After the darkest day in human history, and the empty, voided, silence of Saturday, Sunday finally dawned. Today is the dramatic conclusion of Jesus’ final week!
Sunday, April 10th, 30 AD.
THE DISCIPLES RETREATED
Sometime between the agonizing events on Friday and the glorious events on Sunday, the disciples retreated into a hole somewhere in the city. They were bitterly afraid of the Jews (John 20:19), who had just killed their Lord and savior. Now, it would be reasonable to think they were coming for them as well.
THE GUARDS AT THE TOMB
At the tomb, the Roman guards were carefully watching the grave so that no one could steal Jesus’ body. This was to prevent the claim that He had been resurrected (Matthew 27:62-65). But, early on Sunday morning, perhaps even before the sun had fully risen, an earthquake broke through the silence. It shook so terribly, that the stone broke lose that was blocking the entrance (Matthew 28:2a). The guards were thrown into a fit of panic, especially after discovering that it was an angel, sitting atop the stone in dazzling clothing, that had caused it (Matthew 28:2b).
Matthew tells us that these men shook in fear and became as dead men, probably blacking out from the fear and shock of it all (Matthew 28:3-4).
THE WOMEN AT THE TOMB
Not long after the guards were incapacitated, Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Jesus arrived at the tomb (Matthew 28:1) bringing spices to prepare His body for the inevitable decay that would soon set in (Mark 16:1-2). They were traveling with Johanna and some other women who were a part of Jesus’ discipleship community (Luke 24:10). In those days, women were safer traveling in larger groups.
Once they arrived, they would have seen the carnage that the earthquake left behind along with Roman troops who were still lying lifeless on the ground in front of them (Matthew 28:11). The entire scene looked like a warzone. And with the massive tombstone rolled away (Mark 16:4), it would not be difficult for any number of scenarios to flood their minds.
John tells us that Mary Magdalene specifically wept when she saw these things, imagining that Jesus’ body had been taken from the grave by force (John 20:11). The other women were also deeply perplexed and could not make sense of what they were seeing (Luke 24:4).
As Mary continued weeping, she neared the darkened tomb, stooped and looked inside, not sure what she would find (John 20:11). The other women also joined with her, even going inside the tomb to see if they could help her find His body (Luke 24:3). He was not there.
As the women huddled together in the darkened tomb they were shocked to see an angel sitting on the very spot where His body should be laying (Mark 16:5-6). Another angel, perhaps the one who was sitting on the stone above, also came in (Luke 24:4), which caused the women to tremble in fear (Luke 24:5). After consoling these poor women (John 20:13), the angels showed them where Christ had been laid (Mark 16:6), and reported to them that He had risen from the dead (Matthew 28:6).
The women were clearly still confused, so the angel reminded them of the words that Jesus had spoken to them previously, how He would be killed at the hands of sinful men and resurrected on the third day (Luke 24:7). These words began inciting belief in some of them, but they did not yet fully understand all of it either (Luke 24:8). The angel also told them to go and report this news to their brothers, the disciples, who were fearfully huddled together in the city (Matthew 28:7a). The angel told them that they were to leave the dangerous city and head north to Galilee where Jesus would soon meet them (Mark 16:7).
But, it was clear that Mary was still reeling, perplexed, and broken over everything coming at her. Perhaps she was incapable at this moment to process all of the details. Imagine walking up to this scene, stepping over collapsed soldiers with weapons, entering the tomb of your best friend, meeting an actual angel, and then trying to process everything he told you.
In moments like these our hearts, with all of the emotions, need a moment to simply catch up to the data.
As Mary turned away from the angels to process what was just spoken to her, she saw Jesus standing right in front of her, but lacked the ability in that moment to recognize Him (John 20:14). Jesus spoke tenderly to her, saying: “Woman (a term of endearment), why are you weeping?” (John 20:15a). Mary responded to Him through the cloud of emotions, thinking Him to be the gardener, begging Him to turn over the body, if He had been the one to take it (John 20:15b).
Jesus looked at her, and spoke her name in that good old way He always had before in Bethany, “Mary...”, and when those sound waves reached her ears, she knew! (John 20:16a) It was Jesus! It was her beloved, Lord! And when she looked up at him, her voice cried out “my Rabbi” at the same time her hands wrapped around his feet (John 20:16) in a beautiful moment of worship and devotion (Matthew 28:9).
Jesus did not rebuke her and the others, but redirected all of their excitement to the task at hand. He wanted Mary and the other women to report this news to the brothers (John 20:17-18) so that all of them could meet together in Galilee (Mark 16:7).
After seeing Jesus alive, they left with an incredible amount of excitement and joy. Perhaps it was greater than they had never felt before (Matthew 28:8; John 20:18). From the tomb, the rushed back to meet to the brothers.
THE GUARDS AWAKE
After the lifeless men awoke, and realized the tomb was empty, they fled into the city to report these events to the Jewish leaders (Matthew 28:11). Normally an event like this would cause the soldiers to be killed on the spot. But doing so would have confirmed their account, and would have signaled to the entire city that Jesus really lived and was resurrected. This would be disastrous for the Jewish council, who led the city with an iron religious fist.
Sensing their dilemma, they paid the soldiers off and began disseminating a false report throughout the city (Matthew 28:11-13). Matthew even tells us that the rumor survived several decades after these events and was still being spread around the time he was writing his Gospel. The leaders also promised to protect the vulnerable soldiers from the death penalty, should their governor find out. The only catch was that they could never share what really happened on that Sunday morning (Matthew 28:13).
The religious leaders were so blind in their sin, not even an empty tomb, an earthquake, and an attacking angel from God would cause them to repent and turn from their sin.
THE WITNESS OF WOMEN??
As the women ran back to meet the brothers, they did so in a world where they were not considered credible witnesses. They were not allowed to testify in a court of law, and they would have never been trusted to relay such an important message on their own. This is to the shame of that culture and not a statement about the aptitude of women.
Yet, knowing this about their world, the Gospel writers still included this detail in their account (even though it may have caused their testimony to appear unbelievable to others). There would have been tremendous societal pressure to rewrite the women out of this account, having themselves courageously finding the tomb empty, instead of cowering in fear somewhere in the city.
But they kept this detail in the account, primarily because it was true. And, perhaps, also to show the world the tender view that Jesus had towards women. They were not second rate citizens to Him. They were His beloved sisters.
THE WOMEN SHARE THE GOSPEL
As Mary and the other women caught their breath, they began enumerating the report about the empty tomb and resurrection. But, the disciples did not believe them (Mark 16:10-11). In fact, the report sounded like nonsense to them (Luke 24:9-11).
Mary specifically appeals to Peter (Mark 16:7), the de facto leader of the group, urging him to believe her testimony. Of the two components in her presentation, it is clear that He does not yet believe that Jesus is alive and raised, but after considering the likelihood that someone had stolen the body, the empty tomb became a real fear for him (Luke 24:12) and caused Him to return.
As Peter hastily got up to investigate this, the rest stayed behind, supposing Peter may be traveling to his doom. John does, however, tell us that another unnamed disciple went with him, which most believe was John Himself. For clarity, that is what we will assume as well. Therefore, Peter and John left the others and ran as quickly as they could to investigate the empty tomb together.
PETER AND JOHN AT THE TOMB
After running back to the tomb, both men arrive (John 20:3) by mid-morning, with the younger John arriving first (John 20:4). There were no guards there, since they were long gone at this point, and rumors were already filling the city that someone had stolen the body. Even being here must have been dangerous for them.
John stoops to catch His breath and sees the linen garments lying in the spot where Jesus laid (John 20:6). When Peter arrived, he also saw the linens (Luke 24:12), and then became the first man to enter the vacant tomb (John 20:6).
Once inside, He discovered the face cloth that had covered the Lord’s face. When he found it, it was lying off to the side as if by deliberate intention (John 20:7). One can assume that Peter, at this point, called out to John so that he would come in and evaluate what he was seeing. John entered, saw what Peter had found, and reports to us that this moment caused him to believe (John 20:8). Though, he qualified that statement by telling us that neither of them really understood in full (John 20:9, 11).
It seems the two departed rather quickly, amazed and wondering what had happened (Luke 24:12), but likely too afraid to investigate the matter further. So, in a moment they were off, going to report this news to all the others.
THE TWO MEN WALKING
Once Peter and John arrived, the group had two independent lines of evidence that the tomb was empty. But, with Peter and John having no proof for the resurrection, the room was divided along gender lines (Luke 24:24). Things could not be more confusing.
Sometime later, two of the men in the group decided to leave and return back to their hometown of Emmaus (Luke 24:13). This was about 7 miles north of Jerusalem and they would want to get home before dark. They had heard many confusing things and likely needed to get away from the group and the situation in order to process it.
As they walked along, suddenly Jesus came up behind them on the road (Luke 24:14-15). Just as Mary did not recognize Him at the tomb, so they did not recognize Him on the road. The text tells us that their eyes were even prevented from seeing who He really was (Luke 24:16), so they walked along with Him in ignorance.
As they continued, Jesus engaged them and inquired about what they were speaking about when He walked up (Luke 24:17). This shocked the two men, wondering how it was possible that anyone could be so ignorant of these events. Perhaps they even wondered if this traveler had been living under a rock.
The one who is named in the account (Cleophas) responded to Jesus: “Are You the only one visiting Jerusalem, who is unaware of the things which have happened here?”. After Jesus inquired further, Cleophas responded with a summary of the last 72 hours. He also indicated that both the women and two disciples had reported back to their group, but they could not understand the data (Luke 24:17-24).
It was then that Jesus rebuked them (Luke 24:25), challenging them with the entire Old Testament Scriptures that pointed to the Messiah, His death, and resurrection (Luke 24:26-27). And as they inched closer to Emmaus, He led them through the greatest Bible study ever given, invigorating them and causing their hearts to burn within them (Luke 24:32).
Even so, they were still prevented from recognizing Him.
When the two men arrived at their destination, approximately two and a half hours after they left Jerusalem, it appeared like Jesus would be going on ahead of them. Instead, they urged Him to stay the night, since it would be dark in a few hours and traveling at night was dangerous (Luke 24:29). Jesus accepted.
During the meal that night, in the same manner, that He had done in the upper room on Friday, Jesus reclined at the table, took the bread, blessed the bread, broke it and distributed it to them. In that moment, their eyes were opened and they knew that they were sitting face to face with the risen Lord (Luke 24:30-31).
The moment they recognized Him, however, Jesus vanished, and they fled immediately back to the city to tell everyone about it (Luke 24:34-35).
THE DISCIPLES REFUSE TO BELIEVE THEM
Out of fear, the disciples had not moved from their places (John 20:19). Plus, with the threat of the Jewish leaders breaking down their door at any moment, any stirrings outside would have been terrifying to them. It was at this point, the two returned and after everyone recovered from their arrival, they began sharing their account.
Normally, if two male witnesses agreed about something, and shared it with others, their account would have seemed credible. But given the fantastical nature of the news, the others struggled to believe what these two were saying (Mark 16:12-13).
JESUS APPEARS TO THEM
While the two men were still relaying the account to this unbelieving group, Jesus appeared in their midst (Luke 24:36) They were so startled and frightened by the spectacle, they believed Him to be a ghost (Luke 24:37). Once again, He was not recognized.
Jesus quelled their doubts by showing them His real physical wounds (Luke 24:38-40) and also by eating some food right in front of them (Luke 24:41-43). At this time, popular legend established that spirits do not have physical bodies, and therefore could not actually eat. Thus, Jesus easily proved He was not a ghost by showing them His wounds and eating something in front of them.
He also opened up the Old Testament for them and showed them all the places that were there concerning Him. The text tells us that He had to open up their minds before they could even understand it and recognize Him (Luke 24:44-46). But, once their eyes were opened, they joyfully worshipped Him and rejoiced because of Him (John 20:20).
EASTER COMES TO A CLOSE
The events of Easter began early on Sunday morning at an empty tomb. The body was gone. The Roman guards were paralyzed. The women were perplexed and broken. The Jewish leaders were lying and spreading misinformation. And the disciples were cowering in fear and confusion.
But, at the end of the day on Sunday, all of His followers were together again, worshipping Him in an upper room, awaiting His further instructions.
In the days ahead, they would all finally meet up in Galilee (Mark 16:7), an 80-mile journey northward. Jesus would commission them near the mountain of Transfiguration (Matthew 28:16), which was perhaps the most appropriate location to meet the glorified Christ. His commission would call them to take the Good News of His resurrection to the entire world (Matthew 28:18-20) and to teach everyone they shared it with to do the same until every tribe, tongue, and nation had heard (Luke 24:47). But, for the moment, He would command them to return to Jerusalem and wait for the coming of His Holy Spirit (Luke 24:49).
THE MEANING OF EASTER
Eight days after Easter, we see the point most clearly. There was one final disciple that had not seen the risen Lord. That disciple, though known as a doubter or skeptic, was confronted with the reality of His resurrection. While the disciples were obediently waiting for the Spirit, Thomas joins them, listens to their account, and declares:
"Unless I see in His hands the imprint of the nails, and put my finger into the place of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe.” - John 20:25b
But when Jesus enters the room and shows him His wounds, Thomas the doubter, became Thomas the believer. With five simple but powerful words, Thomas uttered the clearest and most powerful attestation of Jesus Christ ever utter. And, He did so with only five words:
“My Lord and my God!” (John 20:28)
This is what Easter is all about. You and I coming to the full understanding of who He is.
We must not be afraid of Him as the Romans were.
We must no longer weep like the women did.
We must not deny Him as the Jewish leaders did.
And we must not remain in our confusion as the disciples did.
We must stand with Thomas, humbled by our frailty and awed by His majesty. And with the power of simple faith declare: He really is "My Lord and my God!"
Thank you to everyone who has been reading these devotionals. I hope they have blessed you as much as writing them has blessed me.
You are dearly loved,