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The Empty Tomb: Turn, Trust, and Go Forward

April 9, 2023


Pastor Peder Kling


Sermon Passage: Matthew 28:1-20

Audio Only (with the Old Testament Scripture Reading)

“Food is Scarce, Lord Have Mercy!”
This morning, we celebrate God triumphing over death, over our sin, and over all the miseries we

experience in this broken and fallen world. Halleljuah, no? And I’ll say to start this morning—we do
experience miseries, folks. The resurrection is good news for a reason.


If you get our denomination’s monthly catalog called the New Horizons, you may have recently read
an update from our missionaries in Uganda—the Folkerts. This is what they wrote in the
introduction of their contribution to this month’s catalogue.


This morning we woke up to news that we had slept through a significant gun battle. Just
another day here “east of Eden” in Karamoja, Uganda. Apparently, nomadic raiders had
attacked the local army camp, a few kilometers away. The army was supposed to be
protecting some large herds of cattle. One or two child shepherds were killed in the fight,
but, of more concern to the army, over two hundred cows were taken. Today, I am sure the
army is busy hunting down these bad guys.
We are currently in the middle of the dry season, and food insecurity is worsening. This is
often the time of year when quarreling and drunkenness intensifies in the villages around us.
Last week, one of the wives of our polygamous former guard rolled onto her baby in a
drunken stupor, accidentally smothering the child. The week before, a young girl in a nearby
village told us her gut-wrenching story of ongoing sexual abuse and forced abortions. Last
month, a mother who alredy has six children took in another six from her deceased sister.
The rumor is that the sister was killed by her husband. He is still around. The adoptive
mother now has twelve mouths to feed. Food is scarce. Lord, have mercy!


The curse—death—it’s in the air, isn’t it? It’s heavy. I know it’s often easy for us to use African
poverty as an easy target to illustrate this—although I assure you that the same curse and the same
kinds of suffering are at work in our corner of the world, even here in America and in Amsterdam.
You all follow the headline news, I talk with you every week. If America and our town of
Amsterdam don’t feel heavy with the curse, then you’re seeing things wrong. “Six killed, including
three children, in Tennessee school shooting” — last week’s headlines. Or, go down the street and
talk to the folks at Alpha pregnancy care center, and hear a little of the misery that’s happening here
in our town. Mothers who can’t afford to feed their children—who are considering abortion because
they think it’s their only option. Domestic abuse, alcoholism—I hear it every day in this
neighborhood, even in the middle of the night, from that house next door, where I sleep with my
family. Then again, in well-functioning families who love the Lord—there’s still conflict. There’s still
indwelling sin. There’s still frustration with the kids, the spouse—short tempers, resentments,
unexpected tragedy. We can’t escape this stuff. At least, not on our own.


This, brothers and sisters, is why Easter Sunday matters. This is why Jesus’s resurrection matters. It’s
the only answer when we’re dealing with death, sin, God’s wrath against our sin. If Jesus didn’t rise
from the dead—then the curse and yes, your death, would be the last word after a life of frustration.
The risen Jesus offers hope, folks—the only hope. Even the saints of old yearned with faith for a
resurrection—read Hebrews 11. Abraham, Jacob, Moses—Hebrews says they were all seeking a

heavenly country. This broken world can’t be the answer. I like what D. A. Carson said—“You are
not suffering from anything that a good resurrection can’t fix”. Do you believe that? Do you feel
that every time you struggle with sin or suffering or frustration?


Turn Around, Trust Up, Go Forward
This morning, we’re simply going to look at Matthew 28 as Matthew presents the story to us. This
will be a “walk through the passage” sermon, this morning—and, this is what we’re going to see.
We’ll see that if we’re going to embrace the hope of Jesus’s empty tomb, we must do three things.
We must turn around. We must trust up. We must go forward. This isn’t deeply complicated stuff,
folks—and as we’ll see, it’s all incredibly practical and helpful for us in everyday life.


The Empty Tomb: “Turn Around!”
So, look in our passage, and start reading with me in verse 1. We’ll see how the empty tomb leads us
to turn around—and, in more ways than one. Verse 1—


Now after the Sabbath, toward the dawn of the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and
the other Mary went to see the tomb.


So, that’s a pretty short, undescriptive way to tell what was happening here. As we move further
along in Matthew’s account of this empty tomb, we’ll see that Matthew seems to be going out of his
way to tell this story quickly, and with a heavy weight of glory. Mathew leaves certain details out. In
this instance—he leaves out the fact that they took spices with them—something which the other
gospels all tell us about. They took spices with them. They woke up early and went to the tomb with


Now, let’s just back up a minute to get a good feel for this moment. Why would they be taking
spices to a dead man’s tomb—even a tomb that had been sealed shut with a big rock? What’s the
point of that? This wasn’t just a form of grieving—it was a show of honor and respect to Jesus.
They were going to anoint Jesus’s body with spices in order to keep the smell of his decaying body
at bay. This is the third day in—he would have begun to smell. They didn’t want that of their Lord.


But at a deeper level, what else does that tell us about these women? It means that they were
expecting a dead body. That’s what it means, and I think that’s significant. They didn’t remember
Jesus’s words. He had told people on numerous occasions—even publicly—that he was going to die
and rise again from the dead in three days. He was going to die on the cross for the sins of his
people, and he was going to rise victoriously over the grave three days later. He told his disciples
that. Why are these women bringing herbs and spices to anoint his decaying body on the third day?
Folks, it’s just too unbelievable. Jesus’s promise to rise from the dead was just too unbelievable. Not
even his most devout followers believed or understood what Jesus was saying, when he said “in
three days I will rise again”.


Turn Around from Slow-to-Believe Faith
One minister says it rather thoughtfully, concerning Jesus’s tomb on that day—“nobody expected
no body”. Even though Jesus said he’d rise again, and that there’d be no body in the tomb on the
third day, nobody expected no body. It goes to show us how fickle our faith is, and how little we
think of Jesus’s power. That’s us, folks—“whelp, time to call it a day. we lost. bring your herbs and
spices and seal the deal”. Jesus hasn’t even begun to write his story! Yet we say with an ever-so-often
short-sighted faith, “Nah, Jesus, you can’t really mean you’ll be raised in three days.” Do you

understand the power of our Lord, and the life and hope he extends to his people of faith? Yes, it
takes a God-given, crazy faith to believe many of the promises God gives his people—and these
early moments of disbelieving Jesus’s promise to rise again are telling of our ever slow-to-believe


Think about what happens a little later. The disciples themselves have a hard time believing the
initial report that Jesus had risen. They were expecting the body to stay dead. So, they were sad and


It was public knowledge, folks—just look back in Matthew a few verses to Matthew 27:63. The
reason Pilate set guards at the tomb is because Jesus said he’d rise again in three days, and Pilate
didn’t want his followers to steal the body on the third day in a last-ditch effort to vindicate Jesus’s
words. People knew what Jesus claimed—yet, not even his most close and beloved followers
thought for a second to take his words at face value. So, they approach his tomb on the third day
with herbs, to seal the deal of shame and despair.


Without the hope of the resurrection, folks, we’ll always be far too quick to give up. We’ll be too
quick to give up our hope, our fight against sin, or contending for the faith at the face of suffering.
As we’ll see, the resurrection calls us to turn that around. The resurrected Jesus calls us to turn
around from a premature surrender or despair. Turn it around, folks. He is risen, as he said.


Turn Around (Quickly) from Misery to Joy
Keep reading, verse 2—


2 And behold, there was a great earthquake, for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven
and came and rolled back the stone and sat on it. 3 His appearance was like lightning, and his
clothing white as snow. 4 And for fear of him the guards trembled and became like dead


So, this is describing an angel of the Lord descending from heaven with a massive blow of victory
over all the curse, death, and God’s enemies. There was an earthquake, brilliantly shining angels
(Luke says there were two of them), and guards laying as though dead on the ground. Matthew is
truly capturing the moment of this event, even with more gusto than the other gospels.


In fact, it’s hard to tell from Matthew’s account of the story, here, but the women did not see this
event. I stopped reading at verse 4, there, for a reason. Even though Matthew’s gospel doesn’t tell us
clearly, time elapsed between the tomb opening up, and the women arriving (which we read about in
that next verse, there in verse 5). In Matthew, here, it sounds like this all happens in a quick
moment. Verse 4—" 4 And for fear of [the angel] the guards trembled and became like dead men.”
Verse 5—"
But the angel said to the women”. It seems like it all happened in a moment, there,

doesn’t it?

In reality, it didn’t. When we read the other three gospels, we read that the women came after this all
happened. They came to a tomb that was already opened, that was surrounded by shell-shocked
soldiers, and the angel was sitting at the empty tomb.


So, here’s the question. Why is that important to notice? Why is it important to notice that

Matthew’s gospel seems to be telling all the details of this story without a thought to the moment-
by-moment elapse of time, when the other gospels are more specific?


This is what I think. I think Matthew’s gospel is uniquely expressing the urgent, immediate, dramatic
glory of this moment which no doubt would have been felt by those women at the tomb. As we
move forward in the message this morning, we’re going to see that the resurrection doesn’t simply
call us to turn around, trust upward, and go forward. Matthew’s gospel is commending us to all of
that quickly, because the resurrection is that great. It’s that powerful. The resurrection can cause the
most despairing people to turn around from their despair, trust up, and go forward in the swiftest
turn of events possible. It’s almost like a trick on the emotions, on the mind. One second, I’m the
saddest or most enslaved to sin I’ve ever known—then in the next moment, having seen the glory of
the resurrection, I’m filled with the greatest joy and strength and hope I’ve ever known. That’s what
we see in this passage, isn’t it? That’s what the resurrection did to these women.


It’s not as though these women woke up one morning and had a nice cup of tea, and went out on a
ladies’ morning trot to the tomb—I think we almost get that image when we read some of the other
gospels. Take Mark for example—


very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb. 3 And
they were saying to one another, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance of
the tomb?” 4 And looking up, they saw that the stone had been rolled back—it was very
large. 5 And entering the tomb, they saw a young man sitting on the right side, dressed in a
white robe, and they were alarmed.


That feels way different than the way Matthew tells the story, isn’t it? It’s the same story. The details
which Matthew and Mark mention don’t contradict one another. Although, Mark doesn’t seem to be
expressing the fear, the glory, the urgency of the event with as much gusto as we are seeing in
Matthew. In Mark, it almost seems like they woke up on a nice sunny morning and made their way
to the tomb, talking along the way. “I wonder who will roll the stone for us—have you thought of


Folks, these women were filled with fear and despair. When Mark says in his gospel that these
women, on their way to the tomb, said “who will roll away the stone for us?”, I think we should read
some trembling in their voices. Jesus—whose body they were seeking to honor—had just been
crucified as a criminal, a traitor of Israel. Now they were going to his tomb in order to pay respects to
a him. You don’t pay respects to that sort of man. You definitely don’t ask someone to help you open
his tomb to pay respects to him. You let his body rot.


These women were afraid. They were lost, uncertain. They likely felt beaten by the world—outcasts
just like their Lord. They were uncertain of how they would respect their Lord’s body—“who will
away roll the stone for us?”. This was an incredibly low moment for them. The curse felt heavy
upon them that morning. All their hopes and securities were gone. Think of your lowest point in
life—then, go lower. Go even lower. These women were there, burdening that despair together on
this walk to the tomb.


So, all of that was going on in this moment—and yes, Matthew’s gospel tells this story with as much
urgency and glory as he possibly could. He doesn’t even take the time to say time elapsed between

the tomb rolling open and the women arriving. This is all, quite simply, one massive, swift, glorious
display of Jesus’s power and salvation. Let me read Matthew on this again—and compare it to what
we just read in Mark. It’s not a different story, but certainly a different emphasis.


Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb. 2 And behold, there was a great
earthquake, for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven and came and rolled back the
stone and sat on it. 3 His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow. 4 And
for fear of him the guards trembled and became like dead men. 5 But the angel said to the
women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. 6 He is not
here, for he has risen, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay.


It hits you like a brick, doesn’t it? It’s supposed to. That’s how Matthew is telling the story, here, and
it’s how it should be told. Jesus rose from the dead. “He is not here, for he has risen as he said.”, the
angel says to these women. Don’t you remember what he said? What—were you expecting a dead
man? What are those herbs doing in your hand? He’s risen as he said—come, see the place where he


Phew. You don’t get more extreme emotions in one moment, then what you see here—and it’s all
occasioned by the most glorious display of God’s power that he has ever revealed in the history of
his creation. The Savior who died, who absorbed God’s infinite wrath against the sins of his people,
rose victoriously over the grave. This is the death of sin. This is the death of death, it’s the first fruits
of the new, eternal creation—and honestly, I don’t think these women were even there in their
theology yet. I’d doubt they were cognizant of what God had actually just accomplished—that by
faith, they and their sin went in the grave with Jesus, and by faith, they rose from the dead with Jesus
for all eternity. I’m not sure they were thinking that just yet.


Turn Around *to* Jesus — “We Got Him Back!”
What were they thinking? They were thinking what they should have been thinking—the greatest news
of all. They were thinking, “We got him back. He’s alive, we have him back—we have his fellowship
and joy back with us, there’s hope.” This is all about Jesus—it’s about him, eternal life and fellowship
and peace and joy with him. Oh, if they only knew in that moment everything the Lord had just
accomplished—I don’t think they could have handled it. I mean honestly, the earthquake and the
empty tomb and the shining angels and the shell-shocked soldiers was enough—don’t you think?
This moment was outrageously glorious.


Turn Around from Fear
By the way, don’t you love the first gospel pronouncement of the risen Jesus, there in verse 5? I love
how it starts, with those famous words we see littered throughout the whole Bible. “Do not be
afraid”. It’s the most repeated command God has for his people in all the Scriptures. “Do not be
afraid”—and yes, this is a call to turn around. I don’t think this is simply saying “Yes, I’m an angel,
I’m bright, don’t be afraid of me”. I don’t think that’s what this command is after. It’s bigger than
that. “Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified.”—meaning, stop being
afraid that Jesus is dead! Stop being afraid that your hope is gone! Stop seeking a dead Jesus, a dead
hope! Your God and your Savior is alive. You got him back! So, “Do not fear!”, is the first thing
Jesus’s resurrection says to you.


Is that not true, Christian? Is that not the most repeated command in scripture—much less at Jesus’s
resurrection—for a reason? Fear comes in all shapes and sizes, folks. Sometimes we call it anxiety.

Sometimes we call it stress. Sometimes we call it “being overwhelmed”. Sometimes we call it “being
unloved”. Sometimes we call it “not having control”. Sometimes we call it “insecurity”, or “feeling
hopeless”. Sometimes we call it “impatience”. Sometimes we call it “worrying about medical or
financial situations”. All of these things are different expressions of fear, folks. The angel, here, is
saying to these despairing women “do not fear... for he is risen as he said.”


So, turn around. Also—trust up. Right? Turn from your fear, and trust upward in the risen Jesus.

Trust Upward Under His Authority
Where do we see a summons to trust the risen Jesus in this passage?


There isn’t an explicit summons to trust, here in Matthew 28. Although, it’s certainly all over
Matthew 28—its shown to us. Matthew is commending us to simply see the power and authority of
Jesus, and trust with an eye upward to him and his manifested authority.


Serioulsy folks—this passage is brimming with Jesus’s glory and authority for us to trust. There isn’t
a single area of God’s created order which this passage leaves outside of Jesus’s sovereign authority.
We actually see it, here in Matthew 28, in all the details mentioned at the empty tomb. The angelic
beings who appeared at his tomb—who were they serving? They were serving at Jesus’s command,
displaying Jesus’s authority of spiritual authorities. The Roman guards were laying “as though dead”
at his tomb display Jesus’s authority over earthly powers. The earthquake displayed Jesus’s authority
over creation as it groans for redemption. He’s Sovereign over all those things—spiritual and earthly
powers, earthquakes and all natural disasters. They’re all serving him, under his authority, here.


Even death served Jesus. The empty tomb showed his authority over sin and the curse and death.
The man literally said he would rise from the dead in three days, and he did it. Nothing is outside of
his control—and, he’s committed to using all his authority for the good of his people who turn from
their sin and trust in him.


By the way, I love how the Jews and Romans responded to all this. They didn’t know what to do
with this. I love the fact that the soldiers weren’t actually dead in this story. They were shell-shocked.
Maybe knocked out, stunned, I don’t know. Whatever happened, they simply couldn’t behold the
glory and authority of Jesus. They couldn’t turn around from their pride, and trust in Jesus. If you
look ahead to verse 11, you’ll see what they did. Verse 11—


11 ... behold, some of the guard [who were laying as though dead, shell-shocked by what
happened] went into the city and told the chief priests all that had taken place. 12 And when
they had assembled with the elders and taken counsel, they gave a sufficient sum of money
to the soldiers 13 and said, “Tell people, ‘His disciples came by night and stole him away
while we were asleep.’ 14 And if this comes to the governor’s ears, we will satisfy him and
keep you out of trouble.” 15 So they took the money and did as they were directed. And this
story has been spread among the Jews to this day.


So there, you see the authorities clearly trying to grapple with Jesus’s power and authority. “He
couldn’t have power over death, this can’t be—tell the people his body was stolen, and give the
soldiers some hush money”. That’s all they could do in this situation. They wouldn’t give up their
control and authority, so they had to make something up. It’s how the world grapples with power

and authority. It’s a world of lies and frustrations, folks—and lies are bound to tumble eventually.
They wouldn’t turn around and trust up, and it led to their demise.


There is another place we are called to trust upward, in Jesus’s authority, that’s mentioned here in
Matthew 28. Do you see it? Where else is his authority shown to us? Verse 18, when Jesus
commissions his disciples? “All authority has been given to me, therefore go and make disciples of all
nations”. Isn’t that something? Jesus says, here, “go into all the world and make disciples—go into
the world and be killed, mocked, persecuted, just like me, and make disciples”—that’s a terrifying
task, folks. Although, he doesn’t say that without first saying “all authority has been given to me”.
Why did he say that? Was he saying “I’m in control—you better obey!”. That’s not what he was
saying (although it’s true). He was saying “I’m in control over all things—and, I got you. Go make
disciples, and be mocked for it. Enter stormy seas—I got you there, too (Paul, shipwrecked three
times). Be killed for it. Make disciples—and behold, I am with you to the end of the age”. It’s a
comfort. His authority over death and the devil and sin and wicked people is a comfort, if you’ll turn
and trust in him. Trust up in his sovereign authority and grace.
You have to imagine all of these women, and these disciples, who were grieving over their Lord. He


rose, and they must have been absolutely bug-eyed with awe. “Boy, I always meant to follow and
love him, but this is a whole new level of authority and hope and salvation we didn’t see coming!” It
was totally captivating, and totally empowering. Trusting up in that power and authority led them to
go out and change the world. Remember how they turned the world upside down in Acts, despite all


So, the resurrection demands that we daily turn around, and trust upward in his sovereignty and
authority. Last, and most naturally, we go forward.


Go Forward
There’s a lot of going abouts in this passage, isn’t there? People who behold Jesus’s resurrection and
power don’t sit around for long. I love how often the word “quickly” is used in this passage. The
angels say to the women, “go quickly and tell his disciples that he has risen from the dead”, verse 6.
Then verse 8, 8 So they departed quickly from the tomb with fear and great joy”. Quick, swift joyful
goings. Again, this was a swift turn from despair to joy. I almost wonder how long the women were
actually at the tomb. I don’t think it was long at all. They saw what they saw, the angel told them to
“go quickly”, and off they went with joy. It was as if the resurrection was a wall which they
ricocheted, or bounced, right off. They made contact, were changed in an instant from grief to joy,
and off they went with new life and new hope. That’s the empty tomb, folks.


I love what one man said, comparing Christmas to Easter—Jesus’s birth to his resurrection. He said,
“The incarnation means he became like us. The resurrection means we become like him”. Don’t you
love that? We become like him—we become mobile, joyful, bold people of his kingdom and his
purposes. We become free from our guilt, and free in his life and righteousness. We are filled with
zeal for his glory and kingdom—to spread his kingdom just as he desires. The resurrection means
we die with him at the cross for our forgiveness, and we raise with him to glory for our glory. We
enjoy his eternal life, by faith, for eternity. That’s the sort of blessings and power and change we go
forward with, if we would simply behold the glory of our risen Lord.


Turn Around, Trust Up, Go Forward

So folks, turn around from your sin and from your despairing, trust upward to Jesus’s sovereign
authority over all your sin and your circumstances, and go forward quickly in the eternal life and joy
he offers you, that you might worship him and be changed like him unto all eternity.

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