Luke 24: 1-12 Easter Sunday 11.30am
By porthkerryandrhoose, May 2 2019 04:56PM
I’m going to tell you an amazing story. It sounds unbelievable but it is true!
Violet Jessop was a stewardess on ocean liners. She started with the White Star Line when she went aboard the HMS Olympic in 1910. A year later, while Jessop was still working aboard the ship, it collided with the British warship the HMS Hawke while the two were passing through a narrow strait. Though both vessels were damaged by the encounter, it did not completely destroy either ship and there were no fatalities.
While the Olympic was being repaired, Violet was employed aboard another White Star Line ship, the RMS Titanic. Jessop was onboard when the Titanic struck an iceberg and sank, but was able to find a lifeboat, and survived.
Despite these two sea accidents she had been a part of, during World War I, she served as a Red Cross stewardess aboard the HMHS Britannic. It had been converted into a hospital ship and was transporting injured soldiers to the United Kingdom, when they hit a German mine in the Aegean Sea and sank.
While escaping the sinking ship on a lifeboat, Jessop and many other passengers were almost sucked into the ship’s propeller blades, but narrowly escaped, cementing her reputation as “Miss Unsinkable”.
Some true stories are difficult to believe aren’t they? It’s remarkable for someone to have survived one shipwreck, let alone three. In our Bible passage this morning, we see that the women who visited Jesus’ tomb, and later the disciples, were faced with unbelievable circumstances. As we look at Luke’s account of that first Easter morning, we’ll see how the women weren’t expecting any change from the grave they’d left on the Friday evening. We’ll look at how the situation was explained to them by their heavenly visitors. We’ll also see that even by the end of this passage, belief that Jesus had indeed risen from the dead was by no means certain.
Firstly, we see that the women visiting Jesus’ tomb weren’t expecting any change from the grave they’d left on the Friday evening. V1 tells us that ‘the women took the spices they had prepared and went to the tomb’. Jesus’ death had occurred late on the Friday afternoon, with the Sabbath due to begin at sunset. So his body would have been placed quickly in the tomb as there would have been no time to prepare the body for burial before the Sabbath rest began. This visit then, ‘first thing in the morning’ was the earliest opportunity after Jesus’ death and the Sabbath that followed it for his body to be properly anointed for burial with spices. When they arrived however, things were not as they expected, as we see in v2-3: ‘They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they entered, they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus.’ We aren’t told of their reaction to this discovery, except for a very brief statement in v4 that they ‘were wondering about this’. However, it isn’t difficult to imagine how they might have reacted: panic, horror, confusion or anger are probably just some of the emotions they may have felt. They certainly don’t seem to have any thoughts of resurrection on their minds, despite the fact that they had heard Jesus refer to his death and resurrection on several occasions. Then, as if they haven’t already received enough of a surprise, they are joined at the tomb by some unusual visitors. V4 continues: ‘suddenly two men in clothes that gleamed like lightning stood beside them’.
These men are surely angels – God’s messengers – and they are going to explain the situation the women have found at the tomb, which has left them wondering. They begin with a question, maybe a mild angelic telling-off for the women as they haven’t remembered what Jesus had told them. They ask ‘Why do you look for the living among the dead?’ To the angels, it is folly to be at Jesus’ tomb, a place for the dead. In vv6-7 they continue: ‘He is not here; he has risen! Remember how he told you, while he was with you in Galilee: “The Son of Man must be delivered over to the hands of sinners, be crucified and on the third day be raised again.”’ Jesus had said this to the disciples in ch9 v22 when he asked them who people said he was, and who they believed he was. He told them again in ch18 vv 32-33 before they headed to Jerusalem with him that final time. As they heard the angels speaking, something must have stirred in the memories of the women, as we hear in v8 ‘Then they remembered his words.’
The women believed and were excited to tell the disciples what they had heard and seen, yet the disciples still did not believe that Jesus was risen. We’re told in v11, ‘But they did not believe the women, because their words seemed to them like nonsense.’ The disciples were sceptical, not convinced at all by the women’s account of their experience at the tomb. All except Peter. Peter wanted to see for himself. We read in v12 that he ‘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.’ There’s no indication that Peter came to believe at this point that Jesus had risen, but something must have prompted him to visit the tomb, when the others disbelieved so completely. Perhaps Jesus’ prediction of Peter’s denial of him was fresh in his mind and perhaps this led him to start to trust what Jesus had said about himself too. If we read on into ch24, we see that many of the disciples do not believe that Jesus is risen until he appears among them.
This might seem an odd message for Easter Sunday. It is after all, a day of celebration because we believe that Jesus rose from the dead. And yet, the reality we face today in the UK is that many people do not believe that Jesus died and rose again. More worryingly, according to a survey commissioned by the BBC in 2017, a quarter of people who identify as Christian do not believe in the resurrection and more still – nearly 40% - do not believe that it happened literally as the Bible tells it. Perhaps this shouldn’t come as such a surprise. If the people who lived alongside Jesus and listened to his teaching needed convincing (and by his appearance among them no less) that he had risen from the dead, how much more do the general public in the 21st century need convincing that this 2000 year old story is absolute truth?
What do you believe about the resurrection? Do you believe the accounts given to us in the New Testament? What would you say to someone who asked you about Jesus’ death and resurrection? Perhaps you want to look at it afresh for yourself. Start with the gospels. Matthew, Mark, Luke and John all give an account of Jesus’ resurrection. They differ in detail – as all accounts do when told from different perspectives – but all begin with the empty tomb and contain the witness of people who encountered the risen Jesus. Many people look for evidence of the resurrection. There are some great resources that provide just that. Christianity Explored, a course that teaches the foundations of the Christian faith, dedicates a whole session to the resurrection and Chicago Tribune journalist Lee Strobel has written a book examining the evidence for the resurrection called The Case for Christ. Don’t underestimate though, the human power of storytelling. We share knowledge through storytelling. We pass on our history, our culture, our learning, through storytelling. Storytelling plays a huge part in passing on faith too. Not just scriptural accounts but personal experiences. We all have our own faith story to tell – how we came to believe and how God is at work in our lives. Maybe hearing your faith story and the difference God makes to you and your life will help bring someone to faith.
This morning, let’s all pray for the courage to share our faith stories when asked. Let us pray for the strength of conviction to declare that we believe in Jesus – the Saviour who died and rose again. And let’s start now: Alleluia! Christ is risen!