Theme: Life from death.This week’s lessons show us that God is greater than the grave.
The next day, that is, after the day of Preparation, the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered before Pilate and said, “Sir, we remember how that impostor said, while he was still alive, ‘After three days I will rise.’ Therefore order the tomb to be made secure until the third day, lest his disciples go and steal him away and tell the people, ‘He has risen from the dead,’ and the last fraud will be worse than the first.” Pilate said to them, “You have a guard of soldiers. Go, make it as secure as you can.” So they went and made the tomb secure by sealing the stone and setting a guard.
When the chief priests and Pharisees came to Pilate, they explained the request by their fear that “his disciples may come and steal the body and tell the people that he has been raised from the dead” (v. 64). But that is not likely what they truly feared.
For one thing, the disciples were not worth fearing. Any doubts the religious leaders may have had of that had been settled in the garden when Christ’s companions forsook him and fled over the Mount of Olives to Bethany. Only Peter and John seem to have made it to Jerusalem to witness the crucifixion, and neither of them was any help to Jesus, Peter had denied his Lord, and the others did not even show up until after the resurrection. Besides, if the priests had actually feared what the disciples might do, it would have been a small matter to have arrested them at the time they had arrested Jesus or, failing that, to have rounded them up afterward. That they did not shows that they had no real concerns on their account.
In my judgment, what they actually feared was the resurrection. These men were not imperceptive. They had been watching Jesus for the better part of three years. They had seen him heal the sick, give sight to the blind, cleanse lepers, and restore strength to the physically impotent. Most amazing of all, just a few days before these events Jesus had actually raised Lazarus of Bethany from the grave. There was no denying the miracles. They had tried to deny them at first, but there were too many miracles and too many witnesses to do it over time. Toward the end, they simply acknowledged the miracles but attributed them to the devil. This amazing and obviously powerful teacher had claimed that three days after he had been put to death he would be raised from death by God. Could that be possible? What if it was? Were they not afraid that the one who had raised Lazarus might actually conquer death and shatter their small religious world forever?
What were they to do? They did all they could. They sealed the tomb by sealing the stone that had been rolled across the tombs mouth. Who would dare to break the seal, thereby setting himself against the spiritual and political powers of their world? They also posted guards from the same company that had arrested Jesus in the garden. These were their men, Jews. If anyone could be trusted, it was them.
The guard was set. Everything was in order. The days rolled by. All seemed well.
Suddenly “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” (Matthew 28:2-4). In this manner, the seal was broken and the tomb was shown to be empty. Jesus was no longer there. He was risen as he said. The rule of the priests was broken, and Christianity began its triumphant expansion into the Greek and Roman world.
“Go, make the tomb as secure as you know how.” But how? How can anyone secure anything against the shattering power of Jesus’ resurrection?
Why were the guards likely unafraid of interference from the disciples?
What does Dr. Boice think the religious leaders really feared?
How was the sealed tomb broken open?