Monday, April 16, 2012

The Resurrection of Jesus in Matthew 28:1–10

Over the centuries many people have doubted the truth of the resurrection of Jesus. But it is remarkable how one charismatic preacher, who had no possessions and no worldly wealth, who commanded no army, and wielded no political power, who wandered around a far-flung out-of-the-way province of the Roman Empire almost two thousand years ago, could change the world in the way that he has if nothing happened on that fateful morning.

According to Matthew’s account, two women, both called Mary walked to the tomb early on the Sunday morning (Matt 28:1). There was Mary Magdelene, whom Jesus had healed from demon possession (Luke 8:2); and the “other Mary,” who was the wife of Clopas (see John 19:25). These two women were among those who used to follow Jesus as he traveled around, and helped provide for him and the disciples. In their devotion to Jesus, they were wanting to go and see the place where he had been buried.

But on their way to the tomb suddenly a large earthquake shook the ground around them (Matt 28:2). An angel had come down from heaven, and pushed back the stone blocking the doorway of the tomb. We know that the angel had pushed back the stone to let Jesus out; but all that the two Marys knew initially was that an earthquake had taken place, and that the angel was sitting high up on top of the stone. The angel looked as bright as lightning, and his clothes were as white as snow (Matt 28:3). The guards who had been placed there at the Jewish leaders’ insistence (see Matt 27:62–66) had been effectively hypnotized by the angel. Out of sheer fear, they had been psychologically stunned, and were motionless, as if dead (Matt 28:4).

When the women saw this, the angel spoke and said to them, “Don’t be afraid! I know that you are looking for Jesus, who has been crucified. He is not here, for he has risen, just as he said!” (Matt 28:5–6). Jesus had told his disciples on at least three occasions during his time with them, that he would be put to death, but rise from the dead three days later (Matt 16:21; 17:22–23; 20:17–19; see also Matt 12:40). The three days in question were determined in terms of inclusive counting. Friday, Saturday, Sunday makes three days. Matthew, through the words of the angel, makes the point that Jesus’ rising from the dead happened just as Jesus had said it would. And to prove that Jesus was no longer there, the angel invited the two Marys to look inside the tomb in which Jesus had been placed (Matt 28:6).

Jesus’ disciples initially found it hard to believe that Jesus had been resurrected. Even today some people find the concept of Jesus’ resurrection incredible, but Matthew’s Gospel asserts that the resurrection of Jesus really happened. The angel said that Jesus had risen, and the two Marys witnessed the empty tomb as proof of this angelic assertion.

The angel then told the women to go and tell the disciples that Jesus had risen from the dead (Matt 28:7). The women were to tell the disciples that Jesus would meet them in Galilee, and that there they would see him.

The women did just as the angel had commanded them (Matt 28:8). They raced quickly from the tomb, filled with a mixture of great fear and wonderful joy. It is likely that their thoughts were also racing at this time: Is it true? Is it possible? Is our Master indeed risen from the dead? They had seen the empty tomb, but as they were running all of a sudden … Jesus!

Jesus was standing in front of them, greeting them (Matt 28:9). The women fell down to the ground, grabbed hold of Jesus’ feet, and worshiped him. Then Jesus said to them, “Don’t be afraid. Go, tell my brothers to leave for Galilee, and they will see me there” (Matt 28:10).

Not only the angel, not only the empty tomb, but now … Jesus himself! Standing there in front of them, Jesus’ personal presence was proof indeed that he was risen from the dead.

The account of Jesus’ resurrection in Matthew’s Gospel functions as an invitation to all people to believe in the historical resurrection of Jesus, to accept the fact that Jesus, who died through crucifixion, has risen from the dead.

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