Calvary Road Baptist Church

“THE EVIDENCE OF THE ENEMIES”

Matthew 28.11-15

 

Easter is such a glorious celebration for the Christian, when we can glory in our Savior’s resurrection from the dead, His conquest over death and sin and Hell, and the obvious evidence that He keeps His promises. I love Easter so much that I disapprove of anything that in any way distracts from or serves in any way to diminish the simple impact that my Lord Jesus Christ rose from the dead.

I remember going for a walk one Sunday after Church one afternoon, what you might term a cardiac walk for health. This was some years back. I walked Myrtle Avenue and turned and headed back home and was walking by the Church of Religious Science and noticed that they were preparing for an Easter egg hunt. “Interesting,” I thought, that a congregation that denies the personality of God, denies the Trinity, and denies the resurrection of Christ, would think it important to celebrate Easter with Easter eggs. I suppose that illustrates why I wonder about the thoughtfulness of people who celebrate Easter with chocolate bunnies and colored eggs. What is the point, after all? What does the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead need to enhance or embellish its impact or significance? I guess I have always wondered what people who think such things are necessary are missing from Easter.

I am not opposed to decorations. Neither am I opposed to organized celebrations. However, I think we need to be careful that our observations, especially those conducted for the benefit of children, actually tie in to the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Lilies are nice, while not being in any way distracting. Bunnies and eggs, however, are typically used to pull the attention of children away so as to be a distraction from what Easter is all about. I have never seen a child harmed by the absence of bunnies and colored eggs at Easter time, while never noticing any particular benefit in the way of demonstrable spirituality in the lives of children who are exposed to chocolate bunnies and colored eggs. I wonder, where is the benefit while seeing quite easily the potential for distraction.

One of the real red flags associated with chocolate bunnies and colored eggs at Easter is the importance of such things to lost people, such as I saw that day. My, oh my, unsaved people cherish such things that are without any connection to the Bible account of Christ’s resurrection, just as they magnify the importance of Santa Claus and tragically ignore serious attention to any memorial to Christ’s birth. That kind of thing alarms me. That is not to say that lost people are completely without usefulness in other ways. To be sure, what lost people place great stock in is useful to Christians as a check of what is wrong in a particular celebration. If the unsaved like it, and love it, and place great importance in it, it may very well be that there is something wrong with it. This is because the unsaved are spiritually blind and are shown in God’s Word to be enemies of the Gospel, being yet unreconciled to God.

Thus, the discerning Christian perfectly understands why unsaved people are so enamored with Christmas lights and Santa Claus. It is because such things having nothing to do with Christ’s birth. Lights and wreaths are okay, we put them up at our house, but they are quite unimportant, all things considered. In like manner, the discerning Christian will look carefully at Easter bunnies and colored eggs. Why so? Because they seem strangely important to Christ rejecters. I love eating chocolate bunnies and will eat hard boiled eggs, too. However, they have nothing whatsoever to do with my Lord’s resurrection. So, lost people can serve as a heads up about certain things. Would I suggest arguing with anyone about such things? Not at all. Some things are best observed but not argued about.

Illustrating the benefit of being careful to observe the reactions of lost people to just about everything is the particularly useful response of unsaved people to an important event in salvation history that took place as a reaction to the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Turn in your Bible to Matthew 28.1, and stand along with me as we begin to read: 

1  In the end of the sabbath, as it began to dawn toward the first day of the week, came Mary Magdalene and the other Mary to see the sepulchre.

2  And, behold, there was a great earthquake: for the angel of the Lord descended from heaven, and came and rolled back the stone from the door, and sat upon it.

3  His countenance was like lightning, and his raiment white as snow:

4  And for fear of him the keepers did shake, and became as dead men.

5  And the angel answered and said unto the women, Fear not ye: for I know that ye seek Jesus, which was crucified.

6  He is not here: for he is risen, as he said. Come, see the place where the Lord lay.

7  And go quickly, and tell his disciples that he is risen from the dead; and, behold, he goeth before you into Galilee; there shall ye see him: lo, I have told you.

8  And they departed quickly from the sepulchre with fear and great joy; and did run to bring his disciples word.

9  And as they went to tell his disciples, behold, Jesus met them, saying, All hail. And they came and held him by the feet, and worshipped him.

10 Then said Jesus unto them, Be not afraid: go tell my brethren that they go into Galilee, and there shall they see me. 

We quite typically, and understandably, focus our attention on Easter Sunday and when reading this passage on the angel, on the women who came to the sepulchre, and of course on the Lord Jesus Christ risen from the dead. However, we are also told in this passage of the men placed as guards at the sepulchre to prevent our Lord’s body from being stolen.

Notice what those armed soldiers did in response to the great earthquake, but in particular to the arrival of the angel whose countenance was like lightning, and who rolled back the massive stone that covered the opening to the tomb and sat on it, verse 4: 

“And for fear of him the keepers did shake, and became as dead men.” 

So you see, there were witnesses on the scene who were not sympathetic to Christianity.

Please remain standing as we now read our text, verses 11-15: 

11 Now when they were going, behold, some of the watch came into the city, and shewed unto the chief priests all the things that were done.

12 And when they were assembled with the elders, and had taken counsel, they gave large money unto the soldiers,

13 Saying, Say ye, His disciples came by night, and stole him away while we slept.

14 And if this come to the governor’s ears, we will persuade him, and secure you.

15 So they took the money, and did as they were taught: and this saying is commonly reported among the Jews until this day. 

“The watch” referred to in verse 11 is a reference to those soldiers assigned to guard the tomb, the ones mentioned in verse 4 who were so terrified by the appearance of the angel who rolled the stone away. These are the men who played dead until they felt it was safe enough for some of them to run away, with some of them presumably remaining behind to “guard” the catastrophe that had occurred.

Notice, from verses 11-15, what the enemies of the Gospel did in response to the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead and the undeniable reality of the empty tomb. Three responses: 

First, THEY EYED THE EMPTY TOMB 

Verse 11: 

“Now when they were going, behold, some of the watch came into the city, and shewed unto the chief priests all the things that were done.” 

“While good people were active, bad people were active, too. Some of the watch, having recovered from their fright, came into the city to report the startling scenes they had witnessed. It is noteworthy that they did not go to Pilate; they had been placed at the disposal of the chief priests, and therefore, while some of them remained on guard at the sepulchre, others of the soldiers went to their ecclesiastical employers, and showed unto them all the things that were done, so far as they knew the particulars. A startling story they had to tell; and one that brought fresh terror to the priests, and led to further sin on their part.”[1]

Why would they not go to Pilate with this story? For one thing, he may have by this time returned to his home in Caesarea on the Mediterranean coast. More likely, however, is that Pilate would have ordered their immediate execution, which was the penalty exacted whenever a Roman soldier who was standing guard over anything or anyone lost his charge.[2]

That established it is important for us to observe that they “showed unto the chief priests all the things that were done.” Thus, the chief priests saw with their own eyes, as well as hearing testimony from the soldiers on the scene with their ears, what had transpired. Would the soldiers have told the priests the truth? Why not, since as far as they knew to this point their lives were already forfeit.

It is, therefore, clear that it was not Christians only who knew Jesus Christ had risen from the dead. The soldiers guarding the tomb knew, and the chief priests in Jerusalem very soon came to know, that the unthinkable had occurred. The Man crucified only three days before, whose tomb they were guarding to prevent the theft of His body, had risen from the dead. How would they respond to this great miracle? What is your response to this great miracle? As for the priests, 

Next, THEY BRIBED THE SOLDIERS WHO GUARDED THE EMPTY TOMB 

Verse 12: 

“And when they were assembled with the elders, and had taken counsel, they gave large money unto the soldiers.” 

The chief priests, after seeing the empty tomb and no doubt thoroughly questioning the soldiers who had guarded the tomb, gathered the other Jewish religious leaders and discussed the matter. Being essentially religious politicians, they had to collaborate and arrive at a consensus account of what had occurred.

Consideration of the consequences of the truth, what was meant by the miraculous resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ from the dead in fulfillment of Biblical prophecy, apparently never entered their minds. The only thing they were concerned with at this point was damage control and keeping a lid on things. They were interested only in smothering the truth that Jesus Christ had risen from the dead.

Of course, they had two serious problems: The first problem, of course, was the guards. Roman soldiers detached by Pilate to guard the tomb of Joseph of Arimathaea were well aware of what had happened. The lawful thing to do to them, as Roman soldiers who had lost their charge, was to execute them. However, executing them would have drawn attention to Christ’s resurrection. Therefore, the resurrection had to be kept under wraps. So the guards were bribed. Naturally, preferring life to death, and preferring money in their pouches to death, they willingly cooperated in the conspiracy. 

Finally, THEY LIED ABOUT THE EMPTY TOMB AND PERSUADED THE SOLDIERS TO LIE 

Verses 13-15: 

13 Saying, Say ye, His disciples came by night, and stole him away while we slept.

14 And if this come to the governor’s ears, we will persuade him, and secure you.

15 So they took the money, and did as they were taught: and this saying is commonly reported among the Jews until this day. 

Now we come to the second serious problem faced by the chief priests, the empty tomb. This is where the bribe ensures the lies:

Verse 13 reveals to us the ultimate end, the goal if you will, of this conspiracy to conceal the truth. They had to devise a way to explain the empty tomb. However, is it not clear that a conspiracy to explain away the empty tomb is an admission that the tomb was empty? Thus, the enemies of the Gospel, those who are trying to conceal the truth, actually reveal the truth.[3]

After all, what thinking person would believe that the cowardly disciples of Jesus Christ, who were frightened of their own shadows, and this being illustrated by Peter being terrified by the questioning of a young girl the night before Christ’s crucifixion, would take on a cohort of Roman soldiers, overpower them, roll the stone away from the mouth of the tomb, and then steal the body away? Preposterous!

As well, who would believe the Roman soldiers slept through the theft of a body after both an earthquake event and a massive stone was rolled away when the penalties for being caught sleeping on guard duty in the Roman army were severe? Some centurions set soldiers caught sleeping on fire, while others severely beat their subordinates. The lie that the soldiers had slept while the body was snatched was hardly believable to anyone who knew anything about the Imperial Roman Army.

And to ensure the cooperation of the soldiers they had bribed, they guaranteed that should Pilate hear about what had happened; they would square it with him, verse 14: 

“And if this come to the governor’s ears, we will persuade him, and secure you.” 

Therefore, that lame explanation, that flimsy attempt to cover up the facts, was all they could come up with. And everyone with any sense at all could see through it, verse 15: 

“So they took the money, and did as they were taught: and this saying is commonly reported among the Jews until this day.” 

How did the enemies of the Gospel prove the resurrection they were attempting to deny? It is quite simple, isn’t it? First, there is no need to claim the body of Jesus Christ had been stolen unless there was a resurrection. After all, no amount of money could have persuaded the Roman soldiers to give up the body, since they would have expected to be executed for dereliction of duty. It was only the corruption of the chief priests in attempting to cover up the resurrection that resulted in their lives being spared and money in their purses. Second, no one would have accepted the explanation that the Lord Jesus’ disciples overpowered the Romans to roll the stone away and steal the body, especially that timid group of Galilean fishermen. So you see, it is very clear that the enemies of the Gospel are as helpful in establishing the certainty of the resurrection as the friends of the Gospel, since the actions of the soldiers and the chief priests are inexplicable unless Jesus Christ rose from the dead.

Here is the part that I have a great difficulty understanding. If the Lord did rise from the dead, and He did, why did the soldiers not admit it and fall down before Him? Why did the chief priests not admit it and fall down before Him? What possible chance is there of successfully resisting someone so powerful that He conquers death? Thus, while the responses of the soldiers guarding the tomb make no sense and the responses of the chief priests who were brought by the soldiers to see the empty tomb for themselves makes no sense, what sense is made of those in our day who continue to reject this One who has conquered death?

No one becomes a Christian through faith in Christ who does not want to become a Christian. However, there are consequences associated with your response to the Victor over death. Make no mistake about it. When you pass from this life to the next, you will experience eternal regret if you have not by then embraced the Lord Jesus Christ as your own personal Savior.

Oh, my friend, flee to Christ. Trust Him with simple and childlike faith. Make Him your own Savior before you leave this place.

__________

[1] Charles H. Spurgeon, Spurgeon’s Commentary on Matthew, (Bronson, MI: Online Publishing, Inc., 2002), bible@mail.com

[2] Josh D. McDowell, The New Evidence That Demands A Verdict, (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1999), page 237.

[3] Gary R. Habermas and Michael R. Licona, The Case For The Resurrection Of Jesus, (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 2004), page 71.

Would you like to contact Dr. Waldrip about this sermon? Please contact him by clicking on the link below. Please do not change the subject within your email message. Thank you.

pastor@calvaryroadbaptist.org