This sermon is offered by the CRCNA as part of our Reading Sermons series.
Scripture: Matthew 28:1-10
An Easter Sermon prepared by Rev. Louis M. Tamminga, Grand Rapids, Mich.
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
God's eyes always scan the earth. He has done that from the beginning. When he had created the earth, he saw what he had made. And Genesis tells us that what God saw was good.
God saw everything that happened after.
He saw Adam and Eve eating from the forbidden fruit.
He saw Cain smite his brother Abel.
He saw arrogant people building the tower of Babel.
He saw Abraham on his journey to Canaan.
He saw the nation Israel suffer in Egypt.
He saw his people being herded eastward into exile.
He saw John the Baptist at Jordan's banks preaching to the people.
He saw his Son ministering to the nation.
But from that first Easter Sunday on, God saw the earth differently! Easter is the great watershed of history. Nothing was the same anymore since Jesus rose from the dead.
Let us consider that together.
WHEN GOD SAW CREATION'S NEW EASTER ORDER
1. Manifested in the Son
2. Underscored by the angels
3. Dreaded by the soldiers
4. Experienced by the women
1. Manifested in the Son
No human being witnessed the actual resurrection of Jesus. The Bible does not even describe the resurrection event itself. The Bible only tells us that it happened. Not how it happened. The triune God caused the resurrection.
How God did it remains forever a great mystery. So God was the only one who saw it What a miracle: life triumphed over death!
That miracle had a special dimension. For Jesus died indeed a physical death. It was the same death that we all must die one day. They beat Jesus, they drove spikes through his hands and feet, and let him hang in the hot sun so that his life's spirit finally fled from him. "Father into thy hands I commit my spirit," he said.
But in that dying he suffered a deeper, spiritual distress; in his dying he died a deeper death. It was the death of God-forsakennes. In that moment of forsakenness he experienced the Father's total absence. He cried out: "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?" For three hours the sun went into hiding. Deep darkness enveloped the earth.
That was the death of sin and guilt. That's when Jesus suffered for us the death of judgment: total alienation from God. Jesus was made sin for us.
Sin, Adam's sin which we embraced in our sin, struck at the very heart of real life: Adam and his helpless race cut themselves adrift from the Father. We who had been made for life with the Father became orphans drifting rudderless on the ocean of despair.
Christ took that sin, resulting in that forsakennes, upon himself. He saw the horror of that isolation in the Garden of Gethsemene. There he prayed earnestly: "Father, if it be thy will, remove this cup from me." But he never backed away from the task he had willingly accepted. He died that death of sin on the cross for us. The Father hid his face from the Son. Darkness, spiritual darkness prevailed. The earth trembled with fear. Great quakes of anguish shook the earth. It was as if the earth understood its abandonment from its Maker.
All that Christ bore for us. He paid the price. "It is finished," he cried. The price paid in full!.
And now that the Father and the Son were united once more, the Father called the Son from the realm of death, he raised him up from the grave. Life coursed through the Savior's veins. New strength gripped his muscles and sinews. He took his first breath. God returned his spirit to the Son, now fully awakened.
But words fail us to describe a far deeper dimension of Christ's resurrection life. His was eternal life. His was life truly reconciled to God. His was life totally devoid of sin. His was life that could no longer be attacked by sin. That's why, though remaining human for our sake, he was given a glorified body. He was no longer subject to creaturely limitations. He was no longer confined to the boundaries of time and space.
The grave clothes just dropped off. Later the angels folded them up neatly and placed them at the head of the place where he had lain. He glided through the rock that closed the sepulcher. The grave could no longer hold him. Walls and doors could no longer confine him. Distances of time and space no longer held sway over him.
In the resurrection event, God declared to the church that these things were so, that they were settled! The relationship which God had with Adam and Eve before the fall was unimaginable rich. But the relationship which God had with his children after the resurrection was richer still. It was a relationship now tested and purified by the fires of judgment. In the fall in Eden we lost Paradise. In the resurrection we gained the New Creation.
All that we own by faith. In this stage of the church's history we cannot yet fully experience these Easter riches. Sin is still present in God's creation and in human communities. But the backbone of sin has been broken. It has no dominion over us anymore. The Holy Spirit descended and took up residence in the hearts of the believers. Because of God's declaration and the Spirit's presence, we are legitimate owners in the life Christ brought through his victory over death: earthly death and the death of sin and judgment.
In Lord's Day 17 of the Heidelberg Catechism the church confesses that. "By his resurrection he — Jesus — has overcome death, so that he might make us share in his righteousness he won for us by his death."
The resurrection is the great closing piece of Christ's redemptive work. It points to a great transaction that took place.
OUR SIN AND GUILT TURNED OVER UPON HIM!
HIS OBEDIENCE AND HOLINESS TURNED OVER UPON US!
And that's the foundation of God justifying us. He accepts us as his dear children as if we had never sinned. Of all that the resurrection is God's holy seal. We may accept by faith what the triune God saw from above that Easter morning: Jesus inheriting eternal life for us. We need not doubt that any more.
God saw it! It is real! It is ours!
The strife is o'er, the battle done;
the victory of life is won;
the song of triumph has begun. Alleluia!
Lord, by the stripes that wounded thee,
from death's dread sting thy servants free,
that we may live and sing to thee. Alleluia!
2. Underscored by the angel
God sent the angel at the right moment. From his throne he followed the angel, his eye remained on him. God delighted in that angel. Angels are heavenly messengers. They do God's bidding. They are servants. They travel all over. This angel was happy to accept an assignment from God on behalf of the church.
As he descended upon Jerusalem he scouted out the situation and proceeded to Joseph's Garden. He immediately realized that Jesus had already come forth from the grave. The angel judged that an empty grave no longer needed a stone to close the entrance and so he rolled it back. Now Jesus' followers could look into the tomb and see for themselves that Jesus had risen from the dead. Angels are wise and very strong.
Angels are not all-knowing and so he awaited further orders from headquarters above. This angel decided that in the meantime he might as well take it easy and so he settled comfortably on top of the stone. There is something humorous about the angel sitting on the stone. It is a symbolic gesture of his power and security. As God looked down from heaven and saw the angel. And it was good! The suffering of Christ had ended. Heaven rejoiced. All the combined power of the Jewish establishment and Rome's military might were no match for one angel. God delighted in that angel. Today we pause for a moment with that angel and find strength in his sitting there on the stone.
It seems that there were actually more angels than the one mentioned here in the gospel of Matthew. The evangelist Mark tells us that the women saw an angel in the form of a young man who sat in the tomb itself. The evangelist Luke observes two angels, both inside the tomb. John reports that Mary saw two angels inside the tomb but Peter and John did not see them, it seems, when they came to the tomb a bit later.
Angels are beautiful. They represent heaven among us here on earth.
In the Old Testament believers sometimes met up with angels. That was for them a scary experience. And for a good reason! Sin has not yet been atoned for. The Old Testament people found angles formidable beings. They were bearers of the holiness of heaven. Earthlings quaked in their presence. It was the tension between a sinful world and a sinless heaven.
But now the price for sin has been paid. The curse was lifted from God's creation. Believers are justified. They are covered with the righteousness and holiness of Christ. Angels feel at home among the redeemed. Angels can relax on the sites where the great dramas of salvation took place on God's good earth.
When God saw the angels around the tomb he delighted in knowing that heaven and earth were in harmony. The work of building the New Testament Church could begin in earnest. And angels assumed a big part in that great program from that Easter event on. We don't always realize it but angels are constantly protecting us and clearing the way for the Gospel's onward march around the globe.
We may look at that angel on the stone again and realize afresh that heaven and earth are in harmony. Heaven is not far!
Saints and angels join in praising
God the Father, Spirit, Son,
evermore their voices raising
to th'eternal Three in One;
come and worship, come and worship,
worship Christ, our Lord and King. (PH #354)
3. Dreaded by the soldiers
The Roman Empire was big. It stretched from India all the way through southern Russia, covering much of Europe, England, France, North Africa, and Arabia. The Roman legions marched victoriously everywhere. Their authority was established in Israel as firmly as anywhere.
Members of the military of that empire were guarding the tomb in Joseph's garden. But when Jesus rose from the dead they did not notice. They had no clue what happened. They were carnal people. They had no spiritual antennae. They were blind to the things of God.
But when the angel rolled the stone away and the earth responded with a one joyful jolt, those proud soldiers of Rome trembled with fear. They became "as dead men." They were, we would say, scared to death! They were like rabbits numb with fear. The bravest of them managed to get back on their feet and stumbled into the city to tell their superiors about their experiences.
Our world is still full of God-defying powers. God still looks down from on high. He sees the suffering of his people, the distress of the oppressed. But he also sees his angels everywhere, surrounding his children. Believers know that the powers of evil are no match for God's angels. Believers look beyond the realities of evil, sorrow, pain, and abuse, and, by faith, they know God's heavenly messengers all around them. Believers eagerly expect the day when Christ will return with more heavenly legions and purge His creation from all darkness and corruption.
One of the most difficult assignments we as Christians have is to walk by faith, not by sight. We are subject to sickness and corruption around us. So many bad things happen to good people. Some suffering and setbacks make no sense at all. If we look with our physical eyes only, it seems that earthly powers are completely in control. Didn't Rome rule the world?
But don't tell the angels that! They constantly see the great Kingdom realities behind the appearances that shape our daily lives. Hear the angel assure the women again: "Do not be afraid, He has risen, just as he said."
We have to put up with Roman Guards a little longer yet. In God's time, the angels will clear them from the face of the earth.
And though this world with devils filled,
should threaten to undo us,
we will not fear, for God has willed
his truth to triumph through us.
The prince of darkness grim,
we tremble not for him;
his rage we can endure,
for lo! his doom is sure;
one little word shall fell him. (PH #469)
4. Experienced by the women
On that first Easter Sunday only a few believers were close to the heart of the resurrection drama. The women who had faithfully ministered to Jesus were given the privilege to be among the first to receive the good news of the Savior risen.
Matthew mentioned that just two women made their way to the tomb. The first one was Mary Magdalene whom the Lord had freed from demons and who had since loved the Lord with a devout love. The other one was Mary, the mother of James and Joses. Both had often ministered to Jesus when he was on his preaching missions.
Mark added that they had bought spices for the embalming of Jesus' body. Mark mentioned that also Joanna "and the others" were part of the group of women intending to pay Jesus their last respects. It is possible that they came in small groups not far from each other. All were driven by their love for the Master.
God saw those great women near the tomb that Easter morning and he was pleased! If only they could have been aware of it. As it was, they were very worried. Worried because they suddenly realized that they were no match for the heavy stone in front of the tomb.
God's angel on top of the stone had some sympathy for the women's plight. That's why he had been sent in the first place.
Even before they had come near the tomb the angel called out to the women already. It was the best news that mortals could ever receive. "Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here: he is risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay."
Wonderful to read of such angelic ministry to members of the church. Only when we are relieved from our fear can we be fully open to the joy of Easter. The removal of fear comes from words, words that originate with God. In this case he spoke to the women through an angel. To us he will do that through the gospel though who knows he may some time do it through an angel too.
There was a second part to the angel's ministry to the women.
He gave them a task. He said: "He has risen from the dead and is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him. Now I have told you."
We don't read of the women's reply. They were too stunned. When they had seen the glory of the angel in his "appearance like lightning and his clothes white as snow," they became terribly afraid. But once the words of the angel's good Easter tiding and the assignment had sunk in, they experienced great joy. And they ran, we read, to do the angel's bidding.
But a greater blessing awaited them. Barely on their way, they met the Savior himself! Perhaps Jesus could not wait till later in Galilee to see the first believers of the New Testament church, and so he already gave them a foretaste of his presence near Joseph's Garden.
Have you had that feeling: fear and joy, both at the same time?
We in our failures and sufferings may cling to the Savior and fear will begin to lose its hold on us and joy begins to break through.
Under God's watchful eye, church history unfolded right there from the resurrection garden. The women did alert the disciples who accepted the joyful news. They did go to Galilee where they met Jesus. And more meetings followed with Jesus making appearances. And the book of Acts continues to tell of many more meetings of believers. Church services were held all over. The New Testament Church was here to stay! Till the return of Christ!
God saw all that around the tomb. He saw what he had done. And it was good. In the women and the disciples he saw the world church, he saw us all.
When we read the Easter story once more, we will sense again something of the respect with which these angels ministered to the believing men and women in the garden. In that Garden he saw us all here!
"Fear not, He has risen!"
"Alleluia!" now we cry
to our King immortal,
who, triumphant, burst the bars
of the tomb's dark portal;
"Alleluia", with the Son,
God the Father praising;
"Alleluia!" yet again
to the Spirit raising. (Ps. H. #389)
Proposed Order of Service
Opening Song: Hymn #241 or #387 or #397
Prayer of Invocation
(Such as: "Praise to you, Lord, for the eternal gospel, the good news of Christ crucified, risen, and reigning. With the angels, may we preach not ourselves but Jesus as Lord. In his name, Amen.")
Hymn #391 or #152 or #402
Confession of Sin and Assurance of Pardon
Hymn #179 or #401 or #400 (verses 1 & 3)
Prayer For the Opening of The Word
Reading of the Easter Gospel:
Matthew 28:1–10; Lord's Day 17 (PH page 878)
Song of Response: Hymn #400 or #396 or #389
Sermon: "When God Saw Creation’s New Easter Order"
Hymn #402 or #410
Hymn #405:1 & 2
Doxology: Hymn #405:3