After the Sabbath, at dawn on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to look at the tomb. There was a violent earthquake, for an angel of the Lord came down from heaven and, going to the tomb, rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothes were white as snow. The guards were so afraid of him that they shook and became like dead men. The angel said to the women, “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.’ Now I have told you.” So the women hurried away from the tomb, afraid yet filled with joy, and ran to tell his disciples. Suddenly Jesus met them. “Greetings,” he said. They came to him, clasped his feet and worshiped him. Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid. Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.” – Matthew 28:1-10
The time from the betrayal of Jesus through His resurrection is filled with extraordinary happenings. There are so many amazing things going on, yet each of the Gospel writers selects just a small number of encounters that best suit the purposes of his record. This means that we cannot construct an exact detailed timeline of all the events that take place around Christ’s resurrection. In today’s passage, we can’t even know whether or not the women saw the Roman soldiers or how they experienced the great earthquake that came about when the Angel appeared and rolled away the stone – something the Angel would have done before the women arrived at the tomb. Rather than giving us a very long encyclopedia article on the resurrection, the Holy Spirit has given us a series of encounters – each of which focuses on teaching us something of particular importance for our Christian lives. In Matthew, the emphasis falls on the Great Commission. Therefore, we don’t find here anything about Jesus on the Emmaus Road (Luke) or our Lord’s tender encounter with Mary and His appearances in the Upper Room (John). Rather, the emphasis is on how Christ takes away the fear of His disciples in bearing witness to Him.
We see this both in what the Angel says to the women and what Christ says when He meets them on the way to the Disciples.
Jeffrey Gibbs writes:
The angel’s words consist of two imperatives; the first is grounded and explained, and the second is expanded by the content of what the women are to say to Jesus’ disciples. The first imperative is an emphatic, redeeming, transformative invitation: “You – stop being afraid!” (28:5). On the one hand, this invitation from one of the holy angels is completely expected, at least by attentive readers of the Scriptures. Very often, when an angel appears to a sinful human who is (presumably) overwhelmed by the nearness of such a holy and powerful creature, the angel says, “Fear not” or “Do not be afraid.”
This time, however, there a is a specific reason for why the Marys can stop being afraid. The reason is because a promise has been kept, against all of their expectations. The angel begins by acknowledging the women’s original intent in combing to the tomb: “I know that you are seeking Jesus, who is crucified.” He does not say, “Jesus who was crucified” but “Jesus, who is crucified.” That crucifixion was central to God’s plan and necessary for Jesus to undergo. None of Jesus’ disciples understood this, and so none of them was waiting for all of the plan and all of the promise to be kept. Their expectation fell short; the angel now takes them to the end and completion.
The angel continues: “He is not here, for He was raised, just as he said.” Jesus had promised His suffering, rejection, death, and resurrection from the dead. That promise has now come true, and the women are there to see the 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, and that is why the stone and the guard were there as barriers to the women. The promise of embodied life after physical death, of victory and vindication after abandonment to His enemies and abandonment by God Himself – the promise has ow come true, just as Jesus had said it would. Mary Magdalene and the other Mary can stop being afraid of their own failures.
They had come “to see the grave.” The angel now invites them to “see” something quite different: “the place where He used to lie.” This, too, will calm their fear. This will also equip them for the task of announcing to Jesus’ disciples – to the apostles – that the promise has been kept and that another promise will surely come true as well.
MEMORY WORK – Shorter Catechism Q/A 23
Q. 23. What offices doth Christ execute as our redeemer?
A. Christ, as our redeemer, executeth the offices of a prophet, of a priest, and of a king, both in his estate of humiliation and exaltation.