DUNCAN/The chief priests’ story

DUNCAN/The chief priests’ story


If you have your Bibles, I would invite you to turn with me to Matthew chapter 28 verses 11 – 15. As we approach this short passage, I want to focus your attention on three things. First of all, I want you to think about the irony of the chief priests’ deception. Secondly, I want to consider the issues with the concocted lie to explain the empty tomb. Lastly, we will consider the character of Christ in contrast to these lying men. 

I. The Irony of the Chief Priests’ Deception

Firstly, we see the ironies in the chief priest’s deception. God is vindicating His Son in this passage. Even in the face of the deception, He is continuing to consternate the enemies of the Lord Jesus in His sovereignty. While the overjoyed female disciples are making their way to find the male disciples of Jesus who were scattered hither, thither and yond in verse 11, we’re told that at the same time some of the guards who were at the tomb had regathered their wits and they were making their way, not to Pilate, but directly to the chief priests who were behind the plot. The interesting thing here is that Matthew has told us in verse 11 that the women are going to tell the truth while the soldiers are going to tell the account of what happened and then are going to be asked to spread a lie. And so we already see these interesting ironies in the passage.

At any rate, the religious leaders’ worst nightmare has now come to pass. Jesus is gone. Their immediate response is not to admit that they had been wrong in their attitudes towards Him, not to admit that He was right in telling them that He would be raised from the dead, but in fact to devise a scheme to cover up the truth. The chief priests, we are told in verse 12, paid the guards a very large sum of money to lie, to concoct a false story about the events surrounding the resurrection. This is important because Matthew is showing you that unbelief of the truth of God is not the product of a lack of evidence for that truth. It is a product of a heart that will not see what is plain as the nose is on your face. And Matthew’s point is there’s something perverse about unbelief. 

The reason people reject the resurrection is not only because of their inherent inveterate rejection of the supernatural, it is because of a moral rebellion against God. The truth is easy to see. It’s hard to reject, but there are a lot of people that are willing to work very hard to reject it. The believer doesn’t have to work so hard. In this passage, God in His wisdom and sovereignty has destroyed even the schemes of His Son’s enemies to glorify His Son.

II. The Problematic Story

Now needless to say, the false story that the disciples stole the body while the guards were sleeping is extremely problematic. Matthew, by recounting for us this story that had been circulated is actually showing us the ridiculousness of the denial of the resurrection. There are at least three problems with that false story, and I just want to raise them with you very briefly. 

First of all, is it likely that Jesus’ disciples, who had abandoned Him upon His arrest, would come back and risk their lives in order to steal His dead body? Taking a body was a capital offense. Is it likely that the same disciples who had abandoned Him at His rest, would now come back to steal His body when they themselves by their own admission were not expecting His resurrection? 

Secondly, could they have really accomplished that kind of a task without disturbing the guards’ sleep? Let’s just assume for the sake of the argument that the guards were asleep. Could the disciples really have made their way to Joseph’s tomb, rolled away a heavy bolt, made their way into the tomb, removed a body, neatly placed the grave clothes back in place undisturbed and spirited a corpse away without any of the twelve temple guards waking up? If so, these were the soundest sleeping guards in history.

Thirdly, is it likely that all of the guards would have fallen asleep? Can you imagine this story being told, “Well, we fell asleep.” All of them fell asleep? All twelve of them fell asleep at the tomb? This is an act which could have yielded the death penalty for them. This is, to say the least, an unlikely story.

Now it’s interesting that Justin Martyr, a century later, in his dialogue with Trifo the Jew can say that the Jewish people still believe that same particular rumor. Now you see in God’s wisdom and sovereignty He has deployed even the schemes, even the story of the Sanhedrin in order to confirm and vindicate His Son. The story itself that they concocted is so full of holes that it actually begins to vindicate and confirm the truth of the Son’s resurrection. And so Matthew is showing his audience the ridiculousness of this particular rumor and he is holding it up before them to expose their unbelief and to draw them into a saving relationship with Jesus Christ.

III. The Character of Christ

Matthew is also doing something else with this story. He is highlighting the character of the Jewish religious leaders and contrasting it with Jesus Christ. In this passage we have the last commission given by the Jewish religious leaders of Jesus’ day recorded in the gospel of Matthew. And you know what that commission is? “You go and teach that Jesus’ body was stolen, and we’ll pay you well for it.” Do you see the two parts of the commission? “Go ye therefore and lie and we’ll pay you well for it.” You know what’s coming next in Matthew 28? Jesus’ great commission. And what is His great commission? “You go therefore and you teach this: You teach the truth of the gospel. You teach the ends of the earth, and you teach it not for money. In fact, you risk your whole lives to do it. But you do it because all authority has been given to Me, and because I will be with you always.” 

Do you see the contrast that Matthew lines up? We have the religious leaders of Israel saying, “Go ye therefore and lie, and we’ll pay you well for it.” And you have Jesus saying, “Go and tell the truth for My sake and be ready to lay down your life for it.” What a contrast between the character of Jesus and His disciples and the Jewish religious leaders and these guards. All of this shows that Jesus is trustworthy. We can trust Him with everything. And so place your faith in Him and His resurrection. 

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