The familiarity of Christmas and Easter texts can present a real challenge for preachers. How do we preach on such a well-known story? The angel’s question in this text for Easter Sunday 15 years ago captured my attention and became the basis for the sermon. I would be glad to share the text of the sermon if anyone is interested.
What follows is a brief summary of the exegetical data followed by more detailed data from Lenski and the Word Biblical Commentary.
The women came very early in the morning bringing the spices they had prepared. They came expecting to anoint the body of Jesus. According to Luke, they prepared their spices after the burial on Friday and then rested on the Sabbath. Why did they come so early in the morning? One commentator suggests that it was because of the rapid decay of the body; they wanted to complete the burial as soon as possible.
But the early morning hour is not only historical; it is theological. God often showed his great redemptive power in the morning. The Israelites awoke to see the waters parted in the morning. They awoke and saw that God had destroyed their enemy—185,000 Assyrians—during the night.
Luke then introduces the first indications of the resurrection: the stone had been rolled away; next, the body was gone. He refers to Jesus here as του κυριου Ιησου, “the Lord Jesus.” No doubt is left in the reader’s mind about the followers’ expectations of a resurrection. It was while the women were wondering about this that the angels appeared. They stood by them in shining clothing.
The appearance of the angels filled them with fear. They responded by bowing their faces to the earth. The angels questioned their action, “Why are you seeking the living among the dead?” Then follows the explanation of the empty tomb and, more importantly, the great Easter proclamation: “He is not here, but (αλλα) he is risen.” All three synoptists report this statement in almost identical language. Matthew and Luke only reverse the order of Mark’s statement and Luke adds the adversative, “but.”
To support the proclamation, to bring the Easter faith to the women, but especially to emphasize Luke’s concern for the prophetic fulfillment of Jesus’ words, the angels remind the women of what Jesus had said to them while in Galilee. They use Jesus’ language referring to himself as “the Son of Man.” Lenski writes about this title:
“The Son of man” is not merely “the ideal man,” . . . but “the Word made flesh,” the Son . . . who joined our human nature to his divine nature, the Son of God who assumed our human flesh and blood. In the use that Jesus makes of this title two lines of thought converge: the one is lowliness, suffering, etc.; the other greatness, power, exaltation far above men. We at once see how eminently the title fits Jesus during his earthly sojourn.
The prediction of Jesus quoted by the angels uses the expression of divine necessity, dei. The three verbs that follow are: handed over, crucified, and rise again.
The proclamation was effective. The women remembered the words of Jesus. They returned from the tomb and reported everything they had seen to the Eleven and to all the rest. But the disciples did not accept their report. It seemed to them like nonsense. The disciples were not believing (imperfect tense) them, i.e., “they continually did not believe them.”
Luke adds one more detail with Peter’s running to the tomb. Peter saw the linen wrappings, something which grave robbers would never have left behind. Even with this additional and significant piece of evidence, Peter went away wondering what had happened.
GOAL: I want my congregation to acknowledge their search among things that are dead and to turn to Christ, the living one.
MALADY: We look for life among things that are dead.
MEANS: Christ is Risen. The Living Christ gives true life.
THEME: Where to Find Life
Sermon intro: Have you ever looked for life and didn’t find it? Have you ever wanted to find comfort, or pleasure, or inner peace but couldn’t find any? Maybe that’s because you have been looking for life where life cannot be found. We can all benefit from considering the angel’s question, “Why do you look for the living among the dead?”
1) “At deep dawn.” Why so early? For the best of reasons all the evangelists note the earliness. Jesus had been dead since Friday; bodies start to decompose very quickly in that climate, wherefore also the dead are buried the same day. . . . All haste was necessary in the minds of these women.
2, 3) The women found that the stone had been rolled away from the tomb, which means that it was not in its groove so that it could be wheeled back again into its place before the door but had been rolled clear out of its groove, “away from the tomb” as if a mighty force had hurled it away. The angel removed the stone to show that the tomb was empty.
The resurrection marks a new era. Heaven and earth are now joined, for Christ, our Savior, is risen. The wall of separation has fallen; God is reconciled to men; the sacrifice of the Son has been accepted by the Father.
4) The construction εγενετο plus a finite verb (as here) or plus και and a finite verb is plainly an imitation of the Hebrew vahehi and came to Luke through the LXX. . . . The expression is circumstantial and weighty and a mark of the so-called sacred style. With an exclamation, “lo,” Luke tells us more, namely that there were two angels, and that they suddenly stood beside the women in the tomb, επεστησαν. We take it that they were there all the time, and that their presence was now all at once made visible to the perplexed women.
5) No wonder that fear came over the women (aorist participle, the fear set in), and that they kept inclining their faces to the ground (present participle to indicate what they did again and again, every time they tried to look up). “Why are you seeking the living one as in company with the dead?” This reveals what the women were doing in their great, blind ignorance. The question stresses . . . all their heaviness of heart about the dead body of Jesus, their desire to finish the burying with spices and perfumes, the tears they expected to shed when they left him as dead and in company with all the dead—and through all this murk flashes the one word “the living one.”
6) The resurrection is called an act of God: “raised from the dead by the glory of the Father” (ηγερθη), Rom. 6:4; 8:11; Matt. 16:21; 17:23; 26:32; it is also called an act of Jesus himself, Mark 9:31; Luke 18:33 (αναστησεται).
7) The angel quotes the words that Jesus had uttered in Galilee in indirect discourse. Δει indicates the divine necessity of love that is back of the plan of redemption.
8, 9) This flood of remembering was far more than merely a recalling of those utterances; it was a recalling of them and a combining them with the realities. Since they had seen the handing over and the crucifixion, the prophecy stood out wondrously in their minds.
10) Not until this high point in the story is reached does Luke record the names of some of the women. They were “out of Galilee.” The foremost among them was Mary Magdalene. Luke states with an aorist that the women made a report to the Eleven and then with an imperfect states once more that they kept telling the apostles these things. Why the double statement? Because the Eleven were the apostles, and because as the apostles they should have been most ready to believe.
11) All these utterances seemed in their eyes as ληρος, nonsense, the wild talk of a pack of hysterical women. The neuter plural subject [indicates the] . . . utterances of so many individual witnesses, each testimony counted for itself. In the case of the Jews, credible testimony required at least two or three corroborating witnesses. For this reason, too, Luke actually named three such witnesses in v. 10.
But it was all in vain as far as the apostles were concerned: “they were disbelieving them.”
12) All that Luke wants to report is that Peter, when he stooped and looked into the open tomb, with his own eyes saw the linen bands—“alone,” emptied of the body, the undisturbed windings lying flat. Even this direct, visual evidence made Peter only wonder and wonder as he went away by himself “at the thing that has happened” in the tomb. So slow was even a Peter to believe. It is Luke’s intention to make this plain.
The Women and Peter Find an Empty Tomb (24:1-12)
A number of scholars have noted parallels between Luke 24 and Luke 1-2. While some have tried to establish precise correspondences, it seems to me best simply to note that the reader will have his attention returned to the first major section of the Gospel as he reads the last major section. One recounts the origins of the human life of Jesus, the other his departure to heaven; both have an initially vain search for Jesus; both are highly structured pieces of writing; in both there is a major emphasis on things being in accord with the Scriptures; the Infancy Gospel begins with worship in the temple, while chap. 24 ends with worship in the temple; only in these two sections is there blessing of God; both sections are marked by joy; the hopes of 24:21 strongly echo those expressed in chaps. 1-2.
1 The early morning setting may be reported in conscious connection with the OT tradition of the early morning being the time in which the action of God during the hours of darkness comes to light (cf. Exod 14:24, 2 Kings 19:35; Pss 30:5; 90:14; 143:8).
3 Though Luke quite often in the Gospel speaks of Jesus as “the Lord,” only here do we find “the Lord Jesus.” This terminology is more prevalent in Acts, occurring seventeen times.
4 Something of the splendor of God attaches itself to these heavenly visitors.
5 With the question “Why do you seek the living one among the dead?” Luke calls attention to the anomaly of the women coming to anoint a dead Jesus, when he has already risen.
6 Luke replaces Mark’s material in which the young man directs the women to take a message to the disciples. Instead, Luke has an angelic appeal to the women to remember something Jesus had said while they were still in Galilee.
That “he is not here” is self-evident.” That “he has been raised” is both proclamation of the Easter message and explanation of the empty tomb. The angels bear the same witness to the resurrection of Jesus that is to be found in the early Christian preaching. For Luke, the call to remember is important because for him the significance of the resurrection is inseparable from Jesus’ prior announcement of the necessity of both his suffering and his vindication as Son of Man. That Luke wants it to be understood here that the women were recipients of the passion predictions underlines the importance of 8:1-3 in Luke’s structuring of his Gospel.
7 It is now the third day, so the women should have been expecting Jesus to be alive again.
8 Prompted by the angels, the women remember. They are now ready to explain the empty tomb in terms of the gospel message of the resurrection.
10 The women were named at the point where they began their role (8:1-3) and are now named again in connection with the culmination of their role.
11 Only Luke reports the Apostles’ reaction to the report of the women. The later testimony of the Apostles is that much more impressive because they have been so hard to convince. Though Luke has a high view of women, he reflects here his awareness of the widespread tendency to discount the word of a woman.
12 Peter, in effect, repeats the discovery of the women that the tomb is empty. But his spying of the “linen cloths” takes things one step further: anyone who wanted to remove the body would have kept it wrapped in the grave clothes. Peter is not quite sure what has happened.
 Lenski on 5:24.
 Lenski on 1:8.