It is Sunday morning. Early. Still dark.
In our previous post, we followed Matthew’s account of what happened after Jesus’ death on that Friday and Saturday long ago. We started at Matthew 27:50, watching as Matthew gave us short rapid camera shots, from a variety of locations around Jerusalem. Now look at Matthew 28:1. Matthew turns the camera lens on the women who wake up early to go have a look at Jesus’ tomb. Have you noticed that, with the exception of Joseph of Arimathea who wasn’t even one of the 12 disciples, that none of Jesus’ male followers are yet a part of our story? I point this out not to denigrate the men. They’ll eventually enter the story, but when it comes to Jesus’ crucifixion on Friday, which we saw in the previous post, and now early on Sunday, Matthew focuses on the women.
I bring it up to highlight the fact that Matthew is doing something quite surprising here, given the culture of the First Century. He is placing women front and center in the most important story in the history of the world. But here’s the thing. Matthew isn’t just making this up. He is telling the story of what actually happened to Jesus. This might be obvious, but it needs to be stated: the women are there because Jesus had women followers. Jesus broke with the conventions of his society and culture, and he, a religious leader, talked with women, including women in his ministry. Now at the two most important events of salvation history, those women are front and center in the story. In Jesus’ Kingdom, then, men and women are of equal value, importance and role!
Look at verses 2-4 with me. The scene is at the tomb, and I imagine what appears to be a lightning bolt from heaven as the angel lands on the earth, right at the tomb, causing an earthquake. The angel rolls the stone away and sits on it. No mention of Jesus just yet. The camera now pans over to include the detachment of soldiers guarding the tomb, and they are shaking in fear. They lock eyes with the angel, and the soldiers fall over, having fainted.
My question is when did this happen? Right in front of the women? When you read the parallel accounts in Mark, Luke and John, they answer for us, that the earthquake and events of Matthew 28:2-4 are a flashback, occurring in the night, before the women show up.
To their shock, the women arrive and there is an angel sitting on the tombstone. Just sitting there, waiting. Shining like lightning. Comatose guards out cold, littered on the ground. Can you imagine the wide-eyed women taking this all in? I don’t know if they said, “What the heck?” back then, but something like that was going through their minds. Interestingly, while the soldiers had fallen over in fear, the women do not, even when the angel starts talking. Imagine that, what does an angel sound like? Whatever the voice of an angel sounds like, the women could understand. Notice what the angel says:
“Do not be afraid.” This is the first of multiple times when people receive this reassurance. Keep note of that. More on the way in future posts this week.
Next the angel says, “You are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here. He has risen just as he said. Come see for yourselves.” After his words of reassurance (“do not fear”), he now gives the women words of confirmation. Everything Jesus said had come to pass. There was no body in the tomb!
At yet, I have to ask, as they peeked in the tomb, did any of them doubt? If you’re like me, it is real easy to be skeptical. Like the phrase, “I won’t believe it, until I see it.” I wonder if any of the women thought, “Yeah, but couldn’t someone have stolen the body?” In fact, we know at least one of them were curious. If you read John’s account, that’s exactly what Mary Magdalene wonders.
Frankly I don’t blame her. Try to put yourself in her shoes. Your beloved friend who you were doing life with has been tragically killed. The emotion of that alone is huge. Add to it the fear that, just as the Roman governor quickly killed Jesus, he could order the same for you, and he had a reputation for being brutal. A couple days later, in all this emotion, you go to his grave, and there’s an angel there! And the angel talks to you and shows you the empty grave! I can’t imagine what those women must have been dealing with.
No matter what they were feeling, there’s no escaping that angel sitting on the stone in front of them. And when you’re face to face with an angel, you pay attention. If I was staring at an angel, in the middle of the most messed up crazy couple days I’d ever experienced in my life, I wouldn’t have a clue what to do. Perhaps they were like the proverbial deer in the headlights. Maybe their legs weren’t working anymore. So the angel has to tell them what to do. He says, “Now quickly, go tell the disciples that Jesus has risen and is going ahead to Galilee. You’ll meet him there.”
Do you see what the angel did there? He gave them the first mission assignment of the church: “Tell the story, head to Galilee.” We heard about a similar mission a couple months ago at the beginning of our sermon series through Acts. In Acts 1:8 Jesus tells the disciples to be his witnesses, his story-tellers. Here in Matthew 28, the very first mission that anyone receives after Jesus’ resurrection is nearly the same, when the angel instructs the women to go tell the disciples the story of what they have seen.
And what a story they have to tell: The tomb was empty! Jesus had said he would rise. After the crushing defeat of his arrest, beating, and crucifixion, there is a new hope. These women who had watched him die on the cross, now had this unbelievable story to tell. They saw an angel. That alone is wild. But what’s more, the angel told them Jesus was alive!
How will the women respond? In tomorrow’s post we find out.
More importantly, how will you respond?