Why do you look for the living among the dead?

Luke 24:1-12

4 April 2010

Woodley Baptist Church

First Easter morning service


Had it all come to this? Had all that hope ended only in failure? In the end, had everything been for nothing?

Dismal, dejected, desolate. That's how they looked, the Oxford University crew at the end of yesterday's boat race!

Imagine, then, how infinitely more disconsolate were Jesus' disciples on that wretched Saturday, after they'd seen all their hopes — him for whom they had given up everything — nailed onto a cross to die.

What good is a saviour who's been slaughtered? A king that's been killed? A friend and master murdered?

They had invested everything in him. When Jesus had challenged his disciples as to whether they would continue to follow him, they'd replied, Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We believe and know that you are the Holy One of Godref. How could it all have gone so wrong?

But they had nowhere else to go, so the women set out on that Sunday morning to do the only thing they could imagine: to tend to their friend one final time. To finish the job of anointing his body with spices for burial.

But when they get there: something puzzling! The huge stone has been rolled away from the entrance to the tomb. They go in: there's no body.

Suddenly, two angels appear and speak to them: "Why do you look for the living among the dead?ref", they ask the terrified women.

Why do you look for the living among the dead? That's the question I want to focus on this morning, and its implications. The angels are telling the women, you're looking for the wrong thing, and you're looking in the wrong place.

Looking for the wrong thing

The women were looking for the wrong thing.

On the face of it, the angels' question is puzzling, Why do you look for the living among the dead?ref Well, they weren't looking for the living, were they? Without a doubt, they were looking for the dead.

Luke makes it very clear for us. Look back a few paragraphs to chapter 23 verse 49. We're told that these very same women had watched Jesus die. They had been there as he breathed his last breath. They had watched as a spear was stabbed up into his chest and blood and water flowed out: a sure sign of death.

The Roman centurions, experts in death, had satisfied themselves that he was gone. So Pilate was willing to release the body to Joseph of Arimathea. And, in chapter 23 verse 55, these women were witnesses of his burial. They had seen Jesus' body wrapped and placed in the tomb. There was no mistake. There was no doubt that Jesus was well and truly dead. They knew a stiff when they saw one.

So now, this Sunday morning they had come prepared with spices to anoint a corpse. They weren't looking for the living among the dead; they were looking for the dead among the dead!

It's hard to know which is more shocking for the women: the sudden terrifying appearance of these two angelic beings with clothes that gleamed like lightningref, or the extraordinary question they ask, Why do you look for the living among the dead?

Looking in the wrong place

You're looking for the wrong thing: he's not dead but alive! And you're looking in the wrong place: verse 6, He is not here; he has risen!ref

But oughtn't they to have expected this? Continuing in verse 6, Remember how he told you, while he was still with you in Galilee: 'The Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, be crucified and on the third day be raised again.'

Well, perhaps they remembered, but they hadn't understood what he meant: if they had, they wouldn't be here, would they? In fact, Luke says as much in Chapter 18 where Jesus had told them: Everything that is written by the prophets about the Son of Man will be fulfilled. He will be turned over to the Gentiles. They will mock him, insult him, spit on him, flog him and kill him. On the third day he will rise again. The disciples did not understand any of this. Its meaning was hidden from them, and they did not know what he was talking about.ref

But now, in one glorious moment, it begins to make sense, verse 8: Then they remembered his wordsref. Can you imagine their thrill when suddenly they realise that it all fits together after all, that it was all meant to be, that everything will be all right?

The angels are explaining that everything that had happened was actually part of the plan from the beginning.

Jesus had to be delivered into the hands of sinful men because that was God's plan from the start to save sinful people like you and me. The Son of God willingly came to live as a man, and handed himself over to agony and humiliation at our hands, because he knew that it was the only way to do what needed to be done.

Jesus had to be crucified. He had to be killed, and he went willingly to his death. He had to be killed, because, again, that was the plan to save sinful people like you and me.

You see, God's wrath is against us because we live as his enemies. We proved it then by killing his son, and we prove it now by rejecting his son every day. The only possible outcome when we reject the Author of Life is death: we deserve to die; we deserve to be abandoned to the misery of death forever. Yet Jesus died. He didn't deserve that. But he stepped into our place and died instead of us. It had to be like this. Only a death can satisfy the wrath of God: either you die or Jesus dies. He had to be crucified.

And, gloriously, he had to rise from the dead! He was the perfect Son of God: death could not hold him. Although he bore the sin of the world, he had no sin of his own. By his death he conquered death for those who will trust him.

All this is what Jesus had said must happen; it had all been the plan from the beginning.

The disciples had forgotten this; they had never really understood it. But now they did. Within weeks of the resurrection they were preaching it powerfully, and thousands and thousands were believing and being saved from the power of death and sharing in Jesus' resurrection life.

Why do you look for the living among the dead? The women were looking for the wrong thing in the wrong place. They were looking for a dead body when the should have been looking for a living lord. They were looking among the tombs, but Jesus was concerned with the living not the dead.


Two questions to end with, this Easter Day. Are you looking for the right thing? And, are you looking in the right place?

Are you looking for the right thing?

1. Are you looking for the right thing?

This Easter day, are you looking to engage with the living God?

Or perhaps you prefer your god dead rather than living. A dead god never makes demands on your life. A dead god never challenges you. He never gets in the way of what you want to do. A dead god doesn't ask you for time, or money, or to help the poor, or to tell others about him. A dead god won't interfere with your relationships or your work. He won't insist that you are sexually pure or financially honest. He doesn't judge what you say or how you say it.

Perhaps you'd be rather appalled if your god came to life! If he started engaging with you; changing your priorities; challenging your choices.

But, equally, a dead god can never heal your heart. A dead god can never give you freedom. He can't lift your spirit, or fill you with joy. He can't hear your prayers or speak to your soul. Above all, a dead god will never give you hope in death.

We proclaim the Living Lord Jesus this morning! Our God is alive! And he wants to know you. He wants to turn your sorrow into joy. He wants you to wrestle with him, to weep with him, to rejoice with him. He wants to fight with you against sin in your life. He wants to heal you: he wants to give you hope and a future. He wants to turn your death to life. He wants you to treasure him, every minute of every day.

The challenge of Easter is this: will you look for the Living God? Is your God alive? Will you engage with the living Lord Jesus, the one who rose from the dead?

Are you looking in the right place?

2. Are you looking in the right place?

There's only one place to find this Living God, and that is in the events of his being handed over to sinful men, being crucified, and rising again.

You will never find the living God if you trust in trying to be good. That path leads only to frustration, despair and death. The tombs are full of people who tried to be good. But heaven will be full of people who simply trust Jesus.

Look in the right place. Paradoxically, if we want to share in the life of Jesus we must go back to his death. We must come to the cross and say, Lord I am sorry for my sin. My heart is bad in so many ways. I've lived my life my own way without you for so long. Please bear my sin in your death so that I don't have to.

If we will look for Jesus at the cross, then he will raise us to resurrection life with him. Life now in all its fullness and life in the age to come.

Let's do that as we share in communion this morning. If you are a good person, then please don't take it: it's not for you. But if you know you are a sinner — that you deserve death, but you long for life — then come. Bring your burden to the cross of Jesus, say sorry to him for the sin that nailed him there, and then share in his glorious resurrection life as he raises you too from the dead.


Rather than end with points for meditation this morning, I'm going to read a poem by Don Carson which is a reflection on some of the Biblical scenes of the resurrection. It starts with our account in Luke 24.