On Easter, Christians around the world celebrate Jesus’s Resurrection — His rising from the dead.
This feast is the most important in the Church calendar. To find out why, please see ‘Easter: the greatest feast in the Church year’ and ‘Easter Sunday: Thoughts on this greatest of days’.
During Holy Week 2011, I have been sharing with you excerpts of sermons by the Reformed (Calvinist) pastor, the Revd P G Mathew of Grace Valley Christian Center in Davis, California. Today, let us see what he says about Christ’s disciples, particularly the women who had the boldness to go in search of His tomb. The sermon is called ‘Beware of Easter!’ and takes as its text Matthew 28:1-20. Emphases mine below.
Joseph of Arimathea provided a tomb for Jesus, which Roman soldiers guarded. Shortly after His burial, the sky around Jerusalem turned black and the Earth shook. What must it have been like to be in the city or surrounding area that weekend? Terrifying, no doubt. A trumped-up trial, the Crucifixion, an earthquake. People must have been wondering if they were suffering a judgment from God. In a way, they were.
We always hear about the disciples — with justification — but where were they after Jesus was buried? Note who went to the tomb with oils to anoint His body:
All these horrible events were observed by Mary Magdalene, from whom Jesus had driven out many devils, and some other women from Galilee who had ministered to the needs of Jesus. These women loved Jesus dearly and would not leave him. They stayed near him while he suffered on the cross, they watched Nicodemus and Joseph bury him in the tomb, and they made plans to come again Easter morning to anoint his body. They did all this out of love for Jesus. Where were the male disciples? Only John is mentioned being near the cross, and then we see him disappearing. All the others had gone away, just as Jesus had predicted: “I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered” (Matt. 26:31).
Meanwhile, the Jews felt victorious. They had rid themselves of the troublemaker Jesus. Nothing more could happen now, even if they had heard Him say that He would rise again on the third day:
The tomb was closed with a huge circular stone and sealed with the authority of the Roman empire. The Jewish leaders then went home to celebrate. Their nation was at peace.
But, at the time of the earthquake:
According to the Father’s command, the angel arrived in Jerusalem and made his way to the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea. He broke the seal of the Roman empire, lifted the huge stone, threw it on the ground and sat on it. Oh, hear the laughter of God! Did the angel do this to let Jesus out of the tomb? No. Jesus had already risen from the dead. His resurrection body is glorious, immortal, imperishable, honorable, full of power, and able to go through material obstacles like stones and closed doors. So the angel was not letting Jesus out of the tomb. Instead, he opened the tomb as a mockery of man’s stupid attempt to thwart the work of God, and also to enable Christ’s loyal friends see that for the first time in history, a tomb had become empty. Christ had been resurrected from the dead as decreed by God from all eternity and as Christ himself predicted again and again.
What happened to the Roman soldiers who were guarding the tomb? We read that they trembled with fear and fell down like dead men.
The angel is there to speak to Mary Magdalene and her companions when they arrive:
In the Greek it says, “You, don’t be afraid,” and the word “you” is emphasized. The angel understood why the women were there, and he wanted to reassure them …
Then the angel made this great proclamation: “He is not here; he has risen, just as he said.” Now, if you go to any cemetery, you will not find these words written anywhere. You will only read “Here lies so-and-so” on every headstone and tomb. But here is one tomb where it is stated, “He is not here; he has risen, just as he said.”
Imagine hearing that. Even the faithful women at the tomb didn’t quite believe Christ would rise from the dead. After all, that is why they carried anointing oils. And, still no sign of the apostles!
But in spite of their unbelief, the angel told the women, “Come and see the place where he lay.” What did they see? An open tomb. Strips of linen placed in an orderly fashion. But something was missing. Jesus was not there. Why? He had been raised, just as he said. So the angel instructed the women, “Go quickly and tell his disciples.”
The men were in hiding, afraid for their lives but also feeling dejected.
The angel proclaimed the gospel to the women, told them to come and see, and then go and tell the disciples that Jesus was going ahead of them to Galilee, just as he said. You see, Jesus is the truth (John 14:6), and what he promises, he fulfills. Jesus Christ predicted that he would die, be buried, and be raised from the dead on the third day. We have all confidence that every word he said is true, which includes the promise of his coming again and judging everyone who does not believe in him.
The women left the tomb with fear and great joy. It was not great fear and joy, but fear and great joy. They still had some lingering fear, but it was not great. What gave them such great joy? I am sure they were thinking about what the angel had said, and were saying to themselves,”It is true. Christ lives! He was right. Remember, he said he would rise from the dead on the third day? This is the third day, and the tomb is empty. Jesus is risen! He has conquered death forever.” That was the cause for their great joy …
In verse 8 we read an interesting statement: the women ran to tell the disciples, in obedience to the angel’s words.
And as they were running, Matthew says, Idou -meaning, “Behold, look!” What did the women see? Jesus. Oh, if you are fearful, meeting an angel will not be sufficient. You will still have fear. But if you want to deal with all of your fears, you must finally meet Jesus himself. Behold, there was Jesus!
In the Greek we read that Jesus greeted them with the word Kairete . Now, some people would translate this as a more casual greeting like “Hello” or “Hi.” Judas Iscariot used the same word in Matthew 26:49, greeting Jesus as he was in the act of betraying him. But I do not translate Christ’s word kairete as “Hi!” I am going to give its full meaning, which is what? Rejoice! Rejoice! Be not afraid, Jesus is saying. And I am sure at that moment all the residual, lingering fears of the women evaporated. They received strength from the living Christ.
Note that the women did not hug Him or clasp His hand. No, they fell down and clasped His feet, recognising Him as Lord:
In the ancient Near East, vassals sometimes kissed the feet of the suzerain (the great king) to express their worship and submission. King Cyrus stated that people came with tribute and kissed his feet. But here was the King of kings and Lord of lords! The women were worshiping Jesus, the risen King, God. They believed the gospel.
The saddest aspect for me about Easter is that so few people see the Resurrection as the fulfilment of Jesus’s words of truth and of God’s sovereignty. You might feel similarly. Some of us must celebrate this wonderful feast day alone, surrounded by unbelievers or deniers. Mr Mathew explains:
Just as the authorities tried to seal the tomb and stop people from believing in Christ, people today are still trying to cover up the fact that Jesus rose from the dead. Why? Sin manifests itself in unbelief. Haven’t you heard the lies of sinful man? Some say that Jesus was stolen by his disciples; or that he just swooned on the cross, and in the cool air of the tomb he revived, forced open the stone, came out, and disappeared–no one knows where. Others say that the women, misty-eyed from weeping, came to the wrong tomb where a young man told them, “He is not here,” meaning it was not his tomb. Others say that those who saw Jesus after his resurrection were hallucinating. In 1 Corinthians 15:6 St. Paul says that the living Jesus met with five hundred people in Galilee but unbelievers would say that all five hundred were hallucinating at the same time. And the most modern theory of those who would cover up truth is that the resurrected Christ was just a vision–that all the reports of his resurrection were self-induced visions, based on no objective reality. But if any of these stories were true, I wonder why the authorities did not produce the body of Christ. If they had done so, they could have stopped the rise of Christianity right then and there.
Like the chief priests and elders, people today continue to suppress the greatest truth ever told and the greatest event that ever happened in time and space–the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Why? Why will a person believe in everything but the resurrection? The reason, Paul says, is that “the man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God.” Such a person does not compute God’s truth. There is a deliberate rejection of truth–“for [it is] foolishness to him, and he cannot understand [it] because [it is] spiritually discerned” (1 Cor. 1:14).
In Romans 1 we are told that sinful man is ever engaged in the suppression and cover-up of truth by his or her own wickedness. We also read in Romans 1 that man is exchanging truth for a lie continually. In Romans 8 Paul says the sinful mind is hostile to God and does not submit to God’s law, nor can it. Sinful man is totally unable to receive, embrace, and believe the gospel because Satan has blinded his understanding.
If you do not believe the gospel, please do not blame women with misty eyes. The problem is the mist in the depth of your heart. Paul says you are spiritually dead (Eph. 2:1). In Luke 16 Jesus himself told of a rich man who wanted someone to rise from the dead and declare to his brothers that there is a hell. What did Jesus say? “If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets,” meaning the Scriptures, “they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead” (Luke 16:31) …
Even when Jesus was on the cross, some said that if he came down, they would believe. But when the soldiers reported that the tomb was empty and Jesus had come out, did the authorities believe? No. They gave the soldiers a large amount of money and told them to say that the disciples had stolen Jesus’ body. And I presume that the rulers also had to give money to Pilate to silence him.
For unbelievers, Christ and His fulfilment of His prophecy is threatening. Just think of all the news items over the past decade which deny Christian feasts, Christian worship and Christian witness.
There is a day coming–a day of judgment–when everyone will believe in the resurrection of Jesus Christ, as well as every word of the Scripture. Those who have denied God’s word will believe in the virgin birth, in miracles, in creation–in everything they have denied from God’s word.
When Paul spoke of the resurrection of Christ to the Athenians, they sneered at him. They were the scientists of their day, and they mocked his message, saying that after a man died, he could never rise from the dead physically. The Athenians did believe in the immortality of souls, but they laughed, sneered, and mocked as Paul spoke about physical resurrection.
But Paul told the Athenians … “He has given proof of this [coming judgment] to all men by raising him from the dead” (Acts 17:31).
Jesus never lied to His disciples. There is not one word or deed of His which was ambiguous or left to rationalisation. He fulfilled His promises to us. If He said He would rise from the dead and did, we can be sure that He will come again in glory — and in judgment. But waiting until Judgment Day to believe will be too late for some. So, for those curious about Jesus and His divine love for sinners, why not open a Bible and read online resources to help better acquaint you with Him? What could be a more glorious time than now?
Let us pray that the risen Christ remains with us every moment of each day. Jesus Christ is not only our only Mediator and Advocate but also our only Way to eternal life. May we keep Him foremost in our thoughts and in our hearts, today and always.