Matthew 28:1-10 (NRSV)
The Resurrection of Jesus
1After the Sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb. 2And suddenly there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord, descending from heaven, came and rolled back the stone and sat on it.3His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow. 4For fear of him the guards shook and became like dead men. 5But the angel said to the women, ‘Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. 6He is not here; for he has been raised, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. 7Then go quickly and tell his disciples, “He has been raised from the dead, and indeed he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him.” This is my message for you.’ 8So they left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples. 9Suddenly Jesus met them and said, ‘Greetings!’ And they came to him, took hold of his feet, and worshipped him. 10Then Jesus said to them, ‘Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.’
I am indebted to Barclay, De Dietrich, Argyle, Meyer, Ryle and Fenton for their thoughts on this passage ...
There is something ‘fitting’ about the way that it is Mary Magdalene and the other Mary who are the first to receive the news of the Resurrection and to encounter the risen Jesus. They had been there at the Cross and they had been there when Jesus he was laid in the tomb. They were constant and faithful and so were richly blessed with the truth that death had been overcome, it is not the end; their Lord was risen! This is such a fine example for all followers of Jesus today; God always rewards the faithful follower who has the gift of persistence, even in the seemingly darkest moments of our lives.
Don’t you love the humanness that the Gospel writers capture? Matthew has no record of the women taking any preparations with them to embalm the body of Jesus, because he includes the detail that the tomb was guarded by Roman soldiers that were under strict instruction to make sure that nothing happened to the body. There would be no way that the women would be allowed in. They probably therefore, still decided to go there and just ‘be’ where Jesus had been laid, just like people today like to go to the burial place of their loved ones – just to be there. It is not impossible that they might have gone with some hope; as Jesus had spoken of the Resurrection (12.40 and 27.63). Imagine how they must have been terrified by the earthquake and the bright light, not least by the appearance of the angel. Unsurprisingly, the guards froze in fear and became like dead men!
But then they are lovingly dealt with, with the words: ‘Don’t be afraid ... I know that you seek Jesus.’ The commentator, De Dietrich captures a wonderful thought in the words: “God turns his face of mercy on those who seek him.”
Jesus has revealed to the world what God is like ... God is love and his Spirit fills us with this love that gives our lives meaning and purpose even in the most difficult of times. We do not always understand. While understanding is important and it is vital that we are seekers after truth, something that we are constantly reminded of as we study the sacred Scriptures, but we also know that we will never understand fully the mythos of Christ. We were reminded of this at Christmas when reflecting on the significance of the magi – the wise people who were present at his birth. What matters more is that we are seekers, those who in their imperfect yet sincere way, are followers of Jesus – just like the women, who even followed him to the tomb, thinking he was dead.
Jesus himself confirms the message of the angel – ‘‘Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.’ We know that Matthew went to great trouble to show how Jesus was the fulfilment of prophecy and Matthew records in 26.32, that Jesus predicted that he would appear to the disciples in Galilee.
As I noted last week, here too, the different Gospel writers have different versions of what happened. Some people think this is a problem, but historians explain how it is these very differences give credibility to their testimony, because, if they were in complete agreement, one would suspect collusion on the part of some later editor. We also know that all of them are authentic witnesses, as, in a court case, in determining the reliability of any witnesses, while one would here too, expect differences, even contradictions, there must be the same golden thread authenticating the same event. In the Gospel narratives of the Resurrection there is the golden thread:
· The empty tomb
· Announcement of the Resurrection to the women first
· The meeting of the disciples with Jesus.
Barclay suggests that three imperatives come to us:
Firstly, they were urged to believe. What they had experienced was so staggering that it could have seemed too good to be true. The angel reminds them of the promise of Jesus and confronts them with the empty tomb. Still today there are many who cannot accept the promises of Jesus because they are ‘too good to be true’. But it is also interesting that when people actually take the trouble to examine all the evidence, few leave the study unconvinced that something special happened to Jesus, and it is best explained by the Resurrection.
Secondly, they are urged to share. When they had discovered the fact of the risen Christ, their first duty was to proclaim it and share the news with others. Barclay writes: “Go tell! Is the first command which comes to the man who has himself discovered the wonder of Jesus Christ.”
Thirdly, they are urged to rejoice – the word used when Jesus met them as the Greek word translated here as greetings can also be translated as rejoice. Barclay concludes: “The man who as met the risen Lord must live forever in the joy of the presence of Him from whom nothing can part them anymore.”
I now turn to J C Ryle to aid our reflections ... I am often surprised when I read the work of this 19th Century Calvinist – expecting to disagree – but resolved to continue because I will always read those who are dedicated to our Lord but with whom I think I disagree. He always gives me something to think about and is a real source of blessing.
The Resurrection is at the very foundation of our faith and so it is unsurprising that all four of the evangelists deal with it in detail. There is every reason for the resurrection of Jesus to be central to our faith as it is
‘... the seal and headstone of the great work of redemption, which Jesus came to do; it is the crowning proof that He has paid the debt which he undertook to pay on our behalf ... Had He never come forth from the grave, how could we ever have been sure that our ransom had been fully paid?’
But thanks be to God, we are left in no doubt and so ought to be thankful. It is interesting that, while there is space for some discussion about other aspects of our Lord’s earthly ministry, there seems to be no debate here. Ryle writes: “The wisdom of God, who knows the unbelief of human nature, has provided a great cloud of witnesses on the subject.”
The early disciples – yet – were slow to believe, the enemies of Christ were keen to disprove it but it was firmly established. All these things go together to provide us with convincing proof. Ryle continues: ‘... it would be impossible to prove anything in the world, if we refuse to believe that Jesus rose again.’
Ryle is on to something important here. The historical evidence for Jesus (and the Resurrection) is so good that to deny it would bring into question all historical evidence. A case in point: there is much difference of opinion about just about everything to do with the assassination of JF Kennedy, when there were millions of witnesses and the best detective agencies in the world all involved. Yet no one denies that it happened and the golden thread also runs through all accounts.
We can rejoice this Eastertide – Jesus did rise from the dead, and he does bless all those who seek him, in the ways we find we are able to do so, and he meets us where we are and he blesses us with his peace and his love.