Matthew 28:1-15 May 2009
What makes Christianity unique?
2 important things among others:
The Christian message is that God offers us His forgiveness and eternal life as a gift. We cannot earn it or work for it – it is a gift from God because Jesus has paid the penalty for our sins at the cross. Every other religion teaches you that you have to earn or work your way into God’s good books. You have to atone for your own sins or make yourself good enough to get to heaven. Every other religion is a do it yourself religion – Christianity teaches that God has done for us what we could never do by our own efforts. Through Jesus death and resurrection God has made us good enough for His company and for His heaven – we are simply called to believe and accept this gift from God.
The other thing that makes Christianity unique is that the founder of our faith is the only person who perfectly substantiated every claim He ever made about Himself.
Other religious leaders have made claims about themselves but none of them have ever been able to truly support those claims.
Mohammed claimed that the angel Gabriel appeared to him in cave outside Medina and gave him the Koran. No other person witnessed that encounter and no one was able to verify his claim. And yet almost 1 billion people are prepared to accept the unconfirmed testimony of one man.
The same with Joseph Smith, the founder of Mormonism. He claimed an angel visited him and gave him the gold plates containing the book of Mormon. No one else witnessed this encounter and no one else saw the gold plates. And yet 13 million people are prepared to accept his unconfirmed testimony.
Jesus Christ not only made bold claims about Himself but He proved them to be true by the faultless life he lived, the supernatural miracles He performed and the ultimately rising from the dead. All these things were verified by hundreds of eye witnesses. That is the difference.
The bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ is absolutely essential to the Christian faith. If Jesus did not rise from the dead He was a liar and everything He said is suspect.
If Jesus did not rise from the dead we Christians are a bunch of deluded, deceived people with no hope of forgiveness, no future, no message and we should sell off our little clubhouses, share the proceeds and like the rest of the unbelievers find ways to amuse ourselves until we die.
Anyone who denies that Jesus rose from the dead cannot be a Christian. The truth is that if you examine the evidence for the resurrection, there is more evidence that Jesus rose from the dead than there is for any other historical event in ancient history.
Let’s look at what happened on that first Easter Sunday.
The resurrection and the reaction.
THE RESURRECTION v1-10
The women’s arrival
These women were the last to see Jesus laid in the tomb and they were the first to turn up at the tomb after the Sabbath day was over.
Remember that the religious leaders had placed soldiers to guard the tomb so that no one could get near it.
Something unexplainable happened between the hours of 6 pm Saturday night and 6 am Sunday morning. There was an earthquake and an angel came down from heaven and rolled the stone away.
What was the earthquake all about – we don’t have to look that far in the Bible to realise what that was. The earthquake was the result of a mighty explosion inside the tomb as God’s almighty power transformed the dead body of Jesus into an eternal resurrected body that can never ever be destroyed.
1 Cor. 6:14 “By his power God raised the Lord Jesus from the dead.” That word power is dynamos from which we get our word dynamite.
After the earthquake the angel came down to roll the stone away from the opening of the tomb. He didn’t roll the stone away to let Jesus out. Jesus resurrection body would have simply passed through the grave clothes and through the walls of the tomb.
They rolled the stone away to let the witnesses in.
The Roman guards were so shaken by what happened that they were literally paralysed with fear.
The Angel’s announcement
He reminded them of the prediction.
Many times Jesus had said to His followers that He would rise from the dead, but somehow they never really grasped what He was talking about. They may have thought He meant the resurrection at the end of history when everyone will be raised to judgement.
The angel said to the women, “Don’t be afraid! I know you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He isn’t here! He is risen from the dead, just as he said would happen.”
Jesus predicted He would rise again after 3 days and He did and that is why we can trust Jesus, because what He says He will do, He does. His predictions and His promises can be fully relied on.
If Jesus hadn’t risen from the dead, we would be fools to trust Him because He predicted He would rise after 3 days and that is exactly what happened.
To predict that after three days in the grave He would rise from the dead was a fantastic claim, but on Easter Sunday He proved that He had the power to do it and that He could be trusted to keep His Promise.
If Jesus could fulfil an amazing promise like that He can
fulfil every other promise He has made.
He confronted them with the evidence
The angel told the women to enter the tomb and examine the evidence for themselves. John tells us that the linen bandage that had been wound around Jesus body had collapsed like a cocoon and the cloth that was wrapped around his head was lying, folded neatly in a separate place within the tomb.
Ill. In Jesus day when a carpenter was doing a job for someone he had a way of letting the customer know the job was finished. He would take the towel that he used for wiping his sweaty brow and fold it neatly and leave it on the finished work. The folded towel on top of the finished work was a message to the customer that the job was completed.
After sacrificing his life for our sins on Sunday morning Jesus the carpenter rose from the dead. Stepped through the grave clothes and then took the towel that had been wrapped around His head and folded it neatly and left it in the tomb to let His disciples know that the work of taking away our sins and bringing us back to God was finished, completed. Now we can all come to God through trusting in Jesus.
And when John entered that tomb and saw the grave clothes and the towel, the Bible says that John looked, understood what had happened and he believed.
He encouraged them to tell
“And now, go quickly and tell His disciples that He has risen from the dead, and He is going ahead of you to Galilee. You will see Him there. Remember what I have told you.”
When we have discovered the truth about Jesus we need to share it with others. This is the greatest news ever to hit the world – Jesus, God’s Son has entered this world, removed every obstacle preventing us from coming to God and now every human being can truly know God, receive His forgiveness and become a member of His eternal family.
Our world has got to hear this message. Without it there is absolutely not hope and no way out of the moral and spiritual darkness that will ultimately bury and destroy the people of this world.
Ill. Fritz Kreisler the world famous violinist earned a fortune through his concerts but he gave most of it away. Once he discovered an exquisite violin, but he couldn’t afford it. Later when he had the money he discovered that it had been sold to a collector who kept it securely locked away. He went to see the man and pleaded to buy it. “No,” said the man, “it is my prized possession.” Kreisler then said, “Okay but before I go can I play it before you silence it for good?”
The owner agreed and when he heard Kreisler play that violin he was so moved to tears that he said, “I have no right to keep this to myself. It’s yours. Take it into the world and let the people hear it.”
We have no right to keep this message to ourselves. The world needs to hear it or they will die without any hope or future.
Ill. A personnel officer who hires executives for big companies told of an incident that happened when he was interviewing candidates. “When I get an executive that I’m trying to hire for a company, I like to disarm him. I offer him a drink, take my coat off, undo my tie, put my feet up and talk about baseball, football, family, whatever, until he’s all relaxed. Then, when I think I’ve got him relaxed, I lean over, look him squarely in the eye and say, “What’s your purpose in life?” It’s amazing how top executives fall apart at that question.
“Well, I was interviewing this fellow the other day, had him all disarmed, with my feet up on his desk, talking about football. Then I leaned over and said, ‘What’s your purpose in life, Bob?’ And he said, without blinking an eye, ‘To go to heaven and take as many people with me as I can.’ The personnel officer said, “For the first time in my career I was speechless.”
The Lord’s appearance
The women had seen Jesus die, buried, they had seen the empty tomb and the angel and now to cap it off they saw the risen Jesus.
And just in case you think it was an apparition or an hallucination – they got down on their knees before Him grabbed hold of His feet. You can’t do that to an hallucination or a apparition.
Do you know what else they did? The recognised that He was God, they worshipped Him.
The thrilling thing was that they had come to the tomb to honour the memory of a dead man they believed was a true servant of God, and ended up worshipping at His feet.
They came to mourn the passing of a great man and ended up worshipping at the feet of the Son of God. Jesus wrecked every funeral He went to by raising the dead to life and He wrecked His own funeral by rising from the dead. And if you belong to Jesus he will ruin your funeral – He will take the hopelessness and the finality out of your death and turn it into the joyful expectation of resurrection and eternal life.
Ill. Every year a million or more Moslems visit the grave of Mohammed in Medina to honour the memory of their founder. In Sri Lanka there is a temple called temple of the tooth. The tooth was retrieved from the cremated ashes of Buddha and Buddhists come to that temple to honour the last remains of their founder.
But for the followers of Jesus there is no grave sight with the bodily remains of Jesus, not even a tooth, because as the angel said, “He is not there, He has risen from the dead.” We don’t need to go to a grave sight to honour the memory of our dead founder – He is alive and He now sits at the right hand of God the Father in heaven and His Spirit lives in the heart of every believer.
Ill. When Julius Caesar came to Alexandria, they showed him the coffin of Alexander the Great. They then asked him if he would like to see Ptolemy’s coffin. He said, “I came to see a king, not a corpse.” We have come hear today not to mourn over a corpse but to meet with a King, the risen, living King of all Kings.
THE REACTION v11-15
After the earthquake and the appearance of the angel, some of the guards went to the religious leaders and told them what had happened.
The religious leaders didn’t even go and examine the evidence, they weren’t interested in the truth; they were only concerned to hold onto their positions of power, wealth and comfort.
They knew that if what the guards were saying was true things would have to change. They were not prepared to pay the price, they were not prepared to give up their greedy, selfish-indulgent, sinful lifestyles.
And as I have said before that is always the bottom line why people are not willing to examine the evidence of the Christian faith, that is why most people are unwilling to become followers of Jesus – they don’t want to pay the price, to change their lifestyles and behaviour.
In fact Paul says in Romans 1 and 2 they would rather believe lies than accept the truth about God.
And that is exactly what the religious leaders did. They bribed the guards to circulate a lie about what had happened. They paid them well to spread the rumour that the tomb was empty because Jesus disciples came and stole the body while they were asleep. Which is ridiculous because if they had been asleep how did they know it was the disciples? Secondly, the noise of the stone being rolled back would have awakened them and finally, if they were asleep while on guard and the body was stolen they would be severely punished by the Roman governor.
The religious leaders realised that and told the guards they would persuade Pilate not take any action against them.
Spreading a rumour that the disciples had stolen the body was a ridiculous lie. As I said last week; why would the disciples steal the body of Jesus, tell everyone He had risen from the dead and then suffer ongoing persecution, torture and death for something they had made up. If they had made it up, one of them would have cracked and spilled the beans when faced with execution, but none of them did because they had witnessed the resurrection of Jesus, they knew it was real and they gladly gave their lives proclaiming that truth.
The Bible tells us that because of our sin, our disobedience and rebellion against God, death is the most fearful experience we face because on the other side of death we face judgement and punishment. But Jesus took our judgement and punishment at the cross so that death is no longer the most fearful experience for one who follows Jesus. For us who follow Jesus the other side of death is life, wonderful, glorious eternal life lived in the presence of our risen Lord.
When Jesus died on the cross and rose He literally took the sting out of death for those who follow him.
Ill. A little boy and his father were driving down a country road when suddenly a bee flew in the car window. The little boy was allergic to bees and he knew that if he got stung he would swell up and choke to death so he began to freak out. But the father quickly reached out, grabbed the bee, held it in his hand, and then let it go. The bee continued to fly around inside the car and the boy starting panicking again. Then his father showed him his hand and there stuck into the skin of his palm was the bee’s sting. Then he said to his son, “You don’t have to be afraid of the bee. I took the sting for you.” We do not need to be afraid of death anymore. Jesus took the sting out of death for us. He then passed right through death into eternal life and when our turn comes we will do the same.
That why Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 15:54-55, “Then, when our dying bodies have been transformed into bodies that will never die, this Scripture will be fulfilled: “Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?”
Ill. Max Lucado told of a missionary who was working with a tribe of Indians in Brazil. A deadly disease broke out and many were dying. The missionary knew there was a hospital not that far away and he urged the people to follow him to the hospital where they could get treatment but there was one thing that prevented them from going to the hospital. There was a river they had to cross in order to get there and they believed that the river was full of evil spirits and they would be drowned if they entered that river. The missionary explained to them how he had crossed the river and was unharmed. But they were not convinced so he took them to the river bank and put his hand in the water. They still wouldn’t go in. He walked into the water up to his waist and splashed water on his face. They were still afraid to enter the river. Finally, he dived under the water and swam to the other side and then came up out of the water and let out a mighty yell of triumph. It was then that the Indians broke into a cheer and followed him across. Isn’t that what Jesus did? He entered the river of death and came out on the other side so that we might no longer fear death, but find eternal life in Him.
Just in closing let me go back to the women. They came grave to honour the memory of their martyred leader. They stood in awe of the angel and the empty tomb.
They were surprised to see the risen Jesus – and then they got down on their knees worshipped Him as their Lord and God.
You may read this story this morning and be fascinated by the events that took place but until you come to the risen Jesus who died for your sins and rose and bow before Him and make Him the Lord, the leader, the God of your life you will never know God’s forgiveness, you will never know a loving relationship with God and death for you will be a fearful experience because you will have to face the horrible consequences of you sin.