The sermon preached at MacAlpine Presbyterian Church in Buffalo, New York on Resurrection of the Lord Sunday this morning is below–largely as preached. I was inspired this morning to make a few changes that I’ve reflected even in the title above. I had been calling this, “Seeking the Kingdom of God” but you will see as you read or listen to it why it is better to call it, “Helping Others Find the Kingdom of God.” The sermon audio is available at this link. The next two Sundays will be Luke 24:13-35 and 36-53. As always, text with a strike-through is there for organizational purposes but isn’t said aloud at that point in the message.
The Gospel of Luke could have simply told us in words like a creed that Jesus was crucified, dead, and buried and the third day He rose again from the dead. But Luke wrote a Gospel so that you can find and you can help others find the kingdom of God. Indeed, Luke already told us the story of the crucifixion in such a way that we will want to help people find it. In the passages leading up to this one, we heard Jesus say to us not to weep for Him but that we should weep for Jerusalem. We even discovered that we should be weeping not only for Jerusalem but weeping for all who are lost and heading in the direction of hell. Luke wrote a gospel so that you would want to lead others instead to the kingdom of heaven. He told us that the spirit of Jesus went to be in Paradise with His Heavenly Father while His body was laid in a tomb and the tomb was shut. So today we are beginning a sermon series on Jesus’ resurrection. His resurrection is key to finding the kingdom of God. He could’ve told us more – there is much more that we find in the other Gospels and we wonder how to fit all the different accounts together—but Luke tells us what he does to help us find and lead others to find the kingdom of God. The series will only last three Sundays, so I hope that you can come the next two weeks to hear the rest. Should you be visiting from out of town today or otherwise unable to make it one of those Sundays you can listen to the message on my website. Listening to the audio isn’t as good as experiencing it in person, but it is better than missing out on the rest of our journey looking for God’s kingdom. After all, if you are seeking the kingdom of God it might just take a little while to find it. We will begin our search today with Luke 23:50-24:12, which opens with the burial of Jesus by a man named Joseph just before the Jewish Sabbath began. Joseph, Luke will tell us, is looking for the kingdom of God. Hear now the word of the Lord:
- Luke tells us that Joseph of Arimathea, a member of the Jewish religious council, was seeking the kingdom of God and honored Jesus with a proper burial.
- Joseph was a good and righteous man. Until now we did not know there were any good and righteous members of the religious council that tried Jesus and asked Pilate to crucify Him. Thus Luke makes it clear that Joseph of Arimathea did not consent to the council’s decision and action and tells us that he was a good and righteous man who was looking for the kingdom of God. The inclusion of this information about Joseph of Arimathea serves to tell us that there were some Jewish religious leaders who were open to Jesus and honestly searching for the kingdom of God.
- And as a good and righteous man Joseph of Arimathea honored Jesus with a proper burial tomb. He first went and asked Pilate for the body of Jesus, then took it down from the cross, wrapped it in a linen shroud, and laid Him in a new tomb cut in stone. Joseph of Arimathea was publicly honoring Jesus by doing these things. Not only did he go and ask permission to do so from Pilate but the women who had been following Jesus from Galilee saw the tomb and how Joseph of Arimathea laid the body of Jesus in it. So this was all out in the open. He publicly honored Jesus by attending to the burial of the crucified body of Jesus.
(Joseph of Arimathea was looking for the kingdom of God and to be looking for the kingdom of God is to be searching for Jesus for Jesus Himself is the kingdom of God. So Joseph sought out the body of Jesus and gave it an honorable resting place.)
- The women also behaved as we would expect devout Jewish women who were looking for the kingdom of God to behave for they went searching for the body of Jesus at that tomb at first light Sunday morning.
- These women were good and righteous people. Luke tells us that the burial of Jesus was as the Sabbath was beginning, or literally the word he uses is “dawning.” The Jewish Sabbath began at nightfall, so Luke is using the word figuratively. But the idea is that the women went and prepared spices and ointments for the body of Jesus at the last possible moments just before the Sabbath started. And to be absolutely clear Luke says, “On the Sabbath they rested according to the commandment.” The Jewish Sabbath was Saturday, the last day of the week. So these women were acting like any devout Jewish women would act. They kept the fourth commandment and rested on the Sabbath. Luke is showing us that these women were like Joseph of Arimathea – these women were good and righteous people.
- And as good and righteous women they went to the tomb on the first day of the week, at early dawn to honor Jesus. The phrase “early dawn” is something like “deep daybreak.” The idea is that at the very earliest of the day after the Sabbath these women were there at the tomb. It was well before sunrise [no pun intended—I had to explain this addition verbally]. And they had the spices they had prepared last thing before the Sabbath started. So these religious women were there to honor the crucified body of Jesus the earliest they could possibly be there to do so but they found that Jesus’ body was not there. And while they were perplexed and confused about what was happening, two angels, described as men standing by them in dazzling clothing, appeared to them and asked them, “Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen.” The dazzlingly dressed angels put some more light on the situation for the women who were expecting to find the body of Jesus. The angels also told them to remember the words of Jesus while He was still with them in Galilee that He must be crucified and on the third day rise. So here were several women, Luke only tells us the names of three, who had been with Jesus in Galilee and had followed Him to His crucifixion and burial and are continuing to seek the kingdom of God. And the angels told them that they were looking in the wrong place when they came to the tomb. But Luke tells us that they did remember His words. This is resurrection language – these women had a light-bulb moment – faith turned on and showed them the way. (It was a faith that led them to tell others. The women went and told the eleven and all the rest who were with the eleven everything they had heard and seen. At first most of the apostles considered it an “idle tale,” though Peter shows a different reaction.)
- Peter rose and ran to the tomb and he found it empty except for the linen cloths that Joseph of Arimathea had used to wrap the body of Jesus and then Peter marveled at what had happened. Peter is not yet believing that Jesus is risen but he is a step closer to finding the kingdom of God than many of the other apostles. But Peter is eager to believe the good news. He didn’t just dismiss the women as telling an idle tale. He went to check out the tomb for himself. He ran to it. And when he finds the tomb empty except for the linen burial cloths he knew that whatever is going on has the fingerprints of God all over it, so to speak. (But the responses of Joseph of Arimathea to the death of Jesus and the women and Peter to the first indications that Jesus is risen – their responses lead us to help others find the kingdom of God.
- All of those seeking the kingdom of God in this passage will find it.
- Joseph, the women, and Peter, would all find the kingdom of God. Joseph of Arimathea would find the kingdom of God. Even though Jesus had said it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God, this wealthy man named Joseph became a member of the early church. The women who went looking in the wrong place nevertheless found the kingdom of God there on account of the word of the Lord that the angels told them to remember. Peter too would find the kingdom of God. Peter would become a leader among the apostles. Luke gives us a hint of this by already calling the eleven “the apostles” in verse 10 (not that he hasn’t already done so in Luke 6:13, 9:10, 11:49, 17:5, and 22:14, but they are still called the apostles in Luke 24:10 even though we are not yet to Acts). Peter was slow to believe, though he was closer to the kingdom of God than many who would become apostles because he went and checked the women’s story for himself, and so the Lord would appear to him first of the apostles. Jesus seeks out those who seek Him out even if they are looking in the wrong places and even when they are slow to believe. He knew the women were going to the tomb that morning and sent angels to gently rebuke them and remind them that Jesus was not there. Most instructive for us is to realize that the women believe not because they saw Jesus but like all Christians today they believed because of the word of the Lord. But the point is that all of the people in this story find Jesus. (And so can you.)
- If you truly are seeking the kingdom of God in this passage you will find Jesus and be able to help others find the kingdom of God in this passage. Jesus reveals Himself to those who seek to obediently honor Him like Joseph and the women. Jesus reveals Himself to deeply religious people who keep His commandments and believe His word. Don’t misunderstand—none of the disciples mentioned in this passage are sinless—far from it—but they are righteous by faith and therefore strive to keep the commandments of God. Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of God. These disciples heard the Word and believed. None of these disciples had a lot of faith, but they had faith sufficient unto salvation – that is, they had enough faith to be saved. Maybe it would be better to say that they all had a genuine saving faith – that faith was real – it just wasn’t very strong. So they would find the kingdom of God by faith. It is encouraging to know that Jesus sends messengers, even angels, when we go looking in all the wrong places like the women. Those angels may have to gently rebuke us when we go looking among the dead for the living Jesus but Jesus has sent messengers to share His word and seek us out. Some of you may be that messenger for someone. The word angel means messenger. So we might say that in a sense you can be like an angel sent by God to someone—even someone who was not looking for the kingdom of God but who will find it. You may be here today because of such an angel. That messenger of the Lord told you about the Lord Jesus and you are here today to see for yourself. Now if you came today to seek for Jesus here among the living, you are on the right track. The kingdom of God—the body of Christ—is not in some tomb—it is the church of Jesus Christ—the kingdom of God is those who call upon the name of the Lord for salvation—we are the living for we are living by faith. You will not need as much direction as someone who went looking in all the wrong places. It won’t be long before Jesus seeks you out and reveals Himself to you through the believers all around you. If you are slow to believe it may just take a little while for you to find the kingdom of God – to find the risen Jesus. But keep asking for directions. Jesus honors those who honor Him and seeks out those who seek Him. Jesus said, “that the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men and be crucified and on the third day rise.” Believe on His word. Seek Jesus and you will find the kingdom of God for Jesus will find you through one another. Now that really is something to marvel at – that Jesus will find you through His people who live by faith and share the good news. Most of us would think that there must be lots of better ways God could’ve revealed Himself in Jesus Christ to our family, friends, and neighbors. But God in His wisdom has chosen to reveal Himself in Jesus as you who believe go and share the good news—He is risen! The good news that leads us to say: Hallelujah! Amen!