Background Scripture: Luke 24:1-35.
Devotional Reading: Luke 24:22-36.
When President John Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, there were thousands of people along the way who witnessed, not only the terrible moment itself, but those directly preceding and following it.
Nevertheless, the eyewitness accounts vary considerably and few question the sincerity of those eyewitnesses.
So, if the “empty tomb” experiences of Easter were the same in Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, I would be less impressed by them. There are differences in the accounts concerning the women who came to the tomb. Mark says it is given by “a young man ... dressed in a white robe” (Mk. 16:5).
Matthew attributes the announcement to “an angel of the Lord (Mt. 28:2-5) and Luke changes this to “two men ... in dazzling apparel” (Lk. 24:4).
John records that “two angels in white” ask Mary Magdalene: “Woman, why are you weeping?” (Jn. 20:11,12).
In John 20, it is the risen Christ who makes the announcement to Mary Magdalene. But none of the gospel accounts affect the singularity of the Easter message: At the empty tomb there are encountered one or more heralds who inform the disciples that they are looking for the tomb of Jesus, but it is empty because Christ is alive, risen from it.
As William Barclay says, “the basic fact of the empty tomb never varies.”
It is obviously consistent: They are looking for Jesus in the wrong place — as many of us still do.
Then and Now
Luke tells us that when Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Joanna run to tell the disciples the good news, that “these words seemed to them an idle tale and they did not believe them” (Lk. 24;10,11).
Luke also gives a captivating account of two disciples on the Emmaus road and their experience of the Risen Lord. At first, they did not recognize the stranger as the Lord, which is also revealing.
The appearance of the risen Christ was both the same and different from the Jesus with whom they walked the roads of Galilee. This experience was different enough that when the disciples went to the Galilee mountain to which the Christ had directed them, some “worshipped him, but some doubted” (Mt. 28:17).
Over the years, I have had sincere people tell me that they “cannot buy the miracles and resurrection stuff” because it lies outside the realm of scientific possibility.
I have been trying to read “ORIGENS: Fourteen Billion Years of Cosmic Evolution” by Neil de Grasse Tyson and Donald Goldsmith. The cosmos that the writers explore is hard for me to comprehend, especially a possible “multiverse containing an infinite number of universes.”
Still, I personally find that God and miracles are more credible in these new views of the cosmos, than in the old, three-level universe that has prevailed in much of the history of humankind.
Not that I think science will ever prove or disprove God and the spiritual realities, but science keeps moving on and so does our awareness of the spiritual side of life.
It is I’
Another factor that lends confidence to these accounts is that there is apparent disagreement among the disciples as to what form the resurrected Christ appeared in.
Mary Magdalene did not recognize the resurrected Lord at first. Neither did the two disciples on the Emmaus road.
Matthew 28:9,10 tells us that the women “took hold of his feet.”
In Luke 24:36-42, we are told that as the two Emmaus road travelers were reporting their experience of the Risen Lord: “Jesus stood among them,” and he said: “See my hands and feet, that it is I myself; handle me and see.”
In John 20, the resurrected Christ appears and disappears from inside a locked room. It is interesting to me that, so far as the gospels show, after the agonizing hours on Calvary, no one really expected to see Jesus again. That means we have an advantage that they did not have: Because of the gospel, we can expect to see him again.
And expecting to see him again makes us more likely to do just that.
How? Where? In what way?
We do not know. But expecting the resurrected Lord seems to make recognizing the resurrected Lord more likely. As John Drinkwater puts it:
Shakespeare is dust, and will not come
To question from his Avon tomb,
And Socrates and Shelley keep
An attic and Italian sleep.
They see not. But, O Christians, who
Throng Holborn and Fifth Avenue,
May you not meet in spite of death,
A traveler from Nazareth?