The Truth, the Lie, and the Power of the Resurrection

Regardless of where one is on the political spectrum, there is a tendency to see news from someone who differs as “fake news,” or at least believe that facts have been selected or manipulated. The account in Matthew 28:1–15 of the resurrection of Christ gives rise to an attempt to spin the news of the empty tomb.

Believe the truth: Christ has been raised from the dead. Listen to the angel announce the empty tomb. The women arrived to perform their last service to their Lord. They had been faithful during his earthly ministry. They, unlike the frightened disciples, had witnessed the death and burial of their Lord, Matthew 27:55,56. Now they were visiting the tomb, and, as the other gospels tell us, intended to anoint the body. An angel rolled away the stone to reveal the empty tomb. His majestic appearance struck terror in the hearts of the guards, who apparently fainted or were paralyzed with fear. Rolling back the stone was not so much to allow the Lord to exit (his risen body could appear in wonderful ways), but to show that the tomb was indeed empty. What had been a sealed barrier becomes a convenient seat! God provides an angelic messenger with the news that the empty tomb is explained by the resurrection of the Lord. “Yes, the living Saviour, alive for evermore, is the same Jesus who suffered and died. We cannot know him as the living One in any other identity. and we cannot know him in his vicarious suffering and death on our behalf in any other identity than that defined by his resurrection and the endless life that is his by the great event of the first Lord’s day.” (“The Living Saviour,” Collected Writings of John Murray, Vol. 1, p. 43)

Hear Jesus promise to meet his brothers in Galilee. The Savior is with you. Matthew’s Gospel (in distinction from the other gospel accounts) focuses on the coming appearance of the risen Lord in Galilee. That keeps being emphasized in this chapter. This is tied in with Jesus being the Shepherd of his lost sheep. Because he is absent from the tomb, he can be present with you. Jesus thus appeared to the frightened, joyful women as they returned to the city. Because he has been raised (and has ascended), your Lord can be with you more richly than was true during his earthly ministry. While on earth in the flesh he was subject to the limitations of human existence. When he was in Jerusalem he was not in Galilee. Now, as he is present through his Spirit, there is no place on earth from which he is absent. As the risen Lord is he is with you as you face suffering, turmoil, and grief. His absence from the tomb means his presence with you. The presence of the risen Lord is reaffirmed in the Great Commission, v.20. As the risen Savior, he is worthy of your praise. Notice how the women clasp his feet, a Middle Eastern sign of reverence and adoration. Don’t limit your worship of the risen Lord to “Easter.” Each Lord’s Day is the time to celebrate his resurrection. Each Lord’s Day is the time to worship him. Make the news of Christ’s resurrection known. The women are informed of the good news, and told to “Go quickly and tell his disciples,” verse 7. Jesus repeats the instruction to go and tell, verse 10.

Reject the lie that Christ did not rise. A lie denies the resurrection. The priests had feared an empty tomb. Rumors of resurrection would have damaged their position. Thus they had been willing to violate the Sabbath to go to Pilate and obtain authorization for a guard and permission to seal the tomb, all of which was carried out. Now the tomb was empty—and they had to explain it. Not that they believed the resurrection. The Temple priests were Sadducees, who denied the existence of angels and who did not believe in the resurrection. They plot with the elders and do damage control. A bribe persuades the guard to spread the story of the disciples stealing Jesus’ body. Almost any story, no matter how implausible, would be better than credible evidence of the resurrection. Matthew records that at the time of his writing his Gospel, the lie was still in circulation.

The lie contradicts itself. God uses the action of the chief priests to establish what they had wanted desperately to deny. Unbelieving man desperately wants a nice, logical, non-miraculous explanation for the empty tomb. This story falls apart. While it may work for some, and especially at a distance (in time), it contains the seeds of its own refutation. If the guards were asleep, how can they know who stole the body? Note that Gamaliel did not appeal to grave robbing in Acts 5:34–40, though the apostles before the Sanhedrin had just spoken of the resurrection. God uses even the sinful acts of men to accomplish his purposes. The sovereign Lord of the universe assures you of the truth of what happened. The Savior who was crucified is alive. The tomb is empty.

Denials continue today. Old liberal theology dismissed the resurrection as a myth. More recently theologians will argue that belief in the resurrection is crucial to Christianity, but that does not mean that on a particular day in history the dead body of Jesus came back to life. Belief is important, but it is disconnected from the real, historical world in which we live. An then there are those who still treat the resurrection as just some nice made-up story. “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)

Live in the power of the risen Christ. God has come in redemptive power. “The resurrection is nothing if not his [Christ’s] deliverance from the power and curse of death which was in force until the moment of being raised.” (Richard B. Gaffin Jr., Resurrection and Redemption, p. 116) 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. Habakkuk, some six centuries before Christ’s coming, cried out over the seemingly unpunished sin of Judah. God promised to send the Babylonians as judgment, but their evil cruelty caused the prophet more consternation. In Habakkuk 2, God tells the prophet that the just will live by faith, language picked up by Paul and echoed in the Protestant Reformation. But focus on the third chapter, the prophet;s prayer. In the midst of the suffering and turmoil he faces, he sees the Lord coming as he did at Sinai. The first Exodus anticipates the great Exodus of the messianic Day of the Lord. Like the prophet, we have experienced God’s deliverance, but still look forward to its consummation. We walk by faith, not by sight.

Live, united with Christ in his death and resurrection. That means that you live this week in the power of Christ’s resurrection. “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 was 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) If you trust in him, you were united with him in his death and his resurrection is the firstfruits of yours. Christ is no longer subject to the suffering and power of death. And you belong with him. He has gone before you. You are no longer a slave to sin. You live in hope, even in the trials and suffering you face.

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. Rejoice, the Lord is risen indeed.

About jwm

I serve as pastor of Trinity Presbyterian Church, Newberg, Oregon.
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