He is Risen

Sermon by J. Ligon Duncan on April 23, 2000

Matthew 28:1-10

He is Risen
Matthew 28:1-10

Amen. If
you have your Bibles, I’d invite
you to turn with me to Matthew
chapter 28. We have now come to
the final chapter in the
gospel of Matthew,
and now at the end of his
scroll, Matthew, under the
inspiration of the Holy Spirit,
begins to recount for us
the resurrection of his crucified
Lord. The story itself is gripping,
and even surprising in its
own way. Last week as we looked at the end of Matthew chapter 27,
we said that the overarching
theme was God’s providence. Even in the death and burial
of the Lord Jesus Christ,
God was preparing to vindicate
Christ in His resurrection. We
saw the Lord was preparing the way
to show that those who were
accusing Jesus of being a
deceiver, the Sanhedrin, were in fact themselves
the deceivers. We begin to see that
worked out this week. But now as we move into
Matthew chapter 28, God
intensifies this preparation to
vindicate His Son. So let’s turn
to the first few verses of
Matthew chapter 28 and hear
God’s inerrant word.

“Now after the Sabbath,
as it began to dawn toward
the first day of the week, marry
Magdalene and the other marry came
to look at the grave. And behold,
a severe earthquake had occurred,
for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven and came and rolled away the
stone and sat upon it. And his appearance was
like lightening, and his
garment as white as snow; and the
guards shook for fear of Him, and
became like dead men. And the angel answered and
said to the women, ‘Do not
be afraid; for I know that you are
looking for Jesus who has
been crucified. He is not here, for He has risen,
just as He said. Come, see the place where He was lying. And go quickly
and tell His disciples that He has
risen from the dead; and
behold, He is going before you
into Galilee, there you will see
Him; behold, I have told you.’
And they departed quickly from the tomb with fear and great joy
and ran to report it
to His disciples. And behold,
Jesus met them and greeted them.
And they came up and took hold of His feet and worshipped Him. Then Jesus said
to them, ‘Do not be afraid;
go and take word to My brethren
to leave for Galilee, and
there they shall see Me.'”

Thus ends this reading
of God’s holy and inspired
word. May He add His blessing to it. Let’s pray.

Father, we do thank You
for this word and we ask
that by the Spirit, You would open
our eyes to understand it,
and to be receptive hearers
and obedient doers of the truth. Speak to our own hearts
of this great truth of the
resurrection; and enable us to
embrace it as we embrace Your
promise and Your providence. In
Jesus name. Amen.

In this passage,
God’s attestation to Jesus’ person, His claims,
and His work intensifies. God in this passage
continues to lay the
groundwork for the disciples’ firm
and certain belief in the
resurrection of the Lord Jesus
Christ that is going to be so
central to gospel proclamation. I
want you notice how Matthew does it again. First, he draws your attention
to extraordinary events and
circumstances surrounding the
resurrection. Notice he doesn’t give a
detailed account of what
happened in the resurrection, but
what happens around the
resurrection, just as with the
cross. There was no long detailed
discussion of what it actually
meant for Jesus to be nailed to
the tree. Matthew almost turns his eyes away from that
and points us to things
going on around Jesus’

And once again, here
he first points us to the
events, these extraordinary
occurrences, that were going on
around the resurrection. By the
time we get to the resurrection
it’s already occurred. It’s an after-the-fact account. Then, he goes on
to focus on the message brought
by this angel. A message for these loyal and loving
female disciples who have
come to the tomb for the purpose
of continuing to dress
Jesus’ body, to treat it with oil and
to anoint it with spices. And then finally, Matthew
points us to this encounter
between the risen Christ, and
these female disciples, and the
message that He Himself gives to
us. So though the event of the
resurrection itself is not described by Matthew, in order to testify to it’s
reality and to explain it,
Matthew points us first to the
events, then to the angel and
his message, and then to the encounter
between the Lord Jesus Christ
and the women. And so he explains to us
the meaning of the resurrection.

This resurrection is at
the very center of Christian
proclamation of the gospel, and
therefore, God attests to it
lavishly. And I want you to see
in this passage today that Matthew
makes it clear that the problem of
embracing the truth of the resurrection
is not an intellectual problem. Those, Matthew makes it clear,
who reject the resurrection
have a far greater intellectual
task than those who embrace the
resurrection. Oh, I’m not saying that
even for Palestinian Jews,
who believed in a bodily
resurrection at the end of the age;
I’m not saying it was easy
for them to understand the power
that enabled something miraculous like the resurrection. That’s hard for
anybody to comprehend. But the
facts of the resurrection are laid
before their eyes; everyone’s
eyes, including Jesus’ enemies.
But Jesus’ enemies worked very hard intellectually
to deny it, whereas, intellectually speaking,
it’s the easiest thing in
the world to be embraced. The barrier to believing
the resurrection
is a moral barrier. And it is unbelief
which rejects the attested
realities of the resurrection.

I’d like to walk through
the passage with you
in three parts today. If you look at verses 1-4,
you see the first section
of the passage; and then verses 5-7,
you see the second section
of the passage; and then, finally,
verses 8-l0 form the third
section of the passage.

I. The message to the women.
In verses 1 through 4
the women, these two
faithful, loving female disciples,
witness five signs that
God has done something extraordinary
at the tomb. And we learn something
very important here. Throughout this passage
what God is doing is not
only vindicating His Son, but he
is building a sure foundation for
the faith of believers. What had
happened to the disciples, all of
them including these dear women,
in the last three days?
Their faith had been shaken. They were having a hard time
believing that Jesus word
would be fulfilled. The very fact that these women
are on their way to the tomb
to anoint the body
indicates that they did not
believe what Jesus had said about
his being raised from the dead.
And so their faith had gone
through a crisis. And I want you to watch,
systematically through this
passage, how God the Father lays
the groundwork to strengthen their faith
and yours.

The first thing you see here
is that God vindicates and
exalts His Son with these displays of power. Early on Sunday morning,
two of the Marys make their
way to the tomb. Mark tells us that they were coming with the purpose
of anointing the body. Matthew just tells us that
they were coming to see the
tomb. That makes perfect sense,
by the way, because Matthew is the
only gospel writer
to tell us that there were
guards stationed at the tomb, and
the tomb and been sealed. Matthew knows that
even if the Lord Jesus
had been there in the tomb,
there was no way that those women
were going to get into anoint the
body of Jesus. They would have had to have
moved the stone themselves,
or as it were, against the
opposition of the guards, and
removed the seal of the empire. There was no way those women
were getting into that tomb. In fact the women themselves,
the other gospels tell us,
were asking one another as they
made their way, “Who’s going to
move the stone for us?” So Matthew just emphasizes
this fact that they were
coming to see the tomb or behold
the grave.

But what needs to be noted is
that although they were devoted to Jesus,
they were loving and loyal,
these women were the last at the cross,
and they were the first at the tomb. Though they showed far more
courage and bravery, and, frankly, commitment
than Jesus’ inner circle of
11 disciples, yet these women were
not believing. Though they had heard
from Jesus’ lips, just like
the disciples had, that He was
going to be raised again from the
dead on the third day, they didn’t
expect that to happen.

By the way, that’s another
theme that Matthew wants
you to understand, that throughout
this passage Jesus’ own disciples
are not expecting the
resurrection. The Sanhedrin is preparing
to try to prevent a story about
the resurrection. But Jesus’ own disciples
are so demoralized that they
are not expecting the resurrection. In fact, in Matthew’s account
the Sanhedrin gives more
credence to Jesus’ prediction
about the resurrection than His
own disciples do. At any rate, these faithful women make their way to the tomb. And as they do they are
greeting by five extraordinary events in order that God
might grip their attention
and strengthen their faith. And I’d like you to look
at those things. You will see them in verses 2 – 4.

First of all there’s
the earthquake. We’ve already said that
in the Old Testament earthquakes were connected
with manifestations of the
presence of God. At Sinai the earth trembled,
the mountain trembled and
shook. It was often a sign of the presence of God which would comfort believers. But it was also a sign,
in the Old Testament, of
God’s judgment against His
enemies. And maybe we see a little bit
of both here at the tomb;
God’s judgment against His
enemies; God’s comfort to His people. And so, they approach
and this earthquake occurs. That’s the first
extraordinary event.

The second thing is the
appearance of this angel. This angel in God’s special messenger,
and his presence, his mere
presence, absolutely terrifies
the guards, and leads to one of the
other events which greets
the women. But the presence of that
angel, and especially the presence
of that angel sitting on the stone which sealed the tomb,
was a visible symbol of
Christ’s victory over death and
the grave. As that angel sits on the
throne, it’s a manifestation
that God has conquered death,
and He’s conquered Jesus’

And then, there’s the stone itself in verse 2.
That’s a third thing which greets
the eyes of the women as they
approach the tomb. The stone was completely
removed from its groove,
and it was laid over on its side, and the angel was sitting
upon it. And the reason that that stone was removed
was not to let Jesus out. Oh no!
Matthew makes it clear, and
all the other gospel writers do as
well. The reason that stone was removed was so that
the disciples could look in
and see that Jesus was not
there. You see what God is doing here?
He is laying the groundwork for
a sure confidence in the
resurrection of His Son. And His concern is not
to let His Son free, who
cannot be held by the power of
the grave, but instead to allow
disciples to look in and
have their faith strengthened, as they view the empty tomb.

And then, in verse 3 we see
a fourth amazing thing. It’s the dazzling appearance
of this angel. His description is striking. His appearance was like
lightening and his clothing
white as snow. Doesn’t that remind you a little
of the description of the angel
in Revelation 10:1 where John says,
“I saw another strong angel
coming down out of heaven
clothed with a cloud, and the
rainbow was upon his head,
and his face was like the sun,
and his feet like pillars
of fire.” And it’s interesting,
by the way, that the description of this angel is not unlike some of the
descriptions of the Lord
Jesus Christ elsewhere in the Old
and in the New Testament. In
Daniel 7:9, when it talks about the
Lord Jesus approaching the
ancient of days sounds a lot like
this. Matthew, chapter 17, and
the transfiguration sounds a lot
like the description of Jesus in
the transfiguration. Revelation
1:16, sounds like the description
of Jesus there. This angel is a visible
picture of the glory and the
holiness of God.

And then finally, in verse 4
you see a fifth extraordinary
event that God greets these
women with, these stunned guards
lying all over the place:
immobilized, petrified, terrified,
stunned. The seal, the stone, and
now the guards, all the devices that
humans had aligned to secure
the end of the Jesus people,
the end of the Jesus movement,
the end of Jesus’ claims,
the end of Jesus’ message, all
those pitiful attempts to secure
their victory are now left in a
rubble. God at the tomb dashes
the railings of the nations and
fulfills the promise of psalm 2, “He who sits in the heaven laughs” them to scorn
at the tomb. And in all these great events,
God is laying the groundwork
to strengthen the faith of
His Son’s disciples.

Notice in this passage
that the first people
to behold these evidences
are, in fact, Jesus enemies,
the guards who had been placed
there. Then the women disciples see it. You see, the soldiers
and the women
are witness to the same facts,
the same reality. The problem of believing
Jesus’ resurrection is not
one of lack of testimony, or lack
of intellectual credibility. No.
The problem in believing the
resurrection derives from another
area. And God is preparing to
strengthen our faith even as he
sets this truth out in the

II. God’s comfort to the
Then if you look with me
at verses 5 through 7, here
the angel speaks, and he gives a
word of comfort. He makes an important announcement.
He gives an exhortation to these faithful female disciples. Matthew has just
told us that the guards were
paralyzed with fear. And so the
angel speaks deliberately to
comfort the women,
and the first words out of his mouth
were, “Don’t be afraid.”
The guards have good reason to be
afraid. You, however, “Don’t be
afraid.” Though these women had
not sufficiently trusted Jesus’
promise that He would be
raised from the dead, yet in their
love and their loyalty,
they had stuck close to Him
and they were manifesting their
commitment to Him in the best way
that they can. And you know, this is beautiful. There is not a shadow
of a harsh rebuke of these
women. The angel never gets close to
a harsh rebuke. The closest thing that we have
is that gentle rebuff that
we see in the words, “I know that
you are looking for Jesus who has
been crucified.” And then he goes
on to say, “He is risen, just as
He told you.” That’s the closest
thing that comes to rebuke in this
passage. No. The angel comes to
these godly, broken-hearted,
brave, caring female disciples,
and he tells them 10 things
in this short passage. Look at verses 5 through 7.

First of all he says,
“Don’t be afraid.” Not only
are these women in the presence of
a great act and manifestation of
God, and they are in the presence
of an angelic being, and
the tendency of every saint in the
Scripture, Old Testament and new,
when you are in the presence of God
is to tremble at the awe
of almighty God. And so, these women need
to be assured, “Don’t be afraid.”
But they also had a very difficult task ahead. They were going to have
to go convince disciples who
really didn’t want to be convinced
about the resurrection. It would have been a very
discouraging thing. And so the first words are,
“Don’t be afraid.” “Fear
not.” The angel says.

And then secondly he says,
“I know who you’re looking for.”
In other words he’s saying,
“I know precisely why you are
here, and I am here precisely
because I know why you are
here. I know who you are looking for. And the reason that I am here
is because I have a message
concerning the one that you’re looking for. I’ve got some things that
I’ve got to explain to you.”

And then he begins to
explain them, and that’s
the third thing we see in the
passage. “He is not here,” thirdly
he says. No attack. No
further rebuke is shared. All that’s implied in
the angel’s words is that
Jesus isn’t here just like
He told you He wouldn’t be here.
But the empty tomb is not all. The empty tomb is a wonderful
testimony to the resurrection,
but the New Testament never leaves it at the empty tomb. The New
Testament goes on to indicate that
it is, in fact, the eyewitness
visitations of Jesus with His
disciples which confirm the
reality of the resurrection.

And so he goes onto say
fourthly, not only is He
not here, but He is resurrected. It’s not merely that He is not in the tomb.
He’s not in the tomb because He is

And then fifthly,
“Just like He said.” And he
takes us right back to the words
of the Lord Jesus Christ
and says, “Look, He told you so. He told you this would happen. This
not something that should surprise
you.” It certainly didn’t
surprise Him. This is exactly
what he told you.

And then sixthly, he says,
“Take a look. Look inside.”
And now we see why the
stone is rolled away; for the
faith of the disciples that they
might see the truth of the

And then having looked,
he says seventh, “Go
quickly and tell His disciples.”
The angel commissions the
women to spread the word to the
disciples. They will become bearers
of the good news of the resurrection
to the disciples themselves.

Then eighth he says,
“He is going ahead of you
to Galilee. Tell the disciples to go to Galilee
just as He had instructed
them.” Do you remember that as
Jesus was leaving the upper room
on the night in which He was
betrayed, and making His way
to the garden of Gethsemane,
in Matthew chapter 26,
verse 32, He explicitly said to
His disciples. “When I am raised again,
I will meet you at the
designated place in Galilee.” Now
the angel is saying, “You go to
that place. Just like Jesus told you
He was going to be raised,
so He is going to meet you there
in Galilee.

Let me just emphasize
something that’s clearly on
Matthew’s heart here. Matthew makes a great deal
out of the fact that that
Jesus’ ministry began in Galilee, Galilee of the Gentiles. Matthew calls Jesus,
according to the words of
the prophets, a Nazarene; that is,
people called Him a Nazarene,
someone from Galilee. Someone who would be looked
down upon, and Matthew makes a great point about the fact that the
Messiah’s ministry began in
Galilee. He goes right back to Isaiah
9:1-2, to say that Jesus’ ministry
in Galilee is a fulfillment
of all of that prophecy that
Isaiah gave to us in that great
passage. And Galilee is so important
to Matthew because it
symbolizes Galilee of the
Gentiles. The fact that Jesus is not only going to be the
Savior of the ancient people
of God, the Jewish people,
He’s going to be a Savior for the
world. The Gentiles too will come
to God in Christ. And here Matthew is pointing us
right back to Galilee,
right where that ministry began. And there, not from Jerusalem
but from Galilee, a
worldwide proclamation of the
resurrection will begin.

And then ninth, the angel says,
“You will see Him there.”
All the disciples, he says, will
be a witness of the resurrection there.

And finally tenth,
he concludes with these words,
“I have told you so.” That
is, I, the glorious messenger of
God Almighty, I’ve told you this.
This is true. God can’t lie. I can’t lie. This is true. I’ve told you this.
And now it’s your time to do the

What is God doing
throughout the message of
the angel? He’s strengthening the
faith of Hhis people
through His word. And I want you to notice something here. God just doesn’t do
miraculous signs at the
resurrection of Christ. He gives
an explanation of what was
happening in a word of revelation
from the angel. And you will see this throughout the Scripture. God doesn’t merely speak
to His people by divine
events. He speaks to them by His word.

There are modern theologians
who would like to say that
God doesn’t communicate by word.
He communicates in existential encounters,
through great events, through
which we just have to do
the best we can to figure out what
they mean. But that’s never the pattern in the Scripture. God always preexplains,
does a great act, and then
postexplains. Think of the Exodus. God preexplains the Exodus
to His people. Then He does the great act
of the Exodus, and then He postexplains
that to His people. And He does the same
with the resurrection. Jesus preexplains
and predicts the resurrection. The event occurs with a
great manifestation of
God’s power. And then when it’s done,
what does God do? He sends
another revelatory word to
explain what it means. Because He knows we’d
make neither head nor tail
of it if He didn’t explain it
with His own word.

And so what is He doing here?
God is not only confirming
and vindicating His Son and the
gospel through the events of the
resurrection, but through the word
of explanation through the angel,
He is strengthening the faith of
His people in deed and in word.

Think of how important
that is. We have to believe the same way, friends. God expects us to
trust Him in His providence and to
believe in His word. And that is exactly what
He is doing for His people
right here. He is leading them to trust in His providence,
and believe in His word.

III. The women respond to the
angel’s message.
And then finally, if you’ll
look at verses 8 through 10,
we see the response of the
women to the angel’s message,
and their subsequent
encounter with the risen Lord.
And again, we see the grace of God
even in the way Jesus encounters
these women, and in the
word that He gives to them
for His disciples. The women,
we’re told by Matthew, didn’t
walk. They ran to tell the
disciples this good news. Their hearts were filled
with fear and joy. And if you notice how often
in the Scriptures those two
counter-balancing emotions are
present when the people of God
are in the very presence of
God. There’s no flippancy when
you’re in the presence of God.
He’s the awesome God of heaven and
earth. And so the heart trembles
with awe. And at the same time there is no place in the world that God’s people would rather be than in the presence of
Almighty God. And so there is fear and joy
mingled in the hearts of
these women.

And suddenly and unexpectedly
Jesus Himself comes to them. Matthew doesn’t even say that
the women ran into Jesus. It says, “Jesus met them.” Jesus comes to
these women, and immediately and
instinctively they fall at His feet
and they worship Him. Now I want you to pause
and think for a few minutes. Matthew three times explicitly
uses the word “worship” in
connection with people worshiping
Jesus. The first time was in Matthew 2:2,
when the wise men came
and worshipped the infant Jesus. The second time was when the women,
after the resurrection, and before
Jesus’ meeting with His disciples,
worship Jesus. The third time that
Matthew mentions it is
in Matthew 28:9, when the
disciples gather in Galilee and
worship the Lord Jesus Christ.
Matthew shows us the Gentiles worshiping Jesus
first. And then he shows us God’s reward to these faithful female disciples
who stuck by Christ by
giving them the privilege of being
the first worshipers of the
resurrected Lord. And then, the disciples
come along and worship Jesus
later on. Jesus then commissions
these women to be apostles
to the apostles. They are charged with the
privilege and the responsibility
of carrying an important
message to Jesus’ faltering and
fearful disciples.

And note specifically
how Jesus tells these women
to address His disciples. The first words from Jesus
to His disciples, through
the lips of the women are to “My
brothers.” Now I ask you, if you were the God of the universe, and you had been resurrected from the dead,
and you had been abandoned by your
disciples in the hour of your
need, what would the first words
have been that you spoke to
them? “I the exalted God of heaven and earth am
raised again from the dead,
and where were you in the hour of
My need?” And you see the
tenderness of the Lord Jesus
Christ in emphasizing to the women
that the first words that his disciples must hear
are these words, “My brothers.”
He doesn’t even relate to
them as the sovereign God. He relates to them as
their elder brother, “My
brothers.” And so we see the love
and the grace of the Lord
Jesus Christ as He cultivates
faith amongst these struggling
disciples, and He lays the groundwork here for an understanding of
just what the resurrection is.

What I want you to see now
is how God is building the
faith of the disciples to trust in
His word and His providence,
and to believe the resurrection. He gives lavish testimony
to the reality of the
resurrection through these
extraordinary events,
through the words of the angel,
through the witness of the
guards, through the witness
of the women, and later through the witness
of the disciples. What’s He doing? He’s building a foundation
for faith, because saving faith,
my friends, the only faith that saves,
is based upon the word of God
and the promises of God,
and is focused solely on the Lord
Jesus Christ. Let’s pray.

Our heavenly Father,
we thank You for the truth
of Your word, and we ask that You would
help us to embrace it, for
Jesus sake. Amen

© 2019 First Presbyterian Church.

This transcribed message has been lightly edited and formatted for the Web site. No attempt has been made, however, to alter the basic extemporaneous delivery style, or to produce a grammatically accurate, publication-ready manuscript conforming to an established style template.

Should there be questions regarding grammar or theological content, the reader should presume any website error to be with the webmaster/transcriber/editor rather than with the original speaker. For full copyright, reproduction and permission information, please visit the First Presbyterian Church Copyright, Reproduction & Permission statement.

To view recordings of our entire services, visit our Facebook page.

Print This Post