Easter Sunday (A)
April 9, 2023
Grace, mercy, and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
The text that I have chosen for this morning’s sermon is the resurrection of Jesus from the Gospel of Saint Matthew.
If you saw something really exciting and you wanted to point it out to others, how would you get their attention? If a shooting star went overhead or if a lightning bolt zapped a nearby tree, would you say, “Oh, you should glance over there when you get a chance?” Or would you say, “Look at that!” Obviously, you’d be excited, otherwise, whatever it was would be missed. Saint Matthew also wanted to show us something that he didn’t want us to miss. He used the word “Behold!” several times in the Gospel. Behold isn’t a wimpy little “check that out”. Instead, behold is word of power, one that means “Look at that!” Behold isn’t whispered, it’s announced! And outside of His return to judge the living and the dead, the resurrection of Jesus is the greatest “Look at that!” the world will ever know.
When we left here Friday night, the tomb of Jesus was slammed shut. The One who had been wrapped in swaddling cloths and laid in a manger is now wrapped in burial cloths and laid in a tomb. A stone, four to six feet in diameter and weighing as much as a 1,000 pounds was rolled into place to seal the entrance. Jesus was dead, the tomb was guarded, and the story was over.
That was Friday, but behold, it’s no longer Friday or Saturday, it’s Sunday! The Day of Resurrection, shout it out aloud! Jesus had promised time and again He would rise on three days after His death and no one believed Him. But now, behold the empty tomb! Saint Matthew writes, “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.” Look at that! Look at the heavenly messenger who’s come to deliver some incredible news! The death of Jesus was announced with an earthquake that split rocks and opened tombs. The resurrection of Jesus was announced to the world with an earthquake that opened His tomb.
It wasn’t opened so Jesus could get out. It was opened to prove that Jesus was gone. The angel says, “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.” Behold the empty tomb! Behold the folded burial cloths! Behold! He is not here!
There’s another behold in the second half of our reading: “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.’” Despite the eyewitness testimony of pagan soldiers, the truth can’t get out. So, they come up with a lie that’s so utterly ridiculous, no one in their right mind would believe it: the disciples stole the body. The cowardly disciples who ran the first time the going got rough, suddenly were so brave they snuck past sleeping guards, somehow moved the stone without making a sound, and then grabbed Christ’s body and ran. Who’s going to believe that? But the unbelievers had to, and have to, perpetuate the lie because if the resurrection really happened, it would change the world. And it did! And it has! The resurrection is an indisputable fact, upon which our faith is grounded. If the tomb is still sealed, our faith means nothing. If the rock is still in the way, we have no hope of life after death, or seeing our loved ones again. If the tomb is sealed, nothing matters. The suffering was for nothing, the crucifixion was for nothing, your faith is for nothing. But behold the empty tomb!
The women beheld the empty tomb and then ran to tell the disciples the incredible news when lo and behold, suddenly Jesus was right there! Matthew writes, “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!’” Look at that! He’s alive! It wasn’t a dream. It wasn’t an illusion brought on by grief. It was the risen Savior! The one who was crucified, died, and was buried is standing there right in front of them!
Behold the risen Savior who was raised for you! Paul says, “It will be counted to us who believe in Him who raised from the dead Jesus our Lord, who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification.” The Risen Lord turns everything upside down. Look at the disciples; they abandoned Jesus in the time of His greatest need. They ran as fast as they could just to save their skins. As far as disciples go, they’re failures. But listen to what Jesus says: “Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee, and there they will see me.” Did you catch that? Tell my brothers. Behold! Jesus forgave them! His death even covers their sins of cowardice and denial. They were still His brothers! He died and now lives so that they would always be His brothers.
Behold! Look at that my fellow Christians! You are the brother of Christ! You are the sister of Christ. Look at the occupied cross! Look at the empty tomb! Look at the risen Christ! What do you behold? The forgiveness of all your sins! The promise that death is not the end for those who believe in Christ! Christ took on Sin for you! He took on Death for you! And in spite of your sins you’re His brothers and sisters! He is living, never to die again, all so that you might live and die only once before entering eternal life! Behold! The crucified Lord has risen indeed for you! Alleluia!
In Matthew’s Gospel, we see two different reactions to the resurrection. The soldiers beheld this unbelievable encounter with an angel, and yet they chose money and lies over the lifesaving truth. The council didn’t even bother to investigate; they just stuck their fingers in their ears to block out the unbelievable, but true, Easter news.
Compare that to the women who Matthew says, “took hold of His feet and worshiped Him.” They came to see a dead Jesus; they now fall in worship at the feet of the living Jesus. By beholding the risen Savior, the women were given a new life. Look what you see in them: no more dejection, no more sorrow, no more despair. Just joy that the Lord was alive and a race to tell the disciples.
You have beheld this miracle, what does that mean for you? Is it “(yawn), He is risen indeed, alleluia?” Or is it “Behold! It’s Easter! Look at that! He’s Risen indeed! Alleluia!”? Let us pray that the angel will roll the stone away from our hearts so we will fully embrace the joy of Easter. Let us fall at the feet of the Risen Savior worshiping Him with the women who held those nail-pierced feet. It’s a joy of epic proportions to be able to freely gather here to praise His name and receive His gifts! Where else would Christians want to be? Where else do we find the living Savior who is present to give us all the gifts of the cross and the empty tomb? The gifts that He purchased with His blood and a three day rest in the tomb? Where else indeed! Behold! It’s here!
The last thing that Jesus said to the women was to go tell the disciples. He says, “Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee, and there they will see me.” It’s hard to pick up on the nuances that come from translating from one language to another, and this is a perfect example. Jesus isn’t telling them to just go. He’s really saying: “Now get going!” Hurry! Don’t delay any longer! Tell the disciples!
Today, Jesus says the same thing to you! Get going! You’ve got great news! Don’t keep it to yourself and don’t keep it from yourself. Share the unbelievably true news that the tomb is empty for all, and the Savior is risen for all! He died for each and every one of you; there are no exceptions. This is great day! Don’t slough it off with a wimpy little “Behold, He is risen indeed.” Raise your voices high and lift the rafters with your cry of “Look at that! He is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!” Why wouldn’t you? For today is we praise God for the greatest “Look at that!” the world has ever seen.
Now the peace which surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen