The third day (April 20, 2014)

Scripture Passage and Lesson Focus: Hosea 6:1-3; Luke 24:1-12

Human beings have a way of putting special meaning into particular days that mark life-changing events. September 11th was nothing special to most people until four hijacked jet planes turned that day into a horrific and memorable one. Perhaps there is a special birthday, anniversary or other particularly memorable date that has left an indelible mark on your life. For the earliest Christians, it was the third day after the crucifixion of Jesus that became a special marker. Luke 24 describes the third day after the crucifixion when God defeated the power of death by raising Jesus from the dead.

Luke 24:1-3 — Faithful women find the tomb empty

Having rested on the Sabbath, three women who had been important throughout Jesus’ ministry intended to do what observant Jewish women customarily did. They were going to express their grief by placing aromatic ointment near the body. Luke tells us that these three women had accompanied Joseph of Arimathea when he had placed Jesus’ wrapped body in a burial niche carved into the side of a cave. This had happened on the day of preparation for the Sabbath. The second day after the crucifixion was a Sabbath day, so the first opportunity to bring the ointments to the tomb of Jesus was the third day after the crucifixion, the first day of the week.

The women must have been surprised to find that the large stone disc, which they expected to find sealing the cave, had already been rolled aside. Even more perplexing was their discovery that Jesus’ body was not where they had seen it placed three days earlier. Luke doesn’t describe their reaction in detail, but he does say that the women were perplexed.

Luke 24:4-7 — Angels announce Jesus is alive 

The perplexity of the women soon changed to terror when two men wearing dazzling clothing suddenly stood in front of them. Luke tells us in v. 23 that these men were angels. The women reacted immediately by falling prostrate before them. The angels asked them a question that has resounded through the ages: “Why do you look for the living among the dead?” A life-changing announcement follows their question. “He is not here, but has risen.” Then the angels remind the women that Jesus had said he would be killed and that he would rise from the dead on the third day (see Luke 9:22).

Luke 24:8-12 — Peter goes to see for himself

Luke records the names of the women who became the first witnesses to the resurrection of Jesus: Mary Magdalene, Joanna and Mary, the mother of James (and of Jesus). Their testimony was dismissed as an idle tale not worthy of belief by the male disciples whom Luke anachronistically identifies as apostles.

There was one partial exception, however. Peter decided that the report of the women at least deserved to be checked out, so he ran to the tomb himself. There to his amazement he confirmed what the women had reported (cf. John 20:3-7).

Hosea 6:1-3 – Prophecy is fulfilled

By the time Luke wrote his Gospel, believers in Jesus had identified key passages from the prophets that pointed to the astounding event of Jesus’ resurrection. The eighth-century prophet Hosea’s critique of Israel’s insincere repentance said that God would revive them and “on the third day he will raise us up.” (Hosea 6:2b) The apostle Paul picked up the tradition of the importance of the third day when he wrote in I Corinthians 15:5 that Christ “was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures.” The third day, a Saturday that Christians observe on Sunday because that was the first day of the week on Christian calendars, marks the special day to celebrate the resurrection of our Lord.

For discussion 

  1. Many people have difficulty accepting the miracle of the resurrection. Why do you believe that Jesus arose from the dead?
  2. What significance do you see in the fact that three women were the first witnesses of the resurrection? Why do you think the male disciples refused to believe them?
  3. Some psychologists have described counterproductive behavior as looking for the right things in the wrong places. Can you think of situations where the angels’ question “Why do you seek the living among the dead?” describes such behavior?

James BrashlerJAMES A. BRASHLER is professor emeritus of Bible at Union Presbyterian Seminary in Richmond, Va.