Tuesday, November 6, 2018

28. The Darkest Days

According to Matthew”
A study of the Gospel of Matthew
Part 28: The Darkest Days

Tonight we reach passages of Scripture that are central to our faith. All of the gospel writers make the climax of their story the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus. They differ, both in the chronology of events that lead up to these days, and in the interpretation that they give to the events, but when it comes to His death offer a common understanding. Jesus is betrayed, goes through a kangaroo court, is tortured and ultimately murdered through the act of crucifixion.

In our previous chapter the process of His betrayal has been put into motion. Judas has betrayed Jesus with a kiss. We speculated last time on what Judas's motives may have been. We begin this study with Matthew's account of his tragic end. Read 1-10.

 The Death of Judas

 Matthew 27:1 Early in the morning, all the chief priests and the elders of the people made their plans how to have Jesus executed. So they bound Him, led Him away and handed Him over to Pilate the governor. When Judas, who had betrayed Him, saw that Jesus was condemned, he was seized with remorse and returned the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and the elders. "I have sinned," he said, "for I have betrayed innocent blood." "What is that to us?" they replied. "That's your responsibility." So Judas threw the money into the temple and left. Then he went away and hanged himself. The chief priests picked up the coins and said, "It is against the law to put this into the treasury, since it is blood money." So they decided to use the money to buy the potter's field as a burial place for foreigners. That is why it has been called the Field of Blood to this day. Then what was spoken by Jeremiah the prophet was fulfilled: "They took the thirty pieces of silver, the price set on him by the people of Israel, and they used them to buy the potter's field, as the Lord commanded me."

We saw in our last study how the actions of Judas were foreshadowed by an account from Zechariah, where the powers that be try and 'pay-off' Zechariah, to stop him prophesying their doom, by giving him thirty pieces of silver. Zechariah takes the money and throws it into the Potter's field. In an act of great irony, the temple authorities take the money given them by Judas, and use it to buy a field that becomes known as 'The field of blood', a burial place for foreigners, but which was formerly known as 'The Potter's Field'.

Judas commits suicide. In Matthew he hangs himself. In the Book of Acts his body  falls to the ground and his body splits open, so presumably, he was left hanging for a while. It is a gruesome end and a chilling reflection on the words of Jesus that it would be better for the man who betrayed Him never to have been born.

Was suicide the only option left for Judas? We know that he was not the only disciple to betray Jesus. Our last chapter ended with Peter's denials. Both Peter and Judas had to deal with the stigma of failure. The difference seems to be that Peter tearfully repented, and knew enough about the grace and forgiveness of Jesus to know that there was always a second chance. Judas does not to seem to have the same grasp on God's ability to forgive him. He is unable to forgive himself. He takes the only option that seems left.

Is suicide the unforgivable sin? I've been asked as a pastor, 'Do people who commit suicide go to Hell?' My understanding is that we all, when we die, rest in the hands of God. We can never know what is going through a persons mind when they feel their only option is to take their life. They are certainly not in a healthy state of being. Jesus seems particularly loving to those who are sick in mind or body.  God is a God of grace and forgiveness. Thankfully, the eternal destiny of us all lies with God's grace, not in each others opinions!

Sadly suicide is at a high rate in our society, particularly high among our young people. Having ministered to families in the midst of such tragedy, on more occasions than I would wish for, it is clear to me that what is required in such situations, is not judgment, but compassion of the highest order. It is one of the darkest and most disturbing of all bereavement situations.

Haunting questions such as 'Could I have done more to prevent this?', 'Was this really just a cry for help?' and 'Did they really mean to end their life?' remain forever open and unanswered. Even in obituaries and on death certificates a verdict of 'accidental death' is often recorded. Often times people look for a situation or a person to blame. The effect on  families left behind can be devastating. There are just too many unanswered questions.

Speaking of 'unanswered questions' Jesus is now taken to Pilate. Read 11-14.

The Trial before Pilate

 Meanwhile Jesus stood before the governor, and the governor asked Him, "Are you the king of the Jews?" "You have said so," Jesus replied. When He was accused by the chief priests and the elders, He gave no answer. Then Pilate asked Him, "Don't you hear the testimony they are bringing against you?" But Jesus made no reply, not even to a single charge--to the great amazement of the governor.

This brief passage gives little details as to what was actually said by his accusers. As with the previous trial by the Sanhedrin, Jesus refuses to answer any accusations, so we can presume it was more of the same trumped up charges. His innocence is clear to Pilate, who seems to completely underestimate the strength of their hatred towards Him. To His accusers minds Jesus was dangerous and had to go, no matter what the truth about him may be! In an effort to get himself out of a tricky situation Pilate has plan. There was another prisoner on death row called Jesus...an accused man known as Jesus Barabbas. Read 15-26

The Release of Barabbas

 Now it was the governor's custom at the festival to release a prisoner chosen by the crowd. At that time they had a well-known prisoner whose name was Jesus Barabbas. So when the crowd had gathered, Pilate asked them, "Which one do you want me to release to you: Jesus Barabbas, or Jesus who is called the Messiah?"  For he knew it was out of self-interest that they had handed Jesus over to him. While Pilate was sitting on the judge's seat, his wife sent him this message: "Don't have anything to do with that innocent man, for I have suffered a great deal today in a dream because of him." But the chief priests and the elders persuaded the crowd to ask for Barabbas and to have Jesus executed. "Which of the two do you want me to release to you?" asked the governor. "Barabbas," they answered. "What shall I do, then, with Jesus who is called the Messiah?" Pilate asked. They all answered, "Crucify him!" "Why? What crime has he committed?" asked Pilate. But they shouted all the louder, "Crucify him!" When Pilate saw that he was getting nowhere, but that instead an uproar was starting, he took water and washed his hands in front of the crowd. "I am innocent of this man's blood," he said. "It is your responsibility!" All the people answered, "His blood is on us and on our children!" Then he released Barabbas to them. But he had Jesus flogged, and handed Him over to be crucified.

I have spoken before of considering Matthew as a movie script. In one of the gospel blockbusters, (though I forget which one) this event is memorably pictured. The crowd are shouting for 'Jesus of Nazareth' to be released. Agitators, obviously belonging to those who want to see Him destroyed, are looking at each other in the midst of the crowd. 'What do we do now?' they ask each other. One looks at the other, with an 'I've got it' look in their eye and begins to shout at the top of his voice, “Jesus Barabbas, Jesus Barabbas!” The others join in, “Jesus Barabbas, Jesus Barabbas!”

Slowly the crowd become influenced and also change their chant from 'Jesus of Nazareth, Jesus of Nazareth' to 'Jesus Barabbas, Jesus Barabbas!'. Obviously the screenwriter is taking a large degree of poetic license with the gospel account, but it at least makes the point that crowds are easily swayed and are not known for their logical thinking. You may recall from our last chapter that Jesus had been handed over because of the fear of a riot.  Pilate has similar fears.

His fears are further intensified by the strange dreams of his wife. The Message bible pictures her sending him the message "Don't get mixed up in judging this noble man. I've just been through a long and troubled night because of a dream about him." We are not told what her dream actually was, but should remember that dreams were considered as a communication from the divine realm and were not to be treated lightly!

Pilate at first pleads with the crowd. But his protestations are drowned by the insistence that Jesus be crucified. Aware that he is losing the battle, Pilate takes a bowl and in front of the crowd, washes his hands as an act to demonstrate he was no longer being held responsible for their actions. The blood of the accused would be upon their hands, something the crowd are willing to accept as they respond ; "His blood is on us and on our children!"

 Throughout Matthew's gospel the conflict between two kingdoms, a kingdom of violence and God's kingdom of peace are the choices laid before the reader. In the garden He warns His disciples, “Those who live by the sword, will die by the sword”. Here, the people choose the option of power exerted through violence over the authority and power of God present in meekness, grace and forgiveness. They reject God's Kingdom and the fate of God's servant is sealed.

Later generations have wrongly used this passage to justify anti-semitism, suggesting that the betrayal of Jesus by the crowd, and their petition that the responsibility for His death should fall upon them, implies that the Jewish people were forever under the curse of being Christ-Killers. That is not the intention of Matthew's account. If there is any judgmental aspect to it, it is past, and took place at the Fall of Jerusalem in AD70, an event that would befall those in the crowd and their children. As the New International commentary points out 'Matthew does not wish for revenge or pronounce a sentence on all Jews forever.'

As to Pilate, there was an ancient legend that his wife, Claudia Procula, was a convert to Judaism at the time of her dream, and afterward became a Christian. According to this tradition, under his wife's influence, Pilate also became a convert in his old age. Interestingly the Eastern Coptic Church include both Pilate and his wife in their list of saints. However laying behind this absolving of Pilates' guilt is a desire to put all the blame upon the Jews.

Fact is, Pilate was the head honcho. The buck stopped there. He was responsible for the life of an innocent prisoner, no matter how loud the crowd shouted. He went against his conscience, his wife and the responsibility of his office in handing Jesus over to them. In Shakespeare's play 'Macbeth', there is the haunting image of Lady Macbeth, (Act 5, Scene 1) repeatedly trying to wash the blood of her crimes from her hands saying “Out, damned spot! out, I say!”. Hand washing does not circumnavigate responsibility.  Jesus is handed over to the crowd. Read 27-31.

Jesus is Tortured

Then the governor's soldiers took Jesus into the Praetorium and gathered the whole company of soldiers around Him. They stripped Him and put a scarlet robe on Him, and then twisted together a crown of thorns and set it on His head. They put a staff in His right hand. Then they knelt in front of Him and mocked him. "Hail, king of the Jews!" they said. They spat on Him, and took the staff and struck Him on the head again and again. After they had mocked Him, they took off the robe and put His own clothes on Him. Then they led Him away to crucify Him.

Matthew's theme of contrasting kings is given a perverse twist in the actions of the soldiers who mock Jesus. Failing to recognize His Kingdom, they initiate a violent parody based upon the aspects of Kingship. All the accouterments and insignia of royalty are present. Jesus is a clown-King complete with 'robe' 'crown' 'scepter'. They mockingly kneel before Him and acclaim His office as 'King of the Jews'

Early on in Matthew's gospel we had the account of the travelers from the East , the Magi, who come bearing gifts in deep devotion that they offer to the infant King. Among the gifts they bring is 'Myrrh'  a spice associated with suffering and death. Such was an odd gift to bring to a child, but in retrospect, Myrrh, seems all too appropriate.

A crown of thorns, that have sharp points that radiate outwards, like the rays of divinity that surrounded the emperors heard on a Roman coin, is placed upon Him, which must have been excruciatingly painful.  Yet Matthew does not focus on the pain or the details of Christ's torture. His original readers needed no description of what it meant to be crucified.

Those who are victims of violence, or even torture, in today's world, find in these accounts a God who is no stranger to their own suffering. I vividly recall visiting a parishioner in a city parish who, as an elderly lady, half-crippled and frail, had been robbed in her home, tied to her chair whilst the perpetrators ransacked her meager belongings, sworn at, beaten and kicked before they left. There's not really a lot you can say to a person who goes through such an experience, but I recall her words to me.

She said, “They beat Him... didn't they.” The fact that Jesus was an innocent victim subjected to mockery, violence and torture,  resonated with her and gave her hope. She did not feel God was absent, but in a curious way felt she had gained a new appreciation of what Jesus was prepared to go through for her, that she may live free and forgiven. One of the true privileges of ministry is that you get to meet people who truly redefine the term 'saint' and give you a whole different perspective on faith.

The reality is Jesus was not just a murder victim but also an innocent victim of mockery, torture and the grossest kind of violence we can imagine. All this at the hands of soldiers whose job was to stand for justice and restrain such acts as those in which they willingly participated. Such seems to be a feature of every war that's ever fought. We heard during the Iraq war of those whose actions made a mockery of their profession. Allegations of torture and violence are not just confined to history but remain a disturbing trend at times of conflict when prejudices are inflamed and opponents see each other as somehow less than truly human.

The darkness deepens and Jesus is led out to be crucified. Read 32-44

Jesus is Crucified

As they were going out, they met a man from Cyrene, named Simon, and they forced him to carry the cross. They came to a place called Golgotha (which means "the place of the skull"). There they offered Jesus wine to drink, mixed with gall; but after tasting it, He refused to drink it. When they had crucified him, they divided up his clothes by casting lots. And sitting down, they kept watch over Him there. Above His head they placed the written charge against Him: THIS IS JESUS, THE KING OF THE JEWS. Two rebels were crucified with Him, one on his right and one on His left. Those who passed by hurled insults at Him, shaking their heads and saying, "You who are going to destroy the temple and build it in three days, save yourself! Come down from the cross, if you are the Son of God!" In the same way the chief priests, the teachers of the law and the elders mocked Him. "He saved others," they said, "but He can't save himself! He's the king of Israel! Let Him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in Him. He trusts in God. Let God rescue Him now if He wants Him, for He said, 'I am the Son of God.'" In the same way the rebels who were crucified with Him also heaped insults on Him.

Gentile Kings welcomed the birth of Jesus. Now Simon, most probably a Gentile (as he hails from the Romanized district of Cyrene), is press-ganged into carrying His cross. Matthew, the most Jewish of the gospels, continues to emphasize the importance of the Gentiles. One man, a Jew, formerly named Simon (we know him as Simon-Peter) has denied his Master and sits broken in tears, and though he proclaimed he would walk to the end of the road with Jesus he is now nowhere to be seen. He is replaced by another Simon, who does go with Jesus all the way, this one an outsider and a stranger. Maybe this is one of Matthews ways of saying that it doesn't matter who you are or where you are from, right now this story of the crucifixion, is about you!

Wine was used not only for pleasure, but also as a narcotic to dull the sense of pain, rather like, every time anybody needs a tooth pulled or limb amputated in Wild West movies you see whiskey being used. Interestingly, as we contemplated earlier the gifts the wise men brought the infant Jesus, the wine administered as a narcotic was often augmented with Frankincense to increase the numbing effect. Such maybe the 'gall' referred to in our passage. However that may be, after tasting it, Jesus refuses it.

William Barclay comments, “He would not drink it, for He was determined to accept death at it's bitterest and its grimmest, and to avoid no particle of pain”. In order to fully enter into the human situation of death and suffering, Jesus will take nothing to prevent Him plumbing the depths of abandonment.

At the time of prohibition anti-alcohol preachers made great play of the fact that even in His hour of death Jesus rejected  demon drink. Of course they also completely ignored, or reinterpreted the fact that He both turned water into wine at a wedding and encouraged His disciples to drink wine to remember Him at His Last Supper. Some argued that the wine mentioned on those occasions was non-alcoholic, but there is scant evidence historically that such was the case.

The act of crucifixion is not dealt with in gory detail. This is not Mel Gibson's “The Passion” movie. As stated earlier, there was no need for Matthew to describe what a terrible death it was as, at the time he wrote, his original readers would be familiar with the Romans' barbaric execution methods.  For them it didn't need explaining.

What Matthew does focus on is the events that happen around the Cross. The soldiers divide His clothes. Many commentators see here a reflection on Psalm 22,  in which a dying person laments that their relatives are already dividing up their belongings.

There is deep irony in the fact that it is in mockery they nail a sign to the Cross 'THIS IS JESUS, THE KING OF THE JEWS.' Such a sign would be offensive to the Romans, because it would challenge the emperors all embracing power, and  to the Jews, whom the Romans sought to belittle by portraying their King as broken and defeated. The Romans would consider it a warning to any potential Jewish Messiahs that may arise in the future.

Isaiah  53:12, considered one of the Messianic prophecies of the Old Testament, reads: “Therefore I will give Him a portion among the great, and He will divide the spoils with the strong, because He poured out His life unto death, and was numbered with the transgressors. For He bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors." (Isa 53:12 NIV)

Commenting on Christ's crucifixion at the center of two criminals (and by implication suggesting He was the worst of them) commentator of old, Matthew Henry, writes: “Though while He lived, He was separate from sinners, yet in their deaths they were not divided, but He was made to partake with the vilest malefactors in their plagues, as if He had been a partaker with them in their sins; for He was made sin for us, and took upon Him the likeness of sinful flesh. He was at His death, numbered among the transgressors and had His lot among the wicked, that we, at our death, might be numbered among the saints and have our lot among the chosen.”

Those who pass by, those who sought His death, the chief priests, teachers of the law and elders, and even those crucified with Him, throw back the words Jesus has spoken during His ministry to mock Him. They dispute His claims to destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, His claim to be the Son of God, His works of salvation, His claim to be King, His hopes for Resurrection and His trust in God.

Two thousand years later those who mock the Christian message often pick on similar things. They dispute with us regarding Resurrection, Salvation and the claim of Christ to be Lord . They misinterpret His words, just as the passers by misunderstand His words about the temple. They say to us, “Show us a miracle and then we will believe” but fail to recognize the implications of the Son of God dying for our sins.

General Booth, the founder of the Salvation Army, once said, “It is precisely because He would not come down that we believe in Him”. Barclay comments “The Jews (and all of Christ's opponents) could see God only in power; but Jesus showed that God is sacrificial love” .

The events of the darkest day continue to unfold. Read 45-54.

 The Death of Jesus

 From noon until three in the afternoon darkness came over all the land. About three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, "Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?" (which means "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?").  When some of those standing there heard this, they said, "He's calling Elijah." Immediately one of them ran and got a sponge. He filled it with wine vinegar, put it on a staff, and offered it to Jesus to drink. The rest said, "Now leave Him alone. Let's see if Elijah comes to save Him." And when Jesus had cried out again in a loud voice, He gave up his spirit. At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook, the rocks split and the tombs broke open. The bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life. They came out of the tombs after Jesus' resurrection and went into the holy city and appeared to many people. When the centurion and those with Him who were guarding Jesus saw the earthquake and all that had happened, they were terrified, and exclaimed, "Surely He was the Son of God!"

As with the passage about dividing up His clothes, the words Jesus speaks about His abandonment are from Psalm 22, a Psalm in which a suffering person cries out to God for vindication. Those who knew the Psalm would understand that in the original instance the story ended with celebration, just as Matthew's gospel ends in resurrection, extending the call of the gospel to all nations and all peoples of all generations.

When ever we say together the words of the Apostles Creed we include the phrase “He descended into Hell”. Whilst the phrase is often linked to a rather obscure passage in Peter's letters about Christ preaching salvation to the spirits of the imprisoned dead,  it finds a deeper meaning in Christ's cry of dereliction from the Cross. There was no deeper abandonment , no deeper Hell, Jesus could travel through than feeling completely abandoned by His Father God. He cries out “My God, My God...” and the implication is that His God had left Him and abandoned Him to His fate.

With the benefit of hindsight and viewed through the lens of Resurrection, we know that was not the case.  What these words can mean for a person of faith is that, when we feel abandoned by God, or even if we feel like we are traveling through an undeserved Hell, then we have a Savior who totally understands and has experienced that most profound depth of suffering characterized as abandonment by our God.

'He descended into Hell' can be interpreted as one of the most hope filled phrases in the whole creed. The words imply that when we travel through times that take us beyond what we can endure, Jesus not only knows how that feels, but walks with us towards resurrection and restoration. At the time, we won't see it. But in God's time, we will find healing. Such is the tremendous promise of these words.

Of course the passers by don't see it that way. They misinterpret the mumbling of Jesus as though He is calling upon Elijah to save Him. But the reader of Matthew knows that Elijah had already come in the person of John the Baptist, the fore-runner to the Messiah. Jesus had explained to the crowds, back in Chapter 11:13-14 “For all the Prophets and the Law prophesied until John. And if you are willing to accept it, he is the Elijah who was to come.”

With a loud cry Jesus dies, He 'gives up His spirit'. A number of signs follow.

1. The curtain in the temple is split from top to bottom. The temple curtain was the barrier that divided the Holy of Holy's from the people.

a) The curtain represented Christ's body, which, as we demonstrate every communion meal when we tear the loaf into two pieces, was broken.  He is mocked upon the cross for saying the temple would be destroyed, but as Matthew has explained, the temple He spoke of was His body, which would be crucified and be raised on the third day. As His body, the true temple of God, was broken, so the veil in the temple was also split down the middle.

b) The curtain represented the mysteries of the Old Testament. The veil in the temple was designed to conceal, as was the veil  n the face of Moses when he came down from the mountain after receiving the ten commandments. In 1 Corinthians chapter 3:13-16 Paul teaches how the removal of the 'veil' or 'curtain' signified the old order that was passing away.

 “We are not like Moses, who would put a veil over his face to prevent the Israelites from seeing the end of what was passing away. But their minds were made dull, for to this day the same veil remains when the old covenant is read. It has not been removed, because only in Christ is it taken away.  Even to this day when Moses is read, a veil covers their hearts. But whenever anyone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away.”

The curtain was called the 'veil of covering' for it was an offense for anybody but the High Priest to proceed beyond the veil, and this in a cloud of smoke only once a year, to offer a sacrifice for the peoples sins. In the holy of holy's were the mercy-seat, a symbol of God's forgiveness (for Christians a representation of the forgiving grace of Jesus) and a pot of manna gathered in the wilderness during the Exodus, which according to new Testament     writers pointed to Jesus, the true Bread of Life.

c) The tearing of the curtain signified the uniting of Jew and Gentile. In Ephesians 2:14-16 we read; “For He (Jesus) Himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by setting aside in His flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in Himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which He put to death their hostility.”

d) The tearing of the curtain indicated the laying open of a new way to God through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. He becomes the High Priest who offers the sacrifice of Himself, 'the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world',  as John the Baptist proclaimed Him to be at the start of His ministry. In Hebrews chapter 10:19 -22 we read ; “Therefore, brothers and sisters, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus,by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water.”

Revelation 3:21 – 4:1 has a glorious picture of how the death of Christ has opened a way for us, through the veil, into the presence of God. “To the one who is victorious, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne, just as I was victorious and sat down with my Father on his throne. Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches. After this I looked, and there before me was a door standing open in heaven.”

2. The Earthquake. Matthew pictures for us the death of Jesus as being a moment in time of earth shattering significance. Until quite recently we used to number our years BC and AD, the popular designation of each epoch being 'Before Christ' and 'After Death'.  Evil is dealt an earth shattering and fatal blow as God shakes the nations.

3. The tombs of Israelite Saints, surrounding the city and the Temple Mount, are opened. These rock tombs anticipate the tomb in which Jesus shall be laid. We are given a rather peculiar picture of the saints being resurrected on Good Friday, but not going into the city till after Easter Sunday. The New International Commentary suggests “That we have (here) theology in narrative form, and not bare historical reporting, is clear. Although no theory of the atonement is elaborated, it is clear that for Matthew the death of Jesus is not a mere minus that will be negated by the resurrection. Already in the death of Jesus the eon-changing, dead-raising power of God breaks in

The crucifixion does not just impact the Jews who are standing watching the proceedings, but even the soldiers and officers are  awestruck by the signs that accompany it, leading one of them to declare "Surely He was the Son of God!". Again Matthew is keen to point out that this was an event that was a game changer for both Jew and Gentile. After death comes burial. Read 55-61.

Jesus is Buried

Many women were there, watching from a distance. They had followed Jesus from Galilee to care for his needs. Among them were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Joseph, and the mother of Zebedee's sons. As evening approached, there came a rich man from Arimathea, named Joseph, who had himself become a disciple of Jesus. Going to Pilate, he asked for Jesus' body, and Pilate ordered that it be given to him. Joseph took the body, wrapped it in a clean linen cloth, and placed it in his own new tomb that he had cut out of the rock. He rolled a big stone in front of the entrance to the tomb and went away. Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were sitting there opposite the tomb.

Though the disciples had abandoned Him, Matthew tells us that not all had scattered. Some of the women who had been following Him from earliest days of His ministry remained with Him. We have encountered them at various points in Matthew's story, but it is only at the end of the story their true faithfulness is revealed.

We are also encouraged to see that though there were many among the Jews who opposed Him, there were also those whose life had been transformed by Him, even amongthe ruling classes. The account of Joseph, a rich man of Arimathea, giving up his own tomb that Jesus may receive the dignity of a decent burial, is a wonderful picture of how faith could triumph over prejudice. But the story isn't over yet.  Read 62-66

The Next Day

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 the body and tell the people that he has been raised from the dead. This last deception will be worse than the first." "Take a guard," Pilate answered. "Go, make the tomb as secure as you know how." So they went and made the tomb secure by putting a seal on the stone and posting the guard.

Then as now, those who deny the resurrection could have happened, suggest that the disciples must have stolen the body. I guess such a rumor was doing the rounds in Matthew's day because he gives us this story of the tomb being sealed to 'nip it in the bud.' Pilate tells the guards to “Make the tomb as secure as you know how." Presumably it was more than their job was worth to not do it properly.

Matthew wants us to understand that this was a tomb that not only had a huge stone rolled across it, but was then sealed and watched. If there was going to be a resurrection in three days, as Jesus suggested, then it had to be clear that such was a work of God against insurmountable probability, not some clever conjuring trick designed to lift the hopes of those who had seen their hero come to a tragic end.

And what happens next? Why, chapter 28 of course!

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