and instructed them: "You are to say, 'His disciples came by night and stole His body while we were asleep.'
I. THIS EXCUSE DECEIVED NOBODY.
1. It did not deceive the watchmen; they must have laughed as they looked into the anxious faces of these officials, and pocketed their hush money.
2. It did not deceive the priest party. They knew perfectly well that it was all their own invention, and never a disciple had touched the body.
3. It did not deceive Pilate, to whom the report was sure to come. He enjoyed the confusion of the men who had mastered him and compelled him to do a wrong.
4. It did not deceive the disciples. For they bad absolutely silent consciences, and the idea of stealing the body had never come to them.
5. It does not deceive us; for we can see that making such a lying excuse is just what the priest party was capable of; but stealing the body is just what the disciples were incapable of.
II. THIS EXCUSE DID NOT HELP THOSE WHO MADE IT. It did not touch the fact that the body was gone. It did not prevent the circulation of the report that Jesus was risen from the dead. These men spent their money for nothing, and only made themselves laughing stocks.
III. THIS EXCUSE DID HELP THOSE AGAINST WHOM IT WAS MADE. It drew attention to the disciples; it set men upon inquiring what had really happened; it made the fact of miraculous resurrection stand out all the more clearly. - R.T.
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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