“CHALLENGES OF AN EARLY MORNING” (Matthew 28:1-7)
An Easter Sunday Message by Semi-Retired Pastor Jeremy Stopford
Originally preached April 12, 1998 (really!)
Beaver Meadow (NY) Christian Church
OUR TEXT: Matthew 28:1-7
1 Now after the Sabbath, as the first day of the week began to dawn,
Mary Magdalene and the other Mary came to see the tomb.
2 And behold, there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven, and came and rolled back the stone from the door, and sat on it.
3 His countenance was like lightning, and his clothing as white as snow.
4 And the guards shook for fear of him, and became like dead men.
5 But the angel answered and said to the women, “Do not be afraid,
for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified.
6 He is not here; for He is risen, as He said. Come, see the place where the Lord lay.
7 And go quickly and tell His disciples that He is risen from the dead, and indeed He is going before you into Galilee; there you will see Him. Behold, I have told you.”
How many of you are MORNING people? You know who you are – you just love to get up as early as possible. You function best in the early part of the day. You’re the kind that when all your friends are just getting with it, you say, “I’ve got 8 hours of work done already!”. Then there are the NIGHT people! Are you one of those? You are the kind that think nothing of staying up well past midnight, sleep for 8 hours (or longer), and then start all over again.
The story of the Savior’s Resurrection Day is a morning person type of story. Matthew initially looks at the resurrection through the eyes of two people. No doubt, THEY are morning people! (My 20th century guess is that all people of the first century were “morning people” – what else did they have to do?). They are identified as “Mary Magdalene and the other Mary” (Matthew 28:1). We know a little about each one.
“Mary Magdalene”, or better, “Mary of Magdala” – a region in Israel – is set aside in the gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke as one “out of whom He had cast seven demons”. Who knows what horror her life “before Christ” was like!
But we DO know, according to Luke 8:2-3, that along with two ladies named “Joanna the wife of Chuza, Herod’s steward, and Susanna” (and apparently many others) “provided for Him from their substance.” Whatever funds she had in her life now were under the Lordship of Christ! (ARE OURS? Hmmm.). John’s gospel gives a wonderful picture of the poignant meeting with the risen Lord and this Mary (John 20:11ff).
The second visitor to the tomb in Matthew’s account is a woman called “the other Mary”. The gospels of Mark and Luke describe her a little more fully as “the mother of James the less and of Joses”, disciples of the Lord Jesus.
Though little is known of these ladies, it is apparent that the Lord did a GREAT CHANGE in their lives – so great, they sought to be both at the crucifixion of the Lord Jesus and as well at His graveside even days later.
There are at least four brief lessons that every seeker or follower of the Lord Jesus should learn from the lives of these two women that first Easter morn.
First, we have the need to remember the day and still walk by faith! In the gospel of Matthew we have met these two Christ followers before. Do you remember when? Go back to 27:56 where these two were among those who beheld the events of the cross “afar off”.
And after the Savior died, they also sat “over against the sepulcher (27:61). They knew exactly where the Savior’s tomb was. They would remember that day. WHAT DAY? What day of the week was it? Well, we do know that the Savior rose “on the first day of the week” (28:1). That would be on the Jewish – and our – calendar as SUNDAY.
And we do know that He said He would be in the tomb “three days and three nights”, according to the prophecy of Jonah (Matthew 12:40). So on what day of the week did the Savior die? Our problem is that we look at this through Western civilization eyes and not through Jewish eyes.
Fortunately for us, we can understand time through the words of Jonathan, Saul’s son. Look at a blurb from 1 Samuel 20:12: “When I have sounded out my father sometime tomorrow, or the third day…”. So Jonathan saw time through today (Day #1), tomorrow (Day #2) and the third day (Day #3).
Through that visual, the day of the week that the Savior died was…FRIDAY! The Lord loves to challenge His followers through the use of the expression “the day” or “this day”. “Give us this day our daily bread” (Matthew 6:11). “Sufficient unto the day is its own evil” (Matthew 6:34). “I must work His works while it is day”. (John 9:4). “Now is the accepted time; now is the day of salvation” (2 Cor. 6:2). And the favorite of many, “This is the day that the Lord has made” (Ps. 118:24). Remember the day – and walk by faith!
Second, we need to be available to see the holy among the ordinary (re-read Matthew 28:2-5). Do you have any idea how often angels appear in Scripture? An amazing 283 times! Angels surrounded our Savior – we see them in Scripture at His birth, at the time of His temptation; throughout His earthly ministry; at His death; and now at His resurrection. These girls were in on a majestic viewing, weren’t they? That reminds me of the new pastor’s visit upon a younger woman of the church. He knocked on her front door. She was expecting one of her suitors and so shouted out to him, “Is that you, ANGEL?” The quick pastor responded, “No ma’am. But I’m from the same department!” And yet, Hebrews 13:2 challenges us: “Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some have unwittingly entertained angels.” The ladies saw the holy – the angel – among the ordinary – a tomb. And so must we on a daily basis! We must have our spiritual eyes OPEN to the hand of the personal, loving God on each day! Have you put to practice the words of Psalm 119:62? “At midnight I will rise to give thanks to You, because of Your righteous judgments.” Wake up in the middle of the night and can’t sleep? You should review the day you’ve just gone through. When did the Lord show Himself in real ways, yet you simply took those ways for granted? You pray for safety on the roads before leaving the house? Do you ever THANK HIM for giving you that safety once the trip is over? We need to see the holy among the ordinary!
Third, we need to cast aside earthly fear that we may see only Jesus (Matthew 28:6). Read that passage really slowly. Besides these two, there are the guards – ROMAN guards. They are there guarding an “empty tomb”. They were to FEAR no one! Yet when the angel appeared, “the guards shook for FEAR of him, and became like dead men.” But what about the girls? The angel brings comfort by saying those royal words of heaven, “FEAR NOT”. I looked it up – do YOU have any idea how many times the expression “FEAR NOT”appears in Scripture? An unbelievable 67 TIMES! Yet you and I live in a world filled with what? FEAR! What – or better WHO – is the Answer to the fear of man? The Lord Jesus! Just as these ladies found at the empty tomb the promise of eternal hope is through the Risen Savior, even so should we. And if we have, we should be like the woman at the well (John 4). When she met Jesus, she wanted to tell EVERYONE about Jesus! We need to cast aside earthly fear that we may see only Jesus!
Finally, we need to be obedient to simple tasks that higher purposes may be realized (Matthew 28:6-7). The angel’s words were simple: He’s not here…He is risen (as He said)…Come (see for yourselves)…Go (quickly!) and tell! Did the angel say “walk 1000 miles and tell everyone you see along the way that Jesus is risen?”. No, he began with a simple task: see for yourselves that what Jesus said would happen HAS happened! As the Apostle Paul would later define the gospel, in 1 Cor. 15:1-4, Jesus was crucified, buried, and rose again the third day JUST AS HE SAID. That is the gospel, the GOOD NEWS! The angel’s simple task was to begin with those with whom they were familiar – the one’s hurting because of life. The disciples – all of whom had fled at the time of Jesus’ crucifixion – were fearful men. But now, but NOW they would soon be not only in the presence of these first eyewitnesses. They would be in the presence of their risen Savior! Yes, God through this angel gave them a simple task. The resurrected Savior gave them the power to share. And Who gets the glory? HE DOES!
Remember the day – and walk by faith!
Be available to see the holy – among the ordinary!
Cast aside earthly fear – and see Jesus!
Be obedient to your simple assignments – and see the higher purposes!
And Jesus gets the glory!