Summary: Does the resurrection actually matter? does it make a difference?
EASTER DAY 2007
I know some of that clip was a bit gruesome but let us be honest it was gruesome. There was nothing pleasant or sanitised about death on a cross. I wonder what you made of the depiction of the resurrection. We do not know how Christ was raised from the dead because Scripture tells us only that he was raised from the dead. Let me ask you a question: Does it really matter if the resurrection is true or not today?
In answering that let me read to you a verse from the apostle Paul – 1 Corinthians 15.17. The whole of the Christian faith stands or falls on this issue – the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. Listen again to what Paul says – let me read the whole passage to you this morning – 1 Corinthians 15.12-19. For Paul there is no confusion – the resurrection is the key to the Christian faith. If Christ did not rise from the dead, as the Bible teaches, then we are to be pitied and we are people without hope.
Turn with me to Matthew 28 and the account that we read this morning of the first Easter morning. Each of the four gospels record for us the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. Each of them record for us the resurrection appearances of Jesus to the women, the disciples and to many others. As Paul says at the beginning of 1 Corinthians 15 – He appeared to Peter, then the 12, then to 500, then to James and last of all to himself, Paul. There were many eyewitnesses around at the time of the writing of the gospels but I want you to listen closely as to whom Jesus first appeared – to two women – Mary Magdala and Mary. This morning we should not lose sight of the significance of that. At the time of Christ women were treated like possessions – they could be sold or traded by men. They were not allowed to be witnesses in court as their word was deemed unreliable. So the fact that Jesus reveals himself firstly to women and that Matthew and the other gospels record this is in fact a pointer towards the historical accuracy of the resurrection. You would never have chosen women to be your first witnesses to such a claim in the first century, if it were not true, because their testimony would be dismissed as unworthy and unreliable.
Turn with me to the text, and keep that fact about women in your mind.
Verses 1 – it is the first day of the week, the Sabbath rest has ended and the two women are making their way to the tomb of Christ. On the Friday evening they had taken his body down from the cross and hurriedly prepared it for burial in the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea. In keeping with Judaic custom of the day they return to the tomb to anoint the body of their beloved Jesus and to pay their last respects to him. No doubt their hearts are heavy with grief as they journey towards the tomb.
Verses 2-6 There are two things in verse two which testify to the intervention of God in raising Christ from the dead – the earthquake and the angel. The divine action elicits fear, trembling, awe and bewilderment from the guards outside the tomb. God has acted and he has revealed himself in the resurrection of Christ from the dead. The angel opens the tomb, not to let Christ out, but to let the women see that he is no longer inside. Let me repeat that for you so that you are clear on this point: The angel opens the tomb, not to let Christ out, but to let the women see that he is no longer inside.
Then in verses 5-7 the angel speaks to the women. The women receive words of comfort – “do not be afraid” and this is followed by words of understanding: “I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified.” Then the angel speaks words of assurance to the troubled women: “Come and see the place where he lay.” He then commands them: “go and tell his disciples” and finally there are words of encouragement for them and the disciples: “he…is going ahead of you into Galilee, there you will see him.” These two verses are packed with meaning, significance and instruction for the women. Their fear is calmed and their questioning hearts addressed.
Verses 8-10 Matthew tells us that they immediately hurry to tell the disciples the news of the empty tomb and to bring the words of the angel to them. Note what Matthew says about them – “afraid and yet filled with joy.” Ever felt like that? Ever had that knowing in your soul that God has spoken to you and your heart is filled with fear and joy. When Gabriel spoke to Mary about the conception of Christ – fear and joy filled her heart. The shepherds on the hillside when the angel host announced the saviour’s birth – fear and joy filled their souls. The OT is full of such incidents of people encountering God’s message through an angel and being filled with fear and joy. Haven’t you been in that position also? You have heard in the singing of a song of praise, in the preaching of God’s word or in the touch of another the very voice of God speaking into your life and it has filled your heart with both fear and joy. That time when someone challenged you about where you stood with Christ and your heart trembled and yet joy came in as well. Or the time when you heard the voice of God call you to something and your heart was filled with fear and joy. You see it is the normal, biblical, reaction to hearing from God – fear and joy. These women obeyed the command they had received – despite the fear because the joy at the news of that Christ is risen from the dead conquered all fear – and the same is, and can be, true in our lives. They had approached the tomb with grief but their lives are now transformed by the resurrection news.