Resurrection: Messengers on the GO!

Please read Matthew 28 and then pray; Almighty God, who raised your Son from death to life, lead us deeper into resurrection hope, joy and power, in Jesus’ name. Amen!

During this Holy Week you have probably experienced changing moods – and particularly when it comes to singing the Christian faith and hope that are centred in the Lord Jesus. Holy Week begins with loud singing and even shouting as the King is welcomed into Jerusalem riding on a young donkey. The Psalmist writes; Shout with joy to God, all the earth! Sing the glory of his name; make his praise glorious! (Psalm 66:1) Here you have a description of the praise style of Palm Sunday.

But then, as we move toward Thursday and Friday – our voices lower as our mood becomes sombre and serious. We still want to sing, but now we want to sing with trembling and a sense of brokenness. We may sing the classic hymn written by Isaac Watts, Why I survey the wondrous cross, or the more modern hymn by Graham Kendrick, My Lord, what love is this, that pays so dearly; but our mood has changed dramatically. There is generally no singing at all on Holy Saturday – may be a song of lament. All is quiet. Then we finally come to Easter Sunday morning – and out comes the trumpet fanfare and resoundingly powerful and joyful hymns like, Thine be the glory or Jesus Christ is risen today – Alleluia! We are joyfully uplifted at the news brought by the angelic messenger and we respond by bursting into jubilant song;

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. (Matthew 28:6)

On Easter Sunday, in fact every day of our Christian lives, we want to sing and proclaim the words written by the apostle Peter in his first letter concerning the resurrection hope;

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade – kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. (1 Peter 1: 3-5)

Please can someone write a hymn based on these magnificent verses? But it is not enough to sing and shout about the victory and hope we have through Jesus’s resurrection. We must go into the world and live and breathe and share this stupendously good news. The resurrection leads directly to a commission to go and spread the good news of the living and reigning Jesus to all creation. This is why Matthew 28 is essentially split into two parts by the writer, but the two are still inseparably joined together as we would see in the original Greek manuscript. From verses 1-16 (Jerusalem based) we have the message about the historical fact and truth and of the resurrection of Jesus; from verses 16-20 (Galilee based) you then have the only response possible from the Church of Jesus Christ to this resurrection victory – the great commission to go into all the earth with this wonderful good news of the gospel and with the challenge to “make disciples of all nations.”

So let us look at Matthew 28 briefly, connect these two parts of the chapter together, and then personally get ready to be sent out from this place with the greatest good news of all – news for all the world – that Jesus is Lord and death has been conquered! It is hardly surprising that the verb “to go” and the idea of going somewhere is used several times by Matthew in this final chapter of his gospel. We have a chapter where various messengers are seen to be “on the go” – actively moving according to the will and direction of God Almighty. Let us examine this together.

The first thing to notice is that the women can hardly wait to go to the tomb where Jesus’s body lay. It must have been agony for them having to hold back and wait until the Sabbath was over before they could visit the burial tomb so that they might anoint the body of Jesus. Have you ever been very nervous or excited about something that you eagerly want to do the following day, and this meant that you were unable to sleep the night before? The excitement or nerves have prevented you from settling down to sleep. You wanted the morning light to come quickly. This was the fate of the women. They wanted to get to that tomb to finish the burial rituals and to pay honour to their Lord a.s.a.p. They could hardly wait. They were nervous. They were desperate. They were on tenterhooks. They wanted to go and felt impelled to go and anoint their Lord’s body. As soon as they could, even while it was still dark, just before sunrise – they resolutely set off; they were making their way directly to the tomb. Two women are mentioned by Matthew, Mary Magdalene, and another Mary – but it seems from other gospel accounts that more women were following on as well. These same women, along with Jesus’s mother Mary, had been at the crucifixion of their Lord; they had never forsaken him – even when faced with the dreadful and painful horror of the cross. Now they would go to him for a final time and serve him with devotion, tending lovingly to his corpse.

However, before the sun rose that morning, the Son of God had already risen from the dead. It was the third day, and he had already risen as he said he would. (Matthew 26:32). No-one saw this. No-one witnessed the actual resurrection of Jesus. But it had happened! Death had been vanquished!

Matthew tells us the details of what happened after Jesus had risen. There was a violent (megas) earthquake, for an angel of the Lord came down from heaven and, going to the tomb, rolled back the stone, and sat on it. (v2) This was the second earthquake in three days. Matthew has already told us that the earth shook the moment after Jesus “gave up his spirit” and died on the cross. (Matthew 27: 50-51) Was this then a kind of aftershock or a second earthquake on this third day? Who knows? But when the angel arrived from heaven on earth as the messenger of God, the earth shook again, and then the angel proceeded to roll aside the large disc shaped stone covering the entrance of the tomb. His final action for now was to sit almost casually on the stone and wait for the women to arrive. Sitting on the stone in this way signified victory. Where O death was your sting? (1 Corinthians 15: 54-55)

It is worth noting that angelic messengers such as this one, were sent directly from heaven as verse 2 indicates. Angels swiftly and unerringly do the bidding of God! That is their vocation. This angel was told to go with a message to deliver to the women who loved the Lord and who would soon arrive at the tomb. The angel was also instructed to remove the stone and thus break the seal placed there at Pontius Pilates command. The angel was to remove the stone not so that the risen Lord Jesus could come out of the tomb, but so the women could enter it and see that it was empty, and that neatly placed grave clothes had been left behind. Jesus had already risen and gone!

The dramatic and glorious arrival of the angel from heaven, clothed in majestic and blinding splendour shook and terrified the Roman guard. Ironically we are told that they were so paralysed with fear that “they became like dead men.” They were literally knocked unconscious and would have looked as pale as ghosts. Here a deliberate contrast is being made. Jesus who was dead is now alive, whereas the guards appear now to be dead. At some point they were able to stagger away stunned and dazed and shaken by this terrifying experience. They had according to the text been shaken just as the earth had been shaken by the dramatic arrival of the angel and the significant earth tremor

There is I believe something powerfully symbolical about the earthquake and its timing. On Good Friday the earth shook violently the moment after Christ died. Now it shook not long after he rose from death and the evidence for that was going to be witnessed shortly. The world would now be shaken up in an eternally powerful and fundamental way because Jesus had broken the stranglehold of death forever. As Paul Beasley Murray writes in his book The Message of the Resurrection;

In a sense the very foundations of the world were rocked, and the world has never been the same. For the resurrection of Jesus was no one-off feat; rather, its repercussions are there for all to experience. Furthermore, unlike any other earthquake, which normally leaves havoc and devastation in its train, the “seismic” repercussions of the resurrection are life-creating and hope-inducing. For in rising from the dead, Jesus broke death’s defences once and for all. The only destruction brought about by the resurrection is the destruction of “him who holds the power of death – that is, the devil.” (Hebrews 2:14).

In Mark’s gospel, we are informed that the women were worried about how they would move the stone in order to anoint the body of Jesus. We know from Matthew’s account, that that problem had already been dealt with by the angel. In obedience to the command of heaven, the angel had pushed away the stone with ease, and was now nonchalantly sat upon it awaiting the women’s arrival just after sunrise.

When they do arrive and see the stone rolled away, the angel is quick to calm and reassure them. There is no need for the women to be like the petrified guards. The angel now releases the “stop press” from heaven which he was sent to deliver;

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.

The angel knows why the women have come, but they will not need the burial spices. The angel knows that the women saw Jesus being crucified and dying on a cross. He knows that they witnessed Jesus being buried in the tomb he now sits beside. But that is the past. A new future has begun. The angel announces it boldly. He has risen! Do you not remember that he promised this would happen many times? It has now come to pass. Jesus lives again! Look where he once laid.

The world of these women has just been turned upside down by the good news of this dazzling angelic messenger. Everything has changed within an instant. Hope and joy and excitement must have begun to rise within their hearts and minds as they recalled the fact that – yes – Jesus had promised that he would rise on the third day – and that is today! This is the day that the Lord has made – we will rejoice and be glad in it. The stone the builders rejected (on Friday) has indeed become the capstone! And it is marvellous in our eyes! (Psalm 118: 22-24)

This is the news that will turn anyone’s world and future hopes upside down – including your world and my world. This news that death has been defeated and that Jesus is truly the resurrection and the life. (John 11:25) He is truly the Saviour of the world and Lord of all. He saves us from our sins. He gives us victory over death and the power of the devil. Before the women can really catch their breath, the angel moves on from good news to deliver a new challenge to them. These chosen first recipients of the news of Jesus’s resurrection from the dead, must quickly go and share the news with the grief-stricken male disciples. There is not a moment to loose. Go and tell! The women now become the messengers of good news. The heavenly baton has been handed on from the angel to them. Go now! Go quickly! Find the others. Explain to them all that I have explained to you. The women will now go immediately with both fear and uncontrollable joy.

What we discover as we read the other gospels and as we take the 4 gospel accounts together, is that the women are not only the first to hear the good news that Jesus is alive, but they are the first to see the risen Jesus. We hear about Mary Magdalene’s encounter with Jesus from John’s gospel – mistaking him for the gardener. In our text from Matthew, we also hear that even as the women went to share the good news with the others as instructed, suddenly they encounter Jesus who greets them with a casual and friendly “Good morning.” They came to him, clasped his feet, and worshipped him. The passionate worship of Jesus is emphasised here – there can be no other response to such a Lord and Saviour – and the physicality of his resurrection from death is also stressed; for they clasped his feet – the feet that now had wounds eternally marked into them. We are privileged to know and worship the risen Lord today, but here were the very first worshippers of the victorious King, kneeling at his feet.

Jesus tells the women exactly what the angel had already told them. The disciples must get ready to go and meet him in Galilee – just as he had spoken of before his sufferings and death. (Read Matthew 26: 31-33). It is important for us to realise that different gospels have a different geographical focus for their story. They all begin at the tomb in Jerusalem, and John and Luke stick with all that happened in and around Jerusalem over the first week or so after the resurrection. Matthew however wants to take us further forward and look toward important encounters with the risen Jesus in Galilee. John does some of this as well with the breakfast/fishing scene and the reinstatement of Peter (John 21). But for Matthew, it is back to Galilee – Galilee of the Gentiles – Galilee where it all begin and where they must receive an evangelistic commission of breath-taking proportions

And this is where Matthew’s great gospel concludes – on a mountain – in Galilee in Judea. From this mountain they are told what their greatest task will now be. It will be to go – to go into all the world and make disciples – disciples who follow and obey the risen and reigning Jesus Christ. All authority in heaven and on earth is his and his alone! The disciples will go in his name, with his power and authority – and build the Church. Every nation is destined to blessed and shaken. And now every true disciple must be on the go. Each one (you and I included) must be active in this task of making, teaching, and nurturing new disciples, baptising them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

That great task began in Jerusalem on the Day of Pentecost after the decisive descent of the Holy Spirit a few weeks after the resurrection. The Commission was given in Galilee pre-Pentecost, but the mission took off after Pentecost from Jerusalem, the city where Jesus had died and risen again. Our task is to be part of this ongoing mission. It is forever ongoing! It is set to continue unabated until the Son of God returns in power and glory. Then the Lord Jesus will claim and gather his own from all nations. We have a missional and moral obligation to share the fact that Jesus is Lord over all and that death has been conquered, and the gift of eternal life is available through belief and trust in this unique Living Lord. As the great Christian writer A.W. Tozer wrote;

The moral obligation of the resurrection of Christ is to the missionary obligation, the responsibility, and the privilege of carrying the message and telling the story, of praying and interceding, and of being involved personally and financially in the cause of the great commission.

Are you “on the go” for Jesus Christ? Are you personally involved in the nitty gritty of this mission?

The loyal women were to go to the tomb. They went to anoint a dead body, but came away announcing a message of glorious resurrection and they personally encountered a living, loving, all victorious Lord whom they knelt to honour and worship.

An angel was to go from heaven to earth to remove a stone and deliver a message – and he did.

The women were instructed to go quickly and tell the others about the news of resurrection. They did!

All the disciples were told that they would be going out into world to make more disciples. And they went – willingly giving their lives for the glorious cause of the Kingdom of Christ and of God. The central tenet of their message was – Jesus lives and reigns! On this Easter Sunday, are we ready to go?

Revd Peter J Clarkson (9.4.23)