The following message is based on Matthew 28:1-10 and was delivered at the Central Schwenkfelder Church in Worcester, Pennsylvania on Easter Sunday, April 8, 2012
Hope. It is a powerful word. It’s something that many people look for, yet many live without. Or they put their hope in places or people that prove faulty. Tomas Schreiner, New Testament scholar at Southern Seminary, tells the following story: “In the American West, the United States routinely mistreated Native Americans, making them promises and then violating them when they wanted more land. Native Americans set their hopes on several charismatic leaders, even thinking that they could not be wounded in battle if they wore ghost skirts. But they were profoundly mistaken. The ghost skirts did not protect them from the bullets of their enemies. Their hopes were crushed and their land was taken away.” Hope is a powerful word. It can mislead many. With it, one can bear up under the most difficult of circumstances; without it, the rich, the famous and the beautiful fall into self destruction.
Hope is the central theme of Easter Sunday. It centers on the resurrection of Jesus Christ. This morning, we read a factual account of the first Easter morning. Interestingly it is shrouded in attempts to disprove its authenticity. But all of these efforts are proved null and void. Let’s look at a couple of interesting observations in our passage today. First, we see that there are a couple of…
SURPRISING FIRST RESPONDERS
If you read all of the gospel accounts that there were many who visited the tomb that day, but of special note is the fact that the first were women. We are told in 28:1 that Mary Magdalene and another Mary approach the tomb. These are two women who had benefited from Jesus’ ministry. Mary Magdalene was someone who Christ delivered from demon possession. Mark 16:9 tells us: “Now after He had risen early on the first day of the week, He first appeared to Mary Magdalene, from whom He had cast out seven demons.” Mary came from the town of Magdala, along the western coast of the Sea of Galilee. She was controlled by demons, which could have meant a completely different personality, possibly throwing her into convulsions, foaming at the mouth, becoming violent, etc. As long as the demons controlled her, she had no hope. But Jesus showed up and delivered her, giving her hope. Thus, she showed him incredible devotion.
Mary the sister of Lazarus is often commended for her waiting at Jesus’ feet, upon His visit to the home. But Mary Magdalene was one of those that followed Jesus wherever He went, she hung on to every word. Whether it was from town to town, helping to support Him, to Jerusalem, and even when the disciples fled, Mary followed Him to the cross. And in our passage, she is among the first to go to the tomb to anoint His body with spices. Mary Magdalene is a great example of faithfulness.
And then there’s Mary the mother of James the lesser and Joses. She, too, was a great follower of Jesus. Mark 15:40 tells us: “There were also some women looking on from a distance, among whom were Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James the Less and Joses, and Salome. 41 When He was in Galilee, they used to follow Him and [f]minister to Him; and there were many other women who came up with Him to Jerusalem, as Mark 15:47 tells us. These women were changed by Jesus.
And now they would be changed even more. There are certain things which facilitate the resurrection. First, there was an earthquake. Secondly, an angel of the Lord appears. Many times in the Scripture, humans are scared at the sign of angels hence the statement: “Do not be afraid.” Angels were used by God to announce Jesus’ birth to Mary in Luke 1:30 and to the shepherds in 2:10. Both were given the instruction: “Do not be afraid.” The angel at the tomb had a brilliant appearance. His countenance was as lightning and that the guards become as dead men. These were God’s answer to the seal and the guards, man’s efforts to keep Jesus in the tomb. As the hymn states: “Death in vain forbids Him rise.” But the angel did not come for the guards. He came for Jesus’ disciples. Notice in verse five and following, the angel’s monologue. He tells the women three things: Don’t be afraid; Jesus is not here; Go and tell. The statement: “Behold, I’ve told you.”
We are told in verse 8: the women’s reaction was one of fear and joy. As they turn to leave, Jesus meets them. He told them to rejoice! Women held his feet and worshipped. Verse 10: Jesus said: “Don’t be afraid. Go and tell. The disciples were to proceed to the mountain inGalilee, where Jesus would give the Great Commission in verses 16-20. And that’s essentially what the Great Commission is: “Go and tell.” This message was the capstone, the implication to the greatest miracle ever witnessed!
THE FIRST RESPONDERS WERE ALSO THE FIRST MESSENGERS.
When you think about it, these two women were chosen to bring the news of the resurrection. They were not of the 12; not a part of the 70. Yet, they are the first to bring the world’s greatest news. I think that this is something given the setting. In first century Greco-Roman culture, women were a little better than property. Often, Jewish males would thank God that he had not been created a gentile, slave, or a woman. Women received little education and were restricted in their social circles to strictly other women. In public they were expected to be veiled; many social restrictions led to the isolation of women. But Jesus shows up on the scene and fully accepts them, regardless of their social or marital status. He treated them with dignity. Examples are plentiful (Peter’s mother-in-law, Jairus’ daughter, women with hemorrhage, etc.). In our passage, God gives them the high honor of being the first to experience the resurrection.
And the greatest miracle was the conclusion of the greatest story ever told. Man, made in the image of God, fell out of relationship with Him as a result of the fall in the Garden of Eden. Through their disobedience as our representative heads, you and I come into this world out of harmony with God. That friction is realized through our own sins and moral mistakes. Death exists today as a result of such a rift (Romans 5:12).
The good news is that in this predicament, Jesus Christ came to this earth. He lived a sinless life, satisfied God’s moral requirements, and then went to the cross as our perfect sacrifice. This was done as a service to God and mankind. For instance, Jesus described His death as a ransom payment in Matthew 20:28. His mission was one of service in that He: “…did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.”
Through faith in Him, and repentance from sin, we are spared from God’s wrath, given eternal life and are reconciled to God. In other words, if it were not for the death and resurrection of Christ, there would be no hope for a relationship with God, life after death, or peace through the suffering.
In summary, Jesus’ death saves us from the righteous anger of God against our sin. It would truly be a hopeless situation. Through His death and resurrection, Jesus gives forgiveness, spiritual life, and a home in heaven to all who trust Him.
In the 1994 movie, “The Shawshank Redemption,” there’s a scene at the lunch table where Andy (played by Tim Robbins) is talking with his friends, including “Red” (played by Morgan Freeman). He mentions about hope and living their lives in prison. He uses music to bridge that subject.
Andy Dufresne: That’s the beauty of music. They can’t get that from you… Haven’t you ever felt that way about music?
Red: I played a mean harmonica as a younger man. Lost interest in it though. Didn’t make much sense in here.
Andy Dufresne: Here’s where it makes the most sense. You need it so you don’t forget.
Andy Dufresne: Forget that… there are places in this world that aren’t made out of stone. That there’s something inside… that they can’t get to, that they can’t touch. That’s yours.
Red: What’re you talking about?
Andy Dufresne: Hope.
Red: Hope. Let me tell you something my friend. Hope is a dangerous thing. Hope can drive a man insane.
Then Andy, after breaking out of prison, knowing that his friend Red is nearing release, writes: “Dear Red, if you’re reading this, you’ve gotten out. And if you’ve come this far, maybe you’re willing to come a little further. You remember the name of the town, don’t you? I could use a good man to help me get my project on wheels. I’ll keep an eye out for you and the chessboard ready. Remember, Red. Hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies. I will be hoping that this letter finds you, and finds you well. Your friend, Andy.”
Hope is a good thing. In contrast, for Christians, hope empowers us and changes our lives.
 Thomas Schreiner, “Why the Resurrection of Jesus Matters,” Southern Seminary Spring 2007, 2.