The Resurrection Reaction
The Marys' Reverent Rejoicing

On February 28th, 1991, Ruth Carpenter stepped into her boss’ office and entered every parent’s worst nightmare. Two uniformed Army officers had come to tell her that her youngest son Clayton was killed in action in the Persian Gulf. “I just fell apart,” she said. “‘He’s dead’… are the only words I remember.”

The heartbroken mother sank into the depths of sorrow as the sympathy calls and cards poured in, forcing her to realize her nightmare was real. But some time later, the phone rang once again and a familiar voice said, “Hi Mom. This is Clayton.” She froze. At first, she thought somebody was playing a cruel trick on her. “Are you sure?” She asked, “You’ve been declared dead!” The voice explained how he had been merely wounded, and that the Army had made a mistake.

Still reeling in disbelief, Ruth asked, “Then what did I call you when you were little?” The voice on the phone said, “little garbage disposal.” At that, Ruth’s tears of grief gave way to tears of inexpressible joy as the darkness of her worst day was broken by the light of her best day. Her son who was dead was alive again.

The two Marys of Matthew 28 must have felt a similar whiplash of raw emotion, only their initial anguish was not the result of a clerical error, but of a gruesome reality. These women who had followed Jesus and sponsored His ministry since its Galilean inception looked on from a distance as He was crucified. They witnessed Jesus’ mutilated body being removed from the cross and given to Joseph of Arimathea. And as Joseph hastily shrouded the corpse and laid it his tomb, the two Marys watched, as if waiting to wake up from a nightmare.

From there, they left to observe what must have been the bleakest Sabbath of their lives because they either did not believe or did not remember Jesus’ thrice-repeated prediction that He would rise from the dead three days later.

Indeed, there are many people in our communities, families, and even in our churches who have never really believed that Jesus rose from the dead. What about you? Have you written off His resurrection as a myth or fable?

Or maybe you do believe, but you do not always remember. The resurrection of Christ does not buoy your soul in the midst of trial or strengthen your heart in the face of death. Matthew’s two Marys give us the proper resurrection reaction. They show us that the risen Lord Jesus Christ is worthy of our worship and obedience. 

The Resurrection Reporter

From the band of women that followed Jesus, Matthew names two who went at first light on the first day of the week to the tomb: Mary Magdalene from whom Jesus had cast out seven demons, and “the other Mary” (Matt. 28:1). Inspecting Matthew’s context and cross-referencing the other Gospels, it is clear that this other Mary was the mother of James the son of Alphaeus. While the twelve disciples were cowering behind a locked door in an upper room for fear of the Jews, these two valiant women went to the tomb, driven by their love to Christ, to anoint His body for burial. For their courage, the Lord honored them by making them the first witnesses to what happened next. “And behold, there was a great earthquake, for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven and came and rolled back the stone and sat on it” (Matt. 28:2).

Do you know what causes natural earthquakes? Scientists think that deep underground, beneath the earth’s crust, giant rocky puzzle pieces called tectonic plates are floating upon a sea of magma. Sometimes, when these plates slide past each other their jagged edges collide and catch and cause the earth above to tremble. But the earthquake which Matthew recorded was not caused by something that happened below the earth’s crust, but something that happened above. Matthew Henry commented with sanctified imagination, “When [Jesus] died, the earth that received Him shook for fear; now that He rose, the earth that resigned Him leaped for joy in his exaltation.”

Have you ever wondered why Jesus did not roll the stone away Himself? Mighty Samson tore a lion in two, but Christ defeated death. The fresh bow strings which bound Samson melted like candle wax under his great strength, but Christ burst the chords of Sheol by the power of His indestructible life. Samson carried away the gates of Gaza, but “Christ has burst the gates of hell.” Surely, He was strong enough to break the seal and remove the stone Himself. But God entrusted the task to an angel. Why? Because angels have always attended the Lord Jesus. Angels sang at His birth. Angels ministered to Him in His wilderness temptation. An angel strengthened Him in His Gethsemanean agony. An angel rolled the stone away so that all would know that Jesus’ offering for sin on the cross was accepted by His Father. Jesus did not escape the grave as an inmate escaping from prison. His release was ordered by the divine command of God whose just wrath against sin had been satisfied by the sinless blood of his Son. “Therefore,” Paul can say in Philippians 2:9, “God has highly exalted Him.”

The angel’s “appearance was like lightning and his clothing white as snow” (Matt. 28:3). After 40 days in God’s presence on Sinai, Moses’ face shone so brightly with the Lord’s reflected glory that the people were afraid of him and veiled his face with a cloth until the heavenly luster faded. These angels who have attended the Lord in the searing splendor of His holiness since the dawn of creation shine so brightly, Matthew can only compare them to lightning which is five times hotter and 600 times brighter than the Sun. It is no wonder that when this awesome lightning appeared against the darkness of the predawn backdrop, broke the seal, and rolled the stone away, the guards fearfully trembled like the earth beneath their feet and became like dead men.

Fear is referred to four times in this passage. While the angel and the risen Christ bid the women, “do not be afraid,” no such comfort is offered to the Roman guards. Why? Because they had set themselves against the Lord and His Anointed. Because they rejected Christ in unbelief. Later that same day, they took the Jews’ bribe to say that Jesus’ body had been stolen.

The reality of Jesus’ resurrection is terrible news for those who have rejected Him in unbelief. One day, the glory of God will be revealed once more, and the trumpet of the Lord shall sound, and the risen and ascended Christ will return to judge the world in righteousness. Unless you have bowed before Him as your King and embraced Him as your Savior by grace through by faith, neither will you receive any comfort on that last day as you are judged for your sins. But the Bible says, “if we confess our sins He is just and faithful to forgive us our sins and cleanse us of all unrighteousness” (1 Jn. 1:9). If you would but repent, you need not wait until that last day for words of comfort, for they are yours now, fear not. “There is therefore now no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 8:1).

The Resurrection Report

The Marys had risen dark and early on the first day of the new week, and they set out to the tomb to anoint Jesus’ body for burial, a final act of devotion. But when they arrived at the tomb, they found that the stone had been rolled away and an angel was seated upon it. Why? This angel’s posture – seated upon the stone that had sealed Christ’s grave – was a portrait of power and victory over death. So, he said to them, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here, for He has risen, as He said. Come, see the place where He lay”(Matt. 28:5).

“Come and see” the angel said. Ours is not an implicit faith which says, “just believe.” God bids us love Him with our whole heart, soul, and mind. “Come now, let us reason together saith the Lord (Isa. 1:18).” God invites his people to rigorously investigate His truth claims found in the Bible. Have you done that? Have you looked into the resurrection of Christ? It’s one thing to accept and recite, “on the third day He rose again from the dead.” But it is another thing entirely to be so convinced of that truth that you would rather die than deny it.

Some faithless theologians say that Jesus did not really rise from the dead because he did not really die on the cross, he merely swooned only to be revived later. Is that reasonable? The Roman soldiers who crucified him were skilled in the art of death, and they had one job on that dark Friday long ago: kill Jesus. Failure to do their duty would have resulted in a forfeiture of their own lives. Jesus did not swoon; He died. And if He died, he was not merely revived; He was resurrected.

Others dismiss Jesus’ resurrection and subsequent appearances as hallucinations. Is that reasonable? Can two people experience the same hallucination? How about 12? How about 500? It was no hallucination. The disciples saw the risen Christ!

Still others say that the disciples stole Christ’s body. Is that reasonable? To prevent that very thing from happening, Pilate ordered a guard of battle-hardened warriors to secure the tomb. Who really thinks a band of fisherman could overpower Roman soldiers? And even if the disciples had stolen the body and built their religion on a lie, who would die for what they knew was a lie? Yet each of the twelve Apostles surrendered his life in execution or exile rather than surrender the claim that Christ rose.

In Paul’s inspired words is offered the only reasonable explanation: “For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures” (1Cor. 15:3-4). Do you believe this? Are you convinced of this? Would you die for this truth? Do you live in light of this truth?

The Resurrection Reaction

What does a life lived between Jesus’ resurrection and return in the sure and certain hope of our own resurrections look like? Matthew describes two emotions that characterized the reaction of the two Marys in our text: “So they departed quickly from the tomb with fear and great joy…” (Matt. 28:8). Now, this fear is not the terror of the enemies of Christ. It is the holy fear Solomon called “the beginning of knowledge” (Prov. 1:7), the “instruction in wisdom” (Prov. 15:33), “the hatred of evil” (Prov. 8:13), and “the fountain of life” (Prov. 14:27). To fear God is to humbly bow before Him as the Lord of Creation, Ruler of the Nations, and Dread Judge of men and angels, who holds the keys of death and Hades.

But such holy fear is never alone; it is always accompanied by the second emotion: “great joy.” That is the joy of knowing that though my sins “are like scarlet they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool” (Isa. 1:18); the great joy of knowing that by Christ’s life I am made righteous, and by His death I am made clean in God’s sight; the great joy of knowing that Christ has conquered His and my death and grave and saying with Job, “I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last He will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God” (Job 19:26).

From these twin emotions (fear and joy) flow forth the twin actions of obedience and praise. From the tomb, these women went with haste to share the good news with the disciples, just as the angels instructed. And as they went, who should find them but their Risen Savior who said, “Greetings” (Matt. 28:9)! It has been said that Jesus reversed every funeral He attended: Jairus daughter, the widow’s son, even His own. Death flees Christ, and life flows from Him. Now that the women’s faith had been made sight, they fell before Him, taking hold of His nail-scarred feet, and they worshiped Him. This is the resurrection reaction!

In 1955, the British preacher W. E. Sangster was diagnosed with incurable muscular atrophy that robbed him of the use of his voice. As his end drew near, he spent all his time writing and praying. One Easter Sunday morning, days before his death, he took his pen and with trembling hand wrote a letter to his daughter. He said, “It is terrible to wake up on Easter morning and have no voice with which to shout, ‘He is risen!’– but it would be still more terrible to have a voice and not want to shout.” Let the redeemed of the Lord say so. Through our loving fear, through our joyful obedience and praise, may our lives shout to the glory of God, “He is risen!”