Reading 29
Courage and Witness—Matthew 28

Read Chapter 28

The final chapter of the Gospel of Matthew is divided into three parts. Each section tells the reader something about the courage required to be a witness to the Lord of life.

The first section (verses 1-10) deals with the resurrection of Jesus. In this, Mary Magdalene and the “other Mary” go to the tomb where they experience an earthquake and a visitation from an angel of the Lord. The women stand resilient before the open tomb and are told “Do not be afraid.” The women then receive instruction to return and share the good news of the resurrection. Filled with “fear and great joy”—two perfectly normal reactions to the events taking place around them—they obey. Twice in this short section they are charged with courage and proclamation: “Do not be afraid; go and tell.” They are commissioned as witnesses from the break of dawn on the day of resurrection.

Courage falters in the second section (verses 11-15). We do not know whether the guards who go to the chief priests are the same ones who fainted in the prior section, but we read here of those gripped by fear who also shared what they saw. The report of these guards stands in direct contrast to the women and their joy. Despite the evidence of the resurrection, the enemies of Jesus continue to plot against him. Where resurrection joy is lacking, fear takes hold and fosters deceit.

In the final section (verses 16-20), Jesus commissions his followers. Like the women at the tomb and the guards before the priests, the eleven obey the instruction they receive. Fear and joy co-mingle with doubt as Jesus speaks to them of authority, discipleship, and promise. In this, he declares and shares his divine authority. He charges the disciples to go out into the world and he promises to be with them through it all. Authority and promise empower those who doubt to push past their fear and live into the discipleship they have been prepared for. Sewn into this charge, we hear “Do not be afraid; go and tell,” and we are invited into courageous witness.

To Consider:

  • Where do fear and doubt creep into your own witness?
  • Jesus instructs his followers to teach others “to obey everything I have commanded”. How would you summarize this teaching to neighbors in a convincing way? Where do you see this work being done in our world today?

Resurrected Lord, roll the stones of fear away from our hearts. Empower your people to go and tell of God’s never-ending mercy and grace. Send us out with courage and confidence. Baptize us with the Spirit of love, fill us with your presence, and grant this world your peace. Amen. 

Christy Lohr Sapp is the pastor of St. Andrew’s Lutheran Church in Hickory, NC. She loves to travel and eat cheese. She welcomes advice on adding a goat to her family to facilitate chèvre-making and lawn care.