Last night I taught a Bible study on the astonishing resurrection of Jesus Christ. My focus was on the events that attended his actual deliverance from a burial place where, three days earlier, his tortured and emaciated body had been hurriedly entombed – for the evening of Friday, all of Saturday, and the early moments of Sunday.
My primary source was Matthew’s account of the event, chapter 28.
Two women, Mary Magdalene and “the other Mary” came with no special expectations except “to look at the burial site.” They were drawn there by their grief and to make one last gesture of love for their fallen leader.
But, according to Matthew, upon their arrival, they saw that an earthquake had shaken the place and wrested the heavy stone away from the mouth of the tomb. An angel sat on the stone.
Toughened Roman soldiers had been assigned to guard the tomb against any mischief. But, terrified and shaken by the angel’s appearing, those guards froze in place like dead men standing.
The angel’s address to the two women was clear: “Don’t be afraid. You are looking for Jesus who was crucified. He is not here. As he promised, he is risen. Step inside this gaping grave and you will see the vacated spot where he lay.”
The angel’s instructions went on: “He has risen from the dead. Go quickly. Tell his eleven special followers to go to Galilee. They will see him there.”
As the women moved quickly away from the tomb their emotions were a strange mixture of fear and joy — fear raised by this inexplicable angelic presence, joy excited by the message he gave.
Suddenly, intensifying their already overwhelmed state of mind, Jesus greeted them. They could think of nothing to do but fall down, clasp his feet and worship him.
Twice they were instructed, “Go and tell” but instructed in different ways. The angel said, “Go quickly and tell his disciples.” The Risen Lord said, “Go and tell my brothers.”
Each of four Gospel accounts ends with the same essential story: Jesus was put to a horrible death by the corruption of religious leaders, the fickleness of a Jewish populace and the illegal exercise of Roman authority. But each reporter tells the story with the same conclusion – the tomb was empty; Christ had risen from the dead!
For him, death was not about to have the last word: He surmounted death; overcame it; left it forever behind him. Moreover, his disciples came to see that it was a death with a purpose. It was a death on their behalf, the innocent Son of God dying to give forgiveness to sinners.
The news about Christ’s surmounting of death by his resurrection is not only the climaxing note of the four Gospel accounts; it’s a message either declared or assumed by every book of the New Testament (for example, Acts 1:3; 2:23,24; Romans 1:4 etc.).
Why does the account of Jesus’ resurrection matter? And what assurance does it afford believers today? For believers, this truth becomes very personal when Jesus declares: “Because I live, you also will live!” [John 14:19] That promise is the ground of their joy!
Photo credit: James Emery (via flickr.com)