Desperately Seeking Jesus

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Matthew 28:1-10

INTRODUCTION: Today is Easter, the day we celebrate Jesus rising from the dead. Football has its Super Bowl, baseball has the World Series, soccer has the World Cup, and Christianity has Easter. Easter is the climactic day of the Christian year. Someone might say, “But what about Christmas? Isn’t that pretty important?” Yes, Christmas is another wonderful day, but for me Christmas is more like opening day in the park. It’s a great day, but opening day and all the days in between are all just building toward that final championship game.

And so, Easter is the Super Bowl of Christianity. Do you want to know one of the best parts about Easter? If you’re a Christian, then your home team wins every year! That’s right! Two thousand years straight and still undefeated. Now that’s what I call a dynasty! How sweet it is to celebrate Christ’s victory each and every year!

This morning as we look at the Easter story and Christ’s victory over the grave, I want us to focus on the women who came seeking Jesus early that first Easter morning. Theirs is an important story, and we can learn a lot from them. All four gospel writers share about the women who came to the tomb, but we will look specifically at Matthew’s account this morning. (Read Matthew 28:1-10 and pray)

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The title of today’s message is “Desperately Seeking Jesus.” I stole it from the title of a movie a number of years back called “Desperately Seeking Susan.” Disclaimer here – I never saw the movie, so I have no idea what it is about, or whether it is a great movie or a horrible movie. All I know is I remembered the title for some reason, and it seemed to fit this passage from Matthew perfectly.

“Desperately seeking Jesus.” How well does that describe you this morning? Are you desperately seeking Jesus in your life? What does it mean to desperately seek after Christ? God says in Jeremiah 29:13: “You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.” (Jeremiah 29:13) In short, desperately seeking Jesus means seeking him with all your heart. And when you seek Christ with all your heart, you will never be disappointed, because God promises that you will find him.

The women in our Scripture passage this morning were desperately seeking Jesus. They were seeking him with all their hearts. And they were not disappointed. For in finding Jesus they found all that they hoped for and more.

As we look at their story this morning, I want you to examine your own heart and life. Are you seeking Jesus the same way these women did? Are you desperately seeking Jesus with all your heart? Because if you are, then God’s promise remains for you: “You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.”

So, let’s take a closer look at these women who came to Jesus’ tomb early Easter morning. I want us especially to see three things about seeking Jesus from these women’s lives. 1) Desperately seeking Jesus means putting Christ first. 2) Desperately seeking Jesus means letting nothing stand in your way. And 3) desperately seeking Jesus means joyfully obeying God’s commands.

I. Desperately seeking Jesus means putting Christ first (1)

First of all, desperately seeking Jesus means putting Christ first. We read in verse 1 that: “After the Sabbath, at dawn on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to look at the tomb.”

Matthew speaks here of two Mary’s: Mary Magdalene and “the other Mary.” These were two of the women who traveled with Jesus and his disciples and helped tend to their needs. The Gospel of Luke tells us that Jesus had cast seven demons out of Mary Magdalene. The “other Mary” is not Mary the mother of Jesus. Matthew identifies her earlier as “Mary the mother of James and Joseph.” (Matthew 27:56) When we read the other gospels, we learn that there were other women there as well. But Matthew focuses on these two Mary’s and their encounter with Christ.

Matthew tells us that these two women set off to Jesus’ tomb “after the Sabbath, at dawn on the first day of the week.” The Sabbath was Saturday, the seventh day of the week, a special day of rest designated by the Lord. And because the Jewish day went from sundown to sundown, the Sabbath actually began on our Friday at sundown and then went to sundown on Saturday.

Matthew tells us earlier that these two Mary’s were there watching as Jesus’ body was laid in the tomb. (Matthew 27:61) It was Friday afternoon, almost sundown. The Sabbath was beginning, so they went home and rested in obedience to the Lord’s command. But it is clear that all-night long and all-day Saturday, they never stopped thinking about Jesus.

As soon as the Sabbath was over, they went out and bought the necessary spices and prepared them along with perfumes in order to anoint Jesus’ body. It was too late Saturday night to go to the tomb, but at dawn, on the first day of the week, Sunday morning at the very first light, at the very first opportunity, they set out seeking Jesus. The text literally says, “as it began to dawn,” which means that they didn’t even wait for the sun to rise before leaving their homes. They left while it was still dark in order to arrive at the tomb at the first light of day.

When I lived in California, I wanted to watch the sun rise over Bryce Canyon Park in the state of Utah. So, I measured out the distance on a map and estimated the time it would take me to get there. I left California early in the evening the night before and drove straight through the night, arriving at Bryce Canyon about a half hour before daybreak. Then I sat in the park and watched the sun rise, casting magnificent shadows off the rock formations and bathing the whole canyon with glorious light. It was a beautiful sight. In the same way, these women set off in the darkness in order to see the tomb of their Lord at the first possible moment on the first day of the week following the Sabbath.

I want you to take careful note of the word “tomb” here in verse 1. Matthew uses a word for “tomb” here that means “grave or burial place.” It’s a word that comes from another word specifically meaning “to bury.” That is important, and we will return to it later.

What I want you to see right now is that these women came seeking Jesus at the very first possible moment they could. If the day before had not been the Sabbath, they would have been there Saturday. As soon as the Sabbath was over, on Saturday night, they began making their preparations for Sunday morning. And as soon as they could Sunday morning, they set out for the tomb.
In other words, these women put Jesus first. They put him first in their thoughts, first in their hearts, first in their actions. Where were the disciples that early Sunday morning? Home hiding or in bed. But these women were determined to seek Jesus first.

Nothing could be more pressing, more important, more precious than seeking Jesus. Every day when you get up in the morning the first thing you should do is seek Christ. Seek him in prayer, seek him in his Word, seek him in quietness and in praise. You might say, “Well that sounds radical. I might even have to plan ahead or make some preparations the night before in order to do that.” Exactly! Isn’t that what the women did in Matthew 28?

But desperately seeking Jesus does not just mean putting Christ first in your day. It means putting Christ first in your life, in everything you do. Jesus said, “Seek first the kingdom of God, and all these things shall be added unto you.” (Matthew 6:33)

Jesus Christ is Lord of all, and first place is his rightful place in your life. Do you feel distant from Christ? Perhaps you have let something come in between. God says you will seek him and find him when you seek him with all your heart. Desperately seeking Jesus means putting Christ first in your life.

II. Desperately seeking Jesus means letting nothing stand in your way (2-6)

Secondly, desperately seeking Jesus means letting nothing stand in your way. Often, we do not seek Jesus as we should because we run into obstacles. Perhaps you have a busy schedule, or some burden you are bearing, or some difficulty you are facing. Whatever the obstacles, when it comes to seeking Christ, we should let nothing stand in our way.

The women who came to Jesus’ tomb that first Easter morning had their share of obstacles. First of all, there were the guards. The Jewish leaders had obtained permission from Pilate to post guards at the tomb. They said this was in case the disciples tried to steal the body and pretend that Jesus had risen from the dead.

And then, secondly, there was the stone itself. Jesus’ tomb was cut out of rock, and the entrance would have been set down low in a small depression. Then the stone would be rolled down the incline to cover the mouth of the tomb. Now these stones were very heavy. Even for a small tomb with a smaller stone, it would take a number of good, strong men to roll the stone down to cover the entrance. And the Bible tells us that the stone used to cover Jesus’ tomb was a large stone. It doesn’t take an advanced degree in physics to figure out that it is going to be even harder to roll the stone back up the incline, than it was to roll it down to begin with.

So, these women had some serious obstacles that stood in their way of seeking Jesus that first Easter morning. But they didn’t let any of these obstacles block them from their goal. They were desperately seeking Jesus, and when you are desperately seeking Jesus, you don’t let anything stand in your way.

And when you focus on seeking Jesus instead of focusing on all the obstacles in your path, God has a wonderful way of removing those obstacles for you. Look at verses 2-4: “There was a violent earthquake, for an angel of the Lord came down from heaven and, going to the tomb, rolled back the stone and sat on it. 3 His appearance was like lightning, and his clothes were white as snow. 4 The guards were so afraid of him that they shook and became like dead men.” (Matthew 28:2-4) One angel from God and both obstacles were removed, just like that.

And talk about an angel! Matthew tells us “his appearance was like lightning.” That means that there was blinding light shining forth from his face and person. Matthew also says, “His clothes were as white as snow.” The word for “white” here means bright white, a brilliant, dazzling white. This is not just white as snow falling from the sky, but this is white as snow when the snow has already fallen. It’s covered the ground, and the bright sun is reflecting off the surface, blinding your eyes. Remember, black absorbs all the colors, but white reflects all the colors, so all the light comes right back at you, blinding and dazzling your eyes.

This angel’s appearance was blinding, dazzling. This was no red-headed Roma Downey in a pant suit. This was an angel sent straight from God in heaven burning bright with the majestic glory of God from whose presence he had come. It was a terrifying sight.

Not only that, but Matthew tells us that his coming was attended by a violent earthquake. But this was not just a natural earthquake. This was not a matter of the tectonic plates shifting beneath the crust of the earth or subterranean pressures being released to the surface. Matthew says the earthquake was specifically caused by the angel coming down from heaven. The coming of the angel marked an intrusion into the physical world by the spiritual world. We read in Matthew 27 of a similar intrusion and earthquake which took place on Good Friday.

So, this shining, terrifying angel comes down from heaven. There is this violent earthquake. Everything is shaking. The angel single-handedly rolls this incredibly heavy stone out of the way, and then he sits down on top of it as though it were nothing. Matthew tells us: “The guards were so afraid of him that they shook and became like dead men.” (Matthew 28:4) Whether they all fainted or were just playing dead, who knows. But it must have been quite a sight, all these guards scattered like lifeless corpses on the ground.

There is an irony here in verse four. First, the ground shook from the earthquake. Then, the guards shook with fear. Jesus rose from the dead. The guards became like dead men. Talk about “touched by an angel!” It never happens like that on the TV show, does it?

In verse 5 the angel speaks to the women: “Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified.” “Do not be afraid.” (Matthew 28:5) You notice the angel never said that to the guards. The angel just let the guards hit the ground. So why does the angel speak this word of reassurance to the women? He says, “for I know that you are looking for Jesus.” The word translated “looking for” is a word which means “to seek.”

These women did not need to be afraid, because they had come seeking Jesus. Have you come seeking Jesus this morning? Then you do not need to be afraid either. Hebrews 1:14 says, “Are not all angels ministering spirits sent to serve those who will inherit salvation?” If you are seeking Jesus, then God is on your side, and God’s angels are on your side, too.

The angel identifies Jesus as one who was crucified – “You are seeking Jesus who was crucified.” These women did not come looking for the risen Christ. They were looking for Jesus the crucified. They brought spices and perfumes to anoint his dead body. They didn’t understand all they needed to know about Jesus, but they were seeking him, nonetheless.

You may not understand everything about Jesus that you would like to either. That’s okay. It is enough that you are seeking him. And to these seekers of Jesus, the angel brings the glad proclamation in verse six – “He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay.” (Matthew 28:6)

“He has risen, just as he said!” There may be just a hint of gentle rebuke in those words, “just as he said,” or, at the very least, a reminder. Jesus had repeatedly told his followers that he would die and rise again on the third day. Perhaps the women should have come seeking the risen Jesus.

But at this moment it doesn’t matter any more. The angel extends this word of grace to the women. “Jesus has risen from the dead. Come and see the place where he lay.” Come and see the actual physical place where the physical body of Jesus lay dead from the time of his burial to the time of his resurrection. The women look and see that Jesus’ body is no longer there. They had come seeking Jesus at the tomb, and the tomb is empty. Christ has risen indeed!

It would have been easy for these women to stay home that morning. Look at all the obstacles they had to face. They could have reasoned, “What’s the use? How will we ever get past the guards? And what about the stone? Who will remove the stone for us?” But the obstacles did not deter them. They were desperate to get to Christ, and they let nothing stand in their way. Yes, it would have been easy to stay at home, but look at what they would have missed!

What obstacles stand in your way of seeking Christ this morning? Is it a lack of faith? Then ask God to give you the faith that you need. Is it some sin in your life? Jesus died to forgive your sin. Don’t let sin stand in your way of seeking Jesus. Is it pride? The Bible says, “Humble yourself before the Lord, and he will lift you up.” (James 4:10) Is it some heavy burden that you are carrying? The Bible says, “Cast all your cares upon him, for he cares for you.” (1 Peter 5:7) Trust God to roll the stone away.

Desperately seeking Jesus means putting Christ first and letting nothing stand in your way.

III. Desperately seeking Jesus means joyfully obeying his commands (7-10)

And then finally, desperately seeking Jesus means joyfully obeying his commands. Look at verse seven now where the angel continues to address the women: “Go quickly and tell his disciples: ‘He has risen from the dead and is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him.’ Now I have told you.” (Matthew 28:7)

The angel tells them to go tell the disciples that Jesus is alive and is going ahead of them into Galilee. Back in Matthew 26 Jesus had told his disciples, “After I have risen, I will go ahead of you into Galilee.” Now the angel instructs the women to remind the disciples of Jesus’ previous words. The disciples will have their own opportunity to seek Jesus – in Galilee.

The angel ends by saying, “Now I have told you.” The angel has discharged his responsibility. He has testified to the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Now the women are responsible to testify. They have been charged by God through the angel to go and tell the disciples, quickly and without any delay. The same charge applies to us today. Each person who receives the good news of Jesus’ resurrection has an obligation to pass it on to others. It’s almost as though when we have finished sharing the gospel with someone else, that we can say with the angel, “There, I have told you. Now its your turn.”

What did the women do? Look at verse 8: “So the women hurried away from the tomb, afraid yet filled with joy, and ran to tell his disciples.” (Matthew 28:8) The angel told them to go quickly. The women joyfully obeyed. They hurried away and ran to tell the disciples. They were afraid, (who wouldn’t be after facing that angel), and yet they were filled with great joy.

Matthew does something very interesting at this point in the narrative that is hard to pick up in most English translations. He writes that they “hurried away from the tomb.” Remember I told you about the word “tomb” back in verse 1, that it meant a grave or a burial place? Well, Matthew uses a different word for “tomb” here in verse 8. The word “tomb” in verse 1 came from a word meaning “to bury.” The word “tomb” here in verse 8 comes from a word meaning “to remember.” The word for tomb here in verse 8 is not the word for a grave or burial place. Rather it is the word for a monument or a memorial.

Why the difference? The women came looking for the place where Jesus was buried. But he was no longer buried there! He had risen from the dead. And so, the tomb was no longer a grave but simply a memorial, a reminder of the place where Jesus’ body lay buried from Good Friday evening through Easter morning. The tomb was empty, and so the women hurried away from the memorial, and they ran to tell the disciples.

And as they run in joyful obedience to spread the good news, Jesus himself meets them. Look at verse 9: “Suddenly Jesus met them. ‘Greetings,’ he said. They came to him, clasped his feet and worshiped him.” They had come seeking Jesus, and at last they found him. The Lord whom they loved, whom they had served during his earthly ministry, whom they had seen crucified, dead and buried, now stands before them, and they fall at his feet in loving worship.

Jesus addresses them in verse 10. It would be awesome enough to have an angel speak to you, but now the risen Christ himself speaks. Verse 10: “Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid. Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.” (Matthew 28:10)

Jesus speaks the same words as the angel, except for one small difference. Notice that Jesus addresses the disciples as “my brothers.” What a wonderful kinship we share with our Lord Jesus Christ! Hebrews 2:11 tells us that “Jesus is not ashamed to call us his brothers and his sisters.”

Once again, these are wonderful words of grace coming from the lips of Jesus. The disciples had quarreled together, they had been slow to believe, they had deserted Christ, and now they huddled in fear of the Jews. They had not come seeking Jesus as these women did, and yet Jesus still calls them “my brothers.” What a wonderful Savior is Jesus our Lord!

CONCLUSION: The women who came seeking Jesus that first Easter morning became the very first witnesses to the resurrection of Christ. What a wonderful experience! What a marvelous privilege! But it would never have happened if they had not been desperately seeking Jesus.

What does it mean to desperately seek Jesus? Three things. 1) Desperately seeking Jesus means putting Jesus first. 2) It means letting nothing stand in your way. 3) It means joyfully obeying God’s commands.

1) These women put Jesus first. They came seeking him first thing Sunday morning after the Sabbath. 2) They let nothing stand in their way. They ignored the obstacles of the guards and the stone. 3) They joyfully obeyed God’s commands. They ran to tell the disciples the good news, and they met Jesus on the way.

They were seeking Jesus, and they found him. They came to look at a grave, and they left a memorial. They came with tears and sadness, and they left trembling with joy. They came looking for a crucified Jesus, and they left as first witnesses to the living Lord!

You will never be disappointed when you seek Christ first, because when you seek him, you will find him, and he is all you could ever want and need.

Remember, God promises, “You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.” (Jeremiah 29:13) Let me encourage you to join those who are desperately seeking Jesus this Easter season and always.

Note: I shared the following song with our church after preaching this message. Enjoy!

© Ray Fowler

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