The Resurrection of Christ – Matthew 28:1-15

(If you would like to receive Pastor Harris’ weekly sermons via e-mail, Click here)

Faith Bible Church, NY

September 3, 1995

The Resurrection of Christ

Matthew 28:1-15

We have been studying the book of Matthew now for 3 years and 9 months – 135 sermons. And through all off of it Matthew has been building to a climax that will prove his claim that Jesus is the promised Messiah. Today we come to the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.

We partook of communion earlier in the service as reminder that it was on the cross that Jesus died as our substitute and paid the penalty of our sins in His own body. It is Jesus’ death that brought about the possibility of a renewed relationship with God. He is our propitiation which satisfied God’s wrath against sinful man and He imputed to us His own righteousness that we might stand before God. Yet, as central as Jesus death is to all that we believe and teach about salvation, without the resurrection, we would have no salvation.

Paul states this clearly in 1 Corinthians 15 where he corrects this church that had become so confused that some were even denying that there will be a resurrection. In verses 16, 17 Paul says, “For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised; and if Christ is not raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins. Then those who have fallen a sleep in Christ have perished. If we have hoped in Christ in this life only, we are of all men most to be pitied.”

The resurrection of the Jesus Christ from the dead is central to God’s message of salvation for it is the basis of our faith and hope in God for eternal life. With that in mind, we might think that Matthew would give us every possible detail about it and every post-resurrection appearance Jesus made, yet Matthew approaches it very simply from the perspective of the women who first discovered the wonderful news and then proves the fact of the resurrection by the action of Jesus’ enemies. Turn to Matthew 28:1

28:1 Now after the Sabbath, as it began to dawn toward the first [day] of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary came to look at the grave.

It was now towards Sunrise on the first day of the week – our Sunday. The Jews did not name the days but simply counted them from what was to them the only truly significant day, the Sabbath. Jesus had now been in the grave for three days. Remember, any part of a day was counted as the day in that culture. Friday – day 1. Saturday – day 2. Sunday – day 3.

It has been about eleven hours since the Sabbath ended at dusk and now it is early morning. John’s account points out that it is still dark when these women arrived at the tomb. It is just beginning to dawn with the Sun just starting to lighten the eastern sky.

Mary Magdalene had a supreme devotion to Jesus ever since He had cast seven demons out of her. The other Mary mentioned here is the mother of James & Joseph, the wife of Clopas. Also with them, but not mentioned by Matthew, is Jesus’ aunt, Salome, the wife of Zebedee and mother of James & John. Also present is Joanna and otheromen not specifically named. These two Marys and Salome are specifically named as being at the cross when Jesus had died and both Marys had been present at Jesus’ burial on Friday.

These women come to the garden to look at the grave, and according to Luke, they had also come with more burial spices that they had prepared. Mark’s account records that as they had walked to the sepulcher they had been wondering who would roll the stone away that blocked the entrance to the tomb. This was an act of love and devotion, but it was also an act that shows their unbelief. It is possible that the disciples had never related anything to them about what Jesus had said about being raised from the dead on the third day, but that seems improbable. They did not go the grave of Jesus to see if He was resurrected, but to anoint His body with more burial spices as a beautiful act of their devotion to Him. Their concern about getting the stone rolled away for them was short lived for God had rolled away the stone for them.

2 And behold, a severe earthquake had occurred, for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven and came and rolled away the stone and sat upon it. 3 And his appearance was like lightning, and his garment as white as snow;

Why did God have the angel roll the stone away and why through an earthquake? Matthew is the only one that mentions the earthquake. First of all, the earthquake made sure that everyone was wide awake to see what was happening. It ensures that the claim that would be made latter that the guards were asleep could not be true. As someone with personal experience with quite a few earthquakes, I can assure you that when an earthquake is severe enough to move heavy stones, everyone is awake! It also became the means by which God, not man, broke Rome’s seal. No matter how great and glorious man’s power may seem to himself, it is nothing before God. Any man would have been very afraid to break the seal of Rome, but the seal was of no concern to God. Rome needed to be fearful of Him.

But again, why have the Angel roll the stone away? It would not have been to let Jesus out. As the various post-resurrection appearances of Jesus demonstrates, Jesus’ resurrection body was not bound by the same material space limitations that you and I are. He was able to appear in a room full of disciples without the door being opened (John 20:19) and yet He could be touched and could eat (John 20:27 & 21:12-15). Comparison of the various accounts implies that Jesus was already out before the stone was rolled away. The stone was rolled away not to let Jesus out, but to let the women, and later the disciples, in!

The angel of the Lord then sat down on top of the stone that he had rolled away. A divine answer to the women’s earlier concern. His appearance was dazzling and the whole scene had a dramatic effect on those that were present to see it – verse 4.

4 and the guards shook for fear of him, and became like dead men. The soldiers that were present were struck with divine fear. The earthquake would have been scary enough, and they would have been somewhat jittery about that anyway since there had been a strong earthquake only three days before, but their fear was of the angel. The word shake here is the same root word as “earthquake.” In a sense the earth had been shaken when the angel did his work and now the guards were shaken because they could see the angel. The fear was so great that they fainted and fell unconscious like dead men.

From the accounts of both Luke and John it appears that at this point the women come upon the scene. They see the stone rolled away and enter the tomb, but they do not see the angel. Mary Magdalene runs back to tell Peter that the body of the Lord had been taken away and she did not know where to look for it. Peter and John go back to the tomb with her at a later time to see that the tomb was indeed empty and that Jesus’ burial clothes were lying where Jesus body had been with the face cloth rolled up by itself to the side. Peter and John left and Mary stayed for awhile, and Jesus showed Himself to her, and then sometime later to Peter as well. But all this happens after the scene Matthew records.

Here in our text we find that the angel now reveals himself and seeks to bring comfort to the women that are remaining – verse 5. And the angel answered and said to the women, “Do not be afraid; for I know that you are looking for Jesus who has been crucified. While the soldiers were frozen in fear, the angel brought comfort and assurance to the women saying, “do not be afraid.” Yes, there was much that would bring fear, but relief from that fear came from the angel which had frightened them. He would not harm them. In fact he knew why they had come and would give them guidance in their quest. He knew they were looking for the body of Jesus which had been crucified. And so the angel gives the first announcement of Jesus’ resurrection to these women in verse 6.

6 “He is not here, for He has risen, just as He said. Come, see the place where He was lying. The tomb had been opened so that they could see for themselves that what the angel was telling them was true. Jesus was no longer there. He had risen just as He had said. God’s grace had come to mankind in a new and powerful way. The women were not rebuked for their unbelief, but comforted and encouraged that what they had not dared to believe was now true. Jesus had conquered death proving that all of His promises were true. This was not news they were to keep to themselves for the are told to go and tell the others.

Verse 7 “And go quickly and tell His disciples that He has risen from the dead; and behold, He is going before you into Galilee, there you will see Him; behold, I have told you.” 8 And they departed quickly from the tomb with fear and great joy and ran to report it to His disciples. With a mixture of emotions they hurried back to Jerusalem to report all that had just occurred. Fear was still present simply because of the overwhelming nature supernatural experiences have on mortal man. Great joy because of what they had been told by the angel. But their joy would increase even more, for as they are returning, Jesus meets them.

Verse 9 And behold, Jesus met them and greeted them. And they came up and took hold of His feet and worshiped Him. 10 Then Jesus ^said to them, “Do not be afraid; go and take word to My brethren to leave for Galilee, and there they shall see Me.”

Jesus’ greeting to them is the common greeting of the day, an equivalent to our “hi” or “good morning.” It is said to put them at ease and not startle them. They immediately recognize Him and fall before Him, taking hold of His feet, to worship Him. The bowing and taking hold of his feet is an act of humility that brought assurance, for now they had seen and touched Him. He was real and tangible, not a apparition or a figment of their imagination. Jesus repeated the statement the angel gave them to remind the disciples of the command He had given them earlier in 26:32 for them to meet Him in Galilee after He had been raised from the dead.

In this simple account Matthew demonstrates that Jesus was resurrected from the dead in a tangible, physical body. But Matthew does not leave the proof of the resurrection here. He goes on to reveal the activities of Jesus’ enemies and in so doing demonstrates that even His enemies attested to His physical resurrection by their response.

Verse 11 Now while they were on their way, behold, some of the guard came into the city and reported to the chief priests all that had happened.

First, notice that this takes place at the same time that the women are returning from the tomb. Apparently after they had regained consciousness, some of them at least, went back to Jerusalem.

Second, notice that it is only some of the guard. There are several reasons for this. First, the guard had been frightened out of its wits by the earthquake and seeing the angel. It is doubtful that all of them were still together, and some may have even fled. It is also true that if they had stayed together, they would have attracted Pilate’s attention as they came into Jerusalem, and that was something they wanted to avoid as demonstrated by their reporting to the chief priests instead of Pilate. That is the third point to note.

They had been put under the authority of the chief priests in 27:65 and so it is reasonable that their first report should be given to them. However, these soldiers were under orders to guard the tomb through the third day. They would have been in grave danger of Pilate putting them to death for failure to accomplish their mission of guarding the tomb of Jesus and abandoning their post.

Fourth, notice that the guards tell the chief priests all that had happened. They did not make anything up. They did not make excuses for themselves, for what excuse could they make? They were risking their lives no matter what they did, for if the chief priests did not believe them and became angry, then they could have the soldiers put to death for negligence of duty. The soldiers thought the truth to be their best defense, so they told them all that had occurred about the earthquake, the angel and the missing body of Jesus.

Verse 12 And when they had assembled with the elders and counseled together, they gave a large sum of money to the soldiers, 13 and said, “You are to say, ‘His disciples came by night and stole Him away while we were asleep.’ 14 “And if this should come to the governor’s ears, we will win him over and keep you out of trouble.” 15 And they took the money and did as they had been instructed; and this story was widely spread among the Jews, [and is] to this day.

The chief priests now call for the elders – the Sanhedrin – to assemble so that they might figure out a plan to deal with this situation. Notice that there is no questioning of the soldiers about what happened. Their story was taken at face value to be the truth. This lack of challenge to the soldiers story demonstrates that they believed the soldiers. What they had been told was the truth.

It would seem that this would have shaken them to the core and they would have all repented on the spot of such a great work of God demonstrating that Jesus’ claims were true. Instead they simply come up with a plan to bribe the soldiers to assist them in lying about the situation as a damage control measure.

This is a factor we must keep in mind as we proclaim the gospel to others. We cannot argue people into the kingdom of God. We cannot overpower them with all the facts that prove Jesus’ claims. When someone rejects the Lord Jesus Christ, they also reject the truth and its claim on their lives. They willfully and knowingly hold to what is not true simply because it is what they want to believe. Paul describes this condition of sinful man in Romans 1 in several ways including that they “suppress the truth in unrighteousness” (18), and “they exchange the truth of God for a lie” (v. 25).

There should have been immediate repentance on the part of the chief priests and Elders at the news brought to them by the soldiers that Jesus had been raised from the dead. Instead, they reject the truth and seek to cover it up with a lie. Do not be surprised at the responses you get from people who may even agree with you that what you are telling them is true, but they reject it anyway. Such is the deep sinfulness in the heart of man. That may even be the case for some of you here today. You know the truth, but you refuse to heed it and you continue to live your life according to the lies and deception of your own mind.

The soldiers go from a nearly hopeless situation of no matter what they do they could lose their lives for negligence of duty to what to them seemed like a win, win situation. The chief priests, instead of being mad at them and demanding their lives, make a deal where they would both be protected from anything Pilate might want to do to them and be paid a handsome sum of money.

The deal may look attractive to those who reject God, but as Jesus said in Matthew 16:26, “For what will a man be profited, if he gains the whole world, and forfeits his soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul? No matter what price was paid to the soldiers for lying about what they had seen, it was not enough to cover the cost of their souls which became condemned by their willful rejection of what they knew to be true – Jesus Christ had conquered death and came out of the tomb.

The attempt to cover up the resurrection of Christ with a lie did not work anyway. The account of the bribe to lie was found out and reported, so the very attempt to cover up the truth became another testimony to it. All that the chief priests and elders would have to do to prove that Jesus did not rise from the dead was produce His body, but they knew they could not for Jesus was no longer dead.

“He is not here, for He has risen, just as He said. Come, see the place where He was lying.

What is your response to the resurrected savior? Do you hold to some bribe from the world – fame, fortune, pleasure – to keep you from believing the truth? Or do you believe and fall at His feet to worship – as did the women on that glorious morning? I pray it is the latter and that it will be demonstrated in every aspect of your life as you strive to live for His glory in all that you say, do and think.

For comments, please e-mail  Church office