Rev. Kortering is pastor of the Protestant Reformed Church of Grandville, Michigan.
“And for fear of him the keepers did shake, and became as dead men. And the angel answered and said unto the women, Fear not ye: for I know that ye seek Jesus, which was crucified. He is not here: for he is risen as he said. Come see the place where the Lord lay. “
It can be devastating. Look at the keepers of the grave. They shook and became as dead men.
It can also be healing. Look at the women who had their natural fear, but left the sepulchre with great joy.
Are you afraid?
We all are, as we approach God’s holy place in the garden of the resurrection.
The question is, what kind of fear do we have? Does fear drive you away from the tomb to fabricate lies, or does your fear cause you to draw near with believing heart and to leave rejoicing?
As we examine this Scripture, may the Holy Spirit give us victory over fear and give us blessed inner peace.
We read in verse 4, “for fear of him the keepers did shake, and became as dead men.” Who are those keepers?
The events which preceded are recorded for us in the gospels. From this source we can conclude that these keepers were Roman soldiers assigned to protect the tomb of Jesus. Some of these soldiers may have p1ayed.a key role in events associated with the crucifixion of Jesus. When Judas rushed to the Jewish Sanhedrin that Thursday evening to inform them that it was now or never, he later returned with a band of soldiers, more than likely from the Roman temple guard. Already then those soldiers fell back and became as dead men; but that did not stop them from binding Jesus and taking Him to Caiaphas. While, Jesus is being interrogated by him, they are warming themselves before the fire in the court. You can just see them jostling for position before the fire, laughing, telling their ribald jokes, most of them directed at that man they took that night.
Later, they have opportunity to heap their contempt upon Him personally. They heard the Jews scream, “Let Him be crucified!” They were well aware of the political maneuvering going on between Pilate and Caiaphas. When Pilate sentenced Jesus to death, it was their turn to mock him. They placed a crown of thorns on His head, dressed Him in a purple robe, put in His hand a rod made of reed, and forthwith bowed down, crying, “Hail, king of the Jews.” These soldiers escorted Him to Calvary. They heard the weeping women. They saw His zeal to press on. Jesus refused their vinegar wine. With a shake of the head, I suppose, they proceeded to drive nails in his hands and feet.
Even though they heard Him pray and speak from the cross, they remained unmoved. Their interest was His clothing, for which they gambled in open disdain amidst His obvious suffering. One of their number softened after the darkness and cried, “Surely, this was the Son of God”; but for the rest they were puzzled but pressed on. Another took his sword and pierced His side and saw the evidence of death pour forth.
Here they sit, in the darkness, all night long. They are guarding the tomb in which the body of Jesus has been placed. Somewhat smugly they slip into sleep, for who would dare to disturb the tomb, sealed by none other than Caesar of Rome. But toward morning we see that they are trembling and once again became as dead men. Amidst an earthquake, the angel of the Lord came down with dazzling beauty and rolled away the stone from the sepulchre. Once they revived, they ran from the scene. And some of them ran straight to Caiaphas to tell him what took place. With money staring them in the face, they accepted bribes and began to circulate the story that the disciples came and stole the body of Jesus.
These soldiers represent all the wicked who even dare to draw near to the sepulchre. They were not alone in their day, for with them stand Pilate, who represents the government of the world, and Caiaphas, who represents the apostate church of his day. The one thing they all had in common was that they rejected Jesus. They were willing to crucify Him. All through history this opposition has continued. The ungodly world has their gods of money, pleasure, entertainment, and sports. They want nothing to do with Jesus. Within the apostate church, nothing has changed. Today ungodly scholarship rejects the bodily resurrection of Jesus. They pay lip service to His ministry, but reject the blood atonement as necessary for reconciliation with God.
Well may those soldiers be afraid of God’s messenger, for he is the harbinger of God’s just judgment. Shake they must, for God is a God of vengeance upon such enemies. God makes them impotent, but they rise up in rebellion to tell lies. The day is coming in which this Jesus will come again. Then they will face Him in judgment, and they shall sink into the lake of fire where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth. In hell they will not continue in their lies; and they will be forced to admit that God is just in their eternal damnation.
The fear of the keepers is terrible.
Now, look at the women.
What a contrast. They came to the sepulchre laden with spices and ointments. True, this appears so foolish; yet their heart is in the right place. They witnessed the same history, but it cut them to the quick. They cried at night. They couldn’t sleep. Ringing in their ears were to be sure the cries of the enemies, but, much more, the words of Jesus. As He spoke from the cross, they listened. They saw Him as the promised Messiah, but they did not understand the kingdom and the place of the cross. Though Jesus had explained it all, their eyes were not yet opened and their hearts did not yet believe.
Here they came, early, while it was yet dark. It almost seems as if the angel came down in their presence, but that cannot be established. At least the angel is there when they arrive. The stone is rolled away. The grave is opened. They have obvious fear. Their fear is the awareness of standing in the presence of God’s messenger. They are fully aware of their sinfulness. How can they stand in the presence of the Holy God and live? Their fear is out of deep respect for God, both as to His holiness and His righteousness. Well might God strike them dead, for they are unworthy sinners.
Now you see that this is a different kind of fear.
This is a fear that prepares one for the gospel of the resurrection.
To such the angel speaks gracious words.
Do you come to the tomb with such fear?
Then listen: “Fear not ye, for I know that ye seek Jesus which was crucified. He is not here: for he is risen as he said. Come see the place where the Lord lay.”
He is risen!
Jesus, to be sure, died. The historical evidence demonstrates this beyond dispute. Also, He died upon the cross, the emblem of reproach and shame. He was buried in the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea. This included, unknown to the women, the Jewish form of preparation for burial. According to Matthew 27:57ff., Joseph and Nicodemus wrapped the body of Jesus in a linen cloth, the folds of which had been interspersed with spices. There must be no dispute: what was in that tomb was the dead body of the Lord Jesus.
The Lord Jesus raised His own body. The seal of Rome could not stop Him. The guards were not intimidating. The stone before the door did not deter Him. He arose! He is risen as He said. He told them before hand that this would take place. Striking, is it not, that the enemy remembered this more than the disciples. The angels simply confirmed the fact.
If more proof is needed, the angel suggested that they behold the place where the Lord lay. Can’t you just see them gaze in wonder. There were the grave clothes, retaining the shape of the body of Jesus, not unwrapped as was the case with Lazarus. They could see that the body was missing. No one could possibly explain such evidence, except as the angel did: He is risen.
Jesus went through the grave. His body was of a different material. It was of a material which was not adapted to the earthly, but the heavenly. It was the same body, but changed. No longer did He need food, rest, earthly protection, and such like. His resurrected body was of the composition that eye cannot see and ear cannot hear. He had to assume “appearances” in order that the disciples could even know that He had arisen from the dead, bodily.
The bodily resurrection of Christ drives out all fear.
Why should we not be afraid of God? Can we stand in the presence of angels and live? Will not God call us to account through His messengers?
No, a thousand times no. For the bodily resurrection of Jesus is the visible proof that God accepted His perfect sacrifice for sin. The same God who tore the veil of the temple from top to bottom as an expression of the fulfillment of the law, now also raised His Son from the dead to display His satisfaction with His shed blood. In the resurrection we have proof that our sins are paid and we are righteous in Jesus Christ. This forms the basis for the forgiveness of sins and reconciliation with God. Who can be afraid of God when He forgives?
More, the resurrection also opens the way to victory over sin and its consequence upon our human bodies. Yes, through sin, we suffer much. Diseases and weaknesses mark our pilgrimage. Many fears follow experiences such as heart attacks, delicate surgeries, and all sorts of pain and suffering. He is risen! That makes a difference, so that death itself is not something of great dread. The empty tomb beckons us heavenward. Our bodies rest in hope.
Fear not, He is risen!