Our Countdown to Calvary has one more day to account for. The day of silence when the disciples have all been scattered – they have gone their own ways for fear of being hauled away from the homes, livelihoods, arrested, found guilty of being a follower of Jesus and crucified. Who knows where they are hiding now?
While they are in their very best hiding places, what we do have is the location of the Chief Priests and the Pharisees as they walk into Pilates Palace. They too are in fear of their future – What if Jesus actually rises from the tomb? What will become of them? Will the people arise against them, demand their crucifixions? What will happen to the Temple, its community, its role and its religious order?
Yes! They are afraid for the future of what they have worked hard to out into its place and the life of the people who have relied on them for being taught about God, facilitating their God-covenanted commitments, righteous community according to all the Laws of Moses and to the teachings of the great Prophets. There has been much invested by them here. They have too much to protect not the least of which is their positions of power and prestige and great influence.
But, instead of hiding away, they’re acting decisively, with great determination. We cannot find any of the disciples so we will now walk with the Chief Priests and the Pharisees to see what their intentions are in this very critical moment. We will walk alongside of them to learn just how the establishment responds.
Matthew 27:62-66 New Revised Standard Version
The Guard at the Tomb
62 The next day, that is, after the day of Preparation, the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered before Pilate 63 and said, “Sir, we remember what that impostor said while he was still alive, ‘After three days I will rise again.’ 64 Therefore command the tomb to be made secure until the third day; otherwise his disciples may go and steal him away, and tell the people, ‘He has been raised from the dead,’ and the last deception would be worse than the first.” 65 Pilate said to them, “You have a guard[a] of soldiers; go, make it as secure as you can.” [b] 66 So they went with the guard and made the tomb secure by sealing the stone.
The Word of God for the Children of God. Gloria! In Excelsis Deo! Alleluia! Amen.
It’s the Sabbath, the day of rest for the Jewish people. Jesus’s followers, hiding, devastated by his death, are resting: “On the Sabbath day they rested according to the commandment” (Lk 23:56).
But “the Chief Priests and the Pharisees” are busily at work. They have insisted on having an appointment with Pilate. They demand that he set people to work securing Jesus’s tomb. When Pilate tells them to use their very own “guard of soldiers” for the task, they don’t hesitate. They supervise the Jewish soldiers’ labor in “sealing the stone and setting a guard.”
These are the same religious leaders who got so mad at Jesus if he so much as healed anyone or even plucked heads of grain on the Sabbath. What’s got into them that they’re now so ready to work and to put other people to work on this obligatory day of rest?
The reason they give is inadequate: “Lest his disciples go and steal him away and tell the people, ‘He has risen from the dead.’” Well, yes, but a fraud like that would be exposed fairly quickly by the discovery of the stolen body, or it would just fade away when the risen Jesus himself remained an embarrassing absence, failing to appear in person.
So, what do the religious leaders really fear?
Let’s look at some of what’s happened in the last twenty-four hours or so.
For three hours, while Jesus was on the cross, “there was darkness over the whole land …, while the sun’s light failed” (Luke 23:44-45).
Whether or not this was a solar eclipse or divine intervention of another sort, it would have been deeply unnerving. Solar eclipses were read as threatening omens back then and for many centuries afterward.
There was also an earthquake, apparently with a specific target.
At the moment of Jesus’s death, “the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom” (Mark 15:37-38).
This was the curtain that blocked entrance to the Holy of Holies at the heart of the temple to anyone but the high priest on the Day of Atonement.
With Jesus’s death, the barrier was removed. Tombs were opened, as well, and “many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised.” Although the risen saints did not “appear to many” in Jerusalem until after Jesus’s own resurrection, rumors of resurrection must have been heavily in the air.
All this was enough to persuade at least one centurion that Jesus was both “innocent” (Lk. 23:47) and truly “the Son of God” (Matt. 27:54), but it must have given “the chief priests and the Pharisees” the exalted heebie-jeebies.
Is it possible they are afraid of more than the theft of a body? They don’t admit this to Pilate. They probably haven’t voiced the fear to one another or even, perhaps, allowed themselves to be conscious of the true reason for their fear.
But is it possible that they were terrified that they’d made a dreadful mistake and that Jesus really would rise from the dead and prove himself to be the Christ, the Son of God? Given all that had happened, it wouldn’t be an irrational fear. And only an unspoken fear of such magnitude would plausibly explain their demand, on the Sabbath day, that soldiers work to seal the tomb and guard it against not just body snatchers but—God forbid! —a resurrection.
If that’s what’s making their stomachs churn, they do not have many options.
Do they really think that sealing the tomb will keep a risen Christ inside?
Or that a guard of armed soldiers might arrest and conceal the risen Christ?
These are desperate and inadequate measures. The portents of imminent supernatural intervention are staring them in the face, and they are flailing helplessly. Even Pilate has no confidence in their efforts. He says, “Go, make [the tomb] as secure as you can.” He’s being more than just a little bit ironic. He knows they can never make it secure. Not against what’s about to happen.
The fears of these religious leaders may be profoundly characteristic of fallen human beings in general. Even in our times, those who minimize or deny the resurrection of Christ may, at some level, be afraid that it might just be true.
They would readily deny their doubt, of course, certainly to us and probably to themselves. But if, as we believe, Jesus really did rise from the dead on that first Easter Sunday, then his resurrection threatens a spiritual earthquake in the life of anyone who prefers not to answer to (or even to be loved by) a risen Christ. It must seem easier to guard against perceived threats to their established faith.
Many today are still incredibly uncertain of what to make of the resurrection. Many today still prefer to remain “restful” and in hiding from the reality of the moment. They prefer to acknowledge more truth to the fact the tomb is now heavily guarded “by the guards of the temple establishment” and see no viable reason to raise themselves up challenge it or to question it or protest against it.
With the humility we have been taught by the man, Rabbi Jesus, we’ll go ahead, gracefully acknowledge they have their questions and legitimate concerns. We meet with them as Jesus met Levi/Matthew as the Tax Collector. We will “walk” across their paths in the prayerful hope they will freely engage us as Levi did. In the prayerful, faith-filled, living hope that we will be invited into their ‘homes.’
God invites all of us to have an abiding relationship with Him. He extends His invitation in His time and in His own way. This “day of our silence” is His way. This day of silence is His time for us to walk across that “Levi/ Matthews path.”
It is an enormously powerful moment to receive the skeptic and their questions.
While they may only see the “heavily guarded tomb,” God is busy working His miracle of resurrection beyond the guards, beyond the rock, inside the tomb. We just need to be ready to invite the skeptics to come back with us tomorrow.
We who, by God’s grace, have been allowed to believe that Christ not only died for our sins but was also “raised for our justification” (Rom. 4:25) are blessed to await Easter Sunday morning not with fear but with sure hope and great joy.
May we each take time today to “accidently” cross paths with, pray for those who minimize, question, deny the resurrection. May we pray that their fear, too, might be replaced with a joyous living faith in the love of God in Christ.
For tomorrow, COMES THE SON RISE ….
In the name of God, the Father and God the Son and God the Holy Spirit,
Let us Pray,
ABBA Father, today we pray we would have a refreshed perspective of all that has Jesus endured for us. He humbly served those He loved, even His betrayer. We pray that if we have become too callused or familiar with His suffering that our hearts would be softened again. We pray that His resurrection would give us a renewed, empowered and inspired and inspiring confidence all things are still possible, and that greater things are surely yet to come. Alleluia! Alleluia! Amen.