I praise our God that each one of you chose to be in His house this morning. It is so good to see so many visitors with us today! I pray that you will feel at home in our presence. I have never seen a church that loves each other as much as this church does, and if you are visiting, I hope that you get a small taste of that love this morning. As I have mentioned several times over the past weeks, Easter is my absolute most favorite day of the year, because it is on this day that we celebrate the Resurrection of our Lord and Savior.
And if this is the first Sunday you’ve been at our church in a while, we are near the end of a twelve-week series chronicling the life of Jesus of Nazareth. We have seen how Jesus did miracles, how He taught parables, and even how He fed more than 5,000 people with some fish and a little bit of bread. But last week, we looked at one of the darkest days in human history, when Jesus was brutally murdered on a cross for a crime that He did not commit. But thankfully, that horrific day was not the end of the life of Christ. This morning we are going to look at Matthew’s account of what happened two days after Jesus was killed on the cross. So if you are not already there, I invite you to turn to Matthew chapter twenty-eight, and we are going to be reading verses one through fifteen. So again, Matthew 28:1-15.
“In the end of the Sabbath, as it began to dawn toward the first day of the week, came Mary Magdalene and the other Mary to see the sepulchre. And, behold, there was a great earthquake: for the angel of the Lord descended from heaven, and came and rolled back the stone from the door, and sat upon it. His countenance was like lightning and his raiment white as snow: And for fear of him the keepers did shake, and became as dead men. And the angel answered and said unto the women, ‘Fear ye not: for I know that ye seek Jesus, which was crucified. He is not here: for He is risen, as He said. Come, see the place where the Lord lay. And go quickly, and tell His disciples that He is risen from the dead; and, behold, He goeth before you into Galilee; there shall ye see Him: lo, I have told you.’ And they departed quickly from the sepulchre with fear and great joy; and did run to bring His disciples word. And as they went to tell His disciples, behold, Jesus met them, saying, ‘All hail.’ And they came and held Him by the feet, and worshipped Him. Then said Jesus unto them, ‘Be not afraid: go tell My brethren that they go into Galilee, and there shall they see Me.’ Now when they were going, behold, some of the watch came into the city, and showed unto the chief priests all the things that were done. And when they were assembled with the elders, and had taken counsel, they gave large money unto the soldiers, saying, ‘Say ye, His disciples came by night, and stole Him away while we slept. And if this come to the governor’s ears, we will persuade him, and secure you.’ So they took the money, and did as they were taught: and this saying is commonly reported among the Jews until this day.”
Let’s pray before we study God’s word.
The title of this morning’s Easter sermon is Jesus: The Risen King. And is there anyone that did not get a copy of the sermon handout for this morning? As we study this text, we are going to break it down into three main points. And you will see these three points listed on your handout. For the first point, we will look at the reality of the Resurrection. The second point will be the right response to the Resurrection, and the third point will be the wrong response to the Resurrection. So with that framework in mind, let’s begin studying God’s word.
Point #1: The Reality of the Resurrection
Let’s start by reading verse one of our text one more time. “In the end of the Sabbath, as it began to dawn toward the first day of the week, came Mary Magdalene and the other Mary to see the sepulchre.” This verse shows us that Mary Magdalene and another Mary went to the tomb very early on Sunday morning. Specifically, they arrived at the tomb just as the sun was beginning to peak over the horizon. If you are wondering who the other Mary in this verse is, the Gospel of Mark informs of that this is Mary the mother James, which are two of the same ladies that were there when Jesus was crucified two days earlier. In a little bit we are going to take a better look at the faith of these two ladies, but I think it is significant to note that while all of the twelve disciples fled the scene when Jesus was arrested, it was these faithful women that stayed and watched Christ in His final hours. And while the disciples are back at home early on Sunday morning, these faithful women are going to the tomb and attending to the body of Jesus.
I think it’s important to note that these two ladies were not planning on finding a resurrected Christ. For whatever reason, the only group of people that had paid attention when Christ said He was going to come back from the dead were the priests, and that is why they had placed an armed guard at the entrance of the tomb. So whenever we are looking at this text, we are not looking at some women that were expecting a big miracle. No, we are looking at a few faithful women who simply wanted to honor the body of their dead friend.
But while they were walking toward the tomb, look what happens in verse two. “And, behold, there was a great earthquake: for the angel of the Lord descended from heaven, and came and rolled back the stone from the door, and sat upon it.” When you look at the Greek text, and the account of the other three gospels, it is obvious that the earthquake happened before the women arrived at the tomb. So it might be more understandable to say, “And behold, there had been a great earthquake.” And then Matthew goes on to describe that the source of the earthquake was the angel coming down from heaven and rolling back the huge stone from the entrance of the tomb.
And as I think about the priests that day, don’t you imagine that they were feeling pretty smug about the “Jesus” situation? They had finally killed the man who had caused them so much trouble, and just to make sure that His disciples didn’t cause any trouble, they rolled a gigantic stone in front of the door, and placed an armed group of guards at the entrance. Even if the twelve disciples got together and decided to steal Jesus’ body to fake a resurrection, they wouldn’t stand a chance against this group of soldiers. But church, nothing was going to keep Jesus in the tomb that day. In one cataclysmic event, an earthquake rolled away the stone that was blocking the tomb. And while the Bible does not say, it seems that this is when Jesus would have walked triumphantly out of the tomb. And the Bible says that after the angel came down and the stone was rolled away, the angel sat down on top of that rock.
And the Bible describes these angels in verses three through five, which is where I ask you to turn your attention. “His countenance was like lightning and his raiment white as snow: And for fear of him the keepers did shake, and became as dead men. And the angel answered and said unto the women, ‘Fear ye not: for I know that ye seek Jesus, which was crucified.” While I do not want to dwell on the appearance of this angel, suffice it to say that seeing him would have been quite an extraordinary sight. In fact, notice that the guards fell down as if they were dead when the angels came down. The reason I say angels is because another one of the gospels records that it was actually two angels at the scene. Many skeptics over the years have used this seeming “contradiction” to show that the Bible isn’t true, but it is quite obvious that there were actually two angels, but it was just one angel that did the talking.
And then in verse five, the angel tells the women to not be afraid. Notice the angel did not tell the petrified guards to not be afraid. The angels were quite okay with these guards being terrified. You know that old saying, “They need the fear of God put into them?” I think that that’s kind of the idea that these angels had that day. And while I am partly being silly, it is obvious throughout the Bible that a non-Christians proper response to the presence of God is fear. But the Christian’s response, while it may initially be fear, should quickly turn into peace and comfort. And that is why the angels told these two women to not be afraid. The angel then told the women that he knew that they were seeking Jesus, who had been crucified.
But then notice what the angel says next in verse six. “He is not here: for He is risen, as He said. Come, see the place where the Lord lay.” Boy, doesn’t this verse get you excited? The angel tells these women that Jesus Christ had risen from the grave! And because they didn’t want the women to take their word for it, the angel invited them to go into the tomb and look for themselves. And when those two women went into that tomb, they found the spot where Jesus’ body had been, and yet there was no body.
And fast forward almost 2,000 years, and guess what, there is still no body! This morning the first lesson that we must learn as a church is that the Resurrection of Jesus Christ is a real, historical fact. There are many liberal theologians over the years who said that Christ “ethically” rose from the grave, but not bodily. In other words, Jesus rising from the dead did not mean that His actual body came back to life, it just meant that His teachings would live on and change the world. That’s actually the kind of view that Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin had about the Resurrection.
But church, we know where Muhammad was buried. His body is currently decomposing in the city of Medina. And Buddha, well Buddha was cremated, and his ashes were divvied out to several different Buddhist holy sites. But to this day, no one has ever found Jesus’ body; because our Savior did not stay dead. And He did not simply live on through His teachings, as so many have said. Because when those women went into that tomb, they found that it was entirely empty.
And it’s a good thing, too, because Paul said that if the Resurrection did not happen, then we are of all people the most miserable. Church, there is no Christianity without the Resurrection. Because if you think about it, if Jesus died and stayed dead, then that means that He was not truly the Messiah. And if He was not the Messiah, then that means that He did not pay for our sins. And if He did not pay for our sins, then we are still dead in our sins, and on our way to spending an eternity in hell. But even worse than other lost people, we are duped into living our lives for a Savior who isn’t even alive to care!
All of that to say that this one day in history is the most pivotal day in all of history. On this day, Jesus Christ came back from the dead, showing once and for all that He was the Son of God, and showing once and for all that sin and death had been defeated, and that He had made possible for all the hope of eternal life. And so church, there can be no doubt in our minds that the Resurrection is not some fairy tale like Little Red Riding Hood or Hansel and Gretel. The Resurrection is not in the same category as Bigfoot, Nessie, and the Chupacabra. No, the Resurrection is a historical fact. And not only is it one historical fact among many, but it is the one fact in history that everything else revolves around. It is that sure belief that caused men and women to found this church more than 100 years ago, and it is that sure belief that this church still stands on today! But now that we have looked at the reality of the Resurrection, let’s look at the right response to the Resurrection.
Point #2: The Right Response to the Resurrection
Now that the women had witnessed the reality of the Resurrection, they were called to have a certain response to it. Let’s look at that call in verse seven of our text. “And go quickly, and tell His disciples that He is risen from the dead; and, behold, He goeth before you into Galilee; there shall ye see Him: lo, I have told you.” In this verse, the angel tells the women to immediately go and tell the disciples what they have just seen. And not only that, they are told to tell the disciples that Jesus will be meeting with them in Galilee. These women had just witnessed the greatest miracle in the history of the world, and the angels are telling them to go and spread that news to Jesus’ followers.
And look at what those women did in verse eight. “And they departed quickly from the sepulchre with fear and great joy; and did run to bring His disciples word.” The Bible says that they did not just do as they were told, but they did so quickly! This verse even says that they ran to tell the disciples what had happened. But not only that, but they did so with fear and great joy. I cannot imagine the mix of emotions that they must have been experiencing. I mean, just a few minutes before they were approaching the tomb to honor their dead Teacher, when they were heralded by a heavenly messenger, and told that Jesus did not stay dead. Don’t you know that their hearts were racing as they were trying to soak all of this in?
And as if things could not get any more exciting for these ladies, look what happens in verses nine and ten. “And as they went to tell His disciples, behold, Jesus met them, saying, ‘All hail.’ And they came and held Him by the feet, and worshipped Him. Then said Jesus unto them, ‘Be not afraid: go tell My brethren that they go into Galilee, and there shall they see Me.’” The angel told them that Jesus would meet the disciples in Galilee, but what the angel didn’t tell them is that Jesus was just a short distance away waiting for them! And when these first two witnesses were encountered by the risen Lord, they fell down at His feet and worshipped Him. While I do not want to dwell on this for too long, this is an excellent verse that shows the deity of Christ. There are many who contest that Jesus did not actually claim to be God. But the Bible is exceedingly clear that no one is worthy of worship except for God Himself. And in these two verses, Jesus allows these women to worship Him. But then after that, He commissioned them to continue on their journey to tell the disciples. Only this time, they would not only tell them that they had found an empty tomb. Now, they could tell them that they had seen with their eyes, and had touched with their hands.
But the point in these four verses is that the reality of the Resurrection prompts a response on the part of believers. We, just like Mary and Mary, have been witnesses to the power of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. And while their witness was a physical one, ours is a spiritual witness. You might be thinking, “What is he talking about?” While we today did not get to hear that angel say that “He is risen,” we have experienced the power of the resurrection within our hearts, as the old man passes away, and the new man is made alive in Christ. And also just like those ladies, we have been called to have a response to the Resurrection. And guess what, our call is the same! They were commissioned to spread the word about what they had seen and felt. And in the same way, we have been commissioned by our Lord to spread the word that the founder of Christianity is not a skeleton contained in some ornate tomb, He is the risen Christ who will be alive forevermore!
So what exactly is the right response to the Resurrection? It is one of obedience. But not the kind of obedience that a slave obeys his master with. No, it is the kind of obedience that results when you have been given the cure for cancer, and you have been tasked with the job of telling all of the cancer patients you know that they can be healed! Because while the Resurrection is a real, historical fact, it means absolutely nothing in the lives of those who have not heard. So church, if we truly do believe that the Resurrection is a real event, then we would be the worst hypocrites in the world if we hid this amazing fact from those around us. We, just like those ladies, should go out with fear and great joy, because we have been given the best news that the world has never heard. Now that we have looked at the right response to the Resurrection, let’s look at our final point this morning.
Point #3: The Wrong Response to the Resurrection
While it seems as if everyone would have been overjoyed at the events of this day, that is simply not the case. Look at what happens in verse eleven of our text. “Now when they were going, behold, some of the watch came into the city, and showed unto the chief priests all the things that were done.” This verse says that while those ladies were running to tell the disciples, the guards were running in a different direction. They were running to tell the chief priests what had happened. And look at the dialogue the priests and the guards have in verses twelve through fifteen. “And when they were assembled with the elders, and had taken counsel, they gave large money unto the soldiers, saying, ‘Say ye, His disciples came by night, and stole Him away while we slept. And if this come to the governor’s ears, we will persuade him, and secure you.’ So they took the money, and did as they were taught: and this saying is commonly reported among the Jews until this day.” In these verses we have one of the rottenest cover-ups in all of the Bible. The priests basically told the guards that they would pay them big bucks if they would spread the rumor that the disciples stole Jesus’ body while they were asleep. But something you have to understand about the Roman military system, is that if those guards were tried for sleeping on the job, they would face the death penalty. That’s why in verse fourteen, the priests told the guards that they would make sure that the governor did not punish them for sleeping.
But history has revealed that this rumor was very persuasive to many of the Jewish people. In fact, a church father named Justin Martyr wrote more than a hundred years after this that most of the Jews still believed that the disciples stole the body while the guards were asleep! But really, that story would take quite a stretch of the imagination to believe. To think that this squad of guards were all asleep on the job; and they were in a deep enough sleep to not hear the disciples heaving and huffing as they tried to move the massive boulder blocking the doorway is pretty crazy. And so why do you think so many people believed this lie? Perhaps a better question, why do you think that the chief priests wanted to cover up the truth so badly? Both of these questions have the exact same answer. The reason that the priests covered up the truth, and the reason that the crowds embraced this story is because they did not want the Resurrection to be true. Because they knew that if the Resurrection were true, then Jesus truly was the Son of God. And if Jesus Christ truly were the Son of God, then they not only murdered Him, but they were continuing to live contrary to His teachings.
And while I think that most people would not admit this today, I believe that this is the exact same reason that most non-Christians deny the Resurrection in the year 2011. It is not because there is something inconceivable about miracles. And it’s not necessarily because they doubt the historical reliability of the Bible. The reason that most people deny the Resurrection, is because they do not want to live for the Resurrected Lord. Because as I said earlier, the only proper response to the reality of the Resurrection is one of obedience, and it is simply easier to not obey.
So where do you find yourself this morning? First and foremost, do you believe in the truth of the Resurrection? Let me hear an “Amen” if you believe that Jesus Christ bodily rose from the grave. Great! Now, are you living a life that shows that you believe in the Resurrection? Because if the Resurrection truly did happen, then we, like those women, should dedicate our lives to telling the world about this great event.
But if you are here this morning, and you do not believe in the Resurrection, I invite you to talk to me. I have done a good bit of research into the historical reliability of this event, and I would love to share some of it with you. But more importantly, if you have never accepted Jesus Christ as the Lord of your life, then you cannot truly experience the power of the Resurrection. I mean, yeah sure, maybe you acknowledge that it was a true event, but if you do not act on that knowledge, then it’s not going to make one iota of difference in your eternal destiny. The Bible says that all men are dead in their sins, and are enemies with God. But through the death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ, God made a way of forgiveness for mankind. And that way is acknowledging Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior. The Bible says that all who call upon the Lord will be saved. If you have any questions about the all-important message of the gospel, I invite you to talk to myself or any one of our members, and we would be privileged to share with you this amazing news.
Church, I pray that today you will be in awe of the Easter story like you never have been before. Our Jesus died for our sins, but praise the Lord He did not stay dead! He is risen!
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