Rewards instead of punishment

Monday: The Resurrection and Jesus’ Enemies

Matthew 28:11-15 In this week’s Easter studies, we note the contrast between Jesus’ enemies and friends concerning the resurrection, and the price worth paying to be a witness to Christ.
The Resurrection and Jesus’ Enemies

Each year at Easter time, when I turn to these stories of the resurrection of Jesus Christ, I find myself wondering what I’m going to find new to preach on. When you’ve been doing this as many years as I have now, you begin to have the feeling that you have preached just about everything you can, given the rather limited corpus of material. And yet, each year as I turn to these stories, I find that there’s something there I never saw before.

Now what’s impressed me this year as I’ve reread these accounts is that the enemies of Jesus Christ learned about the resurrection before His friends did. That’s really striking. We would expect it to be the other way around. However, when we read these accounts carefully, particularly the twenty-eighth chapter of Matthew, we discover the following order of events.

We find that the resurrection had taken place before dawn on what we call Easter Sunday morning. We know that because the women were the first ones to the tomb. When they arrived, they found to their surprise that the stone had already been rolled away and that the body of Jesus was gone. This means that sometime before dawn, the resurrection took place. And those who were present at the tomb were the guards, and they were the first ones to know about it.

We’re told that the angel appeared, and for fear of the angel, the guards began to shake and, as Matthew puts it, “they became like dead men.” And then, not only were these soldiers the first to know about it, but they immediately did what they had to do: they left the tomb. There wasn’t any point guarding it anymore. They made their way into the city to tell those who had hired them and commissioned them to that job, namely the high priest and the other religious leaders of the people. At the very time this was happening, the women were arriving at the tomb and were about to hear the angel tell them that Jesus was not there, but had risen as He said, and that they were to go and tell His disciples that He has risen from the dead.

I wonder how the religious leaders had been sleeping that night. I suppose they could have been sleeping well because they had succeeded in the thing that they had most tried to accomplish. They had gotten rid of Jesus. They knew that He was dead and buried. And yet I wonder if they were really sleeping peacefully. You see, they knew what He had said. Jesus had said that He was going to rise again on the third day. In fact, they had posted their guards because they were afraid that something would happen. “Oh,” they said, “yes, maybe the disciples will come and steal Him away.” But what they were really afraid of was the resurrection. And if that was the case, I suspect they were having nightmares about it. Then, suddenly, very early in the morning, their worst nightmares are confirmed as they hear the account from the soldiers about what had happened at the tomb.

These soldiers must have been afraid. They were terrified by the angels, first of all. Furthermore, now they faced the wrath and retribution of the priests for failing to guard the tomb. See, it was a very serious matter in those times for a soldier to fail in his duty or to leave his post. In the Roman army, if a sentry left his post or if he fell asleep at his post, he would be killed for that. Moreover, these soldiers had been hired by people who hated Jesus and who had impressed upon these soldiers the necessity of guarding that tomb at all costs. The religious leaders knew that Jesus had said He would rise from the dead, and they wanted to make sure that none of Jesus’ disciples came to steal the body, and then claim afterward that Jesus had risen.

Study Questions
  1. What notable point is made at the beginning of this study about who discovers the resurrection first?
  2. For what reasons must the soldiers have been afraid?
  3. After the crucifixion, what did the religious leaders still need to be concerned about?

For Further Study: Download for free and listen to James Boice’s message from Ephesians 2, “Risen with Christ.” (Discount will be applied at checkout.)

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