Before he died the great English leader, Winston Churchill, set in order how he wanted his funeral to be conducted. It was to take place in Saint Paul’s Cathedral and it was to include many of the great hymns of the church. And as was the custom of the land, it was to follow the regular Anglican liturgy.
At his direction, a bugler was positioned high in the dome of Saint Paul’s Cathedral. Then after the benediction that bugler sounded the tone of “Taps,” the universal signal that the day is over.
But then came a dramatic turn: as Churchill instructed, after “Taps” was finished, another bugler, placed on the opposite side of the great dome, played the notes of “Reveille,” the military signal to wake up. “It’s time to get up. It’s time to get up. It’s time to get up in the morning!”
That was Churchill’s testimony that at the end of history the last note would not be Taps; it would be Reveille.
For those of us who are Christians certainly that is most certainly the case. And we gather this day to remember that very thing. On this Easter day we gather to remember that death was not the final signal of Christ’s life. As this passage clearly shows us Jesus Christ rose again from the dead as the Redeemer of Life.
And I want us to meditate this morning on this historic event. I want us to look at this passage and see what God want us to learn about the resurrection of Christ? This passage tells us at least three things about this monumental event in Christ’s life.
The first thing we learn is something of the nature of Christ’s resurrection.
I. The nature of the resurrection
The question that we immediately ask is, “What kind of resurrection this was?” Was this, as the Jehovah’s Witness believe, some sort of ghostly spiritual appearing? Was Jesus floating about like Casper the friendly ghost?
The text is very clear on this. You see, the gospel writer was sure that people wouldn’t believe that there was an actual, physical resurrection. So he writes specific things here to guard against that.
Now most of us here probably have heard this story a number of times in our life. So we are probably a little immune to it. But this should be a shocker. If you’ve never heard this story before you should be blown away. Your first reaction should be, “No way.”
Moreover, we live in a “scientific age.” We have people all around who say that once you are dead, you are dead. That’s a fact of science. And these kinds of people scoff at the resurrection and mock it.
For instance, Hank Hanegraff, in his book Resurrection, gives the example of Thomas Jefferson. Some of you may know that Thomas Jefferson created his own version of the Bible. He cut out all the parts that had anything to do with miracles. He simply couldn’t believe in the supernatural. So Jefferson’s Bible basically ends with chapter 27.
But I want you to notice that Matthew writes just for that kind of person. You know those Jews, they weren’t stupid people. They would have been the most skeptical of all. If you are going to convince them to follow Christ, you had to convince them that he was physically alive. Spiritism was a crime punishable by death in the OT. So they would have been the first to deny this.
But look at what Matthew says. First of all you have the testimony of the tomb itself. Verse 2 says that an angel came down and rolled away the stone that enclosed the tomb. Why would he do that? Well was so that you could go in and see for yourself! There was nobody there. Literally, there was no body!
But then you also have the testimony of the angel. What did the angel say in verse 6? “He is not here; he is risen, just as he said.” This divine messenger gives his courtroom testimony that there is no body in the tomb.
Ok, so you don’t believe in angels. That’s fine. Believe the hard evidence then. The women freaked out and ran away. But what happened? Jesus himself, in his physical person, met them. Verse 9 says that He talked with them and they clasped his feet. Why would Matthew say that they grabbed his feet? It is an indication that this was a real human person that they were handling.
So Matthew goes to great lengths in these few verses to provide us with extensive testimony that Jesus really did, physically rise from the dead.
I know that the tide of unbelief is against us. The Materialists find this to be the most repulsive doctrine in the world. The cultists and others who deviate from orthodox Christianity can’t bring themselves to believe it. Liberal theologians say, “Who cares is Christ really rose from the grave or not.” They say you can take it or leave it—it doesn’t matter if he physically rose from the dead or not.
But this is the testimony of Scripture. This is the testimony of God: Flesh and blood has been brought up from the grave. Christ, as a whole person, is now at the right hand of God. That’s what Easter is all about: Our redeemer physically rose from the grave.
So the Bible clearly answers the question regarding the nature of the resurrection. But what is the significance of the resurrection?
II. The significance of the resurrection
The resurrection might astonish us as an amazing event. But let’s not forget that this event was of the greatest importance to our faith.
You have to ask yourself, “Why does Matthew include this section in his gospel?” Why was it important for him to detail the fact that Christ really did physically rise from the dead? We might even tweak the question a bit, “Why is it important for us to believe in a physical resurrection of Christ.”
Well, Matthew includes this section for a number of reasons. The first is simple enough: The resurrection verifies our redemption. It is a proof that Jesus Christ, as the Son of God, had most certainly defeated sin and its consequences. Christ died on the cross for sin. He suffered the consequences of sin. But if he would have stayed in the grave, what proof would we have that he had certainly defeated sin and death?
When two guys are going at it in the boxing ring, how do you know who is the winner? It’s the guy who is left standing. The champion is the one who, after getting knocked down, can get back up and remain standing in the end.
That’s the way it is with Christ. He came to defeat sin and death. He might have gotten knocked down, but he wasn’t down for the count. In his resurrection he proves that he is the victor over sin. By his resurrection he proves that he has defeated death. He is the champion.
But the resurrection not only verifies our redemption; it is also significant for the fact that it secures our future.
This passage does not say it, but the other gospels record why exactly the women had gone to the tomb in the first place. These women went there, not to be the first ones to see Jesus risen from the dead, but because they had unfinished business to tend to.
The other gospels tell us that the women had brought spices and such. That was for the purpose of preserving the body. It was equivalent to the embalming process of today. They didn’t have enough time before the Sabbath to prepare the body properly for burial, so they came back after the Sabbath was over to do it.
Now, ask yourself, why did they do that? Why did they care about preserving the body after the life had gone out of it? Why not just chuck it into an incinerator or leave it out for the birds? It was because they believed in a future use of the body.
We can use my wife’s childhood toys as an example of this. After my wife grew up, why didn’t my in-laws chuck all her toys from childhood? Why were they so careful to see to it that those toys were preserved nice and neat in their basement? It was because they knew that there would be a future use for them. Those toys have been, in a sense, resurrected because my daughters now get to play with them!
That is the same hope that those Jews had. That’s why they went to such great lengths to preserve the bodies of the dead. And though the women didn’t know it, Jesus had come to secure that future life for his people.
Job did a lot of complaining in his day. A lot happened to him. But in the midst of his complaints he said this: “I know that my Redeemer lives and that in the end he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God. I myself will see him with my own eyes.”
Job was confident that he would participate in the resurrection. Why? Because his Savior lived. Because he rose again, Christ is the Living God. And his life is our life too.
And if you want to participate in this life, it is open to you. All you need to do is receive and rest upon Christ alone for your salvation. Do that, and you too can look forward to life beyond the grave.
But there is one more feature we should notice about the resurrection. We should make sure that we remember the impact of the resurrection. Matthew not only points out the nature and significance of the resurrection. He also hints at the fact that the resurrection radically alters the daily flow of life.
III. The impact of the resurrection
You’ll notice that at the beginning of this passage it tells us what day of the week Jesus rose from the dead. It was the day after the Sabbath, or the first day of the week. Matthew wants his audience to realize that a new era has dawned. This event is so tremendous that it changed the rhythm of daily life for the Jewish believers.
You remember that the seventh day used to be the day of God’s Sabbath. But with the triumph of the grave, a new day has dawned. And a new day is established as the formal day of worship and rest. We gather today to call upon God’s name to commemorate the day which Christ established for us eternal rest.
Really, this is something that took hold of the church quite early on. As a matter of fact, Jesus himself, by his own example, after his resurrection regards the sanctity of this new day. We can look over in John 20:19. This is talking about one of the post resurrection appearances of Jesus. And we find out that it takes place exactly a week later. It says, “On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being locked where the disciples were for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, ‘Peace be with you.’”
You may remember too that Thomas was absent from that assembly. The other disciples told him what had happened and he didn’t believe. But for Thomas’ sake (and perhaps still for the sake of the other disciples) verse 26 says that Jesus appeared again 8 days later (that being the first day of the week again).
Really this can only be Christ’s way of affirming to his disciples that His resurrection has inaugurated a new day. The Sabbath day has been altered to the first day of the week.
We can also look at the rest of Scripture to see that the early church got the message. For instance we read in Acts 20:7, “On the first day of the week, when we were gathered together to break bread, Paul talked with them, intending to depart on the next day, and he prolonged his speech until midnight.”
Well what are they doing here? It is obviously a worship service. Paul preaches and they gather for the purpose of “breaking bread;” that is to say to observe the sacrament of communion.
1 Cor. 16:2 also hits along these lines. It says, “On the first day of every week, each of you is to put something aside and store it up, as he may prosper, so that there will be no collecting when I come.” Why did Paul designate the first day of the week? Well, what better time to take up an offering than when all the saints are gathered together for worship?
Let’s look at one more text. In Rev. 1:10 the apostle John says, “I was in the Spirit on the Lord's day, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet.” What is the significance of this? Well what do we read every other week when we recite the 10 commandments? “But the seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord your God.” In other words, this day was supposed to be God’s special day. It was His day.
John refers to “the Lord’s day,” or the day that Christ claims as his. And what can that be but the day he instituted in commemoration of his having finished his work of redemption!
Well, what does this mean for us? Well, one thing it means is that Easter is not observed once a year. It is observed once a week! The early church knew that well. They used to start every corporate gathering on Sunday with the leader standing and saying, “He is risen!” The congregation would then respond by saying, “He is risen indeed!”
Every Sunday they celebrated the fact that their redemption had been most definitely procured in Christ and his resurrection. And we should do that too. And the way we do that is by setting this day apart from all the others; distinguishing it as Christ himself distinguished it from all the others.
Indeed, we should feel the impact of Christ’s resurrection should be felt every week. What he did was so significant that it should alter, not only who we or where we will one day be, but it should influence what we do from week to week.
He is the all sufficient Savior. He gives us this day to rest and be renewed in body and soul. But it is simply so that we can remember that one day we who hold fast to him shall be renewed in full.
Thanks be to God. He has risen indeed.
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Matt is blessed to be a husband, father, and pastor in Ashland, Ohio.