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A Sermon on Matthew 28:1-20 by Bill Baldwin

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Hear now the reading of the word of God.

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. 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. His countenance was like lightning, and his clothing as white as snow. And the guards shook for fear of him, and became like dead men. But the angel answered and said to the women, "Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for He is risen, as He said. Come, see the place where the Lord lay. 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." So they went out quickly from the tomb with fear and great joy, and ran to bring His disciples word. And as they went to tell His disciples, behold, Jesus met them, saying, "Rejoice!" So they came and held Him by the feet and worshiped Him. Then Jesus said to them, "Do not be afraid. Go and tell My brethren to go to Galilee, and there they will see Me."

Now while they were going, behold, some of the guard came into the city and reported to the chief priests all the things that had happened. When they had assembled with the elders and consulted together, they gave a large sum of money to the soldiers, saying, "Tell them, 'His disciples came at night and stole Him away while we slept.' And if this comes to the governor's ears, we will appease him and make you secure." So they took the money and did as they were instructed; and this saying is commonly reported among the Jews until this day.

Then the eleven disciples went away into Galilee, to the mountain which Jesus had appointed for them. When they saw Him, they worshiped Him; but some doubted. And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, "All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age." Amen. (Matthew 28:1-20)

Amen. The grass withers and the flower fades, but the word of our God stands forever.

When Adam and his wife heard the sound of the Lord coming as the spirit of judgment day in the garden, they hid for fear. But the curse that came upon them was not the curse in its final form: they survived. That is to say, God did not come and immediately put them in the torments of hell, judging them with eternal wrath—He did not deal with them entirely as their sin deserved. And in the middle of a curse that ended with the grim pronouncement of death, God smuggled in the Gospel of Life. He promised that the serpent should not have the victory, but a child born of a woman—born according to this and many yet unspoken promises—would crush the serpent’s head and regain paradise.

Meanwhile, death reigned. The children of faith born to Adam and Eve lived, bore children, and died. The fifth chapter of Genesis drives this point home with macabre and eerie solemnity. So-and-so lived and bore so-and-so, lived so many more years, and so he died. And so he died. And so he died. The phrase—that sad refrain—burdened the heart and weigh heavy on the soul. And so he died. The phrase—a single word in Hebrew—spoke of the suspended judgment of God; however long a man lived, at the end death got the victory. And the man went down to the dust from whence he came. He might live many years and rejoice in them all, but always he must remember the days of darkness for they would be many. And all that was coming would be futility.

And this physical death—descending to the dust—spoke of a more terrifying death: an eternal judgment of God, too frightening to contemplate, where the fire is not quenched and the worm does not die. This judgment had been suspended. But for how long? Sooner or later the uncompromising demands of God’s justice must come and take their due.

Three days prior to the events described in this chapter (Matthew 28), the justice of God had finally come due. On a terrible day that we dare to call good only because of the good that came from it, the judgment of God, so long suspended, came down upon the head of a single man, who bore the entire brunt of God’s wrath and fury on a cross. He bore it in agony in three hours before giving himself up to the final indignity of Adam’s curse: to death itself.

Thus this second Adam stood in the place of the first and bore in himself the full judgment that the first Adam had earned. His death was accompanied by great and terrible signs of the end of the age. There was darkness in the middle of the day. The earth quaked. The rocks were split. All the signs that the prophets had said marked the end of the world and the day of judgment. In Christ, judgment day was being accomplished; and the old world—the world of Adam, the whole creation of the heavens and the earth—was coming to an end. And in the middle of this, a new creation was being prepared for. A creation in which men might return to fellowship with God. In which even the dead might rise. For the veil of the temple—the symbol of man’s separation from God was torn in two and the bodies of many of the saints were raised and coming out of their graves after the resurrection; they appeared to many.

This is the story of that resurrection morning. It is the story of a new Adam coming into a creation, a new paradise, a new fellowship with God, a better creation, a better paradise, and a better fellowship than the first Adam had ever known. For the first Adam had lived in paradise and walked with God, but always with the threat of death before him if sin overcame him and he fell. But this new Adam arises into a new world with the threat of death behind him—as an enemy that he has already overcome.

This is your story. As surely as the history of the first Adam belongs to you and his guilt condemns you and his sin makes you filthy and curse of death on him is the curse of death on you, so surely, the history of this new man belongs to you who look to him in faith. His resurrection is yours. The new creation into which he arises is a kingdom of God of which you are the citizens. The fellowship of God the Father that he has entered into is your fellowship with God. And the power of the new life with which he is raised is your power, dispensed by him who sits at the right hand of Power by the very Spirit who raised him from the dead.

We enter this history on the new morning after the Sabbath, a new morning such as creation had never seen. After the Sabbath, on the first day of the week, as it began to dawn, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary come to the tomb; and who can fail to see the glorious significance of this. The first day of the week—the day on which God had commanded out of the nothingness, "Let there be light!" and there was light—so now he calls a new light into the world. The son of righteousness. Risen with healing in his wings. It is the day after the Sabbath - an entirely new creation week.

God had rested on the seventh day from the work of creation. That old creation is now defunct and passing away. A new day has dawned in Christ Jesus. He has entered the Sabbath rest of God. For Adam the Sabbath came at the end of his week after he had worked. The Sabbath represented the eternal rest of fellowship in glory with God—a fellowship and glory he was to earn. But Christ has already earned entry into this rest. And so he is glorified. And so our day comes at the beginning of this week, before we work, before we do anything. We have been brought into fellowship with God in the glory of Christ and this is the power of our new obedience.

As the chapter begins, it is just dawning toward this new week. The son of righteousness is already shedding his light abroad and is about to come up over the horizon and dazzle all his new creatures with his brilliance. There is a great earthquake: not so that the stone maybe rolled back—an angel does that—but again to use the images given in the prophets that signify the end of the world and the day of judgment.

It is judgment day for Christ. On the cross it was not his judgment day but ours—Christ taking the penalty of our sins upon himself. Now his judgment day comes and the Father, judging him to be righteous, repeals the curse of death. The angel rolls away the stone and sits on it. It will not be moved. Death has been conquered. And just as Christ on the cross took our judgment day upon himself, so he gives this, his judgment day, to us—that in him, we may be declared righteous before God.

And the guards, faced with the presence of the new life, have no life to speak of in comparison with the glory that has come. They become as dead men. The women though, have not become as though dead. And so the good news is preached to them.

Their faith has saved them. With their saviour, they have entered into this new life. And so the angel tells them not to fear. They need not fear the noise of the earthquake. They need not fear the presence of an angel of the Lord though such an angel had come in the past in judgment, destroying Sodom and Gomorrah, killing the firstborn sons of Egypt. But these two Marys have been passed over. They have survived that judgment day. The good news of Christ’s resurrection is the good news of their justification. It is the good news that their beloved with whom they had enjoyed fellowship from God was risen forevermore to bring them into that fellowship.

They go to see the place where he lay for this is no sham resurrection, a matter of spiritual significance only—whatever that should mean—but it is a resurrection of his very body. The real thing. An actual reversal of the curse upon Adam who went down to the dust. So Jesus literally and truly, historically and forever, is brought up out of the dust into life eternal.

On their way to Galilee to tell the disciples, with great joy they meet Jesus. And he greets them, in the New King James translation, "Rejoice!" There is a pun here that is impossible in English. In Greek, when you want to say "hello," you use this word, "rejoice." It has been used for so many years that by now it means nothing; it is just a "Hi. How are you?" Yet Jesus dusts this old word off and gives it new bounce. From the smallest thing to the greatest, he is making all things new. And when he says it in such a context, your translation is exactly right. It means more than hello. It means "Rejoice!" as it had meant at the beginning.

"Shake off your fears and delight before the Father revealed in my glorious presence," Jesus is saying. And so they worship at his feet. Again to drive the point home that this is a bodily resurrection, they lay hold of his very feet—and in the feet of the man Christ Jesus, they find the presence of the eternal God. What sweeter picture could we ask for—that those who were far off have now been brought near.

When Adam and Eve heard the sound of the Lord, they ran to hide. When these women see their Lord, they run to greet him. They have no fear. They have been saved. They may come to him. They may even lay hold of him. They may worship him and not be rejected. They may receive all things from him and not be judged.

Their judgment is over. The one whom we could not approach lest we die, we now run to greet as the author of life.

There is a brief interlude in this story at this point to show us how the evidence of the resurrection of Christ affects the wicked. They have seen the same things that the women have seen—except of course for what happened while they were laying as though dead. They are confronted by the evidence of the resurrection of Christ and the words of Christ are about to come true when he said, "Even though someone comes to them from the dead, they will not believe."

If they do not believe this evidence, how will you and I persuade men simply by presenting evidence to them. This is the most powerful evidence for the claims of Christ there is and they are eyewitnesses of it. No, it is not merely that they need the facts—they need the power of this resurrection and they don’t have it. Seeing they see and do not perceive. Hearing they hear and do not understand. And so they do not turn and their sins are not forgiven. Even as the women are running to tell the disciples of the good news, these Roman soldiers are running to tell the chief priests and the elders of the bad news.

And it is the same news. Christ has been raised form the dead. Bad news to the children of Satan—that the one whom they hate has conquered their master, the devil. The death knell of their world, which they love, has been sounded in the inauguration of a new heavens and a new earth in the body of Christ.

The evidence does not persuade them to switch allegiance, but only to hate it and to seek to deceive. Their foolish hearts are darkened. They never stop and ask themselves, "What really happened here?" They don’t care. Their concern is to construct a plausible lie. They do not stop for an instant to say, "If he did arise, what does that mean?" They know in their hearts that it means death. Death for them and their world and their way of life. Death and judgment. Only those who trust in Christ and worship at his feet will have a part in the new creation. But they prefer the world that is passing away.

For a sum of money, they spread this lie. And rather than taking their assurance of protection from Christ, they take it from the chief priests and the elders, who say, "If you get in trouble with the governor, we will make it right with him." They love this world and can’t stand the thought that the new one has come.

Meanwhile in Galilee, the eleven disciples meet their saviour. And they worship him, but some doubt—for this is a strange event. If the resurrection of the dead has taken place, then why are not all raised? If judgment day is over, then where is the eternal kingdom? They cannot see it and must receive the assurance that, nevertheless, it has been established. They thought from everything that they had read and heard that the resurrection and the judgment were the last events in history followed by the establishment of that kingdom. And they were right!

But the old creation is to limp along a little longer, while they believe that the new creation is already here and walk by faith. They must not doubt though their mortal eyes cannot apprehend this new creation. By faith they must participate in it. They must live in the faith that the curse has already been repealed. That death itself has already been conquered. That though they go down to the grave - that this means nothing.

But they shall be raised again in glory - like they’re saviour. And their eyes shall see him and not another. Even as their outward man - which still partakes of the old world - is passing away, they must understand that the inner man now partakes of the glory and the power of the resurrected Christ. And is being renewed daily in this new creation. And one day, though their outward man has gone down to the dust, yet he shall come up again as well. Christ is the firstfruits of that great harvest.

So Jesus gives them an assurance, though he does not appear in the eyes of the world as a king, yet all authority, all power—in heaven and on earth—has been given to him. Though they do not see him sitting on his judgment throne condemning those who crucified him—though they do not see him with a visible crown or a visible kingdom—still he tells them, "I have all authority and power. My reign begins now. My kingdom is here."

This resurrection power in which he was raised is to be the basis of their existence until the end of this age of faith and the ushering in of the endless age of sight. And so he gives them the commission and a promise. In this authority he tells them, "Go and make disciples."

Just as Adam was given dominion over the first creation - to fill the earth and subdue it—so this second Adam has been given all authority over everything, both new and old. And he will exercise this dominion by calling his people out of the old and dying world into the new life—which is forever. A new and more glorious dominion covenant has been made in the resurrection of our saviour—and the disciples are to participate in this dominion in his power. They are to participate by being his instruments to call out of darkness into light those who are suffering in this old creation that is passing away.

They are called to participate in this power by living their lives by faith in Christ and going to others to so live their lives. His life must be their life. His death to sin must belong to them. And his rising again in power must be their power of a new life. This is signified and sealed in baptism. And so they must baptize these disciples.

This baptism will be an entry, Paul tells us, into the mystery of Christ’s death and resurrection. As he died to sin on the cross, so they appropriate that experience by appropriating their baptism in faith. As he rose again to righteousness, so they rise again to the power of a new life. They have put old things behind them. Their whole universe has become new.

You who have been made disciples of Christ participate in this as well in your baptism and in the command to go out and find more disciples—that you should participate in the power of Christ and in his dominion, which is not like any earthly dominion in outward pomp and ceremony, but is a dominion of unthinkable power: to raise the dead; to convert the hearts of men. This is what it means to be baptized. To participate in this mystery. To be united with Christ so that what is true of him is true of you. To commit yourself to him. To be united with him in his sufferings even unto death. And so surely, to commit yourself to him, to be united with him in his resurrection to glory.

Having baptized them, Christ says, "You must teach them to observe all that I have commanded you." Do not be afraid little children. You are not being suddenly pulled back into a covenant of works as though you must observe these commandments in your own power and thus earn favour—the resurrection has come first. All authority has already been given to your saviour. The power is yours that you may reign with him, as Christ reigns, conquering sin and calling the citizens of this dying world out of it into a glorious new creation. Therefore, his commandments are not burdensome.

Indeed, these commandments begin with faith. And work themselves out in love. "This is the commandment," John says, "that we should believe in the name of His son Jesus Christ and love one another just as he has commanded us." Again, John says, "for the love of God is this: that we obey his commandments."

And his commandments are not burdensome - for whatever is born of God conquers the world. And if Christ is born into a new life at the resurrection, so you are born into a new life by faith in that resurrection - and in that resurrected Christ. And so, you have conquered the world in him. This is the victory that conquers the world: our faith. Who is it that conquers the world but the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God.

Beloved, let us take the power of this resurrection to love one another as brothers of Christ and fellow heirs of the kingdom. Let us take this power of the resurrection, as Paul says, "to count ourselves dead to sin and alive to God" - to stop rendering the members of our bodies as instruments of unrighteousness.

What do we have to do with sin? We’ve been resurrected from it - having died to it. We’ve been raised with Christ in baptism. To the power of this new life! Let us walk in the power of this new life, finding our story in the story of Christ—that we may receive this final assurance from him: that indeed, he is with us always. Even until the end of the age!


The Blue Letter Bible ministry and the BLB Institute hold to the historical, conservative Christian faith, which includes a firm belief in the inerrancy of Scripture. Since the text and audio content provided by BLB represent a range of evangelical traditions, all of the ideas and principles conveyed in the resource materials are not necessarily affirmed, in total, by this ministry.


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