There have been some pretty popular “put-downs” in TV history. “Eat my shorts.” “What you talkin’ ‘bout, Willis?” “No soup for you.” “Kiss my grits.” And one that is definitely popular in the Milwaukee area, “Sit on it.”
St. Matthew tells us, “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” (Matthew 28:2) The angel sat on it! It seems like such an insignificant little detail in such a tremendous story. But with those words we see that all the strength and might of man in sealing the tomb and posting a guard and making it as secure as they knew how (Mt 27:65-66), was reduced to a chair. How right the psalmist was when against all the plotting and raging of man, he simply states: “He who sits in the heavens, shall laugh” (Psalm 2:4). On Easter, we can add, “He who laid in the tomb shall laugh! For Christ is risen! No stone could hold in the Lord of life. When the angel sat on the stone, Jesus told Satan to ‘sit on it!’”
For what is a stone – no matter how big – against the One who took upon Himself the crushing weight of the sin of the world? What is a stone against the One who came to do battle again Satan and his subordinates? What is a puny stone blocking a grave against He who is “the Rock of our salvation” (Psalm 89:26). It is the height of unbelief that thinks a stone can hold God in a tomb.
A violent earthquake announced that something of tremendous importance was taking place early that Sunday spring morning. An earthquake on Friday afternoon, shook the earth upon Jesus’ death (Matthew 27:51). These quakes were obviously more than coincidences of nature. Both quakes signaled that the God of heaven was intervening in the events of earth. It is as though God the Father was tying the crucifixion and the resurrection of His Son together with a seismic knot (G. Jerome Albrecht, “Matthew People’s Bible).
When Christ died, the earth that would receive Him shook with fear. Now that Christ arose, the earth willingly gave up the Lord of life and leaped with exaltation. “The Lord reigns, let the earth be glad” (Psalm 97:1).
While the earth shook and trembled, an angel of the Lord went to the tomb, and with a supernatural strength God gives to His heavenly agents, he hurled aside the huge, slab of stone that covered the tomb opening. The guards that Pontius Pilate assigned to the grave had been watchmen watching over the tomb of a dead man. But, now that Christ had arisen and the tomb was empty, a different watchman was called for – one from the heavenly realms.
The Resurrection of Christ, by 18th century French painter, Noel Coypel, depicts Jesus’ resurrection from the tomb. Coypel portrays the once dead, but now alive Christ rising gloriously from His three-day prison. Christ is bathed in light, carrying His triumphant white banner with a red cross in the center.
Both Scripture and Coypel display that Jesus’ resurrection was no mere spiritual resurrection, but that Jesus was wholly and fully alive. Not just part of Him, but all of Him – body and soul. Anything less would not have been a triumph. Anything less would have meant that death had not been defeated, but had won after all. And if death is not defeated, then sin is not defeated. And if sin is not defeated, then we are still in our sin. And if we are still in our sin, then we have no hope (1 Corinthians 15:12-19), and Easter is not the most joyous, but the saddest, day of the year.
The angels frequently attended our Lord Jesus – at His birth, at His temptation, in His agony in Gethsemane. But, upon the cross, the angels were absent. When the Father forsook His Son, the angels withdrew from Him, also. But now that Christ was resuming the glory He had before the foundations of the earth, the angels were clamoring over each other for the assignment to roll away the gravestone. They were excited to announce to the world that death was dead, Satan was crushed, sin was paid for, because Jesus Christ is alive!
Coypel portrays the angel sitting on the stone, just as Matthew describes it: “the angel … rolled back the stone and sat on it.” The angel is calmly sitting on the rock, with his white garment billowing and his white wings unfurled behind him. Matthew describes the angel this way: “His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing was as white as snow” (Matthew 28:3). The angel, too, is bathed in light – just not as much light as the resurrected Christ.
That Easter morning, not only did the stone become a chair, it also became a pulpit. It is the place where the first Easter sermon was proclaimed. The angel points at the open tomb with his right hand and points to Christ with his left. He speaks to the women who have come to the tomb early that morning for burial preparations: “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” (Matthew 28:6). The angel rolled back the stone, not to let the Lord out, but to show the world that the Lord was already gone. He rolled it back to help his fellow servants believe. He rolled it back so the women, the disciples and the world might believe. He rolled it back to show that though Christ was forsaken by the Father on the cross, the Father accepted His Son’s sacrificial payment. The unity of the Trinity was in place once again, and humanity was reconciled with their God.
Coypel captures the awe and confusion that the women felt upon seeing the angel and hearing his message. They, too, are bathed in light. The soldiers who had previously been guarding the tomb, are cast in shadow. Matthew reports that when the guards first saw the angel, the fainted in fear (Matthew 28:4). They fainted when they saw the descent of the angel, his hurling the huge stone aside with ease, and his sitting on the stone with the radiance from another world. Most important of all, they fainted when they saw the interior of the tomb exposed – revealing that it was empty! The dead man they had been assigned to guard was now alive and had somehow walked through the walls of the sealed tomb!
Coypel pictures the guards as having awakened, but remaining equally terrified. One guard is hastily retreating with spear in hand. The other two have fallen onto their backs in the dirt. They attempt to hold their sword and shield to protect them from the sight of the angel. But mortal weapons are no protection from this supernatural agent of God.
The guards are both in physical and spiritual darkness. Though they have seen, they do not believe. How different it is for the women at the tomb and we, today, who still rejoice in the resurrection of Christ. We are bathed in the light of that glorious resurrection.
For with the resurrected Christ, we know that once and for all, sin is atoned for, death loses its power and the grave gives up its prey. On Easter, we exclaim, “Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!” “Christ is risen!” means sin is forgiven. “Christ is risen!” means the roaring lion is now a toothless foe. “Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!” Every time we say those words, it should be with a particular gusto. Satan has lost and we won’t let him forget it. He lost and is vanquished forever. The prince of this world has been hurled down and the Prince of Life reigns eternal. The angel tossing the tombstone aside coincides with Christ slamming shut the gate of hell upon its chief prisoner. Every time we confess these words, we are poking the devil in the eye with the sharp stick of our resurrection confession. We are mocking the mocker. We are telling him to “sit on it.”
The angel is sitting on the stone! The grave is not only open, it is empty. The angel opens his mouth to proclaim this good news. When it comes to the life of Christ, don’t angels always bring good news? Christ is conceived! Christ is born! Christ is risen!
This is the cornerstone of all Christian preaching. The cross is empty; the grave is empty; which allows God to fill heaven. The stone the angel sat upon is not only his pulpit, but it is the pulpit from which all Christian pastors preach. The once dead, now alive Savior dispels our doubts, calms our fears and forgives our sins.
Death is a common denominator for all of us. Sometimes it comes like a rapist, ripping and tearing and forcing himself upon families. Other times it arrives as a welcome friend providing respite and release from a painful and terminal illness. Death comes to all.
Many times, when someone dies we try to blame God. But it is death who is the enemy. Death takes our loved ones away from us and leaves us a hole. And whether it happens suddenly or slowly, to a grandmother, spouse, sibling or child, it really doesn’t matter, does it? The pain is great. The brokenness is absolute. The hurting is unbearable.
What God has joined together, death has torn asunder.
But there is one God-given, blood-bought truth which cannot be overemphasized – when death comes calling, remind him that you are no longer afraid. Death is dead, for the tomb is empty. Because Christ’s tomb is empty, He will empty yours, also. Death has been turned into a peaceful sleep from which you will awaken in the mansion of heaven. When death comes and places his bony fingers around the necks of our souls, his cold, clutching grasp is broken by the nail-pierced hands of the risen Savior. When death comes calling, a living Jesus stands there and bars the way, saying, “You cannot have them. Today they shall be with Me in paradise.”
Jesus’ resurrection is final proof that His sin-atoning, soul-saving, hell-destroying work is completed. God’s promise has been fulfilled. Our transgressions have been paid for. Our sins have been erased.
So, let us too rejoice this Easter! Let us too sit on Christ’s resurrection stone and laugh with holy joy! For Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia! The angel sat on it. Now you can tell the devil, “Sit on it!”