• The Explore the Bible lesson for March 31 focuses on Matthew 28:1-10, 16-20.
We take a break from the 1 Timothy unit to discuss the last chapter of Matthew’s Gospel, which is timely, since this lesson will fall on Easter Sunday. To be sure, the celebration of Christ’s resurrection is an important occasion, central to the proclamation of the gospel. Some churches will announce this good news with a minister declaring: “Christ is risen!” to which the congregation responds, “He is risen indeed.” Other churches might sing and shout “Alleluia!” Nonetheless, all churches will be places of light, color and Easter celebration, which stand in sharp contrast to the dark shadows encountered on Good Friday.
In the text, there are a few details important to notice. First, when compared to Mark, Matthew’s account of the empty tomb is much more vivid. Matthew reports the women (two Marys) approach a closed tomb (v. 2). Then, suddenly, an earthquake occurs, and an angel opens the tomb by rolling the stone away. The guards present are understandably frightened, as are the women (v. 4). After the angel calms their fears, he declares Jesus has risen and urges the women to tell the disciples to meet Jesus in Galilee.
Women important to the Easter story
It should be noted these women are very important to the story—as they are in each of the four Gospels. The hope for the spread of the gospel rests on them. They are the only ones—besides the guards—who know of the Lord’s resurrection. Luckily, for our sake, they do not fail to complete their task. Along the way, they are “afraid yet filled with joy” (v. 8), but Jesus appears, and they recognize and worship him.
Afterward, Jesus encourages the women to continue on their journey to inform the disciples (v. 10). Notice their testimony is the “evidence” of Christ’s resurrection. None of the Gospels describe Jesus’ resurrection, only the aftermath of it and the witness of these women.
The last section of this lesson involves a text known as the “Great Commission,” where Jesus issues final admonitions to spread the good news of the gospel throughout the whole world. Yet when read closely, this text offers an incredible wealth of insight. First, though, Matthew tells us Jesus meets the 11 disciples on a mountain in Galilee, where worship is once again the appropriate response to Christ’s presence (v. 17).
After declaring he has received all heavenly and earthly authority, Jesus sends the crowd to “make disciples of all nations” (vv. 18-19). While Matthew’s Gospel makes a strong effort to connect Jesus to the Old Testament, depicting him as a “new Moses,” here we find Jesus’ significance as broader than simply Judaism. The gospel is to be spread to “all nations,” the shorthand Greek phrase for the Gentiles—non-Jews.
In the next part of the Great Commission, Jesus urges the disciples to baptize new disciples in the name of the Triune God—Father, Son and Holy Spirit (v. 19). Clarence Jordan—the New Testament Greek scholar-turned-farmer who founded an interracial farming community called Koinonia Farm in Americus, Ga., in 1942—wrote his own translation of the Gospels, labeling them “The Cotton Patch Gospels.” Here, the liberating story of Jesus is set within the context of the American South, with Jesus dying in Atlanta and the texts taking on a distinctive Southern tone. In his version of this passage, Jordan highlights the function of baptism as creating and maintaining community when Jesus tells the disciples to “initiate them into the family of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” In other words, Jordan tells us that, for Jesus, baptism is more than just a personal act; it makes you a participant in the community that worships Father, Son and Spirit—the church.
God with us
The final statement of Matthew’s Gospel says Jesus will be with the disciples always. Readers should notice an intimate link between this statement and a title given to Jesus at the beginning of the gospel when Matthew quotes Isaiah 7:14, noting the child born to the virgin will be called Emmanuel, which means “God with us” (1:23). This serves to bracket the entire gospel with Matthew’s answer to the question: Who is Jesus? Matthew boldly declares: “God with us.”
Jordan translates Jesus’ words as follows: “I will be with you until the very last inning.” While it may be easy to pass over this innocent baseball reference, it is actually quite significant. Other sports, such as football and basketball, have clocks and timers that run out, indicating the game is over. A baseball game plays on with no buzzer until the game is over. Let’s remember there is no time limit on Christ’s presence as “God with us.” He remains until the very end.