He Has Risen, As He Said
Click here to listen to this sermon.
Christ is risen! He is risen, indeed! Alleluia! Amen.
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” (Matthew 28:5-7).
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!
“Do not be afraid.” That’s an interesting thing to say to women who have already made their way to a graveyard before the break of dawn to properly prepare the lifeless body of their Savior. One can only imagine what they have already gone through the last couple of dark days—the shameful spectacle of their Lord hanging bloody and beaten, dying and dead on the cross. The raw grief of their recent loss relooping in their brains, poking and prodding the most tender areas of their broken hearts. The horrible sense of helplessness and hopelessness as they ponder their own uncertain future. The literal gut-wrenching experience they anticipate in this morning’s grisly errand. Not to mention the shock and aftershock of a great earthquake, a dispatch of temple guards scared near to death. Oh, yeah, and the lightning-like appearance of the Lord’s angel who sits on the stone that once sealed Jesus’ tomb and who decides to speak to them.
Yes, “Do not be afraid,” makes perfect sense. Even an angel of the Lord doesn’t want to have to deal with a couple of hysterical women if he doesn’t have to. And the presence of God’s holy angel in itself tends to have such a frightening effect on most everybody. Prophets, shepherds, temple guards: they all quake in their sandals when an angel appears. And so, on a practical level, it seems a perfectly natural thing to say to the women: “Do not be afraid.”
But the angel of the Lord has something much more important to say than whatever it takes to calm these women. This is neither a therapy session nor a pep talk. His is not just a matter of concern for someone’s emotional or psychological state; it’s not even the difference between life and death (though both are fully on display), but it is a spiritual mission that has bearing on eternal judgment, depending upon how one receives this message—in fear or in faith.
So, let’s listen to what else the angel of the Lord has to say: “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.”
The angel of the Lord points them to the reason not to be afraid. Some might say it is the empty tomb; but empty tombs in and of themselves are no great comfort. There are a number of reasons why an empty tomb would just make everything that has happened even more unsettling. I think about those who have lost loved ones but are unable to recover their bodily remains for one reason or another: the victims of the Malaysian airliner crash or the nearly 300, mostly teenaged passengers on the South Korean ferry come to mind. Many resources will be expended in order to make sure that their graves do not remain empty.
In the verses immediately following our text, Matthew offers another explanation for an empty tomb that is not so comforting. In fact, it shows that even for unbelievers an empty tomb is quite unsettling; it has to be explained in some way. Having been roused from their death-like paralysis, some of the guards go to the chief priests to tell them all that has taken place. The chief priests give a sufficient sum of money to the guards to spread the story that “His disciples came by night and stole Him away while we were asleep.” And then they promise to smooth things over with the governor if he catches wind of this empty tomb.
No, empty tombs are not necessarily comforting; it all depends upon why they are empty. And so the angel of the Lord points these women beyond what they see, or can’t see, to what they have heard. “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.”
“Dear ladies, there is no reason to be afraid. The One who was crucified is now risen from the dead. And this should not all come to you as a surprise. It is all happening as He said on numerous occasions on this trip to Jerusalem. “And the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and scribes, and they will condemn Him to death and deliver Him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified, and He will be raised on the third day” (Matthew 20:18-19, see also Matthew 17:22-23 and 16:21).
And so, having seen the empty tomb for themselves and being reminded why it is empty, the women depart quickly, still fearful, but also with great joy as they run to tell the disciples all they have seen and heard.
But before they get back to the disciples, Jesus meets them. “Greetings!” He says. The word translated “greetings” is actually the word “Rejoice!” And that goes well with His next words: “Do not be afraid.” The same words the angel of the Lord says to the women. And this is very good for the risen Son of God to repeat these words to the women, because they’re still afraid and they’re not clear why He’s risen from the dead. Just as an empty tomb is not necessarily good news, neither is a risen Christ. It depends upon why He is risen. And it depends upon why He died in the first place. Is Jesus’ death simply a travesty of the Roman judicial system? An accident of history? A case of being in the wrong place at the wrong time? Of not holding your tongue when you should? Of not toeing the company line? Of the little fish getting swallowed up by the bigger fish? Or is Jesus’ death part of a bigger plan? Does He drink of the Father’s cup of wrath willingly with His eyes completely open to all that is happening?
And having given Himself up to death—even death on the cross—why does Jesus come back? Is Jesus back for mercy or for vengeance? It makes a big difference! You see, a God without the Gospel is not Good News. If He is back from the dead to condemn sinners, then that’s definitely reason to be afraid. At the top of His list for condemnation perhaps will be His disciples—His closest followers who abandoned Him and denied Him in the hour of His suffering. Yes, no greater love has a man than he lay down his life for his friends, but there’s no greater hurt than being betrayed by a loved one.
Still, these disciples are not Jesus’ enemies; they are His brothers. That’s what Jesus tells the women: “Do not be afraid; go and tell My brothers to go to Galilee, and there they will see Me.” Jesus casts out fear with His Word, and He declares that He comes in peace, with mercy and grace. And He tells the women where to have His disciples meet Him. The crucified and risen Jesus will be where He has promised to be.
Indeed, forty days later the disciples go to the mountain in Galilee. There the crucified and risen Lord appears to them and speaks to them and gives them the authority to make disciples of all nations by baptizing in the triune name of God and proclaiming that Jesus of Nazareth is the Christ of God, crucified and risen for the forgiveness of sins. On that mountain, in His presence, they are given the authority to be Christ’s ambassadors, His apostles, His messengers sent to proclaim the Gospel of the crucified and risen Lord.
But what, dear friends, if they had decided instead of going to Galilee that they would go to Mount Sinai and live under the Law; or to make a pilgrimage to the Lord’s birthplace at Bethlehem; or to grieve their days away by the empty tomb; or to rationalize with philosophers on Mar’s Hill? What then? Well, then they would have missed being in Christ’s gracious presence, of being in the presence of Him who wants to bestow His blessings upon His people.
To seek Jesus where He has not promised to be is to deny His Word and to practice unbelief. It is to be like King Saul, seeking to know what is forbidden, doing so by means of the occult. It is to be Judas, in worldly sorrow, desiring to cleanse his own conscience and cover his guilt by his own work of returning the coins and looking within himself. It is to be one of the Pharisees, counting on your own righteous keeping of the Law and traditions to be saved. It is to be Pontius Pilate, considering all truth to be a relative man-made construct and washing your hands of the whole confusing mess.
However, to seek the Lord God where He has promised to be in His grace and mercy is to believe and trust in the promise of His Word. It is Adam and Eve standing outside their lost paradise, looking for the Son who would crush the serpent’s head. It is King David seeking and receiving the absolution of sin from his pastor. It is Peter, in sorrow and contrition, repentantly looking to Jesus after the rooster crows and beholding Jesus His Redeemer. So, seek the Lord where He may be found, where He has promised to be in His grace and mercy.
And where is that today? In the same place: the Lord is graciously and mercifully present where He has promised to be, as He said: where two or three are gathered in His name (Matthew 18:20); where the servant of Christ and the steward of the mysteries of God announces the forgiveness of sins (1 Corinthians 4:1); in the place where the Word of Law and Gospel are proclaimed in their truth and unity; at the Table where Jesus has promised to be where His Word is believed, confessed, and repeated: “This is My Body… This is My Blood… given and shed for you for the forgiveness of your sins.” In other words, the crucified and risen Jesus is graciously present with His people as they gather where He has promised to be—in His Word and Sacrament. The Divine Service that takes place here is where and when the Lord serves His people. That means the highest worship of God is to receive the gifts that He graciously gives to His people.
To seek Christ where He has not promised to be is to deny His Word and to practice unbelief. It is the sportsman who claims “I can worship God just as good on the golf course or out in a boat as I can in the church on Sunday morning.” It is the one who embraces spirituality as long as it demands no more than keeping up with the daily horoscopes or reading the latest self-improvement book recommended by Oprah. It is the one who comes to worship looking for “liver shivers” or mountaintop experiences. It is the one who comes to worship week after week out of a sense of duty or with the notion that such mindless, heartless worship somehow endears her to the Lord. And it is the one who comes here only occasionally because someone else has hounded him or it is a special holiday.
You see, what you are saying when you do things like this is: “Lord, I do not need to be in Your gracious presence today. I do not wish to hear about the forgiveness You won for me in Your awful suffering on the cross. I don’t want to hear about Your glorious resurrection. I don’t need to hear how You sit at the Father’s right hand interceding on my behalf. I don’t need to hear how You pour out Your Holy Spirit upon me through Your Word and Sacraments. I don’t need to drink of the water of life or be fed the bread from heaven.”
To such a one as these and indeed, to all of you, I sincerely invite and truly beg you to be in the Divine Service next Sunday and every Sunday. For this is where Jesus has promised to be. This is where He invites you to meet Him. This is where Jesus comes in grace and mercy. This is where you will find everything that you really need for this life… and for the next!
You need not search for the crucified and risen Savior anywhere else, for He is here, just as He said—always to the end of the age in His Word and Sacraments. To seek the Lord God where He has promised to be in His grace and mercy is to believe and trust in the promise of His Word. And that makes all the difference in this world, certainly for eternity, but even here and now.
The crucified and risen Lord is here, as He said. He is here for the old man who, in the midst of a life of pain or suffering the ravages of illness, seeks and receives the absolution of sin announced by the Lord’s called and ordained servant. In the midst of this world of death, the Lord is present here with the woman who grieves the loss of a loved one and who hears the Good News that Jesus is here and she is given the certain hope of the resurrection of the dead. Jesus is with the young boy who enters the church, sees the baptismal font, and joins in the invocation of the Lord with the sign of the cross. The risen Lord is graciously present with the mom who brings her children here week after week even though she might not be able to hear an entire sermon for years as she rides herd on them. She rejoices that the Lord is here for her and her husband and for her children.
To such a one as these and indeed, to all of you, I sincerely invite and truly beg you to be in the Divine Service next Sunday and every Sunday. For this is where the crucified and risen Lord comes with mercy and grace just as He said. And because He was crucified for your sins and raised for your justification, you have salvation and eternal life. That is to say: You are forgiven for all of your sins.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.