170416 Matthew 28:1-10

Last Updated on Sunday, 16 April 2017 Written by Pastor Pagels

Text: Matthew 28:1-10
Theme: The Greatest Sermon Ever Written

What do Joe Namath, President George Bush the elder and I have in common? Besides the fact that we are all males, besides the fact that we have all played sports, each one of us has made bold predictions about the future.

Three days before the 1969 Super Bowl, New York Jets quarterback Joe Namath appeared before the Miami Touchdown Club. He tossed a few footballs into the audience, made a few jokes and then announced: "The Jets will win on Sunday, I guarantee it."

Such a pronouncement was almost without precedent in American sports, especially because the Jets were 23 point underdogs. But as they say, that's why they play the game, and in one of the greatest upsets in football history Joe Namath's Jets defeated the Baltimore Colts 16-7 to win Super Bowl III.

During the 1988 presidential campaign, George Bush promised that, if elected, he would not support a tax increase. Some of you may even remember his now infamous pledge: "Read My Lips. No New Taxes." Bush won the election, but he later accepted tax increases to push a deficit-cutting budget deal through Congress, at the time controlled by the Democrats. This change in policy was used against him in his re-election bid, and some believe it was the reason he lost to Bill Clinton in 1992.

There is a chance you did a double take when you looked at the service folder or up on the screen and saw the sermon theme for today. I will admit that it is a pretty bold claim, but I stand by it. Just like Joe Namath, I guarantee that my prediction will come true. But unlike George Bush, I promise that I will not go back on my word. Not because I've been working on this sermon for weeks and weeks. Not because I think a little too much of myself either. I stand by this statement because the sermon I am referring to didn't originate with me.

When the women approached the tomb on Easter morning and saw that it had already been opened, they were confused. "What happened to Jesus? Where did he go? Who took him?" And so God sent an angel to explain what had happened: "He is not here; he has risen, just as he said" (6).

That declaration, spoken by the angel and recorded by Matthew, was the first ever public proclamation of Jesus' resurrection from the dead. And as such it rightfully deserves to be called...

THE GREATEST SERMON EVER WRITTEN

A good preacher is able to get his message across before he even says a word. This is called non-verbal communication. Communication experts suggest that as much as 90% of communication is non-verbal. It's not that the spoken word is unimportant, but people tend to remember more of what they see than what they hear.

The listeners ask themselves: "Is this preacher dynamic, or does he look as stiff as a board? Does he scowl when he preaches the law? Does he yawn when he shares the gospel?" All of these things communicate. All of these signals send a message. And that is why non-verbal communication is so important.

The greatest sermon ever written was accompanied by some powerful non-verbal messages. This is the first: "There was a violent earthquake, for an angel of the Lord came down from heaven and, going to the tomb, rolled back the stone and sat on it" (2).

I don't know how common earthquakes were in ancient Israel, but I'm guessing that two earthquakes in three days was out of the ordinary. On Good Friday "the earth shook and the rocks split (27:51)" when Jesus died. The Easter morning earthquake was caused by something very different. An angel caused the earth to shake violently when he rolled the stone away from the entrance to Jesus' tomb.

Before the angel spoke a word, his appearance sent a powerful message to everyone who saw him: "His appearance was like lightning, and his clothes were white as snow" (3). This angel was one of God's holy messengers. He didn't blend into the crowd. He was impossible to miss. And that was by God's design. When the angel appeared, people took notice. When the angel spoke, people listened.

But before the angel opened his mouth, we come across another powerful non-verbal message: "The guards were so afraid of him that they shook and became like dead men" (4). I wonder what the guards stationed at Jesus' tomb were expecting to see as they stood at their post. Maybe a few followers stopping to pay their respects. Maybe a few troublemakers trying to steal the body. But they could have never anticipated anything like this. When they came into contact with the angel, when these well-trained, well-equipped warriors stood face-to-face with the holiness of God, they were literally shaking in their boots.

Before we get to the sermon itself, there is one more piece of non-verbal communication that needs to be mentioned: the open, empty tomb. There was a burial platform in the tomb, but there was no body. There were strips of burial linen folded neatly in the tomb, but there was no body. Jesus had been laid to rest in the tomb on Friday, but he was nowhere to be found on Sunday.

Can you think of a more powerful illustration? Can you imagine a more effective visual aid? With non-verbal communication like that, it's a wonder that the angel had to speak at all. But he did. He needed to help the women because they were confused. He needed to explain to them what had happened. And I believe that his brief explanation is the greatest sermon ever written: "He is not here; he has risen, just as he said" (6).

Let's take a look at those three short statements one at a time. When the angel told the women, "He is not here," he was confirming what their eyes could not believe. Remember what the women were expecting to do on Easter morning. All they wanted to do was give Jesus a proper burial. Their biggest concern up to this point was the stone that blocked access to his body.

But when the women got to the tomb, the boulder had been moved and the body was gone. They didn't know what to think. They didn't know who to believe. They had all sorts of questions. and so very clearly and calmly, the angel provided them with answers.

When the angel told the women, "he has risen," he was explaining to them what their minds could not conceive. There had to be some logical explanation. Dead bodies don't just disappear. Dead bodies don't just get up and walk away.

But then again, water just doesn't turn into wine...and storms just don't stop...and five loaves of bread and two fish don't normally feed five thousand...and blind people aren't supposed to be able to see. Maybe it took a while for the angel's words to sink in, maybe the women didn't want to get their hopes up too soon, but maybe the angel was right. Maybe he had risen. Maybe Jesus was alive.

When the angel told the women, "just as he said," he was reminding them why they had no reason to grieve. Jesus had predicted everything that had happened before it happened. He laid everything out in advance for his disciples in great detail:

"We are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be betrayed to the chief priests and the teachers of the law. They will condemn him to death and will turn him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified. On the third day he will be raised to life" (Matthew 20:18,19)!

When he was arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane, when he was on trial before the Sanhedrin, when he was flogged by the Roman soldiers, even when he was nailed to the cross and laid in the tomb, Jesus was always in control. He allowed everything to happen. He orchestrated everything so that it would happen "just as he said."

The women came to the tomb early on Easter morning to anoint Jesus' body, but instead they heard the first Easter sermon. Even though thousands and thousands of wonderful, powerful meaningful Easter sermons have been preached since then, a better sermon has never been written. In just a few words, the angel confirms what our eyes cannot believe, he explains what our minds cannot conceive, and he reminds us why we have no reason to grieve. "He is not here; he has risen, just as he said" (6).

What makes a good sermon even better is when it connects with the listener, when the person in the pew is able to apply the Word to his/her life. What makes "The Greatest Sermon Ever Written" even greater is that it has so many applications for our lives today.

First, Jesus' resurrection proves that he is nothing less than 100% true God. "He was declared with power to be the Son of God by his resurrection from the dead" (Romans 1:4). It is no great accomplishment to die. Unless the Lord comes back first, every one of us here expects to die. But only God can rise from the dead. Only God has power over death itself. Isn't it comforting to know that a God this powerful is on your side? Isn't it wonderful to know that a God this powerful loves you with all his heart?

Jesus' resurrection also puts the exclamation point on Jesus' words from the cross: "It is finished" (John 19:30). Paul put it this way: "He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification" (Romans 4:25). Jesus died on the cross to save us from our sins, but all that work, all that pain and suffering would have been meaningless without the resurrection. If Christ has not been raised our faith is futile. If Christ has not been raised, we are wasting our time. If Christ has not been raised, we have no hope. But Jesus has risen from the dead, and Jesus' unsealed tomb is the seal of our salvation.

Finally, Jesus' resurrection gives us hope for a resurrection of our own. Just before he raised her brother Lazarus from the dead, Jesus said to Martha: "I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die" (John 11:25, 26).

The empty tomb of Easter is not the end of the Easter story. It is only the beginning. There will be many more empty graves, your grave, my grave. And don't forget your loved ones who have died in the Lord. On the Last Day, Jesus will come back. He will raise our dead bodies back to life. And our Lord will take us to the places he has prepared for us in heaven.

Even if you have been taking notes this morning, even if you have been hanging on my every word, chances are that you will eventually forget this sermon. And that's okay. The "Greatest Sermon Ever Written" has nothing to do with my weak attempts to share the wonders of God.

What I do not want you to forget, what I want you to take home with you today, what I want you to remember every day is the angel's message, spoken to the women, recorded for us. This is the message of Easter. This is the foundation of our faith. This is the reason we celebrate today: "He is not here; he has risen, just as he said."

Alleluia! Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia! Amen.

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