************ Sermon on Matthew 28:1-10 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on April 1, 2018
I searched the internet for a couple of illustrations to start this sermon. Do you believe the following?
• Google has developed a self-driving bicycle.
• ŠKODA UK has developed umbrellas for dogs.
• The Town of Amherst Police Department has a "Narcotics Detection Rabbit."
• W Hotels gives a 75% discount to guests willing to share a room with strangers.
• Or what about this headline: "National Geographic to Stop Publishing Nude Animal Pictures." The media group says that it will no longer degrade animals by showing photos of them without clothes.
Each one of these pranks was announced on April Fools day 2016. Unfortunately, there are many who consider the announcement of Easter's resurrection to also be an April Fools prank. The view of these people is that we Christians are so dumb. They say Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, and Paul were playing a prank on us. They say Jesus didn't arise. They say those this morning who confessed faith in a risen Christ are fools. The world believes that Jesus died, but the world thinks it is foolish to believe that He arose from the dead.
The Jewish leaders at the time of Jesus were exactly the same as the world. They had to be smiling to themselves the first Easter morning. As far as they were concerned, it had been a glorious Passover weekend. The jubilant Palm Sunday crowds bent to their wishes by screaming for the death of Jesus. Jesus Himself was dead and buried, never to rise again. The tomb was sealed and was protected by a troop of Roman soldiers.
So are we April Fools because we dare to believe in and confess Easter's resurrection? The message of the Bible is that we serve a risen Savior. The message of Easter's resurrection is that He lives. The message professed this morning is that even on April Fools day we believe He arose.
When we look at our Bible reading we see three responses on the part of the women. First, we see that they come to the grave. Second, we see that they are scared by the grave. Third, we see that they rejoice in the grave.
I Come to the Grave
A First, we see two of the women who come to the grave. They do so after the Sabbath, early in the morning on the first day of the week. It is now the third day since the crucifixion. Jesus has been in the ground for three days: part of Friday, all day Saturday, and part of Sunday -- in other words, for the three days He had prophesied.
B The two women are identified as Mary Magdalene and the "other Mary." Mary Magdalene was the woman from whom Jesus cast out seven demons (Lk 8:2). Some think she is the same woman who washed Jesus' feet (Lk 7:36-50), but there is no Scriptural basis for saying this. The movie "The Passion of the Christ" identifies her with the woman Jesus saved from stoning (Jn 8:1-11), but there is no evidence for this either. The novel "The DaVinci Code" makes the claim that Jesus and Mary Magdalene were married; however, there is no evidence whatsoever to support this either.
Now, what about the "other Mary"? Who is she? How would you like to be called that? "Here is Mary Magdalene." "And who is that?" "Oh, that is the other Mary." However, if we go back to the cross in Matthew's gospel we see who the other Mary is: she is "Mary the mother of James and Joses" (Mt 27:56).
Because it was such a popular name among the Jews, the New Testament is filled with Marys: Mary the mother of Jesus, Mary Magdalene, the other Mary, Mary the sister of Lazarus, the Mary who anointed Jesus' feet, Mary of Rome. You might realize the name Mary is the condensed version of the name Miriam. Miriam was the sister of Moses and one of the most esteemed women in Jewish history. Remember how she rescued Moses by getting him into the care of Pharaoh's daughter? Remember how she led the women of Israel in dancing at the shore of the Red Sea?
The two Marys of our Bible reading have one big thing in common, or perhaps it is better to say one person in common: Jesus. Both are followers of Jesus. Both have been following Jesus as He journeyed from Galilee to Jerusalem. We don't know if they were with Jesus 24/7 for all those months. But they were part of a group of women who followed the Lord Jesus to minister to Him and to His disciples in any way they could. They were loyal and faithful. They stood by Him at the cross when all the disciples except John had fled (Mt 27:55-56). They watched as Jesus' body was taken down from the cross and put in the grave (Mt 27:61).
They were very faithful. They were very loyal. They were there during Jesus' ministry. They were there at His crucifixion. They were there at His burial.
C Our Bible reading tells us that on Easter morning they show up at Jesus' tomb again, on the first day of the week. Are they there for His resurrection? Are they there to witness the next stage in Jesus' life and ministry. I'm afraid the answer is NO.
The two Marys come to the grave because they thought Jesus was dead and still in the tomb. How do we know that? Three reasons. First, because they come "to look at the tomb." They came to look at the tomb. They didn't come to see the risen Christ for themselves. They come to look at the tomb. Second, the gospels of Mark and Luke tell us the women come early to the tomb, bringing spices that they might anoint Jesus' body. This is what they did for the dead back then. They anointed the body with spices. Third, they wondered how they would move the huge stone that blocked the entrance to the tomb (Mk 16:3). Not to let the risen Jesus out but to let themselves in so they could anoint His body. The women came to the tomb to mourn.
The women come to the tomb not expecting a resurrection. The women come to the tomb not expecting Easter's resurrection even though Jesus had repeatedly taught this truth (Mt 16:21; 17:23; 20:19; 26:32). Of course they were not expecting a resurrection. After all, they saw Jesus' crucifixion, they saw Jesus' death, they saw Jesus' burial. After seeing all this, a resurrection was totally unexpected. This was the furthest thing from their mind -- something foolish and improbable and unexpected.
II Scared by the Grave
A This brings us to our second point: the women are scared by the grave.
Their fear starts with a "violent earthquake" (Mt 28:2). Does Jerusalem lie in an earthquake zone? Is it built on a fault line? I ask because this is now the second earthquake in three days. The first was on Good Friday when the earth shook, the rocks split, the curtain of the Temple was torn in two, and the graves of many holy people who had died were opened (Mt 27:31-32). Now, again, there is an earthquake.
Neither earthquake can be explained by plate movements, active volcanoes, and fault lines. Both earthquakes are supernatural in origin. On Good Friday, it is God Who caused the earth to shake the moment Jesus died. On Easter Sunday, it is God Who caused the earth to shake when an angel of the Lord came down from heaven and rolled back the stone to reveal an empty tomb. Both the death of God's Son and the coming to life of God's Son are earth-shaking news! That's the message here.
B The guards stationed at the tomb feel the earthquake. They feel the earthquake because they are at the earthquake's epicenter.
And, the guards see the angel. His appearance is "like lightning" -- dazzling, flashing, brilliant. His clothes are "white as snow." Have you seen our mountains the last couple of days? They are snow-capped. They look so white, so bright, so awesome. The description of the angel sounds a lot like the description of the transfigured Christ (Mt 17).
Furthermore, the guards watch the angel as he goes to the tomb, rolls back the stone and sits on it. This was not some small inconsequential stone that Joseph put in front of the entrance. It was in the shape of a wheel, and one man could easily roll it down a groove to block the entrance. But it would take two men to roll it back up the groove. An angel, one angel, by himself, goes to the tomb and rolls back the stone. And then he has the nerve to sit on it like it is no big deal.
And, do you know what else the guards se? They see that the tomb was empty. That the body they are supposed to be guarding is missing. In the Roman army this meant punishment, possibly even death.
The response of the guards is terror. The big burly Roman guards are so afraid "that they shook and became like dead men" (Mt 28:4). That is, they passed out, fell to the ground, and laid there like they were dead.
The guards are not the only ones who are scared. The women are terrified too. Of course they are terrified. They also feel the earthquake. They also se the angel. They see the soldiers sprawled on the ground like dead men. That's why the angel has to assure them and comfort them: "Do not be afraid" (Mt 28:5). Or, "Stop fearing." Or, "Fear not." Which indicates they are afraid. They are terrified.
So that's the scene on Easter morning: terror and fear all around. It was terrifying for the soldiers. It was terrifying for the women.
C "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" (Mt 28:5-6). The angel says the women aren't going to find His body. They aren't going to be able to put spices on His body. Why not? Because He is not dead! Because He has risen.
Literally, "He has been raised." In the Greek this is what I've been telling you is the divine passive. That is, it is an action done by God. "He has been raised." By whom? He has been raised by God. Of course this is a divine passive because only God has the power to do something like this.
The angel doesn't rebuke the women. He doesn't say they should have come to the grave expecting a resurrection. He doesn't say they shouldn't have come with their spices and ointments. He doesn't rebuke them.
He doesn't rebuke them because it is hard to believe a resurrection. It is shocking to believe a resurrection. It is hard to believe that after seeing His crucifixion, after seeing His death, after seeing His burial, that they would also see His resurrection.
He doesn't rebuke them. Instead, he invites them to look. "Come and see the place where he lay" (Mt 28:6). They see the linen cloths lying there, not hastily unwrapped and thrown in a corner. They see the head covering. But they don't see Jesus. He came out of the coverings. He came through the walls of the grave.
The earthquake, the angel, the soldiers like dead men, the empty grave -- all of this is one big shock that leaves them scared.
Perhaps those who professed their faith this morning think they would do better than the women. Perhaps others here think the same thing. But I doubt it. Easter's resurrection is a miracle none of us have ever seen. That the world says is impossible and foolish.
III Rejoice in the Grave
A Our third point is that the women rejoice in the grave.
The angel ends his conversation with the women by giving them a command:
(Mt 28:7) "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."Don't delay. Don't take your time. Don't waste any time. Go quickly. Tell the disciples He has been raised. Tell the disciples God has done a wondrous miracle. Tell the disciples there is no more need for them to mourn. Tell the disciples the good news. So the women follow the angel's instruction and hurry away from the tomb and run to tell His disciples.
Notice that the women become the first human proclaimers of the resurrection. There are those who use this to argue for women in church office. There are those who use this to suggest God always chooses the weak and lowly. There are those who use this to propose that God rewards faithful people. We aren't told why God chose the two women.
But we do know that as the women follow the angel's instructions their fear turns to joy. Their fear about the earthquake, the angel, the comatose soldiers, the rolled stone, and the empty tomb is turned into joy. Why? Because they believe He has risen, as He said. There is enough evidence for them to believe. The tomb is empty. The grave clothes are lying there. An angel from heaven has given them a direct revelation. So they know. So they believe. He is ALIVE!
B We don't know how far they get, how long they run, but joy turns into even more joy. Why? Because suddenly Jesus appears. He meets them and greets them. "Hi, ladies." Or, "Good Morning, Mary and Mary." He speaks to them in normal everyday speech and gives them a familiar greeting. They come to Him because they recognize Him. The voice is familiar. The face is familiar. This is not a ghost. This is not their imagination. This is not a dream. This really is Him.
So they come to Him, clasp His feet, and worship Him. Do you see, do you sense, the wonder and awe and amazement? Do you feel their joy? What an emotional morning! The morning, remember, started with mourning, turned into terror, and now is filled with joy.
"Do not be afraid." Stop being afraid. Stop being scared. Jesus wants to chase away every fear about His death, burial, and resurrection. In the presence of the resurrected Christ there can only be joy and NOT fear.
Now, what about you? Do you agree with the world and the Jewish leaders that only April Fools believe in Easter's resurrection? Or, like the women, have you fallen at His feet? Do you worship Him? Is He your Savior and Lord? Do you serve a risen Savior? Is this your profession?
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