5 April 2010

Matthew 28:8-15

"Suddenly Jesus met them and said, 'Greetings!' And they came to him, took hold of his feet, and worshipped him." (v.9)


This is Matthew's version of the appearing of Jesus to the group of remaining disciples (after Judas' suicide in Matthew 27:3-10). In this account there isn't the same degree of fear or terror as indicated in other Gospel accounts. Rather they worship him. (And they will again, later in this chapter, when Jesus meets them on a hillside and instructs them to "Go ... and make disciples of all nations.") The signal is clear. This is not merely a friend reunited, or a corpse resuscitated... this is the risen Lord, the son of the living God, the one who was dead but is now alive. There is continuity and discontinuity in the risen Christ.

Matthew is characteristically negative about the chief priests, and any reader of his Gospel to this point will be unsurprised at his focus on their speedy attempt at cover up. They've opposed Christ from the start and aren't going to change now. This part of the text implies that there was a story going around that Jesus' body had been stolen, which Matthew wants to debunk as quickly as possible.

The 'truth' and 'proof' of the resurrection of Christ remains a hot potato today as it has ever been. Was the risen Jesus merely an apparition? If so, how come he eats, can be touched, and 'appears' to many people at once? Did the Jewish authorities steal his body? And if they did, why didn't they simply produce it when the disciples began to claim he was alive? Matthew makes it clear, as do the other Gospel writers: Jesus is believed to be risen, and this becomes an object of faith. The idea that the early disciples made the story up and kept a corporate secret pact intact throughout their lives is nearly as great a leap of faith as the resurrection itself!

Christian discipleship is about staking your life on the belief that Jesus is alive, not on forensic evidence that proves beyond all possible doubt that he was raised from the dead. That's why it's the Christian faith rather than the Christian fact!

To Ponder

Is regarding the resurrection of Jesus as a 'faith fact' rather than simply a 'fact' a help or a heresy?

To what extent does the 'case for the resurrection' made by some scholars and rehearsed a little here, still have a useful place in advocating the Christian faith in a world of increasingly aggressive secularism?

Bible notes author

The Revd Dr Martyn Atkins

Martyn Atkins is a Methodist minister and currently serves as general secretary/secretary of the Conference. He was president of Conference in 2007-8.