Don't Seek The Living Among the Dead

Easter Sunday.


Rev. David Domanski

3/31/20247 min read

How wonderful are the women who went to the tomb on the first Easter morn! I do not envy them. They faced a difficult task. On Friday, they witnessed Jesus’ crucifixion. They knew the nature of the job that awaited them, so they got up early in the morning to do some work. This was a work they felt was their duty to do. It would not be pleasant work, but it was something they were willing to do because of their love. So it happens that they gathered together the spices and the ointments and the things necessary for preparing a body, and they went to the cemetery expecting to unwrap Jesus’ earthly remains and prepare them for a proper burial.

These women were much like the women who are very close to me in my life. They are willing to do some unpleasant—but necessary—things, because of a sense of duty and because of their love. You, too, may know women such as these.

And so they went. They found the stone rolled away from the tomb. But when they entered, they didn’t find the body of the Lord Jesus. What a surprise! There was no body in the tomb. It was empty! While they wondered about this, suddenly two men in clothes that dazzled their eyes stood beside them. In their fright, the women bowed down with their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, “Why do you seek the living among the dead?” (v 5b).

The hearts of these women were filled with love for Jesus, but they lacked something. They lacked something of ultimate importance. What they did here plays out over and over again in our lives: They were looking for the living among the dead. How often this happens also today! People look for life in all the wrong places.

I’d guess most of you have seen the TV show American Idol. The part I like least (although some people may like it best) is the beginning of the season when some contestants make fools of themselves. Why do they do this? Is it because they’re looking for fame? Do they believe their lives will be fulfilled if somehow they become famous?

I believe the Easter angels would look at people with this attitude and say, “Why are you looking for the living among the dead?” Fame has no eternal value. How many of us can name the top movie stars from the silent film era? Fame is fleeting. Why do you look for the living among the dead?

Others may seek fulfillment in life from pleasure, the pleasure of the five senses. Why do some people act immorally? Why do some people drink too much? Why do some people use illegal drugs? For many people, pleasure can become the ultimate goal of life—an effort to make life something more than what they’re already experiencing. But they’ll ultimately discover that they’re looking for the living—their own lives—among the dead.

Others may seek fortune. It’s tempting to believe that in some way, life will have value if I have more things, if my house is bigger, if my garage is full, if I command industry. Then my life will be fulfilled. But all lives, whether they’re filled with fame or fortune or pleasure or anything else in the world, are lives that end not with an empty tomb, but in a tomb that’s filled with a body, your body. This is the certain consequence of looking for the living among the dead.

Even religious commitment and fervor can lead to seeking the living among the dead. If you’ve found yourself on this fruitless quest, you’re not alone. Martin Luther, too, sought the living among the dead when he went to the monastery. He sought the living among the dead when he deprived and punished himself for his impure thoughts and desires. For many years, he lived lacking the very same thing the women that first Easter morning were lacking. He says, “Though I lived as a monk without reproach, I felt that I was a sinner before God with an extremely disturbed conscience. I could not believe that he was placated by my satisfaction” (AE 34:337). His heart ached because he believed that he was a miserable sinner and eternally lost.

The women went to the tomb with love in their hearts for Jesus. In fact, these women may have loved Jesus more deeply at that moment than anyone else in the entire world, but they were lacking one thing. They were lacking faith. They hadn’t believed Jesus’ words that on the third day he would rise. They expected to find the tomb filled with Jesus’ body, not empty.

It’s no coincidence that the Epistle appointed in our churches on this Resurrection of Our Lord is from 1 Corinthians 15, because here the apostle Paul tells us what the Gospel is. What is that you and I need to know? What should the women have known that morning? What should they have believed? Paul writes thus, “Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain” (1 Cor 15:1–2). What is this? What is the Gospel? It is this, “For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures” (1 Cor 15:3). This is what happened on Good Friday when Jesus died on the cross. This is an astounding and wonderful message from Paul. He passes on to us the message of first importance: that Christ died for our sins. For our sins! The cross hadn’t been a colossal miscalculation on God’s part or a defeat of God’s plan. It was the plan! And it was for us!

And how do we know that? Because, also in accordance with the Scriptures, Jesus was buried, he was raised on the third day, and he appeared to Peter and then to the Twelve. Jesus’ death and resurrection is for you! This is the Gospel. This is what gives life. Had the women that first Easter morning understood and believed this—that Jesus’ death was God’s plan for saving them—they would have expected Jesus to rise, rather than look for the living among the dead.

This is life for all who believe. Fame and fortune and pleasure are all fleeting, but faith gives life eternal. Just as Christ’s tomb was empty on Easter, so also in the resurrection of the dead shall we be raised and our tombs will be empty.

It wasn’t until Luther became thoroughly acquainted with the Scriptures that he discovered the wonderful message of salvation that he shares in his catechisms. After years of studying the Bible, he finally discovered what it had meant all along­—this “for you,” “for our sins,’’ which is the Gospel. Jesus had died for Luther’s sins and granted him forgiveness through faith. Luther reports, “I began to understand that the righteousness of God is that by which the righteous lives by a gift of God, namely by faith.” This was such a wonderful and thrilling discovery for Luther that he declares, “I felt that I was altogether born again and had entered paradise itself through open gates” (AE 34:337).

This so changed Luther’s life that he spent his remaining years striving in every way possible to bring this marvelous message to people who had been starved of the Gospel. The Small Catechism was part of that tireless effort. In it he writes concerning the Second Article of the Apostles’ Creed, “I believe that Jesus Christ, true God, begotten of the Father from eternity, and also true man, born of the Virgin Mary, is my Lord, who has redeemed me, a lost and condemned person, purchased and won me from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil; not with gold or silver, but with His holy, precious blood and with His innocent suffering and death, that I may be His own and live under Him in His kingdom and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness.”

And then Luther finished his Second Article explanation with this last clause: “just as He is risen from the dead, lives and reigns to all eternity.” Think about what that means. Luther is saying that we have been redeemed by Jesus’ precious blood, that we will live forever with Christ in his kingdom, “just as” surely as the fact that Jesus himself is risen and lives and reigns for all eternity. In other words, if Jesus is really risen, if today, Easter, is true, then we will live. If we can be sure of that, of Jesus’ resurrection, we can be “just as” sure that we will live also! And Jesus is risen! “He is not here, but has risen” (v 6a).

Therefore, it is also so for each of us. We have been purchased and won. We have entered paradise through the open gates of the Gospel. We will live with Christ forever in his kingdom.

The cross and empty tomb are for us, but not for us alone. We join with Paul, Martin Luther, and Christians throughout the ages in dedicating our lives to sharing this life in the Living One with others.

We join the likes of John Chrysostom, one of the most famous preachers in all history. He lived from the mid 300s to the early 400s. For a time, he was archbishop of Constantinople. One of his Easter sermons is so famous that in Eastern Orthodox churches, in their first service on Easter Day, just after midnight, his sermon is read every year, even till this day. It does us well to hear his words this morning, words that for sixteen hundred years have been speaking the life of Easter to Christian people: “Christ is risen, and you o death are annihilated. Christ is risen, and the evil ones are cast down. Christ is risen, and the angels rejoice. Christ is risen, and life is liberated. Christ is risen, and the tomb is emptied of its dead; for Christ, having risen from the dead, is become the first-fruits of those who have fallen asleep. To Him be glory and power forever and ever. Amen.”