Sweetwater Presbyterian

Small in size, Big in Faith and Love

April 2018

The Report of the Guard

The Report of the Guard

We tend to shoulder responsibilities and to own their outcome. We are responsible people and whether something works out or doesn’t work out is all up to us. At least that is what we think. If something doesn’t work out it is our fault and we shower ourselves with guilt - if it does work out we tend to pat ourselves on the back and say, “What a good thing I have done”. But in Jesus Christ, we should do neither - in Jesus Christ we don’t have to shoulder all the responsibility; in Jesus Christ we don’t have to worry about the outcome; in Jesus Christ we don’t get the credit either. What we are called to do is to listen, to do what God asks us and to trust. God’s in charge and God knows the outcome and God can do amazing things.
This time of year is known as the Season of Easter. The Season of Easter lasts from the day of the Resurrection - Easter Sunday - to the day of Pentecost. This is a 50 day season from Easter to Pentecost. For 40 of the 50 days during the season of Easter, Jesus spends time with his disciples. He teaches them, he guides them, he reassures them. On the 40th day, Jesus ascends into heaven. During this Season of Eater, we spend time talking about the events that occurred from the Resurrection to the time of the Ascension. We talk about how the events from the Resurrection to Pentecost shape our knowledge of Jesus and our Knowledge of what Jesus wants us to know.
Today we are going to start off our learning about this time period with an event that happened immediately after the resurrection.
We all know the story of the events leading up to the Resurrection. Jesus dies on the cross and is buried in the tomb of Joseph of Arimethea. The Jewish leaders were concerned about Jesus’ claim that he was going to raise from the dead so they placed a large stone in front of the entrance to prevent any such event to occur - and if he did raise from the dead he wouldn’t be able to get out of the tomb! And just to make sure nothing could happen, two guards are placed at the tomb to keep an eye on things.
Because Friday was the Passover, the customary burial procedures were not able to be done. Saturday was the Sabbath so no work could be done either, so it was Sunday before the women had an opportunity to get to the tomb to do what needed to be done to Jesus’ body. Early Sunday morning they made their way to the tomb and when they got there, the stone had been rolled away and the tomb was empty.
The book of Matthew also gives us a glimpse of something that happened on Saturday. Saturday morning, the chief priests and the Pharisees went to meet with Pontius Pilate. This is kind of ironic since one of the biggest complaints the chief priests and the Pharisees had against Jesus was that he did things he shouldn’t have done on the Sabbath - and here you have the leaders of the Jews, the ones who are suppose to be the perfect example of what to do and not do, the ones who are suppose to enforce the law, are now breaking the law by visiting Pilate on the Sabbath.
At any rate, the religious leaders remind Pilate that Jesus predicted he would raise from the dead. They wanted Pilate’s help in assuring that the disciples of Jesus wouldn’t steal the body and then claim that Jesus had resurrected. The religious leaders knew that the people were expecting this resurrection; they had heard Jesus say more than once that he was going to be resurrected and they wanted to make sure that nothing could happen that would continue this Jesus movement in Jerusalem. They had the stone, they had the guards and now they had a seal put on the stone as well to make sure that no one could break in, steal the body and replace the stone. Pilate and the religious leaders thought they had everything taken care of!
But we all know that nothing can stop the plans of God and God doesn’t care much about guards or stones or seals and Jesus was resurrected and the stone was rolled away and Jesus was gone when the women got there on Sunday morning. An angel was there and told them what happened and the women started to run back to the upper room and according to Matthew, Jesus met them on the road and told them who he was, they saw the nail holes in his hands and feet which proved who he said he was, and he told them to go and tell the disciples what had happened and they did.
But the disciples told the women to be quiet because the disciples didn’t believe the women. The disciples in their own way tried to stop the message of the resurrection.
Meanwhile, the guards who are guarding the tomb really have a problem. They had one job to do - to be sure that Jesus stayed in that tomb. But here it was morning, and even though they had been diligent all night, the stone was magically rolled away, they saw the empty tomb, they heard the angel tell the women that Jesus was resurrected and that he was alive, and Matthew writes, “The guards were so afraid that they tumbled and became like dead men.” In other words, they were scared to death.
For a couple reasons, not only were they frightened by the events - after all Jesus is gone and they saw an angel - but their lives were on the line because they had failed at their job. And in the Roman army failure at your job - especially one as important as this one - often meant death.
Now we know that at least one of the guards was a Roman and some of the guards were from the Jewish army - the Romans allowed the Jewish religious leaders to have their own army with soldiers who would enforce Jewish law - the Jewish guards went back to the chief priests and told them what had happened. Well, as you can imagine the religious leaders were livid. What were they going to do now? Their whole focus was on getting rid of Jesus and on squelching this teaching of Jesus that he would raise from the dead. And so his body was gone, the guards are talking about angels, this problem is spiraling out of control. There was this secret meeting with other religious leaders trying to decide what to do and what they decided to do was to basically pay the guards off.
So they go back to the guards and Matthew tells us they paid the guards a large sum of money - hush money. So this is three times the religious leaders have paid money to try and get rid of Jesus - they paid Judas to turn Jesus in, they paid two individuals to falsely testify against Jesus at his trial and now they have paid off the tomb guards.
The trade off for the tomb guards was they were to say that they had fallen asleep and Jesus’ followers had stolen the body. Now the problem with this solution was the guards were putting themselves in jeopardy. There would be consequences for their falling asleep while on duty - and I kind of think these guards don’t want people to think they fell asleep when they didn’t. So the guards are worried about what this lie is going to do to their career - this could mean firing for them and jobs for guards who had been fired for dereliction of duty would be hard to come by. But the religious leaders assure the guards that they would take care of that and not to worry. They didn’t need to worry about their jobs or their reputation - just stick with the story. Remember, Jesus’ followers stole the body when you fell asleep and then they claim that Jesus was resurrected. That is all you know…..
Once again, the religious leaders thought they could stop the spread of the Good News of Jesus Christ. Once again, the religious leaders thought that they could stop the message of Jesus.
We have no power to stop the message of Jesus. Remember on his ride into Jerusalem during the Palm Sunday celebration when the religious leaders tried to stop the people from talking about what had happened Jesus had said that if you try to stop his message even the stones would cry out. Jesus had told his disciples in Matthew 24:
And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world.
When you look at the history of the spread of the gospel people tried their best to stop the message of Jesus - all the disciples but John are martyred to keep them quiet, John is locked away on an island to keep him quiet, the Apostle Paul is beaten and imprisoned and killed to keep him quiet, Christians are thrown to lions to keep them quiet….
And here we are today - talking about the gospel message of Jesus Christ. No matter how they may have tried; no matter how many times they tried, the message of Jesus could not be stopped and it changed the world in spite of the opposition.
That message is for us today - our job is to tell others of the message of Jesus - that in Jesus Christ we can have a relationship with God forever - but it is not our responsibility to worry about whether a person or a group of people receive that message. God will take care of that.
I remember when I was a teenager in a decade that seemed to live by one line slogans - one of the slogans said, “We have to go preach the gospel because we are one generation away from message dying out.” It was an attempt to guilt people to share the message of Jesus - but if we truly believe our life is better because we are the chosen people of God and because of the work of Jesus Christ why do we need to be guilted into telling others about this wonderful gift of grace we have received?
But more importantly, why do we think that the gospel message lives or dies on what we do or don’t do. We can’t let guilt dictate why we do things - the spread of the gospel will not stop just because we don’t do what we should. God will not let the truth of Jesus die - God will make sure the gospel is spread.
Are we called to spread the gospel - yes. But are we responsible for it - no. Is the weight of the God’s message on our shoulders - no. Don’t let the worry of whether or not you will be successful in your willingness to teach the gospel of Jesus keep you from telling people about the great gift you have received.
You see how many times just in the first 100 years of the good news people tried to stop it and yet the message of Jesus survived.
The women saw the empty tomb and ran to tell people what had happened and were told to be quiet, the guards saw the empty tomb and were told to cover it up. And the Gospel message spread anyway! And it will continue, regardless.