This article was first published an a meditation in the April 15, 1990 issue of the Standard Bearer (vol.66, No.14), and was written by Rev. J. Slopsema, then pastor of Hope PRC in Grand Rapids, MI.
The Resurrection of the Lord
And the angel answered and said unto the women, Fear not ye: for I know that ye seek Jesus, which was crucified.
He is not here: for he is risen, as he said, Come, see the place where the Lord lay.
And go quickly, and tell his disciples that he is risen from the dead; and, behold, he goeth before you into Galilee; there shall ye see him: lo, I have told you.
And they departed quickly from the sepulchre with fear and great joy; and did run to bring his disciples word.
It is Sunday morning.
As the first few rays of morning light streak across the morning sky, several women are to be seen leaving Jerusalem. There are Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, Salome, Joanna, and others.
On Friday this same group had been shocked by Jesus' death. They had seen it all. They had stood by as the crowds demanded Jesus' crucifixion. They had witnessed the soldiers whipping and misusing Him. They had followed their beloved Master to Golgotha where He was cruelly nailed to the cross. With amazement they had beheld the darkness that descended upon the land at high noon. And when the darkness had, lifted three hours later, their beloved Jesus was dead. Tearfully they had followed after, as Joseph and Nicodemus managed to bring the body of Jesus to the sepulchre just before nightfall.
After waiting through the Sabbath day, these same women return to the sepulchre at the crack of dawn with heavy hearts. Perhaps Joseph and Nicodemus had not had time Friday properly to embalm the body of Jesus. Or, if Jesus had been properly embalmed, these women are not aware of it. At any rate they are set on performing what they assume will be their last labor of love for their Lord.
At the sepulchre, however, they are surprised. And they are frightened. For the grave is empty.
The grave is empty, of course, because Jesus has risen from the dead. But the women are not aware of that fact. Oh, they should be aware. Had not Jesus told them repeatedly during the past several weeks of His life that He must needs go to Jerusalem to suffer death at the hands of the Jewish leaders? And had He not told them that after His death He would rise again? He had even told them that He would meet them afterward in Galilee.
But, you see, this did not fit into the perspective that these women and the other disciples had of Jesus. They perceived Jesus basically as an earthly Messiah. They envisioned that Jesus had come to establish an earthly kingdom in which Israel would be restored to the place of prominence among the nations that she had formerly enjoyed during the reigns of David and Solomon.
Into this framework Jesus' death and resurrection did not fit. And. so when Jesus had spoken of His impending death and resurrection, these women with the other disciples had completely ignored Jesus' words. In fact, they had forgotten all about it by the time of Jesus' death. Hence, Jesus' death not only took them by surprise but completely devastated them. Nor do they now anticipate a resurrection. They are at the sepulchre to anoint the body of Jesus.
But Jesus' body is gone!
And then the women notice the angel sent from heaven to roll away the stone and let them into the grave.
No wonder the women are afraid.
The angel assures them, "Fear not." No, the women need not fear the angel. He had good tidings for them. Nor need they fear the empty grave. For the angel would explain that to them.
To calm the women's fears the angel, first, interprets the empty grave. I know that you week Jesus, which was crucified. He is not here: for He is risen, as He said.
How important these words of the angel are. For soon the report will be spread by Jesus' enemies that the disciples-stole the body of Jesus. But the fact of the empty grave must not be misconstrued either by evil or by honest men. All must know that Jesus' body was not stolen but risen. Hence, the angel (a divine messenger from heaven) explains to the women the meaning of the empty grave. Jesus is risen, as He said.
The angel proceeds to confirm his message by balling the women's attention to the place where the Lord lay.
What the women see is quite remarkable. They see Jesus' grave clothes, strips of cloth that had been wound around Jesus' body on Friday evening. From the other Gospel accounts we learn, however, that Jesus' grave clothes are not lying in an unraveled heap on the sepulchre floor. They are perfectly intact, in the exact position they had been left on Friday. Nothing has been disturbed. Everything is in place—except that Jesus' body is gone!
The grave clothes point conclusively to especially two important realities.
First, the grave clothes establish that Jesus' body has definitely not been stolen but miraculously raised to life. Had His body been stolen, the grave clothes would either have been taken also or would have been left in a heap on the floor.
Secondly, the grave clothes point to the nature of Jesus' resurrection.
To understand the exact nature of Jesus' resurrection we compare the resurrection of Jesus to that of Lazarus one month before. In the case of Lazarus, Jesus called Lazarus to come forth from the grave. After stumbling out of the sepulchre, Lazarus was there for all to see and touch. Lazarus' resurrection was obviously only a return to this life. Lazarus died, he was raised, and nothing had changed. And poor Lazarus had to die all over again one day.
But Jesus' resurrection is entirely different. Jesus is not present at the grave. He is gone. And quite obviously Jesus simply passed through His grave clothes. For they are perfectly intact. All this points to one glorious reality. Jesus has been gloriously changed through the resurrection. That which was earthly has become heavenly, that which was physical has become spiritual. Jesus has been raised into heavenly glory!
The women, of course, do not immediately understand all this. They do, however, understand that Jesus is risen from the dead.
And so the angel concludes his message. Go quickly, and tell Jesus' disciples that He is risen from the dead. And, behold, Jesus goes before you into Galilee; there shall you see Him. Lo, I have told you.
Thus ends the angel's message.
Quickly the women depart from the sepulchre with fear and great joy. Eagerly they find Jesus' disciples and relate to them the wonderful message of the angel.
Jesus is risen from the dead!
No, the women and disciples at this point do not fully comprehend the significance of Jesus' resurrection. That will have to wait until Pentecost. But they certainly understand that the resurrection of their Lord means victory. What a terrible defeat the death of Jesus had been for them. But now there is victory!
And so they are filled with fear and great joy.
In the light of Pentecost, and the full revelation of God, we are able more fully to understand the victory of Jesus' resurrection.
In the first place, Jesus' resurrection serves as God's seal of approval upon Jesus' death. No, Jesus' death on the cross was not the destruction of God's purpose, as initially assumed by the disciples. The cross was rather an integral part of the glorious plan of God for salvation. Through Jesus' death God would pay for the sins of His people. On its basis He would establish the Kingdom of heaven in which His people would find their salvation. And Jesus' resurrection is God's stamp of approval upon Jesus' suffering and death. By raising Jesus from the dead, God proclaims very clearly that through Jesus' death the price of sin has been fully paid. For, were there yet one sin left to the charge of God's elect, Jesus would be in the grave until this day!
Secondly, being raised from the dead, Jesus now lives to accomplish God's purpose in His death—the establishment of the kingdom of heaven. And our Lord Jesus Christ not only has established the kingdom in heaven, but in the power of His own death and resurrection also brings us into that kingdom. In the power of His own resurrection Jesus accomplishes a spiritual resurrection in our hearts, transforming us wonderfully from death into life so that we become living members of His kingdom and enjoy the blessings of the kingdom.
And in the power of His resurrection He will also return to us one day to take us through the final resurrection of the body into the kingdom to enjoy in both body and soul its bliss forever.
The resurrection of Jesus is victory indeed!
With fear and great joy we too leave the empty sepulchre of Jesus, our Lord.
Rev. James Slopsema (Wife: Joan)
Ordained: September 1974
Pastorates: First, Edgerton, MN - 1974; Randolph, WI - 1982; Hope, Walker, MI - 1986; First, Grand Rapids, MI - 1995; Emeritus, July 2014Website: www.firstprchurch.org/
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