Sunday, May 01, 2011

The Wonderful Interruption

Scripture Text: Matthew 28:1-10


We are gathered here today to celebrate something we celebrate ever single Sunday, the resurrection of Jesus from the dead.

Notice that I used the word, ‘dead.’ Our tendency is to imagine lots and lots of scenarios where Jesus wasn’t really quite totally dead. In fact, however, the Resurrection only has meaning for us if Jesus was totally, completely dead. He was as dead as you and I will be one day. As dead as those loved ones we pay visits to in the cemetery on Memorial Day. The Apostle’s Creed, which will we declare together during the baptism that follows this sermon, contains this phrase:
I believe in Jesus Christ, God’s only Son, our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead, and buried.
We cannot rush to the resurrection without seeing this first, because it is in the stark reality of death that our greatest hopes are realized – that God is, in fact, the sovereign Lord of all Creation, of all life and death, including all of our forthcoming deaths and burials.


One of the things that I love about the resurrection accounts in the scriptures is that you get a sense, in reading them, of just how confounding, confusing, the resurrection was. Nobody had seen anything like this. In this reading from Matthew, Mary Magdalene and the other, mysteriously unspecified Mary, make their way in the twilight hours to the tomb where the corpse of Jesus has been placed. They were going there to care for the body on a Sunday morning. They couldn’t perform this work on Saturday, the Jewish Sabbath, because God commanded rest on that day. So they left for the tomb in the morning. I imagine they are like most people leaving for work on the first workday of the week. If we were around then, we’d probably conclude that the two Marys had a bad case of the Sundays, made devastatingly worse because of this grave duty they were to perform.

Normalcy comes to an end, however, in verse two. There is an earthquake caused by the arrival of an angel, resulting in the stone that sealed the tomb off to roll away. Verse 3 reads, “His [the angel’s] appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow.” Something huge has already happened, something altogether unexpected. Tombs and graves tend to creep us out, don’t they? So how would you react when, while visiting a much-beloved family member’s grave at the riverside cemetery, something like this happened? What would your response be? My guess is that it would be not much different from that of the guards, who were likely battle-hardened and unafraid of just about anything. But in the presence of the angel they collapsed like dead men in fear. Which is pretty ironic when you think about it. Jesus is supposed to be inside the tomb, dead, but, as we will soon see, is not in the tomb and is alive, while the guards, in confronted by the appearance of the angel, end up like dead men.

And in the middle of this shock and confusion, here’s this angel, this beautiful, glorious angel, shining with the blinding light of a bolt of lightening. And the angel is sitting on the recently removed stone. I can imagine the angel sitting there, dangling his legs over the edge of the stone, perhaps even smiling, because he already knows the best news in the entire universe. I like to think he could barely hold it in.

He sees that the women, like the guards, are filled with fear. And so the angel tells the women this, “[5] Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. [6] He is not here, for he has risen, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. [7] 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. See, I have told you.” There is so much here to unpack.

First, the women are told not to be afraid. Fear blinds us to the truth. And the message the women will carry needs to be heard in all its fullness. And so the first thing the angel does is allay their fear, so that they will be able to hear and see the truth. We need to hear this message every week, and yet many, many people are fearful, fearful of life and fearful of the future. If you’re like that, this news from the angel is exactly what you need to hear, because the resurrection puts death, and therefore fear, to death.

Second, the angel already knows why the women are there, to do work with a corpse. Having told them not to be afraid, the angel then shares with them the greatest news in the universe. “He is not here, for he has risen, as he said.” The corpse you’re here tend isn’t there. The reason is this: That corpse no longer a corpse. It is the risen Lord Jesus Christ. The past-tense verb translated “he has risen” means that Jesus is already on the move. If you want to be with Jesus, you need to go where he is.

Third, the God appointed the women to know the truth using their physical senses, so the angel directs them to go and see, use their eyes, to see that Jesus is no longer entombed. We are granted the grace to see Jesus through the eyes of faith, illuminated by Word and Sacrament. If the Holy Spirit comes upon you right now, you will see Jesus by faith.

Fourth, the women are then charged with sharing the best news in the universe with the disciples. No dilly dallying for them! And notice what the angel says about Jesus, “…he has risen from the dead, and behold, he is going before you to Galilee; there you will see him. See, I have told you.” This is the Christ of the past, present, and future. Again, the angel instructs them to look. “Behold,” “you will see him,” “See, I have told you.” The Jesus we praise has been seen in glory, and sends those who call Him Lord into the world to share the news of God’s kingdom to every nation on the planet.

The women are instructed to leave quickly, and so they do leave quickly. Can you imagine what they might be feeling at this point? Matthew says in verse 8 that they were filled with “fear and joy” at the same time. That seems to be a very odd combination, doesn’t it? Most of us would conclude that fear and joy cancel each other out. In my preparations for this Resurrection Sunday, I was reading a commentary by Dale Bruner about this very verse. In it he relates the story about being at a pastor’s conference where this very question was raised. “How can fear and joy exist at the same time?” During the discussion period, one pastor rose up and declared: “Fear and joy can co-exist; I know, I just got married.”1 In fact, encountering a mighty work of God will cause both fear and joy.

Their journey will be interrupted, however, in a wonderful way. As they are scurrying to the disciples, “Behold, Jesus met them.” Behold! Look! See! Jesus is not some kind of unreal, ghost-like figure. He can be seen an observed with the senses. He says to them “Greetings!”. But Bruner notes, very helpfully, that the Greek word here is actually a friendly greeting. It’s not the formal greeting we read in most English translations. There is familiarity in the greeting. Jesus is saying, in essence, “Hi! It’s so good to see you again.” I like being able to say that at Easter time. Jesus is again happy to see you here in worship.

What is the response of the women? They “came up and took hold of his feet and worshiped him.” They took hold of him. They took hold of his body, loved ones. The resurrection body has substance to it, just like your arm has substance if you touch it with your hand. And as they grabbed his feet, they worshipped him. What is huge in this passage is that Jesus doesn’t attempt to dissuade them from worship at all. Jews only worshipped the one true God. The law prohibited worship of anything or any creature apart from God. So what Matthew is saying here is very, very important – Matthew is testifying that Jesus himself the fullness of God incarnate, a God who can be reached out and touched. The God of glory can be touched and seen and experience in Jesus Christ. Your God can be known, loved ones, because Jesus rose from the dead.

Jesus gets the last word inn our reading, as he does everywhere in His kingdom. Notice that he gives the women almost the same instructions as the angel, “Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee, and there they will see me.” Jesus puts them back on the move. He does that when he calls someone to follow him. You don’t come to Jesus and then sit around. He calls you to go. “Salvation is for service” says Bruner, and I think that’s right. You cannot be a Christian if you do not believe that God raised Jesus from the dead on the third day. And you are likely not a Christian if your life shows no evidence in action that you believe in him by faith by living for him every day.

There is one more thing to notice in Jesus’ instruction. Do you remember what the angel told the Marys to do? He instructed the women to “go quickly and tell his disciples that he has risen from the dead” (v. 7). But Jesus says to them, “go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee.” The disciples of the Master are now more than that to Jesus, they are his brothers. Mary and Mary are to tell them to go meet with Jesus in Galilee. Which means that the disciples will have to hear and believe the women and then to go Galilee by faith in order to see Jesus. It is the same way today. If you want to see Jesus, you must follow Him in faith. If you follow Him by faith, you become his brothers. Romans 8:14-17
[14] For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. [15] For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” [16] The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.

So that concludes the account of the discovery of the resurrection and the best news ever given or received in the universe. Why is this the best news? Here are the biggest reasons:

By payment of Jesus’ precious blood, your sin-debt was totally paid. Colossians 2:13-14, Paul writes, “[13] And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, [14] by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross.” So the first answer to the question, “Why is the resurrection the best news?” is this: It is proof positive that Jesus’ sacrificial death on the cross for your sin and my sin was totally sufficient. It show that Jesus was telling the absolutely truth when he said on Good Friday, “It is finished.” In the resurrection, God displays his glory most fully by saving his people for the purposes of glorying Himself eternally.

Second, the resurrection is the best news in the universe because it is a declaration that death itself has been conquered. Death entered the world through humanity’s sin. Right now, the resurrection means that death’s stinger has been removed, and that death itself will be obliterated when Jesus comes again. Everyone sitting in this room will be resurrected on the last day. Acts 24:15, Paul states “there will be a resurrection of both the just and the unjust.” (See also Revelation 20:11-15). This means that there will be those who will be resurrected unto judgment. But for those who are in Christ, the resurrection brings with it the sure and certain hope of eternal life with the Father, because by faith in Christ all of your sins are forgiven, and you will be spared from the judgment to come in order to become join heirs with Christ and even judges the angels (1 Corinthians 6:3).

Beloved, it is so good to see you here today. I want to encourage you to live as the resurrection-people you are. Because of Jesus’ finished work, you have inherited everything that Jesus has inherited. You lack for nothing, even though you may think otherwise. Our afflicted lives are no longer pitiable. You have no need to be afraid of anything, because you are destined for eternal life and glory with the Father. If he has called you by name, do what your instructed to do and go into the world proclaiming his fame everywhere, in word and deed. If he is calling you now to faith in Himself, do not delay. Run to him! Run to him and live forever for him and for his glory of his resurrection power! I cannot promise you that there will not be pain or suffering if you follow Him. Jesus told us we would suffer. But I can promise you that you will know His joy, the only real joy there is, the kind that knows it will live forever. Amen.

1Bruner, Frederick. Matthew : A Commentary – The Christbook: Matthew 13-28. Grand Rapids, Mich: W.B. Eerdmans Pub. Co, 2007.

Given at First Presbyterian Church in Jackson, Minnesota
April 24, 2011
Resurrection of the Lord
Copyright © 2011 by Christopher Donald Drew

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