In our final group meetings this semester, we used Matthew 28 to launch into a deeper discussion on the importance of the resurrection. We visited Paul in 1 Corinthians 15 and saw how fundamental the resurrection of Jesus is to the Christian faith; it is a matter “of first importance,” Paul says. We could have just as easily spent a whole week talking about the Great Commission and the importance of making disciples and ministering in the power of the Holy Spirit.
All of that is true, wonderful, and necessary, but since Christmas is right around the corner, and this is the fourth week of Advent, let’s slow down and pay close attention to the story of the women visiting Jesus’ tomb on Sunday, the third day after His death.
Matt. 28:1-10 After the sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb. And suddenly there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord, descending from heaven, came and rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow. For fear of him the guards shook and became like dead men. But the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for he has been raised, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples, ‘He has been raised from the dead, and indeed he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him.’ This is my message for you.” So they left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples. Suddenly Jesus met them and said, “Greetings!” And they came to him, took hold of his feet, and worshiped him. Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.”
When the women get to Jesus’ tomb, see the stone rolled back, and hear of the resurrection by way an angel of the Lord, they are afraid. That is, in fact, a common response in the bible when people meet messengers/angels of the Lord, and verse 4 notes that the guards even “shook and became like dead mean.” Given all this, the first thing the angel tells the women is, “Do not be afraid.” The women can’t help but be afraid, yet they remain standing and even run away to share the good news, so they certainly fared better than the guards did.
The angel continues, “…I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. He is not here, for he has been raised, as He said. Come see the place where He lay.”
The angel’s words here teach us something important about the nature of Jesus’ resurrection: it was bodily. Jesus did not merely rise again spiritually, nor did His soul fly up and away to be with God. The tomb was empty. The body was gone.
But the news gets even better. The angel finishes His message by instructing the women to go tell Jesus’ disciples about the resurrection and to tell them that Jesus is going ahead of them to Galilee where they can actually see him. Wonderful—but note how these ladies left. We already know that they should understandably a bit afraid, yet Matthew adds in verse 8:
“…they left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples.”
The hope of the gospel of Jesus has the ability, unlike anything else in this life, to produce in us a great joy. Yes, sometimes, the story of our lives, like the story of Jesus’ life and ministry on earth, takes twists and turns that leave us anxious and worried, filled with sorrow like Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane. But we know, thanks be to God through the resurrection of His Son, that even the final enemy—death–does not have the final word!
That is why we can have joy despite the circumstances; that is not to say we do not mourn loses. As Paul says, though, we do not “mourn as those who have no hope.” (1 Thes. 4:13) There is the difference.
Perhaps, then, you and I are exactly like the women in Matthew 28, and just like the shepherds in the field on the night Jesus was born (Luke 2). Perhaps we need to hear those same words spoken by the angels and even Jesus Himself upon meeting the two women after His resurrection:
“Do not be afraid.”
And “remember,” said Jesus in Matt. 28:20, the last verse of the Gospel according to Matthew:
“I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
May Paul’s prayer for the Christians in Italy be true also for the readers of this blog post: “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” (Rom. 15:13)
Have a merry Christmas that is filled with joy, peace, and hope.