Looking for the Living Jesus
Barry’s message on Friday afternoon ended on a sense of hope because it would be a pity to send you home with a sense of the dread and disaster which the disciples went home with on that first Easter Friday.
As Jesus hung dying on the cross, His mother Mary, as well as John, and a number of other of Jesus’ followers watched Him. It was a surprisingly quick death, because crucifixions were designed to be long-lasting and induce as much suffering as possible for as long as possible. But probably because of Jesus’ other injuries like the whippings and beatings He’d taken before the crucifixion – and also because it was in the sovereign will of God – Jesus died within just a few hours.
The Bible tells us that soon after Jesus died, a man of the Jewish council named Joseph of Arimathea, went to ask for Jesus’ body so that it could be buried. They took Jesus’ body down from the cross, wrapped it in linen and a mixture of myrrh and aloes, and put it in a new tomb – Joseph’s own.
This, by the way, by itself fulfilled a number of ancient prophesies about what would happen to the Messiah. Jesus fulfilled all the prophesies written about Him – even the ones that were out of His control such as where He would be born and where His body would be laid after He died. So we know that God’s purposes will always come through, even when we have no power to make them happen.
So Jesus was buried in this tomb and a number of accounts speak of Mary Magdalene and another Mary sitting opposite the tomb, watching as He was laid out and the tomb was closed.
I can’t imagine what must have been going through their minds as they watched this terrible sight. Possibly they were thinking back over all they’d experienced as they followed Him. Possibly they remember the miracles, possibly they recalled even the miracles Jesus had done for them personally. Possibly they thought of nothing, just felt the pain and loss and mourned.
After the tomb was closed, they had to leave. They went home to prepare for Sunday. They went home to prepare the spices that they were going to use to anoint Jesus’ body when they could get the chance but they couldn’t do that now or tomorrow because tomorrow was the Sabbath.
And this starts for me one of the darkest, most intriguing times in all of history. What happened on Saturday?
Luke tells us that on the Sabbath they rested according to the commandment. What was it like in their homes? Did they meet together? Did they share happy stories of the last three years? Did they pray? Were they angry with God?
We know more about what the chief priests and the Pharisees were doing. They went to Pilate to ask for a guard for the tomb where Jesus was. They were so afraid that the disciples were going to go and steal the body. They didn’t want that. So they went and secured the tomb as best as they could.
This sets the stage for Sunday morning. You have on the one side Jesus’ followers – resting as they should be on the Sabbath, but completely defeated and spent. On the other side you have the Jewish chief priests working, doing all they could to block Jesus’ next move.
And what was Jesus doing? Well, we’ll find out in heaven. We don’t know what He was doing. But I think He’d worked pretty hard the last few days, and He was taking a rest. I don’t know – what do you think?
Here comes Sunday morning. A number of the lady disciples are up early – before the sunrise – and preparing to head to the tomb with the spices. Where were the men? If they were going to need to move that rock, it probably would have helped to have a number of the strong guys come to help them. In fact, they wondered about this and spoke about it as they made their way from their homes, through the darkness of pre-dawn, towards the tomb.
While they were discussing these things and walking silently, something incredible was happening where they were heading. God was on the move! He sent two angels to the tomb entrance to shove that big rock aside to let Jesus out. Their arrival set off an earthquake and near-killed the soldiers with fright.
Why did God send angels to open the tomb? Jesus could have moved it Himself – I mean He’d just defeated death – He’s pretty powerful! In fact, He could also have passed through the rock, like He would do later to visit the disciples in a locked room.
But a King doesn’t open His own doors – He has servants to do that for Him. And if He’d left without opening the door, the disciples wouldn’t have been able to see He was gone!
So the angels shove aside this big rock and Jesus walks triumphantly out of the dark tomb. Can you imagine what it would have been like to be there at that moment? To see that?
God sovereignly chose not to have any human witness that event – Why?! I would have loved to have been there – wouldn’t you?
Anyway, the soldiers have fled for their lives, Jesus has left the tomb, the disciples have just arrived, and they see that things are not as they left them.
Have you ever come home to discover your house has been robbed? I remember in college coming home and finding my door broken in. Looking back I didn’t do the smartest thing: I ran straight in there to see what had been lost. The robber could still have been inside, but the shock made me oblivious to the danger.
These women run inside to see what’s happened and start searching for what’s been lost: Jesus’ body. Who took it? Well they found something a lot more terrifying than a grave robber: they found two angels sitting in that tomb.
And I love what they say to these disciples: “Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen.”
My friends, I’m here to say to you today one thing: That Jesus is alive, and He leads us to LIFE. So we must stop searching for Him among the dead.
Over the past week I’ve been studying with a group of our young people through the book of Amos. This is the first time I’ve ever really studied that book, and it has been setting my heart on fire! The prophet Amos speaks about the time to return to the Lord and he’s speaking to God’s own people who are very busy with God’s own work. Maybe I’ll get a chance to preach on that more in the future, but one thing has been striking me: I’ve been searching for Jesus in the dead things of this world.
Where are you searching for life?
In the time of Amos, the Israelites were busy about God’s business. It says that they were busy with religious festivals, sacred assemblies, burnt offerings and other kinds of offerings, they were regularly singing hymns of praise. And God wasn’t in any of it! And when I look at my life and I see that I’m busy with religious activity, I’m in Church all the time, offering God my time and my finances, I’m singing the songs but my heart can be so far from God.
My friends, in all your searching are you finding the living Jesus or are you sitting singing in an empty tomb?
It’s so good to be speaking here this morning because I know that I’m speaking to the especially fervent today. I’m not speaking to people who come to Church out of duty. I’m not speaking to people who come to Church out of habit. You’ve been planning this day for weeks. And still the question remains: In all this religious activity, are you finding the living Jesus?
The angels said to the women: “Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen.” One of the things that most identify a dead body is that it doesn’t move on its own. If you died here right now and nobody moved your body for you, we’d find your body in the same spot tomorrow.
As God’s children we get into the habit of looking for Jesus in the same spot He was yesterday. And we get into that habit very early on in our Christian lives. We found Jesus, or rather He found us, and we live in that reality (many of us) for the rest of our lives. We never get to the point of asking: Where will I find You now, Jesus? Will I find You still in the same spot tomorrow? Or are You calling me to meet You somewhere else?
The Israelites in the days of Amos continued with the sacrifices and festivals thinking that if they kept to the same rhythm then God would always be there and would always be happy with them.
They didn’t realise that they were sliding away from God because they were no longer seeking Him where He would be found – they were seeking Him amongst the dead things.
I’m not saying that if you find God in your Bible study today, then that becomes a dead thing and you won’t find Him there tomorrow. But I am saying that if you find God in your Bible study today and you stop searching for Him, you can study your Bible tomorrow and it will be like a dead thing to you.
How about Church. Maybe you’ve found Jesus one time in Church and so you think that every time you come to Church you’ll find Him in the same way in the same place, but your heart is searching for Him as if He was dead and hadn’t moved. Is your heart searching for the Living Lord Jesus?
I’m not saying that Jesus is dead in Church. I’m not saying that Church is a tomb. But for many of us, that’s what it’s become. And I’m declaring to you: God’s not dead; Christ’s not dead; and being with Him shouldn’t be like spending an hour in a tomb. In fact, if you feel like attending Church on a Sunday is like spending an hour in a tomb then you’re searching for the living Jesus among the dead.
Why are you looking for the living among the dead?
Jesus said of the Pharisees that they search the Scriptures because they believed that in the study they would find life. But Jesus rebuked them because they were searching the Scriptures for knowledge, but they weren’t coming to the source of Life to find life.
My friends, Jesus isn’t dead. He’s alive. But do we live as if He is? Do we search for Him as a you would a living person – constantly moving? Do we expect Him to be exactly where we left Him yesterday?
What did the angels say next to the disciples: Go to Galilee. You’ll find Him there.
Are you searching for Jesus? You know now that He’s alive. Are you searching for Him where He is? Are you going to where you think He’ll be? Are you eager to find Him and to talk with Him? Are you eager for Him to speak to you and to instruct you and to love you?
Or are you content to sit in the empty tomb?
You see, searching takes time. Searching takes effort. But the tomb will always be there, right where it was yesterday.
Doesn’t your heart burn within you to know that Jesus is living and active, He’s on a great adventure that He’s invited you to join Him on. He’s not stuck here in the Church and we have to revive Him each week for our services. He’s out there, active and busy, and He has a grand work to do with you. Don’t you want to find Him?
Don’t get stuck in the tomb mindset. Be discontented with that way of living. Get tired of going to the tomb. Find Jesus, find Him where He is.
My friends, what I’m speaking about today is a warning to you. Jesus said to His disciples, ‘To those who are open to my teaching, more understanding will be given, and they will have an abundance of knowledge. But to those who are not listening, even what they have will be taken away from them.’
When we get comfortable sitting in the tomb – when we give up searching for Jesus and sit in that tomb – Jesus’ teaching can’t be heard there. We think that we’re pleasing Him staying in that tomb, but we’ve become deaf to His teaching and He promises that those who do that, even what they once had will be taken from them.
Don’t become smug in the tomb – don’t think that regular Church attendance or even regular quiet times are going to obligate God to always meet you. He wants you to come looking for Him.
He doesn’t hide far. He told these disciples to go find Him in Galilee and 10 minutes later He runs into them, it’s like He couldn’t wait any longer. Then He runs to meet up with two other disciples on their walk to Emmaus and spends the walk talking with them, but He hides Himself until the last moment. And then He rushes off to see His disciples in their locked room.
Jesus isn’t in the tomb – He’s alive! And He’s on an adventure, and He wants you to search for Him where He is. Not in the tomb! And He’s so eager to be with you that if you start looking for Him, He’ll find you almost before you’ve started because He wants so much to be with you.
Stop looking for the living Jesus in dead habits. Yes! You can find Him in the Word. Yes! You can find Him in Church. But stop sitting in the tomb waiting for Him to come back. He’s on the move. Search for Him. Find Him. Enjoy Him!