Examine the women’s claim: a sermon preached at an Easter baptismal service

Sherlock Holmes declared, “When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth”. In the normal run of things ‘dead is dead’. The women knew that – and yet they claimed the tomb was empty and Jesus was risen from the dead!

As we know, even in our PC world women experience prejudice. However, any difficulties they may experience today are as nothing compared with what women encountered in the ancient world. Aristotle, the 4th century BC Greek philosopher maintained that “females are imperfect males, accidentally produced by the father’s inadequacy or by the malign influence of a moist south wind”! The rabbis used to say, “Better that the words of the law should be burned than delivered to women”. Furthermore, because women were believed to be untrustworthy, they were not allowed to give evidence in a Jewish court. The fact that the Gospels tell us that on the Sunday morning after the Friday when Jesus had been put to death, it was women who made their way to the tomb is clear evidence that we are dealing with history, and not with legend. Nobody inventing the story of the empty tomb would have done it like that.

When the women “went to see the tomb” (Matt 28.1), they were doing ‘the done thing’ of paying their respects to the dead Jesus. Similarly at Easter many people go to church – it seems the right thing to do. They come with no expectation of meeting Jesus. To all intents and purposes he is still in his tomb.

To the women’s  amazement, they met an angel who told them that Jesus “has been raised” and invited them to “come, see the place where he lay” (Matt 28.6). That angel poses a  challenge to us too. Instead of dismissing the resurrection as a pious legend, we need to do the Christian faith a courtesy by checking out the story. The oldest book on my shelves is dated 1749 and is the 4th edition of Gilbert West’s Observations on the History and Evidences of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. West, a Cambridge graduate, set out to expose what he believed were the contradictions and discrepancies of the Gospels. But on examining the evidence he changed his mind. So on the title page he printed a verse from the Apocrypha: “Blame not before thou hast examined the truth; understand first and then rebuke” (Sirach or Ecclesiasticus 11.7 AV) – or in the words of a modern translation, “Do not find fault before examining the evidence; think first and criticize afterwards” (REB).

When the women saw the tomb was empty, they were filled with a mixture of emotions.  In the first place they were “afraid” (Matt 28.5,8) – and not surprisingly so, for the resurrection of Jesus is truly ‘awesome’. They realized that God was at work, and were overcome by the mystery of it all. But they were also filled “with great joy” (Matt 28.8), for their friend, was alive. I doubt whether on that first Easter Day they had any inkling of the difference the resurrection would make to them and to all who believe. Only later the truth will have sunk in. In the words of Peter, the resurrection of Jesus fills us with “a living hope” (1 Pet 1.4), for God in raising Jesus from the dead brought not only new life to his Son but also to all those who have “faith” (1 Pet 1.5). Overflowing with joy, the women “ran to tell his disciples” (Matt 28.8). As some feminists have rightly claimed, those women who discovered the empty tomb were “the first missionaries of the church”

‘All very interesting’, you may say, ‘but what has all this to do with today’s service?’ After all, we are not baptizing any women. Instead we are baptizing Andrew, who is very much a man. Look at him. You could imagine him being a member of the Territorial Army – and if so, you are right. Just at the moment he is training for nuclear warfare. Andrew’s a man’s man. Yet, when it comes to Jesus, he has three things in common with the women:

In the first place he is an ordinary guy – just like those women who went to the tomb. Now I do not want to be disrespectful to him. In the eyes of his wife he is a pretty special person. But he isn’t a heart surgeon saving the lives of people every day. He isn’t a professional footballer earning stacks of money every week. Yet his ordinariness is his strength. Precisely because of who he is, he is a person with whom we  can identify. This makes it easier for us to take him seriously. So when in a few minutes he comes to speak to us and tell us what Jesus means to him, I want you to listen to him carefully. For if Jesus means so much to him, he can mean the same to you too.

Secondly, he is an ordinary guy who now believes in Jesus. This was not always so. Like those women on that first Easter Day, he had to become convinced that on the Cross Jesus died for him, and that at Easter Jesus rose for him. Andrew has not always been a churchgoer. True, he went to a church school, but that was about it. However, he went on an Alpha course where he began to explore the Christian faith. As a result, he now believes in Jesus

Thirdly, he is an ordinary guy who has the guts to tell others of Jesus. Yes, it takes guts to be to be baptized and nail one’s colours to the mast. Before he is baptized, he will tell us what Jesus means to him. That takes guts too – and all the more so, since when Andrew was young he had some speech difficulties Yet just as the women on the first Easter Day were so full of awe and joy at what God had done, that they hurried to tell the disciples that Jesus was risen from the dead, so too Andrew is keen to tell us what Jesus means to him. So listen carefully to him. Incidentally, last December we baptised Paul – it was a result of Paul speaking to him on the train, that Andrew came to this church. Today we are baptizing Andrew – I wonder who as a result of what Andrew has to say will be baptized at a future baptismal service?

Let me encourage you this morning to ‘look’ and examine the evidence -the evidence that Andrew offers, the evidence of the church, the evidence of the Gospels, the evidence of the women. Look and discover the difference that Jesus made to the world on Easter Day – and wants to make to your life too.

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