when we can’t. The women don’t know whether this is good news or bad news, but the way things have been going, they probably expect the worst. Their hearts are pounding as they cautiously approach the tomb. Has someone stolen the body? God forbid, have they desecrated it? Is someone still inside? They don’t know what to expect as they step in. Their eyes adjust to the low light, and they are startled to see a young man sitting there. Their hearts jump right into their throats. The text says they are “startled” or “alarmed.” Terrified might be a good word.
The visitor, of course, is an angel. In the Bible angels look very much like people—no wings, no halos, no special glow. And usually when angels appear, people are terrified, so here as in most cases, the angel’s first words are, “Don’t be alarmed. Settle down. Don’t be afraid.” Then he gives them a message that changes them and the world forever. It’s a message that truly breaks the bounds of life’s limitations. I want to look at it in two parts, and each part has an implication—a “therefore” or “so what”—connected with it.
The first part of the message is, You’re looking for Jesus, the Nazarene, who was crucified. He isn’t here. He has been raised from the dead. Their minds probably can’t get around this, because it isn’t at all what they expected. He confirms that they are in the right place. Look, this is where they laid his body. The implication is, “Look, this is the place. But the body is gone. It’s not here. He is risen!”
This is arguably the most important and one of the best-attested facts of history. When I was struggling with the claims of Christianity for myself, it was the resurrection that convinced me. If the resurrection didn’t happen, a lot of other things have to be explained. For instance, 1) how do you explain the empty tomb? Some argued early on that the disciples came and stole the body while the Roman guards slept. But if a Roman guard was caught sleeping on duty, he was executed. They had pretty good motivation to stay awake. And even if the whole group had slept, wouldn’t the noise of the disciples moving the stone have awakened even one of them? And the disciples themselves were grief-stricken and distraught. They didn’t have it in them to pull off such a theft. And almost all of the disciples were martyred for preaching that Jesus is alive. Is it conceivable that under the pain of torture and death not one of them would ever break and tell the truth if they had stolen the body?