Scripture: 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 ESV
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Observation: Recapping Yesterday’s Daily Focus, no longer bound to a Sabbath walk, Mary Magdalene and Mary, the mother of James, hurry to the tomb. And along the way, Matthew tells his audience that yet another earthquake shook the region, spurred by an angel dressed in a white garment with a lightning-bright countenance who rolled the stone wheel upward to its rested position and triumphantly sat on it. Upon their arrival, the angel reassures these terrified women that he knows their intentions and tells them to come and see the empty tomb, for Jesus has risen. He then directs them to go quickly and tell Jesus’ disciples the good news that Jesus is going ahead of them to Galilee, where they will find him. Overwhelmed with fear and joy, they immediately part company and do as told. En route, Jesus greets them, and they unhesitantly clutch his feet and worship him. Calming their fear, Jesus then reiterates the angel’s instructions. And off they go.
For today’s reading, Matthew revisits the religious leaders’ cover-up (see last Friday’s Daily Focus) and brings closure to this subplot. Concurrent with the two Marys hurrying to tell the disciples the good news that Jesus had risen from his grave as promised, some of the guards at the tomb returned to Jerusalem and reported to the religious leaders all that had happened. So the elders took counsel, provided the soldiers with hush money, and instructed them to tell fellow Israelites that the disciples stole his body while they slept on duty. Moreover, they promised the soldiers that if Pilate were to hear the same report, they would resolve the matter with him. Happily, the guards took the bribe and followed instructions. And Matthew tells his readers that this spurious story still circulates three decades later (approximate dating of his Gospel).
Takeaway: Once again, the religious leaders act according to what is expedient: they manage crowd control to prevent rioting (which would likely happen with the news that Jesus rose from the grave and is indeed the Messiah) and thus divert conflict with Rome. Blinded to the truth, they lean on their understanding of the greater good, of what is right and wrong, proving they are no different from Adam and Eve (who exposed humanity to sin similarly). Hence, they have no qualms with bribery to cover the truth. And Matthew provides us with a touch of irony by juxtapositioning the two Marys running to tell the disciples the good news that Jesus has risen simultaneously with the soldiers skulking into the city to report the bad news of “all that had taken place” (v.11).
Our takeaway? Two thousand years later, nothing has changed, for it remains a matter of perspective. Is Christ good news or bad news? As a whole, Israel, having rejected Jesus as their Messiah, would instead follow their religious leaders (the blind leading the blind) and eventually bring down on themselves what they feared most, the destruction of their beloved capital city and its temple worship. Indeed, as mentioned in previous Daily Focus devotions, a revolution launched in 66 CE ended in 70 CE when Rome reduced Jerusalem to rubble. And to this day, there is no temple worship in Israel. But it’s the best news ever for those who come to know and love Jesus.
So which way are we running? Toward our friends and family to tell them the good news that Christ has risen in us? Or toward cohorts to warn them of those religious fanatics causing trouble? Granted, I am “singing to the Choir,” but we may find ourselves toning down our enthusiasm as we navigate this post-modern era with its evolving cancel culture. And consequently, we may be more prone to compromise Scripture’s truths to maintain peace (as did the chief priests and elders). So let’s keep running to tell others the good news, for it’s our best safeguard against compromising self-preservation.
Prayer: Father God, we thank you for your Son who traveled into enemy territory to proclaim his good news, even at the expense of his life. And we thank you for raising him from the dead as our first fruit of the resurrected life. Still, we confess that our enthusiasm sometimes wanes with time and conflict. So would you please help us follow the Holy Spirit’s lead to tell others the good news of our Gospel in Christ no matter where he leads? Amen.
Rev. Gordon Green, M.Div., M.A. Counseling