GOD’S GREAT QUESTION
Resurrection Sunday ❧ 1 of 1
Matthew 28:1-10 ❧ Pastor, Dr. John Denney
Left on a sinking ship were the captain and three sailors. The captain spoke first. “Men, this business about a captain going down with his ship is nonsense. There’s a threeman life raft on board and I’m going to be on it. To see who will come with me, I will ask you each one question. The one who can’t answer will stay behind. Here’s the first question: What unsinkable ship went down when it hit an iceberg?” The first sailor answered, “The Titanic, sir.” “On to the next question: How many people perished?” The second sailor said, “One thousand five hundred and seventeen, sir.” “Now for the third question,” and the captain turned to sailor number three. “What were their names?”
Some questions in life are literally – life and death questions. Our life hangs in the balance of how we answer the question. This morning I want us to look at one of those questions. In fact, I think it is the most significant question we’ll ever be asked. It is more important than a marriage proposal. “Will she say, ‘Yes’ or ‘No’? It is more important than “Is he going to really graduate high school or not?” It is more important than “What did the doctor say?” So, what is the BIG QUESTION? Here it is: What is God saying to us in Jesus’ resurrection? It’s really God’s question to us. What are you going to decide about My Son Jesus Christ? The Bible says our eternity hangs in the balance of how we answer God’s question to us.
If Jesus is dead, then Christianity is dead. If Jesus is alive, then Christianity is alive. It’s that simple. The Bible says, If Christ has not been raised, then all our preaching is useless, and your faith is useless (1 Corinthians 15:14, NLT). If Jesus did not rise from the dead, then there is no Savior, there is no forgiveness of sin, no hope of eternal life. The Bible is not true. Jesus was nothing more than a mere man who lived a good but tragic life because He needlessly died on the cross. And the several billion people who worship Jesus are nothing more than gullible silly fools who are trusting in a dead man to give them life (Doctrine, Driscoll, & Breshears, p. 279). But thank God, Jesus did rise from the dead and that is why we are worshiping Him today! Jesus said… “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me will live even if he dies, and everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die. Do you believe this?” (John 11:25-26, NAS). I do believe this, and I want to talk to you today about it.
God’s Word, the Bible tells us that more than two thousand years ago Jesus Christ was crucified on a cross, buried and rose again from the grave on the third day. The Bible has a lot to say about it. Why? Because it’s God’s answer to our greatest fear: What happens after we die?
This morning we’re going to look at what God wants us to know about His Son’s resurrection in Matthew 28:1-10. 1) We can live without fear. 2) We can live with new confidence. And 3) We can live with certain hope. (Read: Matthew 28:1-10).
- We can live without fear. If I could describe in one word the consuming emotion that
best describes our times better than any other it would be the word – fear. Others of us might call it by another name – anxiety, tension, stress, uncertainty, worry. Call it what you want, but the epidemic feelings are much the same. That inner feeling of apprehension, uneasiness, dread, of nerves on end. Your chest feels like it is being squeezed by an invisible vice-grip.
One mental health expert described the outbreak of anxiety as, “One of the most urgent problems of our day…” He went on to say it is, “…the official emotion of our age.” The causes are legion: a collapsing world economy, sky-rocketing fuel prices, surging inflation, escalating global tensions, fear of another covid-like pandemic, hemorrhaging border crisis, out of control crime and violence — there is seemingly no end to the reasons many of us suffer with fear.
Two times in this passage the women are told not to be afraid: once by the angel: The angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid”(V.5). The second by Jesus: Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid…” (V.10). These were the same words the angel Gabriel spoke to the shepherds on the hill side the night Jesus was born. Do not be afraid. I couldn’t think of four better words for us to hear from God today than these – DO NOT BE AFRAID.
The women had good reason to be afraid. Matthew says the moment they arrived at the tomb a number of terrifying things happened almost at once: a severe earthquake, an angel of the Lord suddenly appears like lightening moving away the huge stone blocking the entrance of Jesus’ tomb.
If we miss just how nerve wracking this experience was, Matthew tells us the Roman guards, members of the world’s elite fighting force, were wiped out in an instant. He says they “shook” with fear (V.4). The word “shook” is the same word used for “earthquake” in verse two. The soldiers experienced their own personal terrifying earthquake that shook their mind and body. It was so severe it caused them to become like dead men. They went comatose with shock; completely traumatized by what they’d experienced! These were seasoned soldiers equipped with the finest weapons who well outnumbered the angel. But when face to face with just one angel, they instantly melted with fear. The women were afraid too. But they were immediately comforted by the angel’s words: Do not be afraid.
You can imagine the scene they must have encountered: A great earthquake, the lightening like appearance of the angel blinding the soldiers causing them to collapse like rag dolls, then the angel effortlessly rolling the huge boulder away from the entrance of the tomb.
You’d expect the next thing they’d see was Jesus stepping out of the tomb. But He doesn’t. Why? Jesus had already been raised and left the tomb before the angel arrived. The angel didn’t open the tomb so Jesus could get out, but so that the women could go in. When they did, they saw an empty tomb. I’ve been to the same tomb more than once, and it is empty. Unlike the tombs of Abraham or Mohammed or Buddha – Jesus’ tomb is empty because He rose from the dead. Mohammed died June 8, 632 AD, at the age of 61, at Medina, where his tomb is annually visited by thousands of devout Muslims. Mohammed is still in the same tomb he was buried in.
When General Gordon, a devout man, discovered this tomb in 1885, he did a very wise thing. He took a jar of soil from tomb to some chemists and asked if there was any trace of decay in the tomb. There wasn’t.
The reason the angel told the women not to be afraid is because Jesus had risen from the dead. Through His resurrection He conquered our greatest fears. Two of the greatest fears people wrestle with is the fear of death and what happens after we die. There is nowhere where this truer than among those who’ve never placed their faith in Christ. The author of Hebrews says that Jesus’ death destroyed the very power and fear of death. He set free all who have lived their lives as slaves to the fear of dying (Heb. 2:15, NLT).
The bravest of people might deny this fear on the surface, but the Bible says there is an inborn dread of death deep within every person. The Roman soldiers were proof of the Bible’s point. The truth is, we don’t like to talk about death and dying. But we know it is inevitable. After all, the statistics on death are pretty conclusive: ten out of ten people die.
The Bible says the fear of death is bondage. You may believe the commercials that say we’re getting better. We’re not. We’re getting older. We may slow the process, but we can’t stop the outcome. We can and should eat healthy foods. But the truth of the matter is: we’re dying. The Bible says, it is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment (Hebrews 9:27, NAS).
If you are a follower of Christ, Jesus settled the issue of death for you on the Cross. Because He died for your sins two-thousand years ago and rose from the grave, He broke the power of the fear of death. You need not fear God’s judgment because Christ took our judgement on the Cross.
It could be you’re living in fear for other reasons. Maybe you’re living in fear of a collapsing economy. “What will happen if I can’t afford to take care of my family?” “If inflation spikes into hyper-inflation, what will I do?” “How do I afford medical costs?”
Maybe you’re living in fear of loneliness. “What if I experience rejection again?” “What if this relationship disintegrates?”
A little boy and his father were driving down a country road on a beautiful spring afternoon. Suddenly out of nowhere a bumblebee flew in the car window. Since the little boy was deathly allergic to bee stings, he became petrified. His father quickly reached out, grabbed the bee, squeezed it in his hand, and then released it. But as soon as he let it go, the young son became frantic once again as it buzzed by the little boy.
The father sensed his son’s terror. Once again, he reached out his hand, but this time he pointed to this hand. There, stuck in his skin was the stinger of the bee. “You see this?” he asked. “You don’t need to be afraid anymore. I’ve taken the sting for you.” The Christian does not need to be afraid of death because Christ has taken the sting out of death and sin. O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law; but thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ(1 Co 15:55–57, NAS). Because Jesus’ conquered death for us, we no long need to live in the bondage of the fear of death.
You may still be saying, “I believe Jesus died for my sins. I believe He rose again and lives in me. But I’m still living in the bondage of fear of this or that.” What should you do? We need to do what the angel told the women: Come and see. He wanted them to be confident Jesus had risen.
- We can live with new confidence. The angel told them: He is not here, for He is risen, just
as He said. Come, see the place where He was lying (V6). We need to face our fears with faith; a that is firmly grounded in the facts of God’s promises. Notice the angel reminds them Jesus had told them He would rise from the dead.
When the women go into the tomb the Gospel of John tells us they see two angels: one, sitting at the foot Jesus empty burial clothes, the other, setting at the head (John 20:12). One commentator points out these two angels were reminiscent of the two golden cherubim (angels) on either side of the Mercy seat on the Ark of the Covenant (Ex. 25:18). The two angels in the garden were posted at either end of the tomb of Jesus, Who, by His scarifice, became the true and eternal Mercy Seat for sinful mankind.
What angel was saying in effect to the women was: “See if Christianity is real for yourselves, don’t just take my word for it; examine the tomb; investigate the facts.” An unexamined faith is an unreliable faith. The only way to know if Christianity is really true is to examine the facts.
Years ago I went to the hospital to visit a man who was diagnosed with a terminal heart condition. The doctors could offer no hope, no solutions. They told him to go home and enjoy the best he could the time he had left. When I stepped into his room, the air was so thick with the fear of death you could cut it with a knife. As I began talking with the man, he said he believed, but he’d never examined his faith; he’d never checked the facts of Jesus’ empty grave. He didn’t really know what he believed. So, I spent the better part of two hours examining the empty tomb with him. We slowly and carefully investigated every inch of it.
You see, the bottom line we have to come to terms with is did Jesus really rise from the dead? Thomas Arnold professor who served as the chair of Modern History at Oxford said, “There is more evidence that Jesus rose from the dead than there is that Julius Caesar ever lived or that Alexander the Great died at the age of thirty. I have been used for many years to study the histories of other times, and to examine and weigh the evidence of those who have written about them, and I know of no one fact in the history of mankind which is proved by better and fuller evidence of every sort, to the understanding of a fair inquirer, than the great sign which God hath (has) given us that Christ died and rose again from the dead” (ETDV, p.198; Vol. I).
Either Jesus rose from the dead or He didn’t. Everything about Christianity rests on this. Paul wrote: if Christ has not been raised, then all our preaching is useless, and your faith is useless (1 Corinthians 15:14, NLT). When the angel told the women, “Come see,” he was saying, “Examine your faith, see for yourself if it is trustworthy, if it is credible.”
There are two sides to the coin of credibility. One side is the reliability of the object we place our faith in – Jesus Christ. In other words, is Christianity true? So, the one side of the coin of credibility is the reliability of the object we place our faith in – Jesus. The other side is what we do with that faith. Like the man in the hospital, a lot of people say they believe in God, but don’t really know what that means. It’s not enough to say we believe in God. The Bible says even the demons believe and they shudder with terror (James 2:19). We can only say we have true faith if we come to God on His terms.
So, what are God’s terms? The Bible says in Rom. 3:23 that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. It goes on to say in Rom. 6:23 the wages of sin is death. God says, “If you want to deal with your fears, you have to be honest about your sin.” We are only lying to ourselves if we say we’re going to Heaven because we believe in Jesus but don’t deal with our sins on God’s terms.
What are your fears? God can’t take care of your fears if you’re not willing to meet Him on His terms. We have to come clean with God and call our sins what they are.
What is God saying to us through His Son’s resurrection? We can live without fear, and we can live with new confidence. Because Jesus rose from the grave, we have hope for this life and the one to come.
- We can live with certain hope. After examining the empty tomb the angel tells them: Go quickly and tell His disciples that He is risen from the dead(V.7).
Do you know what I find really fascinating here? Why weren’t the apostles themselves at the tomb? They of all people should have known the best. On more than one occasion Jesus told them He would rise from the dead. Why weren’t they there? I’ll tell you why, God wanted women to be the there.
Why did God choose to reveal the truth of the resurrection first to those women rather than to the disciples? One commentator suggests it was because God chooses the weak to confound the strong. Still, another holds that, because death came by a woman in a garden, so new life was first announced to a woman in a garden. What is true is that women were not viewed as credible witnesses in a court of law. I think God was restoring that credibility reminding us that both men and women are made in the image of God. Either way, the Bible says they were the first because they came to finish the burial process according to the commandment of God’s Word (Mk. 16:1; Lk. 23:56). Because they were there, they were the first to hear the angelic announcement of the resurrection. Had the disciples been there, they too, would have heard the good news directly from the angel rather than indirectly from the women. There is an important correlation here to our lives as believers: The closer a believer stays to the Lord and to His work, the more he is going to witness and experience God’s power.
That’s what happens next. As the women hurry filled with a mixture of fear and joy to tell the disciples, they meet Jesus Himself. The moment they see Him, He greets them and tells them, “Do not be afraid.” They fall at His feet and worship Him! Then He tells them: (Jesus) Go and take word to my brethren to leave for Galilee, and there they will see Me(V.10). Why Galilee? What’s so important about Galilee? It was a place made up of Jews and Gentiles; it represented the world as a whole. It was the crossroads of the world where news of the resurrection would spread the quickest. It’s where Jesus began His ministry and it’s where He gave the disciples the Great Commission to go into all the world and make disciples.
“Go and tell” is the Great Commission in miniature. The resurrection of Jesus Christ is the greatest news the world has ever heard! The world longs for an answer to its greatest fears. The resurrection is that answer: It means we no longer have to live in fear of our failures, of the circumstances, or of death. God means it. In fact, over twenty times in the NT references the fact that because Jesus rose from the dead, so will those who have placed their trust in Him. The resurrection is the overwhelming evidence that God loves us and gave His Son’s life for us. It is God’s “Amen!” to Jesus’ “It is finished.” That’s the message of Jesus’ resurrection.
So, the question is, what will be our answer to God raising Jesus from the dead? The Bible says the resurrection proves He is God’s Son (Rom. 1:4). Jesus willingly died as our perfect Sin-bearer because of His love for us. God loved the world so much that He gave His one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life. God sent His Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through Him(John 3:16-17).
How do you believe? How do you put your trust in Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior? According to this verse the weight of our eternity rests on it; whether we perish (are separated from God for eternity) or we have eternal life. Believing in Christ means being honest with God about our sin; we need God’s forgiveness. That’s why Jesus came and died for us. It is by turning from our sin and trusting Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior we can have God’s forgiveness and the gift of eternal life. That’s what Jesus proved by dying on the cross and overcoming death.
The son of a well-known musician was in France studying art not too long ago. As a young artiest he wanted to expand his knowledge of art touring France. He couldn’t speak any French. One night while he was walking by a river, he saw a man standing on the edge of a bridge about to jump to his death. Unsure what to do since he couldn’t speak French, the young artist quickly drew a picture on a piece of paper and held it up to the distressed man. When the man saw the picture, he immediately began to weep and stepped down from the edge of the bridge. The young artist had saved his life. What was on the picture? The cross.
What is God saying to us in Jesus’ resurrection? It’s really God’s question to us. What are you going to decide about My Son Jesus Christ? How Will You Respond?