Four Truths – Scripture [Matthew 28:1-10]
Do any of you recall an old TV game show titled, “Truth or Consequences”? the premise of the game was that a contestant was asked to answer a bizarre, or unanswerable question within a very short, unreasonable response time. Failing to answer in the required time meant that the contestant had to perform some weird or wacky stunt. So, finding the “Truth” was not really the object of the game; getting the contestants involved in the zany stunts was the objective of the game. Truth can be difficult to come by. Finding the truth in advertising has become a real challenge. The claims and promises that everything from toothpaste and deodorant to dishwashers and automobiles are typically exaggerations to the greatest degree! Yes, TRUTH, in this day and age of the 24/7 news cycle with multiple TV channels devoted entirely to covering the news, it is STILL getting more and more difficult to find the truth. It seems that each “source” of news has its own agenda to promote in the way that the news is presented and reported.
And in thinking about Easter, I can’t help but feel that Easter has become something of a victim of truthfulness in this day and age. What helped drive this idea home for me was when I looked at the various store fliers that come with the Sunday paper. Easter has long been a big candy holiday, right after to Halloween, just ahead of Christmas and Valentine’s Day! But based upon those department store fliers, Easter seems to be all about bunnies, eggs, flowers, and colorful clothes! I’m not sure I know how to make a connection to any or all of those things and the resurrection of Jesus the Christ! So even though sometimes truth can be confused or clouded, we know the best source of full, real, truth: the Bible! The Bible reveals God’s truth: Jesus told us that He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life; and the truth IS that Christ IS RISEN! (Christ is risen indeed!)
Now in each of the four gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, the resurrection story of Jesus is told but it is told a little bit differently. But there are two common themes that are consistent in all four gospels: in each instance it was women who were first to go to the empty tomb and learn of the resurrection of Jesus, and in each instance, there were angels waiting at the tomb to tell them the Good News.
Today, in Matthew’s gospel, it was Mary, the mother of James and John, and Mary Magdalene who made their way at sunrise, to complete the painful task of embalming Jesus’ body for burial. On Good Friday, the burial took place hurriedly because the Sabbath was about to begin at dusk, so these faithful women took it upon themselves to finish the job at the first light of Sunday morning.
When they arrived, they discovered that there had been an earthquake overnight, and at the same time, an angel of the Lord came and rolled the stone away from the opening of the grave. Apparently, those events were so shocking – so astonishing – that the Roman soldiers who had been assigned to guard the grave fainted from fear! In fact, they were still knocked out when the women arrived. And sitting on the stone that he had rolled away was this angel, dressed in dazzling white, and he began speaking to Mary and Mary. Four truths, he spoke to them. Four truths that would change the course of human history. Four truths that have echoed down the corridors of time, and now come to us, on Easter Sunday 2017.
The First Truth is this: “Do not be afraid”. Have you ever noticed in reading the New Testament that, every time angels show up, they use the same opening line? “Don’t be afraid!” Think about it.
• The way Mary finds out she is pregnant with the baby Jesus is when the angel arrives and says “Mary, don’t be afraid; you will conceive and bear a son and his name shall be ‘Jesus.’” It seems that angelic visits must have been more common in those days! And yet, Mary was “greatly troubled” by the angels visit and his words. Oh, if she would only have known what the future held for her and her unborn Son. But the angel said: “don’t be afraid”.
• When Joseph finds out that his fiancé is pregnant, Gabriel comes and said “Joseph, don’t be afraid to take Mary as your wife.” When Joseph learned of Mary’s pregnancy, it must have been like a punch in the stomach. “How could this happen?” “What should I do?” The angel simply said:”don’t be afraid to take Mary as your wife.
• When the angels scare the stuffing out of the shepherds in the field, the angel announces “Don’t be afraid, for I bring you good news of great joy which shall be for all the people, for a savior has been born for you.” If angelic visits were more common then than now, they apparently were not a common occurrence for shepherds! The scripture says they were “terrified”! Again the angelic message was, “don’t be afraid” — you shepherds are the first to hear this Good News!
• And now, after grieving Jesus’ death, and waking up to hopelessness, these women are told an amazing truth: “Don’t be afraid.” Wow! After all these women had seen and experienced, this was still a very unsettling even! But once more the angel’s message was clear: “don’t be afraid”.
[The angel said, “Do not be afraid”]
What if God were to bring that message to you today? Don’t be afraid. You may have lost your job, or you may have lost your spouse, or you may have lost your house, or you may have lost your hope; and in the midst of this dark chapter of your life, God assures you that you are not alone in the darkest days of our lives. Don’t be afraid in the darkness. Like Mary, Joseph, and the shepherds, we all experience situations in our lives when fear can overwhelm us. But God keeps inviting us; don’t be afraid! If we hear that message often enough in our lives, someday we will begin to believe that it is true. Don’t be afraid, God is with you. Don’t be afraid, fear does not have the final word. Don’t be afraid, the angel said to Mary and Joseph, to Mary Magdalene and the shepherds, and God continues to say it to you and to me. Don’t be afraid.
The Second Truth spoken on that Easter day grows out of the first. “Don’t be afraid because Jesus has risen from the dead.” They watched him die on the cross two days earlier; they saw the spear pierce his side, and the water and the blood pour forth. They witnessed Nicodemus and Joseph place the body in a cold, dark cave. But now the angel gives the women the best reason for not being afraid; because Jesus was alive. He said he’d do it. He told his friends and his enemies alike “Tear down this temple and it will be rebuilt in three days.” They thought Jesus was speaking of the synagogue; who knew Jesus was speaking about his body? And if he was right about the resurrection, then what other truths did he tell us? That we might be forgiven for our sins? That we might die a physical death but that we would also have a resurrection? That we would one day be reunited with loved ones and spend eternity dancing in heaven? I don’t know if the two Marys were able to grasp all of these implications at that moment in time, but this much they believed at that very moment: the man they watched die on Friday was dead no more. And that is the mother of all truths for every Christian since that first Easter Day. Jesus is alive, and so are we!
The Third Truth the angel told them included a bit of tangible proof: “come and see where he was lying”. He wasn’t there. The grave clothes were there; the linen that wrapped his bloody head was neatly lying in the corner. But the body of Jesus was nowhere to be seen. For some through the ages, these grave clothes were not proof enough; they needed physical evidence. You remember “Doubting” Thomas, who, when told of Jesus’ resurrection, said “Unless I see him alive, unless I can put my fingers in the nail holes of his hands, I will not believe.” Maybe that describes you. Maybe you need more. Ancient writings won’t do it for you. You have to have evidence. Well, you’re in good company; millions of people have struggled with faith because they could not believe what they could not see. But the truth is that faith is really all about believing what you cannot see. The unshakable truth is that the impact of the risen, living, Christ can be seen in many a person’s life! Perhaps your life is one of them.
And for the Fourth Truth, the angel says this: “Go and tell.” You see, once we hear truth, we are compelled to tell what we know to be true. In the case of Mary and Mary, they sprinted back to tell the disciples everything that they had seen and heard, so that others would know that Jesus was alive. And for 20 centuries, this has been the primary role of the church; to tell the world that there is hope because of Jesus. If we only share this story within the walls of the church, outsiders will never know this truth. But if we leave this place today and if we share the story – in what we say and in the way we live our lives – people will come to believe what you already know to be true. That Jesus has brought forgiveness for our sins and with that, the promise of eternal life.
Of course there is the overarching truth that God, in Jesus the Christ, has defeated death! He has been raised from the dead! Jesus suffered and died to pay the price for your sin and for my sin! But that’s not the end of the story! Jesus has been resurrected! He will never again experience the pain, the suffering and the separation of physical death! And He promises to all those of us who will place our complete faith and trust in His death as payment for our sin, that we can also look forward to our own resurrection! Christ is risen! (Christ is risen indeed!) Praise God! Amen and amen!