Online Worship for the Sunday after Easter, April 11, 2021
Sermon for Easter One – (4/3,12/05,15) April 11, 2021
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His abundant mercy has begotten us again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled and that does not fade away, reserved in heaven for you.
11 Now while they were going, behold, some of the guard came into the city and reported to the chief priests all the things that had happened. 12 When they had assembled with the elders and consulted together, they gave a large sum of money to the soldiers, 13 saying, “Tell them, ‘His disciples came at night and stole Him away while we slept.’ 14 And if this comes to the governor’s ears, we will appease him and make you secure.” 15 So they took the money and did as they were instructed; and this saying is commonly reported among the Jews until this day.
In the Name of Jesus Christ,
Who lives our glorious King,
Dear Friends in Christ –
What is Easter all about…and why do we celebrate it so?
Is Easter just a celebration of the renewal of spring and the renewal of life?
Is Easter all about the Easter Bunny…just another excuse to give the kids candy?
Is it, as some cults suggest, the holdover of a heathen fertility goddess named ‘Oester’ appropriated by Christians? Did you hear anything about fertility goddesses last Sunday?
The holiday we know as Easter focuses on the Resurrection of Jesus the Christ from the dead.
We celebrate because Jesus’ Resurrection confirms that He is the Son of God; that our sins stand forgiven; that His Promises are reliable and we will also be raised from death.
So…what did the Resurrection of Jesus mean to those who first witnessed it and heard reports of it?
This morning, and for the next couple of weeks, we will consider what the Resurrection of Jesus meant to those who first heard and saw it. We will also investigate our own hearts to learn what it means to us.
We begin by considering what the Resurrection mean to the first men who saw the empty tomb…and those they told about it. What does this mean? What was the Resurrection in the eyes of the Roman Solders and the Jewish Leaders? What effect did the Resurrection have on their lives and how did they understand and deal with the events that unfolded before their eyes?
Moreover, as we consider these things, we do so with the earnest prayer that God the Holy Spirit would strengthen our faith in Christ and our confidence in His Resurrection…through these words. Amen.
Now while they were going, behold, some of the guard came into the city and reported to the chief priests all the things that had happened.
The roads about Jerusalem were quite busy for so early on a Sunday morning. After finding the stone rolled away and hearing about Jesus’ Resurrection from two angels, the women hurried from the tomb with fear and great joy to tell the disciples.
It was at the same time that the Roman Soldiers who had been guarding the tomb, having stirred from their fainting fear…returned to Jerusalem to report to the chief priests what had happened.
What exactly had happened in their minds? What would they tell their superiors? They had been guarding the tomb of a dead man – not because of the man in the grave – but because of a perceived threat from His disciples. They were guarding the tomb because the religious leaders were afraid that the same men who had run away (one naked) three nights earlier would become brazen grave robbers.
They were guarding a corpse because the Governor, Pontius Pilate had commanded it. A roman guard detail normally consisted of four soldiers, relieved every three hours during the night. It’s quite possible that these men were hardened soldiers, veterans of war, who thought they drew a foolish and harmless detail.
While they were in no danger from Him, before dawn they met a single otherworldly warrior more powerful than any earthly soldier. A single unnamed angel of the Almighty Creator was dispatched from heaven and the mere sight of Him rendered the Roman soldiers inept, for the Gospel of Matthew reports (Matthew 28:2-4):
“…there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven, and came and rolled back the stone from the door, and sat on it. His countenance was like lightning, and his clothing as white as snow. And the guards shook for fear of him, and became like dead men.”
This wasn’t one of the Nazarene’s followers. In point of fact, at that very moment his disciples were hiding…when the Angel of the LORD descended and rolled the stone from the door of the tomb. Even if they had wanted to, the Roman guard could do nothing to stop Him.
The Angel removed the stone before their very eyes…but not to let Jesus out…but to reveal that He was already gone. They had been guarding an empty tomb. When they regained their senses, some of them returned to the city to quietly report what had happened.
What was the Resurrection of Jesus – to the Roman Soldiers who guarded His tomb?
It was a sensitive problem that had to be carefully and quietly reported to the Jewish Authorities. The Angel had scared them senseless, but they were also afraid of what the empty tomb would mean to them. They were supposed to prevent the body of Jesus from being removed from the tomb…and they had failed.
It was also a sensitive problem because they were accountable. If Governor Pilate heard that the body had been removed during their watch because of their carelessness there would be an investigation and they would be held accountable. It was a serious breach of duty – one punishable by death – to fall asleep on guard duty.
When they came to the chief priests they told the truth, they reported all the things that had happened! They went and told the truth – as incredible as it was. While they didn’t then see Jesus alive, they will, for the Scripture declares (Revelation 1:7):
7 Behold, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him, and all tribes of the earth will wail on account of him. Even so. Amen.
They told the truth – even though it could mean disaster for them. If only they had known what the Resurrection of Jesus really meant for them and all of humankind! As Romans they believed that their emperor was a god…but He couldn’t deliver them from death! He couldn’t walk on water, heal the sick and raise the dead. He couldn’t promise heaven and deliver…but the man whose body they thought they were guarding…could…did…and still does.
Moreover, isn’t it amazing that some of the first men to hear of Jesus’ Resurrection were those who conspired to kill him?! God sent the message of the Resurrection to the Chief Priests (not through the disciples, but) by means of their own eyewitnesses, the soldiers they insisted be posted.
Let us never think that anyone is unworthy or undeserving of hearing the message of the Resurrection!
Did they accept the message as true?
When they had assembled with the elders and consulted together, they gave a large sum of money to the soldiers, 13 saying, “Tell them, ‘His disciples came at night and stole Him away while we slept.’ 14 And if this comes to the governor’s ears, we will appease him and make you secure.” 15 So they took the money and did as they were instructed; and this saying is commonly reported among the Jews until this day.
Did the message of the Resurrection have any effect on the Religious Leaders? Did they fall to their knees and repent and seeking out Jesus’ disciples tell them the good news? Did they freely admit that what they had done was wrong? Did they reject the report of the soldiers as false? NO.
They received their report and then assembled the council and formally resolved to pay the soldiers a bribe, to cover up the truth. They had paid Judas just 30 pieces of silver to betray Jesus and they paid the Roman guard sufficient price to keep them quiet and promised to protect them.
In the eyes of the Jewish Leaders…Jesus Resurrection was something to be covered up and denied. They paid off the witnesses and told them what they should say if anyone asked…they were to say that they fell asleep and while they were sleeping…Jesus’ disciples came and quietly rolled away the stone and carried off the corpse.
Never mind the natural questions like --
If they had been asleep – how would they know the disciples came and stole the body?
The religious leaders weren’t interested in arguments…they simply wanted to dissuade the masses from believing that Jesus had really and truly arisen from the dead. They sought to keep the matter quiet…lest others come to believe on Him.
There are still some today who would explain away the Resurrection of Jesus. I’m sure that some do believe the soldiers fell asleep and the disciples took the corpse. There are others who say that Jesus never really died and still others who say that Jesus only rose as a spirit being and not bodily.
There are others who claim it doesn’t matter if we believe Jesus rose from the dead. They are content to say that Jesus ‘lives on in people’s hearts.’
But…let us never forget that to deny the Resurrection is to deny the simple and plain word of Almighty God Himself. Moreover, if Christ is not raised – then your faith is empty and you remain in your sins.
What about you? What does the Resurrection of Jesus mean to you? Is it just the traditional message of Easter? Is it just a good ending a nice twist to a sad and bloody story?
NO, a thousand times NO.
Jesus was as dead and cold as any corpse rolled in and out of this building – but then arose from death. The fact that Jesus was truly dead and arose again from death…confirms that the one in whom we place our trust is completely reliable to keep us safe and deliver us not only from sin but from both Temporal and Eternal Death.
While some go to great length to deny and set as empty the Resurrection of Christ…for you and me…the Resurrection is an established and undeniable fact. It is the very foundation of our faith, a truth – we will not cover up or deny – but will freely express, confess and broadcast to the world around us – Christ is Risen!
While some may dismiss the Resurrection, we will stand guard over this truth and opening the Scriptures point all men to the open tomb.
Let people say what they will – talk is cheap -- but God’s Word is clear. As we better understand what the Resurrection means, our faith in Him will grow stronger and more vital – taking strength from Him to live and love from day to day.
Blessed are they that have not seen
and yet whose faith hath constant been.
In Life Eternal they shall reign: Alleluia!