We have been talking about the upside down kingdom of God. We looked at how the God of the Universe came to earth in the form of a man and took on the role of a servant. We saw last week how Jesus suffered in the Garden anticipating the cross and betrayal by a friend. Today we are looking at the most ridiculous, upside down, nonsensical events in all of history: the day that God chose to die on a cross for you and me, and the day he didn't stay dead.
We have a lovely cross in the front of our sanctuary. It is made from pretty wood and sanded smooth with several coats of poly to give it a nice sheen. The cross that Jesus hung on was rough cut. They didn't care what kind of wood, as long as it was sturdy. They didn't take the time to even rough-file the edges, this was a use-once item. They hung people on crosses and threw them away, no extra time was spent to make them well-crafted.
Our cross has a nice light behind it, illuminating the edges and making it glow. Matthew tells us in this passage that while Jesus hung on his cross the sky turned black. Our cross hangs in the light, while he died in darkness. Jesus was put to death on a cross, like a criminal. He was mocked. He was teased with vinegar when he cried out that he was thirsty. The death of Jesus was not pretty. It was terrible. It was horrific. It was a painful, agonizing death, but it was not in vain. Jesus did not die without a reason. He did not die just because some evil men didn’t like his message. He died to heal a broken relationship. He closed the gap between God and mankind. Matthew tells us here that as he gave up his spirit, the temple curtain was ripped from top to bottom.
This curtain separated the sacrificial area of the temple from the most holy place. It was in this most holy place that the ark of the covenant was to be kept and only once a year could anyone enter this room. Only the High Priest to bring the atoning sacrifice could enter, and even he was in danger of losing his life if he was not completely cleansed from his own sins. This was the place that God had said his presence would dwell among his people. The curtain was a reminder to all that they were not worthy to stand in the presence of God. When Jesus gave up his spirit, when he died, he offered an atoning sacrifice for all mankind for all time. The curtain was ripped in two to show that now anyone could approach God’s presence because of the sacrifice of Christ Jesus.
Jesus body was buried and the women watched and marked the place in their minds and hearts. They knew where their Lord was placed. They went home to observe the Sabbath, to mourn and wait for the first day of the week so that they could return and finish the job of preparing the body of Jesus for proper burial. The chief priests and the Pharisees, however, were more concerned with Jesus’ prophecy that he would raise from the dead on the third day. They went on the day after preparation day—that is the Sabbath—into the presence of Pilate and asked for a guard to be placed on the tomb. The disciples are scattered. The women are mourning. The opposition are the only ones who remember Jesus’ words that he will not stay in the tomb.
After the Sabbath the women went to the tomb, sad and determined to lay their Lord to rest in a dignified way. But when they got there, they didn’t see Jesus’ dead body. They didn’t face guards turning them away. They came upon an angel sitting on a rock. They came upon an angel of the Lord waiting for them to show up so that he can deliver his message. That was his purpose there. He had rolled away the stone, and then sat back to wait for the women. When he had told them the message, he said, “Now, I have told you.” He fulfilled his purpose by showing them the empty tomb and proclaiming the resurrection.
The women, who were sad and troubled, are now afraid yet filled with joy. They are still figuring all of this out as they hurry back into the city to find the disciples. Suddenly, Jesus appears. And he says again to them, “Do not be afraid!” Why would they be afraid? Because any time a dead man steps into your path and says, “Greetings!” you are going to be afraid. That is the natural human reaction to something that is so out of place. “Do not be afraid. Go tell my brothers that they will see me in Galilee.”
Why was the resurrection so important? Why was it so important that Jesus rose again? So often we focus on the death of Christ. His atoning sacrifice. But death is not so upside down according to the kingdom of the world. People die all the time, in fact they say that the only two things that are guaranteed are death and taxes. This week comes tax day. But today is resurrection day. Today is the day we celebrate the risen king of glory. So this week, we may have taxes, but we celebrate the one time that death failed in it's guarantee.
If Jesus had stayed in the ground, we wouldn’t be here. People would maybe have remembered the obscure rabbi two thousand years ago who died at the hands of the Romans. He would have been a martyr, but not Messiah. This morning I am excited about the resurrection, because it means we serve a God who cannot be overcome by even the most final, most terrible foe: death. Death could not keep him down. Jesus is alive. And his resurrection power is available to all who believe according to Paul in Ephesians chapter 1.
The same power that raised Christ from the dead is at work in you and me. And we need to go and tell just like the angel gave instructions to those women, and Jesus gave instruction to them again—go and tell that Jesus is not in the grave. He is risen just as he said. He rose to give us new life. He rose to give us victory in this life and a glorious life in heaven with him. He rose to show us that what he said was true. And the resurrection still testifies today in the lives of those Christ Jesus has entered and changed. Have you let him in? Is that resurrection power at work in you? I challenge you to seek his face. Ask him to come and resurrect your life and make you more and more into his image. Then share that hope of resurrection with others.