April 16, 2017
After a 17 minute rain delay, Ben Zobrist hit an RBI double in the 10th inning. The 108 year long wait for a World Series championship came to an end for the Chicago Cubs. The fans have enshrined this 2016 Cubs team in their hearts forever. This past Monday, fans waited two hours in the rain and cold to raise the World Series banner at Wrigley Field. As the banner was raised the fans rose to their feet in joy to honor the team. Designated hitter, Kyle Schwarber said, "For generations of people now to be able to see what we did, is pretty cool."
It is not unusual for us to give high praise to people who have accomplished something amazing. This morning we are looking at Jesus, who accomplish something that no one has ever done. Jesus was crucified on a Roman cross. He was dead as dead could be. He was buried and the stone was sealed over the entrance of the tomb. But today is Easter and we are celebrating the miraculous resurrection of Jesus from the dead. And I want to say that because Jesus conquered death, he is worthy of our worship.
I. SEE THE DISCIPLES GRIEVING JESUS’ DEATH. Mt.28:1-4
When a loved one dies, of course those closest to the deceased grieve deeply. It is very common for family members and close friends to go to the grave to sit and ponder the deep loss. When Jesus died on the cross a number of women, disciples of Jesus, were there. Among them was Mary Magdalene. Mary Magdalene was deeply devoted to Jesus because Jesus had cast a number of demons out of her. Another woman was Mary, the mother of James and Joseph. Many think this may have actually been Jesus’ mother. These two women accompanied Joseph of Arimathea as he took Jesus’ body and laid it in a tomb that he had prepared for himself. As was customary, a large stone was rolled over the entrance to the tomb. In Mt.27:61 we see that these two women were just sitting opposite the tomb. Eventually they went home. At dawn of the next day, which would have been Sunday, these women got up early to make their way to the tomb. They just wanted to be there in their grief.
If you read the gospels you know that even those closest to Jesus did not understand what Jesus was about. They believed that he was the promised Messiah or anointed king, but they thought in terms of the physical, political kingdom of Israel. They understood him to be someone empowered by God, but they did not think he was God in the flesh. They had seen his life changing miracles. They had heard his life changing teachings. But, even though Jesus had made it clear that he was going to be killed and would rise from the dead, they just didn’t understand. They never thought he would die on a cross. And so mixed in with their grief was also a sense of disappointment. The wonderful future they had envisioned came crashing down.
But unbeknownst to these women, before they arrived at the tomb, God was up to something. An angel descended from heaven. It says there was a great earthquake. The angel rolled back the stone from the tomb. The guards that had been posted to watch the tomb were so frightened that they became like dead men. And let me just say this now. The angel did not roll the stone away so Jesus could get out. Jesus had already risen from the dead.
Before we move on in this passage I want to point out that all of us experience grief and disappointment in life. Some of you have already experienced grief and deep disappointment. Maybe you had some dreams for the future, but events transpired to bring your dreams crashing down. An unexpected illness came. The job you were counting on fell through. The career you prepared for never materialized. A fire destroyed your home. Your husband, wife, or child died. This is the way of life in this world. The loss can be so deeply felt that one despairs of ever knowing joy again.
But this text suggests that there is always more to our lives than what we can see. There is more going on because God is good and God is always working even in times of disappointment, grief and despair. Rather than blame God for what has happened in your life, I want to encourage you to think better of God. You see, God loves you. God is always working to turn our attention to him. The last thing God wants to do is to push you away from him.
I’m not referring to some vague idea of, “Keep your chin up. Things will get better. It’s always darkest before the dawn.” Instead I’m talking about a work of God in your life to draw you into his love, goodness and life. These women didn’t know that God sent an angel to roll away the stone and to give them some good news. God was doing something wonderful to help them come to a better, joyful understanding of himself. And God wants to do that for you. I don’t mean that God wants to make you wealthy or even that God will heal your illness or keep your loved one from dying. I mean that God wants to bring each of us into a better, joyful understanding of himself through his Son, Jesus Christ. To know God is to enter into a new kind of life even in the midst of the disappointing experiences common to life in this world. And so this morning my prayer is that our hearts and minds will be opened to consider the goodness and love of God even in the midst of grief and disappointment.
II. SEE THE DISCIPLES REJOICING IN JESUS’ RESURRECTION. Mt.28:5-8
When the women arrived at the tomb and saw the angel they were afraid. Fear is the usual response in the Bible when seeing an angel because seeing an angel is uncommon. The angel had some good news for the women. “You seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here, for he has risen, as he said.”
The bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead is presented as a historical reality in the New Testament. From reading the gospels one clearly sees that none of these people anticipated that Jesus would rise from the dead, but they were all convinced that he did. It is often asserted today that the New Testament accounts of the resurrection of Jesus, along with his other miracles, were invented by his followers years after Jesus lived.
In this passage there is an observation that undermines that idea. During the time when the gospels were written the world was extremely patriarchal. Women were considered to be inferior to men. In fact, because of their emotional nature and lack of education, women were considered to be so unreliable that their testimony was often dismissed. If you were inventing a resurrection story, you would not use the testimony of women as your primary evidence. But in each gospel women are the first to learn of Jesus resurrection.
No one disputes that Jesus was crucified on charges of blasphemy. The Jewish religious leaders could have easily quashed the assertion of the resurrection by just producing the body. But they didn’t. Added to this is the general historical reliability of the New Testament. Suffice it to say that the resurrection of Jesus was as completely unexpected in Jesus’ day as it is in our day. And yet there it is. “He is not here, for he has risen.”
The angel told the women to go and tell the 11 disciples that Jesus had risen and would meet them in Galilee. They went away quickly with fear and great joy to tell the disciples. The resurrection of Jesus is highly significant. Jesus had told his disciples a number of times that he was going to be killed and that he would rise from the dead. And he did. The resurrection of Jesus is significant because it validates everything that Jesus said about himself and about entering into life in the kingdom of God by trusting and following him. Jesus claimed to be able to give eternal life. He claimed to be able to forgive sins. He said that if we have seen him, we have seen God. The resurrection is the ultimate validation of every claim he made. That truth was not lost on these women. They could hardly contain themselves because of the joy that they had.
Christianity is the only religion in the world in which its God enters into life as we know it by taking on human flesh and blood. It is the only religion in which God himself bears all the sin and shame found in humanity through the death of his son, Jesus Christ. Christianity is the only religion in which God conquers the powers of sin and death by defeating sin and death through his own death and resurrection. Christianity is the only religion in which all people are invited to enter into the kingdom of God by receiving the risen king, Jesus Christ.
And this is the message of Easter. Through the death and resurrection of Jesus we can enter into eternal life with God in God’s eternal kingdom. We come under the good rule of God. And as we live out our days on earth, we follow Jesus. His way of living is the most fruitful, noble, and joyful way of living. Christ comes to live in and through us. And if we know Christ, then we have come to know God.
III. SEE THE DISCIPLES WORSHIPPING JESUS. Mt.28:9-10
These women were close to Jesus. They, along with others of Jesus’ disciples, knew him well. As they were going on the road, Jesus met them. They could see him up ahead and they immediately knew it was Jesus. They recognized him. What I’m trying to say is that these women were familiar with Jesus.
In his book, God Came Near, Max Lucado points out that the name, Jesus, was a very common Jewish name. Lucado writes, “Were he here today, it is doubtful he would distance himself with a lofty name like Reverend Holiness Angelic Divinity III. No, when God chose the name his son would carry, he chose a human name. He chose a name so typical that it would appear two or three times on any given class roll...He was touchable, approachable, reachable. And what’s more he was ordinary.” But when Jesus appeared to these women who knew him well, what did they do? They fell at his feet.
To my knowledge we don’t find the women disciples of Jesus always bowing at his feet in worship. There are a few incidents of women anointing Jesus’ feet with perfume. In Lk.7 a sinful woman washes Jesus’ feet with her tears and anoints his feet with ointment as an act of humble gratitude to Jesus. In Jn.12, Mary, the sister of Lazarus anoints Jesus’ feet with expensive perfume and Jesus sees it as an act of love and devotion. But those were unusual events. Falling at Jesus’ feet in worship was not the normal way his disciples greeted him. Jesus called his disciples friends. Something was different. What was it?
I think these women realized that Jesus is, indeed, God in the flesh. I don’t think they fully understood all the implications of that truth, but what they did understand is that Jesus is worthy of worship in the same way that God is worthy of worship. And Jesus received their worship.
Now men and women, the deepest, most significant act that we can do in life is to worship and honor God and his son, Jesus Christ. Not so that we can be blessed, or receive material prosperity, or be healed of our illnesses! But because Jesus is worthy of our worship. He is Lord of heaven and earth. He alone has the power to forgive our sins. He alone has the words of eternal life. All authority in heaven and earth belongs to him.
At one point in his earthly ministry, Jesus gave some difficult teachings and many were leaving him. He turned to his disciples and said, “Do you want to go away as well?” Peter answered, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.” Wow! Have you come to see who Jesus is? Are you a worshipper of Jesus, bowing before him, yielding your life to him? See the disciples worshipping Jesus.
Perhaps like many, you have experienced disillusionment with the Church. Well, I get it. Today we’ve got priests and pastors involved in child abuse and sexual immorality. We hear reports of church leaders absconding with church funds. You name it, you can find it going on in a church somewhere. One of my friends was planning to be a priest, but a number of things happened and he told me that the Christian faith seemed to him to be like a hologram. It looked real but he began to think that there was nothing real about it.
I would imagine that these women, along with other disciples of Jesus, also felt disillusionment when Jesus died. It all looked so promising, but now Jesus was dead. But wait, what just happened here? Jesus rose from the dead and these women saw him. And he was not a hologram. They fell at his feet in worship. Do not let your disappointment with the Church steer you away from Jesus. Look to Jesus for he is the only Savior, Lord, and King who died and has risen from the dead. Amen.