17. The women at the tomb hear of Jesus’ resurrection
Scripture: Matthew 28:1-8
1 Now after the sabbath, toward the dawn of the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the sepulchre. 2 And behold, there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven and came and rolled back the stone, and sat upon it. 3 His appearance was like lightning, and his raiment white as snow. 4 And for fear of him the guards trembled and became like dead men. 5 But the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid; for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. 6 He is not here; for he has risen, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. 7 Then go quickly and tell his disciples that he has risen from the dead, and behold, he is going before you to Galilee; there you will see him. Lo, I have told you.” 8 So they departed quickly from the tomb with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples.
On Sunday morning the women went to the tomb to pay their last tribute to a dead body. The disciples thought that everything had finished in tragedy. Neither were ready to see an empty tomb and hear the angel’s message, “He is not here; for he has risen, as he said” (Matthew 28:6). The angel urged them to believe that Jesus had indeed risen just as he had promised. And the angel urged them to share the good news with the other disciples. Is it any small wonder that it was the women, rather than the apostles, who first witnessed the empty tomb and the resurrected Lord? Isidore of Seville, a 7th century church father comments on this:
“As a woman (Eve) was first to taste death, so a woman (Mary Magdalene) was first to taste life. As a woman was prescient in the fall, so a woman was prescient in beholding the dawning of redemption, thus reversing the curse upon Eve.”
The first to testify to the risen Lord was a woman from whom Jesus had cast out seven demons.
What is the significance of the stone being rolled away? It would have taken several people to move such a stone. And besides, the sealed tomb had been guarded by soldiers! This is clearly the first sign of the resurrection. Bede, a church father from the 8th century, comments:
“[The angel] rolled back the stone not to throw open a way for our Lord to come forth, but to provide evidence to people that he had already come forth. As the virgin’s womb was closed, so the sepulcher was closed, yet he entered the world through her closed womb, and so he left the world through the closed sepulcher.” (From Homilies on the Gospels 2,7,24)
Another church father, Peter Chrysologus (5th century AD), remarked:
“To behold the resurrection, the stone must first be rolled away from our hearts.”
Do you know the joy of the resurrection?
It is significant that the disciples had to first deal with the empty tomb before they could come to grips with the fact that Scripture had foretold that Jesus would die for our sins and then rise triumphant. They disbelieved until they saw the empty tomb. Bede explains why the Risen Lord revealed himself gradually to the disciples:
“Our Lord and redeemer revealed the glory of his resurrection to his disciples gradually and over a period of time, undoubtedly because so great was the virtue of the miracle that the weak hearts of mortals could not grasp [the significance of] this all at once. Thus, he had regard for the frailty of those seeking him. To those who came first to the tomb, both the women who were aflame with love for him and the men, he showed the stone rolled back. Since his body had been carried away, he showed them the linen cloths in which it had been wrapped lying there alone. Then, to the women who were searching eagerly, who were confused in their minds about what they had found out about him, he showed a vision of angels who disclosed evidences of the fact that he had risen again. Thus, with the report of his resurrection already accomplished, going ahead of him, the Lord of hosts and the king of glory himself at length appeared and made clear with what great might he had overcome the death he had temporarily tasted.” (From Homilies on the Gospels 2,9,25)
One thing is certain, if Jesus had not risen from the dead and appeared to his disciples, we would never have heard of him. Nothing else could have changed sad and despairing men and women into people radiant with joy and courage. The reality of the resurrection is the central fact of the Christian faith. Through the gift of the Holy Spirit, the Lord gives us “eyes of faith” to know him and the power of his resurrection. The greatest joy we can have is to encounter the living Lord and to know him personally. Do you celebrate the feast of Easter with joy and thanksgiving for the victory which Jesus has won for you over sin and death?
“Lord Jesus Christ, you have triumphed over the grave and you have won new life for us. Give me the eyes of faith to see you in your glory. Help me to draw near to you and to grow in the knowledge of your great love and power.”
18. The report of the guard and the women who saw Jesus risen
Scripture: Matthew 28:8b-15
8 So they departed quickly from the tomb with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples. 9 And behold, Jesus met them and said, “Hail!” 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 tell my brethren to go to Galilee, and there they will see me.” 11 While they were going, behold, some of the guard went into the city and told the chief priests all that had taken place. 12 And when they had assembled with the elders and taken counsel, they gave a sum of money to the soldiers 13 and said, “Tell people, `His disciples came by night and stole him away while we were asleep.’ 14 And if this comes to the governor’s ears, we will satisfy him and keep you out of trouble.” 15 So they took the money and did as they were directed; and this story has been spread among the Jews to this day.
Are you prepared to meet the Risen Lord? The disciples of Jesus were as unprepared for his resurrection as they were for his death. The empty tomb made them fearful and joyful at the same time. “Where did they put the body or did he really rise just as he predicted?” Even though Jesus had spoken to them before of his death and rising, they could not believe until they saw the empty tomb and met the risen Lord. Aren’t we the same? We want to see with our own eyes before we believe!
The guards brought their testimony to the chief priests and elders who met the news with denial. They were resolved to not believe that Jesus had risen and they bribed the guards in the hope of keeping others from believing.
What is the basis of our faith in the resurrection? The Scriptures tell us that
“Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” – Hebrews 11:1
Faith is an entirely free gift that God makes to us. Our faith is a free assent to the whole truth which God reveals to us through his word. Faith is certain because it is based on the very word of God who cannot lie. Faith also seeks understanding. That is why God enlightens the “eyes of our hearts” that we may know what is the hope to which he has called us (Ephesians 1:18).
Peter the Apostles says we have been born anew to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead (1 Peter 1:3). Through the gift of faith, the Lord reveals himself to those who believe in his word and he fills them with “new life in his Holy Spirit.” Do you live in the joy and hope of the resurrection? And do you recognize the presence of the Risen Lord in his word, in the “breaking of the bread,”, and in his church, the body of Christ?
“Lord Jesus, may we always live in the joy and hope of the resurrection and never lose sight of its truth for our lives.”
19. The Risen Jesus commissions his disciples
Scripture: Matthew 28:16-20
16 Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. 17 And when they saw him they worshiped him; but some doubted. 18 And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age.”
Why did Jesus leave his beloved disciples forty days after his resurrection? Forty is a significant number in the Scriptures. Moses went to the mountain to seek the face of God for forty days in prayer and fasting. The people of Israel were in the wilderness for forty years in preparation for their entry into the promised land. Elijah fasted for forty days as he journeyed in the wilderness to the mountain of God. For forty days after his resurrection Jesus appeared numerous times to his disciples to assure them that he had risen indeed and to prepare them for the task of carrying on the work which he began during his earthy ministry.
Jesus’ departure and ascension into heaven was both an end and a beginning for his disciples. While it was the end of Jesus’ physical presence with his beloved disciples, it marked the beginning of Jesus’ presence with them in a new way. Jesus promised that he would be with them always to the end of time. He assured them of his power – a power which overcame sin and death. Now as the glorified and risen Lord and Savior, ascended to the right hand of the Father in heaven, Jesus promised to give them the power of his Holy Spirit, which we see fulfilled ten days later on the Feast of Pentecost (Luke 24:49 and Acts 2:1-4). When the Lord Jesus departed physically from the apostles, they were not left alone or powerless. Jesus assured them of his presence and the power and guidance of the Holy Spirit.
Jesus’ last words to his apostles point to his saving mission and to their mission to be witnesses of his saving death and his glorious resurrection and to proclaim the good news of salvation to all the world. Their task is to proclaim the good news of salvation, not only to the people of Israel, but to all the nations. God’s love and gift of salvation is not just for a few, or for a nation, but it is for the whole world – for all who will accept it. The Gospel is the power of God, the power to forgive sins, to heal, to deliver from evil and oppression, and to restore life. Do you believe in the power of the Gospel?
This is the great commission which the risen Christ gives to the whole church. All believers have been given a share in this task – to be heralds of the good news and ambassadors for Jesus Christ, the only savior of the world. We have not been left alone in this task, for the risen Lord Jesus works in and through us by the power of his Holy Spirit. Today we witness a new Pentecost as the Lord pours out his Holy Spirit upon his people to renew and strengthen the body of Christ and to equip it for effective ministry and mission world-wide. Do you witness to others the joy of the Gospel and the hope of the resurrection?
“Lord Jesus, through the gift of your Holy Spirit, you fill us with an indomitable spirit of praise and joy which no earthly trial can subdue. Fill me with your resurrection joy and help me to live a life of praise and thanksgiving for your glory. May I witness to those around me the joy of the Gospel and the reality of your resurrection.”
Top image of the Risen Jesus appearing to the women, watercolor illustration by James Tissot, image in the public domain. See The Life of Christ Illustrated by James Tissot: An Artist with a Burning Compulsion to Paint the Narrative Story of the Bible.