“While they were going, behold, some of the guard went into the city and told the chief priests all that had taken place. And when they had assembled with the elders and taken counsel, they gave a sufficient sum of money to the soldiers and said, "Tell people, 'His disciples came by night and stole him away while we were asleep.' And if this comes to the governor's ears, we will satisfy him and keep you out of trouble."
(Matthew 28:11-14 ESV)
We know the significance of the resurrection for the disciples. We see that it was the focus of the message they proclaimed. As they carried out their calling, they wanted the people to know that Jesus had risen.
However, as I read the accounts of Holy Week and Easter in the Gospels this year, something else struck me. It’s clear that even Jesus’ enemies understood the significance of this event. And, for this reason, they tried to both prevent the perception that he’d risen and to keep it quiet once he had.
We see that, after his crucifixion, the chief priests and Pharisees gathered before Pontius Pilate. They came to him, requesting that a guard be placed at the tomb. They remembered Jesus’ statement, that he would rise on the third day. And they wanted to make sure that his body was not taken. They wanted to make sure that the message of Jesus’ resurrection could not be falsely proclaimed.
Yet, in spite of their efforts, Jesus did rise. And we see, in the above passage, their efforts to keep this truth from spreading. They paid off the soldiers who had guarded the tomb, instructing them to report a failure of duty. They were to tell people that they'd fallen asleep on the job, allowing the disciples to steal Jesus’ body.
By doing so, they would be confessing to a capital offense. A failure of duty, like this, was typically punished by death. And, for this reason, the chief priests and Pharisees also offered to pay off the governor if this report reached his ears.
More than anything, they didn’t want the people believing that Jesus had risen. They didn’t want them believing this because of what it meant. Jesus’ resurrection proved, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that he is the Savior, sent by God into the world. It proved, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that he is the fulfillment of Scripture. It proved, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that the penalty of sin had been paid and that eternal life was available through faith in him.
It seems crazy that they would want to deny this blessing to the people. It seems crazy that they would reject it for themselves. However, receiving Jesus as the Savior meant drastic changes.
It meant the end of a system that they had led for so long. It meant an end of their authority. It meant eating crow, and accepting Jesus as the Savior after they’d resisted him so adamantly.
Even as we celebrate Easter, we often fail to recognize the significance of the resurrection. We fail to recognize what it demonstrates. We fail to recognize that the resurrection proves Jesus to be the Christ, the Son of the living God. We fail to recognize that it proves him to be the resurrection and the life. We fail to recognize that, by the resurrection, it’s made clear that the penalty of sin has been paid and that the power of death has been broken.
Understanding this, may we carry the message of the resurrected Christ to the world around us. Like the disciples, may we proclaim this truth, perceiving its significance. May we proclaim to the world Jesus, who both died and rose again.