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How old is this woman?
Since you’ve most likely seen this image before, you know that the picture is an illusion: the woman is both very young and very old. However, the first time you saw this image, you were probably confounded. Perhaps you saw the young woman, but couldn’t see the old one. Perhaps you could only see the old woman, but couldn’t understand how there could possibly be a young one, too. Whatever the case, someone might have needed to guide you to see the other image.
Some people are fond of thinking that is the way God works—that one person might see one thing in how God works, while another person might see something else, and if we work together, we can build a complete picture. But scripture presents a different picture: one where only God can teach us how to see and what to ask. Human beings are simply the blind leading the blind, Jesus says, and our perspectives and ideas are all seriously flawed.
In other words, even asking the wrong questions or focusing on the wrong things in scripture can give us a distorted or inaccurate picture of God. As we saw from Nicodemus, it is impossible to understand God from the scriptures coupled with human knowledge, discernment, and experience. After all, Saul (prior to his baptism and reception of the Holy Spirit as Paul) was an expert on the scriptures, but he could not recognize God. How can we, as human beings, possibly know the correct questions to ask?
Only because God has given us his Holy Spirit.
This is a theme in Matthew: being trained to see the character of God; knowing where to look for God’s activity; knowing what questions to ask. Spiritual sight is vitally important in Matthew, so much so that the word “behold” appears frequently. Often, “behold” is used in Matthew to indicate the true nature of God—especially in today’s scripture, Matthew 28:1-10.
On the morning of the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and another Mary go to see the tomb. This phrase itself is curious because it indicates that both Marys are focused on the wrong thing: the tomb. Rather than saying that these women were going to see Jesus, Matthew specifically indicates that they are going to see the tomb in which he was buried. After all, as human beings, it doesn’t occur to us that a man might be raised from the dead.
Like us, both Marys need someone to guide their thinking.
Behold, we receive some direction through Matthew’s use of behold:
- “And, behold, there was a great earthquake: for the angel of the Lord descended from heaven, and came and rolled back the stone from the door and sat upon it.” (Matthew 28:2)
- “Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for He is risen, as He said. Come, see the place where the Lord lay. And go quickly and tell his disciples that He is risen from the dead, and indeed He is going before you into Galilee; there you will see Him. Behold, I have told you”(Matthew 28:5-7).
- “And as they went to go tell His disciples, behold, Jesus met them, saying ‘Rejoice!’” (Matthew 28:9)
Matthew 28:2 is particularly interesting, because this earthquake comes just days after a previous earthquake. It’s the earthquake that takes place when Christ gives up his spirit in Matthew 27:51. During this earthquake, “the rocks split and the tombs broke open. The bodies of many holy people who died were raised to life.” These saints needed someone to break open the tombs for them. Jesus, however, is not freed by the earthquake; he left long before it. This second earthquake occurs for the purpose of allowing both Marys to witness his empty tomb.
Jesus Christ is Lord of the resurrection; he can leave the tomb despite it being sealed. It is the witnesses who need the stone rolled away.
Once they have witnessed the earthquake, the angel gives the women specific instructions. “Come, see,” the angel tells them. “Go quickly and tell His disciples that He is risen from the dead.” Although these commands are directed toward the women, they apply to us as contemporary witnesses to the resurrection.
The women immediately go to fulfill this command. They meet Jesus, who greets them with a simple greeting.
“Rejoice,” he tells them. “Do not be afraid.”
The women grasp his feet in worship.
Jesus does not turn away their worship, and in this we can see his divine identity. In the Bible, when angels or saints are worshipped, they rebuke or correct the person who worships them. “Don’t worship me!” They always reprimand. “Only God is worthy of worship.” But here, Jesus accepts their worship. He is God. There is no more reason for him to keep his heavenly identity a secret.
After the women worship him, Jesus instructs them to go to “tell [his] brethren to go to Galilee.” This small sentence reveals three large things about his character.
First, Jesus refers to the disciples as his brethren. This is serious love, care, and forgiveness: During the crucifixion, they deserted him in an attempt to save their own lives. When Jesus says to take the message to his brethren, he is not only offering them forgiveness for their sin, but restoring relationship with them. Our God is a God who loves his enemies, forgives those who betray him, and, through his eternal sacrifice, washes away sin.
Second, Jesus tells the women that he will meet the disciples in Galilee. Why Galilee? Immediately after predicting the betrayal of his disciples, Jesus tells them, “After I have been raised, I will go before you to Galilee.” Jesus is fulfilling his promise to them. Our God is a God who fulfills his promises—even when we have forgotten them.
Finally and fundamentally, God is a God who is worthy to receive our worship. When we read that Mary and Mary knelt down and worshipped Jesus, we are seeing the very first picture of the church. Some credit Paul with the beginnings of the church, others credit Peter, but it was really here, at the feet of Christ, that the first church service began.