He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay.
Matthew 28:6 is famous for being a verse believers today proclaim regularly on the day of His Resurrection, i.e. Easter. If you go on a pilgrimage to Israel, apparently quite a few of the places that are possibly the locations of Christ’s tomb have a sign of this verse attached outside of the tomb. He is not here; he has risen. It is an amazing statement, especially worthy of meditating upon when we look at the context of it. In today’s study, we will, bearing in mind that it is Easter, pretend we are Mary and the one whom the angel spoke these words to. Perhaps in doing this little roleplay we will comprehend the depth of these words.
He is not here – Oh, this is obvious, isn’t it? There’s a long running tease that modern Chinese in my country like to point out about their older generation. Imagine you’re at home, and you see your father coming home. What would a Chinese ask? “Oh, you’re home?” (Just for the record, I’m Chinese.) It’s a formality thing perhaps, but it’s so natural in our culture that as stupid as it is, we still do it. However, was that what the angel was doing? I doubt so. He spoke at a time when the guards were so afraid of what had just happened that they shook and become like dead men [Matthew 28:4]. If trained, mature male adults were so scared that they froze and become like dead men (I love the irony here); I don’t suppose that the two Marys who were present were in a much better state. They would likely be confused, stunned, shocked and, probably still glued to the ground. At the point when the angel spoke, they likely were still outside the tomb, trying to wrap their minds around the fact that they just saw an angel doing something supernatural. ‘He is not here’, informs the angel. They would have found out the moment they stepped into or looked into the tomb, but the angel made it a point to inform them in advance? Why?
He has risen – I think this was why. He wanted to explain the reason first, before they came to any other conclusions on their own accord. He is not here, because he has risen. In fact, this was probably the very first, of many, proclamations of Christ’s revival. Unfortunately, our human logical minds are unable to process that line of thinking very well. It’s common sense, isn’t it? If you had placed gold bar in a safety deposit, and locked it well, but three days later it is gone… what is the first thought that will hit you? Oh, my gold bar has grown wings and left the safety box on its own accord? No, obviously you’re going to think, somebody has stolen my gold bar!
It may sound like a stretch, but it’s a rather similar case. A dead body is an inanimate object, equivalent to a gold bar. Anybody who walks into a tomb expecting to see a corpse but not seeing one would never think that the corpse had come to life and walked out of the tomb on its own accord. They will be thinking, somebody moved it away, somebody stole it. In fact, that was exactly what Mary Magdalene thought – “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!” [John 20:2]. That was also the plan that the chief priests came up with, spreading a rumour that His disciples came during the night and stole him away [Matthew 28:13] – it was a story that was easily accepted and believed, to the point that this story has been widely circulated among the Jews to this very day [Matthew 28:15].
It was, afterall, easier to understand than resurrection.
just as he said – Oh yes, certainly. Jesus did foretell his death and his subsequent resurrection, and even pre-counted the days for his followers. Mark 8:31 – and that he must be killed and after three daysrise again; Matthew 17:23 – They will kill him, and on the third day he will be raised to life; Luke 9:22 – and he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.
He told you, the angel said. But if they couldn’t comprehend it when they have witnessed it, they wouldn’t have comprehended it when Jesus foretold it, would they?
Come and see the place where he lay – the angel was kind. He understood the weaknesses of Men. They needed to see in order to understand. They needed to see with their own eyes before they could truly believe that ‘He is not here’. I’m not quite sure they believed that Jesus has risen until they saw him in sight, frankly. But the place where he lay was also laden with meaning. The cloth was still lying in its place, separate from the linen [John 20:7]. John took special care to mention the linens and the state they were in. It makes sense, doesn’t it? If the body had been stolen away, why would they unwrap the body from the linen first before taking the body away? If it were the disciples who had taken the body in a hurry while the guards were asleep, they wouldn’t have had the time to fold the cloth nicely in their haste.
Come and see, the angel told them. Come and see. It is a reflection of our need as humans to see in order to believe, isn’t it? Today modern Christians cannot really see. Even if you go on a pilgrimage to Israel, you may see the empty tombs – but you cannot be quite sure which is the actual one. Today we are taught to just believe – we don’t have a choice, do we? The accounts of the empty tomb across the four gospels often cause a lot of confusion – especially in the events that Mary Magdalene were involved in. That is an analysis (and a hard one) for another day. Today, even as we proclaim, ‘he is risen!’ – let us consider the hesitancy and the doubt that is traditionally carried with the proclamation.
Our Lord is compassionate. For those who needed to see in order to believe, he told them, come and see. He appeared to them, so that they would believe. Even Thomas, who refused to believe – Jesus showed himself to him and even asked him to reach out his hands and touch his wounds, so that he could believe.
Resurrection is a very high level concept, in my opinion. It’s not easy to understand. It’s not easy to believe. And we probably have no need to believe that dead bodies would just randomly revive after three days – Jesus was very much a special case (so were the people revived by Jesus). But this resurrection foretells the resurrection of the human being, the resurrection into eternal life, and that is the resurrection that we really need to believe without seeing.