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Gospel: Matthew 28:1-10 (NIV)
- Hymn CW 441 “I Know that My Redeemer Lives”
- Choir sings “He Is Not Here!”
- Hymn CW 440:1-4, 5 “Christ Jesus Lay in Death’s Strong Bands”
- Communion Anthem “Living Hope”
- Hymn CW 938 “This is the Feast”
- Hymn CW 438 “Jesus Christ is Risen Today”
Sermon Theme: “It happened just as he said!”
For those of you who were blessed to walk with us to the cross during the Lenten season you know that the events of Jesus’ last days were not unexpected to him. For example, we saw that Jesus told his disciples multiple times he would be betrayed and crucified. We saw that he was in complete control, willingly allowing it to happen. Jesus knew his suffering and death would have a purpose – he had come specifically to give his life as a ransom for sinners.
The last two days, or three as the Jews count it, have shown Jesus to be correct. Jesus, the one perfectly innocent man in all history, was found guilty by the Jewish leaders and Roman officials. They crucified him, executing him in one of the worst ways ever devised by mankind. Nothing competes with crucifixion for sheer brutality, pain, and shame. Then in the twilight hours that Friday night, two faithful followers laid the body of Jesus Christ in a tomb. They did the best they could but they didn’t even have time to fully prepare the body according to their customs. Jesus was dead, just as he said he would be. He had given his life to atone for our sins, just as he said he would do. It had all happened just as Jesus said it would.
Today though, we are gathered here not to mourn the death of Jesus but celebrate his life. The resurrection on Easter Sunday is the perfect conclusion to our Savior’s suffering and death. Remember, Jesus said that this victory would happen too. The angel at the tomb on Easter morning even used this very phrase: “Just as he said.” So this morning, we see God’s exclamation point on the work that Jesus finished on Good Friday. We walk with the women to the empty tomb and once again marvel at God’s amazing grace and forgiveness.
After his death and burial, Jesus’ body lay in the tomb undisturbed all day Saturday. It was the Jewish Sabbath and no work could be done – certainly no work with a dead body. So early on Sunday morning Mary Magdalene and “the other” Mary went to the tomb to see how they might finish the burial customs. On the way they wondered just how they would get the stone rolled away from the entrance.
But they didn’t need to worry. On their way there an earthquake shook the ground. They didn’t know it at the time, but that earthquake accompanied the appearance of an angel who rolled back the stone and then sat on it. (The other Gospels tell us that there was another angel in the tomb as well.) Matthew describes the reaction of the Roman guards who had been posted at the tomb in verse four. “The guards were so afraid of him that they shook and became like dead men.” Eventually they regained their senses and when they did, they ran. They’re completely gone from the garden by the time the women show up. And with their exit and the stone rolled away, the path is open – there were no barriers for people to look into the tomb and see that it was empty. The stone wasn’t rolled away to let Jesus out – it was rolled away to let us look in!
And when the women do come, what a sight it was that greeted them. I imagine they trembled and were ready to fall down in fear at the sight of one of God’s holy servants, but the angel spoke to them in words that bring us unending Easter joy. “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.’”
Perhaps the words of the angel stirred some memories for them. If the women and the disciples had remembered what Jesus had said leading up to his death, perhaps they wouldn’t have been so afraid and sorrowful. Perhaps their own suffering in the days before might have been easier for them to bear. Jesus tried to tell them that he wouldn’t die because he was losing the battle with sin; he would die because in doing so he would win the whole war.
We need to remember that on this Easter morning. Jesus came to die! He came to die because the wages of sin is death. And not just physical death but eternal death and forsakenness by God. Jesus came to die because if there was ever going to be a way for sinners to escape that punishment and spend eternity in heaven it had to come from him and not us. Brothers and sisters, Easter is glorious because Good Friday was victorious. Jesus’ resurrection is a giant banner from God proclaiming to the world, “My Son Jesus did what he came to do!”
But on Easter morning, that payment made is in the past. As the angel announced Jesus’ resurrection to the women he says that Christ was crucified, but that he is risen. As the women stood outside the tomb, Jesus was no longer dead. Not long ago in worship we stood with Martha outside the tomb of Lazarus and heard Jesus say that he is “the resurrection and the life.” Not that he brings it or that he makes it possible. It is who he is. Death never had a chance. Jesus submitted to it to carry our punishment, but it never truly defeated him. Jesus’ resurrection proves his victory over death, and with death so also sin and Satan. It’s God’s promise that our debt to him is paid. Our record before him is clean. The Scriptures tell us Jesus died once for all. A whole world’s sins wiped away by one act of love. The perfect given for the perfectly sinful.
As the women left to go tell others about this good news and miraculous sight, afraid yet filled with joy, they met Jesus himself in the garden. Matthew doesn’t record a single word of what they said to him, but he shares Jesus’ comfort for them. Once again, Jesus brings peace. “Greetings… do not be afraid. Go and tell my brothers.”
In a certain sense, we are like the women as they left the tomb. We too find ourselves regularly with hearts full of both fear and joy. The Christian’s life could indeed be described as a life lived walking in the shadow of the empty tomb, tasked with telling our brothers and sisters the good news of what God has done. And we too will be blessed one day to suddenly see Jesus.
And because Jesus paid our debt fully and proved it with his rising, we have full confidence that our future is the same as his. Yes, death will make an attempt at our souls. None of us will escape physical death unless Jesus returns in glory first. But just as Jesus died and rose in victory, in the resurrection at the last day we who are connected to him in faith will rise to glory as well. Death could not hold him and it cannot hold us. And on that day when Jesus does return to this world in glory, God will finally kill death itself and we will live with him forever in heaven.
That’s why we celebrate Easter with such fanfare. Not just because Jesus rose – but because his victory is our victory. Today, we celebrate the fact that Jesus’ tomb was empty, that God rolled the stone away, that the women heard the greatest proclamation of all time: “He is not here. He has risen, just as he said.”
Indeed, Jesus did everything he set out to do. And it happened just as he said. He is alive. He is risen. And in the coming weeks of this Easter season we’ll talk even more about what this new life in Christ means for us. Because that is what we have at Easter. His life is our life. Rejoice in Christ our risen Savior. In faith, you are alive because our Savior is alive. Sing, rejoice, be faithful, and have hope. Let not just our worship but our whole lives be filled with alleluias. Because He is risen. He is risen indeed. Alleluia. Amen.