When it was evening, there came a rich man from Arimathea, named Joseph, who also was a disciple of Jesus. He went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. Then Pilate ordered it to be given to him. And Joseph took the body and wrapped it in a clean linen shroud and laid it in his own new tomb, which he had cut in the rock. And he rolled a great stone to the entrance of the tomb and went away. Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were there, sitting opposite the tomb.
The next day, that is, after the day of Preparation, the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered before Pilate and said, “Sir, we remember how that impostor said, while he was still alive, ‘After three days I will rise.’ Therefore order the tomb to be made secure until the third day, lest his disciples go and steal him away and tell the people, ‘He has risen from the dead,’ and the last fraud will be worse than the first.” Pilate said to them, “You have a guard of soldiers. Go, make it as secure as you can.” So they went and made the tomb secure by sealing the stone and setting a guard.
Jesus is buried in a rich man’s tomb and the women note where it is. There is no sign of any of Jesus’ followers believing that he would rise again as he’d previously told them. But, strangely, it is his enemies who remember this story and act to ensure that their victory over Jesus is fully secure.
Now after the Sabbath, toward the dawn of the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb. And behold, there was a great earthquake, for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven and came and rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow. And for fear of him the guards trembled and became like dead men. But 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.” So they departed quickly from the tomb with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples. And behold, Jesus met them and said, “Greetings!” And they came up and took hold of his feet and worshipped him. Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee, and there they will see me.”
The women went to the tomb to anoint the body with spices as would have been the custom. They had to wait for the Sabbath (Saturday) to pass first so that they weren’t doing ‘work’ on that day. They were going to minister to Jesus’ dead body, so they would be filled with grief.
Though Matthew doesn’t say so, the earthquake and the rolling back of the stone happened before the women got there, not at the same time. The guards may have already collapsed before they arrived. What a scene met their eyes! And then the angel appeared.
They should not have been surprised, because Jesus had told them, but they didn’t believe it until it happened. It is interesting that they were told to tell the disciples, because in Jewish law women were inferior witnesses. How their feelings changed! Grief, then fear, then astonishment, then joy and worship.
While they were going, behold, some of the guard went into the city and told the chief priests all that had taken place. And when they had assembled with the elders and taken counsel, they gave a sufficient sum of money to the soldiers and said, “Tell people, ‘His disciples came by night and stole him away while we were asleep.’ And if this comes to the governor’s ears, we will satisfy him and keep you out of trouble.” So they took the money and did as they were directed. And this story has been spread among the Jews to this day.
The guards and the chief priests and elders respond to the angel’s appearance very differently to the women. This is just what they were trying to prevent, and even though an angel appears, instead of realising the truth, they are only concerned about themselves. People still use this version of the story when talking about the resurrection today, even though it is not true. It is a convenient way to avoid having to consider the implications of the resurrection being fact.
Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. And when they saw him they worshipped him, but some doubted. And Jesus came and said to them, “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.”
Because of Jesus’ resurrection he now has full authority, and he sends the disciples out to spread the Gospel, but promises they will not go alone.
It is important for our faith that Jesus rose from the dead. His crucifixion is not enough:
1 Cor.15:12-21, 56-57
Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is vain. We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. 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. But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For as by a man came death, by a man also has come also the resurrection of the dead. The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
Paul draws out the consequence of Jesus’ resurrection in 1 Cor.15:58:
Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labour is not in vain.
This verse can help us as we seek to obey the command of Jesus in the last two verses of Matthew’s Gospel, because it gives us the assurance that by his resurrection, all his promises to us are validated.
[Based on Pantygwydr Baptist Church’s Lent Studies]