Thursday, February 26, 2009


Have you ever looked carefully at Matthew 28:11-15? I think it is a very important little passage. I can’t read it without feeling bewilderment, wonder, anger, shock, and sorrow. These five verses tell what happened to the guards at the tomb of Jesus and what they did.

On the morning of Christ’s resurrection an angel came down from heaven and rolled away the stone from the mouth of the tomb in which he was buried. This was accompanied by a violent earthquake. The angel’s appearance was like Christ’s on the mount of transfiguration. He shined like lightning and his clothes were snow white. The guards saw all of this and experienced the earthquake. It was their terror of the angel that caused them to tremble and fall down in a dead faint.

We don’t know for sure if the guards saw the risen Christ. We can’t be sure whether they were awake to hear what the angel said to the women. He told the women that Jesus had risen from the dead. They were to go and tell the disciples the news and say that Jesus would meet them in Galilee. Away went the women.

As the women left the garden some of the guards went into Jerusalem to report everything to the chief priests. We understand this to mean that the least they told the Jews was that they had seen an angel roll away the stone from the tomb entrance and that there had been a huge earthquake at the time. In light of the fact that the guards had failed in their duty and were therefore deserving of severe punishment, if not death, they must have told every detail they could remember in order to present some defense for themselves.

At this point the chief priests told the guards to wait while they had a meeting with the elders. This meeting was probably rather long because they had to come up with a plan to explain away this rather significant development! Once they conceived a plan they returned to inform the guards.

First they paid off the guards with a very large sum of money. Then they told the guards to commit professional suicide. The guards were to tell anyone who asked that the disciples had come and stolen Jesus’ body while they were asleep on their watch. Sleeping on guard duty was punishable by flogging and execution. Not to worry, the chief priests promised to intercede with Pilate if he heard the story.

The guards did as they were told and spread the false story that the disciples had stolen Jesus’ body. Matthew reports that this is the same story that was still circulating among the Jews at the time he wrote his gospel.

If you look up “hardened hearts” in a Bible dictionary you will see the pictures of Pharaoh and the chief priests as illustrations. They knew the truth! Instead of believing the truth, repenting, and receiving their Messiah, the Jews lied and rejected the truth. They were not interested in the truth. They couldn’t handle the truth! They preferred to believe a lie and maintain their place of prominence among men. As Jesus said, they preferred the praise of men to the praise of God.

Apart from the grace of God every one of us would have a heart just as hard as the hearts of the Jewish religious leaders. Through the ministry of the Holy Spirit, God removed our heart of stone and replaced it with a heart of flesh. He lovingly convicted us of sin and showed us our need of a Savior. He gifted us with faith and recreated us as his children. We must remember that, by nature, we are identical to these wicked, hardhearted, leaders of the Jews. Thanks be to God for his grace and mercy!


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