“This is totally outrageous!”
Have you ever heard something that made you feel that way? Many people’s reaction to the news lately is: “This is totally out of order!” That’s exactly how people reacted to Jesus’ death and resurrection.
When Jesus came into Jerusalem, He already had the eyes of the religious leaders on Him. He drew such a great crowd, and they were all singing His praises. The religious leaders were so put off by this, they told Jesus He needed to rebuke His disciples for what they were saying about Him. Jesus told the religious leaders if they stop praising Him, the rocks would cry out His praises!
This didn’t set well with the religious leaders. They kept a close eye on Him, waiting for the right time to strike. And strike they did.
They had Jesus arrested, tried and condemned to death. Since they didn’t have the authority to carry out the sentence, they took Jesus to the Roman governor of Judea. Reluctantly, he gave into the crowd who wanted to see Jesus crucified. Jesus was hung on a cross and died.
A guard who wanted to be sure that Jesus was dead stuck His spear into Jesus’ side and through His heart. There was no doubt about it: Jesus was dead. Some men who followed Jesus anointed His body and laid it in a tomb on the outskirts of town.
You would think this is where the story would end, but three days later, Jesus was risen from the dead. Not everyone believes this. Many today don’t even seem to care.
So, throughout this series we are going to be looking at the post resurrection accounts where Jesus appears to His disciples. But, first we are going to start by looking at a story that only appears in the gospel of Matthew. This is a story that is easily overlooked. Truth be told, most church leaders don’t even want to deal with this story. But, this is an interesting story. It deserves to be heard and it needs to be explained so that we understand why Matthew includes this story in his gospel.
The day after Jesus died, the religious leaders remembered that while He was alive, He told people when He dies, He will rise in three days. The religious leaders didn’t believe this, but they wanted to be sure that Jesus’ disciples didn’t come along, steal His body and make claims that He rose from death.
So they went to Pilate, the Roman governor, and asked him to post a guard at the tomb to prevent this from happening. Pilate relented and gave them guards to make the tomb as secure as they knew how.
The guards thought that this would be an easy assignment: Hang out at a tomb for a couple days, and then go on their way. They weren’t prepared for what they were about to witness.
Matthew (chapter 24) tells us that early on Sunday morning, the guards witnessed an earthquake, saw an angel whose appearance was like lightning roll the stone away from the opening of the tomb and then angels sit on top of the stone. They saw the women come and heard the angel tell the women Jesus was alive, that He has risen. The guards saw the angel show the women the empty tomb where Jesus was laid. They were so full of fear, they couldn’t move!
When they finally came around, they knew that they had to tell someone what they had just witnessed. But, who? Who could make sense of it? The guards decided upon the religious leaders, who then called a meeting with the elders.
They payed the guards a large sum of money and told them they were to say that Jesus’ disciples came in the night while they were sleeping and stole His body. They wanted to contain the story. Professional Roman soldiers didn’t fall asleep on guard duty, unless they wanted to be executed. Even so, they were greedy; they took the money and ran. Who were they to argue?
As if Jesus’ execution wasn’t outrageous enough, the dismissal of first-hand eyewitness accounts of His resurrection was even more outrageous! Now to top it off, the guards were told to fabricate a story!
It’s clear Jesus didn’t fit into their plans. They had a good thing going, and they were interested in keeping it that way. They made sure that Jesus was dead, and they wanted Him to stay dead.
Matthew, however, wanted everyone to know the truth. He knew the story circulating about the disciples stealing Jesus’ body while the guards were asleep wasn’t true. The thought never even occurred to them. They were too busy staying out of sight. They saw Jesus die and thought there was a real possibility they would be next. If they had believed Jesus was going to rise, they would have sat outside the tomb and waited for him. Instead, they were hiding.
There will always be alternative stories to the truth. It happens all the time. The tobacco companies tried to hide the facts about how harmful smoking is to our health. They used every alternative story they could to keep the truth from coming to light, but eventually it did. The truth will always come to light.
As much as the religious leaders tried to contain it, the truth prevailed. The religious leaders wanted to keep this story from getting out because belief in the resurrection of Jesus carries the moral responsibility of accepting Him as LORD.
Are you convinced that Jesus rose, or are you skeptical?
Jesus Christ triumphed over the supreme enemy – death. Jesus rose, and so will other human beings. You can have the assurance that people who die will rise again. Believe.