The following is the message from the 2017 Resurrection Sunday (Easter) worship service.
Scripture Text: Matthew 28:1-10
What are some incredible events in history? Perhaps they would be things that are so unique or so impactful that we remember them very well? The Jewish exodus from Egypt. Luther nailing his 95 Theses. The discovery of America. The Normandy invasion of WWII. The Apollo landing on the moon. 9-1-1. These events, and so many more, were important and unique. They were things that changed the course of human history. In this passage, we read about another incredible event that changed the history of mankind. We could say that this event was the most important one of all. In fact, our faith would be useless if it were not for this event (1 Corinthians 15:14). It was an awesome event! It not only brought great awe, but also great fear. There was an earthquake. There was an angel from heaven. There was a massive stone weighing one to two tons that was moved by one person. Then there was a tomb, but not just any tomb. Something was missing from the tomb. The body of Jesus, who was killed days before and laid in this tomb, was missing. The dead, lifeless body of Jesus was gone. Indeed, the resurrection of Jesus Christ was unique and it changed everything.
The Resurrection Allays Our Fears
People fear so many things. Will I get that job? Will I be able to pay the bills? Will I make it safely to where I am going? Will this sickness go away or get worse? Will I die? We are often controlled by our own fears. What happened at the resurrection was enough to scare anyone. There was much to be afraid of at the resurrection. An earthquake. An angel. A walking corpse. Those things would probably scare anyone. However, one big thing the resurrection of Jesus does for us is it encourages us and it gives us hope. It should remove any fear we have. In fact, twice in this passage, the women at the tomb were told to not be afraid. Let us look at verses four and five.
Matthew 28:4–5 4 And for fear of him the guards trembled and became like dead men. 5 But the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified.”
What just happened caused great fear to overcome the guards at the tomb. These guards were most likely battled hardened soldiers. Not much probably scared them. They had probably seen a lot of things that would put fear in them, but they had never seen anything like this. Perhaps it was the appearance of an angel, as angels often elicited fear in those who saw them. Perhaps it was seeing a dead man walking. Whatever it was, these men became like dead men. It is quiet ironic that the soldiers who were there to guard a dead man, became like dead men when the dead man came to life and walked out of the tomb. The dead came to life and the living became like dead men. This just shows that the Roman guards and the imperial seal that was on the stone covering the entrance of the tomb were unable to stop the resurrection of Jesus. It was going to happen no matter what those opposed to it tried to do.
The women were a different story. Surely they were afraid, too. Who would not be afraid of such an awesome sight. However, the angel turned to the women, and told them to not be afraid. There was no reason to have fear, in fact, there was every reason to have hope. The resurrection of Jesus Christ removes our fear of the greatest enemy of all – death. Through the resurrection, death has been defeated. Because Jesus rose from the dead, those who believe in Him and follow Him will also rise from the dead one day. Death has no hold on us anymore. The resurrection gives us hope. But, some people do not live in the hope and comfort of the resurrection. Some people stop at the cross of Christ. They know the despair, the agony, and the death of our Savior. They know the price that God paid to purchase our salvation. But, they do not go any further than that. They do not reach the empty tomb. They live in despair and fear. But we should not. Because of the resurrection of Christ, we do not have to fear death or anything else any longer. If Jesus conquered death, then surely He has conquered all other enemies and things that we fear. If you are in Christ, there is nothing to fear in life or in death.
The Resurrection Demands A Response
After comforting the women, the angel then invited them to see the empty tomb for themselves. No doubt seeing an angel sitting on a massive stone was enough to stir any unbelief Mary Magdalene and the other Mary had about the resurrection. But, the angel wanted to prove it to them. The stone was rolled aside, not to let Jesus out of the tomb, but to show the women that the tomb was empty because the resurrection had already occurred. The angel invited them to see the empty tomb. Look at the next verse.
Matthew 28:6 He is not here, for he has risen, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay.
Notice the clear, concise statement the angel made – He is not here. He has risen, just as He said. Notice that the angel told the women that Jesus had already said that He was going to be resurrected. Like many things, the disciples were slow to believe the things Jesus said. Of course, not too many people come back from the dead. There were Lazarus and Jairus’ daughter, but other than that, it was fairly uncommon. God invites people to come and see the empty tomb. God invites people to experience the love and grace He offers. God invites people to receive the comfort and hope of the resurrection. If, once we experience the resurrection of Jesus, once we see the risen Lord and Savior, what then? How should we then respond? What would your response be if you found Jesus that Sunday morning after the resurrection? How would you react? People naturally respond to it. Some deny it. Others choose to believe it does not matter. The appropriate response to the resurrection is to worship God. When the women left the angel and found Jesus, they worshipped Him. Look at the verse below.
Matthew 28:9 And behold, Jesus met them and said, “Greetings!” And they came up and took hold of his feet and worshiped him.
When Jesus met the women, He greeted them. Then they came to Him. They took hold of His feet, which shows that this was no mere vision or hallucination. This was a real person. This was a physical resurrection of someone who was once dead. Then they worshipped Him. They fell down before Him and praised Him. This is similar to the response the disciples had later when they found Jesus on the mount, when He gave them the Great Commission (Matthew 28:17). All of the disciples fell down before Jesus and worshipped Him. It is the correct response. By allowing this act of worship, here and later on the mountain, Jesus accepts the acknowledgment of being God, as only God is to be worshiped. The resurrection shows us that Jesus has authority over life and death. It shows us that Jesus has authority over sin and Satan. Jesus has authority over you and me. The only appropriate response to Jesus is to worship Him. Does the resurrection compel you to worship Jesus?
The Resurrection Compels Us to Go and Tell
It used to be that people just knew about Jesus. People knew about Christmas and Easter and what those days really meant. People knew where the church was and when to meet. People just knew about these things and expected these things. Christians did not expect to have to tell anyone who Jesus was. Some still feel this way, even though there are so many around us who do not know Jesus or the hope of the resurrection. In a way, assuming that people really knew about Jesus made those who did know Him complacent. Instead of going into the highways and byways, they expected people to come to them. Believers assume that if people want to know about Jesus, then they know where the church is. That is not how God intended us to live our Christian lives. It never has been. Some may say that we talk too much about telling others about Jesus, or that we emphasize it too much. Maybe we talk so much about it because God has said so much about it. Even in the resurrection story, God tells us to go and tell. First the angel told the women to go and tell the disciples, and then Jesus told them the same. Look at the following.
Matthew 28:7–8 7 “Then go quickly and tell his disciples that he has risen from the dead, and behold, he is going before you to Galilee; there you will see him. See, I have told you.” 8 So they departed quickly from the tomb with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples.
The angel did not invite the women to see the empty tomb and rest in the knowledge that Jesus was alive. They could have done that. They could have been comforted by the resurrection and even comforted by meeting and knowing Jesus and live the rest of their lives safe and secure in that knowledge. They could have forgotten everyone else who would have wanted to know this great thing that had happened, or would have needed the same comfort and assurance that they now had. But that was not God’s plan. He changes our lives so that we can share that awesome experience and hope with others. So, the angel told the women to go and tell others. They were the first witnesses of the empty tomb and the first ones to share the good news. This was unusual for the time, as women were considered unreliable witnesses, but God chose to use them anyway. When they left the tomb on the way to tell the other disciples, with fear and great joy, they met Jesus on the way. Then Jesus told them as well to go and tell others. Look at the following verse.
Matthew 28:10 Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee, and there they will see me.”
First, Jesus had to remind them to not be afraid. The women were still afraid of what had happened. Like the great Comforter that He is, Jesus dispelled their fear. The resurrection was not something to fear, but something to rejoice. It removes our fear. And then Jesus told Mary Magdalene and the other Mary to go and tell the other disciples. This is almost the same thing Jesus told all of His disciples at the end of the chapter. When the disciples met Jesus on the mountain later in the chapter, Jesus gave them and all of us the ultimate go and tell command. He gave them the Great Commission, or the Great Command. He told them to go and make disciples of all nations. Except there, Jesus expected that His disciples would be going and telling (Matthew 28:19-20). There is an expectation that the church is going to others, and as we are going, we are making disciples. The charge of the resurrection is to tell the good news of great hope that we have in Jesus. What will you do with the resurrection of Jesus? Will others know about the peace, joy and hope you have? May it be!
Although often relegated to Easter Sunday, one Sunday a year, the resurrection of Jesus is the heart of the Christian message. Without it, our faith is in vain (1 Corinthians 15:14). Because Jesus is alive forevermore, we have the promise of new, abundant life in Him. Without the resurrection of Jesus, there would be no resurrection and no reward of His people. There would be no hope of life beyond the grave. Without the resurrection of Jesus, there would be no Savior, since Jesus would have been a deluded liar instead of an exalted Lord. There would be no reason to worship Him. Without the resurrection of Jesus, there would be no church, for it was the resurrection of Jesus that turned His deserters back into His disciples. The resurrection of Jesus is everything. It is the most significant event in human history. So, have no fear, Jesus lives. Jesus gives hope. Make certain others know the Gospel by telling them clearly the story. Thanks be to God. Amen!
This sermon was delivered at Good Hope Baptist Church in Wake Forest, NC. More information about Good Hope may be found at the following site: www.GoodHopeBC.org.