1998-08-27 - Jerusalemgate
The Cross Series, Part 50
Matt 28:11-15 Now while they were on their way, behold, some of the guard came into the city and reported to the chief priests all that had happened. 12 And when they had assembled with the elders and counseled together, they gave a large sum of money to the soldiers, 13 and said, "You are to say, 'His disciples came by night and stole Him away while we were asleep.' 14 "And if this should come to the governor's ears, we will win him over and keep you out of trouble." 15 And they took the money and did as they had been instructed; and this story was widely spread among the Jews, and is to this day.
It weaves its way through our daily lives altering events great and small. From seat belts to national security, every level of governmental politics has something to say about almost everything and everyone. In my home state of New Jersey it is illegal to ride a motorcycle without a helmet, or drive a car or be a front seat passenger without a seat belt. You can be ticketed for any of these acts, much to the consternation of personal freedom groups.
Jesus' arrest, trial and execution were all politically motivated. Even more, politics could not cease the grinding wheels of the Jerusalem Council - the Sanhedrin. The Roman guard placed at the tomb was won with a little political arm twisting. A 16-man unit of soldiers was probably dispatched to the garden tomb. The guards were a political barrier against a political trump card that might be played by the disciples.
The Roman soldiers come to the senior members of the Council with fear in their eyes and a wild story on their lips. They claim to have seen an angel roll away the stone that sealed the opening to the burial site, and that the chamber was empty. The story simply could not be true. These men were covering up for allowing the disciples to get away with what the Sanhedrin had feared - they had stolen the body of Jesus.
It was the only logical assumption, but it was an assumption nonetheless. With no investigation at all, the Council initiates a political event - a cover-up. The Jewish leaders must have wondered several things. These men were not drunk. They were stone-cold sober. Were they using a story that they cooked up to extort money from the Sanhedrin? This was the one thing that the leadership could not afford to have happen. If the issue were pressed, it would be the word of the soldiers against the leadership with a Roman Procurator for a judge. The outcome was not hard to divine. Did the guards all fall asleep? The job was supposed to be a cakewalk -- guarding a dead man. It was possible, but all 16 at once, with nobody hearing the disciples enter or exit, was not likely. Did the guards deliver the body to the disciples, or hide it themselves? If so, there would be no time to find the body before pandemonium broke out.
It did not matter. How ever it was done, it was time for damage control. Large sums of money were produced and the frightened men were told to say the one thing they could not say -- that they had fallen asleep. If any of them were caught asleep on post, the entire group would be executed. That was very strong motivation to stay awake. These soldiers were not stupid men. They must have protested quickly. Their concerns were met with a promise of protection from the Council. What other choice did they have? The offer was accepted.
There were a number of infractions of the Code of Military Law. When there was a problem, the first duty of the soldiers was to report to their commanding officer. Perhaps since there was religious significance, the guards sought out the Sanhedrin. It made no difference -- their Captain should have been informed first. Next, they took a bribe. In any ordered society, giving or taking money to incite criminal behavior, or bribery, is a crime. In stating that they fell asleep on duty - a capital offense - the soldiers would be lying. Distorting, omitting or otherwise altering the truth is a fundamental statute violation. This was surely at least a court-martial offense. Finally, the Roman unit was promised protection against punishment from an outside group. In permitting this, the Roman leadership would be guilty of watering down their own code of law in dispensing that law with favoritism.
Each of these 16 men were eyewitnesses to the single greatest moment in the history of mankind. They may have had some sense of this in going to the Jewish leaders first, seeking an explanation for the inexplicable events they had seen. The Sanhedrin were given the tremendous news, just as it had been promised. The sign Jesus had promised them to show He was the Messiah.
Matt 12:39-40 But He answered and said to them, "An evil and adulterous generation craves for a sign; and yet no sign shall be given to it but the sign of Jonah the prophet; 40 for just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the sea monster, so shall the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.
Politics blinded each of these whom Jesus came and bled, died and rose from the grave for, from seeing the truth of what had happened. Motivated by self, the Sanhedrin used their significant influence to sway the guards. Blind men leading others, poking their eyes out along the way. The truth was buried under a stack of coins and promises.
It is not hard at all to see the parallels today in political arenas around the world and across the street. The motivation for self is the hardest thing to deny, and sometimes hardest to see. Even some of our very best acts which help others are motivated by selfishness. Realizing this is not easy, but it an important step in shedding the old man - the old human nature to be replaced by Jesus' nature in our hearts and minds.
Luke 9:23-25 And He was saying to them all, "If anyone wishes to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me. 24 "For whoever wishes to save his life shall lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake, he is the one who will save it. 25 "For what is a man profited if he gains the whole world, and loses or forfeits himself?
Lord Jesus - Help us to see that these men are not so different than we are. That it is only by Your grace in allowing us to see the need in our hearts and lives that we have submitted to You. Only in being willing to have our eyes opened and begin to see the depth of our sin have the changes in our hearts begun. Thank You for this and give us the grace and mercy to share it with those around us in word and deed. Amen.
Grace & Peace,
All verses are from the New American Standard Bible (NASB) unless otherwise noted.