On the first day of the week, very early in the morning, the women took the spices they had prepared and went to the tomb. They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they entered, they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus.
While they were wondering about this, suddenly two men in clothes that gleamed like lightning stood beside them. In their fright the women bowed down with their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here; he has risen! Remember how he told you, while he was still with you in Galilee: ‘The Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinners, be crucified and on the third day be raised again.’” Then they remembered his words.
When they came back from the tomb, they told all these things to the Eleven and to all the others. It was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the others with them who told this to the apostles. But they did not believe the women, because their words seemed to them like nonsense. Peter, however, got up and ran to the tomb. Bending over, he saw the strips of linen lying by themselves, and he went away, wondering to himself what had happened. (New International Version)
The disciples were stuck in the yesterday of Holy Saturday and the grief of Good Friday. Christ’s death was nothing but bad news, leaving them with an awful wondering about what could have been.
And now, an empty tomb. What does it mean? The disciples did not yet discern the reality and impact of what had happened. Their perplexity and curiosity eventually turned to a different kind of wondering: The amazement that Christ is alive! That Jesus has taken care of the sin issue once for all. That a new order is now in force that forever changes everything!
We, too, have the chance to be amazed and in wondrous awe over the resurrection of Jesus. Because the resurrection of Jesus is not just a doctrine to be believed; it is a powerful reality to be lived, and a source of eternal wonder and praise.
The Wonder of the Female Disciples
Do you wonder why women were the first disciples to encounter the empty tomb and the risen Lord?
Women are central to Luke’s resurrection account because women are central to the gospel. They play a significant role, along with men, in the ministry of the good news of Jesus. Within an ancient culture, and religious milieu, in which men were prominent and women were not regarded as reliable witnesses to anything, God used the female disciples as the very first witnesses of the empty tomb.
Women now play an important part alongside men in ministry.
This fact was not lost on the early church, who commissioned both men and women as apostles, serving in the highest ranks of the ministry. For example, Junia was a female apostle – an eyewitness of Christ’s life, ministry, and death, as well as a leader who helped build the Church. (Romans 16:7)
If you ever “wonder” what role women ought to play in the church, the answer is: They ought to serve in the highest offices of leadership because the female disciples were prominent witnesses to the resurrection, on purpose.
The female disciples were curious about the empty tomb. While they were wondering about it, a couple of angels show up and ask them a question designed to lead them to a proper interpretation of Christ’s missing body:
“Why do look for the living among the dead?”
Many people today seek Jesus among the dead. They look for him in empty places.
Some look for Jesus in good ideas, as if knowledge or education save us. We may reason: If we have all the right information, express right belief, and sign-off on right doctrine, then we are okay. However, we are not saved by thoughts, even understanding, as if our brains are what deliver us from sin, death, and evil. We are saved by the person and work of Jesus Christ (Romans 6:1-23).
Many look for Jesus through their efforts, as if I can work my way into the good graces of God. We believe that action is the key. So, whenever we mess up, we seek penance by beating ourselves up, in some way, to somehow atone for the mistakes. However, Jesus finished the work! We participate with Christ in his death and resurrection through faith, not by works. We cannot do for ourselves what Christ has already done for us. Our “work” is to believe, and to be in wonder. (John 6:28-29)
Folks might search for Jesus in the heart – feeling that if our belief is sincere, if I’m basically a good person, if my heart is in the right place, that’s what matters. Yet, we are not saved through sincerity, or by warm-fuzzy feelings about God, as if our hearts save us.
Our hearts can be desperately wicked and are in need of redemption. Through repentance and faith, people find Jesus. Since Jesus is in the heart transplant business, you will find him wherever there are people with critically low heart function.
To find Jesus, in the ancient world, one needed to find the tax collectors, the lepers, the blind, the poor, or even a Roman Centurion. Today, if you want to find Jesus, he will still be found among the poor, the diseased, the refugee, the immigrant, the prisoner, and those who are despised by others.
The last place you would look, in Christ’s day, is with the religious leaders. And today, whenever we look for God to show up with all the answers and all the heart transformation in church, we then wonder why we cannot see Jesus. That’s because Jesus is not in the grave but, as the risen Christ, is out bestowing new life to the people with sick and hard hearts.
Why do you look for Jesus in church? Rather than asking Jesus to come to us, let’s go to where he is.
Since Christ is alive, we are alive.
We need not be perplexed about the empty tomb because Jesus is alive! He is risen! This reality is to impact our lives forever:
Since then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. (Colossians 3:1-4, NIV)
This is the gospel, the good news of Christ. It’s no secret. Jesus made this plainly known. The gospel is not insider news. It’s freely available to everyone. Early in his ministry Jesus said to his disciples:
“The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.” (Luke 9:22, NIV)
A few years later, before heading for Jerusalem, Jesus laid it out again for them:
“We are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written by the prophets about the Son of Man will be fulfilled. He will be delivered over to the Gentiles. They will mock him, insult him and spit on him; they will flog him and kill him. On the third day he will rise again.” (Luke 18:31-33, NIV)
The Wonder of Peter
The women hurried to tell the disciples. But the men were clueless; they didn’t believe the women. Peter, always the impetuous one, hurried to see the tomb for himself. He left wondering (thinking hard about) what all this empty tomb stuff means.
So, why (since the disciples were told what was going to happen) were they left wondering what in the world the empty tomb was all about?
Its meaning was hidden from them. They did not know what Jesus was really talking about. But this would all change. After appearing to them…
Jesus opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures. He told them, “This is what is written: The Messiah will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance for the forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. I am going to send you what my Father has promised; but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.” (Luke 24:45-49, NIV)
Present-day Christians know of Christ’s redemptive events of cross, resurrection, ascension, and the giving of the Spirit at Pentecost. We do not need to wonder (be perplexed). We are clothed with power from on high to accomplish the mission of Christ on this earth.
We can now revel and rejoice in wonder and awe over the person and work of Jesus. We possess forgiveness of sins, the Holy Spirit, and one another because of Christ’s mighty resurrection from death.
Perhaps we need a newfound sense of wonder (awe) about Christ and his rising from death so that the resurrection of Jesus is not only a doctrine to believe, but a source of joy and wonder that impacts our daily lives.
Here are some ways we might cultivate a sense of wonder that will help us better connect with the risen Christ:
- Watch kids play, learn, or do anything. Kids approach life with a sense of wonder. Everything is new, bright, and exciting – from being excited with a new toy to smiling at the simplest things – and even responding to Holy Scripture.
- Read Scripture as if it were your first time. A great way to do this is to get together with someone or a group of people who aren’t familiar with the Bible. Spend some regular time reading through a book of God’s Word together, observing the wonder of the biblical characters.
- Pay attention to God’s creation. All that we see is a window to the unseen. Whether taking a walk in nature, or traveling to other places, observe the changes of seasons and geography that elicits awe, reminding us of Christ’s resurrection.
- Learn something new. Learn or rediscover a musical instrument. Research a topic you have always wanted to know something about. Take up a new hobby. Learn a new language. Doing anything new helps us to know new life in Christ better.
All new life is wondrous and points to Easter, Resurrection Day. Whenever we lose our awe, we get stuck. Then, it’s hard to be excited about unseen spiritual realities. So, let us work at cultivating a sense of wonder so that the resurrection of Christ remains existentially fresh and alive.
Christ is risen! Christ is risen, indeed!