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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 worshiped 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” (Matthew 28:1-10).
Christ is risen! He is risen, indeed! Alleluia!
Easter morning. The Resurrection of Our Lord. There’s no greater day to be a preacher of the Gospel of Jesus Christ crucified and risen. I’ve yet to hear of any pastor who has intentionally scheduled a vacation during Holy Week. Easter is the most significant Sunday, not because of the pastor’s work or creativity, nor the number of people who show up to church on that day, but because Christ is risen, death is defeated, and all of God’s promises find their fulfillment in Jesus. The central task for the preacher on Easter Sunday (as on any day) is to proclaim Christ, crucified and risen for the life of the world and the life of each person gathered here this morning. I love to tell this story!
Christ is risen! He is risen, indeed! Alleluia!
Alleluia (with or without the H) is a call to “praise the Lord!’ It is an invitation to worship. It is our tradition to abstain from singing the alleluias during Lent. But on Easter, we let the alleluias ring. It is a call to and an expression of worship. It is most fitting to worship the Lord for all His faithfulness, for keeping all His promises through Christ, and especially for raising His Son from the grave!
Whether you’ve never heard it before or heard it for ninety years, I’d love to tell you the story of Jesus and His love shown in His death and resurrection.
Time has passed. It is after the Sabbath, early in the morning of the first day of the week. Something new is about dawn after that dark and doleful day of Jesus’ crucifixion, death, and burial. The two Marys who are headed to the tomb were among the last to witness Jesus’ crucifixion on Golgotha (Matthew 27:55-56) and His burial in Joseph of Arimathea’s tomb (Matthew 27:59-61). In their own hearts, they bring that darkness and defeat with them now early on the first day of the week, for Matthew explicitly declares their purpose to be “to see the tomb” (Matthew 28:1)—and nothing more. Little do they know they will be the first witnesses of something so great they could not have believed.
“And behold, there was a great earthquake” (Matthew 28:2). Significantly, an earthquake marks both Jesus’ death and His resurrection. These quakes are obviously more than coincidences of nature; both quakes signal that great and mighty acts of God are taking place. It is as though God the Father is tying the crucifixion and the resurrection of His Son together with a seismic knot. Since the women had also been at the cross, they may have made the connection as well.
These are no ordinary earthquakes. The earthquake at Jesus’ death accompanies the splitting of the curtain in the temple in two and the raising of the bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep. This one is caused by the Lord’s angel, who comes down, approaches the grave, rolls away the stone, and sits on it.
Angels are mentioned often in Matthew. Angels repeatedly communicated with Joseph who was Mary’s husband, but they only spoke; they did not do anything else (Matthew 1:20; 2:13, 19-20). Angels came and ministered to Jesus after His faithfulness in the wilderness (Matthew 4:11). Jesus did not, however, give in to the temptation to demand that God sent His angels to protect Him while He hurled Himself from the temple (Matthew 4:5-7). Similarly, Jesus submitted to arrest, condemnation, and execution, foregoing the angelic legions that His Father could have sent to protect Him (Matthew 26:53). Now, for the first time an angel of the Lord descends in fearful power, causing the earth to shake and performing what Matthew regards as a crucial task.
That task is to enable the women to see that the new has dawned and that the old darkness they expected to see has passed away. Before that can happen, however, two barriers must be removed. The first barrier is the great stone that Joesph had (with help, no doubt) rolled up to the door of the grave. The angel is more than a match for it. In a gesture that might be an expression of triumph, after rolling away the stone, the angel sits on top of it. Now it is possible for the women to look into the tomb and to see inside. The first barrier is gone.
The second barrier to be removed is the power of Rome and (indirectly) of the religious leaders who successfully sought Jesus’ death at Pilate’s hand (Matthew 27:1-2, 12, 20). Some of the chief priests and the Pharisees had pressed Pilate to place a guard and seal the tomb. The prefect had granted this precaution (Matthew 27:62-66). Whatever the seal consisted of in physical terms, with the appointed guard, the seal represented the power of Jesus’ enemies who had killed Him and who had wanted to ensure that everyone else would know that He was still dead. The angel removes this second barrier as well.
The appearance of God’s messenger is like lightning, and his clothing is like snow. Matthew says that the soldiers are so overwhelmed by fear that “they became like dead men” (28:4). Ironically, on the day of resurrection to life, unbelievers respond as though they are already dead! The stone is rolled back; the guards are out of the way, as impotent as corpses. Now the way is cleared for the women to see what they never imagined they would see.
By the time this happens, Jesus has already left the tomb in much the same way He enters the locked room where His disciples are gathered later that same evening (John 20:19). His glorified resurrection body is no longer bound by time and space. He simply goes where He wants to go. The walls of the tomb cannot contain Him. The reason the angel comes down from heaven to roll the stone away is to show the women, and the world, that Jesus has already left the tomb.
At first, the angel’s words sound too good to be true: “He is not here, for He has risen, as He said.” Jesus had promised His suffering, rejection, death, and resurrection from the dead. That promise has come true and the women are to see evidence of it. The women and all Jesus’ disciples had faltered, failing to believe the promise. But Jesus had said it, over and over, to them. His opponents even knew that Jesus had said it (Matthew 27:62-66). That’s why the stone and guard had been placed as barriers to the women. But they were no barrier to the risen Christ. The promise of embodied life after physical death, of victory and vindication after abandonment to His enemies and abandonment by God Himself (Matthew 27:46)—the promise has come true. Just as Jesus said it would.
Mary Magdalene and the other Mary had come “to see the tomb” (Matthew 28:1). Now the angel invites them to see something quite different. “Come see the place where He lay.” This, too, will calm their fear. This will also equip them for the task of announcing to Jesus’ disciples that the promise has been kept and that another promise will surely come true as well. “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.”
At once, the two Marys run with fear and great joy to carry out the angel’s directive (Matthew 28:8). Having come there with one purpose in mind—“to see the tomb” (Matthew 28:1)—they leave to announce Christ resurrection to Jesus’ disciples (Matthew 28:8). Before they reach their goal, however, they receive a stunning new gift and a new focus for the promise that awaits fulfillment with the Eleven in Galilee. Jesus meets them and says, “Greetings!” Immediately, they recognize Him and fall down, take His feet, and worship Him (Matthew 28:9).
Their status as eyewitnesses grows, and by their reaction, they show two important truths. The first is contained in the words “and they worshiped Him.” With the possible exception of Matthew 14:33, this is the first time in Matthew’s Gospel when Jesus of Nazareth, the man who walked the ground (and the water!) is rightly “worshiped” for who He is: God’s Son, Immanuel, the human presence of God on the earth, and God in the flesh! They worship Jesus, the man who died in the darkness three days before and the second person of the Trinity.
Matthew reveals the second truth when he writes in the preceding clause: “And they came up and took hold of His feet” (Matthew 28:9). This action on the part of the women has been interpreted as having different sorts of significances throughout the centuries. There is, of course, what this action portrays about the women and their attitude. As already mentioned, they were worshipful. What, however, does it say about Jesus?
The obvious answer is the most important one. What Matthew has written affirms that the risen Jesus has feet that can be grabbled. His is a real resurrected human body—the same human body as before He died—not some ghost or phantom of which many ancient and modern sources assume (or described) as spirits floating, often appearing with no feet or legs.
You can make the case that looking into the human eye feels like looking into someone’s soul or eternity itself. You can argue that the tender touch of someone’s hand is intimate and deeply personal. But the feet? That is earthy. The women grab on this Man’s feet, and that is where they worship. That is whom they worship. Their alleluia is directed at the actual feet of this Man, Jesus. Like Thomas will later articulate verbally, their gesture declares, “My Lord and my God!” There, gripping the feet through which the nail had been driven, the feet that were cold and colorless the day before, the feet that once again are warm with blood flowing through them, there the women worship. And, in that moment, they are upholding the First Commandment. They are fearing, loving, and trusting God above all things, as they grip the feet of Jesus in faith.
In his commentary on this passage, Jeffrey A. Gibbs writes: “For some years, I have advocated for a new liturgical custom. During the Easter season, I would like pastors to greet their congregations with ‘Christ has feet!’ and for the congregations to respond, ‘He has feet, indeed! Alleluia!’ So far, the idea has not gained much traction.”[i]
Whether Gibbs’ suggestion ever catches on, the fact that the women grasp Jesus’ feet is significant. In Christ, our God is that specific, that earthy, that alive. He is worthy of being praised and worshiped, and not just for the abstract qualities of holiness and transcendence, His omniscience and omnipotence. We sing the alleluia and give our praise and devotion to the Man who belongs to these feet because He is crucified for our transgression and raised for our justification. The Lord has visited and redeemed His people.
Having been crucified for us, Jesus walked out of the grave on His own two feet. Having worshiped at the feet of the risen Lord, the women are sent by Jesus to His disciples with the Good News. Having worshiped the risen Lord this Easter morning, Jesus sends you out into the world. Such Good News is too good to hold in and keep to oneself. Christ is risen. He is risen, indeed! Alleluia! You are forgiven for all your sins.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
[i] Jeffrey A. Gibbs, Matthew 21:1-28:20. Concordia Commentary. Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House (2018) 1611.