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April 17 lesson: Resurrection of the King

March 31, 2022
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Resurrection of the King

Spring Quarter: God Frees and Redeems
Unit 2:
Liberating Gospels

Sunday school lesson for the week of April 17, 2022
By Dr. Hal Brady


Lesson Scripture: Matthew 28:1-10
Key Verse: Matthew 28:10


Lesson Aims
  1. List facts of Jesus’ first post-resurrection appearance in Matthew’s account.
  2. Compare and contrast that account with those of the other Gospels.
  3. Sing with fellow classmates “Because He Lives” as an act of communal worship.
If you ever go into an old cemetery and look around, more often than not you will find one heading on many of the monuments: “Here lies.” This wording will usually be followed by the name, the date of death and perhaps the praise of the good qualities of the deceased. But how different is the epitaph on the tomb of Jesus! It is neither written in gold nor carved in stone. It is spoken by the mouth of an angel and is the precise opposite of what is put on all other tombs: “He is not here; he has risen, just us he said” (Matthew 28:6).

Today is Resurrection Sunday, when Christians around the world focus attention on a Sunday 2,000 years ago. On that day “everything” changed, and the world has never been the same. “He is not here; he has risen…,” the angel said.

Lesson Context

Jesus’ followers had hoped he was the one who would redeem Israel (Luke 24:19-21), but he had been brutally executed at the hands of the Jewish leaders and Roman officials. And ominous events had accompanied his death. A deep darkness covered the land, the curtain of the temple was torn from top to bottom, and an earthquake had split rocks and opened graves in the area (see Matthew 27). The manner in which Jesus died led a Roman centurion and other guards to acclaim Jesus as the Son of God (Matthew 27:54).

Matthew 28:1-10 is the first of four resurrection narratives in the Gospels (see Mark 16; Luke 24; John 20). These all paint the same picture in broad strokes: Jesus Christ was crucified, buried, and rose from the dead. The overarching truth of these three events guides each writer, even when they differ on details. And that differing on the details of the resurrection narratives should bring us comfort. They indicate that the accounts are not the product of a conspiracy created by a group focused on getting their stories straight. The resurrection narratives complement one another as they affirm that witnesses saw an empty grave and the risen Savior.

And every Gospel account counters the disinformation and lies of the chief priests and Pharisees that resulted after Jesus’ resurrection. Simply stated, the Jewish leaders feared that Jesus’ disciples would steal the body from the grave and then claim Jesus was alive. The religious leaders had convinced Pilate to authorize guards to be placed at the tomb (Matthew 27:62-66).
  1. The Empty Tomb (Matthew 28:1-7)
Matthew left off the crucifixion narrative with Joseph of Arimathea wrapping the body of Jesus in burial clothes and placing him in Joseph’s own tomb. Nicodemus had aided Joseph in placing Jesus in the tomb on Friday without any ceremony – the Sabbath and its rest fast approached with sunset Friday (John 19:38-42).

Matthew begins his narrative of the resurrection scenes by recounting how certain women came to the tomb after the Sabbath. Jesus repeatedly said he would be raised on the third day (Matthew 16:21, 17:23; 20:19). Keeping in mind that the Old Testament regularly reckoned as part of a day as a whole day. We understand that Jesus was in the tomb for a part of three days. Dying at approximately 3 p.m. on Friday, he was placed in the tomb before sundown (day one). He remained in the tomb all day Saturday (day two) and from sundown Saturday until his resurrection on Sunday morning (day 3). Thus, he was raised on the third day, as he prophesied.

The women arrived on Sunday, not out of morbid curiosity or even simple mourning, but with spices to continue preparation of Jesus’ body for burial (Mark 16:1; Luke 24:1).

“Mary Magdalene and the other Mary” are the two women who have key roles in Matthew’s passion narrative. In contrast to the apostles, the women were present at Jesus’ crucifixion (Matthew 27:50-56) and saw where he was buried (Matthew 27:57-61). Mary Magdalene was a follower of Jesus from the early days of his ministry. Jesus had delivered her from a terrifying case of demon possession (Luke 8:2). We also remind ourselves that Magdalene is not a surname in the modern sense. Rather, it designates this particular Mary as being “from Magdala.”

The other Mary was the mother of James and Joseph (Matthew 27:56) and possibly the wife of Clopas (John 19:25). Though the other Gospels name additional women (Mark 16:1, Luke 24:10), we are told that Matthew may have focused on these two because of their prominence among those of Jewish background who first read his Gospel.

Prior to verse 2, we need to keep in mind that an earthquake had already occurred at Jesus’ death (Matthew 27:51). God’s presence or work was sometimes accompanied by grand disruptions of nature (examples: Exodus 19:16-19; Acts 16:26). Those who did not know that God was present would be terrified in the face of nature’s fury without realizing that the far more terrifying Lord of the universe was present.

In verse 2, another earthquake now rocks the Jerusalem area, apparently before sunrise. While not uncommon for this region, this second earthquake surrounds the supreme supernatural event, the resurrection of Jesus. Quoting Cornelius a Lapide, the scholarly A.T. Robertson said, “The earth, which trembled with sorrow at the death of Christ as it were leaped for joy at His Resurrection.”

The conjunction “for” that begins the phrase “for an angel of the Lord came down from heaven” (28:2) suggests that the earthquake accompanies the appearance of the angel or is the means used by the angel to roll the stone away or perhaps the angel’s moving the stone causes the earthquake. The miraculous conception, birth, and infancy of Jesus were superintended by an angel of the Lord (1:20-21; 2:13, 19), so it is not surprising that an angel of the Lord now superintends the resurrection, thusly framing Matthew’s story of the divine message God gives to his people in the person of his Son, Jesus Christ. As in the infancy narrative, this angel is one of God’s privileged messengers, perhaps Gabriel, who seems to have a special role in announcements (see Luke 1:11-20, 26-38).

Stones used to close tombs were usually disk shaped and extremely heavy. For added difficulty in accessing “the tomb,” those guarding it had placed a seal on the stone (Matthew 27:65-66). Matthew alone relates that as the angel of the Lord rolls away the stone, he sits on it. The stone that was sealed by the guards to assure that the body of Jesus would remain in the crypt now becomes the seat of triumph for the angel. The stone is rolled away, not to let the risen Jesus out but to let the women in to witness the fact of the empty tomb.

The “angel’s appearance” was similar to Jesus’ own during the transfiguration (compare Matthew 17:2). The angel’s physical appearance clearly marked him as a supernatural being and caused “the guards” great fear (compare 17:5-6). When the guards see the angel, they are so afraid that they shake and become “like dead men.” Now, these guards are battle-hardened veterans, used to facing fearful situations, but nothing has prepared them for this encounter. After the angel speaks to the women, the guards hurriedly go into the city to report to the chief priests.

Earlier in Matthew, an angel had told Joseph not to be fearful about the events around Jesus’ conception and birth (Matthew 1:20). Now, even though the guards – whom we would expect to be lions of courage – were incapacitated, the women in verse 5 were called “to not be afraid.” This angel was potentially a much more frightening presence than the guards. The women’s reaction to this exhortation is not immediately revealed (not until 28:8).

These women have come for Jesus in whom they placed their hopes of messianic deliverance, but who is now merely the One who was crucified. Matthew has demonstrated the power of the cross, and he does not negate that. The women are seeking Jesus as the one who was crucified, but he is no longer in that state. He is not there as the crucified One.

In verse 6, the angel said, “He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay.” This is the first explicit notice that Jesus “has risen.” The New Testament contains no accounts of Jesus’ resurrection per se. Instead there are records of disciples finding the tomb empty and encountering the resurrected Jesus (examples: Matthew 28:9; 1 Corinthians 15:3-8). Those serve as part of the validation that the event occurred, even though no one was present to observe it.

Paul’s letters consistently emphasize the Father’s role in raising the Son (examples: Roman 6:4; Galatians 1:1; compare Acts 5:30). The Son had trusted the Father and submitted to the Father’s will even to the point of death (Matthew 26:42). As a result, the Father had exalted the Son.

Nell Mohney (pronounced “money”) wrote a book a few years ago entitled “Don’t Put a Period Where God Put a Comma.” At the crucifixion, the world said, “There, that takes care of that. We silenced him. We stopped him. So put a period there.”

But God said, “No, that’s not a period. It’s only a comma. It’s not over! I’ve got a resurrection for you.”

And, in that resurrection, God validated Jesus.

In 6b, the angel said, “Come and see the place where he lay.” The emphasis on the empty tomb counters any notion that Jesus’ followers were only experiencing Christ’s spiritual presence. Jesus’ resurrection involved the coming to life again of his physical body – even though that body was changed (see 1 Corinthians 15:35-53). Jesus had been dead for three days, but he was alive again. “The place where Jesus lay” was vacant!

“Come and see!” was followed by “Go and tell!” We must not keep the resurrection to ourselves. The angel then instructed the women to go immediately and tell Jesus’ disciples about this remarkable news and tell them that they will see him in Galilee. The expression “his disciples” probably refers to the Eleven. They will go to Galilee to spend concentrated time with their resurrected Lord who will clarify his role in salvation history in relationship to the arrival and nature of the kingdom of God and so prepare them for their leadership in the church (Luke 24:44-47; Acts 1:3).

One of the most important perspectives of the women here is that God uses them as witnesses not only to the central redemptive act of history, Jesus’ death on the cross, but also to his resurrection. Since the women were present for Jesus’ death on the cross and his burial by Joseph of Arimathea, they can verify that he was truly dead, not just unconscious. Several of them witnessed the sealing of the tomb, and they are the first witnesses of the empty tomb and the resurrected Jesus.

So Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were not called to testify that Jesus’ body was gone, which anyone could see by looking in the tomb as they had. Instead they carried the much more wonderful and astounding message that Jesus “has risen from the dead!” And from this point forward the resurrection of Jesus would be the heart of the church’s proclamation (example: 1 Corinthians 15:1-4).

Galilee was the location of Jesus’ boyhood, but even more importantly the central location of his earthly ministry. Now Galilee continues as a central place of his ascended ministry. This fulfills Jesus’ own prophecy that after he was raised, he would go before them to Galilee (Matthew 26:32). Jesus will appear to his disciples over the course of about a week in Jerusalem until they can fully comprehend the fact of his resurrection. Then they go to Galilee where he appears to them over the course of about 30 days.
  1. The Risen Lord (Matthew 28:8-10)
In obedience, the women hurried away in a mixture of emotion. Their fear likely stemmed both from awe of their contact with the angel and the magnitude of what they had heard. But they were also “filled with joy” that was sweeping away the grief of previous days. This great joy actually propelled them to run on their mission “to tell his disciples about Jesus.”

As though the honor of announcing the angel’s words was not enough, the women were met by Jesus himself! Their faithfulness to him was rewarded in his faithfulness and care for them.

“Greetings” can also be translated “rejoice” (example: Matthew 5:12). This ordinary greeting which these women must have heard Jesus utter on many occasions now prompts them to fall at his feet to “worship” him. The presence of the risen Jesus turns their fear into worship.

The woman’s actions on encountering Jesus make two very important points. Taking hold of Jesus’ feet shows that Jesus was present physically, having experienced a bodily resurrection (Matthew 28:6b). He was not a hallucination, vision or phantom.

Second, they “worshipped” Jesus, and Jesus accepted that “worship.” The Old Testament Scriptures make clear that worship belongs to God alone (example: Exodus 34:14; Deuteronomy 8:19). Neither angels nor apostles allowed people to worship them. The women’s actions signaled that they rightly believed Jesus was God in the flesh.

The women are probably still afraid because of the extraordinary events they have just encountered and the appearance of Jesus escalates their apprehension. Events are unfolding at a pace that outstrips their ability to cope. So Jesus calms their fear by repeating the same words of comfort from the angel (“Do not be afraid”), but he also repeats a charge from the angel: “Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee, there they will see me.”

As we see, Jesus switches from “disciples” to “my brothers.” This may simply be a stylistic variation to refer to the Eleven, or it may indicate the larger group of disciples, who also will witness the risen Jesus (1 Corinthians 15:6). And this latter may explain the reaction of “some” who doubt (Matthew 28:17).

Conclusion

A family was watching a movie of the life of Jesus on television. Their 6-year-old daughter was deeply moved as the movie-maker realistically portrayed Jesus’ crucifixion and death. Tears ran down the little girl’s face as they took him from the cross and lay him in a burial tomb. She watched as a guard was placed outside the tomb. And then suddenly a big smile broke out on her face. She bounced upon the arm of the chair and said with great anticipation, “Now comes the good part!”

Now comes the good part, indeed! At the center of the Christian faith is the affirmation that Jesus rose from the dead. This is the testimony of women who saw the empty tomb and who encountered the resurrected Jesus. We can trust their words and we can live in the light of the message they were given. Said the angel, “He is not here; he has risen, just as he said” (Matthew 28:6). Hallelujah!

Action Plan
  1. Do displays of natural destruction cause you to fear God? Why or why not?
  2. How does your belief in the resurrection of Christ influence your daily life?
  3. What prevents you from running to tell others the news of Jesus’ resurrection?
Resources for this lesson
  1. “2021-2022 NIV Standard Lesson Commentary, Uniform Series, International Bible Lessons for Christian Teaching,” pages 281-288.
  2. “The NIV Application Commentary, Matthew” by Michael J. Wilkins, pages 936-942.
  3. “Be Loyal, Matthew,” by Warren W. Wiersbe, pages 263-266.
Dr. Hal Brady is a retired pastor who continues to present the Good News of Jesus Christ and offer encouragement in a fresh and vital way though Hal Brady Ministries (halbradyministries.com).

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