Resurrecting Hope (2)
Scripture: Matthew 28:1–15
Resurrecting HopeMatthew 28:1-15
Resurrection Sunday, April 24, 2011
Pastor Randy Smith
Proverbs 13:12, "Hope deferred makes the heart sick." That's a good Proverb! Most of us can make it through just about anything as long as we have hope. But what do we do when the hope vanishes?
Hope might get you out to the gym for six months, but what do you do when the arms haven't grown and the waistline hasn't shrunk? When hope for improvement fades, with it goes the desire to persevere.
Hope might have excited you at one point in your life this time of the year as you anticipated a big Easter egg hunt. But then you grew up and rummaging through Dad's underwear drawer for that final egg just doesn't bring with it the same appeal. Even "Peeps" don't hit the spot like they used to!
Hope might have helped you look forward to a happy retirement, but as you are approaching the "golden years," you are already struggling with cataracts, arthritis and a loss of memory.
When you ask people what they are living for, they always respond to a future event (finished with school/marriage/kids/kids out of the house). Why aren't people enjoying the precious life God has given them now? Because they are dissatisfied with today, but are holding out hope for a brighter future. Why else is there all the hoopla on New Year's Eve?
We hold out hope for a brighter future. And hope keeps us going, but when our idealism gives way to realism, we accept the fact that there are no guarantees. Prince Charming may never arrive. Breakthrough cures may never be invented. And your favorite baseball team may never win a World Series in your lifetime. The favorite line for a Cubs fan: "Just wait till next year!"
I'm not sure what brought you out to church this morning, but I do know that on this day in a special way, we celebrate something very significant. We celebrate a resurrection. Just that word alone signifies newness and life and back-from-the dead and hope. This resurrection is arguably the greatest event in the history of the world. This resurrection has changed billions of lives. If it has yet to do so, this resurrection can change your life as well.
Understanding and accepting the resurrection of Jesus Christ will bring unchanging, rock-solid, never-ending hope. Let me show you how as we study a popular Resurrection narrative from Mathew 28.
I'm calling the first of four points: "Dedication." We pick up our text in verse 1 of Matthew 28. "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."
Jesus was crucified on Friday. The day after was the Sabbath. We are now on the "first day of the week," which was Sunday. Jesus had now been in the grave for three days, a significant fact - we'll come back to that. Specifically it was early Sunday morning (according to verse 1) when these dear ladies came to the grave (there were others too - Mk. 16:1; Lk. 24:10). Why did they show up? In Mark's gospel we read that they "bought spices, so that they might come and anoint [Jesus]" (Mk. 16:2).
They wished to give Jesus a proper burial and prevent rapid decomposition. And let's make this crystal-clear; as Matthew says in verse 1, they came to "look at the grave." They were not expecting anything more than a dead body.
We have seen the Bible hold these women up as eyewitnesses. They were there when Jesus' body was ripped to a bloody pulp after the scourging. They were there when Jesus was nailed to a cross and left to suffocate for six hours (Mt. 27:55-56). They saw the Roman spear thrust into his side to ensure His death was complete. They were there when His lifeless body was taken by Joseph of Arimathea to the cold tomb (Mt. 27:61).
And here they are again weaving through this historical narrative as beacons of dedication. What a contrast is set up in opposition to Jesus' disciples. While these women are risking their lives to minister to one just accused of insurrection against Rome, John tells us the disciples were behind locked doors in fear of the Jews (Jn. 20:19). Three days later and they are still hiding under the bed! I find it amazing if these men fabricated a bunch of lies in writing the Bible (as some claim) that they would present themselves in such a horrible light! But here are these women, overlooked by the world but loyal, devoted, sympathetic and dedicated to the One whom they loved dearly. They honored Him throughout His life, and now they wished to honor Him in His death.
Matthew gives us two contrasting pictures. The mighty disciples in fear, the insignificant women in dedication. With whom do you identify yourself? Do you fear God or do you fear the criticism from people when you put God first? When God is relocated to some back room in your life, you will always be a slave to man's opinions and never able to demonstrate the dedication God desires. Consider the dedication these ladies expressed toward Jesus when they thought He was dead. We know He is alive. How can we express anything less? Based on your life today, where would you have been back then?
Let's move to the second point.
Yet as the women were approaching the grave, something amazing happened. Matthew starts off verse 2 saying, "And behold!" Something amazing - an angel!
Now if our modern concept of angels is true, there would be nothing to behold, possibly yawn, but not behold. Thanks to our friends in Hollywood, most envision angels as a slight step above Tinkerbell. As it was portrayed in the movie "Michael," any angel that looks like John Travolta doesn't exactly command much of my respect or interest.
The Bible paints a different picture. The arrival of the angel in verse 2 is attended with an earthquake. The large stone is rolled away, and the angel is found sitting upon the stone in an act of triumph.
Let's also get something clear at this point: the angel didn't move the stone to let the Lord out. It is not like Jesus had the power to resurrect Himself and then needed to wait on some outside help to set Him free. By the time the stone was rolled away, Jesus was already gone. The stone was not moved away to let Jesus out, but rather to let others in to see that He had risen!
In verse 3 this angel's appearance is described "like lightening" and "his clothes as white as snow." Luke says, "Dazzling" (Lk. 24:4). This was an agent of God dressed in the splendor and magnificence of the God he represented.
Look at the response of the guards in verse 4. It says the guards surrounding the tomb "shook for fear of him and became like dead men." These were tough guys, well-armed and accustomed to warfare. I am sure they saw a lot during their days, but nothing even close to this sight. I am not sure who was shaking more, the earth from the quake or them in their boots! They became "like dead men," Matthew says, when they saw the angel. Literally, they were "scared to death," frozen in fear.
It is like when you were a kid and you found yourself with your friends walking through a dark, spooky location. Gradually you start jockeying for position because no one wants to be last (he's the one that gets picked-off!). The pace of your walk accelerates. And then one kid gets spooked and takes off and everybody bolts with him. Unlike these encounters, these guards couldn't even run! Because of the angel, they were paralyzed by fear. They were the proverbial deer in the headlights!
The women also saw the sight of this amazing angel. They were scared as well. How do I know that? It is a clear implication from verse 5. "The angel said to the women, 'Do not be afraid.'" Or we can turn to Luke and read that they were "terrified" (Lk. 24:5) or Mark and read they were "trembling" and "astonish[ed] (Mk. 16:8).
Same response as the guards, but they received something the guards didn't. They were comforted. They were instructed that they had no need to be afraid. Reason being was they were on the Lord's side. They were faithful. They were loyal. And because God was their friend and no longer their enemy, they had nothing to fear.
The angel continues in verses 5 and 6: "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."
In Luke 24:5 this angel or the other one with him said, "Why do you seek the living One among the dead?" In other words, "I know why you are here. You've come to see Jesus who was crucified. Your problem is that He is not here anymore. Alive people don't stay in tombs. He's risen. Check it out for yourself. And don't be so surprised, it happened (verse 6) 'just as He said.'"
"Just as He said." You mean Jesus predicted this whole thing? Absolutely! Keep your finger in chapter 28 and turn to chapter 16. 16:21, "From that time Jesus began to show His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem, and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised up on the third day." 17:22-23, "And while they were gathering together in Galilee, Jesus said to them, 'The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men; and they will kill Him, and He will be raised on the third day.' And they were deeply grieved." 20:18-19, "Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem; and the Son of Man will be delivered to the chief priests and scribes, and they will condemn Him to death, and will hand Him over to the Gentiles to mock and scourge and crucify Him, and on the third day He will be raised up."
Well then, why didn't they get it? Because they could not fit a crucified Messiah into their expectations (cf. Jn. 20:9). In their opinion, the Messiah was supposed to overthrow the Romans, not suffer as a sacrificial lamb (Isa. 53). Yet this was the purpose for His coming. From the beginning of time it was appointed that God the Son would take on human flesh and be our substitute on the cross. Our sins would be placed upon Him, and He would suffer the penalty we deserved. Justice was accomplished. A holy God and sinful humans could be reconciled because our sins are now forgiven in Christ. And this wonderful gift of salvation is freely available to all who simply come to Him in faith.
Romans 10:9-10, "That if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved; for with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation."
Verse 7, the angel continues, "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."
The women are instructed to turn their fascination into proclamation. Despite our Lord's predictions, nobody was ready for this. But in Galilee, just as Jesus said (Mt. 26:32), He would make a grand appearance. He would meet all His disciples there and entrust them and all His future followers with the Great Commission. "All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age" (Mt. 28:18-20).
Moving to the third point - Devotion. Verse 8, "And they left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy and ran to report it to His disciples."
Emotion is written all over this verse! How do they depart? "Quickly." How do they move? They run. Remember, the soldiers are paralyzed with fear. As verse 8 says, these ladies still had some fear (how could you expect anything less when you understand what they just witnessed), but at least they could run, and with that fear was not just joy but "great joy." Fear and great joy, not two emotions often joined together, but common when people encounter the living God.
Yet just when they thought they saw it all, verse 9 says, "And behold, Jesus met them and greeted them. And they came up and took hold of His feet and worshiped Him."
Our Lord's message is consistent with the angels. Verse 10, "Then Jesus said to them, 'Do not be afraid; go and take word to My brethren to leave for Galilee, and there they will see Me.'"
These are the first words from our resurrected Lord and I love them - "Do not be afraid!"
As parents we are honored when our children obey. Yet forcing obedience out of intimidation is the mark of a bully, not a loving mother or father who desires to build an affectionate relationship. God is no different. We are expected to obey, and obedience as Jesus said is the greatest indication of our love for Him (Jn. 14:15). But God is most glorified when your obedience comes in willful submission, not fearful regret because you delight in Him and know His commandments and are a reflection of His love for you. If you are on the Lord's side, don't be afraid. He is there pulling for you!
Jesus has just conquered sin and Satan and death. They worshiped Him in verse 10, and He will be the One, Philippians 2, that "every knee will bow…and that every tongue will confess that [He] is Lord" (Phil. 2:10-11). Yet as the reigning King of the universe with "all authority" (Mt. 28:18), He is still meek and lowly in heart. "Do not be afraid."
Then instead of referring to His disciples as habitual quarrelers or cowards or unbelievers or liars because all these guys earlier promised to die with Him (Mk. 14:29-31), He refers to them as "brothers" (verse 10) - members of His family that He is now seeking to restore. I probably would have written them off. But He is the loving Shepherd always there to give us another chance! "Do not be afraid!"
Let move to our last point. From dedication to declaration to devotion to deception.
Verse 11, "Now while they were on their way, some of the guard came into the city and reported to the chief priests all that had happened."
As we learned last week, the Jewish leaders got what they wanted. Jesus was dead and with that the hope of His movement. Yet they feared something else. In 27:63 they remembered His promise that He would rise from the dead on the third day. He turned the world upside-down when He was alive, they could only imagine what would happen if the disciples stole the body and faked a resurrection. In their own words, "The last deception will be worse that the first" (Mt. 27:64). So they asked and Pilate gave them some guards for the tomb (Mt. 27:65-66).
Now according to verse 11 some of the guards returned and reported the news: "There was this massive earthquake and the seal was broken and the large stone was rolled away and this heavenly being was there (we'll leave that one out because you won't believe us). The bottom line is this - that body that was once in the grave has disappeared!"
Beginning in verse 12, "And when they [the chief priests] had assembled with the elders and consulted together, they gave a large sum of money to the soldiers, and said, 'You are to say, 'His disciples came by night and stole Him away while we were asleep.' And if this should come to the governor's ears, we will win him over and keep you out of trouble. And they took the money and did as they had been instructed; and this story was widely spread among the Jews, and is to this day" (Mt. 28:12-15).
Fascinating! The believers were commanded to spread the truth. The opposition was compelled to spread lies.
Their story was the best they could come up with. But even this theory had serious flaws. Why weren't these guards alert in light of all that they had been told and everything that was predicted to happen on the third day. Can we believe they all fell asleep? Falling asleep on your watch warranted the death penalty. How did they know the disciples stole the body if they were sleeping? Why weren't the disciples arrested as molesting graves was a serious offense in the ancient world?
We have a clear example of the leaders never investigating the facts for themselves. Do you know why? Their hearts were hardened. Their minds were closed. They were locked into their preconceived beliefs despite the clear evidence before them.
How about you? Have you been suppressing the truth about Jesus Christ? "Oh, I believe it was just a spiritual resurrection." Then why did the ladies in 28:9 take 'hold of [Jesus'] feet?" "Oh, I believe all the disciples were hallucinating?" I know it was a rough week, but all of them had the same dream? Furthermore Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15, "[Jesus] appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom remain until now" (1 Cor. 15:6). In other words, go ask them for yourself! "Oh, I believe Jesus never died." Sure, He was scourged and crucified and stabbed with a sword and left alone in a grave with no water, food or medical attention and then He rolled away the stone and overcame the guards and convinced the whole world He was the risen Messiah. "Oh, I believe the Romans or Jews stole the body." That was the last thing they wanted. They could have put an end to this whole thing simply by producing a body. "Oh, I believe the disciples stole the body as we heard today." Did you know that when the ladies reported the news to these men as they were instructed, Luke in his gospel reports, "But these words appeared to them as nonsense, and they would not believe them" (Lk. 24:11; cf. Mk. 16:11). They weren't believing in a resurrection. They weren't about to take on the guards. They simply wanted to stay alive as they were, John 20:19, "[Behind] shut [doors] for fear of the Jews." And then do you mean to tell me that these men all fabricated this lie and all (except John) willingly died painful deaths as martyrs for it? Some will die for the truth or what they think is the truth, but only a fool would die for a lie. And are we to believe eleven of them died for a lie? Only one thing can account for their transformation from scaredy-cats to bold proclaimers of the gospel (compare Mt. 26:69-75 with Ac. 5:29, 42), and that was the reality of having seen the risen Lord.
Professor Thomas Arnold who was the author of the famous three volume History of Rome and an appointee to the chair of modern history at Oxford University in England writes, "The evidence for our Lord's life and death and resurrection may be and often has been shown to be satisfactory. It is good according to the common rules for distinguishing good evidence from bad. Thousands and tens of thousands of persons have gone through it piece by piece as carefully as every judge summing up a most important cause. I have myself done it many times over, not to persuade others but to satisfy myself. I have been used for many years to study the histories of other times and to examine and weigh the evidence of those who have written about them, and I know of no one fact in the history of mankind which is proved by better and fuller evidence than the great sign which God has given us, that Christ died and rose again from the dead" (Excerpted from: John MacArthur, The Resurrection of Jesus Christ - Part 2).
Christianity is not a blind step of faith. The evidence is clear. Jesus rose from the dead, and if He did He stands above all other religious figures. His work on the cross was sufficient to pay for all your sins. He offers forgiveness to all who come to Him in faith. And with that comes a relationship with the living God and the promise of hope for this life and the one to come. If you have not done so, will you escape condemnation and begin your new life with Christ this Resurrection Sunday?
As we saw this morning, there are only two sides. One that suppresses the resurrection and one that accepts it resulting in worship. Which side are you on?