Easter Year A : Matthew 28:1-10
Have you ever arranged to meet someone and they haven't turned up, or have been very late. Perhaps you were stood up by your date ! When I co-led a youth group in Norwich one of the other leaders, called Nick, was always late. We knew he couldn't be relied upon to come on time, even though he only lived about fifty yards from the church ! It became a running joke that we used to tell him that things were starting fifteen minutes earlier than they really were !
We will be looking at today's passage and the resurrection thinking about promises, proof and progression.
We couldn't trust Nick to turn up on time, even when he promised that he would. In contrast the courier Business Express has the motto, 'A promise isn't a promise until it is delivered'
The night before he was crucified Jesus told his disciples, 26:32 "But after I have risen, I will go ahead of you into Galilee."
In today's passage the angels told the women, 28:7, "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."
From verse 16-20 Matthew tells of this meeting which includes what we know as the Great Commission.
If someone keeps their promises this is because they have the power and the will to carry them out. I think Nick didn't really have the will, so he didn't have the power !
The resurrection shows that the words of Jesus were true. He had told his disciples that he would die for the sins of the world and be raised from death. He gave a foretaste of this when he raised Lazarus from the dead.
The final test about Jesus is whether his predictions about his death and resurrection came true. When we look at the evidence we have to conclude that this is the most reasonable explanation. If this were not so then Jesus would be a forgotten name in history, known only to a few academics who specialised in first century Judaism.
There was an empty tomb. It was the right tomb because the women had only been there two days earlier and the guards were outside it. There are three explanations for the empty tomb.
1) The body had been taken by the authorities.
If this was the case, why didn't they produce the body of Jesus when the disciples claimed he had risen from death ?
2) The body had been stolen by the disciples.
This was the story agreed by the religious leaders and the guards, verse 13. But how could the disciples, who were not expecting the resurrection, sneak past sleeping guards, roll away a large stone, unwrap the body and steal it ? Even if they had, the authorities would have executed the soldiers. This doesn't make sense, especially when you think that most of the disciples suffered and died for their belief that Jesus rose from the dead. How many people would die for something they knew to be a lie ?
3) Jesus swooned on the cross and recovered in the cool of the tomb.
This ignores the fact that Roman soldiers were trained executioners who were under threat of death if they failed. They were so used to identifying dead bodies that they didn't even break the legs of Jesus to hasten death and, when they pierced his side blood and water ran out. Medical evidence that someone has died.
Moreover, how could a weakened Jesus move a heavy stone, avoid the guards, and convince his disciples that he had conquered death ? An how would he enter a locked room?
4) Jesus rose from death and received a new, resurrection body, that had continuity with the old one. This is shown because Thomas recognised his wounded limbs, but it was not limited by time and space and is perfect, not subject to suffering, decay, or death.
We, too will receive resurrection bodies like his. 1 John 3:2 Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.
The only promise that Jesus has to fulfil is his second coming when he shall come in power and glory to judge the living and the dead, taking those who truly follow him to be with God forever in paradise. The resurrection not only confirms that promise, but points to the final triumph of God over sin, death and Satan.
The angel referred to the resurrection when he said, 6 He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay.
The promises of Jesus were linked to the resurrection which was the proof of many things.
In 1999 the body of George Mallory was discovered high on the slopes of Everest where it had been since 1924. It raised the question again, did Mallory and his companion Andrew Irving manage to conquer the summit, 29 years before Edmund Hillary ? We still don't know for certain. But if they had reached the summit and returned to tell the tale history would be different.
The resurrection of Jesus proves all the claims that he made about himself. This includes his teaching that he was God and would be offered as a sinless, sole, sacrifice for the sins of the world.
If these claims had been false then God would have left him in the tomb, dead. But God the Father raised Jesus from the dead. So the resurrection proved that Jesus self-sacrifice of himself on the cross had been accepted by God the Father. It is the 'Amen' to Jesus' claims.
C.S.Lewis wrote, " Jesus has forced open the door that had been locked since the death of the first man. He has met, fought and beaten the King of death. Everything is different because he has done so."
The resurrection is also proof that Jesus has mastery over sin, death and Satan. It can change us today, it can change our tomorrows.
( Promises, Proof and ) Progression
After the crucifixion and before the resurrection Jesus followers were afraid of the Roman authorities, disappointed and frustrated that he had not been the Messiah they had expected, and dispirited, so some of them even returned to their former homes and jobs. They were bereaved, after leaving their homes and families, following Jesus for three years, and getting to know him everything was gone.
Once they had met the risen Lord Jesus and been empowered by His Spirit they were progressed to being fearless. Proclaiming to the authorities that although they had killed Jesus God had raised him from death. They were excited about being part of God's plan to save the world and so they lived and spread the good news. They had joy, confidence, a certain hope. Their relationship with him had been restored, never to be broken again.
I could continue with my 'pr' words and say that they were profulgent, meaning radiant or shining forth. But I won't !
It is significant that Matthew records that Jesus told the disciples to meet him in Galilee. Galilee was in the unfashionable, even despised North of Israel. This is typified by Nathanael who said, 'Nazareth ! Can anything good come from there ?' ( John 1:46 ). It had been heavily influenced by Gentiles in the past and was seen as less religious and less pure than the South.
Yet it was in Galilee that Jesus exercised the majority of his earthly ministry, revealing who he was. Perhaps this was to avoid the condemnation of the religious leaders who were centred on Jerusalem in the South. When we read the gospels it is Galilee, the despised, irreligious area which welcomes Jesus. In contrast Jerusalem is a place of rejection and judgement.
Matthew records that the empty tomb was discovered by three women. This adds more authenticity to the resurrection accounts because the testimony of women was not accepted in this culture. If the resurrection accounts had been falsified no-one in their right mind would have had women as the first witnesses of the empty tomb.
The choice of Galilee and the choice of women witnesses are linked to the ministry that Jesus had. Not primarily to religious Jews but to irreligious sinners, some of whom were not Jews.
When Jesus speaks to his disciples in Galilee he makes it clear that the gosepl is for everyone and anyone... 18 Then Jesus came to them and said, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them inA the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age."
Jesus came to ordinary folk. They were fallible human beings like us. With moments of fear, uncertainty, hopelessness, disappointment, frustration, stupidity, tiredness, lack of faith, and so on. But through the resurrection God transformed them, and, through their witness he has transformed the world.
This Easter God calls us once again to turn away from our old way of life where we rely on ourselves and the world. To turn to the Lord Jesus in his resurrection power. He can give new life to us and, because he is alive, we can know him as our friend, our Lord and our Saviour. Once we have done this we can be confident that our relationship with him will never be broken, and look to the final resurrection when all Christina, living and dead, will be united in glory with one another and with their Lord.