Now after the Sabbath, toward the dawn of the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb. 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. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow. And for fear of him the guards trembled and became like dead men. But the angel said to the women, “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. Then go quickly and tell his disciples that he has risen from the dead, and behold, he is going before you to Galilee; there you will see him. See, I have told you.” So they departed quickly from the tomb with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples. And behold, Jesus met them and said, “Greetings!” And they came up and took hold of his feet and worshiped him. Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee, and there they will see me.”
While they were going, behold, some of the guard went into the city and told the chief priests all that had taken place. And when they had assembled with the elders and taken counsel, they gave a sufficient sum of money to the soldiers and said, “Tell people, ‘His disciples came by night and stole him away while we were asleep.’ And if this comes to the governor’s ears, we will satisfy him and keep you out of trouble.” So they took the money and did as they were directed. And this story has been spread among the Jews to this day. Matthew 28:1-15 (ESV)
Mary Magdalene and the “other” Mary encountered the angel at the empty tomb. So did the guards. The women were afraid. The guards were afraid. Both the women and the guards encountered the angel, but both groups had very different responses to the message from the angel.
The angel spoke directly to the women, who were shown the place where Jesus lay, and who followed the angel’s instructions to go and tell the disciples that Jesus wasn’t there, and that He had risen from the dead. Along the way Jesus met the women, and told them to tell the disciples to go to Galilee to meet Him.
The angel didn’t speak directly to the guards. The guards responded differently than the women. Out of their fear they trembled and became as dead men.
The women were afraid, but they still believed the angel and they followed his directions in spite of their fear. They followed the instruction to go and tell the disciples. They met Jesus along the way.
The guards went back to Jesus’ adversaries, who paid them for their silence. The chief priests’ bribes to the guards attest to the veracity of the appearance of the angel and to the women’s story. Who pays hush money to silence a lie?
Jesus said that no one can come to Him unless that person is drawn to Jesus by God the Father (John 8:43-48). This is a hard reality and part of the paradox we have to wrestle with if we take Scripture at what it says. Yes we must believe and have faith, but even faith is a gift of God that does not come from ourselves, but from God alone. (Ephesians 2:8-10) Apart from the Holy Spirit we are not able of our own power to come to faith or believe God.
The first and chief article is this: Jesus Christ, our God and Lord, died for our sins and was raised again for our justification (Romans 3:24-25). He alone is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world (John 1:29), and God has laid on Him the iniquity of us all (Isaiah 53:6). All have sinned and are justified freely, without their own works and merits, by His grace, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, in His blood (Romans 3:23-25). This is necessary to believe. This cannot be otherwise acquired or grasped by any work, law, or merit. Therefore, it is clear and certain that this faith alone justifies us…Nothing of this article can be yielded or surrendered, even though heaven and earth and everything else falls (Mark 13:31) – Martin Luther, from the Smalcald Articles
When we hear the message of the empty tomb, do we have doubts about the reality of the risen Christ? Are we like Thomas who had to see where the nails pierced Jesus and where the spear entered His side? Are we afraid to go and tell because we know that some people simply will not believe no matter what we say?
Certainly there were people at the time of the Resurrection who thought these women were nuttier than fruitcakes. The witness of a woman was not taken terribly seriously in Jesus’ time.
It goes with the pattern that God establishes throughout Scripture that He would choose the least likely, the weaker vessels, the ones considered to be less to see His risen Son first. God who chose the stone the builders rejected to be the cornerstone (Psalm 118:22) and who uses silly things and weak people to counter the wisdom of the wise (1 Corinthians 1:18-31) is in control here.
The Good News of Jesus Christ, who died to save us from our sins, and who rose to bring us into eternal life is silliness and fairytales to people who just live for this world. Thankfully this world is not the end for those who are in Christ. We have been included in real life, God-life. Through the water of baptism we are marked with the Cross of Christ forever. We are forgiven, set free, and made whole in Christ. Because He has risen, we live!