Topical Scripture: Matthew 28:1-10
Murdo MacDonald was a prisoner of war in Germany and chaplain to American soldiers. After the war was over he told how he learned of the Normandy invasion. Early on D-Day, he was awakened and told that a Scotsman in the British prisoner-of-war camp wanted to see him. MacDonald ran to the barbed wire that separated the two camps. The Scot, who was in touch with the BBC by underground radio, had often given updates on the war to MacDonald in Gaelic, which the two men understood, but the German guards standing beside them did not.
On this early morning, the Scotsman spoke a brief sentence in Gaelic, just a few words which meant, “They have come.” MacDonald ran back to the American camp and spread the news: “They have come … they have come.” And everyone knew the Allies had landed at Normandy. The reaction was incredible. Men jumped and shouted, hugged each other, even rolled on the ground.
They were still captives, but now they were certain of their deliverance. All because of three words: “They have come.”
Today we’ll focus upon three words which offer us even greater hope, help, joy, victory: “He has risen.” Let’s see why they were spoken, and why they matter so much to our lives and our fears this hour.
From death to life
The angel said, “Come and see the place where he lay” (v. 6). Let’s come together to this place, this tomb, this hallowed cave in a holy rock. Why?
It is the tomb of the greatest man who ever lived. If we would venerate the tomb of John F. Kennedy or Martin Luther King, Jr., surely we would want to honor and respect the tomb of Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of God and Savior of the world.
It is the tomb of your best friend. If we would honor the tomb of our wife or husband, our child, our parent, our dear friend, surely we would want to honor and respect the tomb of the One who died to pay for our sins and give us eternal life.
It is a real place. We know that this tomb is real, even without the testimony of Scripture. Thallus the Samaritan in A.D. 52 described the darkness of Jesus’ crucifixion. Mara bar Serapion before A.D. 70 documented his death. Tacitus, the greatest of the ancient Roman historians, recorded that “Chrestus … suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilatus.” And Flavius Josephus, the ancient Jewish historian, documented Jesus’ death clearly.
And so the angels bid us come. They invite us to this holy place.
What kind of tomb is it?
It is a costly tomb. It cost Joseph of Arimathea and his family a great deal of money. It cost Jesus far more—his life on the cross. It cost his Father as much—the pain of watching his Son be tortured and executed.
It is a borrowed tomb. It was borrowed from Joseph, and appropriately, for the One who was laid there borrowed our sins and our death on the cross.
It was cut in a rock, so there could be no fraud here. No back door. No way out except past the stone and the guards and the glare of public scrutiny. And appropriately so. But this rock and its stone were but a pebble compared with the Rock of Ages which lay inside.
And so the women come to finish anointing the dead body of Jesus (Mark 16:1). But they are shocked at what they find, and we with them.
What do we see as we come?
We find that the rock is gone. There was a “violent” earthquake—a “mega” earthquake in the Greek. An angel of the Lord has come down from heaven, rolled aside this stone, and sat down on it.
He moved the stone, not so Christ could go out, but so we could come in. He is already gone from here. He was raised from death to life while the guards stood in futility outside, as the Roman government tried in vain to keep him in the tomb. He did not rise from the dead when the angel arrived—”he has risen, just as he said” (v. 6).
All the power of the world is powerless before him. Battle-hardened soldiers from the finest army the world has ever seen have fainted dead away. The ones assigned to guard the dead themselves appear dead while the dead one is alive!
His body is gone, with no natural explanation. The tomb is empty, the grave is left clutching the clothes which had enshrouded his dead corpse, because he is alive.
Whom do we meet as we come?
We meet the angel of the Lord, who bids us calm our fears: “Do not be afraid” (v. 5). Literally, “Stop being afraid.”
Then we see the Risen Lord himself! “Greetings,” he says. Literally, “Rejoice!” We can clasp his feet, for his resurrection is real. We can worship him, for in grace he receives our faith (v. 9).
“Do not be afraid,” he says, as the angel had. “Stop being afraid.” Be not afraid, ever again, for he is alive.
What do we do after we have come?
“Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee” (v. 10). How gracious of him—to call those who have forsaken him at the cross his “brothers.”
And Mark 16:7 adds these words: “Go tell his disciples and Peter.” Peter, who denied him three times, now invited specifically to come, so that he would know he was included in the grace and mercy of our Lord.
Tell them about the risen Christ: “there they will see me.” And through them, the world.
Come and see the place where he lay. We’re so glad they did. And so honored to join them.
Are you afraid of death?
Now, let’s see why this event is so relevant to our lives and our fears today. In every survey taken of the fears Americans feel, death is always at the top of the list. Our greatest fear is that we will die, or that those we love will die.
We don’t even like the word “death.” We use such euphemisms for it: “He passed away,” “He went to a better place.” We called those who have died “the dearly departed” or “the deceased.”
We don’t like funerals, or caskets, or cemeteries. The most frightening places at amusement parks are the haunted houses; the most frightening movies we see are about death or the dead. We are all afraid here.
So were the disciples. They knew that their leader had been executed, and were terrified of the same punishment for themselves. In fact, the Scriptures say that “On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jews,” Jesus appeared to them as he had to these women (John 20:19). They were afraid of death.
I am, too. Death is the great unknown. While I trust in faith that death leads to life, I need reassurance, as do we all.
And I am especially afraid of death for those I love. My greatest fear is that something would happen to Janet or our boys. I have prayed for our sons’ safety and well-being every morning and every evening since they were born. I fear death for them.
And I hate death for those I love who have gone there. My father. This year, my two most beloved professors and mentors. Members of our congregation whom I have loved and we have lost.
What about death most bothers you today?
He has risen, for us
Here’s the incredible good news of deliverance: “He has risen.” These three words are enough. Jesus is truly alive. Because he is alive, we can be alive. Because he defeated death, so can we, through him.
Jesus was clear about this: “I am the resurrection and the life … Whoever lives and believes in me shall never die” (John 11:25, 26).
Now Jesus allows death so he can bring us to life. So we can step out of these fallen, finite bodies and into the glorified presence of the Lord. In the moment of our death we are with him in paradise.
Jesus said it this way, “In my Father’s house are many mansions” (John 14:2). “Mansion” originally meant a destination at the end of a journey. By the time Jesus used it, the word meant the reward which comes at the end of life. The picture is simple: we travel through life in these bodies, these “vehicles” for the journey. When we arrive at home, we step out of the car and go into the house.
When Ryan was a little boy, one time our family took a trip to Houston to see Janet’s parents and my mother. We got home late on Sunday night, and Ryan was asleep in his car seat in the back of the car. I picked him up, carried him in the house, and laid him in his bed. When he woke up, he was home.
That’s just what happens to us, and to all we love. Because he has risen, so will we through him.
Jesus will take us home, and he will take all those we love who trust in him to be home with him one day as well. My greatest fear for my family would be their greatest victory. If the worst comes for us, this would be the best for them.
And when that day comes, he’ll be there to hold us up through it. We need not fear the future, for he is there, waiting for us, today.
Oscar Thompson taught evangelism at Southwestern Seminary when I was a student there. He was dying of cancer all the years I knew him, but always with a great spirit and unshakable joy. He had no fear of death. Why? He said, “I’ll have dying grace for dying day.” And those with him when he died said that he did.
So will we.
So, have you put your soul and your eternity in the hands of the One who has risen? This is the most important decision you will ever make. Choose well, today.
Would you put your life, and the lives of those you love, in those hands as well? Would you release those you love who have gone before you into those hands? With the women at the tomb, would you turn from fear to faith, from death to life? Would you love Jesus personally and passionately, since he has purchased eternal life for you and all those who love him?
I once read a parable like this, and it helped me a great deal. Because he has risen, we can think of death this way.
Before you came into this world, you were an unborn baby. We all were. As we think about going from this world to the next, we are again unborn babies so far as that other world is concerned.
Now if a baby not yet born could speak, he might say to himself, “This is a wonderful place. It’s warm, I’m fed, I’m safe and secure. I’ll stay right here.” Someone might say to him, “But you cannot stay here. You have to move on. You must die to this place and be born into another world.” That baby would see birth as if it were death, and he would protest. What to us is birth, to him is death, and he resists it. That world is the only world he can see, the only world he knows. But the day comes when he does die to that life and is born into our world.
What happens to him? He is cradled in loving arms. Soft hands hold him gently. A kind face looks down at him, and he loves that face. Everyone that come near loves him. He is the king of the world he surveys. Then he begins to grow, and he finds life good. He has struggles and hardships, of course, but these are to make him a man. He grows to love this world, with its seasons, its beauty, its human companionship.
Finally he becomes an old man and he is told, “You have to die.” He protests: “I don’t want to die. I love this world. I like the sun on my face, the cool rain, the beautiful sunrises. I love the faces of my wife and children. I’ve lived here a long time. I don’t want to die.” This is the only world he can see, the only world he knows. But he does die to this world and is born into the next.
What happens? He awakens to find himself surrounded once again by loving faces, loving hands. More beautiful light and glory than he has ever seen, more glorious music than he has ever heard. All tears are wiped from his eyes, he is reunited with so many he has loved who have gone before him, and he stands in the glorious, loving, all embracing presence of Jesus himself. And he says, “Why was I so afraid of this thing called death, when, as I now know, it is life?”