Main text: Matt 28:1-10
Happy Easter! He is risen. Did you know that every Sunday is a resurrection Sunday? When we gather for Sunday worship each and every week, we are gathering to celebrate His resurrection. Worship has to be the dominant flavor of our Sunday gathering. Because God so loved us, He loved us in this way, by sending His very own Son to die on a cross for our sins and to raise him 3 days later so that those who repent and believe in Jesus can have personal victory over sin and death in this life and in the life to come.
On this particular Easter Sunday, I am happy for 3 reasons, not including the obvious reason that Christ is alive. One reason I am happy today is because we get to hear the salvation testimonies of 3 brothers and sisters, 2 of whom will be baptized toward the end of service. I’d like to welcome family members and friends who came to witness this special day in the lives of 3 freshmen at Caltech: Jessica Lam, Lisa Beckman, and Cody Han.
The second reason I am happy today is related. Due to the sharing of the testimonies and the baptisms, I have given myself permission to preach a shorter sermon. Some of you are happy to hear that. I bet my kids are happy. I don’t know why the rest of you look so happy. Isaac, why are you so happy? It’s okay, even if all others don’t want to hear me preach, I’m happy in Jesus.
Third reason I’m happy: we are wrapping up the book of Matthew today. For every book I finish preaching through, I feel like throwing a party. 15-20 pages per sermon per week. I did some math. I don’t know why, but maybe it’s the Caltech influence. Preaching through a book like Matthew with 28 chapters is like writing 900-1000 pages. It’s like publishing 3 novels. When we finish a book of the Bible, I feel like someone should throw me a party or give me a bonus or at least treat me to some coffee. I covered 3 books of the Bible in 2.5 years. Only 63 books to go. At this rate, I don’t think we are going to make it through the entire Bible. Either Jesus returns soon and praise the Lord, my preaching ends. In heaven, I think the preaching is going to be pretty fantastic. Or if he doesn’t return soon, I’m 38, 63 books to go, by the time I finish preaching the Bible, Lord willing, I would be around 101 years old. Considering how I eat, that’s not going to happen.
Testimonies are great to hear precisely because an actual person is speaking about their own lives. It’s not some character in a story who lived thousands of years ago, but it’s a real living person in the year 2013. It’s not words on a paper. It’s flesh and blood and tears and struggle and light piercing through darkness. It’s individuals like the 3 we heard today acknowledging that the gospel is not merely an event in history, but it is a personal event. Jesus died and rose, not for the world in an abstract sense, but he died and rose for me. He loves me.
This is what I want to talk about today. What does it mean to have a personal faith in God? Isn’t that why you are here? You could be watching the game or running your errands, but you decided to come to a church service because you want to know that the God in heaven loves me, loves you. And so, you and I want to know how to make faith personal. More specifically, in light of Easter, what does it mean to have resurrection faith?
We start with the tomb where the body of Jesus lay. In Matt 27 at the end of the chapter, Joseph, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary, who is probably Mary the mother of James, not James one of the 12 who penned the book of James but another lesser known disciple, they went to Pilate and ask for Jesus’ body so that they can provide a proper burial. The preparations for the burial are made and Jesus’ body is laid in a tomb and a great stone is rolled against the entrance.
Then, the chief priests and the Pharisees go to Pilate and they recalled what Jesus had preached while he were still alive, that he claimed that he would die and then after 3 days, he would rise again. As they were discussing, someone proposed a crazy idea. What if the disciples stole the body and claimed that Jesus had risen? His followers would go nuts. There was already quite a bit of unrest between the Jews and the Romans and this kind of deception would push the Jews over the edge so that they would rebel and revolt against Rome. To avoid this possibility, as far fetched as stealing the body and faking his resurrection might sound, they decided to send a Roman soldier to guard the entrance of the tomb to make sure that no one stole the body.
Of course, since that first Easter on down through the centuries, for the past 2000+ years, Christians have been saying the same thing–Jesus is alive. All that the Romans needed to do to end the Christian movement was to point to Jesus’ dead body. But they couldn’t. I suppose it is possible that the early Christians could have stolen the body. And I suppose it is conceivable that they could have claimed that Jesus had risen while knowing full well that he was still a dead corpse.
What doesn’t fit, though, is the historical fact that the Romans harshly tortured and killed these Christians for decades to silence them from voicing their claims that Jesus was the risen Messiah. But they couldn’t be silenced. It doesn’t make logical sense to me that the disciples stole the body and claimed he was alive and then suffer death in order to maintain their deception. It doesn’t make logical sense to me. Because they would have died essentially for a lie.
In Matt 28:11-15, the chief priests and the elders, knowing that the body was missing, had to bribe the soldiers who had been guarding the tomb to say, his disciples came during the night and stole the body while they were sleeping. The simplest thing would have been to produce the body. That would have put an end to Christianity. All we know is that no one has ever found the body, and to this very day, in the 21st century, Christians are still dying because of their refusal to recant their faith in the face of their persecutors. This is the background for the very first Easter.
Matt 28:1 notes that on Easter morning, which is Sunday morning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary. Again, this is probably Mary the mother of James, went to view the tomb. One beef I have with the Lord is, why does it seem like every godly woman in the New Testament is named Mary? Couldn’t He have given them different names so that we can keep these women straight. Anyway, in Mark’s gospel, 3 people are listed among those who went to view the tomb: Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome. In Luke’s gospel, those who went to view the tomb include: Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, Joanna, and some other nameless women. In John’s gospel, only Mary Magdalene is mentioned in terms of who went to view the tomb.
Where were all the men? This is not the main point. Allow me to go on a brief digression. Why were the women there? It’s because they loved Jesus. Women, in general, have a greater capacity to love than men. I’ll admit it. Ask my kids who they want to have sleep next to them at night and all 3 would say, mommy. If they want to have fun, who do they prefer? Daddy. I’m more fun. Jackie is more loving.
Have you noticed that at critical times when men are really needed, men disappear? Peter, he’s a man’s man. Right before Jesus was arrested, Peter said to Jesus, I will die for you. Guys love to make lofty commitments. Hey man, we are homies for life. I’ll take a bullet for you. I’d catch a grenade for ya. Throw my hand on the blade for ya. We make these kinds of lofty commitments. Where was Peter? He was hiding. Like the rest of the men.
Men get most of the credit in Scripture, but women are like the glue that hold things together. Who keeps families together? Who is the glue? Isn’t it usually the mom? Men with machismo say, I’d jump in front of a train for ya, but don’t wake me up at 3am when you’re sick. Or, don’t expect me to remember your bday. Give me the big thing, not these small mundane things. Coming out to view the deceased was just a mundane act. Something you would do for anybody you loved. Love brought these women out to view the tomb.
Brothers, it’s time to man up. Be a man, be a man of God. Step up and be a leader. Don’t just pound your chest and say, Lord, I surrender everything, but I got this test so I’m a bit tied up right now, I got some bills I got to take care of first, I got a paper cut you know, after it heals, I’m ready to die for you. Be a man. Step up. Don’t make excuses.
Men, also, learn to cherish and appreciate the women God brings into your life. Without the sisters, honestly, most churches would fall apart. Most families would fall apart. I heard one theologian liken men as consonants and women as vowels. In our alphabet, God gave us 5 vowels and 21 consonants. When you are speaking a language, you need both. You hear the consonants more. They stand out. But without the more silent, more hidden vowels, no speech is possible.
If you use the analogy of music, God has given only a few people the solo parts, the main melody. The vast majority of us are given the harmony. The melody is the dominant sound you hear and take notice of, but without each player doing their part, beautiful music where the melody and harmony blend together seamlessly would never be achieved. If everyone tried to play a solo part in an orchestra, you would have noise. We need to each play our part.
In this case, brothers, I urge you to grow up. Don’t remain as boys. Be men. Also, appreciate the women in your life. Learn from them, be more like them. In other words, be loving. It is no accident that only women showed up at the tomb. Only love for Jesus will get you through when things in your life get tough. Without love, you and I will give up when trials and testing come. Let all of us, brothers and sisters, grow in our love for Jesus.
Getting back to the main question that we want to answer today–What does it mean to have a personal faith in God? What does it mean to have a resurrection faith? I think the answer lies in Matt 28:6.
I’ve read this chapter dozens if not hundreds of times, but v6 stuck out to me this time around. He is not here! For He has been resurrected, JUST AS HE SAID. In one sense, these women shouldn’t be surprised. This is not a new revelation. Jesus preached about his death and resurrection quite a bit, to the point that even the Jewish religious leaders who wanted Jesus dead caught that point. Which is why they had Pilate send soldiers to guard the tomb in case the disciples got any funny idea to steal the body. Jesus being resurrected was nothing new. They must have heard dozens of sermons about his imminent death and resurrection, they probably sat through hundreds of pages of sermons on these related topics, but for these women, it was as if they were hearing these words for the first time.
Isn’t this how faith in God works? You sit in a church service for 10-20 years and you sit through hundreds of sermons. You’ve heard the gospel perhaps thousands of times. Then, one day, out of the blue, faith in God is kindled and it’s like you are the only person in the room, the heavenly spotlight is one you and you hear the voice of God for the first time.
In John 3, when Jesus is speaking to Nicodemus, a religious leader, about his need to be born again, he describes salvation using an analogy of the wind. The wind blows where it pleases. You don’t know where it comes from or where it is going. You just hear its sound. You hear a whoosh, a whisper and then instantly God saves you on the spot. Everyone born of the Spirit is born like this.
The whoosh of the wind is the sound of the Spirit. And when the Spirit comes, he takes a verse, a passage, a truth–and our eyes and ears are opened and our hearts are stirred, moved, convicted. Something like the resurrection, you’ve heard it so many times before and were unfazed, but suddenly, the wind blows and you are brought to your knees by the blowing of the Spirit. The words that you read over and over again, suddenly, it’s like the words leap off the page and you don’t know how or why but you find tears streaming down your face. The wind blows and you don’t know where it comes from or where it is going. You just see the rustling of leaves and the sound the leaves make as it flutters in the wind. When that happens, not just the first time, but every time it happens, faith is born or faith is reborn. You have resurrection faith.
Some of you came to this service and you’ve had a tough year or a tough few years or a tough life. And so the Bible is just words on a page. Your faith is locked away in a tomb behind a large stone heart. If this is you, don’t give up. Don’t give up. Don’t give up. When you least expect it, the wind may blow and you may be saved for the first time or for the nth time.
Every day is a new day. My testimony from last year to this year is that God can revive a dead heart. Last year, a part of me died. I was faithful. I was obedient. I did what I could to serve others. But my faith lie behind a cold, stone heart. By the grace of God, however, in recent months, God has rolled away the stone. How do I know this? I can just be walking down the street and a thought comes to mind or a verse pops up and I am moved to tears. There were hardly any tears last year, but thanks be to God, my eyes this year are no longer dry. God is good. He loves me. He loves you. He died on a cross for you. And he lives to tell you today that He’d do it all over again even if you were the only person on earth.
I want to end with verse Matt 28:16-17.
Upon the instructions given by the women who first witnessed the risen Lord in an empty tomb, the 11 disciples went to Galilee. And perhaps more shocking than the resurrection was the fact that DESPITE witnessing the resurrection firsthand, they worshiped, BUT some doubted.
They saw the risen Christ with their own eyes and some fell on their knees in worship. And some maybe bowed reluctantly because everyone around them were bowing. But in their heart of hearts, they doubted. Their faith was still dead. We all fluctuate between worship and doubt. One moment, the Spirit blows and we raise our hands in worship and we are ready to surrender all. Then, we wake up Monday morning and the wind isn’t blowing. There is no whoosh of the wind, no sound of the Spirit. The sound of the alarm is going off instead. And doubt creeps in.
If this is you, find some people who know how to worship and stick by them. For me, it is no accident that we have moved into a building which we share with Friendship Baptist Church. Because if you attended the FBC service this morning, those brothers and sisters know how to worship. Spend time with true worshipers. People who are filled with the Spirit. And let’s believe that the wind will blow and our hearts of stone will be rolled away and resurrection faith shall be birthed in our hearts. Just as he said–let’s pray that the words of God would come alive in fresh ways as if we were hearing it for the first time, just as he said.