New Testament in 6 months – day 24

24 Apr

Matthew 27:51-28:20
At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook and the rocks split. The tombs broke open and the bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life. They came out of the tombs, and after Jesus’ resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many people. When the centurion and those with him who were guarding Jesus saw the earthquake and all that had happened, they were terrified, and exclaimed, “Surely he was the Son of God!” Many women were there, watching from a distance. They had followed Jesus from Galilee to care for his needs. Among them were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Joseph, and the mother of Zebedee’s sons. As evening approached, there came a rich man from Arimathea, named Joseph, who had himself become a disciple of Jesus. Going to Pilate, he asked for Jesus’ body, and Pilate ordered that it be given to him. Joseph took the body, wrapped it in a clean linen cloth, and placed it in his own new tomb that he had cut out of the rock. He rolled a big stone in front of the entrance to the tomb and went away. Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were sitting there opposite the tomb. The next day, the one after Preparation Day, the chief priests and the Pharisees went to Pilate. “Sir, ” they said, “we remember that while he was still alive that deceiver said, ‘After three days I will rise again.’ So give the order for the tomb to be made secure until the third day. Otherwise, his disciples may come and steal the body and tell the people that he has been raised from the dead. This last deception will be worse than the first.” “Take a guard,” Pilate answered. “Go, make the tomb as secure as you know how.” So they went and made the tomb secure by putting a seal on the stone and posting the guard.
After the Sabbath, at dawn on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to look at the tomb. There was a violent earthquake, for an angel of the Lord came down from heaven and, going to the tomb, rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothes were white as snow. The guards were so afraid of him that they shook and became like dead men. The angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples: ‘He has risen from the dead and is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him.’ Now I have told you.” So the women hurried away from the tomb, afraid yet filled with joy, and ran to tell his disciples. Suddenly Jesus met them. “Greetings,” he said. They came to him, clasped his feet and worshiped him. Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid. Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.” While the women were on their way, some of the guards went into the city and reported to the chief priests everything that had happened. When the chief priests had met with the elders and devised a plan, they gave the soldiers a large sum of money, telling them, “You are to say, ‘His disciples came during the night and stole him away while we were asleep.’ If this report gets to the governor, we will satisfy him and keep you out of trouble.” So the soldiers took the money and did as they were instructed. And this story has been widely circulated among the Jews to this very day. Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

And so we come to the end of Matthew, and with it one of my favourite passages in the Bible. But I am not going to focus on the Great Commission, nor the resurrection. Instead I want to look at the three reactions shown in these verses.

The first reaction is that off the centurion to Jesus’ death. In “Jesus of Nazareth”, possibly the most well known playing of the character, Ernest Borgnine says the words “Surely he was the Son of God” as Jesus dies. But the way it happens in the film is different to the account here. Here the centurion is reacting not to the manner of Jesus’ death, but to what happens after it. The earth shakes and cracks and the dead rise from their tombs! And it is this that the centurion responds to as he declares Jesus to be the Son of God.

The second reaction is by the Pharisees after Jesus’ death. They go to Pilate and demand that Pilate put a guard on the tomb, so that the disciples cannot take the body away and declare Jesus to be resurrected. This in and of itself is no big deal. After all, they wanted all that Jesus had done to be forgotten so that things could return to normal. However, if we remember that Jesus died on Good Friday, the text says that the Pharisees and Chief Priests went to Pilate the day after this. That means that they went to Pilate on the Sabbath! They were breaking their own rules about working on the Sabbath, rules that they had accused Jesus of breaking when He healed people. Indeed, they accused Jesus of causing other people to work on the Sabbath and now they were demanding that Pilate make some of his guards work by guarding the tomb. It is hypocrisy of the highest order! And all because they were afraid of 11 men who, at the time of this plotting, were almost certainly cowering in the upper room, afraid for their lives.

The third reaction is also by the Chief Priests and Elders. Their response to the guards returning and telling them that an angel had come and rolled the stone away and then declared to the visiting women that Jesus was alive. They may even have seen Jesus appear to the women. And the reaction to this account is that they tell the guards to lie. They don’t care about what as happened, only what they can get the people to believe has happened. They hear such an amazing account from the guards and then they disregard it. And this is where I lose all sympathy for the Pharisees and Chief Priests. Before they were merely protecting their religion and could be understood to a certain extent. Yes, they went too far down this line with getting Jesus crucified, but then Jesus pointed out that they didn’t know what they were doing and asked God to forgive them. However, they now knowingly reject what the guards say has happened and tell them to lie, to break the 9th commandment. And, as has been taught regarding children, but equally applies to doing it to adults, knowingly causing others to sin is one of the few areas where God puts a grading on sin.

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Archbishop Cranmer

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