(A) Introduction. Read: Luke24vto12

It is not easy to reconcile the different accounts of the resurrection found in the four gospels. One attempt made by Professor Westcott many years ago is included below:

App time Event
5 a.m. Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, Salome and probably some others start for the tomb in twilight. Mary Magdalene goes on ahead of the others and returns at once to Peter and John. (John20v1)
5.30 a.m. Her companions reach the tomb when the sun had risen. (Mark16v2) They have a vision of an angel and receive a message for the disciples. (Mt28v5; Mark16v5.)
6 a.m, Another party, among whom is Joanna, come a little later, but still in the early morning. (Lk24v1) They have a vision of two young men. Receive words of comfort and instruction. (Lk24v4)
6.30 a.m. The visit of Peter and John. (Jn20v3to10). A vision of two angels by Mary Magdalene. (Jn20v11to13) About the same time the company of women carry their tidings to the apostles. (Lk24v10)
7 a.m. The Lord reveals himself to Mary Magdalene. (Jn20v14to18) Not long after he reveals himself to the company of women who are returning to the tomb. They are instructed to tell the disciples to go to Galilee. (Mt28v9)
4 - 6 p.m. The appearance to the two disciples on the way to Emmaus. (Lk24v13to35) (Mk16v12)
6 - 9 p.m. An appearance to Peter. (Lk24v13) (1Cor15v5)
After 9 p.m. The appearance to the eleven and others. (Lk24v36; Mark15v14; Jn20v19)


It does seem likely that two groups of women made their way independently to the tomb with Mary Magdalene acting as a free agent. Luke describes what a second, slightly later group of women, witnessed. I think there was quite a lot of to and fro-ing and more than a little confusion in the early hours of Sunday morning.

The important thing, as always, is to draw some lessons from the women's experience.

(B) Unnecessary burdens.

On the first day of the week, very early in the morning, the women took the spices they had prepared and went to the tomb. Lk24v1. Mark records of possibly an earlier group of women: Very early on the first day of the week, just after sunrise, they were on their way to the tomb and they asked each other, "Who will roll the stone away from the entrance of the tomb?" Mk16v2.

There is no doubt that Jesus' women followers were very, very devoted to him - yet as dawn broke on Sunday morning they carried three unnecessary burdens:

(1) Responsibility.

The women carried a considerable weight of spices to the tomb. They felt responsible for embalming Christ's body. It was women's work! They obviously did not rate highly the efforts of Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea who had already used 75lbs of myrrh and aloes to prepare the corpse for the tomb. They considered their expertise indispensible to ensure a job well done.

We can allow our church responsibilities to become a burden - especially if we consider our input indispensable to the well-being of the fellowship. We can be like Elijah after his contest with the prophets of Baal. He fled to Horeb because Jezebel threatened to kill him. When God asked Elijah: "What are you doing here, Elijah?" He replied, "I have been very zealous for the LORD God Almighty. ...... I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too." 1Kings19v10. Elijah seriously underestimated God's power. The LORD said to Elijah, "Yet I reserve 7000 in Israel - all whose knees have not bowed down to Baal." v18.

The women wending their devoted but sorrowful and anxious way to tomb in the twilight before dawn also underestimated the power of God. And so may we .... .

(2) Problems.

As the women set off early on Sunday morning they worried about how they could possibly roll away the stone from the tomb. It may have seemed an insurmountable obstacle.

We, too, can worry when problems arise in church life. We often don't fancy tackling them. I can remember three difficulties arising during my time as elder in my small church: a member kept six dogs that barked all day and made life a misery for two of our congregation, a couple new to the fellowship walked out whenever our deaconess served at communion and an old fellow preached to us in his public prayers at our prayer meeting. I knew that I had to deal with each situation - and it was a real burden! But just as God sent his angels to roll away the stone from the tomb so God helped me, one way or another, to resolve the problems in the church. For example, I did speak to the lady who kept the dogs and within two weeks she had moved back to Scotland! I also tackled the couple who disapproved of a woman participating in the communion service. Sadly, notwithstanding the concessions we made, they felt unable to remain with us but at least it did not result in a division within the fellowship.

(3) Sorrow.

The women carrying their spices to Christ's tomb were undoubtedly burdened with grief at his death. I expect they were glad to be doing something.

Christians can be burdened by sorrow - when a key church worker dies, young people leave the fellowship, the Sunday school closes, congregations decline and so few are converted.

When such situations arise - and they are not easy to cope with - it is important to remember that God turned defeat into victory. The tomb was empty - Christ had risen, Hallelujah!

God has done this many, many times. The Holy Spirit has come and revived churches. The dying embers have been fanned into flame. What has happened in the past can happen again - and again. See exposition on revival fire.

(C) Removing hindrances.

They (the women) found the stone rolled away from the tomb. Lk24v2. There was a violent earthquake, for an angel of the Lord came down from heaven and, going to the tomb, rolled back the stone and sat on it. Mt28v2.

In the words of Warren Wiersbe, the stone was rolled away - not to let Jesus out but to let others in.

Christianity should be accessible. This means churches should operate an open doors policy. In this case certain stones need to be rolled away:

(1) Exclusivity.

There are churches where everyone is not welcome. Newcomers, people who are in some way different due to race, ethnicity, class, lifestyle, health or dress and notorious sinners may be very unwelcome in some fellowships. William Barclay in his commentary on Mark quotes a story told by Hugh Redwood. It is a story of a woman who began attending a ladies meeting in the dockland area of London. She lived with a Chinese and brought her mixed race baby to the meetings with her. She enjoyed the meetings and came over and over again. Then the vicar approached the woman and said, "I must ask you not to come any more. The other women have said that they will stop away if you continue to attend." The lady looked at the vicar and said sadly, "Sir, I know I'm a sinner, but isn't there anywhere a sinner can go?" Well - the one place a sinner should be welcome is church!! The stone of exclusivity needs to rolled from or door.

(2) Formality.

Some churches just go through the motions. Like the church at Ephesus, they have forsaken their first love. Worship lacks warmth and vitality. You get the impression if the spiritual temperature dropped any further the congregation would freeze to death. The stone of formality needs rolling back to let a little sunshine in.

(3) Weirdness.

Certain church services are just plain weird. This is true for some wildly charismatic churches. Everything from the ranting preacher to unrestrained speaking in tongues frightens or disgusts visitors. Paul recognised that this problem existed in the church at Corinth and told the members that everything should be done in a fitting and orderly way. 1Cor14v40.

Unfortunately there remain churches that ignore Paul's advice. My brother Paul and I got into conversation with an old lady in a cafe in Bexhill after a morning walking in Sussex. She attended a local church until a new pastor arrived who introduced an incoherent style of worship. The pastor spoke without preparation, people frequently interrupted with a word from the Lord, speaking in tongues could break out at any time and women prostrated themselves on the floor.

A growing percentage of Britain's population find church a strange place. They are not used to singing old fashioned hymns to an organ and listening to a long sermon is not the way they have been taught.

Churches that are successful in drawing in people out of the world have rolled back the stone of weirdness and made their worship more accessible.

(4) Tradition.

Other things deter people from attending church: the hard pews, the high pulpit, old fashioned language, the slow pace of sermons, the lack of audience participation and the passive learning.

Churches have to roll away the stone of tradition if they are to attract newcomers.

(5) Irrelevance.

Many communities feel that the church has nothing to offer because the only service provided is the one on Sunday between 11am and noon.

There is no doubt that many churches have rolled away these stones for inquirers. The Alpha Course and Christianity Explored teach biblical truth in a way that is better suited to folk who have been through the modern educational system. My brother and his helpers attracted a lot of people into Courland Grove Baptist Church, Clapham by running a drop in. The church was open one day a week for a meal, conversation, games and a brief epilogue. Other fellowships run young wives and toddlers groups and youth clubs. Church services can be made more accessible to the young by using modern means of communication including extracts from films and interviews.

(D) Disappointed hopes.

But when they entered, they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. Lk24v3. Mary Magdalene was especially distressed. She said to whom she thought was the gardener: "They have taken my Lord away, and I don't know where they have put him." Jn20v13.

The women were initially disappointed that they were not able serve Jesus in the way they intended. One of our greatest disappointments is, perhaps, that we cannot serve God in the way we would like.

King David wanted to build God a temple to replace the tabernacle but Nathan had to tell him: "You are not the one to build me a house to dwell in." 1Chron17v4. That must have been a blow to David. However, he reacted very graciously. David did all he could to collect materials for his son, Soloman, to use in constructing the temple. See11Chron22v5.

I expect many of us have been in David's position. I know I have. I have always wanted, perhaps mistakenly, to serve God through preaching and teaching. But God has asked me to do other things: work as sports organiser at a Christian camp, care for my father, serve as church secretary, visit the elderly and write for this website.

We have to do the work God wants us to do. We may be thwarted in the work we want to do by lack of talent, ill health, circumstances or even the short-sightedness of other Christians - but there is a work for us to do.

            There's a work for Jesus
            Ready at your hand,
            'Tis a task the Master
            Just for you has planned.
            Haste to do His bidding,
            Yield him service true;
            There's a work for Jesus
            None but you can do.

The women came to the tomb expecting to anoint Jesus' dead body. But he was risen and they were given another task to do - to tell Jesus' disciples what had happened.

The year was 1920. The scene was the examining board for selecting missionaries. Standing before the board was a young man named Oswald Smith. One dream dominated his heart. He wanted to be a missionary. Over and over again, he prayed, "Lord, I want to go as a missionary for you. Open a door of service for me." Now, at last, his prayer would be answered. When the examination was over, the board turned Oswald Smith down. He did not meet their qualifications. He failed the test. Oswald Smith had set his direction, but now life gave him a detour. What would he do? As Oswald Smith prayed, God planted another idea in his heart. If he could not go as a missionary, he would build a church which could send out missionaries. And that is what he did. Oswald Smith pastored The People's Church in Toronto, Canada, which sent out more missionaries than any other church at that time. Oswald Smith brought God into the situation and God transformed his detour into a main thoroughfare of service. Brian L. Harbour, Rising Above the Crowd.

(E) Confounded expectations.

The women thought that they were going to the right place to find Jesus but soon discovered they were in the wrong place.

We have all shared the women's experience. We have searched high and low on the supermarket shelves for something that is displayed in quite a different section. In the summer I went to a spot north of Thetford in the Brecklands to find the rare plant, berry catchfly. I was given clear instructions where to look. However, I searched in vain. The site of the elusive catchfly had been invaded by nettles. The plant had gone.

The dawn party were told by the angel in the tomb: "Why do you look for the living among the dead. He is not here; he has risen." Lk24v5and6.

It is no use looking today for Jesus among the dead. Here are some places it is pointless to look:

(1) The numerous books treating Jesus as a hero from the past - a dead hero but not a living presence - just another great man like Winston Churchill. Jesus is not to be found in such books.

(2) Some university departments of Theology where the gospels are picked to pieces and Jesus stripped of all supernatural elements like the miracles, the virgin birth or the bodily resurrection. Many of his sayings are also discounted leaving a Jesus made in the scholar's image with a few residual virtues to serve as an example. Jesus is nowhere to be found amongst sceptical scholars who must rank as enemies of the Faith.

(3) Moribund churches where Jesus is virtually forgotten, ignored or sidelined. Such churches include: those obsessed with being doctrinally sound who prefer sniping at error to preaching the gospel; fellowships taken over by the cult of personality or presence; legalistic assemblies that place more store on rules and regulations than God's grace. It can be hard to find Jesus in dead churches.

The place to look for Jesus is among the living, in:

(1) The four gospels - God's active and transforming word - sharper than any double-edged sword. Heb4v12.

(2) Vibrant churches where Jesus is central to all that goes on; fellowships where Jesus is honoured, praised and served; groups of Christians who love each other in obedience to the Master.

(3) The lives of Jesus' devoted followers, true believers who count it a privilege to belong to him. Millions have discovered Jesus in the victorious lives of ordinary Christians.

(F) Words that did not register.

The angel said to the women: "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.'" Then they remembered his words. Lk24v6to8.

There were many times during my career as a teacher that the advice I gave my pupils never sunk in. For example, I warned my twelve-year-olds to wear their shabbiest clothes and footwear for their Geography fieldtrip to Walton on the Naze. I told them that they would be clambering up a cliff across sticky London Clay. So what did sweet, blond-haired Jodi wear? She was attired in a pink jump suit and brand-new, white trainers. By the end of the day her jump suit was no longer pink and her trainers far from new!

During their wanderings in the wilderness the Israelites seemed almost impervious to God's word. Moses gave them explicit instructions on collecting manna. They were not to keep any overnight - except Friday night - and there would be none found on the Sabbath. This did not stop some from trying to store manna from one day to the next or others going out on the Sabbath to pick up a fresh supply. They paid absolutely no attention to what Moses said. See Ex16v14to30.

Jesus teaching about his death and resurrection fell upon deaf hears. It just didn't register. None of his disciples or his devoted women supporters expected him to rise from the dead. They were totally unprepared for it!

I wonder which of Jesus' sayings never registers with us? Here are just three that are often forgotten:

(a) "So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you." Mt7v12

(b) "If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you." Mt18v15.

(c) "May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me." Jn17v23.

I read this story in a sermon found on the internet (SermonCentral.com):

A young man from a wealthy family was about to graduate from high school. It was the custom in that affluent neighbourhood for the parents to give the graduate an automobile. "Billí and his father had spent months looking at cars, and the week before graduation, they found the perfect car.

On the eve of his graduation, his father handed him a gift-wrapped Bible. Bill was so angry that he threw the Bible down and stormed out of the house.

He and his father never saw each other again. It was the news of his fatherís death that brought Bill home again.

As he sat one night going through his fatherís possessions that he was to inherit, he come across the Bible his father had given him. He brushed away the dust and opened it to find a cashierís check, dated the day of his graduation - to the exact amount of the car they had chosen together.

Many people in this world have done the same thing to God. Literally tossed aside a wonderful promise, because they didnít understand it, or they didnít believe that it was possible.

(G) Is Christ risen in our lives?

The angel said: "He is not here; he is risen!" How alive is Jesus to us? If the risen Christ is in our lives we shall:

(1) Pray to him. Jesus encourages us to ask God for things in his name, by his authority. Do we? I feel that if Jesus was more alive to me I would look forward to private prayer more.

(2) Care what he thinks about us. This should encourage us to modify our behaviour. Paul knew that in the final analysis it didn't matter what other people thought about him or what he thought about himself. He wrote to the Corinthians: "It is the Lord who judges me." 1Cor4v4.

(3) Serve with the desire to please Jesus. There is something very touching about the way Paul commences his epistle to the Romans: Paul a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle and set apart for the gospel of God - ... . Rom1v1. First and foremost that it was what Paul was - a servant of Christ Jesus. It came before everything else. So it should for us if Jesus lives in our hearts.

(4) Be in receipt of his spirit. We shall have experienced the truth of Jesus promise to his disciples: "And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counsellor to be with you forever - the Spirit of truth." Jn14v16and17.

(5) Possess a lively hope in the resurrection from the dead. Rudyard Kipling tells this story in the Jungle Book:

Mowgli, the man cub, asks the animals whatís the most feared thing in the jungle. Heís told that when two animals meet on a narrow path that one must step aside and let the other pass. The animal that steps aside for no one would then be the most feared.

Mowgli wants to know what kind of animal that would be. One tells him itís an elephant. Another tells him itís a lion. Finally the wise old owl exclaims, ďThe most feared thing in the jungle is death. It steps aside for no one.Ē

Jesus' resurrection means that our strongest foes are defeated: sin, Satan and death. If we believe in Jesus our sins are forgiven, death has lost its sting and at his Second Coming we will be raised from the dead to live with him forever.

We sing:

            Vain the stone, the watch, the seal,
            Christ hath burst the gates of hell:
            Death in vain forbids him rise!
            Christ hath opened paradise.

            Lives again our glorious King!
            Where O death, is now they sting?
            Once he died our souls to save;
            Where thy victory, O grave?

(H) Blind unbelief.

It was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the others with them who told this to the apostles. But they did not believe in the women, because their words seemed to them like nonsense. Lk24v10and11.

The disciples discounted the testimony of the women. This was unpardonable for three reasons:

(1) It was prejudiced. One of the reasons the testimony of the women was dismissed was because they were women. What did they know!

(2) It insulted the character of a particular group of women. Were they habitual liars? Is it likely they would invent stories about the one they loved so dearly? They had prepared spices with every expectation of anointing the dead body of Jesus.

(3) It ignored the change in the women. They were certainly changed. The women went out downcast, anxious and burdened; they come back excited and full of joy. So the women hurried away from the tomb, afraid yet filled with joy, and ran to tell his disciples. Mt28v8.

People today who reject the testimony of Christians to Jesus' risen power are guilty of the same unforgiveable folly.

(I) The greatest comeback.

There have been many great individual comebacks. I was reading in the Daily Telegraph a few days ago that the F.A. are thinking about reinstating Steve McClaran as England manager. That would be a great comeback. Geoff Boycott made a triumphant comeback to the England cricket team, Mohammed Ali reclaimed hisworld boxing crown after a gap of several years, Sampson's hair grew and he killed more Philistines in his death than he did in his life, Winston Churchill was dead and buried as a politician but he returned to be a great war leader.

BUT the greatest comeback of all time occurred in 33 A.D. when Jesus rose from the dead! That is what we celebrate with unfeigned joy at Easter.

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