He Is Not Here; He Has Risen, Just As He Said
Greetings Narrow Gate,
Happy Easter to you all. Yesterday was a beautiful day wasn't it? I pray that you and your family had a beautiful Easter. I miss seeing you all.
It has been a long year between Easter 2020 and this year, has it not? With all that has happened over the last year, some good, much bad, and some just plain crazy, I am here to encourage you today. Jesus is alive and he loves you. We serve a risen savior. Jesus did die on the cross. But then he was resurrected. The tomb is empty.
But not because of any lack of effort by the Pharisees, Pilate, or the Roman guards. They did everything that they could possibly do to prevent a resurrection. But all that they did do, did nothing to hinder, much less prevent Christ's resurrection. It really didn't matter what they did. Thinking about this, it is almost laughable at the futility of the Pharisees' position. Centuries of looking for the Messiah, then, when he does come, they don't recognize their savior. Instead, they try to cover up and pretend it didn't happen. Talk about being on the wrong side of history.
Their attempt at a cover up did not work. In fact, covering up sin never works.
Today we're reading from the book of Matthew. Matthew 27:62-66, 28:1-15. Let's begin with Matthew 27:62-66,
"The next day, the one after Preparation Day, the chief priests and the Pharisees went to Pilate. 'Sir', they said, 'we remember that while he was still alive that deceiver said, "After three days I will rise again." So give the order for the tomb to be made secure until the third day. Otherwise, his disciples may come and steal his body and tell the people that he has been raised from the dead. This last deception will be worse than the first.'"
This last statement meaning this: The Risen Son of God would be more difficult to control than Jesus as the crucified Christ.
So, the Pharisees, led by Annas and Caiaphas, went to Pilate requesting that the tomb where Jesus was buried be sealed and guarded by Roman guards. This is on Saturday, the day after Christ's death. They, the Pharisees, are feeling pretty good. To their minds, Jesus the impostor is dead. They just need to guard against these crazy disciples pretending to steal his body and fake a resurrection. A Roman guard and seal will more than take care of that, right?
Pilate granted their request. About 30 Roman soldiers went to seal the tomb after his body was placed in the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea. They then rolled a two ton stone in front of the opening to physically seal the tomb. Who would be able to move that stone? Then to officially seal the tomb they placed the Roman seal with the official markings of Rome. In a way, this seal was more difficult to break than the stone was to roll away. Just defacing this seal was a high crime punishable by death. On top of that, the guards valued that seal as if their lives depended on it. Because their lives did depend on it.This is why this evidence is so compelling in proving that Christ was indeed resurrected.
These Roman guards were highly motivated. They were well trained and hardened killers. According to historical tradition, Pilate assigned one of his best and most trusted guards, Petronius, in charge of the tomb. Did the Romans want to be there? Probably not. But Roman soldiers followed orders to the letter. They cared not about the difficulty between the Pharisees and Jesus one bit. What was sacred to them was the seal. Their fear of punishment by their superiors guaranteed a strict discipline for all assignments, especially night watches. Forget about the seal being broken, if they are caught out of position or asleep, it meant death, by fire. These guys are not going to be duped or intimidated by anyone. They will guard that seal to the last man. After saying all of this, Matthew 28:1-4,
"After the Sabbath, at dawn on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to look at the tomb. 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 lightening, and his clothes white as snow. The guards were so afraid of him that they shook and became like dead men."
Well, so much for these tough guys. It's obvious that the disciples didn't do this though, The Roman guard would have wiped them out. Remember that when Christ died on the cross, there was and earthquake and storm. These guards undoubtedly had been there for that. They were all uneasy there at the cross, I'm sure. This morning they were terrified, because they shook and became like dead men. Not only does this angel shine, he also speaks. Matthew 28:5-7,
"The angel said to the women, "Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples: He has risen from the dead and is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him. Now I have told you."
Here is another scripture, that I would put up with one of my favorites, "the punishment that brought us peace" from Isaiah 53. He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Short and to the point. In fact, why not engrave it on the tomb for future generations to read? He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. This is where the eternal history of mankind shifts to the better.
No longer are we trapped in sin. We are forgiven by Christ's sacrifice and our repentance. In fact, his righteousness has been given to us. Now, Christ has risen from the dead. He has cleared the path for us to eternal life. Our futures have all been changed forever. However, we must believe for this to be the case.
The final words from the angel here, "Now I have told you." This is interesting to me. This sounds as if he had been given the command to make sure that he told the women to inform the disciples. He was signifying verbally that he had completed an important task that was a part of his overall mission. At least that's what it sounds like to me. Matthew 28:8-10,
"So the women hurried away from the tomb, afraid yet filled with joy, and ran to tell his disciples. Suddenly Jesus met them. 'Greetings,' he said. They came to him, clasped his feet and worshiped him. Then Jesus said to them, "Do not be afraid. Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.'"
This is just a wonderful reunion here. Thinking him dead, now seeing him, their emotions had to be overwhelmed. The women followed their instructions and went off in search of the disciples.
Now, we left the soldiers laying around like they were dead. Listen to what scripture tells us about them. There has to be a reckoning here. They failed in their assignment, big time. Matthew 28:11-15,
"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 you were asleep." If this report gets to the governor (Pilate), 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."
The Pharisees and the guards are in a bad place. In a sense, they are stuck with one another, they can't turn back now. So they'll cover each others' backs. The soldiers are bribed to lie that the disciples stole his body while the guards were asleep. Really, everything considered, this is a silly lie. As long as the soldiers stick to their story though, the Pharisees will protect them from Pilate and their date with the executioner. So not only do the soldiers survive, they get well paid for their failure at the tomb.
A few weeks back I told you to not let the world tell you what to think, especially what to believe. Much of the world will give you the Pharisees' and the soldiers' version of what happened on that Easter Sunday when Jesus rose from the dead.
Both the angel and Jesus himself told the women: Do not be afraid. Why are we always so afraid? We make wrong decisions when motivated by fear. Do not be afraid. I know the world seems crazy, but it always has been crazy. We do not need to be afraid.
Look at it this way: we are living at the perfect time to make a difference for the harvest of Christ. Every heart you can reach, is a soul saved. We are doing God's work just like Jesus. Isn't that just what we should be doing? Let's keep in the word of God, led by the Spirit of God, and stay focused on where God's Spirit leads us. Don't pay attention to what the world is selling, marketing, and propagandizing for us to believe. Some of today's lies are as silly a those of the Pharisees' and the Roman guards'.
Back to our three questions to direct our understanding:
Why Jesus? Because he was both the Son of God and the Son of Man. No one else would do.
What happened on the cross? Christ's work was not just limited to the cross. Even after the cross, Jesus was fulfilling scripture. He did not come just to die, he had to also rise from the dead. He is not here; he is risen, just as he said.
Who is Jesus? He's my best friend. I pray that he is yours too. This Easter, do not fear because God loves you.
Do no harm, do good, stay in love with God.
and Harmony UMC