I fear we might be in a small danger this morning as we celebrate Easter. This danger is particularly an issue because it does not seem like much of a threat. We are about to look at the Easter story, and like anything else, it is one that can lose its impact on our hearts due to our own familiarity with the events. This is a lot like when our kids say, “I already know this!” We, of course, are too sophisticated to voice it, so we simply think it in our heads. Even to a dedicated sunrise service crowd such as yourselves, I believe it is important that we take a fresh look at the Easter story — indeed, to lose ourselves in it as if for the very first time. Because when the Easter message impacts us, we will use it to impact others. With that in mind, will you pray with me?
Dear Heavenly Father,
We thank You for the message of Easter that has so transformed our lives. We confess our tendency to let the Easter story grow stale in our hearts, so we ask that right now You would take away any preconceived notions that we have and allow us to simply experience the freshness of Your word in our lives. Fill us with the wonder of Easter we ask in the name of our risen Savior.
Will you turn with me in your Bibles to Matthew 28? Our passage today finds parallels in both Mark and Luke and, to a lesser extent, John. And while you are turning to Matthew 28:1-8, I want to let you know that the details of each account vary just a little from one another. This has troubled some people in the past who have worried that this makes the accounts inaccurate. In reality, these simply contain different perspectives of the same incident, where certain authors chose to include specific details that help to tell their story.
As we read our account in Matthew, I encourage you to take a moment and try to put yourself in the story. Imagine that you are going to the tomb yourself. You are grieving over the loss of Jesus and more than a little fearful about what will happen next. He died Friday afternoon and was hastily buried before sunset so that those who placed His body in the tomb would not make themselves unclean; that way they could still celebrate the Passover. For all of yesterday you agonized and felt an empty feeling, perhaps even numb to what had gone on. Even so, you knew that Jesus needed to have his body properly prepared for burial, which is what draws you to the tomb now.
Listen to the words of Matthew 28:1-8:
Now after the Sabbath, as it began to dawn toward the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary came to look at the grave. And behold, a severe earthquake had occurred, for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven and came and rolled away the stone and sat upon it. And his appearance was like lightning, and his clothing as white as snow. The guards shook for fear of him and became like dead men. The angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid; for I know that you are looking for Jesus who has been crucified. He is not here, for He has risen, just as He said. Come, see the place where He was lying. Go quickly and tell His disciples that He has risen from the dead; and behold, He is going ahead of you into Galilee, there you will see Him; behold, I have told you.” And they left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy and ran to report it to His disciples.
And this is the word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.
Before the women even got to the tomb there was a violent earthquake, which is directly tied to the angel moving back the stone. It is possible that the earthquake was the means the angel used to roll back the stone. After this, the angel sat on the stone and waited for the women to arrive. We get a physical description of this angel, too. His skin looked like lightning itself, and his clothes were bright white, I imagine like fresh snow when the sun gleams on it.
It is no surprise to learn that in the presence of this angel the guards shook with fear and became like dead men. That could mean that they passed out from fear or were simply too afraid to move. When they arrived, the women were perhaps sustained so that they did not have a similar reaction.
From here we get a very one-sided conversation as the angel gives his message. First he tells them not to be afraid, and it is likely they needed this angelic reassurance. The angel also knows that they were there for Jesus who had been crucified. Instead of telling them to go in and see the body, the angel says something very unexpected, and I imagine that the women did not even absorb the words the first time they heard them. He tells them that Jesus’ body is not there but rather that Jesus had actually risen from the dead, just as He said He would.
There is perhaps a mild rebuke here, because Jesus had told His followers that He would be killed and come back to life. Matthew 16:21 reads, “From that time on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands…and that he must be killed on the third day to be raised to life.” In a parallel account, Mark adds that He told them plainly, meaning He did not shroud the truth in a parable but instead gave it to them straight. Even so, none of Jesus’ followers expected this wonderful twist of events.
I would like to focus our time on two commands the angel gives the women, commands that we are to follow today. First he tells them to come and see; then he has them go and tell.
Come and See
In order to let the Easter message have its full effect on our hearts, we must first come and see where Jesus is buried. I do not mean that we have to travel to the holy land and determine which of the potential tombs belonged to Jesus. Instead, we need to do what the women did: Investigate the truth that Jesus was buried but now has risen. Come and see is a call for us to learn the truth for ourselves and allow it to sink into our own hearts and minds. For many of us, even if we were taught and trusted this message as children, at some point we need to experience this truth on an intellectual level. Former journalist Lee Strobel has become famous in the Christian community for his own investigation into Jesus’ resurrection.
Strobel and other have pointed out various challenges to the resurrection story. There used to be theories that Jesus never actually died but rather swooned, losing consciousness from His injuries. Few hold this position now for a few reasons: The account of Jesus’ death takes away any possibility that Jesus did not die from His wounds. Also, even if He was wounded, the likelihood of Him waking up wrapped in grave clothes, summoning the strength to move the stone, and finding His disciples seems too far-fetched, especially when the disciples were somehow motivated to then boldly proclaim the resurrection.
Another objection is that in their grief the women went to the wrong tomb, but this, too, is unlikely, since after the resurrection accounts spread, the religious officials only needed to show people the real location of Jesus’ body to squelch the rumor once and for all. Others suggest that the disciples did understand the message and stole the body; but they would have had to best those Roman guards in order to do so, and contrary to church Easter plays, there were likely many, many more than just two soldiers on guard. Still others claim that the resurrection story was added by the church in the second century to make Christianity look stronger. Scholars have agreed, however, on reliable dating of the gospel accounts that place at least parts of them to only a few years after the resurrection, which leads me to details that confirm the resurrection.
First, there were many eyewitnesses available to corroborate the accounts of the Gospels. These people could confirm that what was written really happened. Second, the writers show that the women were the first to receive word of the resurrection. In the first century, no writer would have made this up if he wanted his readers to believe his story. Women were unfortunately normally demeaned in society, considered too emotional to even give reliable testimony in court proceedings. Yet God in His grace allowed women the privilege of first discovering the resurrection. Third, the changed lives of the disciples speak for themselves. These followers who had been pretty timid began to speak boldly about Christ, even under the penalty of death. To date, no challenge has cast any real doubt on the resurrection of our Savior.
But we cannot settle for mere intellectual knowledge of the resurrection. It must reach us to the very core if it is to have its full effect on our hearts. The resurrection means that Jesus is who He said He was — the very Son of God. It means His promises are true, and we can trust the things He said. It means that the vice of sin and death that has held humanity has been destroyed for those who belong to Christ. It means that the God of the universe was so concerned by our human condition that He really did come to earth to live among us, to die for our sins, and make a way for us to have peace with Him! It means that His followers have a future — one in eternity with God where we will spend forever with him instead of getting the horrible punishment of hell that we deserve. It means that we have purpose in our lives now, because we have a message that changes our lives and the lives of others.
I remember an episode of the Brady Bunch where the family was asked to be in a commercial for a new laundry detergent. The family was excited about the idea and all of the commercial stardom that would come with it, plus Mrs. Brady was looking forward to the free detergent that would come their way. Mr. Brady, however, insisted that before they could advertise this product, they had to be convinced that it was worth advertising. So they decided to use the detergent for an entire week. Before that week was up they realized that they did not like the product at all and could not endorse it. Until we are convinced in the life-changing message of Easter, we cannot effectively share its message with others.
Go and Tell
The angel’s next command to the women is one that we have, too. We need to go and tell that Christ has risen. Once they understood that Jesus had risen, theirs was a message to share, and Scripture tells us they ran to deliver it! They were not skittish; they did not dawdle; they quickly shared a message that had overtaken their hearts. These women were not the first ones to proclaim that Jesus had risen from the dead. The angel was, and in Revelation, we see that angels continue to proclaim the same truth. The women merely joined them in sharing the message, and so can we!
Thomas Stefanelli was a pizza delivery man for Hungry Howies in Tampa, Florida. In 2005, Stefanelli was making deliveries to multiple homes when he encountered an abandoned home. There, two armed men attempted to rob him and take his money. Stefanelli fought back and in the scuffle was shot in the leg before the would-be robbers fled the scene. From there, because his cell phone was not working, this wounded pizza deliverer actually went to his next stop, delivered the pizza, and called his boss, asking him to call police. Then Stefanelli actually went and made three more deliveries before having his wound treated at the hospital.
I do not know how a person can have that much dedication delivering pizzas, but I do know how someone can be dedicated in sharing the resurrection message. Come and see — experience the Easter story again in a fresh light, letting it fully soak into your heart and mind. Then go and tell, sharing the message with people who desperately need to hear it!