In Matthew 27, before Peter and John saw the resurrected Lord. He was seen by the women first, those who had been last at the cross and were now first at the tomb. Jesus met them on their way home after they had gone to the tomb, seen the angels, and heard about Jesus’ resurrection. The angel’s message contains four imperatives that are as important today as they were on that first Easter day for those women: “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…”
The first of the angel’s imperatives was “come.” This was an important statement because much might have hindered the women from coming. The place itself might have hindered them. They were in a graveyard early in the morning. They might have said to each other, “Let’s go back; it’s not safe here. Let’s come back when it is brighter and there are more people around.” Fear of Rome might have hindered them. The stone had been sealed, but the seal was broken and the stone removed. Rome had been defied. They might be implicated in the crime. They might have said, “We can’t go closer. Rome forbids it.” Their sin might have hindered them. Something mysterious, holy had taken place here. They might have reasoned, “This is sacred ground. We can’t go closer.” None of this stopped them, of course. The invitation to come was from God, and they recognized the voice of God in the invitation and obeyed it.
Through the preaching of the gospel, the Lord invites you to come to him. He is speaking to you when he says, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls” (Matt. 11:28–29). Have you come? Have you obeyed that invitation? There can be no knowledge of God, no salvation, no growth in the Christian life until you do.
The second imperative was “see.” The angel said, “Come and see the place where he lay” (v. 6). What should we see when we look into the tomb? Years ago Charles H. Spurgeon preached a message on this verse in which he suggested five things.
First, we should see in Christ’s grave the condescension of Jesus Christ. Jesus was not a man for whom death would be natural. Jesus is God. He was with the Father from all eternity and will be with him forever. We would never expect Jesus to die. But Jesus did in fact die for us. We should marvel at the condescension of such an amazing God, that he should be placed in a tomb to save us.
Second, we should see the horror of our sin, for it was our sin that put him there. Death is the punishment for sin. But Jesus had no sin; he was sinless. Why then did Jesus die? The answer is clear: “He was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed” (Isa. 53:5). When we look into the tomb, we begin to see the horror of our sin and develop a proper hatred for it.
Third, we should look into the tomb to be reminded that we too will die. Unless the Lord returns for his own before that moment, we will also die and be separated from those we know and love. The tomb speaks of our mortality and warns us that there is a life beyond this life for which we must prepare.
Fourth, and most important, we must look into the tomb to see that Jesus is not in it. He is risen as he said. He has conquered death. The empty tomb is one great evidence of the resurrection. Most people who have written seriously about the events of this momentous week have noticed, if they have been honest, that in all the reports we have, whether in the New Testament or in secular sources of the time, there is not one attempt to deny that the grave was empty. There are alternative explanations. One of them is in the verses that follow these in Matthew: The disciples stole the body. But not one writer anywhere denied that the tomb was empty. What can account for it? Not theft by Christ’s enemies: If they had stolen the body, they would have produced it later when the resurrection was proclaimed by Jesus’ followers. Not the disciples either: If they had stolen the body, they would not have been willing to die, as many of them later did, for what they knew was a fabrication. The only adequate explanation of the empty tomb is that Jesus had been raised from the dead as the Bible teaches.
The fifth reason we should look into the tomb is to learn that we shall also rise, as Jesus did, if we are joined to him. Jesus did not come to earth merely to teach, die, and rise again, so that in the end he might lose those for whom he died. He came to save his own “completely” (Heb. 7:25), to take them to heaven to be with him. When we look at the tomb, we are assured that one day we will be with him and will be as he is (1 John 3:2).
Go, was the third of the angel’s imperatives. It is a strong reminder that however tempting it may be to remain near the tomb to learn its lessons, there is nevertheless work that remains to be done and we must get on with it. This is the way the Gospel ends, of course, for the last words of Jesus to his disciples, reported just three paragraphs after this, are, “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you” (vv. 19–20). This is the greatest work any person can ever have, and it is for all Christians.
The last of the angel’s imperatives was “tell.” It rightly came last, for if we have come to the tomb, have seen that it is empty, know that Jesus was raised, and then obeyed Jesus by going into the world, clearly we must speak of what we know. We must say to people, “He is not here; he has risen, just as he said.” This is powerful, even astonishing good news. But good news must be told. If we do not tell it, our actions can only be the result of unbelief or that we do not understand what a great, powerful, and astonishing gospel it is.
The greatest news the world has ever heard is that Jesus Christ has been raised from the dead. It is great because it is true and because of what it proves. It proves that the God of the Old Testament is the true God, that Jesus is God’s Son and our Savior, that his death has been accepted by his Father as a true atonement for our sins, that those who believe on Jesus are in a justified state before God, that there is power for victory over sin for all who belong to Jesus, and that those who are joined to Jesus by faith will themselves be raised from death to life in heaven. That is a tremendous message. How can we not tell it boldly to those who are perishing apart from Jesus Christ?