In this text we have a microcosm of the entire gospel. There is the crucified Christ, buried in a borrowed tomb. There is the announcement of His resurrection, and the fact that He is already at work in the hearts and lives of His followers; as well as the confusion and lies by those who wouldn't receive Him.
This is the gospel of the graveyard. And what do you do with the Gospel?
Early on Sunday morning, as the new day was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went out to visit the tomb. Suddenly there was a great earthquake! For an angel of the Lord came down from heaven, rolled aside the stone, and sat on it. His face shone like lightning, and his clothing was as white as snow. The guards shook with fear when they saw him, and they fell into a dead faint. Then the angel spoke to the women. “Don’t be afraid!” he said. “I know you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He isn’t here! He is risen from the dead, just as he said would happen. Come, see where his body was lying. Matthew 28:1-6 (NLT)
The gospel is really simple to understand. Not simplistic, but well-within anyone's ability to comprehend. One theologian called the Bible "God's Baby Talk," meaning that God lowered His level of communicating so we could see Him clearly.
These few verses form the heart of what Christ did for us. He was crucified.
Sometimes we forget that He really did die; but then, the resurrection.
He arose a victor from the dark domain;
And He lives forever with His saints to reign.
He arose, He arose; Hallelujah! Christ arose!
This is the Christian distinctive. It is what makes Christianity different from the world's other religions - the bodily resurrection of Jesus.
Many of the world’s religions are stuck in an endless cycle of reincarnation, bound to repeat this life's evils and pain until, through trial and error, they get it right, and are released to oblivion. No bodily resurrection - just annihilation. Animists pass along their life through DNA, not even hoping for life after death.
But, in Christianity we have a better hope. Note that the angel rolled away the stone. Beloved, he didn't do that to let Jesus out....it was so the women could see He was gone! The Lord is like that. It’s not His actions or worth which need proving, it’s our faith that needs strengthening!
Did you ever wonder why you have temptations and trials? It isn't so God can test you to see how you're doing; HE KNOWS HOW YOU'RE DOING! It's so YOU can see how you're doing!
Learn the lesson of the tomb. Don't ever invest in anything you can't take to heaven. That's welcoming the gospel!
And now, go quickly and tell his disciples that he has risen from the dead, and he is going ahead of you to Galilee. You will see him there. Remember what I have told you.” The women ran quickly from the tomb. They were very frightened but also filled with great joy, and they rushed to give the disciples the angel’s message. Matthew 28:7-8(NLT)
The angel tells the women to go share what they've just learned. Paul Harvey said: Too many Christians are no longer fishers of men, but keepers of the aquarium.
Note that the angel told them Jesus was preceding them into Galilee. Jesus would have had a long wait there if the women had not been obedient to share the good news. The Bible says they were afraid, but went anyway. And they went with a sense of great joy.
There is a promise in this. It won't ever be easy to be a witness, but when you are obedient, Christ will already be there. When is the last time you felt the great joy of sharing a witness?
And as they went, Jesus met them and greeted them. And they ran to him, grasped his feet, and worshiped him. Then Jesus said to them, “Don’t be afraid! Go tell my brothers to leave for Galilee, and they will see me there.” Matthew 28:9-10(NLT)
In obedience, engaged in the work they'd been called-to, the women encounter the risen Christ. I have found that to be true always. There is something about giving yourself away that inevitably leads to finding yourself in Christ's company.
Why is He worthy of worship? Aside from the fact that He is God, see how Jesus refers to the disciples as His brothers. This is the only time Jesus ever directly called them brothers. And Jesus called them “brothers” following the last thing those brothers had done – forsake Jesus and run away. Forgiveness like that demands my full attention and worship.
As the women were on their way, some of the guards went into the city and told the leading priests what had happened. A meeting with the elders was called, and they decided to give the soldiers a large bribe. They told the soldiers, “You must say, ‘Jesus’ disciples came during the night while we were sleeping, and they stole his body.’ If the governor hears about it, we’ll stand up for you so you won’t get in trouble.” So the guards accepted the bribe and said what they were told to say. Their story spread widely among the Jews, and they still tell it today. Matthew 28:1-15(NLT)
There is a tension here between truth and lie. The women were on their way with the truth to tell. The guards started out the same way, but were convinced to lie.
THE LIE WAS PURCHASED
Some people will ignore the facts and, in arrogance and belligerence, tell the lie; even worse, sometimes they’ll pay someone else to lie for them.
THE LIE WAS PREPOSTEROUS
How in the world could the guards keep their eyes open to see the disciples steal Jesus' body, and yet claim to still be sleeping? In addition, why would the disciples die for a lie? Preposterous!
A small boy was brought to the pastor to cure him of lying. So, using reverse psychology the preacher told him a whopper. I was preaching last week, said the parson, when a big ol' grizzly bear broke in the church and was a'comin' right for me. Just when I thought I was a gonner, a little brown dog, no bigger'n a minute, came an' snatched that grizzly by the neck, fought him all the way down the aisle and out the door. Once't he got him outside the little pooch killed that bear and ate him right on the spot. Do you believe that?
The boy took a deep breath and said, Preacher; that was MY dog!
THE LIE WAS PERSISTENT
Matthew was written forty years after the resurrection...a long time for a preposterous lie. But, you know how hard it is to put the toothpaste back in the tube once it's out. Untruth dies hard. It’s much like the story that Mrs. O'Leary's cow kicked over a lantern to start the great Chicago fire. Fact was Mrs. O'Leary was in bed. A reporter named Michael Ahern later admitted that he made up the story to add color to his account of the fire.
What do you do about the lie? Just watch it die. Vance Havner once said about lies: Just shed a little light on a lie; the darkness of a lie scatters like creepy, crawly things in the basement when the light comes on.
In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit!