Just As You Are (Matthew 28:1-10)
Rev. David French

Christ is risen and God’s plan of salvation for all mankind is complete. The sacrifice offered by the Son has been accepted by the Father, and the sting of death has been removed. There is, however, one final scene left to unfold on this day of our justification.

While today is a day of celebration for all Christians, we also know that, for many of us by this afternoon, life will go right back to where it was yesterday. That was not the case for the first disciples of Jesus. Three days before, the whole city was very much aware that Jesus of Nazareth was going to be crucified. You do have to wonder with Friday’s unnatural darkness, an earthquake, and many who once were dead going into the city, if the guy on the middle cross was forgotten about in all the commotion. 

To be sure, those who were at the cross were greatly affected, as even the centurion confesses Christ to be the Son of God. But for most of the 100,000 or so people in Jerusalem, both residents and those who were there for the Passover, when the earthquake hit, I imagine their focus changed. And then on this morning, the city is again awakened by another earthquake, this time just before dawn. It’s hard to imagine that outside of the women who went to tend to the final burial needs of their friend that there were many people thinking about Jesus.

We know that the women went to the tomb believing they would anoint the body of Jesus and add to the spices that were wrapped about His corpse as a sign of love and mourning. Matthew simply says that they went “to look at the tomb.” The point is, even though they had heard Jesus speak of His resurrection on this morning, those words had no room in their hearts that were still feeling the loss of the one they knew as a friend and believed was the Messiah. 

The Scriptures tell us that the earthquake, what we might call an aftershock, was an angel of the Lord come from heaven to roll back the stone, and that it had filled the guards with such fear that they became like dead men (or they fainted); and when they came to, some “went into the city and reported to the chief priests everything that had happened.”

We know that the high priests bribed the soldiers to say that they had fallen asleep and that the disciples stole the body from the grave during their nap, but people knew that falling asleep while you were on duty was a death sentence for a Roman soldier. We know from the Scriptures that it was the Pharisees who had convinced Pilot to post guards so His disciples couldn’t steal His body and claim He had been raised. And now that Jesus had risen from the dead, they couldn't just pretend that there were no soldiers there. 

They must have felt like they were painted in a corner, but they were simply unwilling to admit that Jesus had actually risen from the dead. I mean, how would it look? To admit Christ had risen would have been, shall we say, a professional disaster considering they had just crucified Him for blasphemy. So, they decided to do what many do when painted in a corner; they lied. 

They said, no doubt with a look of shock and disgust, that the soldiers had fallen asleep and those wily fishermen tip-toed past the guards, and quick as mice, they rolled that large stone away; and just like that, they took off with the body of Jesus. Well, it’s easier to believe than the resurrection.

When the woman arrived, they found the tomb open, and the angel, whose appearance assured them that he was from God, spoke those familiar angelic words, “Do not be afraid.” But, this time the angel adds, “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.”

Those words touched their hearts, and whatever thoughts or fears the women may have had were now replaced with joy. Except, that is, for Mary Magdalene. She went with the women to the tomb, but she either didn’t look in or just couldn’t believe her ears, because according to John, we know after she leaves the tomb she sees someone she thinks is the gardener and is still asking where they have laid His body until she hears His voice and the eyes of her heart are opened and Mary Magdalene is the first to see the resurrected Christ. All the women see Jesus that morning, Mary in the garden and the others on the path back to the disciples, and about them we read they were afraid yet filled with joy. 

So, what about you? Are you in such awe about the Savior coming to you this morning that your heart is filled with a joy that leaves you speechless? Um, probably not. I mean, we’ve only seen Jesus die through the eyes of the apostles – and we’ve never actually seen the risen Jesus either.

Now don’t misunderstand, by God’s grace we believe that He has risen, but I have no doubt there is an intense emotional difference between hearing about someone rising from the dead and watching someone you love and have committed your life to die in front of you and then seeing them alive three days later. To be sure, we can work at manufacturing something like the sorrow of Good Friday because we all know the sorrow of death, but how do we relate to the joy of seeing a loved one rise from the dead? 

You see, our Easter joy is not founded on an emotional event or a personal relationship like that of the disciples. Our joy is the peace and hope that come from knowing what Christ’s resurrection actually means, that God has accepted the sacrifice offered for all sin, and so, the debt of all sin has been paid. The resurrection tells us that everything Jesus taught is true, and every promise He spoke will be fulfilled. 

All the talk about “God loves you no matter what” is true. The promise of eternal life and being with our loved ones who die in the faith and being with Christ forever are true! The promise that those who believe in Him will never die is true.

We celebrate today because Jesus rose from the dead, not because He is a long-time friend who we watched die and now have back. We celebrate and rejoice because the promises of forgiveness, life, and salvation are guaranteed for us and for all who believe. I know some may not like the way this sounds, but we don’t really know Jesus as a friend, but one day we will! How do I know? That’s one of His promises – “then (we) shall know fully, even as (we are) fully known.” 

Until then, our relationship with Jesus is rooted in the Means of Grace. Until then, our lives are about believing with the faith God Himself creates in us that He loves us in spite of what we see within ourselves. Until the time we know the joy of seeing Jesus face-to-face, we live with a hope and peace that can never be taken from us because you believe that God loves you just as you are, and that’s true, but that doesn’t mean He hasn’t changed you. God has changed you. He has washed away all of your sin. He has put faith in your heart. He has clothed you with Christ’s righteousness, and He has made you His precious child. 

In His name, Amen.