Tomb Raiders

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Good morning everyone! Happy Easter! Happy resurrection day! It’s the greatest day in history! And it’s fantastic to be celebrating it with you today, whether you’re here in the building - and what a treat to see so many of you - or whether you’re watching online, it’s great to be celebrating with you. This is the day that changed everything – like no other day has ever done – or ever will do! And this morning I want to remind us of why it is such an incredible day.

Now I don’t know about you, but I’ve got a terrible memory (or it might be a selective memory…!), and my wife is constantly saying to me ‘remember what I told you!’. “Remember what I told you about picking up the kids from nursery!”. Oh dear. “Remember I told you it’s your mum’s and dad’s wedding anniversary!”. Oh dear. “Remember I told you that we’re having steak tonight!”. Oh…yes! Yes!!

It can be difficult to remember what people have told us can’t it? And not only can it be difficult to remember, but sometimes we struggle to trust or to understand what we’ve been told – even when they are really important things. Even when they’re things that God himself has told us.

The people in the passage we’re looking at today needed reminding that they could trust the amazing things that God had told them. And in a year with so many ups and downs, we too need to be reminded of that…or maybe we need to think about it for the first time, this Easter.

The first person that we meet in the passage is,
“…a man named Joseph, from the Jewish town of Arimathea.”

All of the gospel writers mention where Joseph is from to prevent confusion with any other Joseph. And even the most sceptical scholars regard Joseph as a historical figure.

But who is he? Well verse 50 tells us that he’s a Jewish leader – in fact he’s a member of the very Jewish council that had condemned Jesus. And yet, we read that Joseph hadn’t consented. He didn’t want Jesus killed. We’re told that he’s “a good and righteous man” and “he was looking for the kingdom of God.”

And it’s clear that Jesus meant a lot to Joseph. Because he plucks up the courage to go to the Roman governor Pilate, and ask for Jesus’ body. It was brave of him, to be willing to associate himself with a man who had been condemned by his own council.

Historical sources tell us that Roman policy, in some situations, allowed a body to be taken by those close to the deceased. And we know that Pilate knew Jesus was innocent. And so, it makes sense that he would allow Joseph - a respectable member of society - to take the body. And so, we read in verse 53, that:
“… he took it (the body) down and wrapped it in a linen shroud and laid him in a tomb cut in stone, where no one had ever yet been laid. It was the day of Preparation, and the Sabbath was beginning.
He clearly must have held Jesus in very high regard, for him to be willing to place Jesus in his personal tomb. Maybe he had even thought that Jesus was the long-awaited Messiah. The one who would bring the kingdom of God!
But now that hope had been extinguished - and his only comfort must have been that he had managed to honour Jesus with a proper burial.
Now, none of this was done in secret. Verse 55 tells us that some women followed him “and saw the tomb and how his body was laid.”
Unlike Joseph, these women, some of whom are named later, knew Jesus from his Galilean days. They had followed Jesus the 125km from there to Jerusalem – expecting great things. Expecting Jesus to declare himself as the promised king.
But instead, they have witnessed Jesus’ awful crucifixion. They were probably still in shock - mourning, depressed, without hope. They probably quietly applauded Joseph for his actions. But they were overcome with grief.
Jesus was well and truly dead. He had been crucified and his side pierced with a spear by a soldier to make doubly sure. Joseph and the women clearly had no anticipation of him rising – all they wanted was to honour him with a proper burial.
And so, on the first day of the week, the Sunday for them, we read (chapter 24v1),
“…at early dawn, they (the women) went to the tomb, taking the spices they had prepared”.
And they’re greeted with a huge surprise! They find the stone (which they had expected to be covering the entrance) rolled away from the tomb. And when they head in, there’s no body there.
It’s easy to think that they must have jumped straight to the conclusion that Jesus had risen from the dead! But no, the idea that he might have risen from the dead was as crazy a concept for them as it is for us.
Imagine if you went to take flowers to a loved one in a cemetery – would you expect to see an empty grave? And if there was, would it ever occur to you that they had risen from the dead?
The women are perplexed, as you would be, but suddenly they see 2 men in dazzling apparel. Later in the chapter Luke calls them angels. They radiated the splendour of God. And the women were understandably terrified. They bow their faces to the ground.
And then we get to the crunch point. The angels say,
“Why do you seek 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 (meaning Jesus) must be delivered into the hands of sinful men and be crucified and on the third day rise.” And they remembered his words,
• 5 words to remember for life - Remember how he told you!
Here are the 5 words that I want you to remember from today. 5 words that we’d do well to remember for the rest of our lives. Remember. How. He. Told. You.

You see, in this chapter of Luke, we’re given 3 little true stories of people being confronted with Jesus’ resurrection:
1) Here in the tomb.
2) Jesus appearing on the road to Emmaus.
3) And then his appearance to the disciples in Jerusalem.
And every single time, they’re bewildered, they’re confused, as you’d expect. And then they are told to remember God’s word. Remember how he told you!
And I want to point us to 3 amazing, joyful things that they are told to remember that first Easter. 3 things that we too can celebrate and rejoice in this Easter, and every day of our lives.
The first one is this:
1. ‘remember how he told you’ – that this was God’s plan all along! The resurrection shows us that every one of God’s promises will be fulfilled.

The angel says, remember how he told you that he would be crucified and on the third day rise. He is not here but has risen!

If we’re going to understand what was happening that first Easter, we need to see that it was God’s plan all along – for our salvation!
Later in the chapter, Jesus appears to the disciples in Jerusalem, and he says to them,

“These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you,
I.e., ‘Remember what I told you!’
…that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead,

Jesus is saying, “God promised this all along. It’s in the Scriptures written hundreds of years before I came. God promised that he would send a saviour, a Messiah to fix the broken relationship that we have with our creator…and the resurrection proves that he has done it!
Only one sent from God could say that he would rise from the dead, and then do it!

I was put on some medication by a doctor recently (nothing serious), and the doctor said to me, “a couple of days afterwards you’re going to feel pretty rough, but it’ll go away and it should make things a whole lot better than they are now”.

And so, when I felt rough after taking the medication, I wasn’t worried. I knew it was expected, it was according to plan. And when things improved, I knew I could trust the doctor.

And in a similar way, but on a far, far, bigger scale, here Jesus is saying, “you don’t need to worry that I was killed, because it was the plan all along. And the resurrection shows you that God’s word can be trusted.”

In fact, here’s the joy of Easter - the resurrection shows us that every one of God’s promises will be fulfilled.
Because if that was God’s plan all along. If he loves us so much that he’s willing to send his son to die for us. And if he’s even got the power to raise him from the dead…then we can trust that every one of God’s promises will be fulfilled.

We can even trust what he says about death. Because here’s one of his most amazing promises. He promises that if we trust in Jesus, then we too can be raised to life. The angel says to the women, ‘remember how he told you’ – that death would be defeated! That Jesus would come back to life.

2. ‘remember how he told you’ – that death would be defeated!
The resurrection shows us that we too can be raised to life.

I heard someone saying recently on a podcast that in this last year of Covid, death has gone from being a taboo subject to a reality.

A Guardian journalist (without any faith) wrote in an article recently of the “sudden fear of serious illness and death, and the sense of it all being wholly random and senseless” – and he talked about how difficult that is when you have no framework for it.

But the Bible tells us that the reason we feel death is senseless, is that it is an intruder. It’s not supposed to be part of this world. It shows us that there is something wrong. It’s a verdict of judgement on our sin.

The truth is that, with or without a global pandemic, all of us will have to go through the door marked ‘death’ one day.

And yet the great news of Easter is that if God can raise Jesus from the dead, then he can raise us too! The resurrection shows us that we too can be raised to life.

Imagine if I rocked up at your house this afternoon, and I gave you a bit of surprise by saying,
“I’d really like to take you to Barbados tonight – just for the bank holiday! It’ll be class! Special trip on me!”

You’d think ‘this guy is off his rocker – there’s got to be a catch!’. “Have you got special permission from Boris? Have you got a private jet? Or maybe a yacht?! Do you even know where Barbados is or how to get there?”

It would be nuts, wouldn’t it?

And it’s even more nuts for someone to say they can take us through death and out the other side.
But Jesus says, I can take you there – because I’ve been there and done it. Look at my resurrection body! I can take you through death, to life!

That’s why Paul is able to write this in his letter to the Corinthians:

“Death has been swallowed up in victory.”
“Where, O death, is your victory?
Where, O death, is your sting?”
The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ

But it’s not just death that shows us something is wrong in the world, is it? There are so many things that we long to be made right. We long for healing – for ourselves or for others. We long for justice – for friends, or for issues affecting society as a whole. I wonder what’s at the top of your list?

Imagine how hopeless things must have seemed for the women in this passage and Jesus’ disciples. They had seen such evil, with an innocent man, their friend and master, beaten and killed.

And yet…God was at work, even in that.

On the cross, God showed that he was willing to pay an infinite price to make all things right.

One commentor writes,

“He was so committed to bringing us into the light and beauty that he lost all glory and gladness and was plunged into the depths (he went to the cross) so that we can know that ‘weeping may stay for the night, but rejoicing comes in the morning’.

If Jesus was really and truly raised from the dead (and he was!), then everything will, finally, be all right. We can trust God’s promise that one day he will:

“…wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain any more, for the former things have passed away.”

That first Easter shows us that… there will be a dawn after the darkness!

3. ‘remember how he told you’ – there will be a dawn after the darkness! The resurrection shows us that we have a certain hope.

The resurrection shows us that those trusting in Jesus have a certain hope, that everything will be made right.

We read about Jesus appearing on the Emmaus road later in the chapter, and he says “why are you so slow to believe what God has said by the prophets?”. Verse 26,

“Did not the Messiah have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?”

Jesus says ‘remember how he told you’. Are you going to believe and trust? God’s plan is infinitely wise and good. He alone is trustworthy.

And the disciples took that on board. We see that they went on to live courageous lives for him. Many of them had an incredibly tough time as they proclaimed Christ. Some of them were even killed. But they never forgot what he had told them.

Let’s just say, everything goes wrong for you. Maybe you feel it already has this year? Maybe it’s ill health? Maybe you’ve lost your job? Maybe you’ve lost someone or you miss someone? Or maybe it’s the struggle of singleness, or the struggle of parenting?

God has promised that he is with us now. He has proved that we can trust him. And there will be a day when there will be no more mourning or crying or pain. Even over the past things – there’ll be no regrets.
There will be dawn after the darkness.

It’s been a crazy year for us, hasn’t it? With so many ups and downs and uncertainty. It’s been a year when it’s even harder than usual to know whose word and whose promises we can trust. But when we look to the resurrection and remember what God has told us, we can have certainty and assurance and hope. We can rest in him, and live for him.

Remember how he told you – that he has a plan!
Remember how he told you – that death is defeated!
Remember how he told you – there will be a dawn after the darkness!

Hallelujah – Christ is risen!

Let’s pray.

In the book of Philippians, Paul prays that the church there would know the power of the resurrection.

And so, Father God, this morning we pray that we wouldn’t just know about the resurrection. But that we would deeply know it’s power – so that we can remember what you have promised us and trust you with our lives, living for you, and trust you with our own death. We thank you so much for Jesus’ death and resurrection. Thank you, God, for giving us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen!

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