Easter Sunday, March 27, 2016
“No Idle Tale”
But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they went to the tomb, taking the spices they had prepared. 2 And they found the stone rolled away from the tomb, 3 but when they went in they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. 4 While they were perplexed about this, behold, two men stood by them in dazzling apparel. 5 And as they were frightened and bowed their faces to the ground, the men said to them, “Why do you seek the living among the dead? 6 He is not here, but has risen. Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, 7 that the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men and be crucified and on the third day rise.” 8 And they remembered his words, 9 and returning from the tomb they told all these things to the eleven and to all the rest. 10 Now it was Mary Magdalene and Joanna and Mary the mother of James and the other women with them who told these things to the apostles, 11 but these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them. – Luke 24:1-11
It was Jesus’ female disciples who first arrived at the tomb on the Sunday following Jesus’ death and burial. But the women did not make their way to Jesus’ tomb expecting to witness his resurrection. They came carrying the traditional spices and perfumes for the purpose of completing Jesus’ burial which had been so hurriedly done on Friday. You don’t bring burial spices if you are anticipating finding a risen, living Jesus. We admire the love, the devotion, the bravery of those women who first arrived at the tomb. Throughout the weekend Jesus’ apostles had remained in hiding behind locked doors for fear they too would be arrested and put to death for associating with Jesus. Nevertheless, the women, like the apostles and other followers of Jesus, did not understand or believe in Jesus’ promise that he would rise again. They were all in shock,
The Gospels tell us that these women had watched at a distance as Jesus’ body was taken down from the cross and carried to the nearby tomb belonging to Joseph of Arimatheaa and laid to rest there. Early on Sunday morning, at first light, before dawn, the women made their way to the tomb. They w ould have completed their loving task on Friday evening, or on Saturday, but it was a high Sabbath of the Jews, and so they waited for Sunday morning when the Sabbath was over.
On their way they worried whether anyone would be at the tomb to help roll back the massive stone they had seen Joseph of Arimathea set into place against the tomb entrance on Friday afternoon. Similar tombs have been uncovered, showing that the stone was a massive piece of rock carved into the shape of a wheel, easily weighing a ton. The giant stone when was placed into a sloping track carved across the face of the tomb. Several men with ropes, pulleys, and pry bars were needed to roll the giant stone wheel up its track, allowing entrance to the tomb. Wedges would hold the wheel in the open position. The burial completed, the wedges would be knocked away and the giant stone wheel would roll down its track and with a convincing thud against the built-in stops lock and secure the tomb entrance. But upon reaching the tomb they saw that the massive stone had not only been moved a little up the track to gain entrance to the tomb, but it had been thrown completely out of its track and some distance from the tomb by some super-human power. The tomb was empty. Jesus’ body was not there. Anxiety and fear bordering on panic settled in. What has happened? Had someone violated Jesus’ tomb and stolen the body?
Jesus’ body was not there, but two men, dressed in white, were there. Fear gripped the women as they realized these two were angels— messengers from God. The angels reminded the women of Jesus’ promise that he would rise again on the third day after his death. Then the angels told the women to return to Jerusalem and tell the disciples what had happened.
Unbelief was the prevailing attitude early on that first Easter morning. When the apostles heard the report from the women, they dismissed it as an “idol tale.” Yes, even the apostles, Jesus’ closest friends, because of fear, and shock, and mourning over what they had witnessed in Jesus’ death, did not remember or believe Jesus’ promise that he would rise again. They dismissed the report of the women as an idol tale.
So also in our day many people dismiss the scripture report of Jesus’ resurrection as nothing more than an idol tale… a myth…. a legend…. A fairy tale…. in the category of other myths and legends. Here in Minnesota we have the legend of Paul Bunyon and his Blue Ox, Babe. I don’t think anyone really believes any of that is true. But there are other myths that people tenaciously hold on to! There is the enduring legend of Big Foot or Sasquatch. Though no legitimate evidence has ever been found of the legendary creature, people insist that he exists. Another modern day myth and legend is that of UFOs, little green space aliens, alien kidnappings, and so on. Though there is absolutely no physical evidence of space aliens or their UFO space ships, millions tenaciously hold on to the legend.
On the night of July 20, 1969, American astronaut Neil Armstrong became the first man to set foot on the surface of the moon. Along with millions of viewers world-wide I watched the historic event on live television. But truthfully at the moment I did not know whether to believe it or not. StarTrek—the CBS television series about the adventures of Captain James Kirk and the starship Enterprise was in its third season. Was the moon landing real, or was it just another fantastic television production?
Jesus’ apostles and disciples soon understood that the women’s report— that Jesus had risen from the tomb—- was no idol tale. Later that evening Jesus appeared to the gathered apostles and disciples in Jerusalem. He had appeared earlier to the women and to two disciples on the road to the nearby village of Emmaus. In the weeks following he would appear to hundreds of disciples. To some, like Thomas, who had difficulty believing he was really alive, Jesus invited them to touch him and see that he wasn’t a ghost, or phantom, or myth, or legend. He was Jesus. The same Jesus they had known for years. The same Jesus they had walked with and eaten with and learned from.
In our culture today we are surrounded by tall tales, myths, and legends. The explosion of communications technology has given us Facebook, email, twitter, Snapchat, and TMZ, but rather than accentuating the truth, we have learned that it is more important than ever to sort out what is true from what is falce. 2,000 years of testimony and martyrdom tell us that the story of Jesus, his death, and his resurrection are all true. And the most important testimony to the truth remains the empty tomb. The body of Jesus was never found, and it never will be. The reason is that he is not dead, but alive. And if that is true, then we can be sure that all his other promises will also be true.
Ours is not a faith or religion built on myths, legends, or tall tales. We stand on the most awesome fact of all human history. Jesus, the Son of God, who paid the price of our eternal redemption on the cross, rose again and lives now for all eternity. And he says that we should see his resurrection as a sure sign of our own eternal fate. Because he rose, we who believe in him will also rise. As he lives forever in heaven, so also we who believe will join him there when our days here are completed.
Easter a tall tale? No, but the truth from him who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.