The resurrection is crucial to Christianity. Calling people to embrace Jesus, the risen King is the central topic of Apostolic preaching and writing.
Last week, Palm Sunday, Jesus entered Jerusalem riding on a donkey to shouts of “Hosanna!” He was treated like a king. But by Thursday night he was being arrested, mocked, and beaten. By Friday morning the Romans were scourging and crucifying him. Easter or Resurrection Sunday transitions from Christ’s humiliation to exaltation. No longer the crucified King, Christ becomes the risen King.
Everyone, everywhere, is always engaged in the act of worship because we are created in the image of God who is and always has been in the act of pouring himself out within the Trinity.
The story of Easter reveals why worship is wasted whenever it is spent on anyone or anything other than God through Christ.
Read Matthew 28:1-10
The Glory of the Risen King (1-3)
This angel’s appearance was like lightning and his clothing white as snow. Figurative language describes the angel in a way that is consistent with the descriptions of God himself. The angel of the Lord is dressed in the same “white” garments that the Ancient of Days wore in Daniel’s vision (Dan. 7:9). References to lightning and trembling may come from another vision of Daniel that is recorded in 10:6-7.
The angel’s white garments represent purity. This is a heavenly creature who has never known sin. Our picture of angels is often distorted by what we have seen in the movies or tv shows or even toilet paper commercials. Angels are typically represented as cute and cuddly. In reality, almost every time an angel appears to a person, they are fearful, trembling, falling down. It was completely natural for the guards to react with fear.
Now imagine the glory of this angel multiplied many times over surrounding the throne of the risen King and worshiping Him. All-day, every day these angels do the bidding of our Lord! All the glory and power that they represent is poured out upon Jesus and none of it is wasted. It is a beautiful glimpse into eternity.
The resurrection was the first fruits of the glory of Jesus Christ. For many, who didn’t understand the full meaning of who Christ was, it was the resurrection that compelled them to believe. They understood Jesus to be a friend and a close companion. But many of them saw his radiant glory and power for the first time.
The glory of Christ’s transcendence – His supremacy – should magnify the grace of his immanence. Some of you have an appreciation for the surpassing greatness of God. You find comfort when you reflect upon the fact that God is sovereign. I certainly am one of those people. Because we live in an uncertain world, I appreciate the knowledge that God is never uncertain or caught off guard by the circumstances in which I find myself.
But it is equally important to acknowledge those who have an appreciation for the nearness of God. Your tendency is to be moved by the language of Christ’s compassion and tenderness that he shows to individuals. You need to hear the powerful truth that God will never leave you nor forsake you.
The amazing truth is that Christ is both transcendent as well as immanent. He is gloriously above all things, but he is also lovingly near all who trust in Him. Both truths are incredibly powerful. Although each of us probably tends toward one or the other, we need to recognize that both are valid and true. And when you combine them, your faith is strengthened.
Have you seen the Lion Whisperer video? It’s really a commercial for GoPro cameras, but the video is so powerful. A man has befriended an entire pride of lions. He rescued these cubs and raised them in the wild and you see them running up to him and giving him hugs and licking his face and head. The thing that makes the video so incredible is the fact that he is rolling around on the ground with full-grown lions. One swipe of the lion’s paw can take his life, but when that same power becomes his protection, he could not feel more secure. This is the kind of glory and power we see from our savior in this passage.
This is the kind of glory we chase all our lives. We love to admire whatever is powerful, but also good and beautiful. Ayn Rand, the author of Atlas Shrugged and a committed atheist, spoke of the impulse we have to admire someone else. We are wired this way because we have been made in the image of God.
However, because of our sin, we often admire the wrong things. C.S. Lewis has a wonderful essay titled “The Weight of Glory.” Listen to what he says regarding our tendency to be satisfied by things that have no lasting value:
“It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”
The glory of the risen King draws us away from trifling joys to infinite joy. And we are kept there because of…
The Victory of the Risen King (4-7)
This King was victorious over death, his enemies, and sin.
Christ’s triumph over death is the most remarkable miracle in all Scripture. The fact that the tomb was empty makes a compelling case for the importance of the physical body. The Bible does not allow us to turn the resurrection into a metaphor. We cannot spiritualize the resurrection to the point that the physical nature is neutralized. The empty tomb cancels out that possibility. Interestingly, no one disputed the empty tomb. It would’ve been quite easy to disprove the resurrection by simply pointing out that they went to the wrong place.
We also see Christ’s triumph over his enemies. This is represented by the trembling guards. They were so terrified, verse 4 tells us, they “became like dead men.” Note the irony: Those who were assigned to guard the corpse of Jesus became like corpses while He was made alive. They probably turned pale at the sight of this heavenly being. They shook in the same way that the ground shook from the earthquake (27:51). Now, remember, these were Roman soldiers. They were not easily frightened. And there would have been quite a large number of them set to guard this tomb. There can be no doubt that their eyes had seen some pretty horrendous sights in their time of service to Caesar. But a single angel from heaven can shut their mouths and send them cowering for cover.
What these guards witnessed is simply a foretaste of what every enemy of God will experience at Christ’s return. And such were all of us as Ephesians 2:1-3 makes clear. You see, we can take the sting of judgment right out of this passage if we relegate the activities to something that happened 2000 years ago. If we treat this as something that happened in the past and has very little bearing on us today.
But the reality is that future judgment is coming. Who will be able to stand when Christ returns in wrath and judgment? The reaction we witness at the resurrection will occur again at Christ’s return. Those who do not know Him will tremble like the guards, while those who believe in Him will respond like the women (as we will consider in a moment).
Easter is an opportunity for you to carefully consider your future. Do not mock what awaits the latter days because you cannot see it coming. You will not see it coming. The resurrection is not merely a declaration of life for all. Those who remain in their unbelief will face his judgment on the last day and it will be a much more terrifying and trembling experience for them than it was for these guards.
That is not the case for those who believe, who have become friends of God. It is these who take great comfort in Jesus’ victory over sin. Romans 6:23 tells us, “The wages of sin is death.” Therefore, if Jesus Christ has defeated death, he must have necessarily conquered sin as well. This is seen in the sinless life that he lived. If Jesus was perfect, why did he have to die at all? Death is the penalty for sin.
This is where the truth of the gospel message becomes clear. Jesus Christ did not deserve death, but we did. We can point our fingers at the Jewish council and the Romans for killing Jesus, but it was our sin that led him to the cross and it was our sin that held him there (The Triumph of the Cross). But what were the last words he spoke before his dying breath? John 19:30, “When Jesus had received the sour wine, he said, ‘It is finished,’ and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.” It is the statement that the justice of God had been satisfied.
We even get a taste of the implications of this new reality in this passage. Did you notice what Jesus called his disciples in verse 10? He tells the women a summary of what the angel had already instructed them. But there is one distinct reference that is different in His instruction. He tells them to go and tell “my brothers to go to Galilee.” Remember when it was that we had last heard of them? It was back at 26:56. They all deserted him. Later on, we see Peter following along in the shadows, but when he is questioned by a couple of servant girls and other bystanders, he denies his Lord.
The fact that Jesus calls them “brothers” would have brought them reassurance after their utter failure. So their sin had been dealt with. They would not remain separated from God, but they could now experience full and complete restoration. The resurrection teaches us that Christ has triumphed over death, his enemies, and sin.
Had Jesus Christ not risen from the dead we could have no confidence that he had victory over any of these. If Jesus didn’t rise again, then none of us can have confidence that we will. According to Scripture, Christianity stands or falls based on the physical resurrection of Christ. Paul makes this clear in 1 Corinthians 15:18-19:
“And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.”
This is the biggest stumbling block for many. You might be thinking, “I would believe if I had seen the resurrection myself.” Only if I were there along with these disciples.
Do you realize that none of the gospel accounts actually provide eyewitness testimony to seeing how Jesus rose from the dead? The actual resurrection wasn’t witnessed by anyone. They saw the empty tomb. They saw the risen Lord. But nobody saw His dead corpse come to life. Why didn’t Christ rise in the presence of a crowd?
One reason could be that a secret resurrection places all of us on the same level. All of us must come to saving faith by trusting the word of another. Iain Campbell states it like this, “The women must trust the angels; the disciples must trust the women; we must trust the disciples.”
The glory of the risen King reveals someone who is infinitely praiseworthy. The victory of the risen King reveals someone who is infinitely powerful. And these two truths make a remarkable case for…
The Praise of the Risen King (8-10)
The women are said to take hold of the feet of Jesus. At least one implication of this is that Jesus had a physical body. He was not a ghost. But the construction of the words in the Greek implies a note of tenderness. A similar example is found in Mark 5:41 when Jesus took the hand of the little girl who had died and said, “Talitha cumi,” which means, “Little girl, I say to you, arise.” In the same way that you might envision Jesus taking a hold of the little girl’s hand, you could envision these women tenderly embracing their Lord. This is a joyful embrace.
At the same time, they are embracing his feet, which indicates a sense of worship. And that is exactly what they are doing. They are worshiping their Lord as they tenderly embrace his feet. They are rejoicing with a great deal of humility.
Without getting too technical it can be helpful to note an important distinction in the way the New Testament uses the language of “worship.” It is connected to a specific posture. It is the act of bowing down or prostrating oneself before the person or object of worship. This was the same word used to describe people showing reverence for their king. It is how Cornelius met Peter, falling down at his feet and worshiping him (Acts 10:25). Peter refused to receive worship. Here, Jesus receives it without hesitation.
Even though everyone has been created in the image of God, and all of us are worshipping at all times. We see in this text, the only kind of worship that is true worship. It is also the only kind of worship that satisfies our deepest spiritual longings. These women worshiped a person. There was a relational quality to their worship. They knew Him. He knew them. Worship of any impersonal object does not have that reciprocal aspect. And unlike Peter, Jesus does not refuse to receive their worship.
The significance of Jesus Christ accepting worship cannot be overstressed. Remember how Jesus responded to the temptations of Satan back in Matthew 4:10? “You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.” Worship is meant for God alone.
If you are not falling down before Jesus in worship, you are falling down before someone or something that is inferior in every way.
The promise from 1 John 3:2 is that we will be like him when he returns. “When we see Him we shall be like Him.” That means the glory and victory we see in Christ at the resurrection is a foreshadowing of the same glory and victory that awaits all who place their faith in the risen King!
We need not fear the temporary pain we endure in this life when we realize the glory that awaits everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord to be saved.
The sin which so easily entangles us now has no ultimate authority over us. We have already triumphed over sin at the cross, and the resurrection life that awaits is a promise that sin will no longer tempt us in eternity.
The only question that remains is whether or not you will respond as the women did by embracing Jesus Christ as your Lord.