Sermon preached on Matthew 27:57-28:20 by Rev. W. Reid Hankins during the Morning Worship Service at Trinity Presbyterian Church (OPC) on 4/13/2014 in Novato, CA.
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Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
“Order the Tomb to be Made Secure”
Truth and deception. Two interrelated concepts in this passage. And two things very pertinent for today. Today, we are here to proclaim again the truth that Jesus Christ is risen from the dead. Today, we are here to reject again the deception that Jesus Christ did not rise from the dead.
This is an age old battle. It is ultimately the battle between God and Satan. God is a God of truth. Scripture states that repeatedly. God does not lie, but always speaks the truth. On the other hand, Satan is the father of lies according to the Bible. There is no truth in Satan, but rather when he lies, he is speaking his native language (John 8:44). And that is how we were brought into this battle between God and his truth and Satan and his deception. In the beginning, God created man and woman in his image and truthfully taught them how critical it was for them to obey God, lest they die. But then Satan the deceiver came along. That devil worked his deception in the garden. He deceived the first woman into disobeying God, and she led her husband into that same sin. Mankind foolishly listened to the deceptions of the devil over the truth of God way back then in the garden. And we have been in trouble ever since because of that.
But Satan’s deceptions did not stop in the garden. He has continued to promulgate various lies. And yet we are thankful that God has also continued to reveal his truth at different times and in different ways. In the Old Testament days he spoke through his prophets who proclaimed his truth. And in the New Testament days he sent his only begotten Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, to reveal his truth. The apostles also have bore witness of this truth. And so now the battle over truth rages on. Will people continue to listen to Satan and his lies. Or will people turn to believe the truth of God?
And so then as we come to especially celebrate again today the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, we realize that this is at the heart of the issue. It has been from the that very first Easter morning, when the resurrection happened. This passage of Scripture especially shows this to us. And so this is the question: Is it true? Did Jesus really rise from the dead? The religious leaders at the time thought before it happened, that it surely could not happen. After it did happen, they still refused to accept that truth. The religious leaders took action to try to protect the people from what they considered would be a grand deception — that people would falsely claim Jesus rose from the dead. But in their attempts to protect against deception, they became the deceivers. And so this is what we will look at today. We’ll consider the truth of the resurrection and the efforts at those opposed to Christ to try to replace that truth with a deception. We’ll particularly consider this in connection with the guards seen in this passage. The ideas of truth and deception especially surrounds what goes on with the guards in this passage. And so three points for our sermon today: The Guard Posted; The Guard Thwarted; and The Guard Reported. These three points match up with the three main scenes we see about the guards in the passage we read for today.
Let’s begin then with the first point: The Guard Posted. As we think about why this guard was posted we are immediately confronted with a truth. The truth is this: Jesus predicted in advance his resurrection. Look at chapter 27, verse 63. Even Jesus’ opponents remembered this. The chief priests and Pharisees who had taken the lead to get Jesus put to death in the first place, come now to Pilate with this concern. Remember, by the way, that Pilate was the Roman governor who conducted Jesus’ trial and granted the requested punishment to have Jesus crucified. And so the chief priests and Pharisees come now to Pilate, after Jesus has died, and ask that they be enabled to properly secure Jesus’ tomb. Again, the reason for this is verse 63. Because the Pharisees clearly remembered Jesus’ prediction that he would rise from the dead on the third day. In a side not, the irony is that it seems they were doing a better job of remembering this than Jesus own disciples. The disciples seem surprised at first of Jesus’ resurrection, even though the gospels clearly record a number of predictions in advance by Jesus that he would die and then rise again.
And yet the chief priests and Pharisees don’t actually believe this will happen. In other words, Jesus had declared this truth but they decided to reject it. Instead their concern here now is that this will be used by Jesus’ disciples for a grand deception. Look at verse 64. Here they make their request to Pilate for his help to make the tomb secure. They tell Pilate of Jesus’ prediction and present how the disciple might try to steal Jesus’ body and present a grand deception that Jesus had risen from the dead. And so this is their concern. In the question of truth versus deception, they are concerned that the disciples would be the ones promoting a deception.
And so Pilate grants them their request. Look at verse 64 of chapter 27. Pilate grants them a guard and authorizes them to make it as secure as they know how. And so they take this guard of Roman soldiers and go to the tomb, and not only post the guard, but even seal the tomb! So realize then, this tomb was secure. The chief priests and Pharisees got exactly what they wanted. They were able to secure this tomb. That’s the recorded facts. That’s the truth.
Well then, let’s look next at our next point: The Guard Thwarted. Here we are presented with another truth. It’s the truth of the resurrection. The guards were thwarted not by disciples trying to steal the body, but by the resurrection. Look at chapter 28, verse 6. It says clearly, “He is risen!” Okay then, let’s look at the details. Look at verses 2-4.
And behold, there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven, and came and rolled back the stone from the door, and sat on it. His countenance was like lightning, and his clothing as white as snow. And the guards shook for fear of him, and became like dead men.
It’s that same angel that becomes a herald of truth when he then announces to the women who had come to the tomb that the tomb was empty because Jesus had risen. But what I love here is how awesome this was. These guards were indeed thwarted and overcome. Roman soldiers were known for their excellence of service. But these mighty and brave soldiers shake for fear at the resurrection. They were tasked to make sure no one could take Jesus’ body from the tomb, but they had encountered what they had not expected. Their might was no power for the might of God in Christ, when Christ was raised here from the dead. They were not prepared for this great earthquake; or the angel powerfully rolling back the stone from the tomb, nullifying the seal. These brave soldiers were terrified and became like dead men; in other words they fainted from it all. In the best sense of this word, this was a truly awesome experience. The guards were overcome in awe, met with what they didn’t expect.
So far we’ve seen two main scenes about these guards. First, about their being acquired and posted. Second, about their being thwarted in their job by the terror of experiencing what happened at the resurrection. We turn now to our third scene in our passage about the guards. This is verses 11-15, and we’ll see The Guard Reported. Here we are met with an attempted deception. The chief priests and Pharisees attempt to cover up the report of resurrection. So look at verse 11. After the experience at the tomb, some of the guard go back into the city to report to the chief priests. They report that awesome truth they had witnessed about the resurrection. So what do the leaders do about this report? Well they confer with the elders and they conspire to deceive. They pay off the soldiers to promulgate a lie. Look at verse 13. They are supposed to spread a false report that the disciples stole away the body while they slept. By the way, I don’t know how you can know the disciples took the body while you were asleep, if you were asleep, but then again, that’s the problem with lies. When you lie, your story tends to fall apart under scrutiny, because it’s just not true. The truth, on the other hand, is consistent under scrutiny and tends to expose the lies.
Notice as well, that not only do chief priests and elders give the soldiers money, it’s a large sum of money. This shows the earnestness of the deception. They are paying them well for what they are asking them to do. And they also promise to do whatever is necessary to make sure they don’t get in trouble with governor Pilate over this. It would normally be a very, very, bad thing if you were a Roman soldier who fell asleep while on guard. It could normally mean your death. But they promise to make sure they are safe should the governor learn about this.
I can’t help but say “wow” when I read this. The hard heartedness of the chief priests and Pharisees here is overwhelming. They refused to accept the truth when Jesus’ predicted his resurrection in the first place. Now, when faced with the multiple witnesses of these soldiers, presumably unbiased soldiers, they yet refuse to believe in Jesus. In fact they seem to just harden their hearts all the more. They would rather pay off these soldiers with this large sum of money than let the truth be known. That’s the hardness of their hearts. And frankly, that tends to be how rejecting Christ goes. People can tend to harden their hearts against Jesus, and even when they are confronted more and more with truth, can often just become all the more entrenched in their rejection of him. This is why we need the Spirit of God to soften our hearts and bring that conviction of sin and recognition of the truth to us.
But that is not what these chief priests and Pharisees do. No, instead they become the very thing they accused Jesus of, and were afraid the disciples would do. Remember, look back at chapter 27, verse 63. Look there at what they called Jesus. They called Jesus a deceiver. But Jesus was not a deceiver. In fact they mention his deception in connection with his prediction to rise from the dead on the third day, and that’s exactly what happened. Jesus was not a deceiver; he was a truth teller. But who’s the real deceiver here? They were! These chief priests and Pharisees in their hardness of hearts. And look again at chapter 27, verse 64. They were worried that the disciples of Jesus would commit an even greater fraud than what they accused Jesus of doing. They were afraid that they’d try to fake Jesus’ resurrection by stealing away his body. But the disciples didn’t do that. In fact, when you look at the gospel accounts of the disciples after the crucifixion of Christ, there is not the least hint that they were emotionally equipped to try to pull something off like that. They were scared and scattered and didn’t know what to do. And yet these priests and Pharisees actually end up doing even more than what they were concerned the disciples would do. They were concerned that the disciples would engineer some great false report of Jesus’ resurrection. In reality, they were the ones engineering an even more grand deception; they were the ones in conspiracy here, paying people off, and promulgating the lie that the Messiah did not rise from the dead! The greatest proof of Jesus’ claim as Messiah, and they conspire to lie about it. That’s a fraud worse than anything they had done up to that point. And look at the result of their deception. Verse 15 of chapter 28. The soldiers took their money, did what they were told, “and this saying is commonly reported among the Jews until this day.” What amazing hypocrites they were. They claimed to be for the truth, and accusing Jesus and the disciples of deception, but the opposite was true. They promoted this lie that they came up with; that the disciples stole the body away. The lie was widely spread during their day. And frankly, it is still widely spread today. You can still hear on Easter and all year round, people hardened in their unbelief, spreading this story as if it hadn’t been debunked right here.
That was their deception. But it is met with the truth again today. What is the truth in all this? The truth is that the chief priests and Pharisees were the real deceivers, but how futile their attempts were. You know, they got everything they wanted. They originally got Pilate to put Jesus to death. Then they got Pilate to give them a guard of soldiers to guard the tomb. They were even able to seal the tomb. They then even got the guard to accept their bribe and spread their lies among the Jews. And yet how futile their acts really were.
You see, they were futile, because Jesus really did rise from the dead on the third day. They could not thwart God’s plan to raise Jesus back to life. God broke through their seal and overcame the guard. And the irony for the chief priests and Pharisees is that they wanted the guard in the first place so that no one would be able to say that Jesus is risen, but it was this guard that became the first to announce this truth to them! And ever since then, this truth has continued to be proclaimed. The women and the disciples encountered the risen Christ and bore witness. Many others did as well. And as chapter 28 ends, they were commissioned to go into the world with this testimony of truth. And so the truth is, that all the efforts of Jesus’ opponents were futile in silencing the truth. They not been able to keep people from believing in Christ. They have not been able to keep people from rejecting their attempted deception. For we are even here today in these latter days believing and trusting in this reality: that Jesus Christ is risen indeed! It was the chief priests and Pharisees who were the real deceivers here and we continue to stand against their deceptions and cling to the truth.
This then was the futility of them to try to hide the truth. But their greatest futility will be at the end. On that day of judgment when as Jesus says that they will have to give an account for every careless word they have uttered. James says in James 3 how strictly teachers will be judged concerning what they have said and taught. This is sobering then when we think of what these teachers among Israel have done concerning the resurrection of Jesus. Such a horrible thing to try to cover up, and in the end their efforts are utterly futile. No one will win who tries to fight against the God of all truth.
So then my friends, today we are called again to analyze our own faith in the testimony of Jesus Christ. Are you here today as someone who has not believed in the resurrection? I pray that your lack of faith would not turn into the hardness of heart that we see here by these enemies of Jesus. For, the evidence is clear; don’t believe the lies that are still being promulgated about some conspiracy by the disciples. The conspiracy was actually by Christ’s enemies. The resurrection is the truth. And it confirms the truthfulness of Christ’s ministry and teachings and claims especially about himself. This means that his message that calls people to turn from their sins and believe in him that they would have eternal life is true. Trust in that message. Trust in that truth. Trust in Christ.
Along the same lines, are you a Christian that does believe in Christ, yet find that you sometimes still have doubt? Don’t think you are immune to this. Just look at 28:17. This is one of the most shocking verses in the whole of the Bible to me. After all of this, even after seeing the risen Jesus, we are told that some of his disciples still has some doubts. I don’t know exactly what all these doubts entailed. Either way I find this shocking; but maybe at the same time it is one that is most easy for you to relate to.
Well, I pray that today’s passage helps you to see the foolishness of such doubts. But the reality is that this is part of the spiritual battle that we are in. Those doubts that come to you represent this battle we are in. You have your hope in the Lord, and the Spirit of truth inside you. You do believe it. But you have the world and Satan still trying to deceive you with lies like we see here in this passage. This is the battle we are in. But be strong in the Lord. It’s my prayer that your faith will be encouraged and grown today by these eye witness accounts of the resurrection, and by the testimony of Scripture that recognizes the world’s efforts to lie about the resurrection. It is the unbelievers that are promoting a deception. But you, child of God, instead cling to the truth!
A practical safeguard against such doubts is to recall the words of the Lord! It’s amazing how the enemies of God in this passage are shown remembering Jesus’ words that he would rise again, but the disciples seem to have forgotten them. But as we recall his words and see them come to pass, we see them to be truth, and not a deception. And our faith is strengthened.
So then today as Christ’s disciples, we do today what the enemies of Jesus didn’t want his disciples to say. They didn’t want the disciples back then to say it, and the enemies of Jesus today still don’t want us to say it. It’s this: Jesus Christ is risen! Jesus Christ is risen indeed! Amen.
Copyright © 2014 Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
All Rights Reserved.