************ Sermon on Matthew 27:65 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on April 8, 2012
"Make the Tomb as Secure as You Know How"
"I Serve a Risen Savior." We sang those words with Chelsea today. With us, she professes and serves a risen Savior. We sang these words with Tom & McKenyze as their baby's baptism shows his union with Christ in His death and resurrection. "I Serve a Risen Savior." Not a Savior Who remains on the cross, as we find with the Roman Catholics. Not a Savior Who remains in the grave, as we find with liberals and atheists. But a Savior Who is off the cross and out of the grave. That is what we profess and that is Whom we serve.
I The Tomb Secured
A Our Bible reading begins with the chief priests and Pharisees. More than anything else, they want to keep Jesus in the grave. They don't want a resurrected Lord. They don't want a Jesus Who lives. They want a Jesus Who remains dead and in the grave.
At the end of Good Friday the chief priests and Pharisees finally sigh in relief because it looks like their wish has been fulfilled. It appears that their plot against Jesus has worked. It appears that they are finally rid of the trouble-maker. It appears that they have won and Jesus has lost as His body is now in the grave.
Strangely, though, the chief priests and Pharisees probably do not sleep well that night. Why? Was their conscience bothered by the fact they had condemned an innocent man to death? Were they uneasy because of the way they had manipulated the Passover crowd? Were they feeling bad about the way they mocked Him while dying on the cross? The chief priests and Pharisees probably did not sleep very well because a particular thought kept nagging at them:
What if Jesus' disciples take to grave robbery? What if they stage a "resurrection"? What if they recall the impostor's prediction that He would rise from the grave – and conspire to fulfill the prediction themselves?
So, the very next day the chief priests and Pharisees go to Pilate to get a security order. The matter is urgent and we can assume they got there as soon as possible.
(Mt 27:63-64) "Sir," they said, "we remember that while he was still alive that deceiver said, 'After three days I will rise again.' (64) 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.Why secure the tomb for only three days? Because the Jews believed that the soul of a dead person remained in the vicinity of the body for three days. They believed that only after the third day did the soul enter the realm of the dead, leaving the body to decay – which is why both Lazarus and Jesus were raised on the third day. The chief priests and Pharisees wanted to make the tomb secure for three days until they knew for sure that Jesus was really dead.
"Take a guard," said Pilate in response to their request. "Go, make the tomb as secure as you know how" (vs 65).
"As secure as you know how." How secure is that? What would you do? A friend of mine owns a security company. He tells me today's security options are almost endless. I can put an alarm in my house. I can install security cameras. I can hang steel doors with dead bolts. I can be part of a gated community or I can be part of a gated community with a guard. I can use an optical recognition program that scans my eyeball or my thumb print to limit or grant access. I can do what someone in Florida did – I can dig a water-filled moat around my house and load it with alligators. I can put up an electrified fence with razor wire on the top. I can get a trained guard dog. Like my friend says, today's security options are almost endless.
How far should the chief priests and Pharisees go to keep Jesus in the tomb? With Pilate's blessing "they went and made the tomb secure by putting a seal on the stone and posting the guard" (Mt 27:66). The seal was the seal of the Roman governor. The guard was Roman soldiers. This means that anyone who tampers with the tomb would be challenging the might and authority of the Roman Empire. This means that anyone who tampers with the tomb would face imprisonment and possibly even death. "They went and made the tomb secure by putting a seal on the stone and posting the guard" (Mt 27:66). They, the religious leaders of Israel, trusted in the Roman Empire and Governor rather than in God.
B The chief priests and Pharisees were right about one thing they said to Pilate. They did accurately quote what Jesus said. At least three times Jesus did predict His own resurrection. He said:
(Mt 20:18-19) "We are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be betrayed to the chief priests and the teachers of the law. They will condemn him to death (19) and will turn him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified. On the third day he will be raised to life!" (cf Mt 16:21-23; 17:22-23)
The angel at the tomb refers to this prediction when he said to the women, "He is not here; he has risen, JUST AS HE SAID" (Mt 28:6).
Obviously, the chief priests and Pharisees knew about this prediction.
C Did you notice, the chief priests and Pharisees made their request of Pilate, they sealed the stone and posted the guard, because they claimed concern for the people. They don't want the people to be deceived into thinking Jesus has been raised from the dead. "This last deception," they said, "will be worse than the first" (Mt 27:64).
What is the first deception they are talking about? Fresh in their minds are the events of Palm Sunday. On that day, according to them, Jesus deceived the crowds into thinking He was the Messiah, the King of Israel, the Son of God. It would be the crowning deception, according to the chief priests and Pharisees, if the people were now to be tricked into believing He was still alive. "This last deception will be worse than the first" (Mt 27:64).
Throughout the events of that week we hear this same theme over and over again: the concern of the chief priests and Pharisees for the people. They did not want to arrest Jesus during the Passover Feast "or there may be a riot among the people" (Mt 26:5). They decided to kill Jesus because "it is better that one man die for the people than that the whole nation perish" (Jn 11:50). They posted a guard and sealed the tomb so the people would not be deceived (Mt 27:64).
"For the people." All that they did was for the people. What a bunch of nonsense! It wasn't for the people at all.
D So what was the real motive for posting a guard and sealing the tomb? What was it that the chief priests and Pharisees were really scared of?
The chief priests and Pharisees were secretly afraid not of a grave robbery, not of a deception, but of something else. At the back of their minds lurked a big question mark; at the back of their minds lurked one big "What if?"
-What if Jesus did arise?
-What if His chest started to breathe again?
-What if the wrapped-up, bandaged, mummified body stood up and came out of the grave just like what happened with Lazarus?
This "What if?" terrified the chief priests and Pharisees. For if Jesus did arise that meant He was the Messiah, the King of Israel, the Son of God. If Jesus did arise that meant they had murdered the promised seed of Abraham Who would sit on David's throne forever. If Jesus did arise that meant they had made a horrible mistake. And that was simply unthinkable. It was impossible! Or was it? What if? What if Jesus did arise?
Some of the strange things that happened while Jesus was upon the cross added to their fear. The three hours of darkness, the earthquake, the ripping of the Temple curtain, and the resurrection of the Old Testament saints at the moment Christ died was clear evidence that Jesus was more than just a man. This all was evidence that Jesus was the Messiah, the King of Israel, the Son of God.
So, the chief priests and Pharisees went and made the tomb secure by putting a seal on the stone and posting the guard. It is obvious that they were trying to secure the tomb against the resurrection. They were trying to keep Jesus in the tomb. They needed to keep Jesus in the tomb because it was too horrible to contemplate a risen Jesus.
E The chief priests and Pharisees are not the only ones who try to keep Jesus locked in the tomb. I've already mentioned the liberals and atheists today who do the same thing. None of them want a risen Savior. None of them want a resurrected Lord. So, they invent all sorts of fancy tales to keep Jesus in the grave. Listen to some of them.
For instance, they say the soldiers made a mistake and crucified the wrong man. It wasn't Jesus Who died and was buried; instead, it was Simon of Cyrene, the man recruited to carry the cross, who was crucified, killed, and buried. This would explain why Jesus was around for the resurrection.
Or, they say that the soldiers were wrong when they thought Jesus was dead. In fact, He had merely fainted on account of all the pain. The cool air of the tomb revived Him. When Joseph of Arimathea realized Jesus was not really dead he hid Him away and nursed Him back to health.
Or, listen to this, they say it wasn't Jesus' body but His teachings which have been raised up to become immortal. Or perhaps His historical impact lives on. Or maybe His Spirit still broods over our world in the same way that Abraham Lincoln's spirit lives on at Gettysburg. Or perhaps Easter means only the return of Spring to an earth that has faced a Winter's death.
At Clergy Group this past week the pastors were talking about the gimmicks being used for Easter this year. One megachurch is raffling away 20 trips to Mexico. Another church has a helicopter dropping chocolate Easter eggs on the children below. Everything but the resurrection. Everything but what lies at the center of the Gospel.
Before we condemn liberals and megachurches too loudly and too quickly, some in our circles are no better. Listen to this quote sent me a few weeks ago: "The Gospel is the announcement of a one-time act some 2000 years ago." The act in mind, of course, is the crucifixion. Really? Do you agree? Is this correct? I hope everyone knows that at the heart of the Gospel lies at least two acts: the crucifixion and the resurrection, the cross and the grave. Without the empty grave, without the resurrected Lord, we remain in our sins says Paul (1 Cor 15:17). And, according to Paul, without the empty grave what Chelsea did this morning was an exercise in foolishness and a big waste of time (1 Cor 15:17).
II The Tomb Unlocked
A The chief priests and Pharisees wanted to keep Christ in the grave. They needed to keep Christ in the grave.
Did their plan work? Of course not! As the angel put it, "He is not here; he has risen, just as he said" (Mt 28:6). Nothing can secure the tomb and keep the Messiah, the King of Israel, the Son of God, locked within. No seal, no guard, no stone, could keep Jesus locked inside that tomb. Nothing, absolutely nothing, is allowed to prevent the completion of God's wonderful plan of salvation.
B "He has risen" (Mt 28:6). This is the cry not only of the angel but of the apostles too. It took them a while to get there. But notice what Peter says after Pentecost, after the pouring out of the Spirit.
(Acts 2:23-24) This man was handed over to you by God's set purpose and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross. (24) But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him.Do you hear the two fold message? Yes, He died. But, also "He has risen."
(Cf Acts 4:10)
This is also the cry of Chelsea as she confesses faith in Jesus. Yes, He died. But, also "He has risen."
This is also the cry of Tom & McKenzye as their baby was baptized in the name of Him Who died and rose again.
Remember how we started the service this morning? We echoed the words of the angel. We echoed the words of the apostles. "He has risen. He has risen indeed."
C Why is this so important? Why is this worth living and dying for? He is not on the cross. He is not in the grave. He is risen. Why is this so important?
Look at the women who came to the tomb. When they heard the news "He has risen" (Mt 28:5), they "hurried away from the tomb, afraid yet filled with joy and ran to tell his disciples" (Mt 28:9). They were filled with joy because they serve a risen Savior. The women realized something important had happened. Something big. Something earth-shattering. Jesus showed Himself to be the Messiah, the King of Israel, the son of God.
Why else is the resurrection important? Because we have been saved from our sins. By dying on the cross Jesus paid our debt. By rising from the grave Jesus gives us new life, righteousness, and eternal life.
"He has risen." Jesus cannot be kept in the grave. Now, like the women, like the disciples, we need to worship Him Who defeated death and the grave (Mt 28:9,17). And, like the women, like the disciples, we need to go and tell others that "The Jesus Who was crucified has risen. He has risen indeed. Alleluia."
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