While the women were on their way, some of the guards went into the city and reported to the chief priests all that had happened.
I. THE WATCH WERE MOVED.
1. They were alarmed for their lives.
(1) By "the things that were come to pass." They had felt the shock of a "great earthquake." The stoutest heart will shake in the presence of a force that moves the foundations of the earth. To this terror was added the appearance of the angel whose form shone like lightning, while his raiment glittered as the snow. The effect was paralyzing. "For fear of him the watchers did quake, and became as dead men" Who can abide amidst the wonderful visions and tremendous elemental uproar of that great day of the Lord, when in the glory of his majesty he shall arise to shake terribly the earth?
(2) By the fear of military discipline. They were responsible with their lives for the safe custody of the body of Jesus, and the security of the sealed stone. But the stone has been rolled away and the sepulchre is vacant. What are they to do? The ways of God are perplexing to the sinner.
(3) The soldiers tremble for their lives when they should have trembled for their sins. The death of the sinful is of all deaths the most terrible. Unhappily, this is too seldom and too partially seen.
2. They acted with the wisdom of the world.
(1) We have no proof that they deserted their post. Some of them went into the city to report to the elders the things that had come to pass. This probably they did by order of their captain, while the rest waited to receive their official discharge. The steady discipline of the Roman soldier has its lessons for the Christian soldier.
(2) They entered into the wicked plot of the elders. Covetousness conquered the Roman soldier. What a mass of evidence did he consent to set aside for a bribe! The mercenary tongue will sell the truth for money. Fear may have wrought with their covetousness. They might doubt whether the governor would believe the truth, or whether the rulers might not set up another plot against their fidelity. They elected to take the money and trust to the promise of the rulers to secure them against the terror of the military discipline.
(3) What a glorious opportunity did the soldiers miss of becoming honourable witnesses for Christ! But God made them his witnesses in spite of their unworthiness. He can make men efficient preachers of his gospel without giving to them a particle of the preacher's honour or reward.
II. THE ELDERS WERE MOVED.
1. The hypocrite is alarmed for his credit.
(1) The murderer would appear a saint. To free themselves of the guilt of the murder of Christ, the rulers had accused him of being a "deceiver" (see Matthew 27:63). But his resurrection from the dead is a triumphant refutation of that wicked defence.
(2) What will the elders do now that blood guiltiness is brought home to them? Will they, even at the eleventh hour, confess their hypocrisy and sue for mercy for their aggravated sin? Or will they at the peril of their damnation defend their credit and persist in their hypocrisy? How solemn are the resolutions of the will!
(3) They elect to persist in their impenitence. What a melancholy example of the power of unbelief! It often pleads want of evidence. Here is an instance of determined unbelief against admitted evidence. An evil, churlish heart will repel the clearest evidence. Note: The waywardness of unbelief prevents the Saviour from rising in our hearts.
2. But he vainly seeks to preserve it.
(1) His efforts may be desperately impudent. The elders deliberately resolved to oppose a lie to the living Truth. They give "large money" to the soldiers to encourage them to publish the lie. How deeply did they sin in thus casting a stumbling block in the way of the soldiers! They teach them to lie speciously. "By night," etc. But the war is toilsome which falsehood has to wage with truth. "If," etc. (ver. 14). Note: The "large money" is the sequel of the small money paid to Iscariot. Iniquity begets iniquity, and the descents are with an aggravating speed (see Psalm 69:27). If the wicked give "large money" to promote a lie, the good should not give small money grudgingly to propagate the saving truth.
(2) His confusion will be all the more signal.
(a) The disciples were not likely to attempt the stealing of the body. For had they thought Christ a deceiver, they would not have run any risk for him. Had they believed him the Messiah, they could have had no occasion or inducement. The pilgrimage of the women was one of devotion, to weep over the dead, and pour some fresh ointment over One whom they desired to preserve, but dreamt not of being able to restore. They were perplexed as to who should roll away the stone, being ignorant both of its being sealed and of the watch being set over it. They were not likely to be in any plot for the stealing of his body to trump up a story of his resurrection.
(b) The soldiers were not likely to have allowed the removal of the body. A watch of sixty armed men could not have been overpowered by a few terrified disciples. The whole watch could not have been asleep, and asleep so soundly as not to be awakened by the rolling away of a stone so large that a company of women despaired of moving it, and by the entrance into the sepulchre of a number of men, and their subsequent exit from it bearing the body. This is all the less likely to have occurred when it is remembered that, according to Roman military law, it was instant death that a guard should be found off their watch. And they were asleep, how did they know what happened?
(c) The elders pain fully felt the clumsiness of their story, else why did they not search the lodgings of the disciples for the body said to have been stolen by them? Were they likely to have been careful for the safety of the Roman soldiers unless they had some reason for it? Do not the words of Gamaliel (see Acts 5:38, 39) assume that the resurrection might be true? Could this argument have been pleaded in the council had the senators continued to maintain their story?
III. THE DISCIPLES WERE MOVED.
1. What is sorrow go the wicked is often joy to the good.
(1) While the soldiers went to the elders with the news of the Resurrection, to fill their faces with shame, the women went to the disciples with the same news, to fill their hearts with gladness. They were commissioned to gather the disciples to a particular mountain in Galilee, there to meet their risen Lord. The "names" in Jerusalem were "a hundred and twenty;" in Galilee the number was greater. This was probably the occasion upon which the Lord appeared to "above five hundred brethren" (see 1 Corinthians 15:6). Matthew passes by at least five different appearances of our Lord, and proceeds to speak of one which seems, from its previous appointment, to have been an occasion of peculiar solemnity and importance. His object evidently was to refute the tale respecting the stealing of the body.
(2) The fact of the Resurrection is eminently joyful, as it settles forever the Messiahship of Jesus, and with it the absolute truth of his teaching and the trustworthiness of his glorious promises.
2. Holy joy is deepened with the assurance of faith.
(1) When the disciples saw Jesus they worshipped him. Here was a recognition of his Divinity (cf. Matthew 18:26; Acts 10:28; Revelation 5; Revelation 6; Revelation 19:10). By accepting their worship Jesus acknowledged himself to be God. Christian worship is the adoration of Christ as "the true God and Eternal Life" (see 1 John 5:20, 21). To worship in truth is to serve in love.
(2) "Some doubted" They doubted that we may believe. For the disciples were the reverse of credulous men. They doubted transiently, viz. while Jesus was yet at a distance; but when he "came to them, and spake unto them," they doubted no more (cf. per. 18; Luke 24:37; John 20:24). Doubts may transiently trouble the sincere worshipper, but in due time Jesus will come nearer and blessedly manifest himself (see John 16:21). The wickedly obstinate will not believe, though they see (see John 9:41). - J.A.M.
Say ye, His disciples came by night, and stole Him away.I. Let us begin with an EXACT UNDERSTANDING of the whole story at once.
II. Coolly and dispassionately it becomes us to WEIGH THE TALE, therefore, on its merits.
1. In the very outset the antecedent improbability of particulars crushes it. How came a trained watch all to sleep?
2. The immediate followers of Jesus had no motive to steal the body of their Lord.
3. They had no concerted plan to do any such thing.
4. The Jews never told this tale in any judicial audience or court, so that it could be subject to cross-examination. Stealing was a capital crime, yet none of the disciples were ever arrested.
5. There was awful risk to the soldiers if this story was true. Death was the penalty of a Roman sentinel asleep at his post.
6. The inherent impossibility of the act itself.
7. Then what could have been done with the body after the disciples had got it in possession? The resurrection of Jesus is more than a fact; it is a doctrine; and takes all the other Christian doctrines in its train.
(C. S. Robinson, D. D.)
I. Then we must bolt out the confederates.
II. The way of confederacy is by putting a forged tale in the soldiers' mouths.
III. The plot is collaterally against the disciples for being breakers-up of graves and robbers of the dead.
IV. The main intended contrivance was to discredit the true doctrine of our Saviour's resurrection.
V. Handle the improbability of all, of what contradictions the plot consists, never to be pieced together.
I. It is very unlikely that a guard of Roman soldiers should sleep upon duty.
II. The absurdity of this report is manifest from itself, for men cannot say what is done when they are asleep.
III. If the guard of soldiers had fallen asleep as they were watching at the sepulchre, they must have awaked if any attempt had been made to steal the body.
IV. The remaining of the burial clothes affords proof that the body was not removed by friends or other men. Whoever came upon such a design would have been in a hurry, and would have executed their design with all possible expedition, whereas here are marks of leisure and composure.
V. It is not conceivable that the stealing away, or the clandestine removal, of the body of Jesus could answer any purpose whatever; therefore it was not thought of nor attempted by any.
VI. There does not appear anywhere in this history any intimation of the disciples expecting the resurrection of Jesus; therefore they did not contrive any account of His being risen, nor had they beforehand any thought of it till they had more than sufficient evidence of that event.
VII. This saying of the guard must have been false, forasmuch as no punishment was inflicted on any for taking away the body.
VIII. It remains, therefore, that the testimony of the disciples of Jesus concerning the resurrection is true and credible.
I. Looking at the heads of the Church and the heads of the people, it might be concluded that from such a source nothing could flow that was not consistent with religion and "honour." Wherever a lack of principle and high-toned feeling might be found, it would assuredly not be found in the reverend fathers who were the ornaments of that Church which dated back to the days of the patriarchs and prophets. The "elders," too. These were the "princes" of the people and the heads of family associations. Their rank, their education, their hereditary civil privileges and consequent authority, their judicial relations to the people — all these circumstances were of a kind to justify the expectation that their words and their deeds would be not only wise and constitutional, but also free from all injustice, narrowness, meanness, low cunning, corruption, and heartlesshess. Where among the Jewish laity were pure principles, lofty aims, commanding virtue, strict integrity, general greatness of character to be looked for if net in these the aristocracy of the nation?
II. These distinguished men took steps, which legally were allowed, to gain one greatly-desired object of their lives, namely, the death of Christ. How much nefariousness was employed by them in arranging and completing their murderous scheme so as to bring it within constitutional limits it is not our design at present to inquire. All the help that was possible by law they secured. The governor by courtesy gave them permission to use a guard of soldiers to further their plans. The captive Lord, doubly captive for a time, rose from the dead. The military watchers told "the things" which had come to pass to the " sacred" and "noble" men under whose brief authority they acted. Supposing these had doubted the truth of the affirmations made by the soldiers, what, in that case, was the course suggested by their doubts? It was clearly that of inquiry-patient, careful, fair inquiry. Try the temper of the man. Ask him if it be true, as some say it is, that not many days since he sat down to meat with unwashen hands? What an active volcano of sacerdotal indignation I Did you think there were beneath that dignified and quiet exterior such force and fire as this half-implied imputation against his ceremonial goodness has stirred into activity? Is it not a mystery that this saintly-mannered man should be one of those who, having "taken counsel," advised that "large money" should be given to the soldiers to declare deliberately a thing to be true which both he and they knew to be entirely false! Yet he did all this, and did it without an apparent hesitancy or even the smallest sign of compunction or self-reproach. "Say ye, His disciples came by night and stole Him away while we slept."
III. Then as to the agents paid to commit the sin. There was, it must be allowed, a very great conventional and accidental disparity between the parties. These soldiers were, most probably, of the "lowest order." They were uneducated. The military life had not helped to improve in them either mind, heart, or manners. Add to these things the facts that they were nationally Gentiles and religiously pagan. Were they, however, on these accounts to be used as mere matter — tools to be handled without a thought about their consciences or their moral responsibilities? Might they be used as landlords sometimes use tenantry? or as manufacturers use their "hands?" or as some among the "upper classes " use their dependent tradespeople and menials? Was it right to treat them as having neither part nor lot in the interests of truth and goodness? The Jews had been taught that God was "mindful" of "man." The high priests and elders in Jerusalem knew no man had a right to "sell" the truth, whatever his condition in life, his nationality, or his degree of knowledge. It is not to be much wondered at that the soldiers "took the money and did as they were taught." Was not the cause of condemnation unspeakably greater in the bribers than in the bribed? We are verging upon days which will be trying days to the followers of Christ. They will be intensely exciting days, and, as such, likely to throw mind and conscience off the even balance. Can it by any casuistry be shown that to use station, money, learning, or other power at command, for the purpose of inducing a man to do or to say what is contrary to his belief is an act of "righteousness," and that it will help to exalt a nation? Let us show that we are prepared to encourage political conviction, and even to aid those around us to become fully persuaded in their own minds that we honour men not because they think as we think, but because they fairly and at some cost of time, effort, feeling, try to learn what is true, and have the disposition and the will to do what they believe to be right. Such a spirit and such a bearing on our part will help to make the nation "righteous," will also aid in healthfully drawing class nearer to class, and will greatly assist in counteracting and in hastening the expulsion of the diabolical spirit, which in every age, under varying conditions, has made its appearance — the spirit which bargains that for so much money there shall be so much lying.
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