Vol. IX — No. 17 April 28, 1968
And when the sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome, had bought sweet spices, that they might come and anoint him. And very early in the morning the first day of the week, they came unto the sepulcher at the rising of the sun. And they said among themselves, Who shall roll us away the stone from the door of the sepulcher? And when they looked, they saw that the stone was rolled away: for it was very great. And entering into the sepulcher, they saw a young man sitting on the right side, clothed in a long white garment; and they were affrighted. And he saith unto them, Be not affrighted: Ye seek Jesus of Nazareth, which was crucified: he is risen; he is not here: behold the place where they laid him. But go your way, tell his disciples and Peter that he goeth before you into Galilee: there shall ye see him, as he said unto you. And they went out quickly, and fled from the sepulcher; for they trembled and were amazed: neither said they any thing to any man; for they were afraid.
In Christ Jesus, who by His resurrection has made us messengers of life, Fellow Redeemed:
There is no greater contrast in human existence than that between death and life.
This season of the church year brings us face to face with that contrast. Death had its day on Good Friday. God’s Son—who had called back from the silence of death the youth of Main, the daughter of Jairus and His own personal friend, Lazarus—Himself died. Our Lord Jesus, who had testified of Himself: “I am the resurrection and the life,” yielded up the ghost and died. In His death was concentrated the death of humanity. The Prince of Life had been killed. God had died. So it was that afternoon when they hurriedly carried His body to the tomb. But early Easter morning there came from that same tomb a message that death had been swallowed up by life: “Ye seek Jesus of Nazareth, which was crucified: he is risen; he is not here: behold the place where they laid him.”
He lives, He lives, Who once was dead,
He lives, my everliving Head.
The contrast between death and life creates other contrasts. It has its effect upon people, then and now. We can see this effect upon the women in the Easter story. When we observe it closely, we can see a similar effect upon ourselves. Let us observe these things as we consider this change—
Let us observe first of all that—
The women are most prominent in the Easter story. They appear initially as mourners. They had watched beneath the cross. They had heard His parting cry. They had seen Him die. Their beloved Lord and Master was gone. They continued their watch as Joseph of Arimathaea and Nicodemus took His body down from the cross and solemnly but with haste—for the Sabbath was drawing nigh—prepared it for burial. What could be done under the circumstances had been done, but not all was done that should have been done. There just had been no time for the customary anointing of His body. This act of love the women determined to do yet for their beloved Lord and Master. When the Sabbath came to an end Saturday evening, the shops were open for a brief time. Then it was that the women took the opportunity to purchase the sweet spices for the anointing, but there was no time to go out that evening yet to perform their service of love. So it was that they arose early in the morning, in the grey of the dawn, to do unto their Lord this final act of devotion. Notice that the thinking and the planning and the activity of the women was completely conditioned by the death of the Lord.
This pre-occupation with death continued as they made their way out to Joseph’s garden. What was the subject of their hushed conversation? This: “Who shall roll us away the stone from the door of the sepulcher?” They had observed how this huge millstone shaped. stone had been rolled into place. They feared that their united efforts would not be sufficient to roll the stone up its groove so that they could enter the tomb, “for it was very great.” Not even the faintest hope of life penetrated the gloom of death that hung over them. So thoroughly did death surround them and condition every thought and action.
So strong was the conditioning of death that it even affected them after they heard from the angel the announcement of life. “They went out quickly, and fled from the sepulcher; for they trembled and were amazed: neither said they any thing to any man; for they were afraid.” Part of their reaction was surely caused by the appearance of a heavenly messenger with his unbelievable message. But part of their reaction was surely caused by the fact that death so governed their whole outlook that day that they found themselves unable to function as messengers of life.
But that was precisely what they were to become, for—
When they arrived at the tomb, they saw that the stone had been rolled away. They entered the sepulcher, but they did not find the body of Jesus. Instead they found “a young man sitting on the right side, clothed in a long white garment.” To find life in this place of death caused them to be affrighted. Fear was visible on their faces. The heavenly messenger said to them, “Be not affrighted: Ye seek Jesus of Nazareth, which was crucified: he is risen; he is not here: behold the place where they laid him.” And now comes a heaven directed change for these mourners: “But go your way, tell his disciples and Peter that he goeth before you into Galilee: there shall ye see him, as he said unto you.” They had come as mourners, prepared to perform a final service for the body of their Lord. They were sent away as messangers of their Lord’s resurrection. What an amazing contrast—mourners become messengers of life!
Let us realize that the experience of these women is an experience that is to be relived by children of God of every age. Death has spread its fingers over the individual and over all of man’s activities, yea over his whole existence. Philosophers have advanced the thought that the greatest reality in life, in any one’s life, is death. That puts all of us at one time or another in the role of mourners. But we are to be messengers—messengers of life! The women Were expressly told to remind the disciples of the Lord’s promised appearance unto them in Galilee. Jesus had spoken of this meeting the night in which He had been betrayed. It was at this meeting, at which over five hundred were present, that our Lord gave His final commission to all His disciples to become witnesses unto Him, to proclaim Him and His blessings for all mankind. It was then that we received our orders to become His messengers of life in Him.
We have mentioned that death has to a greater or lesser extent, at one time or another, made mourners of all of us. Sometimes we fail to realize just how much of our lives is conditioned by death. All of us carry insurance of some kind. The insurance industry is, to a great extent, conditioned to and by death. Shortly after a child is born an insurance agent is certain to make a call, for he knows that that child will one day die. His company has detailed charts giving life expectancy at every stage of human life. We are compelled by law to carry liability insurance because the state recognizes the automobile as an instrument of property and life destruction. Health insurance is big business because people become sick, become old and enfeebled. Retirement insurance is also big business because we all grow old and unable to work as we once could. Life insurance is an even bigger business—because of the certainty of death. So it is that we insure ourselves against failing health, accidents, disability and old age—which are all precursors of death. And we also insure ourselves because we know that death will come with its expense and with its need for us to provide for those who depend upon us. The industry and our use of it is conditioned by death.
Insurance can relieve the burden of expense leading up to death and also the expense connected with death and the support of survivors. But no insurance can guarantee protection against death itself. Wouldn’t it be wonderful it there were such a policy! The premium would surely be very expensive. That would mean that only the wealthy could protect themselves against dying. There is no such policy, but then again there is!! You and I are to be salesmen or messengers or advertisement specialists for this policy. There is no premium. The company has never defaulted on its payments. It can and does guarantee protection. But there are so few customers. That is why you and I have been chosen to be messengers of life—life that overcomes death, life that continues on and on without ever ceasing.
We part-time and at times full-time mourners, whose whole vision has been conditioned by death, have been made messengers of life. We are to proclaim the resurrection of our Lord. Certainly we know that most, even in the churches, scoff at the thought of the resurrection. It has always been that way. The Jews started the lie that the disciples stole the body of the Lord, but they knew better for their own guards had reported to them what had happened at the tomb. Certainly We know the theory that the disciples imagined that they saw the Lord. We are assured that when you want something strongly enough, you can make yourself believe that you are seeing it. But the entire Easter account gives this theory the lie. None of the disciples expected the bodily resurrection of their lord. The women went to the grave as mourners. The men didn’t even bother to go out to the garden despite the fact that Jesus had told them that He would rise again the third day. Thomas wouldn’t even believe his ten fellow apostles. He wanted personal proof. Jesus had to overcome the unbelief of His own disciples. But that He did. To Mary Magdalene He identified Himself through His voice. He permitted the women to grasp His feet and so assure themselves. He ate in the presence of His disciples to assure them. He appeared to individuals, to smaller groups and finally to five hundred at one tine. These things we know. The Spirit of God has worked conviction in our hearts. We are to be witnesses of His resurrection. We are to be messengers of the hope that His resurrection has brought this world of mourners awaiting death.
We are to be messengers of the facts of life and death. In Adam all died, for once the virus of death had entered the blood stream of man, all were doomed to die. Each generation is unavoidably born in sin and soon makes itself guilty of sinning. Sin is a paymaster that never fails. Sooner or later it pays off with death. This constantly re-occurring cause and effect, sin and death, had to be broken. It is for that purpose that God sent His Son into this world. The opposite of sin is righteousness, but no man is able to produce the necessary righteousness in sufficient quantity and quality. God’s Son came to do the job for us. That He did. Even His judges had to testify as to His innocence again and again. Sin demands punishment. To save us from that punishment Christ came. He bore the anguish of the betrayal. He fought the battle in Gethsemane. He bore the smiting, the bruises, the stripes, the scourging, the crown of thorns. He suffered the pangs of hell in being forsaken of His Father. The law of double jeopardy now applies for our benefit. Since He was punished for us, we will not be punished. The resurrection is the Father’s announcement to us that His Son’s righteousness and suffering were sufficient.
This is to be our message of life. But if we are to be convincing messengers, we must believe our message ourselves. We must live our faith. He must demonstrate that it is important to us. We must be willing to work for it, suffer for it, and if need be—die for it. How is it with you, friend? You’ve been a mourner. You will mourn again. But are you also a messenger of life? Have you heard the passion story once again with a believing heart? Have you been moved to repentance? Has your faith been strengthened? In the midst of mourning have you received joy and peace and hope? God grant that these blessings have been yours again this year. God grant that you may be moved to become an active messenger of life unto others. We hear so much of the need to improve this life and we hear of the laws passed to help improve this life. We are witnessing legal and illegal efforts to improve standards of living in our own country. But we hear so very little of the life that can be found only in Christ Jesus, who arose from death and who bids all men to find life in Him. If there be in us mercy and love and compassion and consideration for our fellowmen, let us to be best of our abilities function as messengers of life—life everlasting which can be found alone in our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the King James Version.