Jesus Christ: Alive and With Us to the End
Now after the Sabbath, as it began to dawn toward the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary came to look at the grave. 2 And behold, a severe earthquake had occurred, for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven and came and rolled away the stone and sat upon it. 3 And his appearance was like lightning, and his clothing as white as snow. 4 The guards shook for fear of him and became like dead men. 5 The angel said to the women, "Do not be afraid; for I know that you are looking for Jesus who has been crucified. 6 He is not here, for He has risen, just as He said. Come, see the place where He was lying. 7 Go quickly and tell His disciples that He has risen from the dead; and behold, He is going ahead of you into Galilee, there you will see Him; behold, I have told you." 8 And they left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy and ran to report it to His disciples. 9 And behold, Jesus met them and greeted them. And they came up and took hold of His feet and worshiped Him. 10 Then Jesus said to them, "Do not be afraid; go and take word to My brethren to leave for Galilee, and there they will see Me." 11 Now while they were on their way, some of the guard came into the city and reported to the chief priests all that had happened. 12 And when they had assembled with the elders and consulted together, they gave a large sum of money to the soldiers, 13 and said, "You are to say, 'His disciples came by night and stole Him away while we were asleep.' 14 And if this should come to the governor's ears, we will win him over and keep you out of trouble." 15 And they took the money and did as they had been instructed; and this story was widely spread among the Jews, and is to this day. 16 But the eleven disciples proceeded to Galilee, to the mountain which Jesus had designated. 17 When they saw Him, they worshiped Him; but some were doubtful. 18 And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, "All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age."
If this is true, if this is real - that Jesus Christ has been raised from the dead (verse 6), and that all authority in heaven and on earth has been given to him (verse 18), and that he will be with his disciples to the end of the age (verse 20) - if this is true, then nothing is more important in our lives, nothing is more crucial or more urgent or more needful than believing it and becoming a follower of Jesus. I know it's a big if - if this is true, if this is real (you may believe it or not) - but if the premise is true, wouldn't you agree with the conclusion? - nothing is more important for everyone in this room than to believe in him and be his follower.
Authority over All Things
Just think of it. Jesus says in verse 18, "All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth." If this is true, then today Jesus Christ is the Lord of the universe.
He has authority over politics and government; he has authority over all armies and military might;
he has authority over all industry and business (NASDAQ and Dow Jones);
he has authority over science and education - all research and discovery and universities and colleges;
he has authority over all entertainment and media - radio, TV, magazines, ne wspapers, Internet, theater, art;
he has authority over all sports and leisure - over the Wolves and Blazers this afternoon and every other playoff game;
he has authority over all natural phenomena - all weather and floods and volcanoes and earthquakes and tornadoes and hurricanes and global warming and ozone layers;
he has authority over all planets and moons and stars and light and energy and motion and time;
and therefore he has authority over our lives - health and disease and success and failure and life and death.
I don't know where you are this morning. You may or may not believe the testimony of Jesus and his disciples. But I hope you see at least that if -if - it is true that Jesus rose from the dead as the Lord of the universe with all authority in heaven and on earth, then believing it and following Jesus as our Lord is the most important, most urgent, most crucial thing in our lives.
Two Crucial Events
No matter how hard I try to think of an alternative, I can't escape the conclusion that the resurrection of Jesus Christ as Lord of the universe with all authority in heaven and on earth is the greatest event in the history of the world - except, perhaps, for one other, the one that happened three days earlier, namely, his death.
So what I would like to do this morning is ponder two events with you - or think together about two claims of Matthew 28: one that Jesus was crucified; the other that Jesus has risen from the dead and is alive and with us to the end. There would have been no need for the resurrection if Jesus had not died; and there would be no saving significance to his death if he did not rise. Both are utterly crucial.
Jesus Has Been Crucified
The time is early Sunday morning. Mary Magdalene and the other women have come to the tomb of Jesus. They see an angel whose appearance is like lightning (verse 3). Then, according to Matthew 28:5-6a, "The angel said to the women, 'Do not be afraid; for I know that you are looking for Jesus who has been crucified.'" There is the first claim in this text that I want us to focus on: "Jesus has been crucified."
What do we need to know about this event - that Jesus was crucified - so that his resurrection is seen to be what it really is? Here are five things:
1. The crucifixion of Jesus was public.
This thing did not happen in a corner (Acts 26:26). It was not a secret rite. It is not mythological. It is historical and public. There were crowds of people who saw it happen (Matthew 27:39) in an open public place. All the religious and secular leaders were involved. And secular historians of the earliest centuries treated the death of Jesus as historical fact. Tacitus, the Roman historian who was born in AD 55 and who did not follow Christ, explained who Christians were like this:
Christ, from whom they took their name, had been put to death as a punishment during the reign of Tiberius at the hand of one of our Procurators, Pontius Pilate, and a most mischievous superstition, thus checked for a moment, again broke out not only in Judea, the first source of the evil, but even in Rome. (Annals 15:54)
2. The crucifixion of Jesus was painful.
The article on "Cross" in the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia describes crucifixion:
The punishment was meted out for such crimes as treason, desertion in the face of the enemy, robbery, piracy, assassination, sedition, etc. . . . Among the Romans, crucifixion was preceded by scourging, undoubtedly to hasten impending death. The victim then bore his own cross, or at least the upright beam, to the place of execution. . . . The number of nails used seems to have been indeterminate. A tablet, on which the feet rested or on which the body was partly supported, seems to have been a part of the cross to keep the wounds from tearing through the transfixed members. (Irenaeus, Against Heresies, ii.42)
The suffering of death by crucifixion was intense, especially in hot climates. . . . The swell[ing] about the rough nails and the torn lacerated tendons and nerves caused excruciating agony. The arteries of the head and stomach were surcharged with blood and a terrific throbbing headache ensued. The mind was confused and filled with anxiety and dread foreboding. The victim of crucifixion literally died a thousand deaths. . . . The sufferings were so frightful [Josephus wrote] that "even among the raging passions of war, pity was sometimes excited" (BJ, V, xi, 1). The length of this agony was wholly determined by the constitution of the victim, but death rarely ensued before thirty-six hours had elapsed. . . . Death was sometimes hastened by breaking the legs of the victims and by a hard blow delivered under the armpit before crucifixion. Crura fracta was a well-known Roman term (Cicero Phil. xiii.12). The sudden death of Christ evidently was a matter of astonishment (Mk 15:44). ("Cross," ISBE, Henry Dosker)
So there is no surprise when we read in the gospels that, Jesus gave a "loud cry" (Mark 15:37). His suffering in those last hours was indescribable.
3. The crucifixion of Jesus was planned by God.
Jesus said to his disciples several times that this was his destiny. For instance, Matthew 17:22-23a: "Jesus said to them, 'The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men; and they will kill Him, and He will be raised on the third day.'" In Acts 4:27-28, the disciples prayed to God like this: "Truly in this city there were gathered together against Your holy servant Jesus, whom You anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever Your hand and Your purpose predestined to occur." The death of Jesus was not a historical fluke or accident or merely the effect of great injustice. It was by the plan of God.
This is the teaching of the New Testament everywhere. "For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son . . ." (John 3:16). "[God did] not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all" (Romans 8:32). Jesus was crucified by design, not accident.
4. The crucifixion of Jesus was punishment for sin, but not his own.
This was God's plan - that his only, eternal, uncreated, divine Son should be born as a man, live a perfect life and then die, not for his own sins but for the sins of others. The apostle Paul put it like this in Galatians 1:4, "[Christ] gave Himself for our sins . . . according to the will of our God and Father." And in 1 Corinthians 15:3, "Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures."
Even more astonishing and confirming of the truth of this is that in the Jewish Scriptures 700 years before the crucifixion of Jesus, the death of Jesus is described like this: "He was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that made us whole, and with his stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all" (Isaiah 53:5-6). His death was punishment for sin. But not his own.
Which leads to one last thing to say about this death.
5. The crucifixion of Jesus is precious.
This not my word, though I love it. It's what those who knew him best taught. Peter wrote, "You were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your fathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ" (1 Peter 1:18-19). And again in 1 Peter 2:7, "To you therefore who believe, he is precious." The crucifixion of Jesus is precious to those who believe, because by that death we are ransomed from sin and guilt and condemnation and hell, and given eternal life.
This is what Jesus came to accomplish: eternal life for all who believe. This is why he was crucified. It was public, painful, planned, punishment (for us!) and precious. My prayer today is that you will all see him for who he is, and that he will become precious to you.
He Is Risen
But he can't be precious to you if he is dead. So the resurrection of Jesus is just as crucial as his crucifixion. So take the final moments of this message and ponder with me this other statement in Matthew 28:6. The angel said to Mary and the others, "He is not here, for He has risen, just as He said. Come, see the place where He was lying."
What can we say about the resurrection of Jesus? We could talk for hours about it. If I had time, I would talk about how public it was, because he appeared to so many and for so many days to increase our confidence that it is true and real (1 Corinthians 15:6; Acts 1:3); and how physical it was, not ghostly or mystical (Luke 24:39-43); and how productive it was, because it secured the resurrection of all who trust him (1 Corinthians 15:20).
But I will only linger over two things about the resurrection of Jesus, which correspond to Matthew 28:18 and 20. 1) The resurrection of Jesus was powerful; and 2) the resurrection of Jesus was personal.
1) The resurrection of Jesus was powerful.
This is what Jesus said in verse 18b: "All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth." This is what it means in the New Testament when Peter says, "[He has] been exalted to the right hand of God" (Acts 2:33); and Stephen says, as he is being stoned to death for his faith, "I see the heavens opened up and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God" (Acts 7:56); and Paul says, "Christ is seated at the right hand of God" (Colossians 3:1); and Hebrews says, "[Christ] endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God" (12:2).
The right hand of God is the place of ultimate authority along with God the Father. Paul says he is there "Because He must reign until He has put all His enemies under His feet" (1 Corinthians 15:25). The resurrection of Jesus restored Jesus to a place of triumphant all-authority over all things. And from there he works out his saving purposes in the world -with authority over politics and government and industry and business and science and education and entertainment and media and weather and stars and light and energy and life and death. His cause cannot fail. If you have all power and all authority and cannot die, your cause cannot fail.
This is a great reason for following Jesus. He cannot fail. Sin and death and hell and evil and Satan cannot defeat his purposes. He will win. That is a good reason to trust him and follow him. It is suicide to oppose him or ignore him.
But to win us over, Jesus ends his time on this earth, and Matthew ends his gospel with a very personal promise based on the resurrection.
2) The resurrection of Jesus was personal.
Matthew 28:20b, "Lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age." This is not a promise only to the eleven apostles, because the promise is "to the end of the age" - this present age of the world in which we live. While there are followers of Jesus in this age (in this world) the promise holds true for all of us - "I am with you always."
Here's the practical value of this promise. You might take the truth of Christ's authority over all things and just turn it into a theological problem. Well, if he has authority over the world, why is it in such a mess? Or: If he has authority over life and death, why did my child or wife or mother die?
But there is another way to respond to the power and authority of Jesus. If you will - and Jesus calls you to this - you can see it as the power and authority to free you from sin and fear and greed so that when you trust his promise to be with you, you are unstoppable in your love. If he is with you to the end, and if he has all authority in the universe, then you can love and serve and sacrifice, and never lose. This is the practical effect of the resurrection of Jesus when you experience it as powerful and personal.
If you trust him to be powerful for you and personally there for you, no matter what, you will be able to live your life not just for your private interests, but, say, for the 1.5 million street children in the Philippines (Action International Ministries - www.actionintl.org), or for 16 million people in the horn of East Africa who are now threatened with starvation (Newsweek, April, 24, 2000), or for the 255 people groups in the world that no one has even planned yet to pursue with the love of the gospel of Jesus (Joshua Project - www.ad2000.org/peoples).
Trusting Jesus to Be All-Powerful and Personally with Us
If Jesus is not all-powerful and not personally with us to the end, and if we don't trust him to be that for us, we will simply ignore the needs of others and live for our own private comfort. Let me give you two examples, and invite you to trust him in this way:
World Magazine last week reported that three children were killed in Bosnia when they wandered into a minefield. One of them, an 11-year-old girl, called for help for hours before she died, but no one would go into the minefield to help her. What would you have done? What would I have done? Could it be that this is why Jesus told us that all authority is his - not so that people would create a theological problem out of it, but so that some follower of Jesus would lift his heart and say: "Jesus, all authority over these mines is yours, and you are with me to the end; if you will, you can keep me from stepping on a mine; and if you will, you can take me to heaven; but this I know, you call me to love that little girl; so trusting your power and your personal presence, I go." That is why Jesus tells us that all authority is his. This is the kind of love that will make many disciples (Matthew 28:19).
And then, as many of you know, Ruby Eliason and Laura Edwards died this week in Cameroon in a car accident - Ruby in her eighties and Laura in her seventies. Ruby gave all her life in medical missions among the poor. Laura, a doctor who practiced in India for many years and then here in the Cities, was giving her retirement for the bodies and the souls of the poor in Cameroon. Both died suddenly when their car went over a cliff.
Was that a tragedy? Well, in one sense all death is tragic. But consider this.
Ruby Eliason and Laura Edwards, at their age, could have been taking it easy here in retirement. Think of tens of thousands of retired people spending their lives in one aimless leisure after another - that is a tragedy. The fact that Jesus Christ took authority to make Ruby Eliason and Laura Edwards valiant for love and truth among the poor and lost and diseased of Cameroon when most Americans are playing their way into eternity - that is not tragedy. And that he took them suddenly to heaven in their old age in the very moment of their love and service and sacrifice, and without long, drawn-out illnesses and without protracted and oppressive feelings of uselessness - that is not a tragedy. Rather, I say, "Give me that death, O Jesus Christ, Lord of the universe, give me that life and that ministry and that death!"
This is why Jesus came. This is why he was crucified. This is why he rose from the dead with all authority and promised to be with us to the end of the age - to create a people whose sins are forgiven, and whose hearts are full of the love of God, and who are so emboldened by the triumphant Christ, that they spend their lives with risk and sacrifice and love to help others know and enjoy the greatness of Christ forever and ever.
Is this not what you were made for? Is there not something in your own soul that witnesses to you that this is true and worthy of full acceptance?