Elon, North Carolina
April 5, 33 AD is the most important date in history and yet it is a date that is not in any of the history books. The most important event in history was not World War I. It was not World War II. It was not the Reformation or the American Revolution. The most important event of all time is the Resurrection of Jesus from the dead.
All of Christianity is based on the resurrection. Jesus is not different from any other dead religious leader. Without the resurrection, there is no Christianity. As Paul said, “If Jesus did not rise from the dead, our faith is vain.” If the resurrection happened, then Christianity is true, the Bible is true, Jesus is the Messiah. In fact, Jesus is God.
Today, we are going to read the resurrection story from Matthew. To understand the Easter story, you have to read all four Gospels. Every account is true. Each is inspired but no one account gives you the full picture. That is why we need all four to get all of the details. We think we know the Easter story pretty well. We hear about it every year, but how well do we really know it?
The Easter story begins with the women. We want to spend some time looking at these women. Who were they? The Gospels mention four names. Matthew mentions two. Mark mentions one more and Luke mentions the fourth woman. Who were these women? Two were wealthy. Two were mothers of apostles.
The Four Women of Easter
1) Mary Magdalene (Matthew 28:1; Mark 16:1; Luke 24:10; John 20:1)
She is mentioned in all four Gospels. There are all kinds of novels about her. There are a lot of myths about her. Much of what you have heard about her is not true. The Bible does not say that she was an immoral woman. It does not say that she was a former prostitute. It does not say that she was the wife of Jesus, as you see in the Da Vinci Code.
What do we know about her from Scripture? Jesus freed Mary Magdalene from seven demons, not just one or two but seven. That is mentioned twice in the Gospels (Luke 8:2; Mark 16:9). She was wealthy and supported Jesus financially (Luke 8:2-3). She had FINANCIAL connections.
Jesus appeared to her first. When Jesus rose early on the first day of the week, he appeared FIRST to Mary Magdalene, out of whom he had driven seven demons. (Mark 16:9). Some say that she is the most important woman in the NT. She is mentioned fourteen times.
You would think that the first one Jesus would appear His mother first but He didn’t. He appeared to Mary Magdalene first (maybe because she was the only one who went to the tomb twice that morning).
2) The Other Mary (Matthew 28:1; Mark 16:1; Luke 24:10)
This woman had RELIGIOUS connections. She is mentioned in three Gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke. There were three Marys at the cross and two at the tomb. Mary was a common name. Two went to the tomb. We know Mary Magdalene. Who is the other mysterious Mary?
The other Mary was a mother of one of the Apostles, James (Matthew 28:2; Mark 16:1; Luke 24:10). She was the mother of James, the son of Alphaeus (Matthew 10:3; Mark 3:18; Luke 6:15) as opposed to James, the son of Zebedee. She was at the cross, where she is called by Mark “James the less” (KJV) or “James the younger” (NIV). This James was not as prominent as the other one.
3) Salome (Mark 16:1)
This is another woman that has RELIGIOUS connections. She was the mother of two apostles (John and James). She was the wife of Zebedee. We know that by comparing Matthew 27:56 with Mark 15:40.
4) Joanna (Luke 24:10)
This woman had POLITICAL connections. Her husband was a government official. He worked for Herod Antipas. He was part of the Court of Herod (Luke 8:3). Herod was the one who chopped off the head of John the Baptist. She also was wealthy (Luke 8:3).
What is surprising is that Jesus’ mother is not mentioned as one of the ones coming but Luke says that these were not the only women who went to the tomb. Others came with them.
It was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, AND THE OTHERS WITH THEM who told this to the apostles. (Luke 24:10 NIV)
More than four women went to the tomb. Others went with them. How many others went with them? Were there two others or ten others? We don’t know but it is in the plural, so there were at least two more, making a total of at least six women. Jesus’ mother could have been in that group, which would make three Marys there.
An Act of Love
What brought these women to the tomb? These women demonstrated extreme love. They demonstrated extravagant love. Mary Magdalene was became His most loyal follower. How would you respond if you were freed from seven demons.
All of these women loved Jesus. They loved Him more than the men. They were devoted to Jesus. They were more devoted to Jesus than we are. They were with Him at His death, when most of the men ran away. They were with Him. They were there to support Him. The Bible says, “A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for a time of adversity.” (Proverbs 17:17 NIV)
They also cared for Him even after he died. They were wealthy and spent some money on Jesus. Mark tells us that they went out and bought some spices for Jesus. When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome BOUGHT SPICES so that they might go to anoint Jesus’ body (Mark 16:1 NIV).
They got up very early Sunday morning, while the men were still sleeping. VERY EARLY on the first day of the week, just after sunrise, they were on their way to the tomb (Mark 16:2 NIV). Mary Magdalene left before Sunrise. She left while it was still dark (John 20:1). These women went in groups but they all left early Sunday morning.
Matthew says that they just went to look at the tomb (Matthew 28:1) but we know from Mark and Luke that they did not just go to visit the tomb and pay their respect. They went to perform an act of love. They went to put spices on the dead body of Jesus. They could NOT do this job on Saturday, because it was the Sabbath. They had to wait for Sunday.
Why would they do something as crazy as that? It seems strange to us today. Why put spices on someone who had been dead for two days, especially in the hot climate of the Middle East? They wanted to make the body of Jesus smell better. Why would you want to make a dead body smell good?
We would not go near a dead, stinking, decomposing body, even of a loved one, and try to make it smell better but, they did. It was an act of love. It was an act of extreme love. It was an act of devotion. Love is extravagant. Love is so extravagant that sometimes it is irrational.
It makes you do some crazy things. These women bought spices, got up early and headed to a tomb to anoint a dead body that they knew they could not access. There was a big heavy stone in front of the tomb, and it was guarded by Roman soldiers. The women knew about the stone. We know that from Mark. Mark tells us what they talked about on the way to the tomb.
Very early on the first day of the week, just after sunrise, they were on their way to the tomb 3 and they asked each other, “Who will roll the stone away from the entrance of the tomb?” (Mark 16:2-3 NIV)
It did not even make sense for them to go there in the first place. That did not stop them. They went anyway and they went early. God rewarded their act of love. He rewarded them in a way that He did not reward the Apostles. God never forgets what we do for Him.
The first to find that the tomb was empty was not the men. The first to find it empty was the women.
The first to see an angel that morning was not the men. The first to see an angel that morning was the women.
The first to actually see Jesus alive was not the men. The first to see the Risen Jesus was the women.
God is not unjust; he will not forget your work and the love you have shown him as you have helped his people and continue to help them. (Hebrews 6:10 NIV)
And if anyone gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones who is my disciple, truly I tell you, that person will certainly not lose their reward.” (Matthew 10:42 NIV)
That is interesting. We may be upset that we have not done something great for God. None of us are Billy Graham. Even all of the little things we do for Him He remembers and rewards. God rewarded these women, even though they weren’t perfect. Some of these women had a past. Mary Magdalene was demon-possessed. She was ruled by seven demons. She was tormented. Jesus did not hold that against her.
He rewarded these women, even though they weren’t perfect and even though their theology wasn’t perfect. When they made their way to a tomb, they were not looking for the living and risen Christ. They were looking for a lifeless corpse. They came to anoint a dead body. Mary Magdalene thought Jesus was the gardener (Jesus the Gardener) but God still rewarded her, even though she was confused and mistaken.
An Easter Surprise
When the women got to the tomb that morning, they all received a surprise. Try to picture what was going on that morning. They witnessed a horrific scene on Friday. They were traumatized by the brutality of the execution.
They are heading out to the tomb with their perfumes and spices early in the morning. They are all depressed. The one they loved was tortured and killed. Their eyes were red. They had been crying. They were grieving. They were mourning. They were sad. They were broken-hearted.
When they got to the tomb, they went from sadness to shock. Everyone got an Easter surprise. When they got to the tomb, they could not believe that the stone was rolled away (Matthew 28:1-4; Mark 16:1-4; Luke 24:1-2; John 20:1). The first thing they did was to go inside and there they found that the body was gone, according to Mark and Luke (Mark 16:4-5; Luke 24:2-3).
On the first day of the week, very early in the morning, the women took the spices they had prepared and went to the tomb. 2 They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, 3 but when they entered, they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. (Luke 24:2-3 NIV)
Now, they were puzzled. They brought all of these spices to anoint the body and there is no body to anoint. Where’s the body? The body is not there. The body was nowhere to be found. This was huge. Mary Magdalene immediately left. This was too important not to tell anyone. The Apostles needed to know.
Mary’s problem was that she jumped to conclusions. She saw that the stone was moved. She saw the body of Jesus missing and a bunch of dead Romans lying around. She went back and told the Apostles that someone stole the body of Jesus, while the rest of the women stayed there.
Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the entrance. 2 So she came running to Simon Peter and the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!” (John 20:1-2 NIV)
The Appearance of Angels
Mary Magdalene leaves. The rest of the women stay but they are confused. What happened? Where is the body? Who could possibly have taken it? Where did they move it to? As they were trying to figure it out, they faced an even greater problem. An angel showed up suddenly out of nowhere. That does not sound like a problem to us.
We have no idea what it is like to see a real angel. Most of us have never seen a real angel in person. Our ideas about angels come from Hollywood (Touched by Angel). Those are fake angels. The angels these women saw were supernatural beings. They shined like lightning and there was not just one of them; there were two of them. Luke mentions two angels (Luke 24:4). Two angels later appeared to Mary Magdalene (John 20:11-12).
While they were wondering about this, suddenly two men in clothes that gleamed like lightning stood beside them. (Luke 24:4 NIV)
His appearance was like lightning, and his clothes were white as snow. (Matthew 28:3 NIV)
These angels were terrifying. The women fell to the ground. Their faces were in the dirt. In their fright the women bowed down with their faces to the ground (Luke 24:5 NIV)
They came to the tomb SAD. At the tomb, they experienced SHOCK. When the angels showed up, they experienced FEAR. They were terrified. These supernatural beings showed up, wearing blinding white clothes, and shining like the Sun. Their face shined brightly. Their clothes shined brightly.
All of the Roman soldier’s passed out. These were seasoned soldiers. They were not afraid of anything. They were armed. They had faced war. They fought battles but when they come face-to-face with an angel, these big strong men fainted.
Bad angels (demons) are terrifying but, apparently, good angels are also scary. They are heavenly beings. The first thing the angels said to the women is “Do NOT be afraid” (Matthew 28:5; Mark 16:6). Mark adds one more detail. When they left and headed back, they were still afraid. They were shaking. They were trembling (Mark 16:8).
The Nature of Angels
Angels are interesting creatures. They are greater beings than we are. One preacher them “biblical extra-terrestrials.” They are supernatural beings. They have superhuman strength. They have incredible strength. They are spirit beings. They are spirits. Hebrews calls them “ministering spirits” (Hebrews 1:14).
We have a spirit, but we are not spirit beings. A spirit does not have a body. Jesus said, “See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself. Touch me and see. For a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.” (Luke 24:39 ESV)
Angels are spirits. They don’t have a physical body. They are immaterial. They are not male or female, but they can take on a human body. They can take on human form. Here they appeared as young men.
In Mark, they see one young man (Mark 16:5). In Luke, they see two young men (Luke 24:4). Is this a contradiction? One Gospel says they saw one angel, and another says they saw two angels. No, it is not a contradiction. It would only be a contradiction if Mark said that they saw “one and only one angel.”
They are His servants (Psalm 103:20-21). They do whatever God tells them to do. God sent these angels on a mission. God told them to do two things.
First, He told them to move a big heavy rock. All it took was one angel to move it. Matthew’s Gospel records that event. He moved a two-ton rock with one finger effortlessly.
If we had to do a dangerous covert operation with armed guards around, we would try to do it as quickly as possible and get out of there. This angel moved the stone right in front of armed Roman guards and then sat on top of it without any fear.
He used the big stone as a chair. The angel did not move the stone to let Jesus out but to let the women in. Jesus had already risen from the dead before the stone was rolled away
Second, He told them to deliver a message. What was the message? He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. (Matthew 28:6 NIV). They got to deliver the greatest message in the history of the world. Jesus is not dead; He is alive.
They also gave the women some small rebukes. They said, “Why do you look for the living among the dead?” (Luke 24:5 NIV). He said, “If you are looking for Jesus, what are you doing here? You are looking in the wrong place.” Their love was extravagant. It was irrational at times. It was also misguided. Love can be misguided.
Many religions see salvation among the dead. All of their founders are dead (Buddha, Muhammad). They worship a dead god. Some people are more devoted to a dead god than to the living God. A. B. Simpson said, “To many a Christian, Jesus is still but a dead Christ or at least an historic Christ, but not a living and present reality.”
The angels also said, “He is not here; he has risen, JUST AS HE SAID” (Matthew 28:6). It is almost as if they said, “Didn’t you listen to Him? If you would have listened to him, you would have known this would have taken place. You would have expected it.”
The irony is that the enemies of Christ knew what He said better than His own followers. They knew that He predicted that He would rise from the dead and tried to stop it. That would be like unbelievers today knowing what is in the Bible better than some Christians do. Jesus made an amazing statement in Luke 24.
25 He said to them, “How foolish you are, and how slow to believe all that the prophets have spoken! 26 Did not the Messiah have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?” 27 And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself. (Luke 24:25-27 NIV)
Jesus said that if you do not believe everything the Bible says, you are a fool and He said that to some of His own followers who believed in Him. How many Christians only believe part of the Bible. Parts of it they like but other parts are simply discarded. We need to believe all of the Bible.
The First Easter Sermon
In Matthew 28, we see the first Easter sermon ever given. It was preached by an angel from heaven. God usually uses people to preach but sometimes He uses angels to preach. On special occasions, He uses angels to deliver a message to people. Angels announced the birth of Christ to the shepherds.
The angels announce the resurrection of Jesus. They say, “He is risen.” They say, “Do not be afraid.” Then they say this: Come and see the place where he lay. 7 Then go quickly and tell his disciples (Matthew 28:6-7 NIV). Notice the four important words: come, see, go, tell. These are four words that everyone should follow.
The first word is “come.” It is an invitation. The Bible has many invitations to people to come. Jesus says, “whoever comes to me I will never drive away (John 6:37 NIV)
Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest (Matthew 11:28 NIV)
The Spirit and the bride say, “Come!” And let the one who hears say, “Come!” Let the one who is thirsty come; and let the one who wishes take the free gift of the water of life. (Revelation 22:17 NIV)
The angel does not just say “come” but “come and see. Investigate it. Check it out. Examine the the evidence for yourself. Don’t just take my word for it. Come into the tomb and see. Look where his body was.” What the angel said was verifiable.
He didn’t say, “You just have to take it by faith. Just take my word for it. I am an angel from heaven. You can trust me.” We should encourage people to check out the truths of the Bible and Christianity for themselves. We see the same thing in John.
Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found him of whom Moses in the Law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.” 46 Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see. (John 1:45-46 ESV)
“Don’t just linger around and investigate. Don’t just stick around at the tomb as much as you love Jesus. Go and go quickly. You have an important job to do.” Some don’t go. Interestingly, as they went, they saw Jesus on the way (Matthew 28:8-10). God always rewards instant obedience.
“Don’t keep the message to yourself. Tell others about it. Tell what happened to you this morning. Tell what you saw at the tomb and what you heard. Give your personal testimony about Jesus.” We are given a similar commission. It is called “The Great Commission.” Some go and don’t tell.
A funny thing happened when the woman left. They went to the Apostles. They went to the leaders. They went and told the men. Not only did they reject what they were saying, they laughed at them. They thought they were crazy. We are to give the message whether people accept it or reject it. Eventually, all of the Apostles accepted the message and preached it themselves.