Easter Sunday 2023: Everyone has things in their life they wish they could change, things that might be silly, embarrassing, or even shameful. The resurrection is the culmination of the work of Jesus. There was a conspiracy to cover it up, but hundreds of eyewitnesses supported the truth of this claim. But if Jesus is alive, then it changes everything! Recorded on Apr 9, 2023, on Matthew 28 by Pastor David Parks.
So all year, we’re focusing on Learning the way of Jesus. The big question we’ve been trying to answer is this: If the gospel is true, how then should we live? We just finished a series on the Ten Commandments, which, if you missed any of those sermons, you can always go back and watch online or listen to the podcast if you’d like. Next week we’ll start a brand new sermon series on the life of the Apostle Paul, which is a fascinating story, but also serves as a great case study on learning the way of Jesus. But for today, for Easter Sunday, we’re considering the claim that Christians have made from the very beginning, a claim that is at the heart of the gospel message: that Jesus Christ died on the cross for the sins of the world, was buried, but on the third day he rose again from the dead. And if that’s true, as Christians believe, if Jesus really is alive, then it changes everything. Everyone has things in their life they wish they could change. Everyone has silly/embarrassing/even shameful memories they wish they could erase. Everyone has things they said or did or that were done to them they wish they could forget or, if it were possible, somehow go back and undo. But if Jesus is alive, it changes everything! If Jesus was raised from the dead, then he truly is who he claimed to be, and every terrible detail of our lives becomes part of a new story of redemption/forgiveness/hope/life/glory. But for many people today, a resurrection, a person coming back from the dead after days in the grave, seems impossible. If that’s you today, I’d simply ask you to listen to the story and see what you think. Even Christians believe that this event wasn’t something happening all the time — it was unique to Jesus. See if the story seems plausible to you. Because if it isn’t true- if Jesus didn’t really rise from the dead- then nothing in the Christian faith is helpful at all. It’s just a made-up story, a delusion. But if there’s even a chance that it might be true, then it’s worth investigating, right? If it is true, then it changes everything. If you have a Bible/app, please take it and open it to Matthew 28:1. We’ll put the Scripture up on the screens for you as well. And we’ll read through this story in three parts; first, we’ll see the culmination; second, the conspiracy; and third, the commission. Let’s start with v. 1, this is the culmination.
Matthew 28:1-10 (NIV), “After the Sabbath, at dawn on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to look at the tomb. 2 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. 3 His appearance was like lightning, and his clothes were white as snow. 4 The guards were so afraid of him that they shook and became like dead men. 5 The angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. 6 He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay. 7 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.” 8 So the women hurried away from the tomb, afraid yet filled with joy, and ran to tell his disciples. 9 Suddenly Jesus met them. “Greetings,” he said. They came to him, clasped his feet and worshiped him. 10 Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid. Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.” Ok, let’s pause here. So this account of the resurrection comes to us from Matthew. Matthew was a Jewish man who was a friend and follower of Jesus. He was a tax collector before he was a Christian, but he gave up his career when Jesus called Matthew to follow him. And if we had started at the beginning, instead of the final chapter, everything in Matthew’s gospel has led up to this point. The birth and life, and ministry of Jesus, including his teaching and healing, and other miracles, all culminate with his death and his resurrection from the dead. On Good Friday, we read through all of Matthew 27 and saw how Jesus, the Son of Man, was betrayed, condemned, and abused, how he was crucified, died, and was buried. It was brutal. It was unjust. I’m sure it was shocking and disorienting for his friends and followers. But then…something unexpected happened that would forever change the course of human history. Chapter 28 starts with a very early morning on the first day of the week, which, for the Jewish people, would’ve been a Sunday. And just like in many Catholic families today, Mary was a common name for women back in first-century Judea. So Mary and Mary went to the tomb to dress the body of Jesus with spices and anointments that were used in that day as a way to honor their friend in his death. But notice that they still expected him to be in the tomb. Even though they didn’t have iPhones back then, people weren’t dumb. 2,000 years ago, people knew that the dead didn’t just come back to life. The stone at the entrance to the tomb was to keep people out, not to keep them in. But when these faithful women arrived, they were surprised and afraid at what they saw. Roman soldiers shaking with fear, an angel whose appearance was like lightning, oh, and the body of Jesus was gone. None of these things were what they were expecting. In that glorious and hopeful moment, they didn’t know what God was doing. But the angel told them not to be afraid because Jesus had risen from the dead, just as he said he would do. And that’s a funny detail of the resurrection story to me. Multiple times, Jesus had told his disciples that he would be delivered over to the religious and political leaders in Jerusalem, that he would suffer and die, but on the third day, he would rise again. But his disciples just couldn’t understand that he was speaking literally. In fact, until Jesus actually rose from the dead, no one expected him to rise from the dead! But here they were at the empty tomb, afraid yet filled with joy. So the women ran to tell the others what they had seen, when, and who should they meet, but Jesus himself. Their friend, their leader, their Messiah, their King, and God was alive. Jesus was alive. And they worshipped him. This is a key fact that speaks to what these first followers thought of who Jesus was. We just finished a series on the Ten Commandments. And what is commandment number one? “I am Yahweh your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. You shall have no other gods before me.” (Ex 20:2-3). Jewish people were clearly forbidden to worship anyone/anything other than the one true God. For these women, and many others, to worship Jesus was a declaration of faith that Jesus was God. They weren’t guilty of breaking the first command; they were being faithful in worshipping the one true God! So first, we see the culmination of the work of Jesus in his death and resurrection. Second, we see a conspiracy to try and stop this movement.
Matthew 28:11-15 (NIV), “11 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. 12 When the chief priests had met with the elders and devised a plan, they gave the soldiers a large sum of money, 13 telling them, “You are to say, ‘His disciples came during the night and stole him away while we were asleep.’ 14 If this report gets to the governor, we will satisfy him and keep you out of trouble.” 15 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.” Let’s pause here. The plot thickens. We saw that the disciples of Jesus weren’t expecting a literal resurrection. And if this had only been a made-up claim, the religious leaders who had Jesus crucified could’ve simply produced his body as evidence that the claims of a resurrection were false. But there was no body. The tomb was empty. And no one was more surprised than the disciples. The soldiers told the religious leaders, but they refused to believe it. Like the Apostle Paul, before he became a Christian, they didn’t understand that Jesus was the fulfillment of everything they supposedly held dear. He was the fulfillment of all the promises of God in their Scriptures. He was the Messiah they were supposed to be waiting for. But instead, they hated Jesus. They had him killed. So they paid off the Roman soldiers and spread the rumor that this was all a plot of the disciples to fake a resurrection. But Jesus was alive. In Acts 1:3, Luke, the historian, records that, “After his suffering, he [Jesus] presented himself to them [the disciples] and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive. He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God.” In 1 Corinthians 15, Paul writes that after the resurrection, “…he [Jesus] appeared to Cephas [Peter], and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep.” This means there were hundreds of eyewitnesses to the resurrection of Jesus. If you wanted to, you could go talk to them. Christianity didn’t start as a new way to be a good person or even as the way to go to heaven when you die. Christianity started as the good news of something that God had done through the person and work of Jesus. Historically, it’s really difficult to see how Christianity could have started, much less spread if Jesus hadn’t appeared after his death. It would’ve been just another failed movement that ended when the leader was killed, which has happened many times throughout history. But the message of Jesus only continued to spread, even as many of the first followers gave their lives for their faith. The Apostles didn’t get rich and famous for being leaders of a cool new religion. They all, with the exception of the Apostle John, were killed for their message. Christianity didn’t spread because it was cool or there was some material benefit; it spread because it was credible, it was believable, it was true. So first, we see the culmination; second, we see the conspiracy; third, and finally, we see the commission.
Matthew 28:16-20 (NIV), “16 Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. 17 When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. 18 Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” This is God’s word. So this passage is commonly called the Great Commission. When Jesus commissioned or sent his disciples out to make disciples of all nations. This means learning to follow Jesus and helping others do the same. Which, by the way, is what we’re still doing as a church today. The two activities of this commission describe the whole of the Christian life. Baptism represents the start of hearing and believing the gospel and entering into a new and everlasting relationship with God. Baptism signifies our union with Christ in his death, burial, and resurrection (going down into the water and coming back up again) as well as our cleansing from sin. The second activity, learning to obey everything Jesus commanded, represents the whole rest of the journey. I can speak from experience that it takes a very long time to learn how to love the Lord your God with all of your heart, soul, mind, and strength, and how to fully love your neighbor as yourself. I can speak from experience that it takes a very long time to submit every aspect of heart, mind, and life in obedience to Christ. In fact, I have not yet fully attained these things. I still fail. I still have fears and doubts at times, even as a pastor, even though I’ve seen God at work. It takes the whole rest of our lives to learn and grow and be transformed into the men and women that God created us to be. But by God’s grace, we can make great progress, by the truth of his word and the power of his Spirit at work in our lives. Supported by our brothers and sisters in Christ, and our commitment to learning the way of Jesus, we can make great progress and help others do the same.
But don’t you see? If Jesus is alive, as Christians believe that he is, with all the authority in heaven and earth, then it changes everything. For the one who believes in Jesus, it changes your spiritual condition from death to life. It changes your identity from a spiritual orphan to a beloved child of God. It changes your value and worth. “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” If God was willing to give up his one and only Son for you, if Jesus was willing to lay down his life for you, then no matter what anyone else has told you, you are of infinite worth! It changes your mission and purpose in life. You, too, have been commissioned/sent out by Jesus to join the work that he is doing in the world. Some might be called into full-time work, but all are called to join in the work of the church in sharing the good news with a world that is lost without Jesus. If Jesus is alive, then it changes your past, present, and future. Every sin, great and small, is forgiven by God because the price was paid by Jesus Christ on the cross. Every challenge, every hardship, every difficulty of your present is faced with the presence of Christ himself. For he said, “And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” Every fear, every potential threat of your future is nothing compared to the plans of God for you, plans to prosper you, not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. If Jesus is alive, then it changes everything! But maybe you’re thinking; you just don’t know me. You don’t know my life. So much would need to change. I would need a hundred lifetimes for God to make something good out of my life. But this just isn’t how change works. The Wright brothers made their historic first flight in a manned aircraft on Dec 17, 1903. No one had ever flown before. Their top speed was only 30 mph. But after that first flight, on July 20, 1969, not even 66 years later, astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin of the Apollo 11 mission flew almost 240,000 miles to land and walk on the moon before returning safely back to Earth. 66 years is not even the normal life expectancy for people today. If human beings can see that much change, if human beings can make that much progress over the course of one life span, how much do you think God can change in the course of one life? He can change everything! Everyone has things in their life they wish they could change. Everyone wrestles with fears/doubts/guilt/shame. I know I do at times. But the claim of Christians from the very beginning is this: Jesus Christ is alive. And that changes everything. So today, would you put your faith and trust in Jesus? He is not dead; he is alive and has ascended into heaven, where he reigns and rules as the King of heaven and earth. Would you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead? If so, then you will be saved. And you will be made new. You will change by the grace of God. And your story will become a story of redemption/forgiveness/hope/life/glory. And if that is true, then “neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Ro 8:38-39) Let us pray.