SERMON TITLE: The Resurrection
TEXT: Matthew 28:1-10 (NLT)
SPEAKER: Josh Hanson
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He is risen. [He is risen indeed!] As always it’s a joy to be with all of you this weekend at Gateway Church. And there’s one thing I want you to know — and this is true if you’re worshiping with us for the first time or are joining us at our North Main Campus — I want you to know that God loves you and that I love you too.
If you have your Bible please turn with me to Matthew chapter 28. We’ll be looking at verses 1-10 together this Easter. And I want to invite you to go on a journey with me. For some of us — this journey will be familiar. For others of us — this journey may be new territory. For others — this journey is going to be uncomfortable because of presuppositions you’re going to bring with you on this journey. But — think of me as your guide — as we journey back two thousand years ago to an event that changed history.
We’re in Matthew chapter 28. Beginning in verse 1.
Early on Sunday morning, as the new day was dawning, - Matthew 28:1a NLT
On Friday — Jesus was crucified on a cross. Though innocent — he was found guilty and sentenced to death. And — not just any old death — but a death considered to be cursed by God. You see, the religious leaders — who hated Christ — knew that “If someone has committed a crime worthy of death and is executed and hung on a tree, 23 the body must not remain hanging from the tree overnight. You must bury the body that same day, for anyone who is hung is cursed in the sight of God. In this way, you will prevent the defilement of the land the Lord your God is giving you as your special possession.” - Deuteronomy 21:22-23 NLT
These religious leaders were making a statement not only by murdering Jesus — but in how they executed him. “Hang him on a tree,” they thought. Let’s show him that he — not us — that he’s the one cursed by God. This happened on Friday — but now it’s Sunday. And — early in the morning — that time of day when darkness is just giving way to the morning light — a new day dawns. And…
Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went out to visit the tomb. - Matthew 28:1b NLT
Something that’s easy for our modern ears to miss — is how radical this is for Matthew to record. What’s so radical? That two women — who both happened to be named Mary — are recorded as the eyewitnesses to all of this. You see — in this time period — a woman's testimony was considered less reliable than a man’s. (Study Note, Matthew 28:1, New Living Translation Illustrated Study Bible) I know we moderns cringe at this kind of idea — but if we — instead of judging this culture by our standards — simply allow the culture to speak for itself — we’ll realize that we’ve come across something important. What’s that?
If the resurrection of Jesus was something crafted by his disciples — if the resurrection didn’t really happen — why would Matthew — and the other gospel writers — have women be the first to witness the empty tomb? Based on the culture of their day, this would hurt the credibility of the resurrection — not strengthen what was already a wild sounding story. So — if you doubt the resurrection of Jesus — a question you need to wrestle with — and answer — is this: If the resurrection isn’t true, why are women recorded as the first eye witnesses? Because this would’ve hindered the believability of the resurrection — it wouldn’t have made the story more convincing to folks living two thousand years ago.
And not only are these two witnesses women — one of them has a scandalous story — making her credibility even harder to pass the sniff test. We’ll get to the scandalous woman in a moment — but let’s start with the Mary whose story isn’t scandalous — she’s referred to as the other Mary. We know a bit about her — for example — she’s the mother of James and Joses and was the wife of Alphaeus. (See Luke 6:15) And she was present at Christ’s crucifixion and — Mark tells us — that she paid attention to where Jesus had been buried.
Now the scandalous Mary — this is Mary Magdalene. Magdalene isn’t her last name — it refers to the city she was from. But what’s so scandalous about her? She once was demonized — meaning she’s the Mary who Jesus healed of seven demons. And there were strong assumptions — back in this day and age — that any sort of health afflictions were punishments from God. So — if you and I had been there — we would’ve thought, “What horrible thing did she do to end up with so many demons?”
All that to say — not exactly the witness you want to testify in court on your behalf if you're Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John — who all include Mary Magdalene as an eyewitness of Jesus’ resurrection. You see — just like in our day — even the ancients had winners and losers. People whose word was to be trusted simply because of their gender or because of other social expectations. Secularists divide people up into winners and losers and so do religious people. As one pastor has said, “The world says there’s the in and the out, the winners and the losers, the talented people and the failures. The world says, “That’s the big division.” Of course, back then the women were the losers. Religion says, “No, no, no. The big division is there are the good people and the bad people. There are the moral people and the immoral people. There are the decent people, and then there are the nasty and ratty people.” Jesus shows up to the outsiders, not the insiders. He shows up to the “bad” people, not the good people, when he shows up to Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James and Joses.” (Tim Keller)
The distinction between Christianity and secularism — even between Christianity and religion — is that Christianity says that no matter how we try to divide ourselves up — good and bad — insiders and outsiders — the winners and the losers — that as long as we focus on ourselves — where what we do is what makes us good or bad — what we do is what makes us an insider or an outsider — a winner or a loser — as long as we focus on what we do — we miss the whole point of everything. The reason why Jesus came to live, die, and rise from the grave is because — based on what we do — all of us are bad — all of us are outsiders — all of us are losers. Jesus is the only One who is truly good. He’s the only insider when it comes to being right with God. He’s the only winner. But the Good News — what Christians call the gospel — is this: though none of us are good — Jesus came for bad people. He came for outsiders. Jesus came for losers.
And the upside down way of Christianity is that when we recognize that we’re bad — so bad that we’ll never be good enough on our own — and recognize that we’re all on the outside when it comes to an eternity where there’s no more death, pain, suffering, injustice, and so on — and that we’re all losers — it’s when we recognize this about ourselves that we’re ready to recognize who Jesus is and what he accomplished in his life, death, and resurrection. It’s at this moment when we’re able to see that we need his goodness to count for our badness. That we need him — who has the insider invitation to the eternal banquet — to put our name down as his plus one on the invitation. We need Jesus to give us credit for his victory so that we’re winners even though we didn’t contribute anything to the victory.
Let’s return back to our verses — and we’re going to have to speed things up because we’re only one verse in on this journey together. In verse two we read…
Suddenly there was a great earthquake! For an angel of the Lord came down from heaven, rolled aside the stone, and sat on it. 3 His face shone like lightning, and his clothing was as white as snow. 4 The guards shook with fear when they saw him, and they fell into a dead faint. - Matthew 28:2-4 NLT
I want to stop here and bring to your attention a few details that are easy to quickly pass by. First, this is the second earthquake to happen over the course of the weekend. On Friday — during his final moments of life — “Jesus cried out again with a loud voice and gave up his spirit. 51 Just then the temple curtain was torn in two, from top to bottom. The earth shook and the rocks were split apart. 52 And tombs were opened, and the bodies of many saints who had died were raised. 53 (They came out of the tombs after his resurrection and went into the holy city and appeared to many people.) 54 Now when the centurion and those with him who were guarding Jesus saw the earthquake and what took place, they were extremely terrified and said, “Truly this one was God’s Son!” 55 Many women who had followed Jesus from Galilee and given him support were also there, watching from a distance. 56 Among them were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Joseph, and the mother of the sons of Zebedee.” - Matthew 27:50-56 NLT
Another argument against the resurrection being true is to say something like, “The disciples of Jesus sincerely believed that it happened, but it was a personal spiritual experience for them — Jesus didn’t actually rise from the dead.” Well — if that’s the case — what do you do with all of these other formerly dead people who came back to life and walked around the city of Jerusalem? Surely someone would’ve refuted all of this if Matthew was just making it up. Surely we’d have on record someone proving that all of this was a hoax if it was simply a “personal spiritual experience” the disciples had, right? But no such writings exist.
Back to Sunday morning. As this angel comes down from Heaven a second earthquake shakes the earth. I love what one person said about these two earthquakes. “The earth, which trembled with sorrow at the death of Christ leaped for joy at his resurrection.” (Cornelius a Lapide) I hope Jesus’ resurrection causes you to leap with joy.
Then the angel rolls the stone away that sealed the tomb and — the guards at the tomb — stationed there to keep the body of Jesus from being stolen by his disciples — which brings up another theory some have tried to use to discredit the resurrection — that the body was missing because the disciples stole it and then spread rumors about the resurrection — well the guards are still on duty when this all takes place. And their response to the angel’s arrival is fear — that leads to them fainting.
And we’re not sure exactly what happened next. Did the soldiers wake up and take off running or are they still knocked out cold when the two Mary’s arrive? It doesn’t really matter either way because — once the women arrive…
Then the angel spoke to the women. “Don’t be afraid!” he said. - Matthew 28:5a NLT
These two women were headed to the tomb with spices — a common burial practice of the day. So — this journey to the tomb for them — was similar to us going to a gravesite to pay our respects. They’re probably hoping for some peace and quiet — the past few days have been chaotic and shocking — and they’re wanting to mourn the death of someone they love. But — upon arriving at the tomb — they get anything but peace and quiet — they encounter an angel! And it’s understandable that the women would be afraid of the angel — nearly everyone in the Bible who sees an angel responds in fear — thus the angel tells them to not be afraid. But — unlike the soldiers — who passed out — the women are still standing. And the angel tells them…
“I know you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. 6 He isn’t here! He is risen from the dead, just as he said would happen. Come, see where his body was lying. 7 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.” 8 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 28:5b-8 NLT
The angel’s goal isn’t to terrify these women — it’s to encourage them. He knows why they’ve come to the tomb — they’re looking for Jesus. “But he isn’t here — he’s risen from the dead.” Yet — the angel invites the women to come and see that the tomb is empty. Though an angel — he doesn’t ask the women to blindly accept his word — he invites them to come and see. Similarly, I’m not asking you to blindly take me at my word — I’m extending to you an invitation to come and see if what the Scriptures say about who we are, who Jesus is, and what he accomplished in his life, death, and resurrection — I’m inviting you to come and see for yourself if this is worth believing or not. The world makes no such invitation — the world demands that “this is what you must believe” or you’re an outsider. The world demands you blindly accept to be true what it says and — if you ask questions — you’ll be labeled a bad person, a loser, someone to be canceled.
Just like the women were invited to come and see and investigate the empty tomb — I’m inviting you to come and see and investigate the life of Jesus with us here at Gateway. We’ve worked at becoming a place where it’s safe for you to ask questions. This is why — if you don’t know — we started a church podcast. Most of what we talk about on the podcast is based on questions you send in — because we want you to accept the invitation to come and see and explore who Jesus is.
Finally — in verse nine — we read…
And as they went, Jesus met them and greeted them. And they ran to him, grasped his feet, and worshiped him. 10 Then Jesus said to them, “Don’t be afraid! Go tell my brothers to leave for Galilee, and they will see me there.” - Matthew 28:1-10 NLT
These two women — whose testimony would’ve been dismissed simply because they were female — run into Jesus. And he’s alive. Oh — he was dead — but not any longer — for he defeated death. And these women worship him because now they’re starting to understand what he’d been teaching for the past three years — that only God is to be worshiped and that he is God. And Jesus tells them to go and tell his disciples to head to Galilee. “Tell them that I’m alive and they’ll be seeing me soon.” And this is what they did — they went and told the disciples all that they had seen and been told.
So the question for you and for me — the question for us — is how will we respond to the testimony of these two women. Will you dismiss what they have to say? Now — I know, I know — you’re not dismissing what they have to say because they’re women — but — at the end of the day — is your reason for dismissing their testimony any better than the sexism of their day? Why not investigate their testimony — really explore what they have to say — and not be quick to dismiss their word simply because it doesn’t fit with what you believe.
Others of us may now have more questions — because of their testimony. What are you going to do with your questions? Let me encourage you to act on them and do so quickly. It’s so easy to leave here, fill your belly with a nice Easter lunch, and go back to life on autopilot forgetting the questions that are stirring in your heart and mind right now. Maybe you need to make a note in your phone so you won’t forget your questions. Or tell the person sitting next to you, “I’ve got some questions I’d like to talk about. Can we set up a time to meet?” Or text your question in on our church app or website — gatewayepc.org — and we’ll let you know when we’ve answered it. What can you do — right now — to make sure you seek out answers to the questions you have?
Finally, for some of us — for many of us, I hope — the testimony of these women has reassured you of what you believe. You’re leaving here with greater confidence in the faith you walked in here with. My question for you — if this is you — is who can you invite to come and see and explore the truths of Jesus along with you? Who do you need to go and tell the life changing, hope giving, joy stirring news that’s found in the words, “He is not here; he’s risen from the dead”? For there are people in your life — your family, friends, classmates, coworkers — people whom God has put in your life so you can share the Good News with them. The Good News of God’s great love for all people as displayed in the life, death, and resurrection of his Son, Jesus Christ. Let’s pray.
Heavenly Father, thank you that the tomb is empty, that death no longer has the victory, and that you have done for us what we could not do for ourselves. Thank you for your great love for us.
Spirit of God, give life to new hearts today. Stir questions in the hearts of many listening that they will not be satisfied until they find an answer. Why am I here? How does a person become right with God? What does it mean to believe in Jesus? Lead them, guide them, and direct them to your answers to their questions.
And — Jesus — thank you for inviting us to be your plus one to the eternal banquet. Thank you for being merciful to bad people, for being kind to outsiders, and for being gracious to losers like me. And thank you for loving us — not because we’ve earned or deserved your love — but simply because it delights you to love us. And — in loving us — you make us good, you make us insiders, you make us winners. In your name we pray. Amen.
May you go believing that Jesus is risen for he is risen indeed. Amen.
God loves you. I love you. You are sent.
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