Mary and the other women went to the tomb expecting to find a dead body. This is a startling fact. They had been with Jesus. They had followed him from Galilee. They loved him dearly. But Jesus’ words, his repeated preaching, that he must suffer, must die, and must rise again the third day, these words had not sunk into their hearts or convinced their minds. Instead they go to anoint a dead body that they fully expect to still be dead and to stay dead. The disciples are the same way. It’s not just Thomas who famously refused to believe until he put his hand into Jesus’ side; it was all the disciples before they saw the Lord Jesus alive. They expected Jesus’ dead body to stay dead.
We can blame them for their unbelief, for their stubborn refusal to understand what Jesus so often taught them, but it’s far better that we learn from them instead. We believe in the resurrection of the body, that’s what we confess every Sunday – and I look for the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come. And there’s no doubt every one of those women and every one of those men, if questioned, would have made the same confession, I believe in the resurrection of the body! Jesus himself had raised the dead, and Jesus himself had argued and preached that God is the God of the living, not the dead. They were his disciples. They confessed the resurrection. But it’s one thing to make a confession. It’s quite another to believe it and live it in the face of the cold hard facts.
And these women and these men had seen the cold hard fact of death. John saw the soldier’s spear pierce the side of Jesus’ dead body as it hung on the cross; he saw the water and blood flow out, proving with medical certainty that this man was dead. The women watched as Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus set his dead body in the grave. And here, we have to see, here is where confession and faith are challenged. You believe in the resurrection of the body, you say? You believe in Jesus? Then what do you expect to see three days after you saw his dead body hanging on a cross? The women and the men give unanimous answer. A dead body.
And don’t think this is somehow unique to them. It isn’t. Do you believe in the resurrection of the body? Do you look for the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come? Every one of us will answer sincerely, Yes, I believe. But when faced with death and its cold reality, the death of those we love, when we think about our own death, when we see it with our eyes and experience it in our own bodies, when the confession that comes out of our lips on a Sunday morning meets with what our eyes see, then we sympathize with the fear of the disciples huddled in the upper room; then we understand the despair of Mary who just wants to pay respect to her dead teacher. There is a stubborn rationalism that clings to all of us. Let’s call it a form of scientism, the engrained insistence that dead stays dead. Look at this world and its utter terror at the slightest chance of death! Look at how sincere Christians have fallen for it too, have insisted that death is so scary that coming to church is dangerous! Look at us shudder at the thought of losing those we love, and then understand why Mary despairs and the disciples cower, how fragile our confession of resurrection and eternal life is, once we take our hearts and our minds away from Jesus’ promise.
And it’s not just death that challenges confession. It’s sin, it’s the cause of death. I acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins. I believe in the body and blood spilt for my forgiveness. Then why cover your sins up? Why try to justify them, explain them away? Why still cling to them, nurse them? Why live life with a guilty conscience? Why remember past sins as if they still threaten you? Why be afraid of hell and God’s judgment, why be frightened like Peter that Jesus will hold your sins against you?
And all this, all this doubt and fear and uncertainty, based on the cold hard fact of death, it’s all met today with a concrete, undeniable fact that is greater than death and greater than sin, greater than your fear and your worry, greater than heaven and earth, what Mary witnessed, and the other women, and then Peter and John, and the disciples, and Thomas, and James, and Paul and hundreds more, there was no dead body in that grave. These cold hard facts of sin and death, Jesus met them conclusively and permanently. It is finished, he declared on the cross as he gave his last breath, and now as He stands again upon this earth and speaks to Mary, there can be no doubt. This is the Lamb of God who bears the sin of the world, and it has been borne, every last offense, in the body of the God-man who suffered and died to pay their penalty, and He stands alive, your sin buried and forgotten forever. This is the bread of life from heaven, which if you eat his flesh and drink his blood, you will never see death. And here he stands alive, death unable to hold him, death dead, and He alive, and He gives you his body and blood which have conquered death and which live forever.
The resurrection of the Lord Jesus is the fact on which we build not only our confession but our life. There will be many who don’t care to believe it. That’s not because it’s too hard to believe, not because it’s not well enough attested- no, there are few historical events better attested and more witnessed than the resurrected Lord Jesus. Our faith is founded on fact, a fact just as hard and concrete as death – Jesus lives. But his resurrection means nothing to those who chase after the things of this world, whose life is invested here, the Caiaphas or the Pilate who have made politics their life, the Judas whose care and worry is for money, the Herod whose pleasure-seeking can’t be interrupted with such serious things as death and sin. Jesus’ resurrection won’t give you carnal pleasure, it won’t make you rich, it won’t give you your preferred political or economic outcome. So if that is your life, that your overriding concern, then I suppose Jesus’ resurrection will seem only an irrelevant or inconvenient truth.
But to you who are burdened with your sin, who want to be rid of it, who love God and want to please Him but see again and again you’ve failed, see how weak and feeble your love still is; you who thirst for a life freed from temptation and the lies and attacks of the devil; to you who are frightened like the disciples and mourn over the death and corruption sin has brought on God’s creation and on our own bodies, then this fact is everything. The Lord Jesus, your Brother and your God, lives risen from the dead. He has died your death and buried your sin. He still wears your flesh and blood; God is man, eternally united to you, eternally your Brother. He calls you by name, calls His Father your Father. He loves you. He assures you you have nothing to fear. Don’t let any sin trouble you, don’t let the thought of death terrify you; He has paid the price already. He has gone through it for you. Death has no victory. Sin has no claim on you. The victory belongs to Jesus. And so do you. Your confession of the resurrection and of eternal life with your Lord Jesus, these aren’t just words uttered from your lips, they’re the sure and certain word of your God founded on the fact of your Lord’s resurrection. So let it sink in deep with all its joy and its certainty. And with Mary call Jesus your teacher, and allow Him to teach you constantly, so that from your heart you live life now and forever on this sure foundation: Alleluia! Christ is risen. He is risen indeed. Alleluia.