November 14, 2013

Scripture and Commentary, Friday after the Twenty-fourth Sunday after Trinity

Commentary, Matthew 28:11-20

It is Sunday morning, the Jewish Sabbath is over.  It is probably still dark when Mary Magdalene and the other Mary leave for the cemetery to clean and prepare the body of Jesus for the customary burial.  They are concerned about the stone that seals the tomb, yet they press on, arriving at the tomb a little before sunrise.  They think Jesus is dead, but this Man of Miracles has more miracles to work.  As they approach the tomb, the angel of the Lord descends from Heaven.  His appearance has a three-fold effect.  First he causes and earthquake which rolls the stone away from the sepulcher.  Second, the battle-hardened soldiers are frightened to the point of fainting.  They will not stop the women from entering the tomb now.  Third, the women are frightened. But not as weak as the soldiers, they neither faint nor flee.  Now the angel addresses the women.  His words make it clear that the women do not believe Jesus has risen from the dead.  “I know ye seek Jesus, which was crucified.  He is not here: for He is risen, as He said.” He now invites the women to see the tomb, where a second angel appears and both repeat this most singular and important announcement, “He is not here, but is risen” (see Luke 24:6).

These women are shocked and amazed.  Three days ago they saw their loved one tortured to death.  They had believed in Him as the Messiah.  They didn’t understand very much of what He said, but they saw His works and they believed in Him.  When He died, their faith died with Him, but not their love.  They still grieve over their loss, and they still perform their customary duties for Him.  It is love that leads them to do this.  Now an angel appears to them.  He must have been an apparition of great power, for the soldiers, who could fight and kill and conquer in hand to hand combat, faint dead away.  This is yet another shock to these grieving women.  No wonder his first words to them are, “Fear not” (Mt. 28:5).

Note what the women see.  They see the soldiers standing guard, and they see them fall to the ground in fear.  They see the earth quake.  They see the stone roll away from the tomb.  They see the angel descend.  They see another angel in the tomb.  They see that the body of Christ is gone.

Note what they do not see.  They do not see Jesus.  They do not see Him in the tomb, nor do they see Him leave the tomb after the stone is rolled away.  Why?  Because Jesus is already risen when they arrive.  He rose from the dead and left the tomb alive before the stone was rolled away.  He did not need to stone moved to get out of the tomb.  He passed through the stone walls as easily as He stilled the storm and walked on water before His crucifixion.  He did not need man or angel to get Him out of the tomb.  He spoke truly when He said to His disciples, “I lay down my life, that I may take it up again. No man taketh it from me, but I lay it down of myself.  I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again” (John 10:17 and 18).  Why, then, is the stone rolled away while they look on in fear?  To let the women, and later, the disciples, see into the tomb.  To let them see that Christ is not there, not dead, not finished.  He is alive.

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