"Luke's Take On Easter"

LUKE 24:1-12

APR 20, 2014

PLAY AUDIO

 

           Since 1994 the humorist Randy Cassingham has sent out a weekly e-mail called, "This Is True: Randy Cassingham's Weird News."  If you want to get on his weekly e-mail list just Google "This Is True" and it will steer you to his site.  Here's a sample.  This weird story appeared in the Dallas Morning News,

 

            Charles D. McKinley, 25, of Brooklyn, N.Y., had four weeks of vacation coming, so he decided to visit his parents in DeSoto, Texas. Rather than buy a plane ticket for $320, McKinley, a shipping clerk, packed himself into a shipping crate and air-expressed himself home, charging the fees to his employer. When the crate was delivered to his parents' front step, McKinley pushed out of the box and shook hands with the "shaken and frightened" delivery driver. The driver called the police. After an investigation by the FBI, the U.S. attorney, postal inspectors, the Federal Aviation Administration and the Transportation Security Administration, McKinley was charged as a stowaway, a federal misdemeanor.  The columnist concluded,  "If he had only waited for the driver to leave, he would have been home free."

 

            That's a strange story, and so was the story the women brought back with them after their trip to the tomb on the very first Easter Sunday.   Turn with me to Luke's version of Easter, chapter 24, verse 1. 

 

            But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they came to the tomb, taking the spices that they had prepared. They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they went in, they did not find the body. While they were perplexed about this, suddenly two men in dazzling clothes stood beside them.

 

            Here is one of the discrepancies we find when comparing the resurrection accounts in the Gospels, about which the critics and the opponents of the Christian faith make so much.  In Mark's Gospel, the messenger in the tomb is a young man in a long white robe.  In Matthew's Gospel he is an angel of The Lord.  In John's Gospel it is two angels, but here it is two men in dazzling clothes.  So, true there are differences, discrepancies in the accounts, but it is also true that whoever was there to greet the woman, whether it was one man or two men, one angel or two angels, it does not altar the fact of the missing body, the empty tomb.

            Another discrepancy involves the number of women.  The number of women coming to the tomb varies in the gospel accounts and here's what to keep in mind.  Actually, let's keep two things in mind.  First of all, if you were here for the beginning of this sermon series on Luke, you may remember me saying that if I were a woman, Luke's Gospel would be my favorite Gospel because he has more stories about women than any of the other Gospels.  Here is another case in point.  Luke has more women coming to the tomb than any of the other Gospel writers.  Three he mentions by name and says there were others in addition to the three, and we'll read their names in just a bit.

            The other thing to keep in mind is these women came to the cemetery without hope.  They were resigned to Jesus' death.  The terror of Good Friday was over.  The grief of Saturday was still with them.  They came to prepare Jesus' body for the long journey into decomposition, and they came with no hope, no faith that anything would change.

            I think of the story about a town suffering from a serious drought.  It was farm country and the crops were on the edge of ruin.  The local preacher decided to hold a prayer meeting to ask God to send rain.  He asked all those who believed in God's power to do so to join him at four o'clock in the church.  When the hour came, the church was almost full, but when the preacher got up and looked around, he said, "This meeting is called off.  We don't have enough faith to pray.  I don't see a single umbrella here."

            Well, these women came without faith, without hope, without umbrellas.  What was about to happen caught them completely off guard.

 

            The women were terrified and bowed 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, but has risen. Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners, and be crucified, and on the third day rise again.  

 

            Note the mild reprimand.  The two dazzling men do not reprimand the women for their lack of faith, but rather they reprimanded the women for their poor memory.  Like typical men, they say, "He told you so.  He told you so.  He told you at the beginning of his ministry back in Galilee that this would happen.  He told you he would be crucified and rise again on the third day.  Geez," they say, "weren't you listening?"  Let's continue on. 

 

            Then they remembered his words, and returning from the tomb, they told all this to the eleven and to all the rest.  Now it was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them who told this to the apostles.  But these words seemed to them an idle tale and they did not believe them. But Peter got up and ran to the tomb; stooping and looking in, he saw the linen cloths by themselves; then he went home, amazed at what had happened.

 

            A couple of things.  First, the Greek word for "idle tale" was used by medical writers of the day to describe the babbling of a fevered and insane mind.  In other words, they thought the women had gone mad.  They thought the women had lost touch with reality.  According to Luke, Peter was the only one who decided to follow up on their story.  Peter does a lot of dumb things in the Gospels, but here he does a commendable thing.

            Second, note the one thing upon which all the Gospel writers agree.  They all agree on the fact that the first Easter people were women.  The first messengers of the resurrected Christ were female.  Of course, a sexist male, of which I'm sure there are none here, would say, "Since God wanted to spread the Good News far and wide, he asked himself, Who talks the most and keeps secrets the least?  And on that basis, he chose a band of women."  Of course, that's not the case and thank God we do not have sexist men here today.  Rather, I believe it was God's way of elevating the status of women in that day and in days to come. 

            We easily skip over a piece of information in Luke's account.  I want to draw your attention to it.  Remember the "He told you so" reprimand to the women?  Look at their words once again, verse 6, "Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners, and be crucified, and on the third day rise again.

            Let's not miss the implication of these words.  The text assumes that Jesus had told the women that he would be betrayed, crucified, and raised.  This information would have placed the women in the inner circle of Jesus' followers.  While Luke regards the apostles as a special group, he does not limit the special experiences of Christ to them alone.  The women who traveled with Jesus were privy to this insider information.  So, while it may surprise us that women were the first Easter people, it does not surprise Jesus at all.

            OK, having examined Luke's take on Easter, I want to close with a question, a question extrapolated from the initial response of the disciples to the women's story.  Every Easter the same question casts a shadow over this day.  Here's the question:  "Is this an idle tale or an eternal truth?" 

            At the age of thirteen, at the Roxy Theater on Brand Boulevard in Glendale, California, I saw the movie El Cid starring Charlton Heston and Sophia Loren.  It's the story of a disgraced Spanish knight who rids his country of its Moorish conquerors.   For many years one small fort withstood all assaults, thanks to the remarkable leader El Cid.  When the great leader died on the eve of a great battle, his followers had an idea.  They dressed his body in his armor, tied a sword in his hand, and placed his corpse on his horse.  With El Cid's body in the lead, the Spanish forces charged.  El Cid has a climax unique in the annals of movie epics: the final assault is led by a dead hero.

            There will always be those who insist that this is what we have here ... a dead hero, propped up by an idle tale.  In fact, that explanation occurred on day one.  Luke doesn't mention it, but Matthew does in his Gospel.  "Tell people," the chief priests said to the soldiers following Christ's resurrection, "that his disciples came while you were asleep and stole his body.  That way if the story of his disappearance reaches the governor's ears you won't get into trouble."  From the very beginning, the explanation was advanced that the disciples had stolen Christ's body to propagate this idle tale of the resurrection.

            If it's an idle tale, however, one needs to explain something.  Why would the disciples sacrifice their lives for an idle tale?  Why would they go to their deaths for a hoax?  If you read the rest of the chapter you will notice that Luke documents three resurrection appearances in this chapter: Jesus' appearance on the Road to Emmaus; his appearance to the disciples in Jerusalem; and then his ascension appearance in Bethany.  And after these resurrection appearances the disciples moved from being defeated to dynamic, from heartsick to heroic, from doubting to death defying.  Something happened to the disciples that radically changed their behavior.  The radical change that took place in the lives is not the kind of change one will find among persons who are perpetuating a fraud.  One does not die for an idle tale.  The most cogent explanation for their radical change was they encountered the risen Christ!

            A new movie came out this week Heaven Is For Real.  Are you going to see it or have already seen it?  Heaven Is For Real is the true story of a four-year old son of a small town Nebraska pastor who experienced heaven during emergency surgery.  After surgery the four year old talked about looking down to see the doctor operating and his dad praying in the waiting room.  The family didnt know whether or not to believe him, but soon the evidence was clear.  In heaven, Colton met his miscarried sister whom no one ever had told him about and his great-grandfather who died 30 years before Colton was born.  He shared impossible-to-know details about each.  Colton went on to describe the horse that only Jesus could ride, about how reaaally big  God and his chair are, and how the Holy Spirit shoots down power from heaven to help us.

            As amazing as little Colton's story is to hear he's not the first one to report such a phenomena.  Researchers have found that similar reports of persons who have been revived following near-death experiences tell amazingly similar tales about bright lights and out-of-body episodes, and being united with people they love.  Are their reports to be believed?

            J. B. Phillips is universally esteemed for his translation of The New Testament in Modern English and for his other books such asYour God Is Too Small.  Phillips, before his own death, vowed and declared that a few days following the death of the great writer C.S. Lewis, Lewis appeared to Phillips sitting in a chair only a few feet away.  He claimed that Lewis spoke a few words of particular relevance to a difficult situation through which Phillips was passing.  What shall we make of this?  Either Phillips was a liar and that's hard to accept given his integrity or he was hallucinating or Lewis was alive after his death.  Those are the possibilities: liar, hallucinator or the real deal.  Take your pick.

            As much as I believe J.B. Phillips experience, I do not believe that J.B Phillips would have been willing to have been thrown into the gladiator's ring to support his contention that he really had seen Lewis.  The disciples, however, were willing to give up every thing they had including their lives in defense of their contention that Christ was alive.  Why?  Because it wasn't an idle tale.  You don't sacrifice your life for a lie.  It really happened.  Happy Easter.  Amen.