“Now the next day, that followed the day of the preparation, the chief priests and Pharisees came together unto Pilate. . . .”
How beautiful and attractive is Scripture’s account of the funeral of our Lord! It is surely a bold act of faith on the part of Joseph and Nicodemus, at this time when all seemed lost, to assert their faith in the crucified Christ of Nazareth. And how wonderful it is that this Crucified One should be laid in a new tomb in which no man had ever lain.
And now the sabbath day has dawned. The disciples of Christ rest, but only as according to the divine commandment. The enemies of the Saviour, however, are active. Matthew speaks significantly of the chief priests and Pharisees, the same satanic leaders of the people, the highest development of the church, in whose hearts the hatred of the Nazarene burns so feverishly. Early in the morning they appear before the Roman governor with a strange request. They ask that the grave be made sure. To be sure, there was also a temple watch. However, they ask for a Roman watch. They desire the strongest watch: The tomb of Jesus of Nazareth must be made sure.
A WICKED WATCH
Wicked, in the first place, is the appearance of these leaders of the people of the Lord before Pontius Pilate. It was, we read here, the day after the day of preparation. Matthew does not merely intend to say that it was now the sabbath, but he calls special attention to the fact that it was the day after the day of preparation. O, how these rulers had prepared, themselves for the sabbath! Upon this day of preparation they had murdered the Christ. And now He was not even for one moment out of their thoughts. That day, the day of the preparation, they had been busy making their plans. And now they go to Pilate early that sabbath morning. They do not go to him in a body. The text tells us that they gather before Pilate. So, there they meet one another. And they must have gone to the governor early; they surely would avoid being seen of men. Hence, what a wicked transgressing of the commandment of the sabbath day, to meet in that spirit before Pilate—one, mind you, who is uncircumcised. This secret appearance before Pontius Pilate surely bodes no good. Matthew describes these wicked leaders who cannot rest until they use the first opportunity available to speak with the Roman governor.
Secondly, their wickedness appears from their accusation of Jesus before Pilate. They refer to Him as “that deceiver.” How disdainful they are, even in their language! They do not even mention His name. Besides, they call Jesus a deceiver. Fact is, they are the deceivers. They are the white walled sepulchers. They do not obey the law; they transgressed it even in this early morning hour. They condemned Jesus in the Sanhedrin without a ground. And now they call Jesus a deceiver. Had this teacher of Galilee ever revealed Himself differently than He is? How wicked they are! Pilate they address as “Sir, lord.” Jesus’ name does not come over their lips. They are the deceivers, always using the, law for their own profit and advantage.
Finally, their godlessness comes into sharper focus when we note the purpose of, their coming to Pilate. Apparently they fear the disciples of the Nazarene. Did they not say that that deceiver had, said that He would rise again in three pays? Would not His disciples attempt to steal His body and then spread the rumor that He had risen from the dead? Would not this last error be worse than the first? However, this interpretation is surely impossible. On the one hand, they certainly need not fear the disciples. Is it not striking that, whereas the disciples never thought of Christ’s resurrection, of Jesus’ word that He would rise again, these enemies did think of this word? How ridiculous this request must have sounded to Pilate, that the grave of the dead Nazarene must be guarded! Besides, what would the disciples do with a dead body? A Messianic expectation, centering in a dead Christ, is surely as dead as a dead Christ himself.
The deep, wicked principle of this request is obvious. Yes, the Saviour had declared in their presence that He would rise again in three days. Had He not spoken of the breaking down of the temple and that He would rebuild it in three days? Is it not wonderful that, whereas the disciples had not understood and remembered this word of Jesus, His enemies did remember it? What did they fear? This, that Jesus might rise from the dead! Indeed, at the cross they had been filled with terror. Now, however, they had somewhat recovered themselves. O, they had worked out their plan carefully. They will appear before Pontius Pilate with a hypocritical request. Indeed, the terror of Good Friday had not left them completely. They feared that this Jesus might fulfill His word. Fact is, literally Christ had never told them that He would rise from the dead in three days. But they had surely understood Him. So, a guard must be posted, at His tomb. Besides, the tomb itself is sealed. A cord is drawn around the stone, and to it is affixed the seal of the Sanhedrin. Indeed, these enemies of darkness have done what they could to prevent Jesus from issuing from the grave. His issuing from the tomb is the worst that could possibly happen to these enemies.
This occurs throughout the ages.
Indeed, the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ is for the world a most terrifying fact. His resurrection is surely God’s seal upon Him, His seal of approval, and also His seal of condemnation upon them that hate Him. If Jesus be raised from the dead, what may the world expect from the living God?
And what a watch is placed around that grave throughout the ages! How the spiritual leaders of the people are constantly engaged in keeping Jesus in the tomb! Yes, He may live on in the hearts and minds of the people, as a Washington or a Lincoln. He may and is presented as a Christ with human ideals. But, He must remain within the tomb! The world craves a human Jesus, with human ideals, which do not conflict with their passion for sin and iniquity.
A FOOLISH WATCH
What a folly on the part of these Jewish leaders! On the one hand; if the Lord cannot rise from the dead, why place a watch before His tomb? Then this watch simply does not make sense. But, this watch becomes so unbelievably foolish if we bear in mind its purpose. To keep one in the grave who cannot rise again-is indeed an act of folly. But, to keep one in the grave who is able to break the bands of death is surely ridiculous. He who is able to destroy the power of death and the grave is surely able to destroy any power that might attempt to prevent His issuing forth from the tomb. Such an one can step forth of His tomb even if he lay buried in the heart of the greatest mountain or in the depth of the deepest sea.
How foolish is this effort throughout all the ages! Presuppose that the resurrection of Jesus were a fable, a legend, a myth. It is said that Jesus is not God, that He is merely a man, that therefore His resurrection is impossible. But, if this be true, why should these powers of darkness then concern themselves with a watch to keep Him in the grave? He was crucified, dead, and buried; He cannot rise out of His tomb; why, then, does the world not simply leave Him there?
However, if Jesus can arise from the dead, then this attempt becomes all the more ridiculous and foolish. Then Gamaliel surely had a wiser insight when he later declared that if this cause be of God they could do nothing about it. If Jesus be God, able to destroy the power of death, then all the attempts to deny and oppose this resurrection are surely unbelievable folly. Then the story is told that the disciples stole the body of Christ while the soldiers slept. And throughout the ages Jesus’ resurrection from the dead is merely a story which is the product of the imagination of the disciples. However, let it be proclaimed that the Saviour is indeed risen, that He is now glorified at the right hand of His Father, and that He is coming again, returning upon the clouds of heaven to judge the quick and the dead.
How must we account for this folly? Sin cannot be explained merely rationally. O, it is true that keen minds throughout the ages have attempted to keep Jesus in the tomb. Sin, however, is always a matter of the heart. Sin is always the wicked, deliberate, malicious attempt of the carnal man to deny the living God and the things of His covenant. Sin hates God, hates His Christ, puts forth every effort to maintain itself in the midst of the world. That world will always deny God and His Christ.
A SIGNIFICANT WATCH
Indeed, is it not holy irony that the same world which would guard the tomb of our Lord Jesus Christ is the first witness of His resurrection? Jesus has risen from the dead. And the world knows this! The grave is empty, watched by the strongest power upon the face of the earth. Do they accept this fact? Do they acknowledge this resurrection of the Christ? Do they repent upon bended knee? This they should do. However, this they refuse to do. To the contrary, they will invent stories, absurd stories, put forth every effort throughout the ages to keep the Nazarene in the grave. Why? Because of their hatred and wickedness. And so the world is revealed in all its wickedness. Sin must be revealed in all its ungodliness as committed against the alone holy God. And God will be justified when He judges and condemns. The theodicy will be maintained, God’s vindication and justifying of Himself.
This watch also has significance for the church of God. That empty tomb is a glorious testimony for the people and the church of God. That grave, guarded by Roman soldiers, representing the greatest power of the world, is empty! And even as our Lord Jesus Christ arose from the tomb, emerged, as it were, through the power of the godless world, we may believe that there is no wicked power anywhere which is able to prevent our being united with Him, Who loves us even unto death and will surely give us all things in blessed fellowship with Him.
The world keeps watch at the tomb.
However, we need not fear.
He is the Prince of life and glory, and presently the eternal Resurrection Morning will dawn, and all How must we account for this folly? Sin cannot be things will be made new.