Thursday, April 8, 2010

See the Empty Tomb and Believe?

While they were going, behold, some of the guard went into the city and told the chief priests all that had taken place. And when they had assembled with the elders and taken counsel, they gave a sufficient sum of money to the soldiers and said, “Tell people, ‘His disciples came by night and stole him away while we were asleep.’ And if this comes to the governor's ears, we will satisfy him and keep you out of trouble.” So they took the money and did as they were directed. And this story has been spread among the Jews to this day. (Matthew 28:11-15)

Over the past two weeks I have either read or heard to account of Christ's death and resurrection several times. I cannot help but read of Christ’s death and soak of the sobering reality that it was my sins for which Christ die. I also cannot help but rejoice in his death because I know the rest of the story. I know that he just did not die but that three days later Christ rose from the grave defeating sin and death and backing the claim that he was the Messiah. I also rejoice in the grace of God that has revealed this truth to me through the work of his Spirit. But these past times I read or heard the account I saw this section in Matthew about the guards at the tomb. This past week I have been thinking about this very account where the guards try to cover up the truth. In this post I’d first like to address the unbeliever and second address those who follow Christ.

I have talked about this point before on this blog about how unbelievers make the claim that if they could have only seen this event then they would believe. My best answer to that statement is it probably is not true. The issue is the heart not the eyes. In this passage we see the guards who were sent to the tomb on the day of Preparation to secure the tomb. Matthew 27 says, “So they went and made the tomb secure by sealing the stone and setting a guard” (66). These men were ordered to make the tomb secure until the third day when Jesus said he would rise from the grave (Matt. 27:64). The religious leaders were concerned the disciples would come to steal the body away and tell people he had risen. The text says, “So they went.”

The guards go to the tomb Saturday and are planning to stick around until the third day which would be Sunday. “Now after the Sabbath, toward the dawn of the first day of the week” we read about two ladies who have gone to see the tomb. When they arrived there is a great earthquake that rolls back the stone and an angel appears. Keep in mind the guards are still there because the text says, “And for fear of him [the angel] the guards trembled and became like dead men” (Matt. 28:4). The guards start playing possum when the angel appears with an earthquake. Can you imagine the scene? The angel delivers the good news that Jesus Christ has risen from the grave just like he said. Now the guards are not asleep or dead but rather playing dead which allows them to hear everything being said by the angel. Remember the duty of the guards was to protect and secure the tomb so that his disciples could not come to steal the body and say he has risen. But what the guards do see is an angel, an earthquake and the reality of the empty tomb.

Surely at this point in the story the only response of these guards could be a humble admission that Jesus Christ is exactly who he claims to be. They saw him crucified. They watched him die. They saw his body was laid in the tomb. Jesus was dead and these men had seen it all. Their eyes were upon every part of this story. And now the climax of it all, Jesus Christ has risen. They see clearly the empty tomb. If seeing is believing then these men ought to be the greatest ambassadors for Christ this world has ever known. But then we read the account: “Some of the guard went into the city and told the chief priests all that had taken place.” Now even the chief priest and religious leaders are made aware of the event through eyewitness testimony. They have heard the reports of the risen Savior. “And when they had assembled with the elders and taken counsel, they gave sufficient money to the soldiers and said, ‘Tell people, His disciples came by night and stole him away while we were asleep’...So they took the money and did as they were directed.” How sad. The reality of the risen Savior is covered up by a lie.

Sure the idea of seeing is believing sounds good. Most people today want to see a miracle before they will believe in Christ. But here it is clear that even some who witnessed the death and resurrection of Christ with their own eyes still had hardened hearts. If you are someone who thinks they need to see a miracle before they believe you are sadly blinded by the god of this world, Satan. If you want to see a miracle take a breath and be amazed that the holy God of the universe has shown you his grace and mercy to you by allowing you another breath for repentance. He is so patient with all of us. What we deserve is an eternity of separation from him but instead he offered up his Son, Jesus Christ, so that we could have eternal fellowship with him. Miracles are taking place all the time but the miracle of Christ is the miracle of miracles. Ask the Lord to open your eyes to the reality of the cross and the empty tomb.

Christian, what more can be said. His word makes it clear about his grace to us. Spiritually dead men are brought to life. Stony hearts are made hearts of flesh. Darkness is made light. Spiritually blind men have their eyes opened. None of us apart from the grace of the Father would be able to see this reality. He gave us faith to believe and trust in the finished work of his Son, Jesus Christ. May we live in the reality of his great love for us. Thank you for your imparted gift of the faith Lord Jesus. “Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen...And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him” (Hebrews 11:1,6).

Grace upon grace,
JRL

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