Summary: How is it that the guards at the tomb had first hand experience of the power of the resurrection, and yet, they chose not to believe?
I was amused by a cartoon of two Roman soldiers guarding Jesus’ tomb on the first Easter morning. Each is holding a mug of tea in his hand, and the sun is just rising above the horizon. One is encouraging the other. "Cheer up, it’s Sunday morning. As I see it, we have one more day of guarding the tomb. By Monday the whole thing will blow over."
Perhaps these were the last words spoken before what we have reported in Matthew 28:2-4.
"Suddenly there was a great earthquake, because an angel of the Lord came down from heaven and rolled aside the stone and sat on it. His face shone like lightning, and his clothing was a white as snow. The guards shook with fear when they saw him, and they fell into a dead faint." (NLT)
I have occasionally wondered what the guards said to each other after they regained consciousness.
"Hey Claudius-do you believe in aliens now? Just how far are we from Roswell?"
Or "Oh man, can you imagine how much the National Enquirer will give us for this scoop?"
"Captain, did you notice that you’re lying in a puddle? I don’t remember any rain."
Although Matthew tells us about the guards - (the other gospel writers do not) - he doesn’t really tell us a whole lot about them - no names - no numbers. Although he does say in verses 12-13 that they accepted a bribe to spread the rumor that Jesus’ disciples came during the night and stole his body.
Frankly, the whole thing strikes me as rather peculiar - not just that they’d put their careers in jeopardy by lying and saying that they allowed a bunch of wimpy Jewish fishermen to steal a body - but that they had this experience. They were there when the earth shook. They saw the stone roll. They saw the beaming opalescent angel. And they were so shook that they swooned.
They were witnesses of the resurrection. And yet they chose to NOT believe - to NOT let it affect their lives. They could have become the chief spokesmen for the gospel! Instead they took a bribe to deny the very thing they’d seen - as awesome as the whole event was. That doesn’t make good sense.
Some people say, "Seeing is believing. Give me some undeniable proof that all this God stuff is real and relevant." Or "How come all of these stories happen way back when and none of this ever happens to me? Let me see with my own eyes and I’ll believe."
But the soldiers make me wonder if there is not more to it than simply seeing and experiencing.
The current issue of the Focus on the Family magazine has an interview with cartoonist Johnny Hart who draws BC. And they reprinted one of his cartoons. The caveman is on his knees praying and he says "It’s not easy to believe in you, God. We never see you. How come you never show yourself?"
Then in the next frame he asks: "How do we know you exist?" - just as a volcano blows up in the background, a daisy sprouts from the ground and topples a rock, a wave washes over him, two meteors converge in the sky to form the image of a cross.
Finally the drenched caveman stands up and says: "Okay, Okay...I give up!" And as he walks by a burning bush and an empty tomb, he mutters, "Every time I bring up this subject all we get is interruptions."
How is it that some people see and others do not? How is it that some people with little personal evidence are quick to turn their lives over to Christ and others with a tremendous first hand experience of God’s power turn on him? Judas the betrayer is another example.
Now, of course, there were the two Mary’s who came to grieve and pay their respects to Jesus. They saw the angel, too. And they were afraid. Remember verse 3; the angel takes a look at the two Marys and sees how white they’ve become. The first thing he says to them is "Don’t be afraid."
And you know the rest of the story. The angel says, "Hey, I know you’re looking for Jesus who was crucified, right? Well, he’s not here. Have a look-see in the tomb. His body was over there. But he’s gone because he’s been raised from the dead-just like he said he’d be. Go tell the other disciples and he’ll meet you all in Galilee."
Verse 8 says The women ran quickly from the tomb. They were very frightened but also filled with great joy-and they rushed to find the disciples to give them the angel’s message.
The women are filled with joy and they run off to become witnesses of the resurrection to the disciples.