By Pastor Vince Gerhardy
They had watched him die. Hanging from a cross, nails in hands and feet, gasping for air, they had heard him call out with the last bit of energy he could muster, “It is finished.” He was dead. Among the women who saw Jesus take his last breath were Mary Magdalene and Mary the wife of Zebedee. They could have said with the poet W H Auden,
He was my North, my South, my East and West,
my working week and my Sunday rest,
my noon, my midnight, my talk, my song;
I thought that love would last for ever: I was wrong.
The stars are not wanted now: put out every one;
pack up the moon and dismantle the sun;
pour away the ocean and sweep up the wood.
For nothing now can ever come to any good.
When Joseph of Arimathea took Jesus’ body down from the cross, they helped him wrap the body of Jesus in a linen sheet and carried him to a tomb cut out of solid rock. There they laid the man who had loved them and whom they had loved; the man, who had given them so much hope and who had changed their lives, was now dead. Dead as anything could be. They watched as a huge stone was rolled across the entrance of the tomb, sealing the dead Jesus in his grave forever, so they thought.
The next day was the Sabbath – the day of worship. I can imagine they found it hard to concentrate on anything that was happening at the synagogue. So many questions were swirling around in their heads. He said he was the Son of God, but look what has happened. Why?
It was a long day and a long night. Matthew tells us that the women got up early and went to the tomb of Jesus to grieve, perhaps to just sit quietly and recall the love Jesus had shown to them. Never in their wildest imagination had they dreamt of what happened next. Here I am struck by details that Matthew gives that are not recorded in the other Gospels. He said,
“Behold, there was a great earthquake, for an angel of the Lord descended from the sky, and came and rolled away the stone from the door, 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” (Matthew 28:2-4).
There was an earthquake, not just a tremor or gentle rumble, but a violent earthquake. Perhaps this is symbolic of the way Jesus’ resurrection would rock the whole world and shake up our understanding of Jesus’ power over death. Jesus’ resurrection would shake up the world’s understanding of who Jesus was and how he came into the world to die to save all people and to rise again on the third day.
Can you imagine it? Mary Magdalene and the other Mary, their eyes red and still filled with tears, barely able to see where they were going because of their tears and because of the early morning light. The two Marys who had witnessed Jesus’ death and helped lay his body in the tomb, and saw the huge stone rolled over the entrance of the tomb, could not believe their eyes when they saw this angel, as bright as lightening on dark night, roll the stone away and then sit on it.
The stone wasn’t rolled away to let Jesus out; he had already risen. It was rolled away so that the two Marys could look inside and see that the tomb was empty. Matthew tells us that this wasn’t just the imagination of some over stressed women. There were other witnesses to this, independent witnesses if you like. The guards at the tomb saw all this and were terrified.
The angel sitting on the rock speaks, “Don’t be afraid”, he said. “I know that you seek Jesus, who has been crucified. He is not here, for he has risen, just like he said. Come, see the place where the Lord was lying.” (vv. 5-6). Matthew, unlike the other Gospel writers, doesn’t tell us if the women actually went inside the tomb, but filled with fear (who wouldn’t be!), over awed at the power of God, they ran with joy and excitement to tell the disciples. As far as Matthew is concerned, they didn’t need to look inside. They believed the impossible. Jesus was dead – now he is alive.
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I have spent some time recalling the events of that first Easter morning because I want us all to grasp:
• the wonder of the whole event,
• the message of the angel of the Lord saying the crucified and dead Jesus is alive,
• the joy that filled the women who previously had been so sad, filled with so much disappointment, so confused and disillusioned.
The words of the angel had instantly made a change in their lives; their whole outlook on who Jesus was and what he achieved was reversed; their fear of death had been changed to hope.
The resurrection is not something that happened 2000 years ago but it has changed the way we look at life today. It has changed the way we look at the future.
The greatest threat we face in the future is death. The fear of death controls our life much more than we realize. This fear can dictate what we eat, what activities we engage in, where we live. The fear of death makes us attentive to every ache and pain in our body.
But the resurrection of Jesus takes the teeth out of death. Easter shows us that there is life beyond the grave. Death is no longer a giant … it is a mere blip on the screen of eternity. Jesus’ return from the grave allows us to face death with new confidence. We understand now that for the child of God, death is a passing from life in this world to life in eternity. Nothing more.
What will happen to the child of God when they die is certain. Unlike a football game when the outcome is unknown even right up to the last minutes of the game. There may be some doubt as to what paths our life may take. We may even have to face many fearful things, but the end of the game of life is not in doubt. We know who will be the winners. The future is certain and sealed for the child of God.
The resurrection is not something that happened 2000 years ago but it has changed the way we look at the past.
Does your past haunt you?
Do you worry that God knows what you are really like – that he knows your secret thoughts and desires and that one day he is going to ask you to explain?
Are there some past deeds that you feel God would have a hard time forgiving?
Do you fear that some of your past decisions will come back to haunt you?
If so, you are not alone. Easter has good news for you.
When Jesus rose from the dead, he proved that the sacrifice of his life on the cross was acceptable for all of our sins. Jesus is our living Lord. If he had stayed dead then his death would not be any different to that of any other human. But his death was for our sin, and his resurrection shows that the debt for past sins has been paid. Peter said, “through (Jesus’) name everyone who believes in him will receive remission of sins” (Acts 10:43). Paul says in Romans, Jesus “was delivered up for our trespasses, and was raised for our justification” (Romans 4:25).
The New Testament connects us to Jesus’ death and resurrection through our baptism. When the water of baptism flowed over us, we received the forgiveness Christ won for us on the cross and were given eternal life. The apostle Paul says, “We were buried therefore with him through baptism to death, that just like Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we also might walk in newness of life” (Romans 6:4).
Sure, our past may embarrass us. People may judge us and think badly about us because of what has happened in the past but … ultimately, God has dealt with our past. He has erased it with the blood of Christ. We are forgiven. And we know it is true because of the resurrection. What wonderful liberating news this is to every believer.
The resurrection is not something that happened 2000 years ago but it has changed the way we look at life today. It has changed the way we look at the present.
People suffer the trauma of being made redundant, thrown on to the scrap heap after years of faithful service.
Some suffer the pain of broken relationships and the pain is so intense that it seems it will never go away.
People suffer abuse, poor health, mental problems, death as an ever-present reality.
Some feel the pain that grief brings – a pain that never seems to go away.
I don’t want to minimise the suffering that these people experience but Easter declares that pain and evil do not have the last say.
We are amazed how people are able to rise above all this and live creative, productive lives. The resurrection is having a powerful effect in their lives right now.
Our Saviour is a living saviour. Our resurrected Lord has promised that he would walk with his disciples all of their days in this life.
He answers our prayers.
He is ready to use his power on those circumstances that fill us with fear.
He gives us courage when our knees would buckle.
Our resurrected Lord brings new life, rekindles hope, sustains us, recreates us in circumstances that would seem to be the most hopeless.
The women went to the tomb of Jesus on Easter morning, sad, depressed, confused, red-eyed and grieving. After encountering the angel with the news of Jesus’ resurrection, they ran back to the disciples excited and joyful. Easter had changed them. Easter is about life.
The resurrection is not something that happened 2000 years ago but it has changed the way we look at life today. Amen.
Scripture quotations from the World English Bible.