HE IS NOT HERE; HE HAS RISEN, JUST AS HE SAID. — MATTHEW 28:6A
I saw a tweet the other week that said, “No one is as surprised as a husband hearing a plan for the second time.”
My first response was to laugh, because that accurately describes my marriage. My second thought was that it is probably not overly fair to husbands; wives forget just as much, surely. I suspect we’ve all been shocked about something that shouldn’t have shocked us in the least—the deadline at work that remained marked on our calendar, that relative’s birthday that we needed to get a gift for, the fact that somehow, dinner has to get made every. Single. Night.
A little hypocritically, I should say, I can read about the women who came to Jesus’s tomb and shake my head at their surprise that he wasn’t there. It is clear in the Gospels that in addition to the twelve, there was a larger group of disciples who traveled with Jesus, many of whom were women. So these women would have been around when Jesus predicted his death and resurrection. After Peter had confessed that Jesus was the Christ, Matthew reports, “From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised” (Matthew 16:21 ESV). “From that time” definitely includes Matthew 17:22-23, as well as Matthew 20:17-19, and probably other non-recorded times.
Let’s just say, showing up on day three after Jesus’s death to find him raised should have been as surprising as fireworks on the Fourth of July.
We don’t know if they simply forgot those words, or if they didn’t believe them. The text doesn’t tell us. They knew Jesus to be unique; they had experienced him in the flesh, and never seen him sin. It’s hard to believe they would think of him as a liar. Maybe it was just that the promise sounded too outlandish. Ancient people weren’t naïve. They knew just as we do that people don’t rise from the dead.
And yet the angel said:
“He is not here; he has risen, just as he said.”
Just as he had said, he had been mistreated by the religious elite in Jerusalem. Just as he had said, he had died at their hands—really, truly died. And just as he had said, he had risen.
Our modern sensibilities, even if we are committed to Jesus, can chafe against the reality of the resurrection.
Maybe we take it on faith, but we feel shy talking about it to friends. It just seems too implausible. But the reality is, the historical evidence for the resurrection is much more compelling than any evidence that it didn’t happen. The same tools we use to know about the ancient world in general are the tools we have that show us we can trust the accounts of Jesus rising from the dead. If you’re eager to dig more into that, Rebecca McLaughlin’s book Is Easter Unbelievable? is a short and impactful explanation of why not just the women at the tomb, but we today, can take the angel at his word.
Ok, great…but what good does a Jesus raised up high do for a me stuck down low? Even if the resurrection really happened, how could that make a difference for me now?
There are a number of things we could say at this point, but I will focus on one: If he was raised, which is miraculous, just as he said, then sisters and brothers, we can believe all his other promises and predictions as well. And this is very, very good news for us today. Let me suggest two miraculous promises Jesus made that we can bet our lives on, and lean into, today. The first one is his Session; the second is his Return.
Ok, so maybe you’ve never encountered the word “session” before in a Christian context. We’re used to resurrection, when Jesus was raised to life again; maybe we’ve even heard ascension, when Jesus was lifted up before the eyes of his followers to go to the Father. Session is a schmancy theological word that refers to the fact that Jesus is seated, right now, at the right hand of the Father.
And that is good news for us.
Why? First, because at God’s right hand, Jesus is literally praying for us (Romans 8:34). We cannot see this with our own eyes, but he has promised it in his Word. There is no pain, no trouble, no circumstance, no opportunity, that Jesus doesn’t see, and in his love, he intercedes for us with the Father. We are not orphans; we are not alone. We can pray right this moment, for whatever we need, because Jesus is seated by the Father, just as he said. The author of Hebrews explains that because Jesus has defeated death, unlike any other high priest, “he is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them” (Hebrews 7:25). Your prayers are not fruitless; they are supercharged because Jesus himself takes them up.
Second, the Session of Jesus means he is seated on his royal throne. This is the fulfillment of Psalm 110:1, where God declares “Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet.” And who are the enemies of God? They are all the things which steal his glory, and destroy what he loves—and he truly loves us, his precious daughters and sons. There is no standing against the King. What is more, in Colossians 3, Paul teaches that our lives are hidden in Christ; there is no greater assurance of protection we could have than being mystically, yet truly, hidden at the right hand of God. We may suffer now, just as Jesus did in his earthly life. But the truth about us is as secure as the truth about Christ; he is seated at the right hand of power, and he has brought us with him.
This brings us to his Return.
That word “until” in Psalm 110 gets picked up by Jesus throughout the Gospels. For example, in rebuke of the high priest during his sham trial, Jesus said “from now on you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power and coming on the clouds of heaven” (Matthew 26:64 ESV). There is an electric connection between his Session and Return. The King is seated in power, and nothing can stop his coming again. Jesus promised his disciples at the very end, “if I go to prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also” (John 14:3 ESV).
The Return of Jesus means that justice will finally be done.
The Return of Jesus means that all our tears will be wiped away by his tender, powerful hands. One day, we will look back and say, “He came again, just as he said.” Maybe it sounds outrageous that all things will be made right; then again, so did the resurrection. Siblings, beloved, we can trust him, because he has proven himself trustworthy. Whatever sin is trying to own you; whatever pain is pressing the very breath out of your body; whatever joys, even, that faintly point to his goodness, all these will find their answer in his Return, and even now in his Session find meaning and hope. We can pray with confidence; we can do good, knowing it is not in vain; we can live with eyes lifted to things above, where Christ is, knowing he is even now praying, and will come again.
“He is not here; he has risen, just as he said.”
Thanks for reading,