************ Sermon on Matthew 28:1-11 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on April 4, 1999
"Risen in Glory"
Title: BEYOND THE CROSS
Every year thousands of people climb a mountain in the Italian Alps, passing the "stations of the cross" to stand at an outdoor crucifix. One tourist noticed a little trail that led beyond the cross. He fought through the rough thicket and, to his surprise, came upon another shrine, a shrine that symbolized the empty tomb. It was neglected. The brush had grown up around it. Almost everyone had gone as far as the cross, but there they stopped.
How sad that so many stop at the cross. How sad that for so many the story of Jesus ends at the tomb. How sad that they have no idea or concept of Jesus being risen in glory. One such person is Thomas Jefferson. Undoubtedly he was a great man but he could not accept the miraculous. He edited his own special version of the Bible and deleted all references to the supernatural. Jefferson, in his editing, ends the Gospels with these words: "There they laid Jesus and rolled a great stone at the mouth of the grave and went away." He didn't believe, he couldn't believe, in a Jesus Who was risen in glory.
I Jesus Arose
A Thank God that the Gospels do not end Jefferson's way. Thank God that the Gospel story does not end with the despair and heartbreak of Christ's death but rather with the joy and hope of new or renewed life. As the Apostle Paul tells us,
(1Cor 15:20) But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.Or, as the angel told the women,
(Mt 28:6) He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay.
B It struck me this past week that no one witnessed the resurrection itself; we have no eye-witness to what went on in the tomb on Easter morning. No one was present in the tomb when Christ's soul was reunited with His body; no one was present in the tomb when Christ's body suddenly came to life again; no one was present in the tomb when Christ's body suddenly materialized outside the burial wrappings; no one was present in the tomb when Christ walked through its wall into the fresh air and early morning sunshine. No one was present to see any of these miraculous happenings. Furthermore, the Spirit of God does not tell us a single detail about the actual resurrection.
So how do we know that Christ has risen in glory? For the Gospel writers the reality of the resurrection is confirmed by the empty tomb and the appearances of Christ to many eye-witnesses: the women, the Emmaus travelers, Peter, John, James, the rest of the Twelve, then a group of 500 believers, and finally the Apostle Paul (cf 1 Cor 15:5-7). As for us, we simply have to accept its reality by faith – after all, ours is not the privilege of seeing either the empty tomb or the risen Lord.
C We are given one detail about Christ's resurrection: "a violent earthquake." If you remember, there was also an earthquake when Christ died. The earth shook and the creation shuddered when the Lord of glory died. At that time, according to Matthew,
(Mt 27:52) The tombs broke open and the bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life.When the earth shook for the second time in three days we are to assume that again Hades or Sheol gave up its dead; but this time it was the Lord of glory Who was raised to life, raised in glory. And this time the Creation was rejoicing that the human form of its Maker was alive again and raised in glory.
D When we open the Scriptures we see there many people who do not understand or believe the resurrection. Why is that? The resurrection is not understood or believed because many people do not understand Christ's death – namely, that He, though sinless and perfect, had to die in our place and for our sin. And, unless you believe this you also do not believe that Christ had to arise from the grave in glory in order to bring to completion His work as Redeemer. The Apostle Paul puts these two together in one of my favorite verses:
(Rom 4:25) He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification.
Peter is a classic example. He did not understand that Christ must die on the cross for his sins. Peter did not understand Christ's purpose or mission here on earth. The Lord tried to tell him once but he replied, "Never Lord! This shall never happen to you" (Mt 16:22). That's why when Peter saw the empty tomb "he went away, wondering to himself what had happened" (Lk 24:12). The empty grave cannot be understood or appreciated until the cross is understood.
So you see, we must understand our need for a Savior before we can understand or believe what happened that first Easter morning. The empty tomb must be viewed from the brow of Golgotha hill; Easter Sunday must be viewed in the light of Good Friday. Only then can we understand that He was raised in glory.
II The Angel
A In the Easter story Matthew tells us about "an angel of the Lord." The last time we have seen a angel of the Lord in Matthew's Gospel is in the story of Christ's birth. At Christ's birth the angel was a messenger from the Lord; he explained to Joseph the meaning of Mary's pregnancy and gave him precise instructions from God: to take Mary home as his wife. We immediately see that the Easter angel too is a messenger from the Lord: he explains the meaning of the empty tomb and gives instructions from God Himself.
B The angel of the Lord went to Jesus' tomb, "rolled back the stone and sat on it" (vs 2). Too many people have thought the angel rolled the stone away so Jesus could get out of the tomb. One of the Easter songs in the blue Psalter Hymnal teaches this:
Angels, roll the rock away;But a body that could pass through burial wrappings, a body that could enter the locked room where the disciples were meeting, did not need a stone moved in order to get out of the tomb.
Death, yield up thy mighty prey;
See, the Savior leaves the tomb,
Glowing with immortal bloom,
Glowing with immortal bloom.
(old P.H. # 359)
Why, then, did the angel roll the rock away? Not to let the Lord out but to let the women in. God wanted eye-witnesses to the empty tomb! For the empty tomb, together with Christ's appearances, were the proof that "he has risen, just as he said" (vs 6); they were proof that He has been raised in glory.
C Let's take a closer look at the stone rolled back by the angel. At the end of chapter 27 we read that the tomb was made "secure by putting a seal on the stone and posting the guard" (Mt 27:66). Guards were posted to make sure that the stone stayed put. And, the seal was the emperor's seal – a warning that all those who attempted to move the stone were doing so against the emperor's own wishes and would have to face his wrath and judgment.
Yet, what did the angel do? He "rolled back the stone and sat on it" (vs 2). He broke the seal. He ignored the soldiers. And, to add further insult, he sat on the stone as if his was every right to sit there. As for the guards, they were so afraid of the angel "that they shook and became like dead men" (vs 4).
A statement is being made here that there is a power higher than Caesar's. A statement is being made here that there is a power greater than Caesar's. God sent His angel down to break that seal and move that stone and no Caesar or his soldiers could possibly stop him. The eternal purposes of the Lord of lords and the King of kings cannot be in any way thwarted.
D The angel, as I said, is a messenger. What is his message from God?
(Mt 28:5-6) "... 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."Jesus is not dead; He lives. He has been raised in glory.
"He has risen, just as he said" (vs 6). Matthew records at least four instances where Jesus prophesied His resurrection (16:21; 17:9,23; 20:17-19; 26:32). Now He has risen, "just as he said." Here we see the Savior's divine foreknowledge of all things. Here we see again that not a Word of the Lord can ever remain unfulfilled. Here we see that God's Word can never be broken: what Jesus says He means; what He promises He does.
"Come and see the place where he lay" (vs 6). The stone was rolled away, as I said earlier, so the women could get in the tomb and see that it was empty. The angel invites them to look into the empty tomb. What do the women see? They see the burial wrappings shaped as if there still was a body inside. Because the head wrapping had been folded up by itself, separate from the other wrappings, they could see that the burial wrappings were empty (Jn 20:6,7). Obviously, Jesus' body was no longer in the tomb. He has been raised in glory.
"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'" (vs 7). The two Marys have been favored by God. He has given them fantastic news, news that is too good to keep for themselves, news that must be passed on and shared.
III The Women
A In discussing the angel we have already mentioned the women. Let's now look at them in greater detail.
At the end of chapter 27 we read of what Joseph did: how he took Jesus' body, wrapped it in a clean linen cloth, placed it in a tomb, rolled a big stone in front of the entrance to the tomb and went away. Matthew tells us one more detail: "Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were sitting there opposite the tomb" (Mt 27:61). What were they doing there? They were watching: they were watching to see what happened to Jesus' body; they were watching to see where Jesus would be buried; they were watching to see if His body would be safe from any further degradation.
On Easter morning we see the two ladies by the tomb again. And again their intent is to watch:
(Mt 28:1) After the Sabbath, at dawn on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to look at the tomb.Did you catch that? They went to look at the tomb. Again, their intent is to watch over – to guard and protect – Jesus' body.
B The two Marys come to the tomb to keep watch, and what do they see? They see the open tomb, they see the soldiers frozen with fright, they see the angel sitting on the stone.
This scared the two Marys. Of course they are scared. They are terrified of the angel. Don't forget, if big armed guards are scared of the angel than two women would be scared of him too. And, they are scared that something has happened to Jesus in spite of their efforts to watch over His body.
C After the angel told them the good news about the resurrection of Jesus the women "hurried away from the tomb, afraid, yet filled with joy" (vs 8). In the Greek language it is clear that theirs is a "great" joy. Yes, they are afraid. But theirs is also a great joy. In fact, their joy is greater than their fear.
Why are the women filled with joy? They rejoice because Jesus is alive. They rejoice that what Jesus prophesied about Himself actually came to pass. They rejoice that Jesus has been raised in glory. They rejoice because theirs is a living Savior and living Lord. The women rejoice because Jesus is completely triumphant over the forces of evil and darkness. The women rejoice because the shackles of death have been broken – not only for Christ but also for all those who believe in Him. The women rejoice because theirs is new life. The women rejoice because Christ's resurrection means the surety of their own future resurrection (1 Cor 15:20). The women rejoice because their faith, their hope, and their love has not been in vain.
How can we learn from the women here? There are Christians with real and serious problems, with large and dreadful burdens. They have every reason to mourn, to be sad, to be filled with gloom and dread. Yet they, with us, also have every reason for joy – great joy! The Savior has risen. He has been raised in glory.
Christ the Lord is risen today. Alleluia!
Sons of men and angels say: Alleluia!
Raise your joys and triumphs high. Alleluia!
Sing, ye heav'ns, and earth reply: Alleluia!
(TCH # 367:1)
D The women "ran to tell his disciples" that the Lord has risen in glory! Of course they ran. They were excited, they were happy, they were filled with great joy. They simply had to tell the disciples that Jesus was alive – and they had to tell them this wondrous news as soon as possible.
We can learn from the women here too. Entrusted to us is the good news, the great news, the best news – that Jesus has risen in glory. But how many of us, like the women, are so excited about this news that we can hardly wait to pass it on? Good news – the Good News of the Gospel – is not meant for hoarding; it is meant for sharing. Following the women's example we are to tell others of the risen Lord; like our bulletin cover says we are to be involved in seeking the lost and discipling the found – all for God's glory.
The women have seen one of the proofs of Christ's resurrection: the empty tomb. As they leave the Garden they become witness to the other proof of Christ's resurrection: they meet the risen Lord Himself!
Notice what they do: "They came to him, clasped his feet and worshiped him" (vs 9). And, when the disciples saw the risen Lord, they also "worshiped" Him (vs 17). Worship is a proper response to the risen Jesus. Worship proclaims Jesus to be Lord and God; it proclaims Him to be King and Savior.
Christ has risen in glory! Alleluia! Let us rejoice. Let us proclaim. Let us worship.
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