In nineteenth-century, England, the people were anxiously awaiting news of the outcome of the strategic battle of Waterloo where the British forces under General Wellington faced off against the French forces under Napoleon. A signalman was placed on top of Winchester Cathedral with instructions to keep an outlook on the sea. When he received a message, he was to pass it on to another man on a hill. That man was to pass it on to another, and on and on. ln that way, the news of the outcome of the battle was to be relayed finally to London and then across Britain.
At long last a ship was sighted through the fog, which on that day lay thick on the channel. The signalman on board sent the first word – “Wellington”. The next word was – “defeated”. Then the fog closed in, and the ship could no longer be seen. "Wellington defeated!" The tragic message was sent across England, and a great gloom descended over the countryside. After a few hours the fog lifted, and the signal came again – “Wellington defeated the enemy.” Now the full message went racing across the countryside again, but this time the nation rejoiced.
One theologian tells this story and then makes the striking parallel that when Jesus died his cruel death on the cross, his followers were plunged into the most profound sorrow. Friday was Dark! Jesus had apparently experienced a tragic defeat, and the hopes of his followers died with him. But after three days the fog lifted, and the full message came through: “Jesus has risen, Jesus has defeated the enemy!”
He is risen! He is risen indeed! I cannot say this enough. I cannot emphasize this too much! O the joy! Sin, death and hell has been pounded into the ground through his death and burial, and holiness, life, and eternity with God is offered to all who would believe in his Name! There is hope for the worst of us! For those that can’t see light anymore! There is life for the dead, forgiveness for sinners, hope for the broken. The punishment of sin is broken, and the power of sin is smashed.
Believe! It is true and trustworthy. Do not believe the world’s lies, that this is not real. That it’s simply Spiritual. The resurrection has always been under attack from the very beginning. The lies abound.
It is said that wherever God erects a house of prayer, the devil builds a chapel there. It is no different here. Our text today is in between two passages of unbelief, and sin. In Chapter 27: 62-66 and 28:11-15. First it was unbelief before the passage; they don’t want this to be true. And then in Matthew 28:11-15 they construct a lie in order to escape the truth. Around our passage we have the unbelief of hardened hearts. It is the godless unbelief. You actually don’t want it to be true, because it will impose on your life, your time, your resources. It will cost you something. And because of that you try to keep the tomb shut, you try to use money and lies to cover up the reality of the risen Christ.
But while the rich, and powerful, and religious leaders of the world are plotting two ordinary women meet the Lord of heaven and earth. Their darkened hearts are filled with the light of the gospel. He comes to ordinary old you and me.
Matthew lays these two reports, the true and the false, side by side, forcing us to declare our choice. And unless you behold Him and believe in Him as risen and alive, you will never be able to live free from the bonds of sin and death.
The resurrection changes all:
Come and see.
Go and tell.
Come and See
After the Sabbath, at dawn on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to look at the tomb. At dawn. I love that that. The breaking of the dawn, the new day has broken in on the cosmos. It was a real day in history. A Sunday. A day like this. But on that day, there was a new beginning. God the Father’s future declaration, “Behold, I am making all things new!” (Rev. 21:5) has begun in the resurrection of Jesus.
And two people, two Mary’s went to the tomb. They had witnessed Him die and they would see Him rise. 2 There was a violent earthquake, for an angel of the Lord came down from heaven and, going to the tomb, rolled back the stone and sat on it. 3 His appearance was like lightning, and his clothes were white as snow.
One author said, “The earth, which trembled with sorrow at the death of Christ, as it were leaped for joy at His Resurrection.” The earthquake looks like it was caused by the angel, who come down from heaven, roll the rock away revealing to the world an empty tomb, and sits on the rock victoriously! His clothing was white as snow, and his appearance like lightning.
Not only does it make the earthquake, but it makes hardened Roman soldiers quake as well! 4 The guards were so afraid of him that they shook and became like dead men. One commentator points out the irony, “The ones assigned to guard the dead themselves appear dead while the dead one has been made alive.” There lie the guards appearing dead. But the angel pays no attention to them. He is not there for them; he is there for the women. Who obviously are also afraid.
For, 5 The angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid,” There is never an instance in Scripture when humans encounter an angel and are not afraid. Why? Because they stand in the presence of awesome holiness. And in almost every angelic encounter, the first words are, “Do not be afraid.” Do you hear the message of God sent by his messengers to his people? Do not be afraid! Why? Because of the gospel. God is for us! Listen to why they don’t need to be afraid.
“…for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified.” Key word “was”!! The sacrifice was “once of all”, says the author of Hebrews. The angelic message to the women disciples is designed to dispel the darkness that death held over them. They witnessed Jesus' death on the cross and his body being carried away and placed in a tomb.
The angel dispels the fears of the women and of Jesus' followers for all of history with these words, "He is not here, He has risen, just as He said.” It’s important to see the relationship of the resurrection and crucifixion. Although the angel announces that Jesus has been raised, this does not mean that He was uncrucified. Rather, Jesus is no longer in that crucified state.
He is no longer hanging there. The effects of the cross continue through the ages. The resurrection is what proved the cross was really an atoning death. But He did not remain there. No, He is no longer on the cross. Neither is He in the grave! The grave is empty! Empty! And because it is empty the graves of all those who believe in Him will also one day be empty. Death has lost its power to hold them.
“Come and see the place where he lay.” Yes, beloved, come and see! WE are invited to be participants of the story by faith. Come look with faith through the eyes of the women.
Do you see the tomb is empty?
Do you really see it?
This is so important.
Without the resurrection there is no hope. There is no forgiveness. There is no life. There is only sin, death, and eternal judgement!
So please all you who have given up hope, come and see!
All you who are caught in sin, come and see!
All you who live in fear of death, come and see!
All you who feel like no one sees, come and see!
All you who are caught up with pian in unreconciled relationship, come and see!
Come and see, so that you might be sure! May the Spirit of Christ open the eyes of every heart here today to come and see! No one should leave this building without hope. And I am not talking about, “O, I hope tomorrow will be better than today.” I am talking about the rock solid, indubitable hope that is 100% sure! The hope that makes the unbearable bearable, the unendurable endurable, that shines the light into the deepest darkness.
I like what Paul prays in Ephesians, “I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is like the working of his mighty strength, which he exerted in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion.”
In the Greek “He has risen” is one word. And as one theologian says, in that word “the whole of the gospel rests.” The same word is used in the next verse when the women are not told to come and see, but to go and tell. If there is one word that the Church proclaims to a dark world, it is: He is risen. If there is one word that the sinner needs to hear, it is that the crucified One is risen. His resurrection underlines and vindicates everything! The gospel is true!
It is real. And this is a real, flesh and blood resurrection. They do not say there is no need to look for Him, because He is just spiritually risen so you can look for Him in your souls, and for Him everywhere and anywhere in the warm breeze, or the view of the ocean. No, the Mary’s will see and touch Jesus. It is this flesh and blood life – this creation – that Jesus came to redeem.
Real. Tangible. Material.
It is the word that puts all things into perspective. He is risen. If you have come and seen, then the next command is, “Go, and tell!”
Go and Tell
7 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.’ Now I have told you.” First it is come and see, then, “go and tell.” This is news that is meant to be shared. So many times in his ministry Jesus had told people around Him not to tell. But after his resurrection we are called to tell!
The women are given their great commission – tell the disciples. If Matthew had been making this story up, he would never have chosen two women to be the first witnesses. Women were so marginalized in that culture that their testimony was not always valid in a court of law. But the kingdom of heaven does not follow earths rules. As woman first told man to eat of the fruit, so woman would also be the first to tell man that the curse of that eating had been overturned.
8 So the women hurried away from the tomb, afraid yet filled with joy, and ran to tell his disciples. Hurried. Afraid. Filled with joy. It’s so real. You can see them going. Emotion is raw deep. This is not just some theological pie in the sky story. This is a real story with real people. You can imagine with news like this they are not just ambling or strolling out of that garden, they are in a hurry! We have the picture of them almost running.
Matthew tells us they were also afraid. Who wouldn’t be after seeing what they just saw? But what are they filled with? Fear? Not were they just afraid, but they are also filled with joy. As Psalm 30:11 says, “You turned my mourning into dancing; You peeled off my sackcloth and clothed me with joy.” And this joy they wanted to share. But then, as they are on their way, as if out of nowhere Someone appears!
Read verse 9. Suddenly Jesus met them. “Greetings,” he said. Do you feel the humanness of it all? We sometimes over spiritualize things. What does Jesus say? He does not say, “I told you so”, or gives them a kingly speech. He says, “greetings” or “hello”. They had probably heard Him say this hundreds of times before.
And he came to who? Not Pilate, Herod, kings, queens, but to Mary Magdalene, and “the other Mary.” It is like someone referencing myself as the other Johan. No one famous. Just two normal people. People like you and me. The marginalized, the unknown. This is so like Jesus, and so unlike us who love to be among the rich, the wealthy, the influential of our day. He appears to Mary and the other Mary. He can appear to you, dear young child sitting in the pew, wondering if God sees, to you who feel so alone in your marriage, to you who sit in darkness. Seek Him.
We say that spending time among the marginalized in our neighborhood is a Christian duty, but spending an evening at a nice posh place among the rich and famous is a privilege. Sometimes I think Jesus might have seen it the other way around. Spending time at the conference among the famous pastors, and leaders would be a duty, but spending time among the poor old you and me, and what the rest thought the worst of society, was for Jesus a privilege. He came to the meek and lowly of heart. He came to those who recognize their unworthiness.
What happens next is that we go from greetings to worship. They came to him, clasped his feet and worshiped him.
From earth to heaven. I am not sure if Matthew had in mind the two natures of Christ, but they do flow beautifully together here, don’t they? They clasped his feet (human) and worshiped (God).
Those who had wept and been caught up in the darkness of death, are there no longer. The risen Jesus dispels all darkness, all fear of death, all the wearisome burden of sin, pain, and sorrow. As the song goes, “Because He lives, I can face tomorrow.”
10 Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid. Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.” Jesus repeats what the angel has already said, “do not be afraid.” The song goes on, “because He lives, all fear is gone.”
And again, we hear the command, go and tell! The same thing repeated twice! Once the angel of the Lord, once by the Lord himself! Go and tell. Have you encountered the Lord Jesus?! Do you know the power of his resurrection? Then go and tell!
All you who have been given hope, Go and tell!
All you who are forgiven, Go and tell!
All you who have received eternal life, Go and tell!
All you who have been seen by God, Go and tell!
All you who have been reconciled with God, Go and tell!
Through resurrection, we believe life has triumphed over death, good over evil, hope over despair. The resurrection declares that Jesus is who He said He was, that what He came to accomplish at the cross was efficacious. That is what brings the ultimate peace, the forgiveness of sins that reconciles humans to God and humans to humans.
The real-life consequences of the resurrection are incomparable. It is the concrete, factual, empirical proof that life has hope and meaning; that “love is stronger than death", goodness and power are ultimate allies, not enemies. God has come to us right here where we are in darkness and sin, and has defeated our enemies.
The greatest importance of the resurrection is not in the past – "Christ rose" – but in the present – "Christ is risen". There is unquestionable indestructible hope. And this means we can go forward in faith.
And because He lives
I can face tomorrow
Because He lives
All fear is gone
Because I know
He holds the future
And life is worth the living
Just because He lives
And go and tell a dying world,
because he lives there is hope.
Forgiveness, and life.