Matthew 28:1-10: After the Sabbath, at dawn on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to look at the tomb. 2 There was a violent earthquake, for an angel of the Lord came down from heaven and, going to the tomb, rolled back the stone and sat on it. 3 His appearance was like lightning, and his clothes were white as snow. 4 The guards were so afraid of him that they shook and became like dead men. 5 The angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. 6 He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay. 7 Then go quickly and tell his disciples: ‘He has risen from the dead and is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him.’ Now I have told you.” 8 So the women hurried away from the tomb, afraid yet filled with joy, and ran to tell his disciples. 9 Suddenly Jesus met them. “Greetings,” he said. They came to him, clasped his feet and worshiped him. 10 Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid. Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.”
Well, there you have it! Ten verses, fifteen sentences, 219 words. It took me less than 90 seconds to read it. But it is the central event upon which all of history pivots. The event which is central to our Christian life and faith; the fulfillment of an eternal plan; the realization of the promise made from time eternal for all humanity.
And what is it we are celebrating this morning? The resurrection of Jesus Christ, the Son of God!
My friends, do you believe this actually happened? Because, if it did not, if this event is a myth, made up by eleven desperate men, then we are wasting our time. In his first letter to the church at Corinth, the apostle Paul has declares, “…if Christ has not been raised [from the dead], your faith is futile [and]you are still in your sins.”
How do we, how do you, respond to this event?
Let’s see what our passage has to say to us this morning. First, we are told it is Sunday morning, the day after the Sabbath, the first day of the week. We know it’s Sunday, because under Jewish law, if it had been Saturday, the Sabbath, the women would not have been permitted to walk the distance to the tomb. In his account, Mark tells us the women “bought spices so that they might go to anoint Jesus’ body.” In addition, the timing may reflect an ancient Jewish tradition that says Jews visited the tombs of the deceased till the third day to ensure that the party was truly dead.
And who is first to arrive at the tomb? The eleven remaining disciples? Peter, the outspoken one, the rock, the one upon whom Jesus said the church would be built? James and John, the two brothers who were leaders? No, it was two women, Mary Magdalene, and “the other Mary.”
What do we know about Mary Magdalene? She was the “woman who was a sinner” (Luke 7:37) who poured expensive ointment on Jesus feet and wiped them with her tears and her hair. Tradition tells us she was a prostitute (hopefully, a former prostitute). But she was faithful, wasn’t she? We all should have such faith.
We don’t know who the “other Mary” is – some scholars believe she was Mary, the mother of Jesus. In John’s gospel, we are told that Mary, the wife of Clopas was at the cross. Regardless, we know that both Marys were at the crucifixion, and at the burial.
Something else about these women. These women were the first to give testimony about the risen Christ. In 1st century Jewish courts of law, the testimony of women was not allowed. If the account of the resurrection had been invented, the authors would have certainly had male witnesses at the grave site. But all four gospels, in spite of their differences, are united that women were the first at the tomb.
Notice also, what one commentator calls “the restrained sobriety of the account.” Matthew, and all the others, tell the story in a straightforward manner. If these accounts were made up, they would have certainly been much more dramatic. Setting aside, of course, the fact that the rising of God’s Son is, in and of itself, dramatic enough!
Another question – where is everyone from last Sunday? Seven days ago, thousands were proclaiming Jesus as King! Where are the crowds who were following him? Where are the miraculously healed?
Where are the remaining eleven? Are there only two women left in the movement?
Let’s continue – in some earlier verses, Matthew tells us the Jewish authorities had asked Pilate, the local Roman Governor, to place guards at the tomb. The guards witnessed the earthquake, saw the angel, and fell as if they were dead. As we just read, the appearance of the angel was like lightening, and his clothes were white as snow. The stone is rolled back, the seal is broken, the soldiers are flattened! I read a comment – notice the irony: The man inside who was supposed to be dead is now alive, and the men outside who are supposed to be alive now appear dead!
The angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay. Actually, the translation we are reading today is not exactly correct. We just read, “He is not here; he has risen, just as he said.” Some of the most important words in all of scripture, by the way. In the Greek, there is only one word, and it is in the passive voice. The correct translation should be, “He is not here, he has been raised.”
You might think this is a minor point, but it speaks volumes. Jesus did not raise himself. Remember, he was dead! Executed on a cross! Buried in the tomb for three days!
So who did the raising? That’s right, God the Father!
Come and see the place where he lay. The angel invites us to do some scientific research. The angel does not say, “Don’t look in there! Don’t ask any questions! You’ll just have to take it on faith.”
Quote: “The Christian does not get a lobotomy when he or she makes a decision to be a disciple.” Indeed, we are all called to exercise faith, but we are also invited to investigate things – the truth will survive any investigation.
Then go quickly and tell his disciples: ‘He has risen from the dead and is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him.’ Now I have told you.” Just three days earlier, as they were celebrating the Passover at what we now call the Last Supper, Jesus promised to go ahead of his disciples into Galilee. Gosh, just as he promised!
Again, it’s women who tell the disciples! Like we have been saying, if this event was an invention, the disciples would have been there. In the first century, women were second-class citizens, but God will use anyone whom he chooses to get his message to others. Think he might use you or me?
So the women hurried away from the tomb, afraid yet filled with joy, and ran to tell his disciples. Afraid, yet filled with joy. Someone asked, “Is it possible to be afraid, yet filled with joy?” I remember sitting in my office the day after my first son David was born – I sat there and thought to myself, “Now what?” I was full of joy, but somewhat afraid of the future.
Suddenly Jesus met them. “Greetings,” he said. They came to him, clasped his feet and worshiped him. Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid. Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.”The word Jesus uses is a common salutation in the Greek. We just read it as, “Greetings!” Others have attempted to translate it as, “Hi!” or “Hey!” Still others have him saying, “Peace be with you.” Actually, it can be translated, “Rejoice!” Rejoice! That sounds much better, doesn’t it?
The women fall at his feet and worship him. Just a question – what would we have done? A more important question – when we see him face-to-face, what will we do? Not sure you will even meet him face-to-face some day? Stick around…
Jesus gives the same instructions as the angel. Don’t be afraid, and go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee.
Let’s summarize what these 219 words have to say to us. First, the resurrection did not happen in a vacuum. The resurrection did not happen just for its own sake. We are to do something about it! The angel told the women to do something; Jesus told the women to do something; Jesus is telling us to do something.
And what is that “something?” Go and tell the others…
Let us not leave this morning self-satisfied that we actually showed up at a church on Easter. Let us consider this event, and how it has impacted all humanity. Then let us all think and pray about what Jesus might be telling US to do.
For some of you, maybe Jesus is telling you to come back next week, and the week after that! I mean, if God died for us, shouldn’t we think about joining the Body of Christ more than twice a year? I’ll let you think about that on your own…
Second, the gospel does not begin with some mystical experience, or with some philosophy. The gospel begins with the testimony of witnesses. Not famous or powerful witnesses, but grieving women at the bottom of the social ladder. One of them may have even been a former prostitute!
The most important event in all of history is supported by the testimony of witnesses.
Did you notice something else? Matthew talks about it, but he does not specifically describe the actual resurrection of Jesus. Same with the other three gospels. Then how do we know it’s true? By the effects!
If this was made up, if they had stolen the body, do you think we would be sitting here this morning? The Body of Christ has not survived for almost 2,000 years on based on a lie.
So the women hurried away from the tomb, afraid yet filled with joy, and ran to tell his disciples. Afraid yet filled with joy. How many times have we heard the Easter story?
If we really, really, really think about what happened, are we terrified? God is executed – God dies – God is buried. Three days later, God is raised from the dead. Are you knocked down, like the guards?
Does this feeling of terror shake us out of our complacency and compel us, like the women, to fall and worship the living Christ? Or are we here because it’s something we are supposed to do once or twice a year?
Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the Messiah, died on a cross for you and for me. He was forsaken by God, his Father. He who was without sin became sin for you and for me.
My friends, God came to earth to die for us. Do we know why he died for us? Because we are nice folks? Because we deserve it? Because it makes for good drama?
My brothers and sisters, God died for us, and was raised by his Father so we can receive eternal life. It was necessary for God to die for us, because we aren’t getting to heaven any other way, my friends. I find that absolutely terrifying – how about you?
What is more terrifying than God being raised from the dead?? I hope, I pray, that you are knocked down, just like me.
And yet, we are filled with joy at the thought that God himself would die and be raised. For whom?
For the likes of me and you….
Are you ready to accept the truth of the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead?
Are you ready to accept the reason it needed to happen?
Are you ready to give your life to Christ, in response of this awesome, terrifying act of supreme mercy?
Terrified, yet filled with joy – how about it?