Let’s think about opposites. What is the most opposite thing you can think of?
Although I can’t hear you answer in your head, I imagine you saying things like black to white, circle to square, east and west, winter and summer, or a subatomic quark to the entire mega universe. How about from a bad marriage to a good one, or, you might be saying my kids are so different, like night and day.
Here’s another contrast. COVID to post-COVID, a great contrast. I can’t wait to experience the crucifixion and death of COVID and the great exodus out of it to the resurrection of a COVID free life. We’ll all feel the difference.
Yet there is a far, far greater contrast; the contrast of before and after the resurrection of Jesus Christ is perhaps the most vast and extreme contrast in all creation.
The studying we’ve been doing in the gospel of Matthew for over the past year is just the prelude, just the introduction to the main event. The Matthew texts have been about what the Kingdom is to be like and then the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus is the inauguration of this new Kingdom. When Jesus comes at His second coming, the fulfillment of this inauguration will be realized.
What difference does the resurrection make anyway? Well, it made a big difference to the ones who were there. The scriptures don’t tell us how the resurrection happened; there is no record if Jesus awoke slowly or suddenly or how He ripped off the grave wrapping. No hidden cameras to prove anything.
There is no story about this but there is a story about the effects of this resurrection such as the appearance of the angel like lightening, the startling earthquake, the seal broken, the massive stone is rolled away, and the soldier guards fall down like dead men. Grave cloths lying there but no body. Jesus is not in the grave and there are witnesses to these things. There is a story.
We also are witness to the difference the resurrection makes. We have a story too. Let’s read the Matthew version of the story.
After the Sabbath, at dawn on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to look at the tomb.
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. Suddenly Jesus met them. “Greetings,” he said. They came to him, clasped 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.
What a story. I want to highlight two phrases in this passage saying the same thing. In verse 7 the angel tells the women, “You will see him.” Then in verse 10, as the women actually do see Jesus He tells the women to tell the disciples to go to Galilee; there they will see Him.
Jesus was revealing himself alive and the “seeing” of Jesus was the witnessing of him. What a promise! From the angels who say, “you will see him” and then from Jesus himself who says, “Go tell the disciples that they will see me.” A promise spoken twice. Jesus will be seen.
An empty tomb, would not have been proof enough. The seeing of Jesus brings the convincing. There were many people who saw the resurrected Jesus as He appeared to at least 500 people within 40 days and to the disciples, He showed up numerous times.
Matthew’s story says that two women, Mary Magdalen and the other Mary, saw him first. The other three gospels also mention other women so there may have actually been four women witnesses including His mother.
In Deuteronomy (19:15) the law requires at least two witnesses in a legal proceeding, and Jewish practice says they can’t be women, only men are credible in that culture. Yet Jesus chooses the women first to be the witnesses. Jesus breaks the rules once again and blesses the spiritual zeros that we studied in the beatitudes. Jesus gives dignity to the lesser-thans and they become the firsts; first to see the Lord, first to spread the news. They have become beatituded. Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God.
At first, these women are full of fear, deep grief, courage, and joy, all at the same time. What a hodge podge of real alive emotions. They saw Jesus suffering, dying, and then being laid in a tomb. They saw it all.
At the end of Good Friday after his death, Jesus was placed in a “borrowed” tomb. It belonged to Joseph of Arimathea, a wealthy man who had become a disciple. Isaiah predicted 700 years earlier that Jesus would be “with a rich man in his death”. An Old Testament prophecy is fulfilled (Isaiah 53:9).
Also, it is borrowed tomb, but borrowed only for a few days, as Jesus wasn’t planning on a long stay. More like a two night BNB guest than a full time resident in this tomb. In Matthew 8:20 Jesus said, “The son of man has nowhere to lay head”, not even in death. But as the Creator of the universe cemetery real-estate was not a thing Jesus needed to invest in.
It was the Jewish custom to use a tomb dug into rock which had stone ledges on three sides of the tomb to lie a body on—or, I should say, plural, bodies—and then the bones removed later. It was like a communal tomb. Wealthier families would have their own tomb and used for centuries. No one had yet been laid in this tomb. Jesus was the first. I’m surmising that that way no one could say it was actually someone else’s bones that had been resurrected or stolen.
Rumours were intentionally started. Let’s read the rest of the text in Matthew 28.
While the women were on their way, some of the guards went into the city and reported to the chief priests everything that had happened. When the chief priests had met with the elders and devised a plan, they gave the soldiers a large sum of money, telling them, “You are to say, ‘His disciples came during the night and stole him away while we were asleep.’ If this report gets to the governor, we will satisfy him and keep you out of trouble.” So the soldiers took the money and did as they were instructed. And this story has been widely circulated among the Jews to this very day.
All kinds of truth-stopping rumours ensued. The priests paid off the guards handsomely to spread a lie that the disciples had stolen him. This lie actually worked.
Here’s a new rumour: recent scholarship tries to say that Jesus had a twin named Thomas, and it was the twin that people saw, not Jesus. People are still trying to negate the resurrection as is just such incredulous thing. If it’s true, then it messes with us. It challenges us to either not believe it or to let it change us.
As Rusty preached last Sunday about how differently people responded to Jesus, and he asked us, “What will you do with this Jesus?”
Nicodemus, the rich man who came to Jesus at night to ask how he could be born again did something with this Jesus. He brought 75 pounds of spices, myrrh, and aloes which His body was then wrapped in. That’s a lot of beautiful smelling, costly, and heavy stuff.
Nicodemus wouldn’t have done that if a resurrection was expected. A resurrection wouldn’t have been in anyone’s mind, even though Jesus did tell them ahead of time they didn’t get it. But wrapping Jesus is spices meant that Jesus was really dead.
The women who came early that Sunday morning were coming to be with Him. I try to imagine myself as one of these Marys. If I was one of them I would expect to be mourning. I would come to weep. I probably did not sleep well at all, worried and wondering and in full heart pain. I wouldn’t have been able to go to church that morning, just too overwhelmed. The Sabbath rule would have not allowed me to visit the grave on the Sabbath—Saturday—so I would’ve waited all day and night until Sunday. I would have wanted to be near the one I loved and lost, so right after the Sabbath was over I would have run to the tomb early. People who visit their loved ones at a graveside can understand this. It provides connection.
But these Marys who came so early in the morning expected a dead Jesus wrapped in grave cloths. Instead, they see a celestial being—not a human, but an angel with lights on. I’d be terrified. By the tomb they see a stone rolled away, and inside, only grave cloths. I’d be perplexed, confused.
Then, on top of all that, they see a walking dead man! I’d be frightened to the bone. It’s Jesus. He lets himself be seen and says, “Don’t be afraid.” Why did Jesus say that? Probably because they actually were really very afraid. Terrified.
Jesus calms their fears, and they realize Jesus is no longer dead but risen and alive. It’s Him. They see Jesus just as the angel said they would. They believe and have just become the first witnesses to the resurrection of the son of God.
What is this resurrection about? Just on good Friday we remembered the crucifixion. If the crucifixion is death of sin, the overcoming of all evil powers, and the way to freedom and forgiveness, then the resurrection is the confirmation, the proof that death is dead. The resurrection seals the deal.
The resurrection establishes the risen Jesus as the King of this new Kingdom, as the King of Kings and Lord of Lords who will rule and reign forever, and nothing or no one can ever cause His death again, not even our sin. Death is not the last word, Jesus is. In the resurrection clearly the new covenant, the new Kingdom, has come to birth.
I’m going to quote from the apostle Paul in Galatians and Romans and 1 Corinthians because the gospels, as in Matthew, tell the story but Paul develops how and why the story actually works. In the book of Galatians Paul shows that the cross is death to the flesh or sin, and the resurrection is the opposite, it is life by the Spirit.
Here is the big vast contrast. The resurrection means it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. There could be no greater contrast, me in control of my life or Jesus in me as king of my life. (Galatians 2:20)
In 1 Corinthains 15:17 Paul says, “if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins.”
The resurrection pulls us right out of the mire of our sins, lifts us up out of our muck and mistakes, lifts us out of the old and into the new, takes us from death to life. Our faith is worth something real.
When I was just a wee thing, 7 years old, our family lived in Winnipeg for a year. My friends and I walked home from school through a field, then through a ditch, and then home on down the road. One day we were crossing the ditch. Something changed. Spring had arrived in Winnipeg. This means black, goey, sticky mud. My friends struggled through, softening the mud even further. It was my turn. Stuck. The harder I tried the stucker I got. I was in deep and my blue fuzzy parka was no longer blue. My friends went on home. I was alone and afraid, crying. After a while a savior came by in the form of a grade 12 boy who pulled me out and even walked me all the way home. My mom opened the door and gave me a bath.
Without the resurrection I am so dead being stuck in my sins, and Jesus lifts me out and gives me a bath. There is no greater contrast.
In Romans 6:16-23 the big vast contrast is that we were slaves to sin to becoming slaves to God; obedient from the heart. In these verses Paul says the benefit of sin is death, the benefit of obedience eternal life. Paul says it’s a heart obedience, a love thing not a rules thing.
Verse 22 states the result of dying to sin plus heart obedience results in sanctification, made new, becoming resurrected on the inside and the outcome is eternal life. It is a resurrection of our very souls, it is a resurrection in a Kingdom where it is impossible for our spirits to die.
Eternal death to eternal life. Here is the big vast contrast.
N.T. Wright in The Day the Revolution Began writes that the cross dealt with sin as Jesus died for our sins. When sin is taken care of, then we are enabled to be forgiven. When we are forgiven, we are free to live in the resurrected life. When we are resurrected with Christ, we are free to fulfill our calling as the image bearers that God created us for.
Now, I think, that all humans are image bearers of God just by nature of being human as created by God. Yet, our sin tarnishes the image and stains what once was pure. In our sin we reflect a very distorted image of God.
In Romans 7:4 Paul explains that we die to sin through the body of Jesus who died and then we are joined to the one who was raised from the dead. Why? That we might bear fruit for God.
Wow, there is a purpose for all this. We die to our sin and then live to bear fruit for God, just like those Mary’s did. Without the resurrection we are stuck in our sin and our sin reflects who God is not.
The big, vast contrast is that through the resurrection instead of bearing our own sin image we are being changed, bit by bit, so that we bear more of God’s image and less of our own image. Then, when people see us, they too begin to see even a glimpse of an image of this sinless Jesus whom we have had a glimpse of. Jesus is seen alive even through us. What a big vast contrast.
Back to the witnesses. The ones who saw with their own eyes, they then bore fruit for God. The women told the disciples, and the disciples then spread the news, the gospel; fruit happened of which you and I are affected by now in 2021. The good news is still spreading. By whom? By us! As I said earlier, we too are witnesses to the affects of this resurrection story.
I asked my small group how they are witnesses of the alive Jesus and asked the question, “What difference does the resurrection of Jesus make to you?” Here are their answers.
The resurrection gives me hope; the restoring of a relationship with Father God.
Having a relationship now with the living God. My faith is based not just on something in the past or the future but on something (someone) currently alive.
It’s a massive display of the power of God, beyond our comprehension, awe inspiring. It is so powerful and humbling at the same time. That God would go to such lengths, so far, for me, shows me how much He loves me.
In Romans 8:11 Paul says that the same spirit that raised Jesus from the dead also lives in me. There can also be resurrection in me. I see it less so as resurrection but rather rebirth; a chance to do it again, a do-over, a fresh start in the new world of being forgiven. Hope in seasons of death and resurrection in our own lives.
The resurrection is a reminder that there is nothing He wouldn’t or couldn’t do for me. The resurrection is the biggest promise fulfilled; that shows me that God will follow through on other things He has promised and that gives peace to my spirit.
That this happened so long ago and still affects me today shows me how powerful it is. Gives me hope that all the yucky stuff and garbage in me is made new. No more guilt and shame and everything is new.
Lives are changed which shows me the resurrection has power.
That was what they said, for me, the biggest contrast is that I no longer have just my finite self as my source; I have a living, resurrected God of the whole universe as the one I run to, the one who is eternal, infinite and alive. I know that the eyes of my heart have also seen this risen Jesus, as He promised, “you will see me”. I’ve had a glimpse.
I hope the eyes of your heart have seen this empty grave and the living resurrected One, Jesus Christ. As Jesus promised after His resurrection, “You will see me.” We are still seeing and keep on seeing. Seeing Jesus as alive makes all the difference.
I am going to end with this question, “How has the resurrection made a difference for you?”
We thank you that you are the risen King of Kings and Lord and Lords who rules over all sin and death, all evil powers; who rules over all works and striving and by grace, mercy, and enormous love we are Yours because You are still alive today.
We thank You that You have invited us into this great aliveness and You promise that we will see You, be your witnesses, and bear fruit. Thank You that You are not in a tomb but standing with us, right beside us, alive forever.
May the eyes of our hearts keep on seeing this alive King. This indeed is the big vast contrast of which we are eternally grateful. Our worship and adoration belong only to You.