Last Updated: May 4, 2001
Keith Davis is Pastor of Hills United Reformed Church in Hills, MN. He is a graduate of Mid-America Reformed Seminary (1998), and has been a minister at Hills URC since September of 1998. Keith and his wife (Laura) and their 6 children are originally from the Chicagoland area, but they absolutely enjoy the life to which the Lord has called them in their small Minnesota town. Hills URC is a blossoming church. It's made up of 26 families (many of whom are young and energetic), who hail from Sioux Falls, SD, Lester, Iowa, and Hills, MN. If you want to contact Pastor Davis, you may call him at his office (507) 962-3254, or just send him an E-mail at [email protected].
Matthew 28: 1-15;† Text: 11-15
Beloved Congregation of our Lord Jesus Christ, experience teaches us that there are at least two versions to every story.† Thatís true with almost everything.† Any parent who has ever tried to settle a quarrel between two children knows just how true that is.†
I stumbled upon this truth at a very young age.† As a school boy, I learned that there were two versions to the story of how the Grand Canyon was formed.† The one version I learned, was that the Grand Canyon was formed at the time of the flood, when the great waters of the deep burst forth, and the mighty, raging waters etched out a path through that Grand Canyon, making it appear exactly as we see today.†
But then, there was a second version of this story.† I recall hearing about a larger than life American legend named Paul Bunyan, who, with his great big blue ox named Babe carved out that canyon all by themselves (walked along dragging his pick ax?).
Obviously those are two extremely different versions of the same story.† Granted one version is pure legend, pure myth, right out of kidís fantasy land.† Yet, people have a way of embracing those legends (not just Paul Bunyan, but Santa Claus, Easter Bunny). And we certainly seem to have no shortage of people who are willing to create and spread and even play along with such mythical versions of the truth.†
This is equally true of the passage thatís before us this morning.† In Matthew 28, we read of only one story.† The story of Easteróthe account of the resurrection of Jesus Christ, exactly as it happened.† But there are two versions to this story.† One version is truthful, while the other version is a mythóitís a complete fabrication.
But I guarantee you, thereís nothing harmless, thereís nothing playful about the mythical version of the resurrection.† In fact, itís an extremely deadly version of the resurrection story.† Its one that seeks to suck the life right out of the churchóthat seeks to deprive the church, the world, (and you and me!) of the Good News of salvation.
And, whose responsible for this particular (& deadly) version of the resurrection?† The enemies of God are responsible.† They are the ones who seek to hide the truth, to cover-up the truth of the resurrection with lies and legends.† That is the theme of our text: Godís Enemies Conspire to Cover-up the Truth of Christís Resurrection.†
1.† Godís Enemies are Forced to Face the Truth.†
2. Godís Enemies are Content to Believe a Lie.
1.† Godís Enemies are Forced to Face the Truth
Congregation, right in the opening line of our text (vs. 11), we can see how these two versions are going to develop.† It says while the women were on their way, basically, the guards went on their wayÖthey went into the city.† What were these women and these guards on their way to do?† They were both on their way to tell others what they saw.
And what did they see?† Boys and girls, did the women and the guards see Christís resurrection?† No.† No the Bible never tells us that someone saw Christís actual resurrection.† What the women and the guards witnessed that Easter morning was an empty tomb!† But each witnessed the empty tomb under much different circumstances!††
Go back to vs. 1.† We find that the women are on their way to the tomb.† Luke tells us that these ladies have set out very early in the morning with their expensive spices and perfumes to anoint Christís body for burial.† And we know from 27:65 that the guards are already at the tomb. They have been there all night, making sure that no one tries to break into the tomb and take Christís body out (to pull off a Ďmock resurrection).
But then (as we know from parallel accounts), before these ladies arrive at the tomb, while they are still on their way--vv. 2-3: There was a violent earthquake, for the 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 lighting (glory of being in the presence of God!) and his clothes were white as snow.† The guards were so afraid of him that they shook like dead men.
Notice, nothing is said of the womanís reaction.† Thatís because they are not there yet.† Only the Roman (custodians) guards were there to witness that extraordinary, supernatural event.† They fall as dead men who are struck with holy terror before the angel of the Lord!
Although Matthew makes it appear like thereís a seamless transition between vv. 4-5, we know very well that several things took place between those two verses.† Luke 24:1-2 tells us that when the women arrived at the tomb, they found the stone already rolled away from the tomb.† Thatís why that are so upset at first!† John records the fact that Mary Magdalene runs frantically to Peter saying, They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we donít know where they have put Him.
I think itís astounding/remarkable to note that itís Jesusí own followers who are sort of ďleft in the darkĒ (so to speak) on Easter morning.† They did not see everything that took place by that tomb in the early morning hours.† They did not see the angel roll the stone away.† If they had, then they would have no reason for alarm, no reason for panic.† Then they would have known right from the start that Jesus was not stolen, but that he was risen.
Yes, eventually, in good time, the angel appears to Mary and to the other women to tell them the truth, I know why youíre here.† Youíve come looking for Jesus who was crucified.† But He is not here, He is risen just as He said!†
But thereís only one group of people who saw everything from the very start.† Thereís only one group of people who knew, who saw how that stone was rolled away.† They are the ones who had the first glimpse inside that tomb.† They are the ones who knew from the startóbeyond a shadow of a doubt, that the crucified body of Jesus which was laid to rest in that tomb late Friday evening, was now goneóit disappeared, vanished without a trace--without any foul play!
And although they fell like dead when they witnessed the angel roll that stone away, they did not stay lying down.† For, when the women arrive at the tomb, it appears as if the soldiers are nowhere to be found.† They are not there to tell the women what happened.† No.† They are already on their way to Jerusalem to report the newsóto report the resurrection to the chief priests!†††
Then, as soon as the angel explains to the women what happened, they too are on their way.† The angel says, go quickly and tell His disciples the Good News!† Tell them the story of Christís resurrectionótell them that the angel rolled the stone away to reveal that Jesus was not there, but that He is risen just as He said!†
So both parties left the tomb that morning with the same story, didnít they?† Under different circumstances, absolutely.† Yet both knew the truth. And both were going to bear witness to the truthóto the fact that the tomb was empty.† That Christ was not stolen awayórather he had risen from the grave!††††
The guards, they went into the city, into Jerusalem with their story--to tell it to the chief priests.† Verse 11 says, they told them everything, everything that had happened!† Again, itís so very important for us to establish that point.† No where are we told that the guards withheld information.† No where are we told that the guards changed their story to spare themselves from ridicule and embarrassment, from being laughed at by the chief priests.† They told them the truth of the resurrection story just as it had happened!†
Letís face it, they had a whopper of a tale to tell. You know, we think people today are certifiably nuts when they talk about seeing flying saucers, and having close encounters with aliens from outer space.† So how do you think these guards feltóthese hardened, unbelieving Roman soldiers, the best in the worldówhen they had to face the unenviable task of explaining to the chief priests that they saw an angel come down from heaven and roll that stone away.† That must have been a hysterical scene!††
Yet beloved, the point that Matthew makes here is absolutely clear!† Matthew is writing to a Jewish audience.† Thatís why he alone records these details.† He wants the Jews to know that there were eye witnesses to the truth.† He wants them to know that these unbiased soldiers saw the whole thing.† They bore witness to the whole thing.† And the chief priests heard about the whole thingóabout everything that happened--the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth!†
You know what?† The chief priests believed them.† We donít see them shooting down their story, arguing over details, interrogating the soldiers, demanding the real story!† We donít see the chief priests and elders demanding that there be a search for the body of Jesus, and that those soldiers be punished for their lies.
No.† They simply accept the fact that these soldiers are telling the truth.† They realize that the soldiers did not dream this up, this is not some far-fetched story.† This is the truth, and they know it.† Godís enemies are forced to face the truth that the tomb is empty!† That Jesus Christ is alive!†
This means that the enemies of God, the enemies of Jesus Christ--the chief priests and the elders, the very ones who were responsible for arranging the arrest and crucifixion of Jesus Christ--they are among the very first ones to hear the Good News that Easter morning!† Again, they learned of this while the women were still on their way to tell the disciples!†
How ironic!† What poetic justice, you might say.† This is Godís way of scoffing at the worldóscoffing at His enemies.† Showing them how weak they are when compared to His power, and how futile are their attempts to rid themselves of His anointed One.†††
So the reality of the empty tomb is staring Godís enemies right in the faceóitís a reality that demands a response!† But what are they going to do about it?† What are they going to do with the truth of the resurrection?†
Well beloved, what does every enemy of God do with the truth?† Just like Paul says, rebellious man chooses to suppress the truth in ignorance.† He prefers to believe lies, instead of truth!† That is exactly what these men resort to in vv. 12ff.† Though they are faced with the truth of the Resurrection, Godís Enemies are Content to Believe a Lie.††† †
2)† Godís Enemies are Content to Believe a Lie.††† ††
Verse 12 tells how the chief priests, after hearing the story from the soldiers, after staring the truth in the face, they meet together with the elders and they devise a plan.† Literally it says they synagogued togetheróthey conspired together, trying to find a way to discredit the truth, to deny the truth!†
What is their strategy?† Very simple.† Theyíre going to bribe their way through this. These wicked men are used to this by now.† They used their silver to buy the false testimony of Judas Iscariot, to advance the conspiracy against Jesus before.† So too now, they will use silver to buy the false testimony of these guards and advance the conspiracy against Christís resurrection.†
So, the chief priests and elders give these soldiers a large sum of money, and they command them (not request, but command them), You are to say this: Jesusí disciples came along at night while we were sleeping and they stole his body away.
Now understandably, the penalty for sleeping while on duty was very severe.† So, to sweeten the deal, the elders and chief priests guaranteed the safety of the soldiers, so that if word of this ever reached the ears of the governor, they would have no reason to worry, no reason to fear. Everything will be taken care of.†
All the soldiers had to do now was to start spreading the word, start filling the city with this lie.† Start telling the Jews that the only reason that the tomb was empty, was because Jesusí disciples came at night and stole his body.† Simple.
Now there can be no doubt, that over the next few days, all the Jews, all over Jerusalem, had heard both versions of this story!† We can be fairly certain that that most everyone heard the womenís version.† That the tomb was empty because Jesus rose from the dead just as He said.† In fact, as Jesus appeared to many over the next several weeks, Jerusalem was no doubt abuzz with all these reports.††
But we also know that all of Jerusalem heard the second version of the story.† The one disseminated by the soldiers.† So which version of the story do you think people believed?† Vs. 15 answers that question, And this story (the soldierís version of the resurrection) has been widely circulated among the Jews to this very day!†† The Jews heard both versions of the story, but they too, preferred to believe the lie over the truth.
And itís not like the lie was all that convincing!† Just think about it a minute.† If the guards were really sleeping, how would they know what happened.† How would they know that the disciples took His body?†
And, if the Jewish leaders really thought that this was true, that the disciples did this, then why didnít they do something about itówhy didnít they hunt down the disciples, and make a kingdom wide search for Christís body to back up their story!†
Why?† Again, because the Jewish leaders knew the truth.† They knew they would not find Jesusí body!† So, even to our relatively simple minds, there seems to be plenty of weaknesses in that version, plenty of places where someone could Ďpoke holesí in the soldierís story!† Thereís more than enough reasons for people to question that lie, to doubt that lie, to see it as the myth and a complete fabrication.
But thatís just not the way it works with Godís enemies.† This is another great example of how you canít reason your way to the truth with an unbeliever.† The sheer burden of evidence is not enough to convince someone of the truth of the Good News!†
Many people try that, they try that approach to the Gospel.† Some ministers will spend their time this Easter morning preaching about the evidence of the resurrection, trying to convince the people in the pew to believe in the resurrection because of the preponderance of all the evidence.†
Certainly thereís plenty of evidence that each Gospel writer provides for us.† But the point is, the enemies of God donít care about the evidence.† They donít care about the truth.† They donít care about the facts.† All they want is the lies.† All unbelievers want to hear from us (Christís church) on this Easter Sunday is what the historians, what the liberal theologians, and what the newspapers say: that the belief in Christís resurrection is a Christian tradition begun by the followers of Jesus in the wake of his horrible and tragic death.† The Christian belief in the resurrection is what keeps Christ alive in their hearts and minds of believers.
And that is a tradition that we choose to believe, and others simply choose to reject.† And if people want to celebrate Easter by going to the park for an Easter Egg hunt, or go to the mall to visit the Easter bunny, well that Easter tradition is just as viable, just as acceptable as the Christian tradition.†
You stick with your version of the resurrection story, and Iíll stick with mine!† Never mind that the Easter Bunny is a total fabrication of manís imagination.† Never mind that it has absolutely nothing to do with Christ or His resurrection.† Since when did the truth ever matter anyway?†
Beloved, the truth of the empty grave, the truth of the empty tomb is staring the enemies of God in the face this morning.† The enemies of Jesus Christ are confronted with the truth of His resurrection.† They canít deny it!† Sure, they can avoid it.† They can ignore it.† They can conspire to make up lies about it.† But they cannot escape the fact that Christ is risen, that Heís alive, and that right now their enemy reigns at the right hand side of God the Father almighty.
But beloved, we also are met with that truth today.† The empty tomb also stares us in the face this morning.† But what are we going to do about it?† What are you going to do about that empty grave?† Whose version of the story are you inclined to believe?† Do you believe the truth, or do you wish to exchange the truth for a lie.
We quickly say, well I want the truth, of course!† I believe the truthful version of that story.† I believe that Jesus Christ rose from the grave.† I say, thatís great.† For without Christís resurrection, we are left without hope, we are left in our trespasses and sinsóleft as dead as Christ would still be.
So we do well to believe the truthful version of the story.† But then, we also have to live out the truthful version of that story!† Christ rose from that tomb to new life, so that we could have new life.† Christ rose from that tomb to give us victory over sin and death and hell.† But then we have to live in the light of that victory.
We cannot claim to believe the truth, but then live out the lie.† If you truly believe that Christ rose form the dead, that He burst forth from death's dark prison, that He rose to ascend into heaven and sit at the His rightful placeóat the right hand side of God the Father almighty, then you must live in His resurrection power!† Then you must live out the truth.† So that everyone around us may see that truth.† So that everyone around us may bear witness to that truth.† So that our lives may be a constant, undying, unrelenting, unashamed testament to the real version of Christís resurrection!† The truth is before us congregation.† What will you do with it?† What version will you believe?† AMEN!!!†††
Rev. Keith Davis