Matthew 28:1-10; Mark 16:1-8; Luke 24:1-12; John 20:1-10
Early on Sunday morning, as the new day was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went out to visit the tomb. – Matthew 28:1 NLT
Jesus was dead. His tomb had been sealed by Pilate and armed Roman guards stood at the entrance, in an effort to prevent the disciples from attempting to steal the body and claim that Jesus had risen from the dead. A group of women who had been close followers of Jesus had bought spices in order to anoint the body of Jesus for burial. They got up that Sunday morning, the day after the Sabbath, with plans to anoint His body, if only they could find someone who would help them roll away the stone blocking the entrance. But when they arrived, they found that the stone had already been rolled away and the entrance to the tomb was wide open. Matthew tells us that this was the work of an angel of the Lord. He was accompanied by an earthquake and the very sight of him caused the Roman soldiers to faint. Not exactly news they would want to get out among their peers. But the women entered the tomb and found an angel, but the body of Jesus was nowhere to be seen. They were shocked and stunned. The first thought that ran through their minds was that the body had been stolen or moved. The last thing on their mind was that He might be alive. But the angel told them, "Don't be alarmed. You are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He isn't here! He is risen from the dead! Look, this is where they laid his body" (Mark 16:6 NLT). He isn't here! What a statement. So simple and obvious, but it contained so much power and carried so much weight. Jesus wasn't where they expected Him to be. Not only that, Jesus was not in the condition in which they thought they would find Him. He wasn't dead. He was alive.
As you read the four Gospel accounts, it can appear that there are contradiction as to just how many angels appeared and which women went to the tomb. But if you look and read carefully, you can begin to see that there are actually a number of events overlapping. In his book, The Christ of the Gospels, J. W. Shephard gives some insight into the chronology of events.
The order of the events of this memorable Sunday, the resurrection day, are probably as follows: the earthquake, followed by the descent of the angel, the opening of the tomb, and the resurrection (Matthew 28:2-4). The group of women came together and started for the tomb at the "very early” hour of “deep dawn,” while it was yet dark. Mary Magdalene being a nimble young woman, eagerly ran ahead and came to the tomb, finding it open. Immediately she ran back by the nearest way to inform Peter and John of this fact (John 20:1). The other women completed their two miles walk from Bethany to the sepulcher, arriving a little after the rising of the sun (Mark 16:2). An angel suddenly appeared to them and gave them an urgent message to the disciples (Matthew 28:5; Mark 16:5). Another party of women come a little later, and see “two young men” dressed in white at the tomb, and receive words of comfort and instruction (Luke 24:4). About 6:30 a.m. Peter and John arrive, John running ahead (John 20:3-10). Mary Magdalene coming a little later saw two angels (John 20:11-13). The other women had returned to bear the message to the other apostles (Luke 24:10). About 7:00 a.m. Jesus first revealed Himself to Mary of Magdala (John 20:14-18; Mark 16:9). A little later, He appeared to the company of women returning to the sepulcher, and sent them with the charge to the brethren to go to Galilee (Matthew 28:9). About 4:00 p.m. He appeared to Simon Peter (Luke 24:34; 1 Corinthians 15:5), and from 4-6 p.m. to Cleopas and his companion on the way to Emmaus. Finally, in the evening, probably about 8:00 p.m., He appeared to the eleven, and others in the room with barred doors (Luke 24:36; Mark 16:14; John 29:19). Surely this was a never-to-be-forgotten day for the disciples. It made a new world for them, and for His disciples for all subsequent times.
What an amazing day! What an incredible turn of events. The unimaginable and unexpected had happened. Jesus had risen from the dead. And it really was the dawn of a brand new day. Things would never be the same for any of these individuals. The women were given instructions to go and tell the disciples what had happened. But their story wasn't exactly well-received. Luke tells us that "the story sounded like nonsense" to the disciples. So they didn't believe. But Peter and John finally decided to check for themselves and ran to the tomb. They found everything to be just as the women had told them. The body was gone. Jesus was not there. Something incredible had happened. And John ends his account with the words, "Then they went home" (John 20:10 NLT). It sounds so anticlimactic. But what else were they to do? They were in shock. Even though the women had even seen Jesus with their own eyes and He had given them the message, "Don't be afraid! Go tell my brothers to leave for Galilee, and they will see me there" (Matthew 28:10 NLT), the disciples weren't really sure what to do. They were still struggling with disbelief and doubt. Could it all be true? Was it all really happening? This new day was only going to get better. Their doubt would turn into belief. Their sorrow would be turned to joy. Their heartache would be replaced with rejoicing. Because Jesus had done exactly what He said He was going to do. He had come back to life. And this was just the beginning!
Father, what a story. What a change in circumstances. How amazing and unbelievable must all of this been for the disciples. It was too good to be true. It was impossible and highly improbable. But they were about to find out that nothing is impossible with You. A new day had dawned. A new age had begun. Amen.