When we woke up and looked out of the window we could see the glacier in the distance and the mountains rising majestically on both sides of beautiful Lake Louise. We were staying at Chateau Lake Louise for a Billy Graham School of Evangelism and were fortunate enough to have a room on the lake side. We were there for the better part of a week and never tired of the beautiful view. How long would it take before that beauty would begin to be taken for granted? Our children have lived in Banff for two summers and now since September. They still tell us what a pleasure it is to walk out of their apartment and look up at Mt. Norquay, Rundle Mountain and all the beauty that surrounds them. Do people who live there all their life get used to the beauty they see?
Today we are celebrating one of the most amazing events in all of human history. Never before and never since has someone risen from the dead in conquest over sin and death. It speaks profoundly to all of life. We have known and celebrated this truth all our life. Do we get used to it? Do we take it for granted? My prayer this Easter season has been that the wonder and power of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ will be real to us, that we will not only know the truth of it, but also that it will create in us a sense of wonder and a renewal of our love for God who has done these things.
I pray, as we look at the story from Matthew 28:1-15 once again, that we will appreciate in a new way the power and the wonder of the fact that Jesus is alive.
I. He Has Risen
Look at this wonderful event! It is early morning of the third day since Jesus died. Can you imagine the feelings of the disciples and the others who had experienced power and hope of Jesus present with them? Read p. 140 of “The Singer.”
This is the state in which the third morning after his death found them. As the women approached the tomb of Jesus in the dim light of dawn in order to look at it, suddenly there was a bright light, which blinded them. At the same time, the earth shook violently with an earthquake. They were frightened but as their eyes adjusted to the brightness, they saw an angel sitting on the stone which had been in front of the tomb of Jesus. His appearance was like lightening and his clothing was as white as snow and he said to them, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay.”
This was the first indication of the resurrection of Jesus. The angel had come to roll the stone away - not to release Jesus, but to reveal the empty tomb. He showed them that Jesus was not there so that they would understand that he was alive.
Then as they went away from the tomb, Jesus himself appeared to them to let them see with their own eyes that this was really so.
To the women, the message was clearly declared, but Matthew indicates that there were others who came to know.
The women were told to go and tell the disciples so that they would also know.
The guards were the first to know, but they were so stunned that they could not immediately comprehend what is going on.
When the guards came to again, they went and reported these things to the chief priests.
So in the account we are confronted with the facts: the tomb is empty and God has sent his angel to announce, “He is not here; he has risen, just as he said.” This announcement was in fulfillment of Jesus’ own words. He had announced that he would die and then rise again in Matthew 16:21, "From that time on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must ...be killed and on the third day be raised to life." Now it had happened.
A. Questioning The Facts
Such a truth is most amazing. If it is true, it has powerful implications for life. If we have grown accustomed to this story and it has not impacted our life, perhaps that is because we have not really accepted that it is true.
Even at that time, not everyone accepted the reality of the resurrection.
The story tells us that when the guards went to the Jewish leaders to tell them what happened they bribed them so that they would report that the disciples had come and stolen the body of Jesus away. The explanation that the disciples stole the body continued to circulate and is still believed by some today. Obviously the facts were not powerful enough for everyone to believe them. To many believing that the disciples stole the body was more acceptable than believing that someone could rise from the dead.
In vs. 17 it says that some doubted. The people involved here are the disciples who had been with Jesus and who were with him when he gave them the great commission and ascended into heaven. Even among those who saw Jesus alive there were some who doubted.
There continue to be theories of the empty tomb and the angels announcements which explain away the literal bodily resurrection of Jesus. Many people continue to deny the resurrection.
a. Some have suggested that the message of the resurrection and the appearances of Jesus were visions which resulted from intense emotional ecstasy.
b. Recently one scholar suggested that God communicated a vision to the disciples from heaven to assure them that Jesus was alive and well. This amounts to a denial of the resurrection.
c. Many in the past 100-150 years have taught that Jesus' life has meaning without the need for an actual resurrection. (see Karen Toole-Mitchell)
d. Over the years, some have believed that Jesus did not die, but fled to some remote region.
e. Others admit that Jesus died, but that the resurrection is a grand hoax.
B. Reasons to Believe
If we are to be impacted by the truth of the resurrection, we need to be convinced that it really happened.
I believe in the resurrection because this is in character for God. If God is the sovereign Lord of the universe and if he is the one who has created it, then resurrection really poses no problem at all. God could easily do this. When we understand the plan of God to redeem his people, then the resurrection is not only believable, but necessary.
I believe in the resurrection because it is the only reasonable explanation for the empty tomb. How else can we explain the story of the guards themselves. They were told to say that the disciples stole the body while they were sleeping. Well, how did they know that the disciples stole the body if they were asleep? I know that when I am asleep, I usually don't know what is going on. Such a story is also quite unbelievable since sleeping on the job for a Roman soldier was inviting the death sentence. Besides this what we know about the disciples was that they were so filled with fear and confusion that such an action on their part would be completely unbelievable.
I believe in the resurrection because Jesus showed himself to many people. Acts 1:3 says that, "... he showed himself to these men and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive." I Corinthians 15 indicates that he appeared to many people, including at least 500 people at one time. The eyewitness accounts of the risen Christ convince me of its reality.
I am also convinced because the spread of the church to all parts of the world could not have happened apart from the resurrection. The apostle Paul would certainly never have become a Christian and gone to the whole known world to proclaim Jesus if he had not been convinced of the resurrection. And he would not have accepted the resurrection unless he was absolutely certain that it happened. Resurrection "so convinced the early Christians that they carried the message of it to the very heart of the Roman Empire."
We rejoice today that “The crucified Lord is risen and back in business.” The resurrection is not a story about something that happened a long time ago. The resurrection is a truth today. Jesus is alive now.
II. Resurrection Living
If we are convinced of the truth that Jesus is alive now, is that truth alive in our lives today or have we become used to it? If the truth of the resurrection is alive in us now then there are four reactions to this news in the text which are worthy of our consideration.
A. Do Not Be Afraid.
When the angel came down and rolled away the stone the text says that the “guards were so afraid that they shook and became like dead men.” We can understand such fear, but what was it they feared? I suspect they feared the suddenness of the event, the earthquake and the lightening brightness of the angel. But is it possible that they also feared the powerful manifestation of God’s presence?
When the women arrived, the first words of the angel were, “Do not be afraid.” Why would they have been afraid? The earthquake and the lightening like appearance of the angel would have been enough to make me shake in fear, but is it not also possible that they feared because of the amazing power demonstrated in the announcement that Jesus was not dead, but alive?
When they left the tomb to go to the disciples, we read that they “hurried away from the tomb, afraid yet filled with joy.” They had comprehended something of the message which had come to them and yet still their response was one of fear.
When they saw Jesus and realized that he was alive, it was clearly not the earthquake and lightening like appearance that would have caused them fear, but the simple fact that Jesus was there alive. And yet the word of Jesus were, “Do not be afraid.” Why would they fear now? Why not just rejoice and celebrate?
What was the reason for their fear? I wonder if in the presence of a totally unexpected power they encountered a reality so radical to common expectation that they could not handle it.
One writer says, “People reject resurrection not because they do not believe it, but because it has implications that are beyond the little lives we live in which we are so comfortable and which we do not want to leave.”
When I was about 16 or 17 years old, my cousin got a motorcycle. I had a driver’s licence, but I had little experience driving a motorcycle. We were in the lane behind his house and I asked if I could try it out. As I tried to get going, I lost control and laid it down. I did not know how to handle the power and the weight of the machine.
Graduated licensing is a bad word to anyone who does not yet have a driver’s licence, but there is a good reason for it. It is a recognition that it takes a while to learn how to handle the power in your hands when you drive.
Can we handle the power of the resurrection? Are we open to all that the resurrection means or do we shut down the resurrection power because it is a power too great for us, a truth too much for us? Have we accepted the resurrection as commonplace because we are not ready to allow the full power of it to impact our lives?
We like to live with the known and living in the hope of the resurrection will mean living with the unknown, living with the unexpected, living with a constant expectation of what God might do.
In the book, “The Singer” this fear is alluded to with the words of one person who grasps the power of what is to come. “They will not like the final verse,” she said. “They will not like it, for its music is beyond their empty days and makes them trade their littleness for life.” P.44
Are we afraid to trade our littleness for life? Are we afraid of the power of the resurrection? Are we afraid, like the women were, to allow the full power of the resurrection to impact our lives?
What if God chose to bring new people to our church? How would we handle a manifestation of God’s power if a revival broke out? What if God began to do miracles and demonstrate his power? Would we be afraid or would we recognize that this is entirely possible when we live in relationship to the risen Lord? Are we ready to see God at work? Can we handle God at work?
Are we afraid to live hoping in Christ instead of relying on the things we know? Colossians 3:1 places before us the present reality when it says, “since you have been raised with Christ…” Are we living “raised with Christ?” Are we living in the power of the resurrection? We live our lives in the now, in the power of the human spirit, but we can live it at the level of resurrection power. How will resurrection power be lived out in your life?
B. Filled With Joy
When the women left the tomb they were fearful. But verse 8 also says "they were filled with joy." They must have begun to realize what had happened and what it meant.
As they ran away, they met Jesus! The first words of Jesus to them were the common Greek greeting which is sometimes translated "greetings," but is also the word for rejoice. I believe in this case Jesus was inviting them to rejoice.
This also is an appropriate response to the message of the living Lord. Jesus is alive, we are people who can rejoice.
We rejoice because the resurrection means that Jesus is Lord. He has conquered the most powerful enemy around - he has conquered death.
We rejoice because the resurrection means that Jesus is now. When we talk about Jesus, we are not talking about a historical figure. We are talking about someone who lives today and will reign in eternity.
We rejoice because the resurrection means that Jesus is inescapable. There is nowhere we can go from his presence. He has come to earth, He has gone through death and He sees and knows each one of us and understands our hearts. What a comfort to know that there is no place we can go where Jesus is not present.
We rejoice because Jesus is forever. Because He lives, we also will live for all eternity.
Joy is our ever present reality because of the resurrection, but how do we express our joy?
A positive rather than a negative outlook on life is one way of expressing our joy. As Christians, we should be the most positive, contented people on earth. We should be known by our joy. I wonder sometimes if the negative outlook we sometimes have is a reflection of our failure to recognize the risen Lord. Is joy the operating attitude of your life? It is OK. If it isn't OK, it will be OK. If it doesn't feel OK, Jesus is OK. Everything is or will be right - that is resurrection joy.
C. Go And Tell
The women believed the message of the angel and the angel gave them the command in verse 7, "go tell the disciples." The content of their message was 1.he has been raised; 2.he is going to Galilee; 3.you will see him there.
As the women hurried away from the tomb, they actually met Jesus and he also told them to "go and tell." The message was similar - they were to tell them to go to Galilee where they would see Him.
Verse 8 tells us that they were obedient.
One of the main responses to the resurrection is to go and tell. The women were told by the angel and by Jesus to go and tell the disciples. When the disciples knew, Jesus told them to go and tell. When Jesus met the disciples just before he ascended He gave them what we have come to know as "the great commission."
The remainder of the New Testament is a story of going and telling and that continues to be our mandate.
A few weeks ago, I invited you to go and tell when I suggested the concept of the 4x4 principle. Each of us was encouraged to ask God to reveal four people whom He wants us to influence, to pray for them, to spend time with them and to speak to them about Christ. The power of the resurrection moves us to such a proclamation.
D. They Worshipped Him
The final response is found in verse 10 when it says, “They came to him, clasped his feet and worshipped him.”
I love the words in Revelation 5:12, “Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise!”
How do we worship Christ? Do we spend time bowed down at his feet? Jesus has become so human for us that we sometimes see Him is our brother - and he is. But we must never forget that he is also Lord, the risen Lord and very much worthy of our worship.
Do we live worshipping the living Christ?
Carla went with a group of young people to Banff for a national youth convention one year. Among the young people were many who had been to the mountains before, but one girl, who was in grade 12 had never been there. As soon as they began to see the mountains in the distance, just outside of Calgary and until she was right in the mountains she could not take her eyes off what she saw. Carla said it was interesting to see such wonder in her eyes.
How I wish that the truth of the resurrection would invite each of us to take a fresh look at the wonder of the resurrection. How I wish that we would stare with amazement at what we have been reminded of today.
When people have been married for a long time, they sometimes need to renew their vows or go on a second honeymoon to restore the wonder of the love they had when they first met. One reason to celebrate Easter is to allow it to be a second honeymoon, another opportunity to renew our first love for the one who died, but lives and to allow the wonder of that truth to deeply impact our daily lives with fear, joy, worship and a commitment to proclamation. Will you allow God to stir such wonder in your heart today?