The Most Hopeful Day of the Week (Matthew 27:54—28:20)

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

The disciples had faced a long and devastating weekend. For most of them, it had been a very hopeless one. This is evident as you read the various post-resurrection encounters in the Gospels.

For example, when the resurrected Jesus walked on the road to Emmaus with two of His disciples (Luke 24:13-27), He asked them, “What kind of conversation is this that you have with one another as you walk and are sad?” They replied, “Are You the only stranger in Jerusalem, and have You not known the things which happened there in these days?” When Jesus asked them what events they were referring to, they answered, “The things concerning Jesus of Nazareth, who was a Prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, and how the chief priests and our rulers delivered Him to be condemned to death, and crucified Him. But we were hoping that it was He who was going to redeem Israel.” They felt as if they had been stripped of their hope when Jesus was crucified.

The disciples were no doubt wondering whether they had perhaps been following one who was now simply a dead and self-proclaimed messiah. How would they now face friends, family and neighbours, from whom they had walked away in order to follow Jesus? More importantly, I suspect that many of them were now wondering about the burden of their sin. How could they be right with God? They had believed that Jesus would redeem them from their sin. If that was not the case, what hope did they now have? Jesus was dead. Would the burden of sin ever be removed? Would they ever be reconciled to God? How could they ever know the way to God if Jesus, now dead, claimed that He was the way? Indeed, it was a bad weekend for the followers of the Lord Jesus.

But the end of one week ushered in the beginning of a new week and, in their case, the first day of the new week proved to be a day of great hope—because it was the day on which Jesus rose from the dead. A hopeless weekend was followed by a day of hope, and ever since, Sunday has been the most hopeful day of the week—or at least it ought to be.

In this particular study, we bring to an end our miniseries on the subject of hope. I cannot think of a better way to conclude this series than with a consideration of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ. After all, the resurrection of Christ is the historical foundation of all of our hope in God. As someone has said, “The authentic story of hope hinges on the resurrection of Jesus, because the resurrection is God’s answer to a hopeless world.”

In defending the resurrection of the dead, the apostle Paul wrote, “If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men the most pitiable” (1 Corinthians 15:19). But we know that Jesus has been raised from the dead and so Sunday is a day of great hope. It has been, is, and will continue to be the most hopeful day of the week. On Easter Sunday I received a text message from a friend in another part of the country, which simply read, “Praise the Lord: Sunday has come!” Sunday is indeed a day of hope.

The Lord’s Day is a day of corporate hope. Our hope is a corporate affair, as evidenced in the songs we sing, the prayers we pray, the sermons we listen to and the fellowship we have as a church body. These things all serve to remind us of the hope that we have because Christ has risen indeed. Sunday is the Lord’s Day because of His resurrection, and because of His resurrection it is a day of hope.

In the time that I have in this study, I want to share with you five observations from our text about hope. They are simple observations, but ones that I trust will be a blessing to our souls.

Hope’s Tomb

The opening verses of our text record the events immediately following the death of Jesus.

So when the centurion and those with him, who were guarding Jesus, saw the earthquake and the things that had happened, they feared greatly, saying, “Truly this was the Son of God!” And many women who followed Jesus from Galilee, ministering to Him, were there looking on from afar, among whom were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Joses, and the mother of Zebedee’s sons.

Now when evening had come, there came a rich man from Arimathea, named Joseph, who himself had also become a disciple of Jesus. This man went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. Then Pilate commanded the body to be given to him. When Joseph had taken the body, he wrapped it in a clean linen cloth, and laid it in his new tomb which he had hewn out of the rock; and he rolled a large stone against the door of the tomb, and departed. And Mary Magdalene was there, and the other Mary, sitting opposite the tomb.

On the next day, which followed the Day of Preparation, the chief priests and Pharisees gathered together to Pilate, saying, “Sir, we remember, while He was still alive, how that deceiver said, ‘After three days I will rise.’ Therefore command that the tomb be made secure until the third day, lest His disciples come by night and steal Him away, and say to the people, ‘He has risen from the dead.’ So the last deception will be worse than the first.” Pilate said to them, “You have a guard; go your way, make it as secure as you know how.” So they went and made the tomb secure, sealing the stone and setting the guard.

(Matthew 27:54-66)

Each of the four Gospel writers records the hopelessness of the disciples following the crucifixion, despite the repeated promises of Jesus that He would rise from the grave (see Matthew 16:21; 17:23; 20:19). In fact, on several occasions after the resurrection, we find witnesses of the event informing the disciples that Jesus was alive, but time and again we read that they did not believe the reports. In spite of the empty tomb, they were hopeless.

Even the women who came early that Sunday morning to the tomb—as devoted as they were to Jesus—came quite clearly as those without hope. The texts make it clear that they came to anoint a dead body, not in anticipation of a risen Saviour. In fact, according to John’s account (John 20:11-18), when Mary Magdalene initially encountered Jesus, she believed that He was the gardener and begged the gardener to know where they had moved the Lord’s body.

With the body of Jesus shrouded in burial cloths, the hope of the Lord’s followers was obscured. With the large stone rolled in front of the entrance, their hope was entombed. Their hope had died. And the enemies of Christ were committed to ensuring that hope stayed in the tomb. Neither the disciples nor the enemies believed in the resurrection, but the enemies were intent on nullifying the glorious, hopeful reality of the gospel.

As a side note of interest, it is significant that the Gospel accounts record Jesus first appearing to women. This, in some ways, validates the historicity of the Gospels. In those days, the testimony of women held very little, if any sway, in a court of law, and so if the Gospel writers were intent on fabricating a story with some degree of credibility, they would much rather have had Jesus appearing to men rather than women after the resurrection. Jesus, on the other hand, held no such bias in His mind, and so He appeared first to women, almost as if to show that He valued their testimony as much as any man’s.

These women were devoted, but even devoted disciples can sometimes lose hope. Even though these women came to honour Jesus, they were hopeless in their devotion. We can sometimes honour Jesus and say all the right things about him, while at the same time losing hope behind the sealed stones we face in life. Sometimes, even though we profess belief in the resurrection, we live in denial of it. In reality, we believe that despair, failure and sin will have the final word. Sometimes, our hopes seem to be entombed.

At our recent Easter sunrise service, while the gospel was being preached, ambulance sirens could be heard in the background, and as I listened I found myself thinking about the irony of that. Even as the truth of the resurrection was being preached, even as it was being made known that Jesus had indeed conquered death, those sirens were testifying to the fact that we yet live in a sin-cursed world.

Sometimes at funeral services the words of the apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:55 are read, “O Death, where is your sting?” The truth is, the sting of death is visible in the coffin at the front of the auditorium. Death’s sting is still a reality; Paul’s point is that a day is coming when death will completely lose its sting. In the meantime, there is a sting. In the meantime, sorrow can render us hopeless in life.

When betrayal ruins a relationship, when friendships fail, when marriages flounder lifelessly, when children seem defiant and gospel-resistant, when you Christian pilgrimage leads to heartache, tribulation and division even within your family, when your sin and your shame are exposed, when your sanctification seems paralysed, when the doctor pronounces “terminal,” or when you bury a loved one, hope can seem to be hidden behind a tomb of death. And the enemies of Christ-centred hope always aim to ensure that things stay that way.

The question, then, is simply this: Is there hope? My answer, very confidently, is that there is indeed hope, because the present verses are not the end of the story. The story ends with a resurrection.

We need to be encouraged that hope only seems to be endlessly entombed. These women did not expect to find an empty tomb, but their dashed hopes were soon to be revived.

Hope Throbs

Hope was not, in fact, dead. Despite the pessimism of the disciples and the best laid plans of Christ’s enemies, hope was alive and well.

Now after the Sabbath, as the first day of the week began to dawn, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary came 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 from the door, and sat on it. His countenance was like lightning, and his clothing as white as snow. And the guards shook for fear of him, and became like dead men. But the angel answered and said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for He is risen, as He said. Come, see the place where the Lord lay. And go quickly and tell His disciples that He is risen from the dead, and indeed He is going before you into Galilee; there you will see Him. Behold, I have told you.” So they went out quickly from the tomb with fear and great joy, and ran to bring His disciples word.

(Matthew 28:1-6)

If you consider a harmony of the Gospel accounts, you will realise that the earthquake of v. 2 had already taken place before the women arrived at the tomb. The earthquake had taken place, the angels had descended from heaven and rolled the stone away from the door, and the guards had fled in terror. The angels had remained at the tomb, seated on the rock, until the women arrived to anoint the body. They had remained in order to calm the women and to encourage them to witness the empty tomb and to tell others about it.

Even after looking into the tomb, these women were clearly perplexed. They left the tomb “with fear and great joy.” According to John’s account, they (or at least Mary Magdalene) assumed that someone had stolen the body. Evidently they were filled with a strange mixture of belief (“joy”) and unbelief (“fear”). But despite their perplexity, hope was beginning to throb. The revelation from the messengers cause hope to come alive in their hearts.

Sometimes hope dies in our hearts, but when it does we should be encouraged that, because Jesus Christ is alive, hope can be brought to life. Hope can throb once again in our hearts.

Was that not true of Abraham and Sarah? At 75 years of age, Abraham was promised a son. That would have taken some faith! Twenty-four years later this promise still had not been realised. As Abraham approached his one hundredth birthday, and as Sarah approached her ninetieth, you would think that their hope was gone. And yet we know from the New Testament that Abraham “contrary to hope, in hope believed, so that he became the father of many nations” (Romans 4:18). And that was before the resurrection!

If Abraham believed God despite all evidence to the contrary, how much more ought we, who live the other side of the empty tomb, to do so?

Think of the early church, who in the face of persecution prayed, “How long, O Lord, holy and true, until You judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?” (Revelation 6:10). The Lord answered the prayer, judged Israel, and freed the church to go forth into all the earth to proclaim the gospel. Humanly speaking, that is why we are here today.

Sometimes we can look at our world and our country and lose hope. Will God ever give us an awakening? When we read about the fight for gay rights or increasingly lax abortion laws, we can be tempted to despair, believing that things are only going from bad to worse. Is there any hope?

Let me encourage you that when it seems as if there is no hope of an awakening, Jesus Christ has risen from the dead and He still has all authority in heaven and on earth. He can bring about a great awakening in our land and in the world.

These women were not full of faith, but they were devoted, and because they were in the right place at the right time, they received a glorious message from God’s angels about the resurrection. They came devoted but hopeless, and left devoted and hopeful.

When we are feeling hopeless, we must do the right thing out of devotion, even though our faith feels like it is gone. Often, when we are doing what we know to be right, God uses that very situation to cause hope to once again throb in our heart.

Perhaps you awake on a Sunday morning, tired after a long week of sin and failure. The last place you feel like being is with the body of Christ, and so you are tempted to skip church altogether. But because you know it is the right thing to do, you drag yourself out of bed and make your way to worship. By the time you leave, you find that God has graciously worked to allow hope to come alive in your breast.

On Easter Sunday this year, the little baby girl that our family is fostering decided to be a normal baby. She had been sleeping till about 5AM since she arrived, but that morning, around 1:30 AM, she woke up crying. After she settled again, I found myself unable to sleep and so began thinking about some things. It wasn’t long before I found myself feeling somewhat despondent. I resolved to do what was necessary to work through the sense of despondence, and so I opened my Bible and began to read. I came to Peter’s first epistle, where I read these words: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His abundant mercy has begotten us again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” (1 Peter 1:3). Peter continues by giving promises that we will one day be made like Christ. One day we will not have to go to bed feeling like a failure because of our sin. I cannot tell you the blessing it was to my soul to read those words.

God graciously restored some hope, but it required me to do something. I had to do the right thing: read my Bible, pray, seek God’s face. These women didn’t have a great deal of faith, but out of a heart of devotion, they did the right thing. They were in the right place at the right time, and God graciously blessed them.

Perhaps you have felt like that in your marriage. As a wife, you have tried to show respect to your husband but have found that he has not loved you as Christ loved the church and gave Himself for it. As a husband, you have tried to sacrificially love your wife, but have found that she has not responded by respectfully submitting to your leadership. Perhaps you have grown despondent in your marriage. Let me encourage you: Keep doing the right thing! Keep sacrificially loving her. Keep respectfully submitting to his leadership. Trust God to bless your obedience by restoring hope.

Perhaps broken relationships are tearing your heart. Reach out to mend those relationships.

Perhaps you have grown hopeless as a parent. I read a book some years ago by Robert Anders, in which he recalls that only late in life did he realise his responsibility to covenantally protect his children. His daughters were well into their teens at the time, but he sat them down and explained his biblical convictions. He asked their forgiveness for failed leadership and verbally committed to them to do a better job of protecting them. At first, there was some resistance to his leadership, but eventually God blessed the situation. His daughters came to see the blessing of a covenantally faithful father and started submitting to his leadership and God restored hope to that family.

Confess your sin and lay hold of Christ. Do the right thing, and hope will once again begin to throb in your breast.

We need messengers of hope for hope to throb. These angels were just that: wonderful messengers of hope. I pray to God that He will use me as a messenger of hope. When people come to me for counsel, I want them to leave feeling better than when they came. I want to be able to give them biblical perspective by pointing them to Christ, who lives.

The hope that throbbed in the hearts of these women was reasonable. The tomb was indeed empty. The resurrection of Jesus Christ is a historical fact. The tomb really is empty. And because of that, our faith is reasonable. Our hope is not a vague, hope-so kind of hope, but a certain hope grounded in historical reality.

Hope Thrives

The hope that began to throb in their hearts soon started to thrive as they made their way to tell the Twelve.

And as they went to tell His disciples, behold, Jesus met them, saying, “Rejoice!” So they came and held Him by the feet and worshiped Him. Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid. Go and tell My brethren to go to Galilee, and there they will see Me.”

(Matthew 28:9-10)

Try and picture the scene. The women had come to the tomb devoted but hopeless. Seeing the stone rolled away, and hearing the words of the angels, hope had begun to throb in their hearts. But now, as they obediently made their way to tell the disciples what they had seen and heard, lo and behold, they met Jesus Himself. The pulse of hope was now decidedly stronger as they fell at Jesus’ feet in belief and worshiped Him.

Earlier, they left the tomb “with fear and great joy,” but now in the face of irrefutable evidence, the fear could fall away while the hopeful rejoicing continued.

Recently a man called the church out of the blue, and asked to speak to one of the pastors. Our secretary put the call through to me. This man told me that some things had happened in his life and that he felt that he needed to speak to a pastor. He did a search for churches in Alberton and ours was the first result that came up. He told me quite honestly that he was not a Christian. As I listened to some of his story, I invited him to come and speak to me, and he accepted the invitation.

I spent about an hour with him, sharing the gospel. I gave him a copy of John Blanchard’s Ultimate Questions to read and invited him to church on Sunday, promising him that I would give him a Bible if he came. That night, I received an email from the man, informing me that he had read the Ultimate Questions that I gave him. He read it again the next day and told me that he understood the gospel.

That Sunday he came to church, bringing a friend with him. I gave him a Bible after the service, and it was clear to me that God had done a work of grace in his heart. He has been to church every Sunday since then.

Recently, I was talking to him after a service and he told me of some struggles that he was facing. He recalled that I had warned him that if he took the gospel to heart, he would face opposition, and that was now a reality. He admitted that he had considered just walking away from it all, but he found that he couldn’t do that. The hope that was thriving in his heart would not allow him to fall away. As he has spent time in the Scriptures, Jesus Christ has revealed Himself more and more to him, and hope has come alive.

We need the help of others for hope to thrive, and the best way for hope to go from throbbing to thriving is by a greater revelation of Christ, which is found in His Word. As we spend time in His Word and in fellowship, helping one another to focus on who Christ is, the hope that begun as a faint pulse soon begins to beat unmistakably and great joy is the result.

Hope’s Thieves

Sadly, the opposition to hope was not removed, and once again we find hope threatened by the enemies of Christ.

Now while they were going, behold, some of the guard came into the city and reported to the chief priests all the things that had happened. When they had assembled with the elders and consulted together, they gave a large sum of money to the soldiers, saying, “Tell them, ‘His disciples came at night and stole Him away while we slept.’ And if this comes to the governor’s ears, we will appease him and make you secure.” So they took the money and did as they were instructed; and this saying is commonly reported among the Jews until this day.

(Matthew 28:11-15)

Not everybody was thrilled about the empty tomb. Not everyone was thrilled about a throbbing and a thriving hope. For some individuals, the empty tomb was a threat, and therefore they became thieves, intent on stealing the disciples’ legitimate hope.

As hearers of the gospel would express hope in the fact that Jesus had risen from the dead, these enemies of the cross would tell them that, in fact, the disciples had stolen the body. They intended nothing more than to rob people of legitimate hope. It was a weak, though cruel and diabolical, attempt to rob people of hope. Evidently, it had some effect, because even when Matthew wrote his Gospel the rumour was still strong that the body had merely been stolen.

When it comes to hope in Jesus Christ, realise that there is a very real spiritual war raging. The enemies of the cross do not want people to embrace the legitimate hope of the resurrection, and they will do all they can to rob people of that hope. We must not allow our hope to be robbed by anything or anyone.

Consider briefly some of the ways that hope’s thieves enter our lives.

One way is through economic challenges. We may have hope because Christ has risen. We believe God, knowing that Christ has all authority in heaven and on earth. But then economic challenges strike. Things begin to fall apart. Perhaps you lose your job or face some major financial shock. You are tempted to respond in a denial of the resurrection, feeling as if you are alone and hopeless.

When I was in university, I worked hard to save for my upcoming wedding. I was taking a full course, but worked two jobs to secure some measure of financial freedom. As the end of the year drew near, I had saved some money, and intended to get married and take my wife on a wonderful honeymoon. I figured I could use some of the money to ensure that we had furniture in our new home. I had great hopes for what I would do with the money I had saved.

About six weeks before I got married I received a bill from the revenue services, and all my hard-earned money vanished in an instant. How would I make it?

When my first daughter was born I wondered, how would I make it? I felt the same way when my second and third daughters were born. (By the time my fifth daughter was born I had figured out that God provides where He creates a need!) Economic challenges have a tendency to tempt us to hopelessness.

But there are more serious challenges to hope, one of which is tragedy. As a pastor, I can testify to the fact that tragedy can tempt people to hopelessness. I can recall many occasions on which I have driven to people’s homes during a time of tragedy, begging God to give me some words that will help them to cling to hope. Tragedy can indeed tempt us to deny the resurrection.

Gossip and slander, ruining your reputation, can tempt you to deny the resurrection. Militant atheism, which surrounds us today and seems to be on the increase, can tempt us to deny the resurrection. Relationship failures and your own sinful failures can have the same effect.

We are surrounded by thieves of hope, because the world, the flesh and the devil want the status quo to be what exists: hopelessness. But we know, because there is an empty tomb, that hope can thrive—even in the midst of all the enemies of the cross. But even though the false rumour persisted in Matthew’s day, and even though it persists to our day, we still know that there is an empty tomb because Jesus rose from the dead.

Despite all the attempts to rob the church of hope, the gospel marches on. Why is that? Because, as we will now see, Jesus Christ has all authority in heaven and on earth.

Hope Triumphs

The thieves of hope did not have the last word.

Then the eleven disciples went away into Galilee, to the mountain which Jesus had appointed for them. When they saw Him, they worshiped Him; but some doubted. And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, “teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Amen.

(Matthew 28:16-20)

Before Jesus had been crucified, He had foretold that He would rise from the dead and instructed His disciples to meet Him in Galilee. Evidently, in the midst of their hopelessness, they had forgotten that, because Jesus instructed the women to remind them to meet Him there. Now, having heard the witness of the women, the disciples made their way to Galilee, where they met the risen Lord.

It is somewhat sad that “when they saw Him, they worshiped Him; but some doubted.” Wonderfully, however, Jesus took no time to rebuke them for their doubt. Instead, He dealt with their doubts by a claim to sovereignty: “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth.” And because of that authority, He instructed them to go and disciple the nations, assuring them, “I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

The Lord Jesus had entered His kingdom, and that is cause for hope! The Lord here issued a word of victory, a promise that hope will thrive. And even though “some doubted,” they ultimately believed, as the book of Acts shows. These same disciples, who at one time were fearful and hopeless, were used by the risen Lord to turn the world upside down with the gospel. They obediently and triumphantly discipled the nations because they believed that Jesus Christ was alive.

There are so many temptations for us to be robbed of the hope of the gospel. What we need to remember when it seems that the gospel is not triumphing is that Jesus Christ really is alive, and as long as He is alive there is every reasonable, rational and confident persuasion to have hope for the gospel.

There is hope that God will save your unsaved spouse. There is hope that God will save your unsaved children. And dear unbeliever, there is hope that God will save you!

You see, if Jesus remained in the tomb, and if it was true that the disciples had merely stolen His body, then we would be of all men the most to be pitied. In fact, we wouldn’t even have hope for this life. But because Jesus Christ rose from the dead, there is hope for sinners. Jesus Christ “was delivered up because of our offences, and was raised because of our justification” (Romans 5:25).

As noted above, the greatest burden of the disciples when they saw their Lord put to death was no doubt, how can we be right with God? But when they realised that He was alive, they realised that they had a Saviour who lives to make intercession for His own. There is hope, and there is reason for triumph.

This was the most hopeful day in the lives of the disciples, and for nearly two thousand years Sunday has continued to be a day of hope. Every Sunday is to be a special day of hope, because every Sunday is a commemoration of the historical reality of the resurrection.

Let us then go forth, in obedience to the Lord’s command, to proclaim that Christ is risen so that others may find hope in Him too.