The Son Rose Before Sunrise – Easter 4/23/00

Matthew 28:1-7

JESUS CHRIST arose from the tomb on that first Easter morning just before the sun edged above the horizon and its light ignited the indigo sky of a new day.

In that instant He brought into focus a whole new perception of human worth and wholeness. His resurrection emblazoned across the sky of history the final irrefutable evidence that Jesus Christ is Lord of death and Master of Life.

Revisit the scene where gloom had engulfed home, where death mocked life, where angels wept and demons laughed. Covert disciples who had been present and by their silence consented to His condemnation took his body for burial. Joseph of Aramathea and Nicodemus were the two who under the gaze of the Roman execution squad had buried Him.

His bewildered and despondent admirers having lost hope were disillusioned.

Early in the morning of the third day two grieving followers came to His tomb perplexed as towho might roll away the stone and allow the final preparation of His lifeless body for final and permanent entombment. Upon arrival they were greeted by a stunned detachment of Roman guards.

The stone, to them a seemingly unsurmountable obstacle, was a pebble to the Easter angel who had moved it away.

The correlation of the Greek texts of two different gospels reveals the stone had not simply been tilted away from the cave. It had been moved away a great distance uphill. These stones customarily weighed about three thousand pounds.

When God does something He does it right. He can roll away any stone in your path to spiritual truth and maturity.

Matthew says an angel, one, greeted them. John says there were two. Skeptics say there is a conflict. No there isn’t. This simply shows there was no collusion among the gospel writers. Had there been they would have both used the same number. John who in his writing is known for details gives the total number and Matthew simply focuses on the message of one of the two saying:

Christ alone is the Savior and Master who stands alone as a fulfilled testimony to His validity and worth.

Historian, Arnold Toynbee, in his monumental work entitled, The Study of History, devotes a chapter to saviors. He lists them in four categories:
The savior with a scepter —- the political savior.
The savior with a book —- the philosopher savior.
The savior with a sword —- the militant savior.
The man-god or god-man savior —- those of Greek mythology.

Professor Toynbee points out that each of these finally capitulates to the ultimate enemy, death. Politicians, kings, military leaders, philosophers all die. All of these demi-gods ultimately surrender to death. Then this imminent scholar concludes: “When the last civilization comes to the river of death, there on the other side filling the whole horizon with Himself will be the Savior.”

In the mind of this world renowned historian there is only one who qualifies as Savior who can save. His reason, Christ conquered death.

We call the day on which we celebrate the resurrection Easter without really knowing why. Though it has a pagan origin it has a very special application to the resurrection. Pagans throughout the Roman Empire believed in gods. They observed there was a great light that gave us day and a lesser light that shone at night. The sun rose each morning giving light and set in the evening ushering in darkness. They believed a goddess governed the light. They named her “Estera.” Her light was first seen on the early morning horizon so they called this area “the East,” meaning “the Eastera place,” or place of light. When many of these pagans were converted they associated the resurrection of Jesus with the dawning of light and called the resurrection celebration Easter. The day of the resurrection was the day —– THE SON ROSE BEFORE SUNRISE.

There are three statements in our text associated with His resurrection that can help us get life into perspective.

The Greek verb tense used means “stop being afraid.” All His little cadre of friends could say was, “We had HOPED that He was the one to redeem Israel…” (Luke 24:21). Their hope had died. When hope died fear was given birth. In the moment of death everything seems frozen to those grieving. There is only yesterday – there is no tomorrow.

They were living on the wrong side of the resurrection. Today those who are still searching for some man-made, humanistic solution to our problem are living on the wrong side of the resurrection also. In the resurrection, the empire of joy, peace, and liberty was brought to light. Biblical Christianity is a faith of promise, not of nostalgia. Its thrust and momentum is always forward. It moves inexorably into the future. It calls us to what lies ahead in Christ.

This inspires and enables one to cope. This is the hope Easter inspires, there is reason to find out how to live through the resurrected Son of God who arose before sunrise.

Death had caused them great fear. It still strikes terror in the hearts of many.

What they were to see was very revealing. They had looked at the cross and saw man’s judgement on Christ. Looking at the empty tomb they saw God’s judgement on Christ.

The Scripture depicts John as looking in the tomb and “believing”. What caused his belief? It was not the empty tomb, but the empty grave clothes. For a short time they had been Christ’s wardrobe. For three days His lifeless body had awaited His new Easter outfit. The position and condition of the grave clothes was convincing. They remained like a balloon with the air let out. Grave clothes were put on with a gummy substance like tar or pitch. To remove them was to remove the skin. John saw the evidence of a miracle.

Later the disciples who were in the upper room when Thomas was absent and Christ appeared said to Him, “We have seen the Lord” (John 20:24, 25). They saw and believed.

A brilliant young advocate who was a member of the Supreme Court of the era named Saul was appointed by the tribunal to investigate the report of a resurrection. Note the record of that young investigative reporter appointed by the Supreme Court.

His assignment was to investigate the resurrection and prove it to be a hoax. After his extensive interrogation of believers under threat of their lives, he concluded “For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He was seen by Cephas, then by the twelve. After that He was seen by over five hundred brethren at once, of whom the greater part remain to the present, but some have fallen asleep. After that He was seen by James, then by all the apostles. Then last of all He was seen by me also, as by one born out of due time” (I Corinthians 15:3-8).

A creditable, available body of eye witnesses were still available to testify of having seen the resurrected Christ. Many of those in the first century were so fully accepting of the fact of His bodily resurrection that over 5,000,000 of them died as martyrs rather than disclaim it.

If these people were not absolutely certain of the resurrection they would not have allowed themselves to be tortured to death in order to proclaim it as fact.

Get the big picture. Look around you, not just your immediate setting or this moment in history but through the ages. You who follow Christ march with a mighty army. You will never be a part of anything as powerful and important as this. March with dignity and pride as you follow His wounded feet.

Paul wrote this passage in the life-time of persons who could verify it. Peter preached the resurrection within yards of where it happened days after it occurred to the very people who had been present at the crucifixion (Acts 2). The Jesus who was crucified under the eyes of His enemies was now known by many of them to be alive. Christianity is not the kind of nonsense of which fables, forgery, or fabrication is made. It is based on the empirical evidence sworn to by many eye witnesses.

If someone were to say to you they saw a dead man walking, you might think that person to be a candidate for residence on the “funny farm.” If five were to tell you that you might think it a joke. If ten bonded together with that story you might think it a conspiracy. If 500 said it, at the very least, don’t you think you ought to at least look in the coffin.

These did and so should we.

“Seen” as used in the texts means to behold. It can mean to comprehend. They had experienced the power of an elevating presence. Being in the presence of some persons is an elevating experience. Edmund Burke was a writer and statesman of great faith. It was said of him, “If you stand in a doorway to escape a passing shower with Edmund Burke, you would leave that doorway with your shoulders back and your head up and your heart uplifted to face the realities of life.” An encounter with Christ was even a more elevating impact.


This simple statement is Jesus’ intended post-Easter program. We are not simply to give to missions, we are to be on mission. Christianity is like a good disease, an infection that does not produce pain and death, but joy and life. We are to spread it.

The early Christian community was not a memorial society with its eyes fastened on the departed Master. It was a dynamic community created around a living and present Lord. Within seven weeks these hunted, frightened, and cowering fugitives had become flaming missionaries. They were willing martyrs ready to lay down their lives rather than deny the truth of His glorious resurrection and the resulting transforming power.

The highest principle of Christianity is that which happened in their lives can happen in yours. The resurrection gives proof that life is not to be lived as in a rudderless craft or a driver less car. It is to assure the believer of safety. In appealing to persons to give their lives to Christ, we often use the word “accept”. The Bible’s words are trust, commit, follow, and obey. The real issue is not, will you accept Him, but whether He will accept you. Your loving, faithful response to Him assures His acceptance by Him.

The resurrected Christ said, “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live….” (John 11:5).

You too can join the legion who by faith in Christ have cheated death. You can become prepared today to join the loyalists who have joined the beloved Christ on the far bank of history — ALIVE.

Oh, earlier I said, “There are three statements in our text associated with His resurrection that can help us get life into perspective.” There are actually four. Note, Matthew 28: 9, Jesus Himself, the resurrected Christ gives us the fourth word: “R E J O I C E”

What was seen by those who came that early morning to the tomb gives reason to rejoice. The definitive John says they saw the facial napkin “folded together in a place by itself” (John 20:7).

Like a detective investigating a crime scene John scanned the chamber looking for clues. In that napkin he found a clue with a message. It was the custom of monarchs that upon the completion of a meal they would crumple their napkin and leave it on the table indicating they had finished and would not be back. If they were leaving the table with the intent of returning they folded the napkin and left it neatly in place. In that clue in the tomb Jesus was saying, “I will be back.” He said, “I will come again and receive you unto myself.”

That is reason to REJOICE! Keep your eye on the Eastern sky because the Son may rise before the next sun rise. Those who are ready for His return can and must live in a state of continual rejoicing. Those who do not know Him would do well this day to trust and commit to Him in preparation for that eventually.