Theme: A Violent Earthquake
In this week’s Easter lessons we note the futility of those who tried to keep shut the tomb that was soon going to be empty, and of the need for everyone to submit to the risen Lord Jesus Christ.
Scripture: Matthew 27:65-66
Well if the Jewish leaders did not fear the disciples, what did they fear then? I am sure they would not have voiced this openly, but in my judgment what they actually feared was the resurrection. After all, they were not imperceptive, and they had been observing Jesus for the better part of three years. They had seen him heal the sick, give sight to the blind, cleanse the lepers, restore strength to the impotent. And then, greatest wonder of all, only a few days before his arrest he had actually raised Lazarus of Bethany from the grave. There was no use denying the miracles. They had tried to deny them at first, but there were too many miracles and too many witnesses to do this convincingly. Toward the end they had simply acknowledged the miracles but attributed them to the devil. This man—this miracle worker—claimed that three days after he had been crucified he would be raised from death by God. Is it not the case that this is what they really feared? Were they not afraid that he who had raised Lazarus would himself conquer death and shatter their little ecclesiastical world and their plans?
So they did their best. First, they sealed the large stone that had been rolled over the mouth of the tomb with their seal: the seal of the Sanhedrin. Oh, what authority was there! Who would dare to break that seal, thus setting Jesus against the accumulated political and spiritual authority of their state? Second, they posted guards, guards from the same company that had been used to arrest Jesus in the garden. These were their Jewish officers. Surely they could be trusted.
So the guard was set, and the hours and days rolled by. Friday! Friday night! Saturday! Saturday night! All seemed to be 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” (Matt. 28:2-4). Christ was not there! He was risen! The tomb was empty! The seal was broken! The guards were scattered! The rule of the Pharisees and priests was broken, and Christianity began its triumphant expansion into God’s world! “Go, make the tomb as secure as you know how.” Secure against God? Secure against the life-shattering power of the Resurrection?
A few years after this incident a distinguished young rabbi rose to prominence. He had studied under Gamaliel and had achieved stature among the Pharisees, the very sect that had been instrumental in securing the death of the hated Nazarene. Christianity had not died out after Jesus’ crucifixion, and this young rabbi—his name was Saul of Tarsus—determined to stamp it out forcibly. He rooted out the Christians of Jerusalem, and when he found them he saw that they were arrested and executed. Not satisfied with his work in Jerusalem, he went to the high priest to secure letters of introduction to the synagogues in Damascus so that if he found any there who were Christians he might arrest them and bring them to Jerusalem for trial.
Saul was in the company of those who had tried to secure the tomb of Jesus years before, for he was trying to save two things from that same power and influence. First, he was trying to save Judaism from the explosive vitality of the Nazarene’s new sect. He regarded Christianity as a heresy and Jesus as a blasphemer and child of Satan. By arresting Christians he hoped to secure his own religion.
What point is made about the symbolic meaning of the seal that was used?
What was one thing Saul was trying to secure through his persecution of Christians? Explain.
Reflection: What do people try to secure in their rejection of Christ?