What Difference Does it Make?
Please read Matthew 28 in your Bible.
From nbcnews.com, March 29, 2021, by Doha Madani.
“Nike filed a federal trademark infringement lawsuit Monday against the company that released a controversial customized version of its sneakers in collaboration with the rapper Lil Nas X.
“The artist worked with MSCHF to release ‘Satan Shoes’ on Monday. The sneakers are modified Nike [sneakers] — decorated with a pentagram pendant and a reference to Luke 10:18, a Bible verse about Satan's fall from heaven and drop of human blood inside the sole, drawn from members of the MSCHF team. (MSCHF is known for stunt products like its 2019 “Jesus Shoes,” a $1,425 pair of white Nike shoes with custom stitching and 60ccs of water from the River Jordan.) All 666 pairs of the modified Nikes, priced at $1,018, sold out shortly after they went on sale Monday.
“Nike filed the suit — Lil Nas X was not named as a defendant — after many people said they believed it was involved with the shoes, even though it released a statement over the weekend saying it had nothing to do with them. The release of the Satan Shoes coincides with Lil Nas X's latest single and its accompanying music video in which Lil Nas X is seduced out of the Garden of Eden, falls into hell and lap dances with the devil.”
This is just one example of how our culture shamelessly assaults our faith. If it were an isolated example, you could dismiss it as silly self-promotion. It is a symptom, friends. “Satan Shoes” are symptom of the real illness: disbelief.
Today we are going to ask what difference Jesus’ Resurrection makes. Part of the answer is that faith is the cure for the terminal illness of disbelief. We will begin by looking at the account in Matthew’s gospel to see hat difference it made to the people who experienced it firsthand.
Jesus’ Resurrection makes all the difference.
1. Just as miraculous signs accompanied His death (27:50-53), miraculous signs accompanied His resurrection (28:2-3).
First sign = A VIOLENT EARTHQUAKE. In the Bible an EARTHQUAKE is often a theophany; a sign that God Himself is appearing or is at work through an intermediary like an angel. In every case, something important is happening.
Second sign = AN ANGEL OF THE LORD CAME DOWN FROM HEAVEN. It was the angel, not the earthquake, that caused the stone to be rolled back the stone from the entrance to the tomb. It was a VERY LARGE STONE according to 27:60. He sat on it triumphantly.
The angel’s APPEARANCE was miraculous in all his descriptions. His countenance WAS LIKE LIGHTNING, reflecting the radiant glory of God. HIS CLOTHES WERE AS WHITE AS SNOW, a symbol of purity and victory.
2. Jesus’ resurrection made a difference to the women (28:1,5-10).
Verse one names Mary Magdalene and THE OTHER MARY as the first witnesses of the resurrected Christ. Mary of Magdala was a woman with a checkered past and someone who showed Jesus special devotion. The other Mary is probably the mother of James and Joses. They are two of the three women mentioned in 27:55-56 as Jesus’ followers who watched the crucifixion FROM A DISTANCE.
It was their intent to LOOK AT THE TOMB. They knew where it was because the two of them watched Joseph of Arimathea put Jesus’ body in it (27:61). Having seen Jesus crucified, entombed, and resurrected makes these ladies important witnesses to the Resurrection.
Note the “girl power” here: the big tough legionnaires have a lie down while the women stay upright! The angel’s first words to them can be more literally translated, “Don’t you too become afraid.” In other words, “Now ladies, please don’t faint like these guards just did.”
The angel knew their purpose was benign - “YOU ARE LOOKING FOR JESUS, WHO WAS CRUCIFIED.” The angel announced Jesus was no longer in the tomb because He had kept His promise (16:1; 17:23; 20:19) and RISEN from the dead. (6)
He invited the Marys to go inside and see for themselves, but they were apparently willing to take the angel’s word for it. Soon they would have a more important proof of Jesus’ Resurrection than an empty tomb - Jesus Himself will appear to them! Once they had a chance to look inside the tomb and see it vacant, they were to GO QUICKLY to Jesus’ other DISCIPLES with a message: “I’ll meet you in Galilee.” The faithful obedience of the women is indicated in the fact that they did not go look in the tomb and HURRIED AWAY to take the message to the disciples instead. (8)
Their feelings were mixed - AFRAID, YET FULL OF JOY. (8) I imagine there was no small measure of surprise and bewilderment to them as well. The word translated as JOY is elsewhere only found in Matthew 2:10, where the Magi were OVERJOYED to find the newborn King of the Jews.
If you were one of Jesus’ disciples and were writing a resurrection story as a piece of fiction, there are two things you would not do. One, you would not simply have an empty tomb. You would have Jesus walking out of the tomb in full view of hundreds of witnesses, flashing a “V” for “victory” sign. You would write about an overly dramatic moment in contrast to the Gospel accounts’ low-key approach.
Two - sorry ladies - you would never have women as your only witnesses. In that culture, women were not legal witnesses. A persuasive argument for the validity of the Gospel accounts of the Resurrection is that they are written to relate the facts, not to “sell” you on it emotionally. All due respect to earthquakes and angels, what is most convincing is personal experience. The language Matthew used in this passage is all very ordinary, as if he were describing an everyday event instead of the most important event in history.
The best proof of the Resurrection was Jesus’ personal appearance. (9-10) The women responded to Jesus’ sudden appearance with worship. (9) Clasping someone’s feet was a typical way for people in that culture to show respect for a VIP. Plus, the chance to touch Him verified Jesus had been bodily raised from the dead. Donald A. Hagner wrote: “They worship him not so much because he had come back to life but because his resurrection vindicates all that he had said and done during his ministry.” (p. 874)
3. Jesus’ resurrection made a difference to the guards (28:4, 11-15).
In reaction to the miraculous signs (2) and the appearance of the angel (3), they were so AFRAID they SHOOK AND BECAME LIKE DEAD MEN (4). The Apostle John had the same reaction when he encountered Christ in His glory (Revelation 1:17). Donald A. Hagner wrote: “The irony is not to be missed: the ones assigned to guard the dead themselves appear dead while the dead one has been made alive.” (p. 869)
Later, they would deny what they saw and become part of a persistent lie - a conspiracy that falsified the empty tomb as being an act of Jesus’ disciples. (11-15) The reason guards were stationed there in the first place was the Jewish leaders’ fear that the disciples would stage a resurrection and the people would believe it. That is why they got Pilate to station guards there and seal the tomb against graverobbers. (27:62-65)
When Sunday morning came and the guards had this wide-eyed story about an earthquake and an angel, things were worse than they had imagined. As politicians do, they immediately went into damage control and spin doctoring mode. Since their fear of grave robbery was not as bad as the story the guards were telling, they adopted their original fear as the new narrative. It is ironic, isn’t it?
Bribes and a promise to square things with Pilate bought the guards into the conspiracy. As the penalty for sleeping while on guard duty was death, it must have taken some convincing to get them to agree to the story.
Along this line, notice the guards went to the CHIEF PRIESTS to report their dereliction of duty, not to Pilate. They might have hoped the CHIEF PRIESTS to be more lenient than Pilate - a ruler with a reputation for having little regard for human life - would likely have been. And it worked: they must have been very relieved to have walked out of that meeting not only having got away scot free but also having a sackful of money! No wonder they were so eager to take part in the conspiracy.
The CHIEF PRIESTS and ELDERS are a case study in human nature and our willingness to believe a comfortable lie rather than face a contrary truth. They were stubborn to the point that not even the miraculous could change their minds.
4. Jesus’ resurrection made a difference to the disciples (28:16-20).
The remaining disciples believed the testimony of the women (no small miracle!) and were obedient to the message they related. They went to Galilee. (16)
Incredibly, some of them DOUBTED the witness of their own senses. (17) What does this word DOUBTED mean?
In Luke 24:25 we see a functional equivalent. Jesus rebuked the disciples for being SLOW TO BELIEVE. The disciples’ doubt is an example of their incredible (but not atypical) slowness.
In the account of Jesus walking on the water (Matthew 14), we find the only other time MATTHEW used this word for DOUBT. In 14:31, Peter had stepped out of the boat to meet Jesus on the water.
Initially, Peter walked on the water - dry feet and all - until he looked around and saw the wind and the waves, and apparently panicked and began to sink. Jesus reached out and took Peter by the hand and pulled him out of the water. Jesus said, “O you of little faith, why did you DOUBT?”
Rather than referring to any kind of disbelief or a faith-crippling doubt, the word for doubt here in Matthew 28:17 refers to hesitation. As this was their first experience with Jesus being resurrected, they were understandably hesitant to accept what their eyes were seeing.
When your head tells you one thing and your heart tells you another, you hesitate. The competing thoughts and feelings can make you freeze and that is what is going on here. Human nature. Others, however, WORSHIPED HIM as the women had done in verse nine.
Verses 18-20 are called the “Great Commission” because it is a call to every one of Jesus’ followers to do the work of making and growing new followers of Jesus. Three parts:
The first part is Authority: Jesus possessed ALL AUTHORITY and used it to “deputize” the eleven. This is not Jesus’ first claim to God-given authority. He had made several such claims and always acted with authority. The people who heard Him preach credited Him with having authority (Matthew 7:29). Jesus had also already delegated His authority to His disciples when he sent out the 72 in pairs to minister on their own (Luke 10).
What is new here is the situation. Jesus is returning to heaven. His presence with them will be spiritual, not physical.
The second part is Responsibility: Jesus charged them with the responsibility of making disciples everywhere they went.
In the original language the main verb is “make disciples.” The other verbs “go,” “baptize,” “teach,” and “obey” are all means to the end of bringing others to a saving faith. They were to make disciples by means of baptism and teaching directed toward obedience.
The Commission is global; people in ALL NATIONS are to be approached for discipleship. The distinction between Jew and Gentile no longer existed. God would keep His promises to the Jews by giving them a place in the Church, by faith, just as He did for the Gentiles.
Baptism is a ritual of initiation serves at least two functions. One, it is a time for the church to prepare the candidate to join the church. Two, it is a chance to vet the candidate, making sure they have truly received Christ as their Savior and Lord.
As the word “disciple” means “pupil” or “learner,” teaching is an obviously important kind of ministry. I believe the Great Commission anticipates a kind of mentoring relationship, where a member who is experienced in the faith trains the candidate in the word and in wisdom. Unlike other kinds of teaching or training, the object is not imparting knowledge or honing skills exactly. Discipleship is aimed, first and foremost, at obedience to Jesus’ commands.
The third part is Presence: They would not carry out this responsibility alone but would have Jesus with them until THE VERY END OF THE AGE, when they would be relieved of this responsibility. Jesus’ presence is mitigated to us by the Holy Spirit, as He promised in John 14.
Between His Ascension 40 days after His Resurrection and His Second Coming, Jesus is not present in any way we can verify with our five senses. And yet, through the indwelling Holy Spirit, He is present with us in the best way possible. It is Jesus’ presence that provides the guidance, motivation, and power to MAKE DISCIPLES. He commissioned us and made us able to achieve the Commission.
Jesus’ Resurrection makes all the difference.
We have looked at Matthew’s inspired record of what the Resurrection meant to the people who were immediately involved in it. I cannot overstate the importance of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. It is literally the center of our faith, the single most important event in history.
The Apostle Paul expressed the importance of Jesus’ bodily resurrection from the dead in 1 Corinthians 15. I want to share a couple examples; you may read it for yourself. Verse 14 = AND IF CHRIST HAS NOT BEEN RAISED, OUR PREACHING IS USELESS AND SO IS YOUR FAITH. Verse 17 = AND IF CHRIST HAS NOT BEEN RAISED, YOUR FAITH IS FUTILE; YOU ARE STILL IN YOUR SINS. Verse 20 = BUT CHRIST HAS BEEN INDEED BEEN RAISED FROM THE DEAD, THE FIRST FRUITS OF THOSE WHO HAVE FALLEN ASLEEP.
The choice is still yours. Will you, like the disciples, overcome your hesitation? Will you step forward in faith to receive eternal life from the one who died and now lives to give you eternal life? Jesus’ Resurrection only makes a difference to you if you receive it by faith. Then His Resurrection becomes your resurrection.
Word Bible Commentary, Matthew, Donald A. Hagner