MATTHEW 28: 1-10
THE BEST POSSIBLE HOPE: JESUS
Jesus Has Risen
28 After the Sabbath, at dawn on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to look at the tomb.
2 There was a violent earthquake, for an angel of the Lord came down from heaven and, going to the tomb, rolled back the stone and sat on it. 3 His appearance was like lightning, and his clothes were white as snow. 4 The guards were so afraid of him that they shook and became like dead men.
5 The angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. 6 He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay. 7 Then go quickly and tell his disciples: ‘He has risen from the dead and is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him.’ Now I have told you.”
8 So the women hurried away from the tomb, afraid yet filled with joy, and ran to tell his disciples. 9 Suddenly Jesus met them. “Greetings,” he said. They came to him, clasped his feet and worshiped him. 10 Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid. Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.”
There was a man who wanted one thing: to win the lottery. So each Saturday evening he switched on his television to see if his numbers had come up; and each Saturday his hopes were dashed. So he thought about it and decided to up his chances; what he needed to do was to pray each Saturday to God, asking God that he would win the lottery. Well, Saturday came and went – and his numbers didn’t come up. So he thought about it and decided to do more praying. So he prayed twice a week to win the lottery – no change. So he then upped his praying to five days a week – then six then eventually seven days a week. But still he didn’t win. So eventually one Saturday he cried out to God: “God – I’ve prayed and prayed and still not won the lottery – please – this Saturday – may I win the lottery.”
There was a short silence – then a voice boomed: “Well at least meet me half way and buy a ticket!”
A former Prime Minister once said that he was an optimist. What he meant was that despite everything going on – he thought everything would turn out ok. He had little or no foundation on which to base that except that things had turned out ok in the past – so therefore the chances are that they would be ok in the future.
But what of Christian hope? What does the Christian base their hope in? The Christian bases their hope in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. St Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15 that if our Lord Jesus was not raised then our faith is useless. Everything therefore hinges on the resurrection of Jesus. No resurrection; our hope is totally lost.
So the Christian doesn’t look back and see that things were kind of ok then ad conclude therefore they should be in the future. No – the Christian looks back to Jesus himself and the life, death and resurrection forms the foundation of hope in the here and now and looking forward. As the song goes; “My hope is built on nothing less; than Jesus’ blood and righteousness.”
So as we think about hope, let us first consider the disciples before that Easter Morning. Because for them the period from Good Friday was not a time of hope but utter dejection and hopelessness. The Jewish Authorities didn’t try and gag Jesus – or imprison him or banish him. No – they conspired to have him executed. The blood of Jesus was (in their own words) on them. When Jesus died on that cross they would have clapped their hands and said: “right – that’s got rid of him.”
For the disciples that was it.
Death is so final isn’t it? It’s the great enemy. In our culture the great unspoken enemy is death.
There was a song written by a group called The Soup Dragons and it went like this:
“I’m free to do what I want any old time
And I’m free to be who I choose any old time.”
But this presupposes one thing: that you are alive. It doesn’t matter how free you are to do what you want – death sweeps all your plans away. You can have dreams to be promoted at work, a pay rise, a new house, a new job, university, holidays, anything: but death will swallow that up in an instant. Little wonder that in our atheistic culture we are increasingly busy to cram as much into our lives before it’s too late. Death is the ultimate enemy.
So our culture doesn’t talk about death. I once went to a funeral and overheard someone say as they went back to their work place: “let’s get back to reality.” But death is a reality. Oscar Wilde said: “death is the ultimate statistic: one in one die.”
And coupled with hopelessness is fear. In our passage, notice that four times the word afraid is used. Verse 4 – the guards were afraid of the angel. Verse 5 – Mary and Mary Magdalene were also afraid of the angel. When they hurried away in verse 8 they were afraid. And in verse 10, Jesus tells them not to be afraid.
Two questions flow from this: (1) What were they afraid of and (2) How did Jesus know they are afraid?
What were they afraid of? Two reasons – the first is the remarkable events they have just witnessed. Yes – they are full of joy – but they are full of fear for what they have seen is simply beyond their comprehension. But there is a second reason they are afraid. We see in verse 3 the angel “was like lightning and his clothes were as white as snow.” What on earth does that mean? What this means is that this whiteness is symbolic of the utter perfection and purity of God. And they become very aware of the utter perfection of God. But also they become very aware of their own utter imperfection.
I don’t know whether you have ever had this experience – but from time to time I have heard people preach and as they preach I start to feel very aware of what would be described as my sinfulness. And it is as if as the preacher preaches, I become increasingly aware that the preacher is saying something that touches something deep in my heart that God needs to deal with. It is almost as if God – through the preacher – creeps closer and closer. And as he does, my heart pounds as God presses in. And that is fear.
Hope in Jesus
Well, that’s the first question: what were they afraid of. But what about the second: How does Jesus know they are afraid? Look at verse 9. They are on their knees, clasping Jesus’s feet, worshipping him. So how does Jesus know they are afraid when (a) he can’t see their faces and (b) they are worshipping him?
I know the answer. Jesus knows they are afraid because Jesus knows them completely. There is a prayer used throughout the church called the Collect for Purity and it starts like this:
Almighty God, to whom all hearts are open, all desires known, and from whom no secrets are hidden:
You see – Jesus knows the secrets of your heart. You can’t hide from Jesus. Adam and Eve tried to hide in the Garden of Eden but in this garden, Jesus finds Mary and Mary Magdalene.
But look how Jesus finds them: verse 9 he greets them not in condemnation but in love. And in addition in verse 10, he promises that he will do the same for the disciples. And therefore you can be sure it is the same for you. Even though he knows you – even though he knows every secret – he will gladly greet you.
Lo, Jesus meets us,
Risen from the tomb;
Lovingly he greets us,
Scatters fear and gloom;
But there’s more. If – as we saw earlier – death is our greatest enemy – if that is the worst possible thing – Jesus has even defeated that. So we can now argue from the greater to the lesser: If Jesus has defeated the greatest enemy – therefore surely he can defeat all else. So there is nothing that Jesus can’t defeat
Let the Church with gladness
Hymns of triumph sing,
For her Lord now liveth,
Death hath lost its sting.
So it maybe that you are sat here or at home and full of suffering or failure or weakness – but our Lord Jesus is full of hope. Because his arms are outstretched wide enough to embrace you and all that you are. That he can save you from yourself – to live as he intended all along. No longer filled with fear but filled with the love of Jesus.
May God himself through Jesus greet you today and give you hope for all that is to come. In Jesus’ name we pray,
Category: Easter , Sermons , The Bridge