Why Do You Seek the Living Among the Dead?

March 31, 2024 Speaker: Ben Janssen Series: Independent

Topic: Resurrection, Easter Scripture: Luke 23:50– 24:12

50 Now there was a man named Joseph, from the Jewish town of Arimathea. He was a member of the council, a good and righteous man, 51 who had not consented to their decision and action; and he was looking for the kingdom of God. 52 This man went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. 53 Then he took it down and wrapped it in a linen shroud and laid him in a tomb cut in stone, where no one had ever yet been laid. 54 It was the day of Preparation, and the Sabbath was beginning. 55 The women who had come with him from Galilee followed and saw the tomb and how his body was laid. 56 Then they returned and prepared spices and ointments.

On the Sabbath they rested according to the commandment.

1 But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they went to the tomb, taking the spices they had prepared. 2 And they found the stone rolled away from the tomb, 3 but when they went in they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. 4 While they were perplexed about this, behold, two men stood by them in dazzling apparel. 5 And as they were frightened and bowed their faces to the ground, the men said to them, “Why do you seek the living among the dead? 6 He is not here, but has risen. Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, 7 that the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men and be crucified and on the third day rise.” 8 And they remembered his words, 9 and returning from the tomb they told all these things to the eleven and to all the rest. 10 Now it was Mary Magdalene and Joanna and Mary the mother of James and the other women with them who told these things to the apostles, 11 but these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them. 12 But Peter rose and ran to the tomb; stooping and looking in, he saw the linen cloths by themselves; and he went home marveling at what had happened.

‌Happy Easter. He is risen!

This day is the whole reason for the Christian faith and what it offers to the world. We cannot explore enough, then, the meaning of Easter and its implications. The entire New Testament depends upon the veracity of Easter Sunday. It wouldn’t exist if what happened to Jesus “on the first day of the week, at early dawn” had not actually happened. Here in Luke’s account of Easter Sunday, we find a thought-provoking question in Luke 24:5, “Why do you seek the living among the dead?” The Christian faith cannot be grasped if you’re looking for it in the wrong place. Easter Sunday keeps us focused on where to look for what Christianity has to offer to the world. With the resurrection of Jesus at the center of its message, the Christian gospel keeps our attention on life rather than death.

If you want to understand Christianity, then you must understand Easter. I want to suggest to you this morning three ways to understand Easter and its message. Consider the body of Jesus, the truth about Jesus, and the power that comes to us from Jesus.

The Body of Jesus

‌First, consider the body of Jesus. Easter is about the physical, human body of Jesus of Nazareth and the fact that you will not find it among the dead but among the living.

‌Asking for the Body

‌Our text today begins with “a man named Joseph, from the Jewish town of Arimathea.” This man, otherwise unknown in the Scriptures, appears here after the crucifixion of Jesus, to ask Pilate for the dead body of Jesus. Granted the corpse, he wraps it in a linen shroud and puts it in a tomb.

The other Gospel accounts fill out the picture of what we know about Joseph, all three of them telling us something unique about him. He was a wealthy man, also highly respected member of the Sanhedrin, the supreme governing body for Jews in first-century Palestine. In John’s Gospel we are told that he was helped by the Pharisee, Nicodemus, in taking care of Jesus’s corpse. This tomb in which they buried his body was Joseph’s own tomb that he had acquired, presumably for his own families’ use.‌

What Joseph did here was no small thing. He showed his courage in approaching Pilate to ask for the body, so he could treat it with respect (Mk 15:43). Both Matthew (Matt 27:57) and John (John 19:38) tell us that Joseph was a disciple of Jesus, though he kept his beliefs secret since his own people considered Jesus a fraud, a blasphemer, and a criminal. But Joseph believed in Jesus. He “had not consented to their decision and action” to have him crucified (v. 51).

As a disciple of Jesus, Joseph wasn’t interested only in what Jesus said, his teachings and ideas. Joseph cared about Jesus, so the body of Jesus mattered, too.‌ Why? Because, you see, it wasn’t ideas that first-century Jews were most interested in. Verse 51 goes on to say that Joseph “was looking for the kingdom of God.” Well, so were all other Jews in his day. The hope of the first century Jew, reading their scriptures and taking them seriously, was of a coming day in which their God would free them from all political oppression. They were hoping for someone to not just give them good ideas but to overthrow the Roman Empire. “Looking for the kingdom of God” meant that God would, to put it in the words of Jesus’s own beleaguered disciples in Acts, “restore the kingdom to Israel” (Acts 1:6).‌

Even here in Luke, if you keep reading, you see this expectation, as two disciples of Jesus are discussing the events of that first Easter weekend, expressing their disappointment about what happened to Jesus of Nazareth. He was “a man who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people,” and we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel (Lk 24:19-21). His crucifixion had put an end to those hopes.‌

Joseph also had put all his hopes in Jesus, in the actual person, in his body. As he laid him in his own tomb, he surely must have thought that he would have to now look for someone else to be the one who would bring in the kingdom of God.‌

The Missing Body‌

Historical scholars largely agree about several things concerning Jesus of Nazareth: that he existed, that he went around Galilee and Judea teaching a certain message in a certain way, that he was crucified under Pontius Pilate. And here’s one more thing that historians, Christian and non-Christian alike, agree about: shortly after Jesus’s death, there was a controversy about what happened to his body.‌

The controversy begins with Jesus’s own followers. We read here in verse 1 of chapter 24 that “on the first day of the week, at early dawn,” some women came to the tomb, found the stone rolled away, and “did not find the body of the Lord Jesus.” This is not what they expected. Verse 4 says, “They were perplexed about this.”‌ They were at a loss to explain the missing body.

They couldn’t have forgotten where he had been placed and gone to the wrong tomb, because they were there, just day before yesterday, watching as Joseph laid the body of Jesus in the tomb. See it there in Luke 23:55? They even observed “how his body was laid.”‌

There really could only be one logical explanation: someone had moved the body. It’s what at least one of the women assumed had happened (Jn 20:15). Of course, this is what the Pharisees feared Jesus’s own disciples might do, and then claim that Jesus had risen from the dead (Matt 27:64). But if Jesus’s disciples thought he was the one who was bringing in the kingdom of God, what good would it do for them to concoct such a scheme? They would know it was all a lie.‌

The Risen Body‌

Notice, the one thing these believers in Jesus did not immediately conclude when confronted with an empty tomb: “Oh, well, yes. He must have risen from the dead and run off somewhere.” They were no more prone to believe such things as any skeptic today would be.‌

And yet.

While they were perplexed about this, behold, two men stood by them in dazzling apparel. And as they were frightened and bowed their faces to the ground, the men said to them, “Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen.”

Luke will later call these two men angels (Lk 24:23), but the way he describes their appearance, and the way the women respond, leave us with no doubt that this is some sort of supernatural encounter.[1]

As the women are trying to get their bearings on what all is going on, they hear the good news. It is not what they expected; it had to be told to them.‌ Jesus is not dead. Not anymore. He has risen! That is the answer to the question of the missing body.‌

If you’re looking for the body of Jesus, don’t look for him “among the dead” because you won’t find him there. The Christian claim is that the body of Jesus is in a category all by itself. There are dead bodies and there are not-yet dead bodies. But the body of Jesus is risen from the dead. Jesus, in his body, is “alive” but in a way that none of us are.‌

And on this point, the entirety of the Christian faith hangs.

The Truth of Jesus

‌Consequently, the second thing Easter urges us to consider is the truth about Jesus. His crucifixion looked like a devastating defeat, but his resurrection from the dead puts everything in a new frame. What is Jesus, what is Christianity, all about? Easter will tell us.

‌Remembering What He Said

‌The angelic men who appeared to the women and proclaimed to them the resurrection of Jesus urged them to remember what Jesus had promised.

Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men and be crucified and on the third day rise.

‌Back in chapter 9, we find the record of Jesus saying all this would happen (Lk 9:22). He even emphasized it, in Luke 9:44.

“Let these words sink into your ears: The Son of Man is about to be delivered into the hands of men.” In Mark’s Gospel, when Jesus talked like this, we are told that “he said this plainly” (Mk 8:32). Draw a circle around it, underline it, highlight it, put a star by it. The truth of Jesus is a message of death followed by resurrection. A cross, and then an empty tomb.

Luke explains that Jesus’s disciples could not comprehend what he was saying, couldn’t perceive the force of his words. That explains why the women did not immediately consider “resurrection from the dead” as an explanation for the missing body on Easter Sunday. It also explains why it continues to be a struggle for “resurrection from the dead” to be emphasized and grasped as the central point of Christianity to this very day.‌

Reporting What He Said

‌I suppose many if not most people in our community have some notion that Easter is about the resurrection of Jesus. But this is the kind of thing that, if true, can’t be mentioned with some sort of casual talk. And yet, Easter comes and goes without too much attention in society. It’s certainly not anything like Christmas in our cultural practice or imagination. How can this be?‌

After all, while the debate about what happened that first Easter will go on and on, seeing that we are talking about what did or did not happen on a particular day in a particular time and place, one thing is absolutely for certain: the entirety of the Christian faith dangles as if on a very thin thread on the veracity of the resurrection. Paul said it like this: “If Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain” (1 Cor 15:14). N. T. Wright puts it before us this way:‌

Take Christmas away, and in biblical terms you lose two chapters at the front of Matthew and Luke; nothing else. Take Easter away, and you won’t have a New Testament; you won’t have a Christianity; as Paul says, you will still be in your sins.[2]

‌And yet there are still so many people, claiming to be Christians, telling us what Jesus said, who want to deny that “on the third day he rose from the dead,” or at least try to make it about some disembodied “spiritual” resurrection. Jesus may be “alive,” they say, but only like you might talk about your beloved deceased friend or family member for whom far too many have suggested in moments of grief that they must be more alive than ever somewhere out there beyond the distant stars.‌

Whatever that kind of talk or belief may be, it isn’t biblical Christianity, and it is time we stop associating it with the Christian faith.‌

Let’s go back to the first Easter Sunday, where the women who first heard the news from the angelic messengers went and “told these things to the apostles.” They didn’t put their own spin on it. They simply announced what they had been told, which, once more, was just a reminder of what Jesus had said would happen all along.‌

That, dear friends is the Christian gospel. There is so much more to say, of course, but if you can’t remember anything else about Christianity, “Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead” (2 Tim 2:8). That is what it is all about.‌

Receiving What He Said

‌And if you will receive this, receive what Jesus has said and what he has done, it will reframe your entire worldview, your entire approach to life. Ephesians 1 calls it “having the eyes of your hearts enlightened” to “know what is the hope to which he has called you,” because the resurrection is the greatest display of God’s power, and it is the same power that comes to you through faith in Jesus (Eph 1:18-20).‌

In fact, if the resurrection of Jesus hasn’t done this for you, isn’t doing this for you and me, then it can only be because you and I are not receiving it, not embracing its truth. I don’t mean to suggest this makes you not a Christian. The issue is not whether you have believed enough for God to accept you. The power is not in your believing, not in your faith, but in the one in whom you believe. The power is in the resurrection, a power that overcomes death itself. That’s why the power of Easter is the power that can address every need you have, every sorrow you experience, every trouble you encounter.‌

Do you believe this?

I know it isn’t easy to believe. Why would it be? Dead people do not rise from the dead. They didn’t believe that in the first century any more than we believe it today. In verse 12, even though Peter is skeptical of the news the women have reported, he runs off to see for himself. Arriving at the tomb, he peers in and “saw the linen cloths by themselves.” Here is another piece of evidence that something quite strange and unexpected has happened, because we learn from John’s Gospel that these grave clothes were arranged in an orderly way. Dead bodies were wrapped up tightly like a mummy, but here are those strips of linen all folded up. Had someone stolen the body, why would they have removed the cloths and taken the time to fold the laundry? If Jesus had not really died, and had revived, how could he have gotten out of the wrapping without ripping them off?[3]

And so, verse 12 says, Peter “went home marveling at what had happened.” Here’s the point: something had happened that morning. The New Testament record shows that Jesus’s closest friends and disciples were totally caught off guard. Every logical explanation for what had happened just didn’t add up. They were left with no other possibility than the this: Jesus Christ is risen.

Yes, he is risen indeed (Lk 24:34).

The Power of Jesus

So, what if it’s true? What happens now? If you want to understand Easter and its message, then you must also understand the power of Jesus that Easter declares to us. It is the power of life over death. And that means the power of Jesus is the greatest power that exists in the world today, right now.

A Slogan to Live By

So, you can’t just pick it up and put it down once a year on Easter. You can’t even just pick it up and put it down once a week on Sundays. You can’t pick it up and put it down once a day for a moment of meditation or devotion. The power of Jesus, the power of resurrection, of life over death, is a power that cannot be ignored. It really does change everything. If Easter is true, then reality has been changed. History has taken a dramatic turn. If Easter is true, the world simply isn’t the same anymore.

The resurrection of Jesus is not, as one commentator emphasizes, “a dramatic symbol of hope or an expression of a wish” but “core history” that changes what we think of the meaning of Christ’s cross and everything that comes afterward. When Christians say, “he is risen,” we are not uttering “the plea of an uncertain heart searching for meaning” but declaring our “confession of hope” for what is sure to come.[4]

What is your slogan of hope in times of anxiety? Seriously, what do you find yourself thinking when you are deeply impressed with something difficult or troubling? Do you say, “What goes around comes around?” Then you believe in karma, not in Christianity. “Cultivate inner peace, navigate life’s storms”? Marcus Aurelius and other stoics like him will make good company, but not so much the Savior from Nazareth. How about “Que sera, sera: Whatever will be, will be”? That makes you a good fatalist, but that is not an expression of Christian faith. And, by the way, dear Christian brother or sister, be sure you haven’t succumbed to fatalism when you say things like, “Well, I don’t know, but God is sovereign.” Resignation is not the power of resurrection.

Into the vast sea of worldview and human philosophy comes Easter Sunday, like a massive meteor dropped into a tranquil lake, sending tidal waves of transformation into every aspect of human existence. And this, and this alone, is its creed: He is risen!

Sheer Nonsense?

And when we say it, let’s be clear about what we mean. Throughout human history there are plenty of reports of what are usually called “near-death” or “out-of-body experiences.” Don’t get distracted by such things. Don’t become transfixed with the latest report of someone who can tell you what heaven is like because they have been there. The Bible contains one such account, but the person who had that experience refused to talk about it, insisting instead to only talk about his weaknesses so that the attention would be on “the power of Christ” (2 Cor 12:1-10).

Even if every single account is true of someone who received a vision of heaven, this is simply not where the power of Christianity is found. Because every person who has an experience like this, let’s go ahead and say, everyone who dies and comes back to life—none of them are telling us about resurrection, since they all eventually end up dead like everybody else.

The resurrection of Jesus is entirely different, and we should treat it that way, with all seriousness and in consideration of what it means. When the women reported the news to the apostles, verse 11 says, “but these words seemed to them an idle tale.” It sounded like nonsense, hogwash, humbug.

‌Remember Ebenezer Scrooge in Charles Dickens’s tale? His catchphrase, “Bah! Humbug!” did not mean that he didn’t like Christmas. It meant he didn’t believe it, that he thought it was total nonsense, that the world would be a better place if everyone would give up believing in such things.

But, as the story goes and as Scrooge comes to find out, the opposite is true.

So it is with Easter and the resurrection of Jesus. And you really ought to know this power.

The Power of a New Creation

Because, after all, if this is all true, then the power of Christianity is not a power to be found and experienced only when you finally succumb to death. The religions of the world are all focused on giving an answer to the question about what comes after death, and yes, Christianity has something to say here, too. But one of the many things that marks out Christianity from all other religions is that it is rigidly focused, not on death and disembodied life, but on the full restoration and flourishing of the embodied life you are experiencing right now. As Jesus himself proclaimed, “God is not the God of the dead, but of the living.”

“Resurrection is not the suspension of the natural order but the restoration of it—the world as God intended it to be.” And since resurrection has already broken into this present world, “we have hope not only for the future but hope that comes from the future.”[5]

To know this hope, to know this power—to know the resurrected Jesus—is to be a new creation. “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation,” we are told in 2 Corinthians 5:17, “the old has passed away” and “the new has come.” For over two thousand years, ordinary Christians like you and me have gone on living in that reality, and have turned the world upside down.

Jesus Christ is risen from the dead. That’s the message of Easter Sunday. What does that mean for tomorrow, for Easter Monday? It means new things, new opportunities, new possibilities, new hope, new power, all because we see in Jesus, our Lord, what can now be true everywhere else where we see death and defeat, brokenness and sorrow, shame and futility.

In light of Easter Sunday, tomorrow becomes, let’s call it New Creation Monday. It might just be the very power you need to get you out of bed and back to work. Because, “in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep” (1 Cor 15:20). So, “be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain” (1 Cor 15:58).


[1] Darrell L. Bock, Luke, Volume 2: Luke: 9:51–24:53, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament, ed. Moisés Silva (Baker Academic, 1996), 1890-91.

[2] Tom Wright, Surprised by Hope (London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 2007), 268–69.

[3] Timothy Keller, Hope in Times of Fear: The Resurrection and the Meaning of Easter (New York: Viking, 2021), 89.

[4] Bock, Luke, 1884.

[5] Keller, Hope in Times of Fear, 24.

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