Summary: So, what are we sure about this Easter morning? That Jesus was right all along.
We have had three months of somber, tense passages covering the passion of our Lord, and though hopefully I have been able to convey the message that throughout his passion, Jesus was in control of his destiny and was carrying out the mission of redemption that he had come to accomplish, nevertheless there is atmosphere of sadness hanging over the story. We are ready for the happy ending.
When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices so that they might go to anoint Jesus’ body. 2 Very early on the first day of the week, just after sunrise, they were on their way to the tomb 3 and they asked each other, “Who will roll the stone away from the entrance of the tomb?”
As you recall from last week, Joseph of Arimathea (with Nicodemus) quickly buried Jesus just before the Sabbath began. These women had followed them and watched the burial proceedings. They were determined in some way to pay one last act of devotion to their Lord. What can they do? They could anoint his body.
The burial custom of the Jews was to cover the body in spices and perfumed ointments, not to preserve the body but to counteract the odor of the decaying flesh. Joseph and Nicodemus did do that, but because of the short time to get the bodied buried, may not have done as complete a job as usually given. Even if they did, it would not be odd for the women to want to do their part as well.
The women had to wait an extra day until the Sabbath was over before they could buy the necessary spices and carry out their work. They make an early start and along the way consider an obstacle – the stone that had been rolled over the tomb’s entrance. How are they going to move it? It is probable that they know nothing of the guard and the seal over the entrance that Matthew tells us about.
They are a pitiful sight – a handful of grieving women making their way to Jesus’ grave to try and do something to show their love, and not even knowing how they are going to accomplish their task. 4 But when they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had been rolled away.
What could this mean? We know from John what they thought. Jesus’ enemies could not be satisfied with killing him; they had to disgrace his body as well. Joseph may have outwitted them in getting Jesus’ body, but they would get to it later. That is the logical supposition. We can be sure that his coming to life was not considered at this point.
They draw up the courage to go inside the tomb. Inside the entrance is an antechamber they could stand in. There would then be a small entrance cut into the rock that leads into the tomb room itself. 5 As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man dressed in a white robe sitting on the right side, and they were alarmed.
I am sure they are alarmed. They are no doubt experiencing the same tension we would feel if we came home and found our house broken into, and we enter not sure if the trespasser is still in there or not. But beyond being frightened by finding a stranger present, they experience the common fear of everyone who comes into the presence of an angel. Mark doesn’t use the term for an angel, but the “white robe” is the giveaway. That is angel clothing. Matthew tells us explicitly that he is an angel.
What the man in the white robe says also confirms that he is an angel. First, an assuring word not to be alarmed. That is standard angel protocol. But most of all is the divine revelation that he gives.
6 “Don’t be alarmed,” he said. “You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid him. 7 But go, tell his disciples and Peter, ‘He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.’”
This is divine revelation, the message of an angel of the Lord, most likely given to him by Jesus himself. An empty tomb only proves that the body is missing. It is this message that makes clear the wondrous miracle that has taken place.
Consider the message. You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. They had seen with their own eyes Jesus crucified. They had seen him die and had witnessed his burial. It was Jesus the Nazarene, i.e. of Nazareth. They were not mistaken about his death and burial. They knew where to find him, or so they thought!