Theme: The defeat of death.
This week’s lesson’s show us the joy of Jesus’ resurrection.
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.”
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.
Have you ever noticed that when Hollywood tries to portray the life of Jesus it inevitably spiritualizes the resurrection? A few years ago I saw one of these films on television. It was well done. The death of Jesus was real enough. When the Roman soldier took a hammer and drove the nail through Jesus’ hand, there was no doubt that you were seeing real metal, flesh, and wood. But when they came to the resurrection all you could hear was music. You couldn’t see Jesus. People rushed about in what was supposedly the joy of the resurrection. But where was the Lord? He wasn’t there. At last there was a ghostly view of Jesus in the clouds, but it was no resurrection. If the resurrection had been like that, I am sure that Thomas for one would never have believed in it, and I do not think that Peter or John or any of the others would have either.
The only resurrection that counts for anything is a resurrection of the body. The disciples knew Jesus’ resurrection was real when they touched his body, and it was only because of their deeply grounded conviction that he was raised that they were willing to launch out from their obscure corner of the earth to the whole of the Roman world with the gospel.
Paul believed in this kind of resurrection and knew that it was basic to the Christian faith. It is why he mentions it as Christianity’s third great doctrinal foundation in 1 Corinthians 15:3-5. Later in that chapter he goes so far as to say that if the resurrection did not occur, then Christianity is an utterly empty hope and that those who believe in it are yet in their sins. Why is this? It is because, if Jesus did not rise from the dead, then Jesus was mistaken in the announcement that he would, and being mistaken, he could not be the divine Son of God, and if he is not God, his death on the cross was not a true atonement for our sins.
Each of the writers has his own way of telling about the resurrection, of course, and Matthew is no exception. Matthew alone of the evangelists tells about the soldiers sent to guard the tomb and how they were shaken by the angel. He also tells about a visit Mary Magdalene and “the other Mary” (the mother of James) made to the tomb “at dawn on the first day of the week” and of how an angel appeared to them with the first announcement of the Christ’s victory: “Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay. 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” (vv. 5-7).
Over the years critics have complained about what they consider to be serious discrepancies in the gospel accounts. The number of women, for instance. Matthew mentions two (v. 1). Mark has three (Mark 16:1), Luke refers to three by name and speaks of “others” also (Luke 24:10). John only mentions Mary (John 20:1). Another alleged discrepancy is the time the women set out. Matthew says it was “at dawn” (v. 1). Mark has “very early… just after sunrise” (v. 2). Luke says “very early” (v. 1). John writes, “while it was still dark” (v. 1). Again, there is the number of angels: one in Matthew and Mark, two in Luke and John.
These are not discrepancies, of course. These are only each partial tellings of the story. If there were two angels, there was certainly one. As for the time of day, it is easy to imagine how the women set out for the tomb early in the morning, while it was still dark, and arrived as the sun was first rising. Variations in what are tellings of an obviously identical story actually attest to the reliability of the narratives. They prove that these are independent accounts, not imaginary tales worked up in collusion by the writers, while their essential agreement proves that the four independent records are factual.
To what can we attribute the discrepancies in the gospel accounts of the resurrection?
Why is Jesus’ resurrection crucial to our salvation?
Have you given careful thought to the importance of Jesus’ bodily resurrection? Read 1 Corinthians 15 to ground yourself in this important doctrine.