Easter Day, and after all the disappointment, subterfuge, atrocity, shame, horror and sorrow of the last week, hope is being reborn in the hearts of those who would be followers of Jesus the Christ.
Our Master is alive again so now anything is possible. The Lord is risen indeed so let Hell be afraid, for nothing will stop Christ from building His Church, not lies, not persecution, not even death.
The Lord lives. The penalty for sin has been paid on the cross. So life and freedom and joy in reconciliation with God as our Father in Heaven is available to all who will repent and believe. To one day share His resurrection and heavenly glory – that is our destiny as children of God. We can begin the celebration right here today.
But let’s take a moment and revise the facts of the matter as recorded by one of Jesus’ first disciples, the reformed tax-collector Matthew. Here are three points for you to remember –
Confrontation, Cover-up and Commission.
First of all confrontation. The women who go to visit the tomb of Jesus are confronted with the most dramatic truth of history. For starters, the tomb is empty. There’s no body. No body because the Lord is not dead any more. He was on Friday, but not anymore.
Next there’s an angel, a mighty heavenly messenger sent from the very throne room of God to declare Jesus is not here anymore, He has risen! Matthew describes a violent earthquake and the tomb bursting open. The guards are terrified – they’ve never seen anything like this before.
And then there’s Jesus Himself, greeting the women on the path, comforting and reassuring them warmly - “Don’t be afraid. Don’t ever be afraid again.’ They see Him, hear His voice, touch Him. He’s real. These are the first of multiple witnesses. Others will soon follow and live and die to share this truth. Death has been soundly beaten. The way to eternal life is now open!
Now when God does something wonderful there are usually some human beings who will do something sad, small-minded and shady in response and this occasion was no different. The Chief Priests and elders of the people had been doing this all along, criticizing Jesus’ acts of liberating mercy as demonic and plotting to get rid of Him.
So the next thing Matthew records is a Cover-up. The guards report an earthquake, an empty tomb and an angelic messenger declaring resurrection. It’s the greatest news people could ever hope to hear! But the authorities are afraid of what they can’t control and of having their sin and hypocrisy exposed so they resort to bribery and lies to try and keep a lid on this.
As if limited little human beings like us could ever prevent the Lord Almighty from carrying out His will and purpose! But we carefully note that the world deceitfully tries to cover up God’s revelation of grace and truth with slander and distraction. We should not be surprised at the antics of the world in their attempts to suppress the Good News of Jesus. This is how He said it would be until He returns to judge the living and the dead.
But Matthew is not quite finished his Gospel, and here’s our third thing today – Jesus gives His followers a Commission. We are to go to every place on earth and make more disciples, welcoming them to the faith and the fellowship in baptism and communion and teaching all to obey His Word in Scripture.
Jesus is risen, alive, ascended and reigning. He is building His Church and He commissions us to be part of that building. He pours out His Holy Spirit on us that we might be compelling witnesses for Him. This is our commission. This remains our unfinished business until He returns in glory to gather us home.
Christians have had a confrontation of our own. We have faced up to our own sin and guilt in all its ugliness but also looked to Jesus the Saviour, His cross and resurrection as shown us by the eye witnesses in the Bible.
We are well aware of the cover ups attempted by a world that doesn’t want reminded of God’s laws.
Undaunted, we accept the commission of our Lord to seek more disciples. Of course the only way to persuade others to trust and follow Jesus is to live as authentic disciples ourselves. Not just talking about it, but practising all the things He taught – faith in a good and generous Father, loving obedience to His moral standards, joyful service that is both exuberant and steady in times of trial, and above all love that is faithful and kind, showing forgiveness, welcome and mercy to all.
So His Kingdom comes in our hearts and minds and homes and work and daily lifestyle, and through us spreads out this message of grace to all whom God is calling.
Challenging? Absolutely! But let’s not miss the very last words of Matthew’s Gospel, for with this Commission Jesus gives a promise.
The no-longer-dead-but-risen-alive-and-reigning-forevermore Jesus – He says:
“I am with you always, to the very end of the age”.