The Lord Is Alive

Explore the Bible Series

April 12, 2009

 

Lesson Passage: Matthew 27:62-28:20

 

Introduction: The bodily resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth is the lynchpin of the redemptive message; that is, this occurrence holds everything else together. The incarnation, the virgin conception, the miraculous works of Jesus, the demonic exorcisms, the matchless preaching, the impeccable adherence to the Mosaic Law, and the awful crucifixion; all of these things lead to the empty tomb.  The resurrection validates and authenticates all of these events.  They meet their fulfillment and meaning in the empty tomb. The whole gospel turns on this claim that Jesus rose from the dead.  Disprove the resurrection, and Christianity crumbles to rubble.  All four Gospels affirm it.  The preaching of the apostles, in Acts, focused on it. The resurrection undergirds the letters of Paul, and the General Epistles reflect the same emphasis.  The resurrected Christ appears consistently in the Revelation.  Early Christians risked and often sacrificed their lives because they would not deny the resurrection.  Primitive Christianity spread across the Mediterranean like wide fire, in large measure, because of the message of the resurrection.  For centuries, Christians of every stripe have affirmed their belief that Jesus rose from the dead.  The resurrection is the central claim of the Christian message.

 

Personal note: I appreciate that some readers may struggle with the historicity of the bodily resurrection of Jesus.  The story, after all, is quite incredible.  What modern person could easily believe that a man rose from the dead after approximately thirty-six hours in a tomb?  Christians should not flippantly dismiss the questions sincere seekers may have about the credibility of the resurrection claims of the Early Church.  Some years ago, one of my colleagues gave me a book that helped me affirm the historicity of this miraculous event, N.T. Wright’s, The Resurrection of the Son of God.  I have some questions about Wright’s views on justification (expressed in other writings), but this book on the resurrection is the most thorough work, on this topic, I have ever read.  If you really struggle with the resurrection, please consider reading this book. 

 

If the previous paragraphs have any merit, a thoughtful person must ask about the sources of our information about the resurrection. How does a contemporary inquirer discover reliable information about the claims of Christianity?  Well, one, of course, must begin with the four Gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.  All of these sources appear to have relied on eyewitness accounts of the resurrection; nevertheless, all of these records differ in some of the details of the story.  New Testament scholars have made valiant efforts to “harmonize” the accounts, but, it seems, an honest assessment demands that all of the problems cannot be resolved.  However, in this author’s judgment, this divergence may actually lend a stamp of authenticity to the Gospel records.  If, as some have suggested, the early church sought to manufacture a resurrection narrative, would they have allowed these nuances in the “story” to continue?  It seems reasonable that collusion would have produced a seamless, predictable, robotic story.  Instead, honest readers find, in the New Testament record, eyewitness accounts that emphasize different aspects of the story.  The nuance and texture of the varying accounts, in my judgment, actually lend credibility to the truthfulness of the testimony of the witnesses.

 

Don’t miss this central point; all of the Gospels unequivocally agree that something remarkable happened on the Sunday morning after the crucifixion of Jesus of Nazareth, and this noteworthy occurrence transformed the lives of those who observed it. Jesus’ followers found the tomb empty.  The Lord’s enemies could not produce a body.  The notion that Jesus merely swooned in the cross is impossible to believe.  The men who killed Jesus were professional executioners, and they did their job with terrifying efficiency and competence. Moreover, since the first resurrection Sunday, the message of the cross and the resurrection has changed the lives of millions; indeed, innumerable multitudes of people will gather willingly and joyfully, this Easter Sunday, to affirm their convictions in the transforming power of the resurrection of Jesus.

 

 

Outline of the Background Passage:

 

I.                    The Conspiracy of the Chief Priests and Pharisees (27:62-66)

A.     The plea to Pilate (vv. 62-64): The chief priests and Pharisees, normally hostile Jewish factions, conspired together to assure the security of Jesus’ tomb.  They appealed to the Roman procurator to provide an armed guard to secure the sepulcher.  What an odd alliance!  The priests (often Sadducees) and the Pharisees regularly engaged in deep theological and social debate.  Both, however, had little regard for their Roman rulers; yet, these two Jewish bodies thought nothing of turning to their enemy for their own sinister ends.

B.     Pilate’s response (vv. 65-66): Pilate, perhaps weary of this whole unpleasant ordeal, refused the request of the priests and Pharisees.  They had their own guards who could assure the integrity of the tomb, and Pilate told them to use their own military detail.

 

II.                 The Angel’s Appearance to the Women (28:1-8)

A.     The time of the appearance (v.1): Matthew pinpointed dawn as the time of the arrival of the women at the tomb.  Mark also described a time, early in the morning, but he said the women came to the tomb, after the sun had risen.  John claims that Mary Magdalene came to the tomb while it was still dark.  Perhaps these variances reflect the time it took for the women to walk from their residence (while it was still dark) to the tomb (when the sun had risen); or, perhaps Magdalene arrived at the tomb shortly before the other women. 

B.     The women at the tomb (v. 1b): Matthew identified Mary Magdalene and “the other Mary” (probably a reference to Mary the mother of James in Mark 16:1).  Mark also mentions Salome, mother of James and John, wife of Zebedee, perhaps the sister of the Virgin Mary, and perhaps the aunt of Jesus.  Luke suggested that a woman named Joanna (and others) also accompanied these women to the tomb. 

C.     The earthquake and the angel (vv. 2-8):  Matthew mentions a great earthquake in connection with the appearance of an angel.  The other accounts simply observe that the stone was rolled away from the door of the tomb when the women arrived.  Luke described the appearance of two angels, while Matthew and Mark identified only one. The presence of the angels struck the guards with great fear, but the women’s fears were calmed by the assurance of the angel that Jesus had risen from the dead. The angel gave the women instructions to immediately report the resurrection to the disciples, and the Lord would meet them in Galilee. The Gospel of Mark singled out Peter as a special recipient of the good news (Mark 16:7).

 

III.               The Women Met the Risen Lord (28:9-10)

A.     Matthew provided a general overview of the next sequence of events.  The women, as they made haste to tell the disciples, met the Lord near the tomb.  John’s Gospel reports that Mary Magdalene found Peter and John, and she gave them the news that Jesus and been raised from the dead (John 20:2-10).  Despite the message of the angel, Magdalene apparently still had some confusion about the situation.  Again, John gives valuable insight into a special encounter this faithful woman had with the Jesus (John 20:11-18).

B.     The Lord’s encounter with the women (9-10): Jesus greeted the women with a common salutation, and they immediately recognized him. They fell at his feet and worshipped him.  He calmed them, and rehearsed the instructions of the angel for the disciples to meet in Galilee (v. 10).

 

IV.              The Bribery of the Guards (28:11-15)

A.     Some of the guards went immediately to the chief priests to report the resurrection.  Matthew seems to indicate that all of the guards did not participate in the ensuing deception, only “some” did.

B.     The conspiracy of the Sanhedrin (vv. 12-14): The governing body of the Jews met with the guards and bribed them to concoct a lie about the resurrection.  According to the ruling counsel, the guards were to report that Jesus’ disciples had stolen the body during the night. This story, of course, would have boggled the mind of any listener.  How could a band of terrified fishermen overpower a group of professional soldiers and steal the body of Jesus?  Nevertheless, the Sanhedrin offered the guards money to tell the lie.

C.     The compliance of the guards (v. 15): With the offer of the money and assurances from the Sanhedrin that they would not be punished, the guards accepted the bribe. 

 

V.                 The Lord’s Appointment with the Disciples (28:16-20)

A.     The place of the meeting (v. 16): Apparently the disciples knew where to meet Jesus.  Perhaps the Lord, before the crucifixion, had indicated a certain mountain where he would meet them.  Maybe the women gave instructions  when they reported the resurrection to the Eleven.  The Scriptures do not tell us how these men understood where to go, but it seems obvious that they knew the precise location.

B.     The worship of the Eleven (v. 17): The weakness of men resonates in this verse.  Even in the face of the resurrected Lord, some of the disciples remained doubtful and perplexed. The Gospel of John indicated that one disciple, Thomas, particularly struggled with the Lord’s resurrection (See John 20:19-25).  Poor, sinful creatures we, even in our day, so often offer the best of our worship mingled with nagging fears and doubts.  Patient is the Lord with his poor, weak people.

 

VI.              A Final Commission (20:18-20)

A.     The authority of the commission (v. 18): Jesus claimed that all authority had been given to him.  This power came to him, one would assume, from the Father.  Of course, much of this authority Jesus exercised during his earthly ministry; however, this text seems to indicate that the crucifixion and resurrection had brought a greater fullness to the authority of the Son (William Hendriksen has a helpful discussion of this in his commentary on Matthew).  On this authority, Christ gave this commission to his disciples.

B.     The nature of the commission (vv. 18-19)

1.      “Go”: This word translated a participle in the original language.  It might be translated “as you are going.”  However, the participle may take the form of an imperative and have the force of a command.  Whatever the case, Jesus implied that his disciples would leave the comforts of home and carry the gospel message to the world.

2.      “make disciples”: The disciples were not to content themselves with mere mental assent to and nominal compliance with historical content of the gospel; rather, they must, the Master asserted, call followers to radical discipleship.  These converts must give evidence of a radical reordering of life by following the Savior. Therefore, we must never confuse the contemporary concept of “follow-up” with the revolutionary demands of the gospel.

3.      “of all the nations”: The scope of the gospel, according to the authoritative proclamation of Jesus, extends to the nations of the earth.  The “going” includes a world-wide vision of evangelism.

4.      “Baptizing… teaching”: These methods remain valid for today.  Baptism identifies the believer with Christ and proclaims to the world that the new disciple has died his old life and now lives anew, unto Christ.  Furthermore, it denotes the identification of the believer to other Christians within the context of the church.  These new converts must receive teaching as well.  Note that Jesus commanded his disciples to teach believers “all things that I have commanded you.”  Discipleship, therefore, involves training in the ways of the Lord.

5.      “I am with you always…”:  Jesus completed this commission by giving his disciples a profound encouragement.  They would not be left to their own devices to carry out this commission.  The Lord promised that he would be present with them in the vital task of disciple-making.  This promise draws attention to the Lord’s promises in the great discourse in John Fourteen through Sixteen.  The Lord pledged that he would not leave his followers as orphans; instead, he would send another Comforter, the Holy Spirit.