The events of today, some 2000 years ago, set Christianity apart from every other religion in the world. All but four of the major world religions are based on mere philosophical propositions. Of the four that are based on historical personalities rather than philosophies, Christianity in unique. In 1900 B.C. Judaism’s Father Abraham died. In 483 B.C. Buddhist writings say Buddha died. On June 6, 632 A.D. Mohammed died. In 33 A.D. Jesus died but came back to life appearing to over 500 people over a period of 40 days.
Yes, the world of the disciples that first Easter morning was anything but joyful. They had been confused by the Last Supper, fearful at Jesus arrest, shocked at his torture, shattered by his trial, traumatised by his crucifixion and in deep shock at his death. That Jesus had predicted it all didn’t make it any easier to bear. Everything so far that weekend had gone wrong – everything spoke of defeat, death and despair. But it wasn’t the end of the story. Matthew records what happened early on that first Sunday morning.
The final chapter in Matthew’s Gospel is a record of victory. And the amazing thing is that today we celebrate more than the amazing historical event of Jesus resurrection. We celebrate our participation in that victory. Notice the stages in the experience of the believers.
1. They Thought Jesus Was Dead
“After the Sabbath, at dawn on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to look at the tomb.” (Matthew 28:1)
The women who had lingered at the cross came early to the tomb, bringing spices that they might anoint His body. They thought He was dead. In fact, they wondered how they would move the huge stone that blocked the entrance to the tomb (Mark 16:3). When the followers of the Lord gathered that first Lord’s Day, they were discouraged and defeated. They thought Jesus was dead. But then,
2. They Heard Jesus Was Alive
“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. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothes were white as snow. The guards were so afraid of him that they shook and became like dead men. The angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay. 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.” So the women hurried away from the tomb, afraid yet filled with joy, and ran to tell his disciples.” (Matthew 28:2-8)
Two angels appeared (Luke 24:4) and one of them had rolled the stone away from the door. The stone was not rolled away to permit Jesus to come out, for He had already left the tomb. It was rolled back so that the people could see for themselves that the tomb was empty. One of the angels spoke to the women and calmed their fears. “He is not here! Come, and see!” Remember they did not expect Jesus to be alive. “So the women hurried away from the tomb, afraid yet filled with joy, and ran to tell his disciples.” (Matthew 28:8) The transformation of the disciples is further proof of His resurrection. One day they were discouraged and hiding in defeat. The next day they were boldly proclaiming His resurrection. In fact, they were willing to die for the truth of the Resurrection. “Come and see!” was followed by “Go and tell!” We must not keep the Resurrection news to ourselves either. The angel sent the women to tell Christ’s own disciples. They should have been expecting the news, but instead, they questioned it even when they heard it. They thought Jesus was dead. They heard Jesus was alive.
3. They Met Jesus Personally
“Suddenly Jesus met them. “Greetings,” he said. They came to him, clasped his feet and worshipped him. Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid. Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.” (Matthew 28:9-10)
It is when we obey God’s Word that He comes to us. Jesus had already appeared to Mary Magdalene in the garden (John 20:11-18; Mark 16:9). Notice our Lord’s first two Resurrection appearances were to believing women. These faithful women were not only the last to leave Calvary, but they were also the first to come to the tomb. Their devotion to Jesus was rewarded.
The women fell at His feet, took hold of Him, and worshiped Him. They must have been afraid because Jesus immediately assured them. “Do not be afraid” You know the most frequent command in scripture? The phrase “My brothers” reveals the intimate relationship between Christ and His followers. That day began with the disciples and the women thinking Jesus was dead. Then they were told that He was alive. Then they met Him personally. It is not enough for us to hear that Jesus is alive. It is necessary for each of us to meet him personally. We follow a person not a religion. We may encounter him in different places, at different times and in different ways – but meet him we must, personally, individually, through his Word, by his Spirit, if we are to know him and not just know about him. There was one more stage in their experience.
4. They Worshipped Jesus Enthusiastically
“The eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matt. 28:16-20)
Matthew 28:18-20 is usually called “the Great Commission,” though this statement is no greater than that in any of the other Gospels, nor is it the last statement Jesus made before He returned to heaven. However, this declaration is universal – its applies to all believers, in all places, through all time. Indeed we are only here today because others obeyed Jesus. Notice:
4.1 The Supreme Authority of Jesus
“Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.” (Matthew 28:18)
In this verse, the word “authority,” means the right to use power. The entire Gospel of Matthew stresses the authority of Jesus Christ. There was authority to His teaching (Matt. 7:29). He exercised authority in healing (Matt. 8:1-13), authority in forgiving sins (Matt. 9:6).
He had authority over Satan, and He delegated that authority to His Apostles (Matt. 10:1). At the close of his Gospel, Matthew makes it clear here that Jesus has all authority. Since Jesus Christ today has all authority, we may obey Him without fear. No matter where He leads us, no matter what circumstances we face, He is in control.
By His death and resurrection, Jesus defeated all enemies and won for Himself all authority. Christianity is a missionary faith. The very nature of God demands this, for God is love and God is not willing that any should perish (2 Peter 3:9). Our Lord’s death on the cross was for the whole world. If we are the children of God and share His nature, then we will tell everyone we meet the good news that Jesus is alive. The supreme authority of Jesus Christ. Second, observe,
4.2 The Primary Mission of the Church
“Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” (Matthew 28:19-20a)
The Greek verb translated go is actually not a command but a present participle (going). The only command in the Great Commission is “make disciples” (“teach all nations”). Jesus said, “While you are going, make disciples of all the nations.” This is our essential role as Christians and our primary responsibility as a Church. No matter where we are, we should be witnesses for Jesus Christ and seek to win others to Him (Acts 11:19-21).
The term “disciples” was the most popular name for the early believers. Being a disciple meant more than being a convert or a church member. Apprentice might be an equivalent term. A disciple attached himself to a teacher, identified with him, learned from him, and lived with him. He learned, not simply by listening, but also by doing.
This was the pattern of the New Testament church (2 Tim. 2:1-2). Win – Build – Send. There is here a momentum. It is not enough to win people to the Saviour; we must also train them to become disciples who make disciples who will make disciples. We were born to reproduce. We have seen the supreme authority of Jesus. The primary mission of the Church.
4.3 The Ultimate Power of the Holy Spirit
“And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20b) Jesus is not only present when His people gather together, but He is also present with them as they scatter throughout the world. Had He remained on earth, Jesus could not have fulfilled this promise. It was when the Spirit came that Jesus could be with His people no matter where they were. There are no conditions for us to meet, or even to believe or Jesus Christ is with us. The phrase “the end of the age” indicates that He is the Lord of history. As the churches follow His leading and obey His Word, they fulfill His purposes in the world. The Resurrection demonstrates the supreme authority of Jesus. The primary mission of the Church. And the Ultimate Assurance of the Holy Spirit. Christianity is unique because “Jesus was [indeed] declared with power to be the Son of God by his resurrection from the dead.” (Romans 1:4)
Christ is Risen! Lets pray.
This sermon was inspired by and draws from Warren Wiersbe, Be Loyal (Amersham, Scripture Press)