The Resurrection of our Lord • Matthew 28:1–10 • April 24, 2011
By Rick Marrs
Proclaiming the gospel on Easter is a joy-filled challenge. This is the big Sunday in which everyone coming expects dynamic, joyous music and an outstanding, memorable sermon. It is, after all, the resurrection of Jesus Christ we’re celebrating! But the preacher’s hearers are of many types. The regular members, perhaps a little judgmental about the Christmas and Easter (C&E) attenders, have spent the last six weeks in lenten “sackcloth and ashes,” and they want to bust out into the joy and wonder of the empty tomb. Semi-regular attenders are looking forward to the “big event.” There may be a few de-churched who come, inquisitive, because it was something they did as kids. Maybe even a few “never-churched” come along if they are invited by a Christian friend. And then there are the C&E attenders whom the pastor, trying hard not to be too judgmental himself, would love to entice to at least become semi-regulars.
When I was a novice parish pastor, it was easy for me to assume that C&E attenders took the Bible less seriously or struggled with doubts in their faith in Christ. Home visits with the C&E attenders led me to realize my assumptions were rarely valid. There were often relational problems, not theological ones, keeping these people away from regular attendance. Research conducted by Britt Beemer (with Ken Ham in their book Already Gone, 2009) on young evangelical Christians found that 91% of holiday attenders still believed “in the creation of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden” and 72% still believed that they “were saved and [going] to heaven upon death.” C&E Christians were much more like regular attenders in their survey responses and extremely different from those who never attend church. Research by Robert Putnam (e.g. in Bowling Alone, 2000) indicates that Americans in general, not just Christians, are becoming less and less involved in structured social groups (like churches, bowling leagues, PTAs, etc.). More Americans are actually bowling, but not in leagues.
So what does this mean about proclaiming the message of the resurrection based upon Matthew 28:1–10? Perhaps to not forget to make some home visits both pre-Easter and post-Easter to the individually-minded C&E attenders (as well as the regulars and semi-regulars). It may not be just your preaching that draws them in or pushes them away, but your personal invitations and pastoral presence among them. Encouraging your regular members to be invitational and not judgmental might also be wise.
Suggested Outline: There was a Great Earthquake
Opening: What was the strongest earthquake you have ever felt? (Geographically dependent personal earthquake story—Californians are accustomed to them, but many others are not. The great New Madrid quake of 1811 was felt as far away as the East coast.)
- There was a great earthquake (σεισμός) at Christ’s resurrection (women walking, angel appearing, guards fearing and “quaking”).
- There had been another great earthquake on Friday, at Christ’s death, filling them with awe and leading to many other resurrections (or at least revivifications; 27:51–54).
- We modern people explain earthquakes away as friction between te tonic plates, but in Scripture earthquakes often indicated that the LORD was speaking (e.g., Ex 19:18, Nm 16:31, Ps 18:7, Hg 2:6ff, Rv 6:12 and 8:5. See Hendriksen’s 1973 New Testament Commentary on Matthew for more citations).
- The resurrection of Jesus has been a glorious “earthquake” felt around the world for centuries, changing lives, destroying death, and changing the course of human history and eternity.
- It started with just these few women at the tomb, then spread to the disciples, then throughout Samaria, Galilee, the Mediterranean, and beyond. It continued through to your baptism.
- Do you still feel the earthquake of Christ’s resurrection rumbling through your life? (Personal and/or congregational stories can be inserted here. Either the Great Commission or the Colossians 3 epistle lesson could be tied in for support). Through your Christian life, baptized into Christ’s death and resurrection (Rom 6), and through the church’s life (and our local church) the earthquake continues to rumble and spread. The world looks at our lives as evidence for Christ’s reverberation.
- This earthquake will continue until it is ended with a trumpet call, when death for all is overcome (1 Cor 15:50ff).