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"He Has Been Raised, As He Said"

April 4, 2021 Speaker: Pastor Bob Davis

Passage: Matthew 28:1–28:10

Today is a big day in the life of the church. In fact, there is none bigger. There is no church without the resurrection. There is no hope, no life, and no reason to gather together in Jesus’ name without the resurrection.

Though there are a lot of ways to tackle this topic today, I want to focus your attention on the message one character delivers – the angel in verses 5-7 – because he sums up the whole thing. The angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified.  He is not here; for he has been raised, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. Then 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.”

Do Not Be Afraid

Do not be afraid. That is how the angel began. Literally: don’t you be afraid. Why would the two Mary’s be afraid? There would be lots of reasons for them to be afraid: first, they were women approaching armed Roman guards and those guards were acting crazy: they shook and acted like dead men. As one commenter noted, “The irony is not to be missed: the ones assigned to guard the dead themselves appear dead while the dead one has been made alive.”[1] Second, they would have been afraid because there was an earthquake. The ground on which the two Mary’s were standing – literally and spiritually – was shifting. What they thought was “just the way things are” was not accurate any longer. Third, they would have been afraid because they experienced the supernatural presence of an angel whom they watched descend from heaven, roll back the stone, and sit on it – a mighty display of strength. Do not be afraid? Look, I am not ashamed to admit I would have been afraid.

For all of those reasons, the circumstances justified the women being afraid. But even beyond the circumstances, the angel told them to not be afraid because of what he was about to reveal to them. Given the nature of the message the angel was delivering to them, and asking them to deliver it to others, fear was likely to be a problem. It would not be a whole lot different today.

The best way to illustrate this is to show you. So, we are going to stop the service here. Instead of listening to me for the next 15 minutes or so, I am going to send you out through the neighborhoods around here, knocking on doors to tell people God loves them and Jesus is alive. I am going to ask the ushers to come forward now and hand out to you the addresses to which you will be going. 

Ushers, would you please come forward?

(Pause) 

Now, imagine if that were true. What thoughts would you be having? Would you be thinking, “Is he out of his mind? I am not doing that. Those people will think I am crazy! Who am I? Why would they believe me?”

And so it was with the two Mary’s. The testimony of women was not respected in those days – at least by the societies with which they were familiar. Neither the Jewish nor Roman societies would find their testimony – no matter what it was going to be – particularly credible. To be more precise: the testimony of women was presumed to be worthless because they were considered too susceptible to emotion. So, it is remarkable that the resurrection’s first witnesses were, in fact, women. God was not worried; but that does not mean the two Mary’s would not be worried.

But hear what the angel was saying to the women: do not be afraid. There is nothing about which to be afraid because the victory is won. In other words: you are not being sent because you are credible; you are being sent because God is credible. God has done this thing and God is sending you to share it. Whether others believe does not change the truth: God has done this.

What does “do not be afraid” mean? It means “overcome your fear.” Get over it. God knows we are afraid and because he knows he has given us the ability to get over our fear. It was more than a word of comfort; it also was a word of command.

He is risen.

Then the angel said, “He is not here. He has been raised.” It is such a simple declaration, but is still so amazing. This was not a metaphorical “risen” like, “he will always be alive in your thoughts.” This is not an allusion or allegory. The angel of the Lord declared it to the women. Jesus who was crucified, who was dead; this same Jesus was not dead any more. He was raised from the dead. He came through death and death could not hold him. He is alive. The angel’s statement ruled out any other explanation for the empty tomb.

It is a scandalous thing to believe that Jesus rose from the dead. It was then and it is now. A few Easters ago, Associated Press columnist Richard Ostling quoted John Dominic Crossan.

"I do not think anyone, anywhere, at any time brings dead people back to life," says John Dominic Crossan, an energetic liberal retired from the Roman Catholic DePaul University in Chicago and a resident of Clermont.[2]

In one way Crossan was correct: the resurrection was not just “anyone, anywhere, at any time.” It wasn’t just “anyone”; it was God by the power of the Holy Spirit. It wasn’t just “anywhere”; it was from the tomb. And it wasn’t just “at any time”; it was at the right time and just as Jesus predicted to his disciples: three days after being killed, the Son of God rose again from the dead.

Jesus’ resurrection was supernatural. It was accomplished by the purpose and power of God; not something that can be replicated or explained by humans. It reminds us that – because God has raised Jesus – we can have confidence that our salvation is secure.

That is huge: Jesus’ resurrection means that everything is different. Going back to the angel’s first words, the resurrection means we do not have to be afraid any longer.

I am not afraid or ashamed of the gospel: it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who has faith. I live and minister and preach in the hope of a victory already won, a resurrection that is real, and a salvation that is secure.

Perhaps I am preaching to the choir. For many of us, the news of Jesus’ resurrection is something we grew up knowing. It is not shocking to us because we have heard it all our lives. Yes, I get it. Jesus rose from the dead. And?

And…, here is the thing about Jesus’ resurrection: the amazing power God manifest in raising Jesus from the dead is still at work today. Oh, this is not a denial of the evil, hurts and frustrations that we experience each and every day; rather, this is an affirmation that God is still at work today with the same redeeming resurrection power in our midst. The question is, do we have eyes to see it?

This past week the Washington Post ran a headline article entitled, “Church membership in the U.S. has fallen below the majority for the first time in nearly a century.” In the article, the author quoted a woman named Tara Isabella Burton. According to the Washington Post, she

[a]ttributes the national decline in religious affiliation to two major trends among younger Americans. First, she points to broader shifts suggesting a larger distrust of institutions, including police and pharmaceutical companies. Some Americans are disillusioned by the behavior of religious leaders, including the Roman Catholic Church’s sexual abuse scandal and the strong White evangelical alignment with former president Donald Trump.

The other major trend Burton describes is how people are mixing and matching from various religious traditions to create their own. Many people who don’t identify with a particular religious institution still say they believe in God, pray or do things that tend to be associated with faith.

“Why shouldn’t I pray or meditate or attend a liturgy, or perhaps I feel closer to the divine when I can do something privately rather than something that’s prescribed for me,” she said. “It’s my own spin on it.”

“Existing trends in American religious life were exacerbated by generations that grew up in Internet culture that celebrates ownership – the idea that you can re-create a meme or narrative,” she said. “You have ownership over curating your own experience.”[3]

Hmmm. On the one hand, the numbers are the numbers. I don’t think this report will surprise many of us here. On the other hand, my concern is not for God or the gospel; my concern is for the people who are “curating their own experience” to hell. None of us have the power to raise ourselves from the dead. None of us have the power to deal with our brokenness, our sin, or our mortality. That comes only from God.

That being the case: the reason we do not put our own “spin” on things – the reason we focus on what Scripture reveals and teaches – is because Scripture is God’s word. When we “curate our own experience,” we act as if we get to tell God how things should be. That is not how it works. We do not have that power. How does it work? Scripture reveals to us what God has actually done, how things actually are. We need to act according to God’s standard, and not the other way around.

Let me be clear about this, as Peter was clear about it in the early days of the church: “There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among mortals by which we must be saved.”

 He told you so.

Do not be afraid, the angel sad. “Jesus is not here, he has been raised.” And then the angel added, “just as he said.”

I am going to come back to this again in a few minutes, but it is important to know that Jesus’ resurrection was not an afterthought or a correction of a mistake. It was God’s plan from the beginning. In the gospel of Matthew alone, Jesus specifically predicted the resurrection multiple times: in 16:21 after Peter’s confession; 17:23 after healing the epileptic boy; and 20:19, on the way to Jerusalem, when he took the disciples aside to tell them what was going to happen. Several other verses (12:40, 26:61, and 27:40, 63) allude to God’s plan for the Son of Man to be raised from the dead. It was God’s design for the redemption of his chosen people.

Come and have a look.

After reporting what happened, the angel invited the two Mary’s to see for themselves. Come, have a look. It was an invitation. God was not afraid of examination. Come, look; but come and look fully aware of what you are going to see. The tomb was empty, and – spoiler alert – the conclusion had been given ahead of time: the tomb was empty because Christ was risen.

The invitation to come and look remains open today. The more you investigate with eyes of faith, the more remarkable are the works of God. The more you study Scripture, the more you engage in meditating on what God has done, the more confidence you have in the truth of what is revealed.

God invites us to “come and have a look.” The richness and depth of God’s revelation in Scripture is profound. God is not afraid of our close examination, he invites it. The truth is we are afraid of examining God closely, in large part because we are afraid that he will turn out to be exactly who he has said he is.

Then the angel commissioned the women to become witnesses for Jesus. “Go quickly and tell his disciples.” Ultimately, that is the same charge given to all of us: go and tell. And, not to belabor the point or agree with its premise, but the two Mary’s would have been aware of how bizarre their story would sound and how unlikely they were to be believed – but they went anyway. The likelihood of not being believed was overwhelmed by the sheer joy of what they knew to be true.

The women “left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy, and ran to tell the disciples.” They did not just make a mental commitment or develop a good intention to obey the instruction of the angel, they did it. Emotionally, they were still all over the place, which is not difficult to imagine.

This got me to thinking about this congregation. Fellowship is among the first things most people will say about why they are part of this congregation. The people are nice. It is like coming home. If we dig a little deeper, though, it is because there are remarkable stories of lives touched by the saving power of Jesus Christ. We posted the first episode of Dan Skinkis’ “I’ve Got A Story To Tell” on Friday, with more episodes coming each Friday. You heard Curt Spradley this morning. You will hear him on his “I’ll Never Forget It” series that we will be posting soon. They are the first two of many of you – all of you – who have stories to tell. Not all will be podcasts, but all have stories to tell.

I know you have stories to tell of how God has touched and transformed your lives. From baptisms to weddings to memorials, I have been blessed to hear the stories you all tell me: how God met you in places of danger, of despair, or seeking. You have shared with me how God’s hand delivered you and how you have seen others delivered from brokenness and sin.

Look to your left and to your right, look in front of you and behind. As you do, you see people who have testimonies of God’s resurrection power in their own lives. Also notice: they are looking at you, too. What stories do you have to tell?

After looking for themselves, the women went as the angel had instructed. It was in the obedience to God’s command to go and tell that the women encountered the risen Lord Jesus himself. Jesus met them and greeted them. They recognized him. Note what is said here, “and they came to him, and took hold of his feet, and worshipped him.” They touched him. They held him. Physically. Bodily. This was not a hallucination. Jesus was not a hologram or an apparition. Matthew was specifically and abundantly clear: Jesus was raised physically, bodily, from the dead. Then, he confirmed the angel’s commission to go and tell the disciples.

As He Said.

I want to close today by returning to something the angel declared, “He is not here; for he is been raised, just as he said.” Jesus had said it broadly enough that the disciples heard; but not only the disciples, but also those who did not believe and did not want it to happen: the chief priests and authorities who went to Pilate to make sure that his body could not be taken from the tomb. That is why the guards were at the tomb. And yet the most powerful army on earth, the military arm of the most powerful nation on earth, whose leader was the most powerful king on earth, could not stop the resurrection. God was greater, stronger, and more powerful than the greatest human power on earth. God raised Jesus from the dead, victorious over death itself.

Friends, just as Jesus promised, “I will be raised again in three days,” he also made other promises. Just as he kept his promise and was raised again in three days, he also will keep these promises. What are they?

For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, whosoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:16)

I am the bread of life; he who comes to Me  shall not hunger and he who believes in Me shall never thirst; (John 6:35)

I am the light of the world; he who follows Me shall not walk in the darkness, but shall have the light of life; (John 8:12)

I am the door; if anyone enters through Me, he shall be saved, and shall go in and out, and find pasture; (John 10:9)

I am the good shepherd; and I know my own, and My own know Me, even as the Father knows Me and I know the Father; and I lay down My life for the sheep; (John 10:14,15)

I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me shall live even if he dies, and everyone who lives and believes in Me shall never die. Do you believe this? (John 11:25,26)

I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but through Me (John 14:6).

These are the promises we have that Jesus is exactly as the Bible reveals he is: Lord of lords, King of kings, savior, redeemer, our hope, our life and our salvation. He has won the victory – and because he has won the victory, we have hope because he gives the victory to us. “We are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all of creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Brothers and sisters in Christ, hear and believe the good news:

Christ is Risen! He is risen, indeed.

Christ is Risen! He is risen, indeed.

Christ is Risen! He is risen, indeed.

Amen and amen.

 

[1] (Hagner, Word Biblical Commentary, Matthew, p. 869)

[2] https://theeagle.com/brazos_life/scholars-divided-on-resurrection/article_d3315fb0-70d6-5e1a-af8a-7f98212c4cca.html

[3] Read in The Washington Post: https://apple.news/Ao4b7oimKSf2KSRLwjS9Azw