You cannot separate the resurrection from any part of your life as a Christian. The resurrection is crucial to worship on every Lord’s Day. Sometimes people say, “It’s as quiet as a tomb.” The sabbath rest had been disturbed only by the sealing of the rock entrance to the tomb, and the posting of the guard. But, as you read in Matthew 28:1–9, suddenly that peace is shattered!
Appreciate the uniqueness of Matthew’s Gospel. There are differences among the Gospel accounts of the resurrection. The differences can be harmonized. Appreciate the difference in perspective which each witness brings. They have in common the empty tomb and the presence of angelic beings who explain that. Each Gospel assures you that the Lord is risen indeed!
Matthew has his own emphasis. He alone mentions the earthquake. He alone describes the guard, their reaction, and the ensuing cover story. Matthew, more than any of the other Gospels, emphasizes the appearance of Jesus to his followers in Galilee. This is in fulfillment of Jesus’ words to his disciples on the Mount of Olives in Matthew 26:30–35.
See the saving power of God. Once again the earth shakes, for the Day of the Lord has come! At the moment of judgment, at the death of Christ, there had been a severe earthquake, Matthew 27:51–54; see Joel 2:10–11. Once again the earth shakes, indicating the powerful presence of the Lord, see Exodus 19:18,19; Psalm 97:4; Isaiah 64:3. The Lord is present, both to defeat his enemies and to deliver his people. And the triumph of the latter is in view here. (It seems that the earthquake and the angel’s appearance happened before the arrival of the women on the scene.)
The Lord’s angel is involved in the unfolding of God’s redemptive work. The angel tells the women, “He has been raised” (the verb is best translated as passive). The Savior who had died is truly alive again. At the beginning of his Gospel Matthew records the activity of the angel of the Lord in announcing the birth of the Messiah and providing protection for the Baby, Matthew 1:20; 2:2:13,19. Now, at the end of the Gospel, with the work of redemption accomplished, the angel returns. Apparently he doesn’t roll back the stone to let Jesus out (the risen Lord seems to have already left the tomb), but rather to display the empty tomb to the visitors. At his coming (with lightning-like appearance and gleaming garments) the hardened soldiers shake (as the earth was doing) and become like dead men. The guards are reduced to total passivity. The rock covering the entrance had been carefully sealed by the leaders of Israel, and was being watched by guards. But the angel shoves it back, and uses it as a convenient seat!
Live in the power of the resurrection! The tomb lies empty. The angel identifies Jesus as the one who was crucified. The remark wasn’t necessary to identify Jesus. The women, at a time when most of the disciples had fled, had witnessed the death and burial of Jesus, Mt.27:55–61. His crucifixion was the reason for their presence at the tomb that morning. They had witnessed the initial preparation of the body, but had been prevented by the Sabbath from completing their sad last service to their Lord, Luke 23:55–24:1. It might seem as though the angel was insensitively reminding them of their grief. Jesus’s crucifixion was vital to your salvation. Jesus’ entire ministry had been directed to the events which took place in Jerusalem that Passover. The betrayal and crucifixion may have taken the disciples by surprise, but Jesus had been warning them repeatedly of his coming suffering and death. That death was made necessary by the sins of those for whom he died. It was needed because of your sin, and those of all his covenant people. The cross shows the absolute justice of God. Rather than leave your sin unpunished, he laid its guilt and punishment upon his own Son. The cross shows the incomprehensible depth of God’s love. If you take nothing else away with you this morning, remember that Jesus died on the cross and was raised the third day–so that your sins are forgiven as you trust in him. Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief, is the way Paul put it. Profound simplicity that contains good news beyond expression! The empty tomb is evidence of the resurrection. The women were invited to “come and see.” Notice that although they still feared, they were filled with joy, v.8, even before the risen Lord appeared to them. The empty tomb was followed by the appearances of the Lord, to the women, v. 9, to Peter, to the rest of the disciples, and even to more than 500 at once, 1 Corinthians 15:6. The empty tomb cannot be explained apart from the resurrection, not by the guards’ story inspired by the priests, not by the theories of skeptics, not by the theology of “neo-orthodoxy.” The message of the resurrection formed the heart of the preaching of the apostolic church and witness. We’ve done a good job (especially in Reformed theological circles) of reflecting on the meaning of the suffering and death of Christ. Perhaps we have failed to emphasize as we should, the power of the resurrection. The resurrection is an actual historical event. But it is also something that involves you. If it changes your life, it is because it is something that actually happened. “The lively assurance of our reconciliation with God arises from Christ having come from hell as the conqueror of death, in order to show that he had the power of a new life at his disposal.” (John Calvin, Commentary on the Gospels at Matthew 28)
You who believe have been raised with Christ. Just as the death of Christ was not simply something that affected him alone, so he was raised as your representative. Matthew has already reminded you of the firstfruits aspect of Christ’s redemptive work in Matthew 27:52,53. Tthe kingship of Christ was crucial to his suffering and death. But Christ, as the messianic king, cannot remain in the state of humiliation. “By his resurrection Christ in fact entered a new state. As the mediator he has been exalted at God’s right hand above all creatures.” “[B]y his suffering and death, he obtained the right to the resurrection, and hence also in his exaltation he he made no use of his power other than in the way of justice. Inasmuch as by one human being death came into the world, so also the resurrection from the dead waqs made into the principle of eternal life by a human being (1 Cor. 15:21). As the firstborn in this sense, therefore, Christ is also raised up to eternal life.” (Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, Vol. 3, pages 435 & 437) His kingship blossoms in his resurrection. Christ was constituted “Son of God with power” by the resurrection of the dead, Romans 1:3,4. It is in that resurrection power that Jesus makes the astounding claim that he does in Matthew 28:18 just before he ascends. The Spirit of him who raised up Christ is working powerfully in you, Romans 8:11. It is only in the power of that resurrection that you, his people, his church, can carry out the Great Commission. Your resurrection with Christ means your involvement in his new life, Romans 6:1–14. Precisely because you have been raised with Christ (Colossians 3:1) you must be about the business of the slaughterhouse with your sins (Colossians 3:5ff.). The resurrection of Christ means that he is renewing his creation. Though it still suffers under the bondage of sin (Paul speaks of it groaning), even the creation looks forward to the full unfolding of the rule of the King who has been raised.
Thank God that Matthew’s Gospel does not conclude with the silence of the tomb. The quiet dawn was shattered by the display of power, because the Lord had been raised for your salvation. Whether you believe it or not, you are before the risen, all-powerful Christ. Trust him, rest upon his death and resurrection. Respond in unison (as the church has done for hundreds of years): Rejoice, the Lord is risen. The Lord is risen indeed.