“He Is Not Here; For He Is Risen”

(Matthew 28:1-10 – Easter – April 1, 2018)

Matthew 28:1-10 – Now after the Sabbath, as the first day of the week began to dawn, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary came to see the tomb. And behold, there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven, and came and rolled back the stone from the door, and sat on it. His countenance was like lightning, and his clothing as white as snow. And the guards shook for fear of him, and became like dead men. But the angel answered and said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for He is risen, as He said. Come, see the place where the Lord lay. And go quickly and tell His disciples that He is risen from the dead, and indeed He is going before you into Galilee; there you will see Him. Behold, I have told you.” So they went out quickly from the tomb with fear and great joy, and ran to bring His disciples word. And as they went to tell His disciples, behold, Jesus met them, saying, “Rejoice!” So they came and held Him by the feet and worshiped Him. Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid. Go and tell My brethren to go to Galilee, and there they will see Me.”

Dear redeemed in the name of our risen Savior Jesus Christ.

Like the women in our text, sometimes we go to visit the grave of a loved one. We do not go for the same reason they went, to anoint the body laid to rest with spices and sweet smelling perfume. But like those women, we do go to express our love. We may lay beside the grave sweet smelling flowers as a token of our love. And no doubt like these women, our hearts are sad, especially when the remembrance of our loss is fresh.

But isn’t there another reason for going to the grave of a loved one? Isn’t it also that in spirit we seek our crucified and risen Lord Jesus, that we might find His comfort in the loss of our loved one? There we pray to our living Savior, there we remember His words of eternal life. For what is true of our risen Savior is true of our loved one who has died in His name. What the angel announced so joyfully that first Easter morning at Jesus’ tomb is true of our loved one in Christ: “He Is Not Here; For He Is Risen!” Let us see 1) The circumstances of the angel’s announcement and 2) The effect of the announcement on those who believed.

1) The circumstances of the angel’s announcement

It had all been so traumatic for the faithful followers of Jesus the past few days. On Friday, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary mentioned here had witnessed Jesus’ death along with many others. They had seen the gruesome events of Good Friday as Jesus suffered on the cross, until finally He cried out with a loud voice: “It is finished!” (John 19:30); and then “Father, ‘into Your hands I commit My spirit.'” Having said this, He breathed His last” (Luke 23:46). Then, they had watched as Joseph of Arimathea, another faithful follower, was allowed to take Jesus’ body and lay it in his own tomb cut out of rock (Matthew 27:57-61). By then it had been evening, and full preparation of Jesus’ dead body would have to wait until after the Sabbath day, until the third day. So there in the tomb Jesus’ body was laid, all alone, and a big stone barrier was rolled across the entrance.

What a sense of finality death can bring! From the perspective of these women, it seemed that they would never see Jesus alive again. So it was that on that first Easter morning they came to Jesus’ grave to finish the painful process, to anoint His body for burial and to say last their goodbyes. Like the rest of the disciples, they were grieving deeply over His loss. In John 20:9 says of the disciples: For as yet they did not know the Scripture, that He must rise again from the dead.” This was true even though Jesus had foretold His death and resurrection three times (Matthew 16:21; 17:22-23; 20:17-19). They simply had not understood what He meant. In the minds of all, Jesus was dead and gone.

Think of what it would mean if Jesus was still dead in the grave, if His promise that He would rise again was not true. In 1 Corinthians 15:17-19 the apostle Paul says: “If Christ is not risen, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins! Then also those who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men the most pitiable.” In other words, if Jesus was still dead in the grave, then He really did not pay for our sins on the cross. And if we are still lost in our sins, then the wages of sin, death, must still be our end. Then our faith in Jesus would be a dead faith. If all our daily worship and prayers amounted to nothing more than coming to the tomb of a dead man and calling on Him for help, then we are to be pitied more than all men as fools.

By the way, Jesus’ enemies hoped this was true. To them, it was all-important to prove Jesus dead. That is why the chief priests and the Pharisees had gone to Pilate and said. “Sir, we remember, while He was still alive, how that deceiver said, ‘After three days I will rise.’ Therefore command that the tomb be made secure until the third day, lest His disciples come by night and steal Him away, and say to the people, ‘He has risen from the dead'” (Matthew 27:62-64). So Pilate had ordered them to make the tomb as secure as they could. Then they had put a seal on the stone covering the tomb and posted guards.

But now, our text tells what happened on the third day: “Behold, there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven, and came and rolled back the stone from the door, and sat on it. His countenance was like lightning, and his clothing as white as snow. And the guards shook for fear of him, and became like dead men.”  Just as there had been an earthquake at Jesus’ death, now there was an earthquake at His resurrection. It was God’s exclamation mark on Jesus’ finished work of salvation. And now, the grave could not hold the resurrected and glorified body of Jesus. The reason the angel came from heaven to roll the stone away was to show the world that Jesus had already left the tomb in victory.

Yet, even after the guards felt the earthquake and saw the angel and the empty tomb, their response was to help Jesus’ enemies hide the truth. They reported all that had happened to the Jewish leaders, who paid them a lot of and gave them these instructions: “Tell them, ‘His disciples came at night and stole Him away while we slept.’ And if this comes to the governor’s ears, we will appease him and make you secure.” So this false report spread among the Jews (Matthew 28:11-15).

To this day, enemies of Christ want to hide the truth of His resurrection. For if He has risen from the dead, this means that all people are accountable to Him as the Lord of life. And to come to grips with the living Lord means to acknowledge that we do not have a right to live for ourselves as we please, but every knee must bow before Him. The mind of unbelief seeks to quiet its sin-stained conscience by keeping Jesus in the grave. But to wish for a dead Jesus is to wish to remain lost in our sins. To wish for a dead Jesus is to wish on ourselves and our loved ones to remain lost in death and hopelessness forever.

2) The effect of the announcement on those who believed

Now let us consider the very different effect of the angel’s announcement on those who believed. Imagine yourself in the place of those women, coming to the tomb in the early morning hours to anoint Jesus’ dead body. Through your tears, you think you are seeing things. The huge stone that had covered the tomb has been rolled back. An angel is sitting on it whose “countenance was like lightning, and his clothing as white as snow.” Luke’s account says: “they were afraid and bowed their faces to the earth” (Luke 24:5).

God’s angels reflect His glory. Why should humans fear in the presence of His glory? Such fear has to do with our sense of deep inadequacy as sinners before our holy God. This fear can be overcome only when we hear God’s gracious Gospel of forgiveness won for us by our crucified and living Savior.

Now the women’s fears are quieted by the angel’s joyful announcement of Jesus’ resurrection victory: “Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for He is risen, as He said. Come, see the place where the Lord lay. And go quickly and tell His disciples that He is risen from the dead, and indeed He is going before you into Galilee; there you will see Him. Behold, I have told you.”

In response to this good news, it says: “So they went out quickly from the tomb with fear and great joy.” Their response was different than the unholy fear of the unbelieving guards. They showed the holy fear of faith, that responds with deep reverence and worship in the presence of the living Savior. They showed the holy joy of faith, that wants to spread the good news of Jesus’ resurrection and the salvation He accomplished for sinners.

And now, “As they went to tell His disciples, behold, Jesus met them, saying, “Rejoice!” So they came and held Him by the feet and worshiped Him. Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid. Go and tell My brethren to go to Galilee, and there they will see Me.”

Like those women who went Jesus’ tomb, and like the rest of the disciples who would see Him alive, the good news of His salvation quiets our fears. At times, Jesus sees us living as if we had to face our troubles and fears all alone, living in mourning as if He were still dead. Our living Savior comes to greet us today in His Word, and in His Sacraments. Here, He comforts our hearts by His Gospel. He calls us His brothers and sisters and says: “Do not be afraid.” He gives us great joy as we share in His resurrection victory.

When we feel afraid with life issues – whether it is troubles with health, finances, relationships, or what the future has in store, our living Savior comes to greet us saying: “Do not be afraid – My resurrection shows that I will always be with you. I am here to strengthen and help you, to listen to your prayers and answer your needs as I know best.”

When we feel afraid as sinners before the holy God, our living Savior comes to greet us saying: “Do not be afraid – My resurrection proves that My sacrifice on the cross really did take away all your sin. By My blood I have purified you and presented you holy and without blemish before My Father. He is calling you His holy and precious children.”

When we feel afraid in the face of death, our living Savior comes to greet us saying: “Do not be afraid – Because I live, you will live also (John 14:19). Since I have passed through death ahead of you and come out victory, death cannot harm you.”

When we stand at the tomb of a loved one, we need not sorrow as those without hope (1 Thessalonians 4:13). There our living Savior greets us saying: “Do not be afraid – I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live” (John 11:25). For “Christ is risen from the dead, and has become the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep” (1 Corinthians 15:20). What was true at Jesus’ tomb that first Easter is true of our loved one who has died in Christ: “He is not here; for He is risen!”

Jesus gives us a living hope through His resurrection from the dead (1 Peter 1:3). Like Mary Magdalene and the other Mary, let us fall at His feet and worship Him. Then, let us run to share the good news with others, that they too may be filled with His hope and joy.

Thanks to Thee, O Christ victorious!

Thanks to Thee, O Lord of Life!

Death hath now no power o’er us,

Thou hast conquered in the strife.

Thanks because Thou didst arise

And hast opened Paradise!

None can fully sing the glory

Of the resurrection story.

Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit. As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be. Amen.