Jesus has risen, as he said.
Series: Easter 2021
Matthew 28:6, “He is not here, for he has risen, as he said.” That brings us to the big idea and the great news of Easter: Jesus has risen, as he said. But why should we believe that Jesus is risen and what does this great news mean for you and me today? To answer that question, we’re going to explore the resurrection through the eyes of the: (1) The Guards, (2) The Women, and (3) The Brothers.
Over the last year, our two children have fallen in love with the soundtrack to the musical Hamilton. Hamilton is about the life, death, and legacy of Alexander Hamilton, the orphan from the Island of Nevis who became one of America’s most significant founding fathers and the very first Secretary of the Treasury. Throughout the play, in several different songs, Hamilton repeats the refrain “there’s a million things I haven’t done, just you wait, just you wait.” I’ve had a lot of time to think about Alexander Hamilton’s life as I’ve been neck deep in my children’s renditions of Ten Duel Commandments and The Room Where It Happens, and I’ve come to the conclusion that “just you wait” was really the theme of Hamilton’s whole life. Hamilton was never satisfied and always obsessed with building his legacy; just you wait. “Just you wait” is also the theme at the heart Jesus of Nazareth’s life as recorded in the divinely inspired Gospel According to Matthew. You can almost hear the words “just you wait” as Jesus repeatedly prepares his disciples for his legacy: death and then resurrection. Like Hamilton, everything in Jesus’ life was building toward his ultimate legacy. Just you wait, he would repeat, “I will be killed and on the third day I will rise.” Just you wait. Just you wait. And now on Easter Sunday, three days after Jesus is killed, as he said he would be, the heavenly messenger announces what we’ve been waiting for: Matthew 28:6, “He is not here, for he has risen, as he said.” That brings us to the big idea and the great news of Easter: Jesus has risen, as he said. But why should we believe that Jesus is risen and what does this great news mean for you and me today? To answer that question, we’re going to explore the resurrection through the eyes of the: (1) The Guards, (2) The Women, and (3) The Brothers.
Who are the guards? They are well-trained and battle-hardened Roman military men who were sent to Jesus’ tomb with clear and repeated orders from their governor Pontius Pilate to make the tomb as secure as possible. And we should believe that Jesus has risen, as he said, because of these guards. Ever since the first century, one leading explanation for the birth and growth of Christianity is that Jesus’ disciples stole Jesus’ body while the soldiers slept and went about the world preaching that Jesus was alive. But do you really believe that eleven terrified disciples, who had just deserted Jesus during his hour of greatest need, were brave enough to risk their lives by trying to steal Jesus’ body from a guard of Roman soldiers? Do you really believe that the disciples would then go on to give their lives as martyrs, preaching that Jesus is alive even though they knew it was a lie? And do you really believe that each one these elite soldiers slept through it all? I think a far more logical explanation is that Matthew is telling the truth: the heavenly messenger appeared, rolled away the boulder, declared that Jesus has risen as he said, and the guards were terrified. Believe that Jesus has risen, as he said, because of the guards.
But what do the guards teach us about what the resurrection of Jesus really means for your life and mine? The guards reveal that the resurrection is for us either a warning or a comfort. A warning or a comfort. After the angel appeared and rolled back the stone, and sat on it, we read And for fear of him the guards trembled and became like dead men (Matthew 28:4). The ones who were to guard the corpse, become like corpses. The guards are terrified because the messenger of God reveals that when those guards rolled a massive bolder in place, supposedly securing Jesus’ tomb, they were actually opposing God’s plan to raise and glorify His Son, and that is terrifying. Now, I imagine the guards didn’t think of themselves as opposing God, they were probably ambivalent about Jesus and his claim to be the Son of God. But the resurrection is a warning that there really can be no neutrality when it comes to Jesus. Jesus himself said that whoever believes in him will never be condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already because he has not believed in the only Son of God. The guards reveal that the resurrection is a gracious warning to not think that we can remain neutral when it comes to Jesus. Honest question: Are you trying to be in neutral when it comes to Jesus, not truly for or against him? The resurrection is a gracious warning for you. Believe that Jesus has risen because of the guards. But for those who believe, the resurrection is unspeakably rich comfort. The guards believed that a boulder could oppose God’s plan to raise Jesus, but the angel rolled the boulder away, sat on it, and any opposition that can be sat on his no opposition at all. For all who believe, the resurrection is a rich comfort that nothing you’re facing in life right now can ultimately oppose God’s plan, separate you from His great love, or get Jesus back in the grave. Whatever you’re facing, it’s just a boulder to be sat on. What comfort. Believe in Jesus because of the guards.
We cannot overestimate the significance of two women being the first to witness the resurrection of Jesus. In the first century, women were not permitted to testify in a Jewish law court. The first century Jewish historian Josephus wrote that even the witness of multiple women was unacceptable “because of the levity and boldness of their sex.” And despite this common false perception about women, Jesus chose to reveal the resurrection to two of his female followers first. Some falsely claim that Christianity is oppressive to women, but nothing could be further from the truth. Look at the way our Lord honors Mary Magdalene and the other Mary by revealing himself to them first. Ladies, in a world full of mixed messages, you matter infinitely because you matter to Jesus. In light of the fact that the Gospel of Matthew was written specifically to persuade a Jewish audience to believe that Jesus has truly risen, there must have been incredible pressure on Matthew to remove the women from his account to make the narrative more convincing to his audience. What’s the best explanation for Matthew not removing the women from the account? The best explanation is that it really was Jesus’ female disciples who discovered the empty tomb that first Easter. Believe that Jesus truly has risen because of the women.
But what do the two Marys teach us about what the resurrection of Jesus really means for your life and mine? The Mary’s teach us what the resurrection does to us. Notice the way that the Mary’s respond to the heavenly messenger before and after the news of the resurrection. First, before. Matthew 28:5: But the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid…” The angels tells them not to be afraid because their first response was to be afraid. Personal question: what are you afraid of? What’s worrying you these? What are you anxious about? Fear’s preferred time zone is the future. What are you afraid isn’t going to work out? Keep that in the back of your mind. What are the women afraid of? Throughout the Old Testament, the appearance of a heavenly messenger was closely associated with the appearing of God himself. These Jewish women are afraid of God. Now watch what the resurrection does to them. Matthew 28:6, 8: He is not here, for he has risen, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay…So they departed quickly from the tomb with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples. What does the resurrection do to us? It turns our fear into awe and great joy. The Bible says that the consequence of all of our disobeying and ignoring God in the world he created is eternal death. Death is the ultimate reason to be afraid. But Jesus died the death we deserve on Good Friday and rose again on Easter Sunday to give us new, eternal life. His destiny is your destiny. If you believe into Jesus, you have unshakeable hope that nothing that you fear will ever separate you from the love of God and though you die, you will rise to eternal life and there will be no loss, no tears, no disappointment, and no social distancing. You have eternal hope and eternal hope reaches back into the present and makes our joy impervious because now even our trials are part of preparing an eternal weight of glory for us that’s beyond compare and it’s all a work of God’s grace. The women reveal what the resurrection does to us. The resurrection turns our greatest fears into awe of God and great joy in the eternal hope that we now have. Since the tomb couldn’t hold Jesus it won’t be able to hold us. No wonder they were full of great joy and couldn’t wait to spread the good news. Matthew 28:8-9: So they departed quickly from the tomb with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples. 9 And behold, Jesus met them and said, “Greetings!” And they came up and took hold of his feet and worshiped him. What does the resurrection do to us? The women reveal that the resurrection changes everything. Eternal hope gives us unshakeable joy even in our trials and a cheerful urgency to tell others about the one we worship. Believe that Jesus has risen because of the women. Finally, believe that Jesus truly has risen because of…
Who are the brothers? The heavenly messenger calls them Jesus’ disciples. These are the men who were with Jesus for years but abandoned him in his hour of greatest need. Along with external pressure to eliminate the women from the narrative, I imagine Matthew felt at least a small desire to adjust the narrative because he probably felt a bit ashamed that when Jesus was rising and the women were rejoicing, he was hiding. The best explanation for Matthew not adjusting the story about himself and the other disciples is that it really happened this way. Believe in Jesus because of the brothers.
But what do the brothers teach us about what the resurrection means for you and me? The brothers teach us that the resurrection restores failures and removes the shame of the guilty. It’s all in the name; “brothers.” The angel called them Jesus’ disciples, but when Jesus speaks about them, he calls them his brothers. Even after each one of them betrayed Jesus, he calls them his brothers and tells the women he wants to meet with them so he can forgive them, restore them, and send them out for his glory. I think we now know why Matthew didn’t blush about being remembered as one who once deserted Jesus. When Jesus calls you brother, you don’t live by what others remember about you. Your whole world defined by your new name: brother. The resurrection means even the worst of us never have to be ashamed. The resurrection means that your sins can explain you, but they can no longer define you. The resurrection means that Jesus has ride us of our disgrace. No more guilt. No more shame. Just brother. Jesus to all us failures, “come to me all who are weary and heavy laden from all your trying to be righteous in your own power and I’ll give you rest and call you brother forever.” Believe that Jesus truly has risen because of the brothers.
Hamilton, the musical my children love that we carefully curate for them, is in fact a tragedy. Hamilton was obsessed with his legacy, but in the end he sings that a bullet is his legacy. And after Aaron Burr shoots Hamilton dead in their famous duel, Burr sings, “Death doesn’t discriminate between the sinners and the saints, it takes and it takes and it takes…” Burr is right. Death doesn’t discriminate and it takes and it takes and it takes, but it has been defeated. Jesus truly has risen. Receive and rest in Him as your only hope in life and in death and, a bullet will not be your legacy and death will take your eternal life. Jesus has risen, as he said.