Looking In The Wrong Place
“Why seek ye the living among the dead?”—Luke 24:5
It is quite characteristic of weak, doubting human nature that the women who had heard the Lord Jesus declare that He would rise on the third day should come to the sepulcher bringing spices for the dead instead of approaching the grave in high expectation to see the living. On the very day He had promised to return from the dead, they came to honor a corpse instead of to greet a Conqueror!
So forgetful of His promise were they that the angels must call it to their attention (Luke 24:5-8). The angels must have been astonished at such weak faith. Certainly they never expected the Christ, the Living One, to stay in a grave. They had known Him in heaven, and although they knew He had submitted to death and had become obedient to the death of the cross, they knew also that “it was not possible that he should be holden of it.” Thus they speak to the perplexed women as if to say, “Why are you coming to a grave this morning? You might know that the Living One would not stay in a sepulcher!”
Mistaken Quests In Our Day
But the centuries have passed, and we today have no right to cast stones at the weak faith of these faint-hearted women, for we also seek the living among the dead. To being with, it is quite true that, as Matthew Henry puts it: “All they that expect happiness and satisfaction in the creature, or perfection in this imperfect state, may be said to seek the living among the dead.” Men who seek living and enduring things in the graves of this Earth, its pleasures and pursuits and possessions, are out on a fruitless search. One thinks of the dapper Beau Brummel who, in the midst of popularity and gayety, passed a dead dog and remarked, “I wish I were that dog.” Men have forsaken the fountain of living waters and have hewed them out cisterns, broken cisterns that can hold no water (Jeremiah 2:13), and all the while, the living Christ says, “If thou knewest the gift of God, and who it is that saith to thee, Give me to drink; thou wouldest have asked of him, and he would have given thee living water…Whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst” (John 4:10, 14). Men seek the water of satisfaction at the Jacob’s wells of Earth while only Jesus Christ can give that Living Water which becomes in the believer a well of water springing up into everlasting life and issuing in rivers of blessing.
Think of how poor souls today seek the living, in this sense, among the dead philosophies and moralities, the vain isms and ologies of this world. What a pitiful sight is that poor religionist who carefully follows a round of observances, punctiliously keeps days and seasons of fasting, and faithfully trails some blind guide into the ditch, vainly seeking the living among the dead! One thinks of the hollow forms of Judaism in which thousands seek peace and comfort today, some of them even recognizing Christ as a teacher, but going no further than scant respect to a Galilean still in His sepulcher so far as they care.
Churchgoers That Fail To Find Life
But we come within the ranks of Protestantism to observe that those modernists who do not believe Christ really arose in body are still seeking the living among the dead. Although they speak of the survival of personality or the continued influence of Jesus, He is really a dead Christ to them. Paul told us long ago the fearful consequences of such a position: If Christ be not raised, our preaching is vain, our faith is vain, we are false witnesses, we are still in our sins, the dead in Christ are perished, and we are of all men most miserable (1 Corinthians 15:12-19). If death conquered Him, then He is defeated; He said He would rise and is therefore mistaken; then everything He said would be undependable, our faith is vain, and there is no hope beyond for us or others. If the Gospel ends in a grave, it is a dead gospel. How can any one claim to be a Christian and then deny the very foundation stone of the resurrection?
When we come to those whose doctrine may be sound enough, so often do we find them seeking the living Christ at the sepulcher of formalism. I think of those earnest souls who go regularly to church, sit reverently through the order of service, but come away none the better. They merely have carried spices to the grave of a dead Christ so far as actual experience of Him is concerned. They have no sense of His living, animating Presence. They sing about Him, pay preachers to preach about Him, but so far as experimental knowledge of Him is concerned, He is still in the tomb, and they carry to Him the spices of conventional respect.
These worshippers believe, theoretically, that He is alive, and they may desire to know Him personally, but they go to the wrong place to find Him. These women were at the grave while Christ was out on the highways. We look for Him in a round of church duties while He is out among the highways and hedges, and we ought to be there, too, witnessing for Him. This coming to the grave did no good, either to the women or to others. “Go tell my brethren”—there was their duty. He is not a corpse to decorate with the mere tribute of our lips or to honor with ethical observances. He is out where cross the crowded ways of life, and He would have us out there testifying of Him.
Living In The Reality Of Christ’s Presence
We are so slow to believe that He really is living among us today. These women had heard Him say definitely that He would rise on the third day. How clearly He had declared it! “As Jonas was three days and three nights in the whale’s belly; so shall the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth” (Matthew 12:40). “And he began to teach them, that the Son of man must suffer many things, and be rejected of the elders, and of the chief priests, and scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again” (Mark 8:31). “The Son of man is delivered into the hands of men, and they shall kill him; and after that he is killed, he shall rise the third day” (Mark 9:31). “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up…But he spake of the temple of his body” (John 2:19, 21). When these promises were called to the attention of the women at the grave, they remembered them. But why did they not start to the grave that morning saying, “This is the day He will rise?” They should have gone in anticipation, but instead they went solemnly to a cemetery!
So do believers claim a theoretical faith in the promises, but we do not live as though we actually believed He is a living Person among us. He promised to be with us all the days, even unto the end of the age, but instead of joyfully walking the highways in glad testimony to Him who died but liveth evermore, we congregate on Sundays in formal tribute and bring Him our spices, then get up on Monday and live as though He were still in the grave!
Witnessing On The Highways With Christ
Christ did not manifest Himself to these women at the sepulcher. The grave symbolized unbelief; they should have been out looking for Him on the highway. “He is not here, but is risen.” Christ does not manifest Himself at the grave of unbelief. We think [of Him] as One who lived in the past; we leave Him in Galilee or in theology, but He is more real and alive than anything else in all the world. When we leave the sepulcher and go out on the highways of obedience, He will make Himself known: “He that hath my commandments, and keepth them, he it is that loveth me: and he that loveth me shall be loved of my Father, and I will love him, and will manifest myself to Him” (John 14:21).
We who believe are identified with Christ in His death and resurrection (Romans 6:4). Let us in this connection not seek the living among the dead. We are not merely buried with Christ, but risen. We are not only to count ourselves dead unto sin, but also alive unto God. Some believers spend all their time being corpses, mortifying the doings of the body in a negative experience. That is the error of asceticism, seeking life through death. Rather, we are to live unto God and find death to sin realized by constant living unto God. We are to know “The expulsive power of a new affection.” Believers are not to stay in the grave any more than Christ did. We shall find life in daily experience as we abide in Him, not merely in the grave of death unto sin, but also in His resurrection life out on the highway of obedience and testimony.
The Vanquished Grave
A closing kindred thought in another connection presents itself. We seek the living among the dead with regard to our loved ones who have gone to be with the Lord. Do we not often magnify the grave, leaving our flowers there as though everything had ended with the burial? But faith should look beyond the sepulcher to where these dear ones are with Christ waiting for us to meet them again. It was not their bodies that meant most, and therefore our real treasure is not in the grave. And even their bodies are to be reclaimed, so nothing is lost! While flowers at the grave have their place, let us not sorrow as they who have no hope.