Text: Matthew 28:1-20, CSB
Prayer for Illumination
O God, who made this most holy [day] to shine with the glory of the Lord’s resurrection: Stir up in your Church that Spirit of adoption which is given to us in Baptism, that we, being renewed both in body and mind, may worship you in sincerity and truth; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen. 
He was guilty and everyone knew it, but more than that. He knew it. His lawyers were urging him to ‘not guilty’ or at the very least plead the fifth because they thought they could pull some strings, or maybe come up with something that could convince everyone that he wasn’t involved even if it wasn’t true, but his conscious wouldn’t allow him to do that now.
From the time that he committed the crime to the time of his hearing he was a different man.
He plead guilty, was given a 1-3 year sentence. Charles Colson was finally brought to justice for his involvement with the Watergate scandal.
But, what happened? What was different? What changed?
As he was facing the prospect of arrest, one of his friends, gave him a copy of “Mere Christianity” by C.S. Lewis and in reading that book, Colson was faced with the arguments for the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Colson said that as he was reading the book, got out a yellow legal pad and pretended that he was in a courtroom, and he was trying to find holes in Lewis’ arguments, and he couldn’t.
I’m sure Colson read the part in that book where Lewis says that given all the evidence we have, Jesus is either a lunatic, a liar, or He is Lord, and if He is Lord, and then it changes everything.
The resurrection of Jesus Christ CANNOT BE of little importance. It is either of no importance or it is of great importance, but it cannot be of little importance.
- How important is it to you personally that Jesus actually rose from the dead? Does it affect the way you live your life? Would your life be different if Jesus hadn’t risen from the dead? If he was just a good guy who taught some nice things, and then he died, and we never heard a word about Christianity, how would that affect your life?
- If it wouldn’t affect your life at all if Jesus had never risen, then you don’t know the power of His resurrection.
Charles Colson would go on to say later that, “I know the resurrection is a fact, and Watergate proved it to me. How? Because 12 men testified they had seen Jesus raised from the dead, then they proclaimed that truth for 40 years, never once denying it. Everyone was beaten, tortured, stoned and put in prison. They would not have endured that if it weren’t true. Watergate embroiled 12 of the most powerful men in the world-and they couldn’t keep a lie for three weeks. You’re telling me 12 apostles could keep a lie for 40 years? Absolutely impossible.”
The resurrection of Jesus Christ is a reality, and it affects the way live, think, and make decisions. How we respond to the resurrection matters and that’s what I want us to here in this passage.
First of all, as we look at this chapter, I want us to see who communicated the message of the resurrection.
Who Communicated the Message?
The Angel (v. 5-7)
The first person to communicate the message of the resurrection was the angel.
“The angel told the women, “Don’t be afraid, because I know you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. 6 He is not here. For 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 indeed he is going ahead of you to Galilee; you will see him there.’ Listen, I have told you.” – Matthew 28:5-7, CSB
In verse 6, we see three ideas:
- “He has risen” – The Message of the Resurrection
- 1 Corinthians 15:1-8, Paul’s argument for the resurrection
- 1 Corinthians 15:20-58, Paul explains that Christ’s resurrection informs and guarantees our own resurrection.
- “Just as He said” – The Basis of the Message
- Up to this point in the Gospels, Jesus has told the disciples over and over and over again, that He was going to go to Jerusalem, and be beaten and killed at the hands of the chief priests and Pharisees and then He would die, but then He would rise again.
- The most clear picture of this is Mark 8:31-10:45 where Jesus tells, in detail, of His death and resurrection three times almost back to back, and if you were last Sunday night when we covered Mark 10, you realize that the disciples just don’t seem to get it, and yet, this angel basically said, “He told you so!” So, the basis of the resurrection is rooted in what Jesus has said about Himself. Everything that Jesus has spoken has been fulfilled and will be fulfilled.
- “Come, and see the place where He lay” – The Evidence of the Message
- Not only does the angel give us the message of the resurrection, and the basis for the claim of the resurrection, but he also gives us the evidence because he invited the women to come and see the place where He lay.
- The empty tomb in Jerusalem is one of the only tourist attractions where people travel thousands of miles and pay lots of money just to go and see nothing.
The Women (v. 8)
“So, departing quickly from the tomb with fear and great joy, they ran to tell his disciples the news.” – Matthew 28:8, CSB
The women told the disciples about the risen Lord, but Matthew says that they’re going with “fear and great joy.” Why are they afraid? Jesus is alive. They should have no reason to fear, right?
- The problem was that they were women and the testimony of women was considered untrustworthy. The Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible even tells us, “Both Jewish and Roman law normally regarded a woman’s testimony as of limited value, treating women as unstable.  It is to the women, however, that God’s agents first entrust the testimony of Jesus’ resurrection.”
- They have every reason to be afraid. There’s a big “what if” in their minds. There’s joy because they know the truth, but there’s fear because what if the disciples don’t believe what they have to say? And the truth is that they weren’t believed at first.
- “Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them were telling the apostles these things. 11 But these words seemed like nonsense to them, and they did not believe the women.”- Luke 24:10-11, CSB
So, what happened when the disciples didn’t believe the women? The women took them to the tomb.
“Peter, however, got up and ran to the tomb. When he stooped to look in, he saw only the linen cloths. So he went away, amazed at what had happened.”
– Luke 24:12, CSB
Now, if you go and read John’s account in John 20:7, they were able to identify the linen cloths as those belonging to Jesus so this wasn’t a case of them showing up at the wrong tomb. This also wasn’t a case of a grave robbery because grave robbers don’t neatly fold grave clothes. This was something entirely different.
- Jesus of Nazareth, who had been dead, actually got up out of a tomb that had been sealed with a stone and kept guarded by soldiers, and the women were not only able to relay this message, but they were also able to show them the evidence, and I think this is important because we have to ask the question, “How do we show people the evidence of the resurrection now?”
- I think it’s one thing to make a cognitive surface level argument for the resurrection. As a matter of fact, I think when you consider all the historical evidence involved, it’s a fairly easy argument to make, but what happens when we make all the arguments and present all the evidence, and yet still live as if it’s not true?
- I asked the question a few months ago, and I’ll ask it again now: how would your life be different if Jesus had never risen from the dead?
- If your life wouldn’t be different, then the resurrection of Jesus doesn’t mean all that much to you, and if Jesus’s resurrection doesn’t mean all that much to you, then you have every reason in the world to question the validity of your faith.
The disciples, after hearing the news from Mary, had to go to the tomb and see it empty because that would affect everything they did with the rest of their lives from that moment going forward.
- And in that same way, the truth of the resurrection should affect our lives from the time that know the truth of it.
The next group of people who carry the message is the guards that were at the tomb.
“After the Sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to view the tomb. 2 There was a violent earthquake, because an angel of the Lord descended from heaven and approached the tomb. He rolled back the stone and was sitting on it. 3 His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing was as white as snow. 4 The guards were so shaken by fear of him that they became like dead men.”
– Matthew 28:1-4, CSB
“As they were on their way, some of the guards came into the city and reported to the chief priests everything that had happened. 12 After the priests had assembled with the elders and agreed on a plan, they gave the soldiers a large sum of money 13 and told them, “Say this, ‘His disciples came during the night and stole him while we were sleeping.’ 14 If this reaches the governor’s ears, we will deal with him and keep you out of trouble.” 15 They took the money and did as they were instructed, and this story has been spread among Jewish people to this day.” – Matthew 28:11-15, CSB
I think it’s interesting that the first instinct of the guards is to tell the truth, and then the first instinct of the chief priests is to cover up the truth.
- No one involved assumes that the resurrection won’t be believed. Think about how remarkable that is. The Chief Priests (who hated Jesus, who hated His followers) would never believe that there would come a day when those who claimed to believe in Jesus didn’t believe in His resurrection, and yet, here we are.
- There are many people who claim to be Christians, they want the fellowship, they want the comradery, they want heaven even, they want all the benefits of Christianity without believing in the truth of the resurrection of Jesus because, “after all, dead people don’t come back. That’s just one of those superstitious things for those people who aren’t as advanced as we are, right?”
- That’s precisely the problem. We think we have the world figured out, and then God does something like raise His Son from dead and it just messes with everything we think we know.
The guards, without realizing what they’re doing, actually carry the information that makes Christianity what it is. “Jesus, this guy who said that He was the Son of God, who said that He would die and then rise again in three days, actually did it.”
Think about why the guards are there in first place. Look at the end of Matthew 27.
“The next day, which followed the preparation day, the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered before Pilate 63 and said, “Sir, we remember that while this deceiver was still alive he said, ‘After three days I will rise again.’ 64 So give orders that the tomb be made secure until the third day. Otherwise, his disciples may come, steal him, and tell the people, ‘He has been raised from the dead,’ and the last deception will be worse than the first.” – Matthew 27:62-64, CSB
Some of you were here last Sunday night when we looked at the tail end of Mark 10, and we talked about how leading up to that point, Jesus has just told the disciples about how his death and resurrection three times, and they still didn’t seem to understand what Jesus was talking about because they wanted to know if they could sit at His right or His left hand in the kingdom.
- It’s ironic that the chief priests seem to understand more about what Jesus was saying than the disciples.
- And if that weren’t enough irony, it’s not even Jesus’ own disciples who first witness what happens, it’s the guards. They saw the angel come down and they knew what was going on because they were able to report what happened to the chief priests.
And the chief priests, instead of believing in Jesus at that point, they do whatever they can to cover it up.
- And again, people haven’t changed that much. The information is there. They can’t deny it. They either have to believe it or cover it up.
- In Romans 1, the Apostle Paul said that people try to cover up the truth about God all the time except he’s uses different language to describe it, he says that they “suppress the truth with their unrighteousness.” And that’s exactly what the chief priests are trying to do. They’re trying to suppress the truth of the resurrection with falsehood and deceit because they knew that if the news ever got out, it would change everything.
- If even these godless chief priests knew what kind implications the resurrection would have, why don’t we?
How the Disciples Respond to the Resurrection
Now, look at how the disciples respond to the resurrection. Look at Matthew 28:9-10. Remember in verse 8, our passage said that Mary Magdalene and Mary were filled with fear and great joy and then they ran to tell the disciples.
“Just then Jesus met them and said, “Greetings!” They came up, took hold of his feet, and worshiped him. 10 Then Jesus told them, “Do not be afraid. Go and tell my brothers to leave for Galilee, and they will see me there.” – Matthew 28:9-10, CSB
- Jesus commissions the women with a specific message for the disciples.
“The eleven disciples traveled to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had directed them. 17 When they saw him, they worshiped, but some doubted.”
– Matthew 28:16-17, CSB
Think about the people that are here. These are the disciples who have been following Jesus around for 3 ½ years. They are His friends, His followers, even His students (they saw Him as a rabbi). Now, they’re worshipping Him because it all makes sense now. They finally realize that He is who He said He is, but not all are worshipping. Some are doubting.
- Now, before we start casting stones at the doubters, I want us to think about what a doubter is. A doubter isn’t simply an unbeliever. An unbeliever says, “Nah, I’m good. I don’t believe that Jesus is who He said He is, He’s just some guy that said some cool stuff.” Doubters, however, are different. Doubters don’t completely dismiss everything. They want truth, they want assurance. They need to know that they can have some solid ground to stand on.
We have to be clear, we don’t know why they’re doubting.
- John’s account may shed some light on it in John 21:4, when he says that when daybreak came, Jesus was standing on the shore, but some of the disciples didn’t realize that it was Him, but the point remains: they were confused, they were doubting, and Jesus, instead of addressing their doubts goes ahead and sends them on mission.
“Jesus came near and said to them, “All authority has been given to me in heaven and on earth. 19 Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe everything I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” – Matthew 28:18-20, CSB
When John Wesley was in the process of trying to figure out his faith, he was visiting with a group of Christians called The Moravians and he records in his journal that he after spending time with them he was convinced that he wasn’t saved because they preached a faith alone that saved and led to good works, and after observing how they lived he was convinced that he wasn’t saved, and he went to one of the Moravian ministers named Peter Boehler and he said, and I’m paraphrasing, “You guys are the real deal, and I don’t think I am. After seeing you guys I think maybe I’ve been faking it. Maybe I should stop preaching.”
In the March 4th entry, Wesley writes, “I asked Boehler, whether he thought I should [stop preaching]. He answered “By no means.” I asked, “But what can I preach?” He said, “Preach faith till you have it; and then, because you have it, you will preach faith.”
Most of us probably wouldn’t have said that, and most of us probably would have told the disciples to get their act together before they go out preaching, and yet, Jesus tells everyone present, including the disciples, “Go out there, make disciples, baptize them, and teach them everything that I’ve taught you.”
One commentator says, “We are tempted to criticize the disciples for doubting, but we should not imagine that we would have done better. Jesus does not rebuke the disciples. He understands their doubt, but speaks to their faith. He understands their frailty, but calls them to carry on his work.”
- God grants us faith as a gift, and His word causes our faith to increase.
Two months after Peter Boehler told John Wesley to preach faith until he had it, Wesley was trying to seek the assurance of his faith through prayer and the reading of the Scriptures, and he records:
“In the evening I went very unwillingly to a society in Aldersgate-Street, where one was reading Luther’s preface to the Epistle to the Romans. About a quarter before nine, while he was describing the change which God works in the heart through faith in Christ, I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone for salvation: And an assurance was given me, that he had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death.”
You may be here this morning and you see the evidence for the resurrection, and maybe you want to believe, maybe you want to trust in Christ. If that desire is in you, then that’s God working in your life, drawing you to Himself.
When you trust in Christ, the voice of doubt may come and try to creep in, but the voice of Jesus is always louder because He promises never to leave us or forsake us.
The resurrection is proof that everything Jesus said and did is true, and He can be trusted.
The Apostle Paul prays for us in Ephesians 1:18-20 when he says, “I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened so that you may know what is the hope of his calling, what is the wealth of his glorious inheritance in the saints, 19 and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the mighty working of his strength.
20 He exercised this power in Christ by raising him from the dead and seating him at his right hand in the heavens.”
Heavenly Father, give us a sense of the immeasurable power of Your greatness, this morning. Let us look to Christ and see Your power exhibited in raising Him from the dead and open our eyes to see that You have raised those of us who believe to new life in Him. If there is anyone here now who lacks faith, I pray that You would grant them the gift of faith so that they can see You, Lord, high and lifted up, and that they could experience life with You. In the name of Your Son, Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever. Amen.
- Book of Common Prayer, pg. 285
- (see, e.g., Justinian, Institutes 2.10.6; Josephus, Antiquities 4.219; in the Mishnah see Yebamot 15:1, 8 – 10; 16:7; ketubbot 1:6 – 9; in the Tosefta see Yebamot 14:10)
- Person. “The Moravians and John Wesley.” Christian History | Learn the History of Christianity & the Church, Christian History, 16 Mar. 2016, www.christianitytoday.com/history/issues/issue-1/moravians-and-john-wesley.html.
- “Matthew 28:16-20 Commentary, Bible Study.” Sermon Writer, www.sermonwriter.com/biblical-commentary/matthew-2816-20/.
- Person. “The Moravians and John Wesley.” Christian History | Learn the History of Christianity & the Church, Christian History, 16 Mar. 2016, http://www.christianitytoday.com/history/issues/issue-1/moravians-and-john-wesley.html.