Matthew Lent Series # 4 Matthew 27:57-28:15
April 16, 2017 Resurrection Sunday “Who’s Afraid of an Empty Tomb?”
Pastor Louis Protntnicki Maple Glen Bible Fellowship Church
Intro: How open minded are you? G.K. Chesterton once said that merely having an open mind is nothing; for the object of opening the mind – as of opening the mouth – is to shut it again on something solid.” Whether it’s an open mind or an open mouth, you don’t want to leave it open; you want to bite down on something substantial. Therefore, I invite you to open your mind this morning, in order to chew on some substantial facts about an empty tomb and Jesus’ resurrection. And since truth does matter (it sure does in a court of law, when you know you are innocent and want the truth to prevail!) would you allow the truths we are about to look at to challenge your view of life, to re-think your view of God and yourself? Here are four truths. I hope you won’t be afraid of them!
First Truth: Jesus Was Dead and Buried, and Everyone Knew It. (27:57-61)
If Easter Sunday is going to have any real meaning beyond bunnies and colored eggs, then we have to establish one preliminary fact; Jesus of Nazareth was definitely dead when He was taken down from the cross on that Friday afternoon. How do we know this? Four witnesses can testify:
(1) The Roman soldiers who helped crucify Jesus knew he was dead; because that was their job.
(2) Governor Pilate wasn’t letting anyone take him down from the cross, unless he was dead.
(3) Joseph of Arimathea was not going to bury Jesus in his tomb unless He’s dead.
(4) The two ladies who came to the tomb had witnessed everything: They knew that Jesus was dead; they saw Joseph burying him in the tomb, and they remembered which was tomb was His.
First Truth: Everybody knew that Jesus was dead and buried: the soldiers, the governor, the rich man, and the women. There was no way that Jesus had only fainted and then was somehow revived in the coolness of the tomb, as some have tried to say.
Second Truth: Powerful People Tried to Make Sure that Jesus Stayed Dead and Buried. (27:62-66)
Though everyone knew that Jesus was dead and buried, there were some people in Jerusalem who wanted to really make sure that He stayed that way. Although they didn’t believe that Jesus could rise from the dead, they were concerned that his disciples might get the idea to steal Jesus’ body from the tomb and then claim that Jesus rose from the dead, so that it would appear that Jesus had risen from the dead. This is the stolen body theory.
They were worried that a fake resurrection would make things very messy for them. Therefore they got Pilate’s permission to make the tomb “as secure as possible” (vv. 64-66), How? By posting a platoon of soldiers, to guard the tomb, 24 hours a day, and to place an official government notice on the tomb which said “Do not open under pain of death!”
These people wanted to control the situation in Jerusalem. They didn’t want any rumors of a resurrected Jesus, because that might take attention away from their control over the people. They were afraid of an empty tomb, so they did everything they could do to make sure that Jesus’ dead body stayed buried in that tomb.
So we have four groups of people who all wanted Jesus to stay buried: the chief priest, the Pharisees, the Roman governor Pilate, and the soldiers on guard.
(1) The soldiers could face punishment by death if they failed in this mission;
(2) The Jewish leaders would be discredited, and
(3) Pilate had already washed his hands of the matter, and didn’t want to deal with it anymore.
Second Truth: Powerful People Made Sure Jesus Stayed Dead and Buried. They didn’t want an empty tomb. But there was one small crack in their airtight plans….
Third (Inconvenient) Truth: Jesus Was No Longer Dead and Buried… because He had risen from the dead! (28:1-11)
Despite all those measures to prevent it, somehow Jesus’ tomb is empty, and He’s alive, (It’s tough to keep a good man down.)
Now how do we know that Jesus was no longer dead and buried? Because both the defense witnesses and the witnesses for the prosecution testified to the truth that Jesus had risen.
I. The defense witnesses are the women, who had witnessed everything about Jesus’ death and burial, and are now convinced that Jesus is alive. Why are they convinced? Four reasons:
The large tombstone had been rolled back from the opening of the grave.
An angel of the Lord, who appeared like lightning, told them that Jesus had risen.
They saw the place where Jesus had been laid, and it was empty. [Note that the angel rolls back the stone from the mouth of the tomb not to let Jesus out, since he was already risen, but for the benefit of the women, so they can see for themselves that indeed the tomb is empty.]
In vv. 9-10, they meet the Risen Jesus, actually grasping his feet and talking with Him.
Plus, why would the Gospel writers use women as the chief witnesses to the resurrection, when in that culture, a woman’s testimony counted for little? If the Gospel writers were making this up, they would have certainly used men as the witnesses!
II. The witnesses for the prosecution are the Roman soldiers who were guarding Jesus’ tomb with their lives. We read that they are knocked over by the appearance of the angel, and then they report to the chief priests what had happened, namely, that Jesus’ tomb was empty, even though they had been guarding it with their lives. So their superiors have to resort to bribing the witnesses, while they try to concoct a story to explain away an empty tomb!
The story that that priests and elders came up with is laughable! For how probable is it that all these soldiers would sleep so soundly on duty, that not one of them would hear the disciples trying to steal Jesus’ body, and wake up? And even if we grant this implausible premise, and the soldiers did sleep through it all, then how would they know what happened while they were sleeping? Did the disciples leave them a little note, “Hi guys, while you were sleeping, we took Jesus’ body.” Signed, Jesus’ disciples? It takes more faith to believe their made up stories! We could say that their lie ironically points to the truth of what really happened.
Therefore the testimony of the women, and of the soldiers, tells us that Jesus is no longer dead. His tomb is empty; He’s alive, and now He starts appearing to people all over the place.
Let’s review the three major points:
- Jesus Was Dead and Buried, and Everyone Knew It. He was in the tomb. (27:57-61)
- Powerful People tried to make sure that Jesus Stayed Dead and Buried, because they were afraid of an empty tomb. (27:62-66)
- Jesus Was No Longer Dead and Buried. The tomb was empty and Jesus was alive. (28:1-11)
On top of these truths, we can also note that Jesus’ resurrection fulfilled not only His own prophecies about being raised on the third day after His death, but also fulfilled many Old Testament prophecies regarding the same glorious truth. For example, see Psalm 16:9-11 as quoted and fulfilled in Acts 2:30-31.
What’s the point of this for us today?
Fourth Truth: Jesus’ Resurrection Compels People to Decide Who Jesus is and How They Respond to Him. (28:8-15)
Let me suggest that (A) the two women who ran to tell others about Jesus’ resurrection represent one group of people, and (B) the guards who went to tell the chief priests that Jesus’ tomb was empty represent a very different group of people, and that all of us, fall into one of those two groups. This is the real difference among people. No one can claim to be neutral or to have no opinion on the matter. Here’s what I mean:
I. The first group: the women represent all those who had once been hopeless and despairing, but now are filled with joy, and are bursting with the Good News about the Risen Jesus. They represent those people who once thought that all of life was vain, because death came to each person, including Jesus, but now they can joyfully worship Jesus.
Why this change? Because they knew that Jesus’ tomb was empty and He had been raised from the dead. Their lives had been out of control, but now the Risen Christ had all things under His control: (v. 18) All authority in heaven and earth had been given to Him. Jesus had triumphed over the worst that Satan and man could throw at Him, and He overcame them!
II. The second group: The guards, chief priests, and elders represent all those who wanted to control the events of life; to make things as secure as possible; to plan for all possible contingencies and take counter-measures. These are people who don’t want a resurrected Jesus because such an inconvenient truth would challenge their view of reality and morality. Therefore they suppress the truth about the empty tomb, and try to get others to believe the deception that they do. They believe a lie rather than the truth, because they don’t want to face up to the startling implications of such absolute truth. They would rather believe a lie than face the truth of the living Jesus.
It didn’t matter what the evidence was, or how hair-brained their theory was, because for those who afraid of an empty tomb, anything was preferable to the truth!
How ironic that those who predicted deception on the part of Jesus’ disciples end up as the deceivers themselves, in a futile attempt to thwart Jesus’ victory and triumph!
And today, the majority of people in the world don’t want a resurrected Jesus either, because it would challenge and upset their beliefs and morality. This includes Muslims, Jews, secularists, humanists, communists, and materialists: None of them want to consider the truth of an empty tomb, even though the evidence for it is clearly compelling.
What a contrast between the two women in vv. 1-10 and this account of the chief priests, elders, and the guards. The women speak of victory, life, hope, joy, and announcing the truth! The guards and their bosses speak of defeat, gloom, bribery, falsification of the news, and suppression of the truth.
The women are bursting with the good news of the risen Jesus, and can’t wait to tell others; they have no need to concoct a clever plan; meanwhile the religious leaders have to resort to bribery and propaganda, lest the truth be known!
Like the continental divide, in which every drop of water that falls either goes to the east or the west, so too is our response to the empty tomb and the risen life of Jesus Christ. Our response to the empty tomb will determine everything else in life, how we see truth, and where we spend eternity.
So, what is your response to Jesus’ empty tomb? Are you afraid of Jesus’ empty tomb, because that truth will challenge your view of reality? Or are you rejoicing in the truth of a Risen Savior, Jesus Christ?
I urge you to joyfully surrender to the truth of Jesus’ resurrection today!