After the Sabbath, at dawn on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to look at the tomb. 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. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothes were white as snow.
The guards were so afraid of him that they shook and became like dead men.
The angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay. Then 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.” So the women hurried away from the tomb, afraid yet filled with joy, and ran to tell his disciples.
Suddenly Jesus met them. “Greetings,” he said. They came to him, clasped his feet and worshiped him. Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid. Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.” (Matthew 28:1-10 NIV)
Correct me if I'm wrong, but the Easter story looks entirely different to me today. I'm not sure how I've missed this all these years!
For the first time, it appears that the earthquake that rolled the stone back occurred while Mary Magdalene and Mary were standing there at the tomb. It was not just a low level shaking. I have seen tombs in Israel and the stones that cover them. It would take more than a gentle shake to move those stones. They are enormous, solid rock.
Here's how it happened. Mary Magdalene and Mary almost certainly remembered that Jesus said He would rise on the third day. Even the priests and Pharisees remembered that He'd said it, so surely his disciples did. Maybe the two women were just brokenhearted and wanted to grieve at the tomb, but maybe they wanted to see for themselves, just in case. I can see this in my mind's eye and it absolutely astounds me.
Mary Magdalene and Mary rushed up to the tomb, and the stone was still there. Their hearts probably sank for a minute. As is obvious from history, God loves the dramatic, and He threw in a little flare for the first believers on the scene. As the two women are standing there, God sends an "earthquake" that is a real "stone roller" and is really an angel rolling back the stone. The angel becomes visible and sits on the stone.
The guards are there, as are the women. The guards see that stone rolling and are shocked, but when they look up and see the angel on the stone, they are so frightened that they faint dead away. Remember, the guards are there to prevent this very thing from happening. These are not wimp guards. These are tough Roman soldiers, unconscious on the ground.
The women were probably afraid, because the angel said what angels always say. "Fear not." I know that this is serious business, but this next part always strikes me as funny. The angel looked at the women and said, (this is the Leanna paraphrase, but check its accuracy above) "Jesus is already up and gone. Do you want to take a peek and see?" Women being women, of course they had to take a peek.
Here's what's amazing to me. If I had arrived on the scene and found the stone gone and the tomb empty, I would not have known what to believe. There would have been several explanations that could have fit the scene. Only one explanation fits what these women saw. The stone was there. The guards were there. The tomb was just like it had been when they last saw it, or so it seemed. As they watched, the stone rolled away, and the angel appeared. This was not a Lazarus moment. Jesus was already walking around in the garden. These women had no doubt that Jesus was risen because He was already gone when the stone moved.
When the angel told them Jesus was already on the way to Galilee, they were off like a rocket, heading to find the disciples and let them know. In their fear, and their joy, and their bolstered faith, (and their obedience to what the angel had said) they ran headlong into Jesus.
Only rolling the stone away with witnesses present would have been enough to convince His disciples that Jesus' body had not been stolen. They had to be sure, and because of the way God orchestrated the events that early Resurrection morning, they were.
God didn't sacrifice Himself to save us, only to complete the job in such a way that no one could be sure. He did even the last little bit of the job in such a way as to enhance our faith, to confirm our faith. He's in the details, and He made sure of every one.
We have a risen Savior, and we don't have to wonder or doubt. He is risen! He is risen indeed! Hallelujah!