Matthew 28:1-15 New International Version (NIV)
Jesus Has Risen
28 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.”
The Guards’ Report
11 While the women were on their way, some of the guards went into the city and reported to the chief priests everything that had happened.12 When the chief priests had met with the elders and devised a plan, they gave the soldiers a large sum of money, 13 telling them, “You are to say, ‘His disciples came during the night and stole him away while we were asleep.’ 14 If this report gets to the governor, we will satisfy him and keep you out of trouble.” 15 So the soldiers took the money and did as they were instructed. And this story has been widely circulated among the Jews to this very day
What we have just read has animated individuals to face insurmountable odd, to overcome tyrants and evil. It has been the moving force behind societal change and hope. It caused people to face death with hope and change sinners into saints. It was the message of the early church and remains the hope of the church today.
What happened here, changed everything. And it continues to change everything. Because, to put it simply; it happened. What do I mean?
Well the early church became witnesses of the resurrected Christ. They saw Him, or knew someone who had. In fact, in 1 Corinthians 15 (which is one of the earliest NT books written – 55AD) Paul tells the Corinthians that if they doubt go and ask some of the over 500 people who saw the risen Jesus.
This event changes everything because through it a new world has already started. Jesus has shown the for certain the destiny of man, and it is resurrection. It is bodily hope; eternal and perfect. This speaks to the great feat of mankind: death.
We all have a very natural fear and pain associated with death. Because we were never made for it. We were made for eternal life. The resurrection speaks to this.
But this doesn’t come out of nowhere; in fact the Old Testament give an ever growing expectation; however, the greatest expectation comes from the Creation story of Genesis. Which aligns itself with Matthews (and all the Gospel writers) emphasis of on the first day of the week.
This leads us to our first point this evening:
The expectation of the first day
All of the gospel writers clearly state it was on the first day of the week (verse1) that the resurrection happened. Now, we can approach this from many different angles, one is to simply accept that this is simply when it happened. So might as well mention it. the problem is that the gospel writers are clear to make sure the words they use and the phrases that they are mentioning are significant; they are linking back to something else.
Matthew in particular has been weaving the hope and expectation of the Old Testament throughout the life of Christ.
Beyond this, the church as it progressed out into the world celebrated this day (the first day of the week) as a celebratory day a day when we worship – it was resurrection day it became Sunday.
Now, to understand the significance of this day we have to go back to the beginning of the Bible. To the creation.
Genesis 1 gives an account of the creation of the heavens and the earth. Every day that God speaks something into creation and gives it order there is morning and evening. However once he had created all the heavens and all the earth God enters into creation on the seventh day and rests. What is interesting is there is never morning or evening on the seventh day. And many Jewish and Christian Scholars have argued that the seventh day – the day of rest and completion – is a day without end. Not that it didn’t follow the normal 24 cycle rather that the rest God intended for this day is put on creation itself.
What they mean here is that God’s rest and peace were meant to eternally fill creation his rest and goodness would sustain the creation.
The problem is that Genesis 3 happens and in sin God curses man and creation with mankind. So, rather rest we have “by the sweat of your brow” there is struggle in work and survival. Rather than peace and rest there is war Adam and his wife are cursed to be at war with each other. Finally, rather than life death enters into God’s good creation.
Jewish Scholars in commenting on the creation narrative say we now look forward to the 8th day or the first day of week: the day when God will come back to his creation (in Messiah) and bring His peace, rest and life again to His creation.
The Gospel writers and alluding this this; it is the first day. It is on this day, the first day of the week, that life breaks through into a dead world. As John Calvin wrote regarding the hope of the resurrection; “To us is given the promise of eternal life- but to us, the dead. A blessed resurrection proclaimed to us – meantime we are surrounded by decay… we are promised abundance of all good things – yet we are rich only in hunger and thirst.”
The first day of the week has come and the risen Jesus Christ has broken out of death into creation.
Now, let’s move to…
The reality of the first day
The risen Jesus Christ walks out of the tomb and with Him the power of God is released with Him. Now we must stop and look at what happened. And the first thing that we must take into account is that this is not myth telling. This is not a nice story that gives people a kernel of truth that will help them overcome the problems in their lives.
The resurrection is not a story, it is not written as story, it is not myth, again it is not written as a myth. It is a report on what happened. All of the gospel writers allude to the fact that it is the woman who arrive at the tomb first and first witness the risen Christ. Why do every single one of the gospel writers tell it this way? Because that is the way it happened.
In the culture that the bible was written to the testimony of women were dismissible and suppressed. So if the gospel writers were making up a story there is no way (in the context of the culture that they were writing in) would they make women the first witnesses. The only account for the gospel writers to do this is if they were telling the truth and this is what happened.
It is NT Wright who says “History, I believe, brings us to the point where we are bound to say: there really was an empty tomb, and there really were sightings of Jesus, the same and yet transformed.”
Many have attempted to discredit this day as simply mass hallucinations. But, Paul in the earliest New Testament letter (1 Corinthians) asks the sceptics to go and talk to the over 500 people who are still alive that saw the risen Jesus.
The gospels and the New Testament letters circulated far too early to be myth. The Church and its success is testimony that something happened in Israel 2000 years ago. Christianity went out into the world as a historical religion with a message about a risen man – Jesus Christ.
One peculiarity of this historicity of the Easter event is that the church lost the tomb. No one knows where exactly the tomb of Jesus really is. How do you lose a tomb? Especially such a special one. Well, again one commentator stated that you only venerate someone if they need to be remember. You do not venerate things of the people who are with you.
For example if you lose a child their room becomes a shrine, something to remember them by, but if they are with you. Well then it is a room. Well, the lost tomb is a testimony of the fact that Jesus was alive, He was with the early church there was nothing to venerate or remember, He was with them. His tomb became unimportant.
In fact, in our passage tonight, Matthew gives account of the Jewish conspiracy to cover up the risen Jesus. This highlights the overwhelming opposition that this message had in the world. And continues to have.
Which leads us to our third point tonight;
The meaning of the first day
What does all this mean though? So, Jesus rose from the dead? I’m still going to die. The world is still full of evil. We still have to struggle to survive. What does this all mean?
Okay, so there is some evidence that this might have happened. How does this change my life?
Jesus is not in the tomb as the angel tells the women. He is risen. Which means that He is with us, He is alive. Leading us to life not to death.
The resurrection means I can look through the sadness and pain of death and see hope.
We as a family are dealing with the pain and sadness of death right now. And when you go through the event of the expectation of a dying loved one. We can approach it with many very toxic ways.
One way is to ignore it. You see this when people say, “don’t be sad, it will be okay.” “He’s had a good innings.” This is a pushing away of the real and natural feelings about death. It is ignoring its loss its intrusion into life.
We shouldn’t be running away from these feelings. Death is horrible. Death is sad, it is an intrusion. It sucks! Jesus looked at the tomb of Lazarus and wept. We can weep at death, because mankind, was not intended to experience it. It is an intrusion into God’s good world.
The other toxic way is to be defeated by it. However, Paul writes in 1 Thessalonians 4
“We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who have fallen asleep, so that you do not grieve in the same way as the others, who have no hope.”
The Resurrection of Christ stands as a declaration in history to us who are dying that we will live forever. We have hope in the sadness. We rejoice in our weeping.
We know that when we or our loved ones close their eyes, if they are in Jesus, they will wake up with Him.
All this teaches that this world and its hopes and all that it offers is not our hope, it is not our destination, it is not what we live for. We live for the King who has conquered death, who will take us to new life in Him.
It is this hope that is not dependant upon us, for it is not achieved by us. It is as Martin Luther stated “and alien hope” comes to us through Him who conquered death for us and as Paul writes; And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies because of his Spirit who lives in you.” (Rom 8:11)
You have hope, hope in your pain, in your loss, in all that you do. It is in a person. The risen Lord Jesus Christ.