Christ has risen! He has risen, indeed! Alleluia! Our Savior who once was dead now lives. What confidence and comfort these words now give to us.
Shortly before Jesus died on the cross, he said, “It is finished.” (John 19:30) If those words are true, then He has finished the work that earned the forgiveness of sins for every man, woman, and child in all places and times. If those words are true, then the declaration of war that He issued in Eden when He cursed the serpent has ended in His victory. If those words are true, then He has taken your place and endured the wrath of God against the sin of the world. If those words are true, then God and man are reconciled. If those words are true, then we have new life in the eternal joy of God’s presence. So, the words of Jesus from the cross, “It is finished,” (John 19:30) are a tremendous proclamation of the Gospel, if they are true.
How can we know if those words are true or false? The Apostle Paul gives us the answer. If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. 18Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. 19If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied. 20But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. (1 Corinthians 15:17–20) The Holy Spirit inspired the Apostle Paul to proclaim that the truth of the words, “It is finished,” (John 19:30) depends on the bodily resurrection of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. If Christ has not been raised, then those are empty words, but if Jesus lives, then those words proclaim victory over sin, death, and the devil.
When we look at the proclamation of the church down through the ages, there are a wide variety of messages, but sooner or later, the church always gets around to confessing the crucifixion of Christ for the forgiveness of sins and the bodily resurrection of that same Christ from the dead. My first homiletics professor made one thing perfectly clear from the beginning of the class: “The only way I will ever give you an “F” on a sermon is if you forget to mention that Jesus died on the cross and rose from the dead.”
So it is that the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ is a major theme of the Bible, especially of the New Testament. Every one of the Gospel accounts concludes with eye witness accounts of this resurrection. Since we are in year “A” of the lectionary, we turn to the eye witness accounts that Matthew recorded for us in his account of the gospel.
Matthew calls some very interesting witnesses to the stand. First of all, he included the witness of the guards at the tomb. There are two possibilities for these guards. They could have been Roman soldiers loaned to the Jewish leaders by Pontius Pilate. However, the evidence that they were temple guards under the direct command of the Jewish leaders is very strong. If they were temple guards, they may have been present for everything from the arrest of Jesus to the presentation of Jesus to Pontius Pilate. They may have been in the crowd that called for the crucifixion. In either case, these men were highly motivated to make sure that Jesus stayed in that tomb. If the guards were called into court, they would definitely be hostile witnesses.
Then there were the women. While they certainly came to the tomb to mourn, there was another more practical reason for them to be there. Because Jesus died in the middle of Friday afternoon, it was almost sundown and the start of the Sabbath when they placed Him in the tomb. When the Sabbath came, there could be no work … not even the work of placing a body into a tomb. The preparation of the body was hurried and incomplete. The women came to help in whatever way they could to properly complete the preparation of the body.
Just as God rested on the Sabbath after He had created the heavens and the earth, so also, Jesus rested on the Sabbath after He had done the work of salvation. When the sun set on that Sabbath, Jesus had fulfilled the Sabbath rest. Sometime between that sunset and dawn of the next day, Jesus rose from the dead. Because He had done everything needed for our salvation, He no longer remained in His state of humiliation. In His state of exaltation, He fully used His divine power. He simply left the tomb, for the stone at the entrance was no barrier to Him.
Although the stone was no barrier to Jesus leaving the tomb, it was still a barrier that prevented people from entering the tomb. There would be no witnesses to the empty tomb if the stone remained in place. Therefore, God sent an angel to remove the stone. Behold, there was a great earthquake, for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven and came and rolled back the stone and sat on it. 3His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow. (Matthew 28:2–3) The angel did not roll away the stone so that Jesus could get out, but so that the witnesses could get in.
The first people to witness the angel were the guards. For fear of him the guards trembled and became like dead men. (Matthew 28:4) The guards’ response to the angel was total terror. Once again, we see that real, biblical angels do not look like cute, chubby little babies with wings. They don’t look like fashion models either. The appearance of angels is terrifying. So much so, that the guards collapsed in terror.
The women would have collapsed in terror as well, but the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. 6He is not here, for he has risen, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay.” (Matthew 28:5–6) The angel’s message was a message of comfort … not of terror. Their teacher and friend was no longer in the tomb. He had risen.
There is a loving, gentle reminder in the angel’s message: “He has risen, as he said.” Jesus regularly told His disciples that He would die and then rise from the dead on the third day, but they didn’t understand. The angel reminded the women of this promise. He said He was going to rise from the dead, and now He has.
The angel then instructed the women to do something that they wanted to do anyway. The angel said to the women, “… 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.” (Matthew 28:5–7) How could they not share their joy that Jesus had risen from the dead. So they departed quickly from the tomb with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples. (Matthew 28:8)
As they ran to tell the disciples about the resurrection, Jesus Himself stood before them. Behold, Jesus met them and said, “Greetings!” And they came up and took hold of his feet and worshiped him. (Matthew 28:9) As Jesus stood before them, they took hold of his feet. In order to take hold of his feet, they had to get down on the ground. Here was their Lord in His risen, immortal body. They fell to their knees and worshipped Him.
Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee, and there they will see me.” (Matthew 28:10) Jesus shared words of comfort with them … words of comfort for the women and words of comfort for the disciples. All cause for fear and grief is gone. Their teacher and friend … their Savior who was dead is now alive and lives forever more. The disciples who had deserted and denied Him deserved His anger, but He calls them His brothers instead. He has risen and reconciled man with God.
The bodily resurrection of Jesus happened. It is a true, historical event. Therefore, the work of Jesus Christ to save us from sin, death, and the power of the devil is truly finished. He has earned forgiveness for all people. The Holy Spirit now offers His forgiveness freely in the Gospel. Everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name. (Acts 10:43) And where there is forgiveness of sins, there is also life and salvation. In the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ, we have new life in the eternal joy of God’s presence. Amen
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