Date: April 21, 2019
Speaker: Erik Raymond
Scripture: Matthew 27:62–28:15
If Jesus did not raise from the dead then why worry about what he said? It doesn’t matter. But if he did, then he is God and everything he said matters. It really is this simple; there is no in between.
By raising from the dead, Jesus proves that he really is the King who’s worthy of your worship. The passage before us recounts the details surrounding Jesus’ resurrection from the dead.
In the verses surrounding the testimony of the first witnesses, there are accounts of how those who oppose Jesus attempt to respond to the facts of these events. There is unbelief on the front and the end of the passage with faith isolated in the middle. This provides us the opportunity to not only consider the resurrection but also to consider how faith and unbelief interact with it.
We will look at three conclusions about faith in light of the resurrection: unbelief is restless and often paranoid, faith is not irrational, but rests upon solid evidence, unbelief sacrifices reason to maintain a sense of control.
We drop into this passage amid a greater context. And it’s important to have this in place to appreciate fully what’s happening here. Matthew indicates that this is the “the next day” —that is, it’s Saturday, the day after Jesus was crucified.
And we read that these religious leaders —the chief priests and the Pharisees—they gathered before Pilate. So just to get our bearings here, the chief priests and Pharisees are Jewish religious leaders. Pilate is the Roman governor over Jerusalem. The religious leaders hated Jesus and they convinced Pilate to crucify Jesus.
But yet, they are not satisfied. Here on Saturday, the day after Christ’s death, they are restless and seem a bit paranoid. They hustle to Pilate and raise their concerns. Look at verse 63, “Sir, we remember how that impostor said, while he was still alive, ‘After three days I will rise.”
They are remembering what Jesus has said. He said he would rise from the dead. This is true. Jesus predicted not only his death but also his resurrection several times while he was alive.
Perhaps they are remembering many of the miraculous things that Jesus did, such as healing the sick, casting out demons, creating food, and even himself raising the dead—and they were nervous.
They were paranoid.
So they make their request. They asked Pilate to make the tomb secure until the third day. They are asking for help here to cover the time period within Jesus’ prediction. Secure it up. Let’s lock it down. Because he’s afraid that Jesus’ disciples might go in and steal his body and then start a rumor that he has risen from the dead. It would seem that this would be an easy rumor to stop because all you would have to do is ask for people to show you the man risen from the dead—that should suffice.
Now think about what has happened. Thursday night late Jesus was arrested. Throughout the early morning and throughout the day Friday, Jesus was tortured, questioned, and finally crucified. He was covered in blood and beaten to a pulp.
When he finally died upon the cross, the Roman soldier—who was a professional killer—pierced his side through with a spear to confirm his death. His body was then laid in a tomb. He was absolutely, verifiably dead. They have taken care of what they perceived as their greatest problem. Jesus was dead.
But yet, they are not satisfied. They are restless. They are paranoid. They're afraid that this group of disciples—all of whom ran away in fear by the way. The leader, Peter, repeatedly denied that he knew Jesus before a teenage girl. These guys whose lack of courage seems to only be rivaled by their lack of commitment—these guys are going to steal Jesus’ body and continue what Jesus started?
This is extremely unlikely. And examined in this context seems paranoid. Pilate seems a bit annoyed by this ongoing nuisance and their insecurity. He tells them, look you have a guard of soldiers, go make it secure. He was most likely referring to their temple guards or police. Take your guys, he says, and go and make it as secure as you can.
And this is what they did. They got a guard and they secured the tomb by putting a giant rock upon the opening.
The tomb would have been into the ground, like a dug out hole. And then at the mouth of the hole, there would have been a large rock laid over the top of it preventing anyone from coming in or out. The religious leaders' obsession and paranoia with Jesus reminds me of a restlessness I see in many who do not believe the biblical account of Jesus. There is a strange attraction to the transcendent or the miraculous but resistance to Jesus. People marvel at the breathtaking views of mountains or beaches, filling up their Instagram account with photos, but yet are so resistant to acknowledging and worshiping the Creator.
I was reminded of this recently reading a book entitled Why We Sleep by Matthew Walker. Throughout the book, the author continued to come to a place of what can only be described as worshipful wonder. But instead of anchoring this breathtaking beauty in the intelligent design of a good Creator, he chose, again and again, to anchor his boat of marvel to the rickety dock of chance and time sourced ed in evolution. In one passage he writes about the previous consensus of what was going on in our brains during the early stages of sleep before we really get down to the business of sleeping. He says that the scientist used to believe that the brain was inactive during this time. Their observations concluded the brain was idle or even dormant because these brainwaves were the deepest and slowest observed. But, says Walker,
“this assumption was utterly wrong. Nothing could be further from the truth. What you are actually experiencing during deep NREM sleep is one of the most epic displays of neural collaboration that we know of. Through an astonishing act of self-organization, many thousands of brain cells have all decided to unite and “sing,” or fire, in time. Every time I watch this stunning act of neural synchrony occurring at night in my own research laboratory, I am humbled: sleep is truly an object of awe.”
He is worshipping.
In others, there is almost an obsession with attempting to disprove what the Bible says. Many scholars and philosophers have given their lives writing books attempting to argue against the Bible. They debate it with attacking and acerbic language. I’m not quite sure why they would continue to push upon a matter that they say they have resolved. They believe they have defeated the arguments and its a settled matter. If it is, as they say, dead and buried in the tomb, why continue to engage it with such vehemence?
Others aren’t writing books of course, but they continually turn over the biblical story and are ready with a defense against it.
My question is, if it’s false and defeated as you say, then why are you so fixated upon it? The amount of time and energy expended seems to suggest a certain legitimacy to the claim that is attempting to be refuted.
At least the amount of time spent upon it displays a certain value inherent in it. I think it is, like with these first-century religious leaders, that unbelief -instead of providing rest-only serves to produce restlessness and often a sense of anxiety that they might be wrong.
Many today reflect the Pharisees in this passage. If Jesus did not raise from the dead then why worry about what he said? It doesn’t matter. But if he did, then he is God and everything he said matters.
Often times people mischaracterize what Biblical faith is. They speak of if it in irrational terms. Faith does not oppose reason. It is not irrational. It isn’t a blind leap in a dark room with the hope that there is a floor. It’s not a shot in the dark.
In the New Testament, we see that biblical faith is tied both to a personal God and historical facts. God became a man in Jesus Christ and there were actual historical events that happened that are vital to what we believe. In other words, the authors of the New Testament invite us to study the biblical doctrine of who God is and the historical facts associated with what Jesus actually did.
Let me put it more boldly. The reality of Jesus—his historicity—is the foundation of the Christian religion. If Jesus did not live, die, and actually raise from the dead—then the whole thing falls apart. This is what the Apostles argue in places like 1 Corinthians 15.
Our faith then is not irrational. But instead, it rests upon solid evidence. Let’s look at some of these items here in the account of the resurrection of Jesus.
First, notice how ordinary the scene is. It’s Sunday morning. And these women are going to the tomb of Jesus. Why did they wait until Sunday? Because Saturday was the Sabbath and they would have been forbidden from making such a journey. So, at sunup, they are there. They are going to see their dear friend who has been brutally crucified.
But something quite remarkable happens. There was a great earthquake. We know this area in Israel is prone to earthquakes and after the earthquake on Friday, one might expect something like this to happen.
But, even more, we see in the text there is a visitor at the tomb. Look at verse 2. “an angel of the Lord descended from heaven.” This is an angel. A heavenly spirit that has a body. They are perfectly holy and without blemish. Throughout the Bible, they show up from time to time to serve God in particular ways. When they show up we know something special is going to happen. It’s not every day an angel appears in biblical writing.
And here we see that the angel came and did something. Look again at verse 2, “he rolled back the stone and sat on it.” What is this stone on? It is the stone that the guards set upon the entrance of the tomb of Jesus. It is a stone set at the mouth of the tomb fixed with a Roman seal. Thankfully we have an angel here. And he sits on the stone. He did his job.
Notice also his description, he was like lightning and his clothing was white as snow. The brightness is arresting. You squint in his presence. No mention of wings or other angelic folklore. But, definite reference to the holiness and power of the angel. He gets your attention.
He definitely got the guards attention. Look at verse 4, “And for fear of him the guards trembled and became like dead men.” These guards were scared. Upon seeing the angel they trembled and fell down like they were dead. Did they faint? Freeze up? We don’t know. But we do know they were affected by the sight of this heavenly being.
The angel turns to the women. They were likewise quite afraid. He seeks to comfort them on multiple levels. They came grieving over Jesus’ death and then no doubt they too would’ve been scared. He also seeks to build their faith by explaining what they are seeing and experiencing. We’ll walk through what he says and think about it together.
Look first at what the angel says in verse 5. “Don’t be afraid...” It would be naturally for them to be afraid. Look what just happened to the guards! But the angel is seeking to comfort and strengthen them. No need to be afraid.
He goes on to say something else. Again in verse 5, “for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified.” He knows why they are here. They have come as faithful, loving disciples to his tomb. The angel knows why these women are here.
But to their surprise, he says something more. Look at verse 6 with me, “He is not here.” He’s not there. He is not in the tomb.
If we just stop right there we have these women there at the front of the tomb. Carrying the love and sadness for their blessed friend who had been crucified.
But now as they stand there, they have these guards struck with terror—becoming like dead men, there is a stone rolled away from the mouth of the tomb, and an angelic being arrayed in dazzling light talking with them as he sits on the stone.
And he’s telling them that the one whom they seek is not there.
Where is he?
Look again at the text, right there before you, in verse 6, “He has risen” that has been raised or resurrected from the dead. He was dead and now he has risen! He is alive! These are unique words to be said. Not only because they are uttered by an angel but because they are spoken in a cemetery of a man. People don’t rise out of the ground! This is not the norm. This is miraculous.
He says something further in verse 6, He has risen as he said.
This is not a surprise if we’ve been following Matthew’s story. He has said it multiple times already, four times by my count.
He continued to tell people that he would be crucified and then raise from the dead. People may not have believed it, but Jesus said it, and he believed it, and he did it.
You can trust the Words of Christ. He has the power to back up what he says and he has the morality to tell the truth.
Then he tells them something else. Look at the end of verse 6, “Come, see the place where he lay.”
Now we see the purpose for the angel rolling away the stone. It wasn’t to let Jesus out of the grave but to let these first witnesses in. Come and see. He’s not there. But you can see where he was. How did he get out? He was raised from the dead!
I love how the angel unites the Word of Christ with the experience of these believers. “Look, let me explain this to you. It’s happened as he said it would. See for yourself.” This is not a shot in the dark. No, as the sun is rising on this middle eastern graveyard, faith is also rising, through the revelation and explanation of Christ’s powerful resurrection.
Then, he sends them on back to Galilee to tell the disciples. Go quickly he says. Tell them that he has risen, just like he said.
They ran off to tell the disciples. But notice how they went, they went with fear and great joy.
Why fear? They don’t quite know what it happening. They haven’t processed it. The information they have been provided has not been verified. He has risen? They need to see. The angel just said you will see him. There is joy because of the possibility and high likelihood. But there is fear because they can’t quite process this.
It doesn’t make sense. But listen, it’s not irrational. There needs to be some facts to fill in the gaps here. So they ran off.
But look what happens in verse 9: “And behold, Jesus met them and said, “Greetings!” And they came up and took hold of his feet and worshiped him.”
Now the information has gone public. What was hopeful a few moments earlier has been made visible. As they were going the Lord Jesus met them. In the midst of their weak faith, Jesus meets them. He loves to meet with his people to strengthen their faith in him.
The risen Lord greets them on the road. And he does so with a greeting that would have likely been common to his routine discourse with his disciples. What kindness we see here in our Savior. How he cares for his devoted disciples! And now they fall at his feet and worship.
This is right, isn’t it?
We see Jesus worshiped back in chapter 2:2 when the wise men came to him at his birth. Now, we see him worshiped again after his resurrection.
A bit later the other disciples will behold him and see him in verse 15 and worship him.
This is the right response to Christ!
The hope and joy are realized as they grasp ahold of Jesus. He is not some spirit. He is not invisible. He is in his flesh, as he was when he was buried days before. But, he is resurrected. He is alive. And so they fall at his feet and worship him.
This should be our response to him.
The resurrection of Jesus shows that he is really is the King—and he is worthy of your worship.
As Jesus’ disciples were heading out of town and Jesus is going before them to Galilee, and after the angel has left, the lens scans back to the tomb of Jesus.
Now empty with a giant rock moved aside. These guards come to their senses and realizing what happened to make their way back to the religious leaders.
Imagine this walk from the tomb. It’s now the third day. And these guards are walking away from the tomb they were supposed to be guarding. There is a hole in the ground. It’s empty.
And they are heading back to their bosses to report what happens. Imagine how long of a walk this must have been.
We read in verse 11 of this summary. “they went into the city and told the chief priests all that had taken place.”
What is this? Well they would’ve told them about the angels, the women, the empty tomb. Can you imagine this?
Well the leaders make a plan. They get their leaders together and put their heads together.
First, they determine to pay the soldiers off.
Second, they come up with a story, “Tell people, ‘his disciples came by night and stole him away while we were asleep.’”
Third, they make a promise to spin the story before Pilate, so as to protect them from the certain death.
Finally, they agree and set this in motion.
But there are some questions about this plan, aren’t there? It does seem like a plan with a number of weak planks, doesn’t it?
I don’t think the guards are in a favorable position, regardless of their recent deposit. Roman guards didn’t fare too well when the one they were guarding escaped.
I also don’t think it’s a plausible defense to identify the ones who stole the body when you are asleep. As a rule, it’s preferred that witnesses be alert and are capable of supporting their claims. Sleeping people don’t make good witnesses.
Also, the guards are saying what happened. This is miraculous. You can’t stop this.
Finally, if Jesus didn’t raise from the dead, and people said he did, all you’d have to do is ask for him. But, the problem for these leaders, is simply this, he appeared to hundreds and hundreds of people. He showed himself.
When we see the religious leaders spinning a (lame) story and paying off the guards (Mt 28:11-15) we're reminded that unbelief is content to live with many contradictions as long as it achieves relative peace and a sense of control.
But this is not real. It doesn’t last. As we see in the coming weeks and months after, Christianity explodes. It spreads to the nations.
It is interesting isn’t it, that the efforts by those who were unbelieving actually served to strengthen the testimony of the resurrection?
In God’s providence, he sovereignly used their unbelief to strengthen the faith of his disciples.
The appointing of the guards and the sealing of the tomb served to make this story more credible than it would have been otherwise.
The unbelievers, in their scheming, become unwitting servants to bolster the message.
Where are you in this passage?
Are you like the skeptics, piecing together a defense to Christ that fails to satisfy your restlessness while also revealing numerous contradictions?
See that this path is not the path of life and light.
See the risen Christ.
Know that he comes to those who are weak in faith and strengthens them.
If you turn in faith to believe in him, he will certainly receive you.
Perhaps you can identify with these women at the tomb.
Like them you love Christ but your faith is often weak.
See their posture in verse 9, face down on the ground grabbing ahold of the nail-pierced feet of Jesus.
See how Jesus greets them 10 steps down the road without having it all figured out.
See his kindness. See his love. See him receive their worship.
Like them, find your faith strengthened by the truth of the resurrection.
By raising from the dead, Jesus proves that he really is the King who’s worthy of your worship.
If he has raised from the dead then he is God—he has done something that only God can do.
Therefore, you must accept everything he says as true. He is God after all.
And he deserves to be treated as such. He deserves to be worshiped.