Theme: The defeat of death.
This week’s lesson’s show us the joy of Jesus’ resurrection.
While the women were on their way, some of the guards went into the city and reported to the chief priests everything that had happened, “When the chief priests had met with the elders and devised a plan, they gave the soldiers a large sum of money, telling them, You are to say, His disciples came during the night and stole him away while we were asleep.” “If this report gets to the governor, we will satisfy him and keep you out of trouble.” “So the soldiers took the money and did as they were instructed. And this story has been widely circulated among the Jews to this very day.
Yesterday we addressed the importance of telling others the good news of the resurrection. Yet we must not be naive about the opposition. For the women who went to the tomb were not the only ones who knew about the resurrection, according to Matthew. The soldiers also knew about it. They were present when the angels rolled away the stone and were terrified by it. They went to the religious leaders to report what had happened. “Angels came! They opened the tomb! The body is not there!”
How perverse are the sinful hearts of men. When Jesus was dying on the cross the leaders had taunted him, saying, “Let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in him” (Matthew 27:42). But now Jesus had done something even greater than that. He had been raised from death. Did they believe in him? Of course not. They could not believe because they would not believe. They hated Jesus. So they drew the soldiers into an evil conspiracy. They gave them money, telling them, “You are to say, ‘His disciples came during the night and stole him away while we were asleep.’ If this report gets to the governor, we will satisfy him and keep you out of trouble” (vv. 13, 14). Matthew concludes, “So the soldiers took the money and did as they were instructed. And this story has been widely circulated among the Jews to this very day” (v. 15).
What “day” was that? Matthew meant up to the day he was writing. But the lie of the leaders did not end then. It has been repeated throughout history even to our own day by those who are the enemies of Jesus and the gospel. A recent example is The Passover Plot by Hugh J. Schonfield, a book that attempted to explain belief in the resurrection as an accident resulting from a plot that went wrong. Schonfield argued that Jesus had planned to be crucified but had arranged to be drugged with fortified wine, be rescued from the tomb in his drugged state by Joseph of Arimathea, be revived by him, and then appear to his disciples as if resurrected. What ruined the plot was the soldiers unanticipated spear thrust into Christ’s side. Those who had moved the body to revive it and failed then buried the body elsewhere, leaving the puzzle of the now evacuated tomb.1
What astonishing nonsense! But the book sold 100,000 copies in its first five months and received good reviews! William Barclay, the author of the well-known Daily Study Bible, called it “a book of enormous learning and erudition, meticulously documented… It demands to be read.”2 All of which only proves Jesus’ teaching in the parable of the rich man and Lazarus: “If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead” (Luke 16:31).
That is true. But those who have been given to Jesus by the Father do believe since it is God himself who draws them to faith in Jesus Christ. Many are not believing today. It is our solemn task to take the good news to them.
1 Hugh J. Schonfield, The Passover Plot: New Light on the History of Jesus (New York; Bantam Books, 1967)
2 From the cover of the Bantam edition.
Why could the religious leaders not believe?
Why did the religious leaders draw the soldiers into their evil conspiracy?
Why do you think people, like Hugh Schonfield, refuse to believe the Bible’s account of Jesus’ resurrection?