Second Reformed Church

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

"Go & Tell" Sermon: Matthew 28:1-10



“Go & Tell”
[Matthew 28:1-10]
April 16, 2017, Second Reformed Church
            You wouldn’t have believed it either.
            I mean, you look back with twenty-twenty hindsight, and you can’t believe how dull we were – that we didn’t understand what the Rabbi told us – that we didn’t understand what the prophets meant.
            When Jesus was arrested, most of our group went into hiding.  We were facing the Sanhedrin and the Roman government – we didn’t want to die.  We believed Jesus, but…
            They kept Him up all night and finally condemned Him as a blasphemer – I heard Jesus tell the high priest that He is God.  But we didn’t have the right to put a man to death – we were occupied by the Romans – and the Romans didn’t care about our religious thought – they had many gods and were happy to add more – as long as they all got along.
            But the high priest was crafty – when he saw that Pilate didn’t care a whit for our religious squabble, he told Pilate that Jesus claimed to be king – in opposition to Caesar.  Pilate knew this was all a bunch of wind, and he tried with everything he could to let Jesus go – to get the people to just let Him do what He did in peace, but the high priests stirred the crowd up – yelling, “Crucify Him!” – and then they accused Pilate of treason.  Pilate couldn’t risk that charge – politics was everything to him…
            So he had Jesus flogged.  You don’t do that here in America – but it was allowed in God’s Law – to be whipped up to thirty-nine times.  And they whipped Jesus with a whip with sharp stones and glass embedded in it.  It tore open His flesh – the historians are right – there wasn’t a spot on His body that wasn’t torn or bruised or bleeding – it was awful.
            Your movie, “The Passion of the Christ,” did an excellent job of showing the horrors of flogging.
            Then the mocking – it churns my stomach to think about it.
            And they took Him to be crucified – between two thieves.  We humans think up the most horrific ways to kill – five inch spikes are nailed through the wrists and ankles of the crucified, and then the cross is pushed upright and into a hole to hold it aright.  And then the crucified went through a rotation of hanging down with the nails tearing into his flesh, his lungs collapsing – unable to breath, then pushing up on the nails – causing more pain – to gasp for air, then slumping down, and round and round.  The crucified could hang like that for days before dying. 
The high priest wasn’t going to allow that, since it was Passover, but Jesus died quickly – before they broke the legs of the others, because He had lost so much blood through the torture before the crucifixion.
We took Jesus’ body and buried Him.  Thankfully, Joseph of Arimethea and Nicodemus had money and a tomb so we could bury Him quickly before the Sabbath.  Most of us were poor.  Joseph and Nicodemus loved Jesus but didn’t admit their belief at that time because it would have threatened their position in society.
And then I joined the rest as we hid and waited.
The high priest went to Pilate and asked that the tomb be sealed and a guard posted until the third day, because they feared we would steal His body and claim He rose from the dead.  He didn’t have to worry – we were hiding – we had no plans to steal the body.  But, with the stone in front of the tomb, Pilate’s seal, and the guard posted – we wouldn’t have had a chance, even if we had wanted to steal His body.
So we hid, and waited.  We spent the Sabbath hiding – we were too afraid to go to the Temple.
Since it was close to the Sabbath when we buried Jesus, we didn’t finish embalming Him.  A number of our women got together on the first day of the week to finish the work – we still weren’t willing to leave our hiding place.
So Mary Magdalene and the other Mary, and some of the other women walked to the garden tomb.  I don’t know who they thought would move the stone for them so they could get in the tomb.
As they arrived at the tomb – the women told us – I know, “You believed the women?  Women aren’t reliable witnesses.”  We did end up checking their story and found it was completely true.
The women arrived at the tomb, and suddenly there was a great earthquake as an angel of the Lord descended from Heaven and rolled the stone away and then sat down on the stone.  He looked like lightning – blazing light – and his clothes were whiter than white.  The women were afraid – who can blame them – angels are fearsome beings – the guards all fell to the ground as though dead.
“The angel said to the women, ‘Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here, for he has risen, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples that he has risen from the dead, and behold, he is going before you to Galilee; there you will see him. See, I have told you.’”
Their mouths must have been hanging open as the angel spoke to them – they were in the presence of an angel, he told them not to be afraid because he had good news of great joy which shall be to all the peoples – Jesus is not in His tomb.  Jesus is not dead.  Jesus physically rose from the dead – just as He said He was going to do.  Jesus is victorious over death and Hell and the devil. 
The women looked in the tomb – when Peter and I went later, we saw that what they said was true – we didn’t see the angel, but the tomb was open, and the grave clothes were lying in the tomb as though Jesus just stood up through them and left them behind.
So the women ran from the tomb to tell us – they were half scared to death and half bubbling over with joy with the news: “Jesus is alive!”
They arrived back at the place we were hiding, and they told us – and though we were amazed at their story, our first thought was, “Women.”  But we had to be sure, so Peter and I ran to the tomb, and we saw everything exactly as the women said.  And we were confused.
What did this mean?
I mean, could you have wrapped your head around this?  You saw your Rabbi die a most horrific death after you had spent three years with Him, believing He is the Messiah – the One sent to save Israel – and on the third day, He was gone from the tomb – under fantastic circumstances.
What did this mean?
We ran back and told the others – and we all wondered.
And then Jesus appeared and said, “Greetings!”  And we ran over to Him and fell before Him and grabbed His feet and worshipped Him – we understood that Jesus is God and Man in one person – He had to be to survive God’s Wrath – He made us righteous and paid the debt for our sin!  Jesus is alive!
And Jesus said to us, “Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee, and there they will see me.”
So, we ran to Galilee and gathered all the disciples there – and Jesus appeared – to over five hundred people at one time.
But, after forty days, He left again:
Right before Jesus bodily ascended back to His Father, He said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:16-20, ESV).
Of course, we didn’t know how this was all going to work out yet – Jesus told us to go back to Jerusalem and to wait there for the baptism of the Holy Spirit – which came ten days later on the Day of Pentecost when the house where we were staying was filled with what seemed to be a mighty, rushing wind – and we were all filled with God the Holy Spirit – and we went out from the house and began to preach that Jesus is alive – the Savior is alive – in all of the languages of the people who had come to Jerusalem for the feast.
Peter took the lead, as he usually did, and as he preached, he said, “Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know— this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it” (Acts 2:22-24, ESV).
Jesus is alive!  That is the truth of Easter – that is the point of Easter. Jesus, Who died on Friday, was physically resurrected from the dead and came out of the tomb on Sunday – and He has now commissioned us – everyone who ever believes – to go and tell the Gospel to everyone.
The Gospel is this – as our brother, Paul, summarizes it: “For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep.  Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. (I Corinthians 15:3-8, ESV).
Jesus is alive!
He accomplished His work – the promises of the Father – to send a Savior – Who is God Himself – to live and die and rise so our sins would be forgiven, we would be accounted as righteous, and we would be made eternally right with God – that’s what it was all about – that was God’s plan from the beginning – that’s what we didn’t get until the Day of Pentecost – but then, we spent our lives going all over the known world, telling people what God has done to make those who believe right with Him – how He has saved a people for His Son.
A recent poll among Americans aged 18 to 60 found that ninety-three percent of people believe that Jesus existed.  Forty-three percent of people believe that Jesus is God in the flesh.  And seventeen percent of people believe that Jesus was a great teacher Who showed us how to live our best life now – except for the part about being betrayed, and tortured, and crucified, of course (http://www.christianpost.com/news/what-do-americans-think-of-jesus-man-myth-or-god-180577/).
There are currently about 326 million people in the United States, and if we take the statics to be reasonably accurate, that means there are about 186 million people in the United States who do not believe that Jesus is God the Son and Savior.  There are about 186 million people in the United States who are currently going to Hell.  Some of them might live on your block.  Some of them might be at your Easter party today. Some of them might be here in your sanctuary.
After the Day of Pentecost, we all became a bit more like Peter – willing to open our mouths and tell other people what had happened – that Jesus is alive!  And we went all over the known world, and many of us were put to death, like our Savior.
Peter was crucified in Rome – upside-down, because he felt unworthy to die as his Savior.
Andrew was crucified in Greece.
James ben Zebedee was decapitated.
Philip was crucified in Egypt.
James ben Alpheus was stoned to death.
Thaddeus was crucified in Greece or Turkey.
Simon the Zealot was crucified in England.
Bartholomew was skinned and beheaded in India.
Thomas was speared to death in India.
Matthew was stabbed to death in Ethiopia.
Paul was decapitated in Rome.
And I died in exile on the Isle of Patmos.
But we’re all alive!  Since Jesus is alive, we are all alive.  And since Jesus is alive in His physical body, we shall be alive in our physical bodies when Jesus returns – and so will every other believer.
No matter what happens after we believe, we have good news and a secure future.
Jesus has saved everyone who will ever believe through His life, death, resurrection, and ascension.  Jesus is alive, we are alive, and we shall live after our death.
If that news makes you joyful this Easter, then go and tell someone who needs to hear it.
If it doesn’t make you joyful, then poke your neighbor, and ask them to tell you about it.
We who have died in our bodies and wait with the Lord until the last day pass the baton to you – go and tell someone – Jesus is alive!
Let us pray:
Almighty God, we thank You for choosing to save us.  We thank You for forming and carrying out Your Plan to send Your Son as a human so we would be made right with You through His life, death, resurrection, and ascension.  Send the Holy Spirit to stir up the fires within us so we would not keep silent about the whole point of this holiday – and life – but would go and tell others that Jesus is alive – and He is the Only Way of salvation.  For it is in Jesus’ Name we pray, Amen.

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