FULL TRANSCRIPT HERE! Matthew 28:1-10 – Preaching from ChristChurch London’s Sunday Service
SLIDE 1: Title “Life”
Last Sunday, Matt Ellis mentioned a list of the top 10 questions typed into the internet search engine Ask Jeeves, that Jeeves has failed to answer.
And here’s the list:
1. What is the meaning of life?
2. Is there a God?
3. Do blondes have more fun?
4. What is the best diet?
5. Is there anybody out there?
6. Who is the most famous person in the world?
7. What is love?
8. What is the secret to happiness?
9. Did Tony Soprano die?
10. How long will I live?
(Top 10 un-answered questions typed into Ask Jeeves in 2000-2011)
which is based on 1.1 billion queries made on the site since its launch in the year 2000.
Folks, today we are looking at the Resurrection of Christ. If what we are about to read in Matthew 28 is fact and not fiction, then we have THE answer to the biggest questions that people are asking.
1. What is the meaning of life? – Well if ‘Jesus is Risen’, then Jesus was who he said He was. Therefore Christianity is true, therefore, the reason you are alive is because you were deliberately made by God to have relationship with Him. Your meaning, your purpose, is this: You were created by a loving God to know Him and enjoy Him forever.
2. Is there a God? – Yes, if the resurrection happened. Yes – because by his resurrection, Jesus proved his claim to be God was true. Therefore if Jesus was God, God exists.
3. Do blondes have more fun? – Well they will if they follow Jesus! If ‘Christ is Risen’, blondes can live forever in an eternal paradise. By his resurrection Jesus has broken through death allowing all blondes access to heaven, where they can have more fun than they can possibly imagine.
4. What is the best diet? – OK, I admit that the resurrection does not give us a decisive answer to this question.
5. Is there anybody out there? – Yes, if ‘Christ is Risen’, then Christ is out there but better still He is willing to live in you, and will never leave you or forsake you.
6. Who is the most famous person in the world? – Statistically, it will eventually be Jesus because if Jesus is risen, everyone who has ever lived will meet him. You are going to meet him. You may never have met Winston Churchill or Nelson Mandela, but everyone in this room and everyone who has ever lived will meet the risen Jesus on Judgement Day.
7. What is love? – God is love. And if Christ is Risen, you will experience true love forever, because eternal life is knowing God and Jesus Christ whom he has sent.
8. What is the secret to happiness? – The secret to happiness is having total assurance in this life that you’ll be raised with Christ into the next.
9. Did Tony Soprano die? – Not if he trusted in Jesus, because Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life, and whoever believes in me will live and never die.” I know Tony Soprano is only a fictional character, but the resurrection means even Mafia bosses can be saved.
10. How long will I live? – The resurrection means that everyone will live forever, somewhere.
For you as a Christian, if the resurrection happened, it means that everything you are going through right now, will one day be worth it. It means that all of the disappointment and pain we feel in this life, will soon be totally submerged by an ocean of pleasure. It means every bad thing is only temporary, and we will soon be overwhelmed by an unspeakable joy. And because we can know NOW that Christ is risen, that’s enough to keep us going until we are raised with him.
In fact, your resurrection body will look like his. You’re as secure as Jesus, and you are as loved as Jesus. I don’t know who you’re living with at the moment, but one day you’re going to live with Jesus. The resurrection means that most of the time you spend, you’re going to spend in a place where every day is better than the one before.
But is it true? Well let’s read Matthew’s description of what happened . . .
57 As evening approached, there came a rich man from Arimathea, named Joseph, who had himself become a disciple of Jesus. 58 Going to Pilate, he asked for Jesus’ body, and Pilate ordered that it be given to him. 59 Joseph took the body, wrapped it in a clean linen cloth, 60 and placed it in his own new tomb that he had cut out of the rock. He rolled a big stone in front of the entrance to the tomb and went away. 61 Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were sitting there opposite the tomb. 62 The next day, the one after Preparation Day, the chief priests and the Pharisees went to Pilate.
63 “Sir,” they said, “we remember that while he was still alive that deceiver said, ‘After three days I will rise again.’ 64 So give the order for the tomb to be made secure until the third day. Otherwise, his disciples may come and steal the body and tell the people that he has been raised from the dead. This last deception will be worse than the first.”
65 “Take a guard,” Pilate answered. “Go, make the tomb as secure as you know how.” 66 So they went and made the tomb secure by putting a seal on the stone and posting the guard.
So – all these soldiers had to do was to keep a dead man dead, but, they couldn’t do it!
1 After the Sabbath, at dawn on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to look at the tomb.
2 There was a violent earthquake, for an angel of the Lord came down from heaven and, going to the tomb, rolled back the stone and sat on it. 3 His appearance was like lightning, and his clothes were white as snow. 4 The guards were so afraid of him that they shook and became like dead men.
5 The angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. 6 He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay. 7 Then go quickly and tell his disciples: ‘He has risen from the dead and is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him.’ Now I have told you.” 8 So the women hurried away from the tomb, afraid yet filled with joy, and ran to tell his disciples. 9 Suddenly Jesus met them. “Greetings,” he said. They came to him, clasped his feet and worshiped him. 10 Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid. Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.”
11 While the women were on their way, some of the guards went into the city and reported to the chief priests everything that had happened. 12 When the chief priests had met with the elders and devised a plan, they gave the soldiers a large sum of money, 13 telling them, “You are to say, ‘His disciples came during the night and stole him away while we were asleep.’ 14 If this report gets to the governor, we will satisfy him and keep you out of trouble.” 15 So the soldiers took the money and did as they were instructed. And this story has been widely circulated among the Jews to this very day.
OK, let’s ask Matthew three questions about what he’s written. Three questions about the resurrection . . .
Three questions to ask Matthew about the resurrection:
1) Is it possible?
2) Is it true?
3) If it is true, so what?
1. Is it possible?
As Tim Keller points out, for many of our friends this is not a genuine question, it’s a rhetorical question. If they have thought about the resurrection, then their views have probably been shaped by a channel 4 documentary or the commonly-held view that the resurrection was a legend that kind of grew up over time. Stories evolve. They get embellished. And somehow they think the Jesus of history became the Christ of faith.
So most people never get beyond this question. They never ask our second question: “is it true?” and so most people never hear the evidence for the resurrection. Which is a real shame, because as we have seen on Alpha, when people do hear the evidence for the resurrection they are usually taken aback by how strong it is.
If we ask Matthew, “is it possible?” Matthew immediately replies, “with God all things are possible.”
Matthew’s account is unapologetically supernatural . . . there’s an earthquake in verse 2, then an angel leaves heaven and appears on earth. Matthew says: “his appearance was like lightning and his clothes were as white as snow.” The guards shook and became like dead men. Then angel talks to humans, and humans talk back. And then the most wonderfully evocative picture, as the two Marys clasp the resurrected feet of Jesus.
Matthew’s saying: “If there is a God, then of course supernatural things can happen. Once you’ve factored in the existence of God, and that He created life, why is it so hard for God to resurrect life?”
Someone replies: “Yeah, but I don’t believe in God.”
We say: “OK, so how did life come about?”
They HAVE to reply: “It just happened.”
Well if the universe just happened, and if organic life just happened, then it’s equally possible that the resurrection just happened. Here’s my point . . . you can’t rule it out!
Hey seeing as we are so unsure about everything, then if life just happened, then maybe the resurrection just happened.
So if you believe in God, the objection “it’s impossible” doesn’t work – because if God exists, miracles are possible.
And if you don’t believe in God, the objection “it’s impossible” doesn’t’ work, because you have already admitted that two apparently impossible things did happen, firstly the arrival of the universe, and secondly the arrival of organic life, both events that we currently have no explanation for, but both events that definitely happened.
So we move onto the second question we want to ask Matthew:
2. Is it true?
People say: “Of course Jesus existed and got crucified, but that’s all.” They say: “I think that there were legends that kind of grew up hundreds of years later and eventually got written down as resurrection accounts” the answer to that is yes, yes, there were!
They’re called the Gnostic Gospels. Many of them were discovered as recently as 1945, and translated into English in 1977.
For example, have you ever noticed that none of the four evangelists Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, none of them actually describe the moment that Jesus rose?
Now if I were making up a resurrection account, I’d definitely invent that scene, I’d definitely describe the resurrection moment. And you get that in one of the Gnostic Gospels.
So the Gnostic Gospels include made-up stories, exaggerations, legends, they were written down in the second and third centuries. But the new Testament documents are much earlier. Matthew was one of the 12 disciples. This is a genuine eye-witness account. You can’t get much closer to the Jesus of history than that.
Now if we had time we would spend hours building a huge case for the reliability of the New Testament, but because we don’t have that time right now, let’s just note that in our passage, Matthew gives us one or two important pieces of evidence:
For example in verses 13 to 15, he mentions the story that the disciples stole the body while the guards were asleep and that that story was still in wide circulation amongst the Jews at the time Matthew was writing, let’s say sometime in the late 60s or early 70s AD.
Someone says: “that doesn’t demonstrate anything.” Yes it does.
It leads us to one of the three reasons why we can be sure that the tomb was empty.
I like to think of the argument for the empty tomb under the acronym JET.
JET – An acronym for the argument for the empty tomb:
J – Jerusalem Factor
E – Enemy attestation (Matthew 28:13-15)
T – Testimony of the women (Matthew 28:1-10)
So J – It’s in Jerusalem, that the new resurrection religion explodes into life, and gains thousands of converts very quickly. In Jerusalem, the very place where Jesus was buried in a rich man’s tomb, in Joseph of Arimathea’s tomb. Matthew has told us that the Jews and Romans had the dead body of Jesus in a sealed tomb, guarded by soldiers, so as soon as the first Christians started claiming Jesus is alive, the Jews and the Romans could have said, “No he’s not – Look” and put Jesus dead body on display in Jerusalem proving that he wasn’t alive. Jesus was a celebrity after all. The very fact that the new resurrection religion took off so successfully in Jerusalem shows that the tomb must have been empty. The amazing thing about Christianity is that it exists at all, it could so easily have been killed stone dead on day one. All the Jews and Romans had to do was produce Jesus dead body. They wanted to kill Christianity, all they had to do was produce the body, and if they had, none of us would be sitting in this theatre today, because ‘the church’ would not exist, but they never did produce the body, because it had gone missing.
E – Enemy attestation. This is where verses 13-15 come in. You see what Matthew says here is backed up by evidence outside the bible. We know the theory that the disciples stole the body was in wide circulation, because we find a Jew called Trypho using it against the Christian apologist Justin Martyr years later. The very fact that the Jews circulated this weak story (that the disciples stole the body) shows that they didn’t have a better one.
They should have had a better one. They should have had the most obvious one. They should have had the dead body of Jesus. The very fact that they came up with this weak attempt to discredit the resurrection shows that they didn’t have the body of Jesus. So the historical fact that the theft story was widely circulated by the Jews is another reason to think that the tomb must have been empty.
T – The Testimony of the women. Matthew says women were the first witnesses of the empty tomb and the resurrection. Someone says: ‘so what?’
Well, in those days, I am afraid to say that in Greek culture, in Roman Culture and in Jewish culture, women could not inherit property and they could not give evidence in a court of law. Their testimony was in-admissable.
So imagine a murder takes place, and the murderer runs from the scene of the crime. We would say, “no problem, he’ll be caught because there were 3 female witnesses.” But in the first century, the murderer would never be caught. In fact he’d never even be brought to trial. Why? Because in the eyes of the law, there were no witnesses. A women’s testimony was not valid, it counted for nothing in that society.
Folks if Matthew was fabricating this story, he would never have made women the first witnesses of the empty tomb and the resurrection.
If you were inventing the empty tomb, if you were trying to invent a new religion, you’d never make your key witnesses women. And if, in your new religion you were staking everything on the physical resurrection of your hero. If his resurrection was the lynch-pin upon which the whole of your new theology was based, you would definitely have made men the first witnesses of the empty tomb and the resurrection. So why on earth did Matthew say that women were the first witnesses of the empty tomb and the resurrection? Why weaken the case for Christianity in the eyes of most people alive at the time? Because it just so happened that these women were the first witnesses, so Matthew wrote down what happened.
Look that’s only about 2 per cent of the evidence for the resurrection, if you want more come and see me afterwards, or send me an email.
So Matthew’s answer to our first two questions, ‘is it possible’ and ‘is it true?’ is a resounding “Yes”.
OK, third and final question,
3. If it’s true, so what . . .
Well, verse 9 says:
Suddenly Jesus met them. “Greetings,” he said. They came to him, clasped his feet and worshiped him. (Matthew 28:9)
So the resurrected Jesus was visible and audible. But what if, as the women had gone to clasp his feet in worship, what if they’d reached out into thin air? What if they had touched, not feet, but thin air? What if the resurrected Jesus had been a visible, audible, but not tangible?
Well as long as he was visible and audible, Jesus could still do all of his eleven resurrection appearances to around 550 people over a period of 40 days. He could still teach his disciples.
But Matthew says these women grabbed hold of real feet, touchable feet. What difference does the physicality of Jesus resurrection make?
Well it makes a huge difference firstly – to you personally, because the Bible says you are going to have a resurrection body that is every bit as glorious as Jesus’ resurrection body.
OK, what does that mean?
Well, when Jesus returns physically, at the second coming, there is going to be a universal resurrection of the bodies of everyone who has ever lived. (And the two key chapters, which explain all this, are 1 Corinthians 15, and 1 Thessalonians 4).
So, the bodies of everyone who has ever lived will be resurrected.
Now of course that does beg the question, what about people whose bodies have decayed over the centuries? What about bodies that have been cremated? How are their bodies going to be raised up?
Paul anticipates that question. He says:
“But someone may ask, “How are the dead raised? With what kind of body will they come?” How foolish!” (1 Corinthians 15:36)
Which is charming isn’t it! It sounds like a good question, but Paul thinks it’s a foolish question, and he goes on to suggest that God is big enough and clever enough to locate the tiniest seed of anyone’s body and raise it up. So we might be perplexed as to how God’s going to raise up the body of someone who died a thousand years ago, but God’s kept track of the tiniest seed or speck, and that’ll be enough to raise anyone.
Now this universal resurrection of all bodies is a totally mind-boggling idea, which is one of the reasons why I’m so glad that the Thessalonians asked Paul to explain it.
So, very helpfully, Paul says:
“So we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him.” (1 Thessalonians 4:14)
OK, so when Jesus comes back, he’s going to bring with him the spirits of all Christians who have died, including the thief on the cross, John Wesley, and all the rest of them, and up until this moment they have been with Jesus in paradise.
“For the Lord himself will come down from heaven . . . and the dead in Christ will rise first.” (1 Thessalonians 4:16)
OK, so let’s imagine that you die in the year Two thousand and Ninety. And let’s imagine that Jesus comes back one year later, in Two Thousand and ninety-one.
At the resurrection, Dead Christians go first, living Christians go second. When Jesus comes down, at the Second Coming, the first bodies to be resurrected out of the ground are going to be the bodies of Christians who have died, millions of them, including yours. And during those 12 months that your body has been decomposing in your grave, your disembodied spirit has been in paradise with Jesus. And so your spirit is going to come down with Jesus. And at the resurrection, you in your disembodied spirit are going to be re-united with your old body.
Now if you have been looking forward to getting rid of your body, it may come as a bit of a blow to discover that you are going to be re-united with your current body at the resurrection. But don’t worry, because Paul explains that your body is not just going to be raised, it is also going to be changed.
“We will all be changed – in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed.” (1 Corinthians 15:51-52)
The change is that my perishable body is going to be transformed into an imperishable one.
You see Jesus wasn’t re-susciated, like Lazarus, for example, who presumably died, I don’t know 50 years later, no Jesus was resurrected into a glorious indestructible, immortal resurrected body.
The body I am currently in is deteriorating. My clock’s running down. My body is perishable.
You look at me and you think, “Too right, so what is your new body going to be like?”
Paul says our new bodies will be just as glorious as Christ’s own resurrection body.
“Just as we have borne the likeness of the earthly man, so shall we bear the likeness of the man from heaven.” (1 Corinthians 15:49)
We’ve borne the likeness of Adam the earthly man up until now, we’re going to bear the likeness of Christ, the man from heaven. At the Second Coming of Christ, when we see him, we’ll be like him. Friend, your body is going to be like Jesus’ resurrection body. So if you’d always thought you’d end up as a sort of wispy ghost forever, the Bible has got news for you. You’re actually going to have a body that has substance. After his resurrection, Christ said to his disciples: “Touch me and see; a ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have.” Our bodies will be touchable. Moments after saying this in Luke 24, Jesus ate a piece of broiled fish. So we can expect to have bodies which can eat. So for broiled fish, I simply substitute, crunchy nut cornflakes. Ludicrously tasty.
So we will have physical bodies in heaven, and of course our physical bodies will need a physical heaven to inhabit.
And this leads us to the second implication of the physicality of the resurrection. We find in Revelation 21 that rather than destroying this planet, God is going to renew planet earth, and then join it to the new heaven.
You see, God doesn’t completely obliterate his original creation, but he prefers to transform it into something better . . .
He did that with you didn’t he, when you became a Christian. Spiritually you were transformed. In fact you became “a new creation.” (2 Corinthians 5:17). But your body remained the same.
Similarly, there is continuity between our old bodies and our glorious resurrection bodies. God will locate a seed of our old body (1 Corinthians 15:35) and transform it into a new one.
And so also with planet earth. God will not totally obliterate the earth – No he’ll take this present earth and transform it into something far better.
Peter tells us . . .
“The present heavens and earth are reserved for fire . . . and the earth and everything in it will be laid bare . . . But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness. (2 Peter 3:6-13)
So there’ll be a sort of forest fire all over the earth’s surface on judgement day and then God will renew the earth, and this renewed earth will be “the home of righteousness.”
One day this world will become the home of righteousness, but it certainly isn’t at the moment. No, Paul says, at the moment, the whole creation is “groaning as in the pains of childbirth.” (Romans 8:22) Life on this old earth is full of pain. Yet as any mother can tell you, although the groaning pains of childbirth seem to go on forever, actually they come to a wonderful conclusion when a new baby is born. And so Paul says that the creation is groaning at the moment in the pains of childbirth, but that’s because the creation is pregnant with something far better. And when the creation finally gives birth in the cosmic delivery suite of Judgement Day, Paul says:
“The creation will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God.” (Romans 8:21)
Brothers and Sisters, we will experience the glorious freedom of the children of God.
Now I think the amazing thing about you is that you know all this now in this life. God has revealed so much about the future to you. So you can be hugely encouraged. Everything is going to work out OK in the end.
Better than OK, you’re going to live forever in a glorious resurrection body with Jesus.
Now the theme for this whole series has been the kingdom of God, and I’ve spent 30 minutes building up to this moment. What the physicality of the resurrection means is that God is not just concerned with the spiritual.
God is not simply concerned with your spiritual state, he has actually got plans for your body, and for the whole of planet earth. And that is why we don’t only run Alpha Courses, but we also do Everything breakfasts and Everything Conferences, because it turns out that the resurrection affects everything.
I am so glad these women clasped physical resurrected feet, because it means that salvation is not just some whispy spiritual experience, I’m not just going to be a spirit on a cloud, floating around. In fact to be honest that sounds rather boring.
No in heaven, you and I will enjoy many of the best bits about living on this earth, without any of the bad stuff.
Jesus begins chapter 28 dead, and buried in a tomb guarded by soldiers. He ends the chapter alive, declaring to God and man, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me . . .”
He’s the King extempore section (this is all about how Matthew has been leading us all the way through our journey to this moment, where he reveals that Jesus is the ultimate king of the universe.)
We cannot keep all this information to ourselves. And we won’t! Because as you leave this building, as your feet walk into work tomorrow, you know my feet will one day be just like Jesus resurrected feet.
Because these two women touched the resurrected Jesus, you will too. In fact you won’t just touch him, but when he comes, you will be like him.