Nowadays, if you want to find out about Easter you have two options. One is to consult the New Testament Gospels, the other is to search for results on Google! So here are five Easter facts that I discovered on the world’s favourite internet search engine! According to my Google results:
- Easter Island in the Pacific Ocean is so-called because it was discovered on Easter Day 1772 by a Dutch explorer named Jacob Roggeveen. He clearly didn’t like the natives’ own name for the island, which was Rapa Nui.
- In Sweden children dress up as witches on Easter Day and go door to door collecting chocolate eggs from their neighbours. It sounds like a Spring edition of trick or treating!
- In Hungary it is a custom at Easter time for buckets of water to be thrown over women wearing traditional clothing!
- Easter really is the ultimate moveable feast, coming on the first Sunday following the first full moon after March 21st each year. Sounds complicated!
- And the final fact is that the UK population consumes up to 90 million Easter eggs each year, worth over £400 million – that’s an awful lot of chocolate!
Now those five Easter facts from Google are all very interesting, but don’t really get us to the heart of Easter. For a historically reliable and accurate account of what Easter is all about we need to read the New Testament Gospels, rather than look at our Google search results! And so today, as we look carefully at Matthew’s account of the first Easter we discover 5 facts that demonstrate that Jesus really rose from the dead, and a further 5 reasons why it really matters.
Five facts that prove Jesus really rose from the dead…
So Matthew begins by presenting us with five pieces of evidence designed to convince us that Jesus really did rise from the grave on the first Easter morning.
- Firstly, Matthew makes it clear that Jesus’ tomb was empty. All sides involved agreed that his body had really gone missing. The women who went to anoint Jesus’ corpse discovered that the stone door had been rolled away and no body could be seen. Even the soldiers posted to guard the tomb had fled at the sight of an angel. In fact, verse 13 of our passage describes the story concocted by the guards and the Jewish chief priests to explain away the empty tomb: “His disciples came during the night and stole him away while we were asleep”.
- The second piece of evidence offered by Matthew is that the risen Jesus appeared repeatedly to his followers. First to the two Mary’s as they hurried away from the tomb, and later to his disciples on a mountain in Galilee. In fact, the apostle Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 15 that as many as 500 people people saw Jesus alive in the forty days following his resurrection.
- Fact number three is that these appearances of the risen Jesus totally transformed those who met him. The grief of the two women at the tomb turned to joy, while the fear of the eleven disciples was replaced by faith, followed by a lifetime of bold and brave evangelism.
- The fourth piece of evidence Matthew offers for the resurrection is that it was predicted by Christ himself in advance. In verse 6 today the angel tells the startled women that ‘Jesus has risen, just as he said he would’. In fact, Matthew’s Gospel records at least three occasions during his earthly ministry when Jesus had clearly predicted that he would rise again on the third day after his death. So it should not surprise us that Christ’s words came true. Even in the Old Testament, passages like Psalm 16:10 had predicted that the Messiah’s body would not see decay.
- Finally, Matthew wants us to believe in the truth of the resurrection because it’s the only event that can explain the emergence of the Church. The birth of the first Christian fellowships and the spread of the Gospel message around the Roman empire is almost impossible to explain unless a momentous, miraculous event set it in motion.
As theologians like Tom Wright have said, there is a resurrection-sized whole in human history. If Jesus had remained dead and buried, its incredibly hard to explain the explosive growth of the Church. But Matthew tells us that the risen Christ commissioned his apostles to go to the ends of the earth. The resurrection was the supernatural force that set the mission of the Church into motion.
Five facts that explain why the resurrection really matters…
Confronted by those five facts, we can be confident that Christ really rose from the dead. The Gospels, rather than Google, gives us good eyewitness evidence to believe that Jesus is alive. But so what? Is knowledge of the resurrection just an interesting piece of information, like knowing about Hungarian water rituals or British chocolate egg consumption, or rather more important than that?!
So Matthew goes on to give us five further facts in today’s passage, designed to convince us that the resurrection really matters. Five facts than demonstrate the relevance of the resurrection to our lives today.
- Fact 1 is that the resurrection shows sin has been forgiven. It demonstrates that the crucifixion of Jesus did achieve atonement between God and humankind, it wasn’t just a tragic event. It proves that the promises of forgiveness that Matthew records Jesus uttering before his death were truth not lies. And it invites a response from us of repentance and faith, so that we might recieve the forgiveness that Christ’s death successfully secured.
- Fact two, meanwhile, is that the resurrection confirms Jesus’ identity as the Son of God. Matthew tells that both Mary’s and the eleven disciples fell at his feet in worship when they saw the Risen Jesus. His defeat of death was the clinching proof that of his divine identity, the ultimate demonstration of his divine power after a lifetime of miracle working and astonishing teaching. Worship is the right response from us as well.
- Fact 3 is that the resurrection is the springboard for the Church’s mission. In the final verses of our passage today, Matthew describes the risen Jesus’ great commission to his eleven disciples. They are to take the gospel message to every nation, to the very ends of the earth. Even in 2023 this is unfinished business, so our task is to carry on the work begun by the first witnesses to the resurrection. Our family, friends and neighbours need to know that Jesus is alive, and that forgiveness of sins is available to all through faith in him.
- Fact 4 is that Matthew tells us that Jesus’ power and presence are available to anyone, everywhere. As Jesus says in verse 18 today, “all authority in heaven and on earth” has been given to him. He has the ability to intervene on behalf of anyone who turns to him. And Matthew’s Gospel ends with Jesus’ promise to his followers that “I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” So wherever we may be, whatever we are going through, our risen king Jesus is with us. I can think of no greater motivation to turn to him in prayer.
- Finally, fact 5 is that the resurrection means death is defeated. The resurrection is no trivial fact about foreign customs or chocolate consumption. On the contrary, the resurrection is decisive evidence of the ability of God to defeat death and bring human life back from the grave. Earthquakes, angelic appearances and empty tombs are things that only God can achieve. Our only hope in the face of death is the God and Father of the risen Jesus. He alone can give us everlasting life in a new creation. He alone can make us part of the general resurrection at the end of history, when all God’s people will be raised to life everlasting.
So let’s learn from Matthew’s Gospel rather than Google this Easter morning. Having searched the Scriptures together, let’s rejoice that the resurrection means sins can be forgiven, that Christ possesses all authority, that there is good news to share with the whole world, and that death has been defeated.
Now that’s what I call a search result, alleluia!