SUNDAY SCHOOL LESSON

​​Lesson for Sunday 

APRIL 21, 2019

CALLED TO BELIEVE IN THE RESURRECTION

Restoration & Praise

Christian Fellowship Center

​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​Devotional Reading: 1 Corinthians 15:12–22

Background Scripture: Matthew 28:1-15
LESSON SCRIPTURES: Matthew 28:1-15
Exerted from: Standard Lesson Commentary KJV (2018-2019).


1. In the end of the sabbath, as it began to dawn toward the first day of the week, came Mary Magdalene and the other Mary to see the sepulchre.
2. And, behold, there was a great earthquake: for the angel of the Lord descended from heaven, and came and rolled back the stone from the door, and sat upon it.
3. His countenance was like lightning, and his raiment white as snow:
4. And for fear of him the keepers did shake, and became as dead men.
5. And the angel answered and said unto the women, Fear not ye: for I know that ye seek Jesus, which was crucified.
6. He is not here: for he is risen, as he said. Come, see the place where the Lord lay.
7. And go quickly, and tell his disciples that he is risen from the dead; and, behold, he goeth before you into Galilee; there shall ye see him: lo, I have told you.
8. And they departed quickly from the sepulchre with fear and great joy; and did run to bring his disciples word.
9. And as they went to tell his disciples, behold, Jesus met them, saying, All hail. And they came and held him by the feet, and worshipped him.
10. Then said Jesus unto them, Be not afraid: go tell my brethren that they go into Galilee, and there shall they see me.
11. Now when they were going, behold, some of the watch came into the city, and shewed unto the chief priests all the things that were done.
12. And when they were assembled with the elders, and had taken counsel, they gave large money unto the soldiers,
13. Saying, Say ye, His disciples came by night, and stole him away while we slept.
14. And if this come to the governor’s ears, we will persuade him, and secure you.
15.So they took the money, and did as they were taught: and this saying is commonly reported among the Jews until this day.

Lesson Aims
After participating in this lesson, each learner will be able to:
1. Retell Matthew’s record of the discovery of the empty tomb.
2. Compare and contrast the reactions of those who became aware that Jesus’ body was missing.
3. Prepare a testimony based on the truth of the resurrected Jesus.

Introduction

The Greatest Discovery

An online search for the 10 most significant discoveries in history reveals many lists. Most include breakthroughs in the field of medicine—development of antibiotics such as penicillin, etc. Eventually, however, death comes to everyone (Hebrews 9:27). That is why the greatest discovery of all time happened on the day we celebrate as Easter Sunday.

The great discovery that was made by those who came to Jesus’ tomb after His crucifixion was the absence of something: Jesus’ body. Never before and not since that morning has the absence of something conveyed such a profound message. This lesson introduces us to that message.


LESSON CONTEXT
The events in last week’s text from Matthew occurred at a point when the Jewish religious leaders were plotting to arrest Jesus. But they did not want to create a public disturbance by doing so (Matthew 26:3–5). To their delight, the leaders found among Jesus’ disciples an ally for the scheme: Judas Iscariot (26:14–16).

After the Passover meal, Jesus led His disciples from the upper room to the Garden of Gethsemane. That was a place to which He had brought them often. Therefore the location was known to Judas, who guided those who arrested Jesus there (Matthew 26:47; John 18:1–3). There followed the series of appearances before the Jewish ruling council (the Sanhedrin; see last week’s Lesson Context) and Pilate that resulted in Jesus’ crucifixion.

Of the four Gospel writers, only Matthew records the concern of the chief priests and Pharisees that Jesus’ disciples might attempt to steal His corpse. Their concern was based on being aware of the claim of “that deceiver” that He would rise from the dead. A missing body meant that a resurrection could be claimed. Therefore the chief priests and Pharisees recommended to Pilate that steps be taken to ensure against such a hoax (Matthew 27:62–66). Pilate agreed. The results of that effort are considered in today’s lesson.

All four Gospels record the actions of devoted women who returned to Jesus’ tomb to honor Him after His death. We say “returned” because they had been there when Jesus’ body was interred (Matthew 27:61; Mark 15:47; Luke 23:55). Their intent was to finish the hurried job started by two others (John 19:38–41) in anointing His body with various preparations (Mark 16:1; Luke 23:55, 56; compare 2 Chronicles 16:14)

LESSON

1. In the end of the sabbath, as it began to dawn toward the first day of the week, came Mary Magdalene and the other Mary to see the sepulchre.
In the end of the sabbath means that the Sabbath had passed (compare Mark 16:1). The first day of the week is what we call Sunday.

There are several women named Mary in the New Testament, and it’s easy to get them mixed up. The designation Magdalene is not a last name, but indicates a village she comes from that is located on the shore of the Sea of Galilee (compare Mark 16:9; Luke 8:2). The other Mary is likely “the mother of James and Joses” (Matthew 27:56). The parallel accounts designate “the mother of James” (Mark 16:1 and Luke 24:10). If we combine Matthew 13:55; 27:56; and Mark 15:40, 47, then this Mary may be the mother of Jesus, but this is not certain. For the women’s intention in coming to see the sepulchre, see the Lesson Context.

What Do You Think?
What demonstrations of devotion to Jesus will you help newer believers adopt as their own?
Digging Deeper
Should personality characteristics play a role in your helping attempts? Why, or why not?


2. And, behold, there was a great earthquake: for the angel of the Lord descended from heaven, and came and rolled back the stone from the door, and sat upon it.
An earthquake occurred at the moment of Jesus’ death (Matthew 27:50, 51); now one takes place as part of the unfolding drama here. Matthew is the only Gospel writer to record them. These are supernatural temblors, a sign of the activity and presence of God (compare Isaiah 29:6).

Angels have already appeared at crucial occasions during the life and ministry of Jesus: His birth (Luke 2:8–14), His temptation (Matthew 4:11), and at Gethsemane (Luke 22:43). The heavy stone that the angel of the Lord moves indicates that the tomb has been carved out of a rocky hillside (Matthew 27:57, 60). Such stones seal the entrances to tombs.

3. His countenance was like lightning, and his raiment white as snow.
Such a description as this is fitting for a being whom the previous verse says has “descended from heaven”! The brightness of both the angel’s countenance (face) and raiment (clothing) is reminiscent of how Jesus appeared at His transfiguration (Matthew 17:1, 2).

4. And for fear of him the keepers did shake, and became as dead men.
The keepers (guards) stationed at the tomb experience both the sight of the angel of the Lord and the sudden terror of the earthquake. They shake as much as the earth does! The overall shock of what they witness leaves them paralyzed with fear or unconscious. The phrase they became as dead mendoes not mean they actually died, because some of them report the stunning series of events to the religious leaders in Jerusalem (Matthew 28:11, below).

5. And the angel answered and said unto the women, Fear not ye: for I know that ye seek Jesus, which was crucified.
This is not the only place in the Bible where those to whom an angel appears are encouraged to fear not (compare: Genesis 21:17; Luke 1:13, 30; 2:10). Since angelic appearances are sudden and unexpected, this greeting is certainly appropriate.

We can note, however, that there was no message of “fear not” to the guards of Matthew 27:65, 66); the angel’s intention for them is the opposite. By contrast, the angel carries out a ministry of comforting assurance to the bewildered women by affirming awareness of their mission to Jesus, which was crucified and buried. Luke 24:4 records the appearance of “two men … in shining garments,” later described as “angels” (24:23). Matthew chooses to include only the angel who speaks to the women.

6a. He is not here: for he is risen, as he said.
This is the grand announcement. The reminder as he said refers to Matthew 16:21; 17:22, 23; 20:17–19. The fact of Jesus’ resurrection fulfills the promise of a sign to the skeptics who demanded one (see 12:38–40).

No Doubt About the Tomb
Several years ago, I went with about a dozen friends on a guided tour of the Middle East. We visited the usual tourist sites, both secular and sacred. We saw Jewish sites such as the Wailing Wall. We visited Islam’s Dome of the Rock, the golden-domed seventh-century edifice on the site of Solomon’s temple.

I was more drawn to places that reminded me of Jesus’ time among us. The olive groves of Gethsemane held special meaning for me, as did the area surrounding the Sea of Galilee. As significant as those places were to me, it was my reaction to the Garden Tomb that caught me by surprise.

I knew before seeing the tomb that is usually shown to tourists that it was likely not the one briefly occupied by Jesus’ body. But seeing a place where His body conceivably could have lain triggered my imagination: my mind’s eye pictured the moment when the Lord’s followers first realized that He had risen.

We may not know into which tomb Jesus’ body was placed, but the eyewitnesses did! As I stood in front of a tomb in Jerusalem, I was moved by the knowledge that the angel’s words were and are true. If you’re not convinced, what evidence would you have to have to change your mind?  —C. R. B.

6b. Come, see the place where the Lord lay.
The women had seen a dead body lain in this rock-hewn grave (Matthew 27:60, 61). Now they are invited to witness the absence of that body. Can we really understand how dumbfounded the women must be as they hear the angel speak? Jesus was dead, but now He is not. The women’s quest for a dead Jesus has become pointless.

What Do You Think?
How can you better prepare yourself to offer evidence for the fact that Christ rose from the dead? Why is it important to do so?
Digging Deeper
Watch an online video by J. Warner Wallace to learn how a homicide detective approaches these questions. Compare and contrast your approach with his.


7a. And go quickly, and tell his disciples that he is risen from the dead.
The “come, see” of the previous verse gives way to the go … tell we see here. The women had arrived as seekers (Matthew 28:1–5, above). They then transitioned from seekers to finders (28:6, above)—but finding something better than expected. Now they must make the transition from finders to tellers. When it comes to knowledge of Jesus, there’s no such thing as God’s being content with those who never progress out of the seeker stage.

Time will tell whether the disciples will believe the women’s testimony. According to the Jewish historian Josephus (AD 37–100), women of that time are not allowed to testify in court (Antiquities,4.8.15). The affirmation by angels of the women’s role thus flies in the face of a first-century practice. The first witnesses to the evidence of Jesus’ resurrection are indeed women.

While the women seek the tomb as soon as enough daylight allows, the 11 disciples are still cowering in fear behind locked doors. They fear retribution at the hands of the same men who crucified Jesus (John 20:19).

7b. And, behold, he goeth before you into Galilee; there shall ye see him: lo, I have told you.
These phrases repeat and reinforce Jesus’ promise in Matthew 26:32 and Mark 14:28 that He is to go before the disciples into Galilee.

8. And they departed quickly from the sepulchre with fear and great joy; and did run to bring his disciples word.
Both the fear and the great joy of the women are easy to imagine. It is no wonder that they run to tell the disciples (also John 20:2). Mark 16:8 puts this in even stronger terms: “They went out quickly, and fled from the sepulchre.” Such a mixture of emotions is only fitting for the astounding news the women now bear.

What Do You Think?
Who among your acquaintances is ready to hear the message that Jesus is risen? What will cause them to be receptive?
Digging Deeper
How do you know when a slower, more measured approach in sharing this message is better than a faster, more exuberant approach?


9. And as they went to tell his disciples, behold, Jesus met them, saying, All hail. And they came and held him by the feet, and worshipped him.
The women’s surprises are not finished. Before they can complete the task of telling Jesus’ disciples, they meet Jesus himself. We are told nothing about Jesus’ appearance, but we can see that the women recognize Him. Their worshipful response is understandable.

To grasp Jesus by the feet means that the women are on their knees. As speculation, perhaps they are trying to convince themselves that they are not hallucinating. Can this be the same Jesus whom they had known and worshipped prior to His death? Yes, He is the same Jesus: once crucified, now alive.

An ironic touch lies in Jesus’ greeting All hail. The Greek word behind this translation is the same word translated “hail” of the soldiers’ mocking worship (Matthew 27:29) and of Judas betraying Jesus before that (26:49).

10. Then said Jesus unto them, Be not afraid: go tell my brethren that they go into Galilee, and there shall they see me.
Jesus’ words of comfort and instruction mirror those of the angel. A distinction is noted in Jesus’ referring to the disciples as my brethren. This indicates the special closeness that still exists despite their recent desertion (compare Matthew 26:56; John 20:17).

Naturally, these men plan to return home to Galilee anyway. But now there is incentive for speed: the promise of seeing Jesus back there. Even so, the trip back to Galilee does not begin for several days (John 20:26).

11. Now when they were going, behold, some of the watch came into the city, and shewed unto the chief priests all the things that were done.
Only Matthew records the report of the watch (soldiers) who were charged with guarding the tomb to keep the body in it (Matthew 27:66). They have failed. It may seem odd that the Roman guards do not report to Pilate, the Roman governor. But there are two reasons for reporting to the chief priestsinstead. First, the religious authorities were the ones given the authority by Pilate to post the guard and seal the tomb. The second is seen in verse 14, below.

12, 13. And when they were assembled with the elders, and had taken counsel, they gave large money unto the soldiers, saying, Say ye, His disciples came by night, and stole him away while we slept.
This is a meeting of the Jewish ruling council (compare Matthew 27:1). “The chief priests” of verse 11 are Sadducees, while the elders are Pharisees. Their successful plot to kill Jesus has not ended their “problem.” Now another problem has developed. As with Judas Iscariot (Matthew 26:15), they use money as the “solution.” As with previous miracles of Jesus, the religious leaders cannot deny that something supernatural has occurred. So they resort to a paid-for lie to calm the aftershocks of the resurrection earthquake.

14. And if this come to the governor’s ears, we will persuade him, and secure you.
The first reason the soldiers report back to the council instead of Pilate is noted in verse 11, above. The verse before us gives us the second reason. Guards who fall asleep on duty or otherwise fail in their task are subject to execution (compare Acts 12:1–19). But the religious leaders assure the soldiers no negative consequences will befall them. Should Pilate hear of what has occurred, the leaders promise that they can and will protect the soldiers from suffering consequences. The religious leaders’ confidence that they can do so reflects the high degree of influence they have. Their influence was previously seen in successfully pressuring Pilate to crucify Jesus (John 19:12–16).

15a. So they took the money, and did as they were taught.
No voice of protest is recorded; the guards simply accept the payoff and do as told. Money now has been used to purchase both the betrayal of Jesus for His death (Matthew 26:15) and a lie about Jesus regarding His resurrection.

15b. And this saying is commonly reported among the Jews until this day.
Matthew’s Gospel is generally considered to be the earliest of the four Gospels. Scholars date its writing to about AD 50 (or perhaps even earlier). Thus the phrase until this day indicates that the lie has been circulating for some 20 years as Matthew writes.

This lie, this saying, falls apart immediately when we consider the eventual martyrdoms of the apostles. People are known to be willing to die the deaths of martyrs for two things: (1) for truth and (2) for a lie believed to be true. But people are not willing to die for a lie that they know is a lie. But that doesn’t stop twenty-first century skeptics from creating other theories to explain away the account of Jesus’ resurrection.

What Do You Think?
How should responses to common misunderstandings of the gospel message differ from responses to biased misrepresentations?
Digging Deeper
Distinguish between situations that call for no response (example: Mark 14:60, 61a) vs. an explanatory response (example: John 4:19–26) vs. a pushback response (example: Mark 12:18–27).


Truth Has a Way of Getting Out
Richard Nixon was the first president to resign from office. But many observers believe others should have done so as well. Innumerable politicians have seen their proverbial “skeletons in their closets” dangled in public view. Still they persist in secretive underhanded dealings and liaisons.

The Old Testament prophets often called Israel’s leaders to task for their sins. One of the most memorable of these rebukes is Nathan’s confrontation with David for the king’s involvement with Bathsheba and subsequent attempt at a cover-up via murder of her husband (2 Samuel 12:1–14).

The Jewish leaders of Jesus’ day failed to learn from history. Their conspiratorial cover-up was rooted in their vested interests as noted in John 11:48: “If we let [Jesus] thus alone, all men will believe on him: and the Romans shall come and take away both our place and nation.” In the end, the efforts at killing Jesus and covering up His resurrection did not negate the threat of John 11:48. In AD 70, the Romans did indeed come. The ensuing siege and destruction of Jerusalem marked the end of “place and nation” of the Jewish leadership. The ruling council’s attempt to solve its problem by using falsehood in various ways (see Matthew 26:59; compare Acts 6:13) ultimately failed. Today, the truth is available for all to see.

The church’s explosive early growth suggests the liars ultimately end up fooling mainly themselves. Learn from the ruling council’s sinful errors! Truth still has a way of getting out. Stay alert for your chance to reveal the grace and truth of Jesus (see John 1:14, 17) to those who are under the spell of the world’s lies. —C. R. B.

What Do You Think?
Regarding the explanatory response in the previous question, how will you avoid shifting from “defending the faith” to being “defensive about the faith”?
Digging Deeper
How do passages such as Daniel 3; Acts 24–26; 1 Corinthians 9:1–23; and 2 Corinthians 10–12 inform your answer?


Conclusion

No Fake News
The phrase “fake news” became a part of the vocabulary during the 2016 American presidential campaign. Certain news outlets were accused of creating stories that had no basis in fact in order to further an agenda. Christians may similarly be accused of propagating “fake news” regarding the resurrection of Jesus. The idea is that Christians accept on faith something that cannot be proven to be an actual event of history.

But the resurrection can be proven true, as this lesson has demonstrated. Yet getting people to see the truth can be a slow process. This calls for prayer and patience. Even Jesus’ own disciples were not convinced at first. When the women reported to the disciples what they had found and not found at Jesus’ tomb, “Their words seemed to them as idle tales, and they believed them not” (Luke 24:11). The apostle Thomas (in)famously declared, “Except I shall see in his hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and thrust my hand into his side, I will not believe” (John 20:25).

Why would men who were slow to believe news of a resurrection end up trying to make it appear as though one had happened if it had not? No one, neither the women nor the disciples, was anticipating that Jesus would arise. They were not spending the days following His death planning how they could perpetrate a hoax on the public.

Paul’s declaration in 1 Corinthians 15:20 is the one that followers of Jesus gladly embrace and proclaim: “But now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the firstfruits of them that slept.” Fake news—no; actual news—absolutely!

Prayer
Father, how thankful we are that on this Easter Sunday and every day we can celebrate the triumph of Jesus over death. Use us to change hearts and minds with this good news of a risen Savior. We pray this in His name. Amen.​

Thought to Remember
We serve a risen Savior!