Happy Easter! My best assessment is that there are three types of people here today. Those who really embrace what we call the church calendar with Advent, Christmas, Easter, and some other things that we do regularly each year. And if that’s you, you might actually wish we did more church calendar in this church. Then, there are people who might not know much about the church calendar, but culturally, these kinds of days are really important to you. This is when family comes home or you go visit family, it’s when kids get Easter gifts, and dress up in nice, cute outfits. And going to church is especially a priority on this day whether or not it is the rest of the year. Then, there are those of you who don’t really resonate with either the church calendar or the cultural value of days like Easter and you might say that Christmas and Easter are every Sunday. And we are just thankful that your humble disposition endures the rest of us…Robert Jackson.
The truth is that even if I weren’t a church calendar guy and were a scrooge about cultural religious holidays, I would probably make sure to have at least one designated day each year, or a whole season, where we just focus on the resurrection. The resurrection is one of the beliefs that our faith rises and falls by. Like the divinity of Jesus and the sinlessness of Jesus, our faith would fall apart without it. In the words of the Apostle Paul, if it is not true, we should be pitied above all men.
And if you’re here today, you likely fall into two other groups as well as it pertains to the resurrection specifically. One group believes that it really happened. That Jesus really rose from the dead three days after his crucifixion. And then there are those who don’t believe it and are just here because it’s one of those days that your family wants you here and, because you love your family, you’re here. And if that’s you, well done. I’m glad you’re here and I’m glad you’re loving your family like that.
But, what’s often missed in both groups, though, is why the resurrection matters. Why it is so important and what it practically means for us. So, I want to walk through this passage and see three very important things about the resurrection. We’ll take them one at a time and they will be on the screen.
- In the resurrection, God the Father vindicates God the Son
We are going to get to how the resurrection affects us personally, but if Jesus is not who he says he is, if he isn’t vindicated in his claims about being the Messiah, then the resurrection will NEVER affect us personally. The resurrection and the surrounding events in the resurrection prove that Jesus is who he says he is. This is THE defining moment of Jesus’ ministry. All the miracles, all the teaching, all the love and compassion do not have a lasting impact or relevance if Jesus is not who he claimed to be. That is, the divine Son of God come to save us from our sin.
As we read, Mary Magdalen and the other Mary (how would you like to be forever known as the other Mary?) they are walking to the tomb in hopes of preparing his body. Do you see how they needed to see Jesus vindicated? They had acquired spices to prepare his body as they would for any other loved one who died and was going to stay dead. They loved Jesus, they were honoring Jesus with their intentions, but they did not truly believe that he would rise from the grave or they would not be going to prepare his body to remain in the tomb. Everything we are agout to see is a sweet mercy for these two women to see who Jesus really is and it will be for the disciples and us as well.
Jesus is vindicated five ways. First, he is vindicated through the earthquake. Just before the angel (who we will look at in a moment) appears to the Marys, an earthquake hits. Now, just the presence of an earthquake at this moment would have given anyone chills, but more is going on than just that. In the Old Testament, earthquakes were connected with the manifestation of the presence of God, the comfort of God, and the judgment of God. We see an earthquake connected with both the presence and comfort of God at Mount Sinai when Moses received the law and the whole mountain trembled and shook. We also see this happen again with the prophet Elijah in 1 Kings. And we see an earthquake connected to the judgment of God in Amos chapter 1.
And this earthquake along with the earthquake at the moment of Jesus’ death communicates all three. God is present, the death and resurrection of Jesus communicate that judgment has been paid for our sin, that we should feel great comfort from that, and, because of that, Jesus really is who he says he is.
Second, Jesus is vindicated in the appearance of the angel. The angel in verses two and three is a special messenger from God. The angel’s appearance was like lightning and his clothes were white as snow, which sounds very familiar if you know Revelation 10 where John says he saw another strong angel coming down out of heaven clothed with a cloud and the rainbow was upon his head and his face was like the sun and his feet like pillars of fire. The angel is a visible picture of God’s holiness.
If you combine all the accounts of this event in the gospels, it seems that the angel first appeared to the Roman soldiers guarding the tomb who were utterly terrified and ran off. The angel removed the stone and this is when the two women arrived and saw the angel on top of the stone. This was a divine confirmation that Jesus was no longer in the tomb. The guards had not taken the body and they had not arrived at the wrong tomb. It was a visible symbol of Christ’s victory over death. God the Father has vindicated Jesus’ claims that he had come to conquer death.
Then, third, Jesus is vindicated by the stone. This is easy to overlook, but the reason that stone was removed was not to let Jesus out. That would be ironic if after declaring his power over death, Jesus was trapped in the tomb until someone let him out. Matthew and other gospel writers are clear that the stone was removed so the disciples could see that Jesus was not there. This was for the disciples and, as I will make the case in a moment, for us as well. To build a sure confidence that Jesus is who he says he is. This is to build their faith and also ours.
Fourth, Jesus is vindicated by the Roman guards. It’s funny that Jesus is vindicated by the very people who were there to stop anyone from believing that he would come back to life in three days as he said he would. These guards were placed here for the sole purpose of making sure that this Jesus movement ended once and for all. All they had to do was keep the tomb guarded and make sure that no one came along to steal Jesus’ body and make some crazy claim that he had come back to life. And these weren’t just some sort of hired security guards. These were soldiers, trained killers who had to guard this tomb at risk of being killed themselves if anything happened. Which makes the appearance of the angel all the more plausible because that’s about the only thing that could have made them leave their post.
And God didn’t stop there, Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15 that Jesus appeared to more than 500 people as well in the following days. People who were still living as Paul wrote his letters appealing anyone who doubted his claims to go talk to them.
Then, fifth, and last, Jesus is vindicated by the message of the resurrection going first given to two women. No one in this era, in a million years, would have created a story where the first to see the empty tomb and the angel were women. Women had no rights. They couldn't own property and their testimony in human court was basically worthless, much less would they testify on behalf of the divine. But Jesus said that he was coming to save all types of people and that his kingdom had values that turn our cultural values upside down and that is illustrated clearly in the first people to testify to his resurrection.
Some have asked how we can really know the tomb was empty. If you think about it, the tomb had to be empty. There is no way this message survives if it wasn’t. Later in this chapter we see the lengths the religious leaders went to to create false narratives about what happened. 11 While they were going, behold, some of athe guard went into the city and told the chief priests all that had taken place. 12 And when they had assembled with the elders and taken counsel, they gave a sufficient sum of money to the soldiers 13 and said, “Tell people,b‘His disciples came by night and stole him away while we were asleep.’ 14 And if this comes to cthe governor’s ears, we will dsatisfy him and keep you out of trouble.” 15 So they took the money and did as they were directed. And this story has been spread among theJews eto this day.- Matthew 28:11-15. But that false narrative never took hold because no one believed that these disciples could defeat these guards or slip past them. It made no sense.
Jesus is who he says he is. How else does Paul go from killing Christians to dying for Christ if he had not met the resurrected Jesus? He is vindicated in every aspect of the resurrection. All logic leads to that end. The problem of believing that Jesus is who he says he is isn’t the lack of records or intellectual credibility. It is our own sin that prevents us from seeing the way we are intended to see. And by sin, I mean the faultiness in our souls that not only leads us to make decisions that do not honor God, but a faultiness that also causes us to worship other things the way we should worship God. It’s a faultiness that causes us to believe that there is a God (and most everyone I meet does believe that), but that the resurrection is impossible. That just doesn’t make sense. If there is a God who created life, why would the resurrection be impossible? Why would it be any less possible for God to resurrect life than to create life? In the words of Tim Keller, “It’s impossible to say the resurrection is impossible.”
But, the resurrection isn’t just an intellectual or academic truth, it changes both our lives and eternity, which leads me to my second point.
- In the resurrection, we are comforted
We can see two ways that we are comforted in this text. They aren’t the only two things, but they are two very important things and we see them in the words of the angel to Mary and Mary. The first phrase is this: Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. 6 He is not here, for he has risen as he said. Matt 28:5,6a Just put yourself in their situation. They loved Jesus and were devoted to him, but either haven’t comprehended what he said about resurrecting or not fully believed it. And here is an angel in his full glory confronting their unbelief. Now, if you or I were God and we had been resurrected from the dead and been abandoned by the disciples in our greatest hour of need, what would be the first words we would tell them? They probably wouldn’t be nice words. You had one job! Wait three days! You couldn’t give me three days?? But, that isn’t how God operates with us. This angel doesn’t speak harshly to them, he doesn’t rebuke them, he comforts them. “Do not be afraid, for I know you seek Jesus who was crucified.”
God’s desire is to comfort his children. My kids are at an age where they don’t always think Angela and I know best or that they need our comfort…until something sad happens at school or they get lost at a baseball game or the lights go out in a thunderstorm. In the same way, we don’t alway see our need for comfort…until we get a diagnosis we can’t control or we lose a job we depended on or a relationship we value falls apart. Jesus’ resurrection means that we can have comfort in this life knowing that he is alive and well and with us through everything. And we can have comfort knowing that this affliction we feel is momentary.
In resurrecting, Jesus, in Paul’s words, became the first fruit of all who believe in him. In the agricultural world, not something many of us know much about, the first fruits of a harvest to bloom are very important because it tells you what the rest of the harvest will be like. In the same way, if Jesus is the first fruit for all of us, then we will physically resurrect too. I was talking to an older man last week and I asked him how he was and he said, “Well, my knees need to be replaced, my back hurts, I don’t sleep well, but I know I’m going to get a new body in the resurrection so I’m doing pretty good.” Do you know how we could summarize that response? I’m not afraid. The truth of our secured resurrection in Jesus Christ to an eternal future with no pain, no failing bodies, no broken relationships, no anxiety, no financial strain, no loneliness, no depression, no guilt, and no fear should relieve the fear we experience in this life. Paul says in Romans 8, 18 For I consider that the sufferings of this present time nare not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us…22 For we know that sthe whole creation thas been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. - Rom 8:18,22
This life is hard, it hurts, but the groanings we hear are leading to life. I have heard the groanings of the birthing room and the groanings of the cancer ward and they are very different groanings. One is leading to life and the other is fighting death. We need not be afraid because the groanings we experience in this world are leading to life for those who hold fast to Jesus. He is risen and so shall we because he said it would happen and it DID happen!
Then, the second phrase of the angels that comforts us is in the last part of verse six: Come, see the place where he1 lay. Matt 28:6b Come, see. The angel is inviting the women to see the tomb. He’s inviting them to know the truth. They are scared and they are doubting, but he invites them in. And the angels are just echoing the heart of Jesus who said. Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. - Matt 11:28 Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God. - Luke 18:16 All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out. - John 6:37 (SLIDEMASTERS, HEADS UP, BACK TO BACK SLIDES HERE)
You know how you come to Jesus? You hear his words with a different heart. You hear his words with a repentant heart. You realize that we do worship other things in place of him. Worshiping something just means to live for it. To make it our highest priority. We worship physical beauty, we worship sexual satisfaction, we worship material things, and we worship professional success…but we don’t naturally worship God. A repentant heart looks at Jesus’ words, maybe over a long period of time, and begins to reflect and begins to see it. You begin to see how weary you are from these other pursuits. You begin to see Jesus as the rest that you long for. You see that Jesus doesn’t just want you to be more moral or just get more religious. He just wants you to stop being your own savior. He wants you to stop being your own judge. You see that he is gentle and humble in heart and that in him you can find rest for your weary souls. You see that he just wants you to come to him.
That is the invitation of the angel to the women and because the angel works at the will of God, this is also the invitation of Jesus both to us. And for all those who accept that invitation, one more thing is true in the resurrection.
- In the resurrection, we are commissioned
Look at verse 7: Then go quickly and tell his disciples that he has risen from the dead, and behold, the is going before you to Galilee; there you will see him. See, I have told you - Matt 28:7 Then we read that they went with great fear and great joy. Then the disciples saw Jesus and he said something similar to them. Do not be afraid; ygo and tell zmy brothers to go to Galilee, and there they will see me.” - Matt 28:10
We see a pattern here. The women are told to go and tell the disciples, then the disciples are told to go and tell all those who were with Jesus. And if you read the gospels and Acts you see hundreds of people seeing the resurrected Jesus. And then just before he ascends, he gives this same command to them and us with one change. Instead of going and telling believers about Jesus’ resurrection, we are called to tell unbelievers about Jesus’ resurrection. Verse 18 And Jesus came and said to them, h“All authority iin heaven and on earth has been given tome. 19 jGo therefore and kmake disciples of lall nations, jbaptizing them min2 nthe name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them oto observe all that pI have commanded you. - Matt 28:18-20
When people think about the mission of the church, they can think more in terms of conscription than commission. Conscription is when we are called against our will to do something like go fight in a war. When we are commissioned by Jesus, while there may be fear like the Marys, there is also great joy, like the Marys.
I was checking out of Publix Friday night and the checkout guy asked me if I was coming from work. I said, “No, I’m coming from church. Our Good Friday service.” He asked me, “Are you going to be at that church on Sunday?” I said, “As a matter of fact I am.” He then said, “I like my church, but I just feel like there is something more in the Christian life that I’m not doing.” After talking with him, I feel pretty certain that what he’s missing is the mission. I mean that as a believer who has been saved by the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. And who has been raised to walk as a new creation and who will one day resurrect to live eternally with Jesus…our purpose in life has also been resurrected.
We used to live for ourselves, but now we live for someone greater. This isn’t a response to the gospel, but at the core of the gospel itself. We are now caught up in something far greater than we could imagine. Jesus’ resurrection isn’t about proving some point, it’s about us being a new creation commissioned to be a real part of fulfilling God’s purpose in the world. To know Jesus is to be commissioned to a new way of life and a new work. In the words of Samwise the brave from Lord of the Rings, to be a part of everything sad coming untrue.
And the fuel to feeling more joy than fear in that mission is found in verse 9. And they came up and wtook hold of his feet andx worshiped him. - Matt 28:9b We worship. We worship not only because Jesus has been vindicated, but also because in the resurrection, the love of God is vindicated as well. Jesus didn’t die to make God love us, he came to die because God loves us. He cared about our plight that our own sin had thrown us into that he was willing to pay the ultimate price for us. And the resurrection shows that it worked. On the cross Jesus said, “It is finished” so there was no need for him to remain in that grave. The resurrection dares you to ask if God is both loving and just because the cross and the resurrection is the ultimate testimony and vindication of God’s unrelenting, uncompromising love for his people. The cross proves that God loves you and the resurrection proves that the payment was sufficient.
A myth cannot sustain us in our trials. A legend cannot help us face death. A fun, nice story alone cannot comfort us in our sadness. But Jesus is none of those. He is not a myth, he is not a legend, he is not just a fun story. He is real. And you can bet your life and eternity on him. That’s what this passage tells us.
So, like the disciples, we worship. We worship in all our life, but we also come together each Sunday to worship the resurrected Jesus. To be reminded, renewed, refueled and sent out into the world we live in to proclaim the hope we have in Jesus.