“Two Different Versions”

The following message is based on Matthew 27:62-28:1-15.  It addresses why the resurrection of Jesus is important to Christians.  This greatest of all miracles defies all conspiracy and is the only catalyst for man’s peace with God.  It was delivered on Easter Sunday, March 31, 2013.

Recently, I was reminded how people prefer a certain version against the original.  Hence, one church is said to start their services with a song, followed by a reading, then a time for silent reflection, then a greeting of others.  At first glance, we might think that this is a welcoming church.  But it is not a church at all.  Rather it is an atheist gathering, which meets in Islington, a community north of London.  In place of a sermon, a talk is given, this time a physicist talked about wonder.  An offering is taken to care for the facility.  The group’s motto is “Live better, help often, wonder more.”  And enthusiastic participant said: “It’s got all the good things about church without the terrible dogma.”[1]  This is one version of church.  Not a very good one, I argue.  Dogma is teaching.  If your religion does not teach you anything about God, His character, His grace and what He requires of you, then it is not worth much!

At Central, we teach that the church is the gathering of God’s people, known by their faith in the risen and reigning Jesus Christ.  It is made of people who have been transformed by a God who is limited by nothing.  It offers hope in a God who conquered death by raising Jesus from the dead.  And that resurrection is the basis of how and why God continues to change lives today, nearly 2,000 years after the fact.

Our Scripture for today provides a different version of the Easter story alongside of the real one.  Jesus, the itinerant preacher from Nazareth, described his approaching death and resurrection many times. Many things have transpired up to this point in that original “holy” week.  According to Matthew’s gospel, Jesus was anointed for burial in Bethany as the woman used the costly fragrant oil, pouring it on Jesus.  Our Lord celebrated the Passover with his disciples, prays in the garden, is arrested and sent to a series of unfair trials, is handed over to the Roman governor, flogged, then crucified at the demands of an angry mob.  His body was requested by his followers and laid in a new tomb outside of Jerusalem.  Thankfully, this is not the end of the story.  Actually, it is where we take up, on the eve of God’s greatest miracle.  What can we learn from our text?  We first discover that…

MAN TRIED TO THWART THE RESURRECTION.

Matthew 27:64: “So give the order for the tomb to be made secure until the third day. Otherwise, his disciples may come and steal the body and tell the people that he has been raised from the dead. This last deception will be worse than the first.” 65 “Take a guard,” Pilate answered. “Go, make the tomb as secure as you know how.”

Verses 62-66 Depict man’s efforts to keep the resurrection from happening.  The chief priests and the Pharisees went to Pilate.  Only Matthew gives us this exchange which uncovers man’s twisting and deceptive attempts.  But notice that Jesus is called “Deceiver” in verse 63.  His claim to be the Messiah was seen as the first deception and these officials would keep the “second” from happening.  Notice the statement: “The second would be worse than the first.”  Although the resurrection was part of Jesus’ message (Matthew 16:21, 17:23 and 20:19), even the disciples did not absorb it.  They had no frame of reference, so they concentrated on the fact that He was going to die, not on His promise that He would rise from the dead.

Yet, the chief priests and the elders here are making sure that the latter could not appear as though to happen.  They understood His veiled references to His resurrection, like the sign of Jonah in 12:40 and 16:4.  But in order to “keep” that appearance from taking place, the tomb was to be made secure, for fear of the body being stolen.  How was the grave secured?  By sealing the stone and setting the guard.  Donald Carson states that this was done with a cord and an official wax seal.[2]  These were extra efforts to keep any quell any confusion surrounding Jesus’ death.

By doing so, these set the stage for God’s greatest miracle.  J.C. Ryle states: “They little thought what they were doing; they little thought that unwittingly they were providing the most complete evidence of the truth of Christ’s coming resurrection.  There were actually making it impossible to prove that there was any deception or imposition.  Their seal, their guard, their precautions, were all to become witnesses, in a few hours, that Christ had risen They might as well have tried to stop the tides of the sea, or to prevent the sun rising, as to prevent Jesus coming forth from the tomb.  They were taken in their own craftiness: their own devices became instruments to show forth God’s glory.”[3]  In so doing, they proved themselves to be the real deceivers, vainly trying their best to make sure that the resurrection would not happen, or would not appear to have happened.  But in doing so, they set the stage for God’s greatest miracle ever.  Although, MAN TRIED TO THWART THE RESURRECTION, we find that…

NOTHING COULD THWART GOD’S PLAN.

Matthew 28:5 The angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. 6 He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay.”  Many visited the tomb that day, but 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 whom Christ had delivered from demon possession (Mark 16:9) and Mary the mother of James the lesser and Joses, as Mark 15:47 tells us.  They were changed by Jesus.

There are certain things which facilitated the resurrection. First, there was an earthquake.  Secondly, an angel of the Lord appears saying: “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 answers to the seal and the guards.  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.

Verse 8: the women’s reaction was one of fear and joy.  And Jesus meets them.  He told them to rejoice!  Easter is a happy time that comes after a sad time.  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 in Galilee, 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!

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.”

WHAT DOES GOD’S PLAN HAVE TO DO WITH ME?

What difference does the resurrection of Jesus make in our lives?  I would argue for four differences.  One there is a personal, spiritual difference.  Through faith in Him, 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.  Why do Christians count the resurrection of Jesus so important?  One commentator noted: “Jesus resurrection demonstrated His victory over death, vindicated Him as righteous and indicated His divine identity.  It guarantees the believer’s present forgiveness and justification, and it is the hope of eternal life in Christ for the believer.”[4]

Two, there is a personal, physical difference.  Jesus rising from the dead gives me hope, that although my body is in the process of giving way; that I encounter illness, some serious, some not so serious; and I’m often reminded of my emotional, physical and spiritual frailty, as I’m moving toward my last breath, death cannot reign over me.  Jesus will one day raise me up and I will overcome death because He has overcome death.

Thirdly, there is a psychological difference: the resurrection of Jesus rescues me from a world where there is so much death and despair.  In the most recent issue of Christianity Today, Philip Yancey recalls the events of Newtown, Connecticut and argues that the resurrection of Jesus provides a welcome remedy for the sorrow and depression we face through loss and tragedy in this life.  He uses the example of Bishop Desmond Tutu, who was an agent of social healing after apartheid government ended in South Africa.  Tutu, after hearing testimonies from the victims of brutal assaults, where blacks were shot in cold blood, and collaborators with Apartheid were “necklaced,” where tires were hung around their necks and set on fire, he came away being convinced that evil doers are held accountable; that right and wrong do matter and that love does conquer evil.  He stated: “For us who are Christians, the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ is proof positive that love is stronger than hate, that life is stronger than death, that light is stronger than darkness, that laughter and joy, and compassion and gentleness and truth, all these are so much stronger than their ghastly counterparts.” (See Christianity Today, “National Tragedy and the Empty Tomb,” 2013, April: 24)

Lastly, the resurrection of Jesus helps me understand death and loss, that it is the last enemy that will be overcome.  Recall our Thought for Meditation from 1 Corinthians 15.  As I witnessed the funeral of Norma Krauss, a long time member of this church and a real saint.  Hearing her children comment on her life, it was a reflection on a Christian woman.  Pastor Bill stated that our great hope as Christians is that Norma is now with Jesus.  And that Bob, Jr., oldest son, ordained Schwenkfelder minister and USAF chaplain, stated what his mom taught: “Jesus is not just a teacher to tell us about a way to heaven; He is the way, the truth and the life.  I couldn’t agree more!  How loving that the God of the universe would go out of His way to reveal this!

But in order for someone to have a repaired relationship with God two things that must occur.  The Bible calls these faith and repentance.  Faith is embracing God, following Christ, wholeheartedly giving Him your life.  Repentance is a turning from sin, asking for God’s forgiveness and determining that you want to go from your way of living to God’s way of living.  Have you done so?  Have you trusted Christ?

The good news is that no tomb in Jerusalem contains the bones of Jesus.  And that’s why we celebrate Easter.  This is why Peter wrote: Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ!  In his great mercy He has given us new birth into a living hope though the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead (1 Peter 1:3).”  That is also why John Donne, the 16th century Anglican priest and poet, who buried many parishioners due to disease and who lost his wife at 33 while she gave birth to their 12th child, wrote:

  • Death be not proud, though some have called thee
  • Mighty and dreadfull, for, thou art not so…
  • One short sleepe past, wee wake eternally,
  • And death shall be no more; death, thou shalt die.

[1][1] “Sans Dogma,” Christian Century, 20 March 2013: 9.

[2] Donald Carson, “Matthew,” The Expositor’s Bible Commentary (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1984) 588.

[3] J.C. Ryle, Expository Thoughts on Matthew (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1986), 401.

[4] “The Resurrection of Jesus,”  The New Geneva Study Bible (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1995), 1653.

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