Scripture: The next day, that is, after the day of Preparation, the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered before Pilate and said, “Sir, we remember how that impostor said, while he was still alive, After three days I will rise.’ Therefore order the tomb to be made secure until the third day, lest his disciples go and steal him away and tell the people, ‘He has risen from the dead,’ and the last fraud will be worse than the first.” Pilate said to them, “You have a guard of soldiers. Go, make it as secure as you can.” So they went and made the tomb secure by sealing the stone and setting a guard. Matthew 27:62-66 ESV
[Click here to read the entire chapter.]
Observation: Recapping Yesterday’s Daily Focus, Matthew addresses Jesus’ burial. As Matthew recalls the story, Joseph of Arimathea (a disciple of Christ) visited Pilate and asked for Jesus’ body. Pilate obliges, and Joseph takes Jesus’ lifeless body and prepares it for burial, which he places inside his new tomb cut into the side of a rock. He then rolls a heavy wheel-shaped stone down its trough enclosing the entrance to ensure no vandalism. Matthew also cites that Joseph was wealthy (v.57), pointing his readers to Isaiah’s Suffering Servant prophecy regarding being buried in a rich man’s grave (53:9-12). Meanwhile, Mary Magdalene and Mary, the mother of James and Joseph, carefully observe all that transpires.
Today’s reading concludes chapter 27 and the Passion narrative with a story found only in Matthew’s Gospel: the chief priests and Pharisees express their concern about Jesus’ disciples carrying on the ruse of Jesus being the Messiah by stealing his body and claiming he rose from the dead. So they request his tomb to be secured until the third day (referring to Jesus’ prediction that, like Jonah, he would rise from the depths of the earth on the third day, Matthew 12:38-42). Pilate consents and instructs them to commission their temple soldiers to stand guard outside the tomb. They also order their guards to seal the stone covering its entrance.
Takeaway: Pilate’s patience is running thin. He continues to entertain the religious leaders’ requests to maintain the peace, but, as theologian D. A. Carson suggests, Pilate responds with an air of cynicism, hypothetically saying, “You were afraid of this man when he was alive; now he is dead, and you are still afraid! By all means secure the tomb as tightly as possible, if you think that will help; but use your own police” (The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Matthew, p.586).
Indeed, they were still afraid, for they, too, witnessed the three hours of darkness, the earthquake, the resurrection of the saints, and the rending of the Holy of Holies’ veil (the latter being the most distressing). And yet, they press on, attempting to squelch Jesus’ predicted resurrection—undoubtedly a sign of desperation in the face of terror. And as theologian Michael Wilkins concludes, “The irony is delightful. Try as they could, no guard could keep Jesus in the tomb. They might go away and make the sepulchre secure by sealing the stone and setting a guard, but neither they nor anyone else could imprison the Lord of life” (NIV Application Commentary: Matthew, p.320).
Our takeaway? The advance of Christ’s kingdom is unstoppable. No more could Satan or the religious leaders foil God’s sovereign salvation plan, or later Saul/Paul, suppress Jesus’ Great Commission (Acts 9:1-10) than we or anyone else thwart the expansion of Christ’s kingdom on earth. The faithless (chief priest and elders) and ignorant (Saul/Paul) may seem to gain the upper hand, but they will fall or get on board in God’s perfect timing. From our perspective as victims of unjust abuse, the call is to persevere, for our reward awaits eternity. From our perspective as perpetrators, if we have sincerely repented by faith, we need not fret over the lingering consequences, for our Lord redeems. And we can be confident of this because he has risen!
Prayer: Father God, thank you for sending us your Son, who resoundingly completed his first mission and continues with the Holy Spirit to expand his kingdom until its fulfillment when he returns. And we thank you for examples like that of the religious leaders and Saul/Paul, who sought to thwart the unstoppable advance of your and your Son’s kingdom. Still, when evil seemingly gains the upper hand, we fret. And when we regretfully perpetrate evil, we are fearful of the consequences. So would you please keep reminding us that the Kingdom of God on earth is unstoppable and that you redeem our suffering and missteps and have secured our reward in eternity? Amen.
Rev. Gordon Green, M.Div., M.A. Counseling