2016-3-27 Easter Sunday Jesus Is Risen

Cornerstone EPC                                                                                        Sunday morning (11 AM)
Franklin, NC 28734                                                                                   March 27, 2016

“Jesus Is Risen”
Text: Matthew 28:1-20

We come today both to confess and to celebrate the cardinal fact of our faith: Christ is risen; He is risen indeed.  To bolster our confession of this fact, let’s look at Matthew’s Spirit-led account of Jesus’ resurrection—and let us receive what the Lord has for us in this text.

(HERE READ THE TEXT)

The editors of the Greek New Testament that I use in my study divide today’s text into four paragraphs, and these divisions will serve us well today.[1]  First, we note the angel’s declaration of Jesus’ resurrection (1-7).  This angelic appearance and declaration produced great dread in the guards on duty that pre-dawn (1-4).  In the slowly brightening early twilight, as Mary Magdalene and the other Mary—likely Jesus’ mother—approached the tomb, there came a great earthquake.  This earthquake, in a sense, declared the descent of an angel, bright as lightning and white as snow, from Heaven to earth.  The angel rolled away the stone, not so that Jesus could get out, but that those coming to the tomb could peer into it and see it empty.[2]  Then the angel sat on the stone and spoke from his perch.  We read that the guards trembled and became like dead men.  This is no wonder, for this does not occur in their usual night’s work.

This angelic announcement, an occasion of great dread for hardened Roman soldiers, is an occasion of gracious joy for the women (5-7).  The angel speaks encouraging words to them.  He tells them, “Fear not,” for he knows they seek Jesus, the Crucified One.  Yet the angel continues, “He is not here, for He has risen, as He said.”  Then he invites the ladies to investigate further: “Come, see the place where He lay.”  Now the angel issues a happy command, namely, to go quickly to the disciples with news and instructions.  The women will tell the disciples that Jesus has risen from the dead, He goes before them into Galilee, and there they will see Him.  Here the angel ends his words, and here the women depart.

Second, both in confirmation of the angel’s words and of Jesus’ resurrection, Jesus Himself appears (8-10).  The women leave the tomb, with fear and great joy, to tell Jesus’ disciples the news, but Jesus meets them in the way, saying, “Greetings!”  In their joy they clasp His feet and worship Him.  Now Jesus speaks instructions to the women—instructions generally on the same line as those of the angel at the tomb.  He tells them to fear not, to go tell His brothers to meet Him in Galilee, and there they will see Him.  Here ends the second paragraph of the Greek text, and presumably the women continue on their happy errand—now with further confirmation of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead.

Third, the guards on duty report to the chief priests what they saw, and, upon this report, they resolve to deny Jesus’ resurrection (11-15).  Upon the report of the guards, the chief priests and the elders consult, and the fruit of their consultation is a plot.  They induce the guards, via a large bribe, to falsify what happened.  They are to say that Jesus’ disciples came during the night and stole the body—and this while they slept.  Perhaps not even a large sum of money will placate the guards, for their apparent dereliction of duty—their apparent falling asleep—is a capital offense; they can be executed for this.  Yet the chief priests and elders have another proverbial ace up their sleeves.  If this report reaches the ears of Pilate, the governor, then they shall satisfy him and keep them out of trouble.  Likely this caper worked, for the story of Jesus’ stolen body circulated among the Jews to the day of Matthew’s writing (ca. A. D. 70)—and, alas, continues to circulate among some unbelieving minds even to this day.

Fourth, Jesus issues forth the Great Commission—the Church’s work in view of His resurrection (16-20).  When the Eleven arrive at the Galilean mountain where Jesus directed them, they indeed saw Him.  They rightly worship, but the text says in Greek, more emphatically than in most English translation, that they doubted as well.  Perhaps it seems too good to be true.  Perhaps the disciples, given all they have been through, believe their very eyes only with reticence and only after long pause and examination.  Into this mix of faith and doubt—how much like us—Jesus issues His commission.  Note its ground, namely, the absolute authority of Jesus.  Then note the single command in the commission: Make disciples, y’all.  Around this command the Eleven (and we) get further teaching about how to make disciples.  We do this by going.  We do not wait for folks to come; we go to them.  We make disciples when the Church baptizes folks in the Name of the triune God—thus applying the sign and seal of membership in the visible Church on earth and, by faith, in the invisible, victorious Church as she exists across the ages and in Glory.  We make disciples also when we teach folks to observe everything Jesus commands—and that while striving to do the same ourselves.  The commission closes with a precious promise: Jesus will be with us always, even to the end of the age.  Even beyond that, in the eternal state beyond the final conflict with the evil one, we shall ever be with the Lord.

The Apostle Paul, writing to the Corinthian Christians households some twenty-five years later, wrote by the Spirit, “If Christ be not raised from the dead, we are of all men most to be pitied” (1 Corinthians 15:19).  If He be not raised, we yet are dead in our sins, and we still are without hope of eternal life.  Happily, the Spirit continues through Paul, “But Christ indeed is raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep” (1 Corinthians 15:20).  Christ is raised first, and afterward elect soul, safe in Christ, is raised bodily at the general resurrection.  Their souls, either in their living bodies on earth or in Heaven with the Lord, are paired to their selfsame glorified body—as was the case for Jesus—and, once again, we ever shall be with the Lord.  Therefore, Jesus lives, and because He lives (B. Gaither) we can face tomorrow.  Because He lives, all fear is gone.  And, to conclude the refrain of “Because He Lives”: “And life is worth the living just because He lives.”[3]  May the Lord bless you each and all this Resurrection morn and always.

AMEN.

[1] Eberhard Nestle and Kurt Aland, et al., eds., Novum Testamentum Graece, 26th Edition (Stuttgart, Germany: Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft, 1979).  The first edition, involving Mr. Nestle as sole editor, was published in 1898.

[2] Peter Marshall, “The Grave in the Garden,” in Mr. Jones, Meet the Master: Sermons and Prayers of Peter Marshall (New York: Revell, 1949, 1950), 109.

[3] Gloria Gaither and William J. Gaither, “Because He Lives.”  Copyright 1971 William J. Gaither.

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