“The First”
Matthew 28:1-10

Over the last week, through our sharing in devotional lunches and worship, we’ve been focusing on the people around Jesus in his final days. On Monday we looked at the Pharisees and their fight to hold onto the positions of power. On Tuesday we looked at Judas and his inability to receive the love of Christ, which in turn led to his betrayal. On Wednesday we looked at Peter and his denial of Jesus. On Thursday we looked at Pontius Pilate and his decision between doing what is right and protecting his position of power within the Roman Empire. On Friday we looked at the Roman Centurion and his response to the crucified Jesus on the cross, and the praise he offers. This morning at our sunrise service we looked at John, the disciple whom Jesus loved.

There are many stories in the people who were around Jesus in his final days. Acts of greed and pride. Acts of betrayal. Acts of denial. Acts of wonder and amazement. And acts of belief.

In our reading this morning, we hear of the experiences of two more women. The two Mary’s who have come to the tomb first on this Easter morning: Mary Magdalene and Mary wife of Clopas, two of the three Mary’s who were at the cross. The third Mary, who is missing in this story, is the mother of Jesus. It’s no surprise she has not come to the tomb with the others as she would be mourning herself, letting others come to anoint the body with oils.

Imagine their experience as they approached the tomb. Walking down the path when suddenly an earthquake shook the ground. Then an angel descended and rolled the stone away from the mouth of the tomb. The soldiers, we’re told, shook and became like death. They passed out! Fainted! They were scared by what they saw. But the women… they just stopped. The angel comforted them, “Do not be afraid; I know you are looking for Jesus who was crucified.”

With the angel, the women enter the tomb to see that Jesus is no longer there, and the angel gives them a message to share with the other disciples. “He has been raised from the dead, and indeed he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him.”

Imagine how these women felt. Here they have come expecting to anoint a body with fragrant oils, the body they saw crucified just a couple of days ago, they lifeless body they saw lowered from the cross and laid in this very tomb. Yet now the stone has been rolled back and the angel delivers them this message.

The women start running back to tell the others, and on their way Jesus meets them, with what almost sounds like a “Hey there!” The women do what I can only suppose any one of us would do. They fell at his feet and worshipped him. Everything he has ever said would happen, it happened! He said he would die, and he did! He said he would rise again on the third day, and he did! These women are the first to witness the risen Christ, the man who did just what he said he would do. If these things are true, then everything else he has ever said has to be true as well. He must be the Son of God. There is no other explanation.

When we look at the Gospels, each has their own little differences about how these events played out. Different people came. Different circumstances when they saw the empty tomb. Different interactions with each other and those who might be around the tomb this morning. To me the little differences are fine, because this is what matters, the only thing that matters… are you listening carefully?

It’s empty.

The tomb is empty! Jesus is not there!

There’s the whole debate, and it seems to happen every year around now, did this really happen? Did Jesus really exist? If he did, then did he really rise from the grave?

It’s easy for people to say, “Well it’s only in the Bible, so there has to be some doubt about it’s truth because it was written by people trying to further their agenda.”

But people who say this are wrong. Jesus is mentioned in other writings from the time. The death of Jesus is mentioned by other writers. Jewish writers of the day agree the tomb was empty. Many of them suggest other means to explain its disappearance. Josephus wrote the most famous Jewish account of the day when he said, “His disciples… reported that he had appeared to them three days after his crucifixion, and that he was alive; accordingly, he was perhaps the Messiah.”

So, there should be little doubt that Jesus existed. There are a number of reliable sources that indicate he lived and walked the earth. And based on the fact they felt need to name this wanderer, indicates he was doing something worth noting.

However, I think the greatest proof that Jesus lived, died and rose from the dead is something we witness each and every day…

We are here.

The fact the Christian church exists today is all the proof I need to tell me that these events are not just a story, but are historical fact!

If Jesus did not rise from the grave, then why would the disciples go through all the trouble they went through? Why would they risk their lives for someone who was just a regular guy? It would not have been worth it at all to face persecution and death at every turn telling lies about someone who died. If this were you, would you have gone through with such a plan? It’s ridiculous!

The disciples were filled with understanding and more importantly the Spirit of God after Jesus returned to heaven to be with the Father. If Jesus did not rise from the dead, there would be a room in Galilee with 11 skeletons in it, because that’s where they went to hide while they waited for him.

There would not be a church if Jesus did not rise from the dead. The disciples would not have gone out and preached with the zeal and passion they had if Jesus had not risen from the grave, because their hearts would have been too broken.

Think about it. Think about how the disciples changed from before his death to how they became after. How before they were doubters, they asked lots of questions, they never seemed to fully understand what Jesus was telling them, they hid. But after… after they had all the answers. They fully understood. There was no more doubt in their minds. They were boldly going out into the streets and telling the good news of Jesus Christ.

My friends, Christ has died. Christ has risen. Christ will come again.

Jesus drastically changed the lives of the disciples, and many, many other people while he walked the earth. He continues to change lives today as people come to believe in him and make homes in their hearts for his love and his grace.

Are you one of them? Do you understand what Christ has done this weekend?

On Friday, Christ took all of our sins upon himself, and he died.

On Easter morning, Jesus overcame death, he overcame the sins of the world and he lives and reigns with the Father in heaven! Without death, there can be no resurrection. For those who believe, the cross means sin is no more! The empty tomb means death is no more! Do you believe?

Jesus changes lives. He changed those he healed and taught. He changed the disciples. He’s changed many people all over the world. He’s changed me. Has he changed you?

On this Easter morning, what is this celebration? It is celebrating spring? Is it celebrating the increasing number of gifts given this day? Is it celebrating some little mammal with floppy ears? Is it celebrating something we did?

Or is it celebrating the new life we have because of the sacrifice Jesus made for us on the cross, and the victory he won for us in the resurrection?

The victory of Jesus Christ is offered to us as well. There is no trick. It happened. It continues to happen because the love of God knows no bounds and he continues to offer it to those who believe in him, and come to know Jesus Christ his son.

Mary Magdalene and Mary, wife of Clopus, were the first to see the empty tomb. In their joy as they remember what this means, they were also the first to share the good news with others. And it spread. And it continues to spread as we too are entrusted with the news of the resurrected Christ on this glorious morning.

We may not get to be the first, be let us not be the last to share the Good News of Jesus Christ with the world. Starting on this joyous day!