Summary: Comparing the power of the Empire of Rome and her soldiers to the power of the Empire of Heaven and its soldiers.
We Were There - The Soldiers
Matthew 27: 45-54, 62-66; 28:1-15
CALVIN CHRISTIAN REFORMED CHURCH
It was a rather non-descript assignment. Certainly not one of the tougher ones they’d ever faced. The group on shift before them had a much trickier assignment - more action. They’d been the ones who maneuvered through the frenzied holiday crowd with three convicts; done the execution just outside of town.
But now there’s this assignment.
A grinding chore. Task: sit outside a tomb and make sure no one tries to break in. So a seal is placed on the tomb stone, declaring this piece of real estate to be Imperial property. Anyone caught breaking the seal would have their neck broken.... – death for tampering with the authority of the empire.
Even getting to the seal would be a real task. Any fool wanting to do so would have to get past the guards - Roman legionnaires who worked for Pontius Pilate, a man with a reputation for cruelty. People who got in his way often just disappeared. Not every prisoner made it to trial...... if you get my drift.
Those guards would be on duty, and wide awake. Some of you know that I worked for a time as a security guard during my student days. Most of that was night shift. Once, doing guard duty at a factory where a strike was in progress, I nodded off. Was woken up by the glare of the sergeant’s flashlight in my eyes. A smirk on his face. A rather embarrassed apology from me. And the incident was forgotten.
If any Roman soldier fell asleep on guard duty, things were not so easy.
The penalty was immediate execution.
Romans simply didn’t fall asleep.
Big, strapping guards.
What today we’d consider special forces material. Veterans of combat.
Conquerors - feared throughout the world.
Under personal orders from Pilate.
Put into position by request of the leading Jewish figures of the day.
Just for the weekend.
When the threat was over, they could leave.
It all seemed simple enough.
Flex the muscle of the Empire for a few days.
After all - they were the last word in town.
The pharisees and chief priests feel satisfied and check out for the weekend.
The soldiers of Rome settle in for what promises to be a real yawner.....
......And the soldiers of Heaven prepare to go to work.
So Sunday morning breaks.
With it comes a confrontation between ground troops from the Empire of Rome and the.... well, let’s call them the "airborne" troops from the Empire of Heaven.
Please understand that the confrontation which occurs has absolutely NO bearing on the status of Jesus.
He was long gone before these two war parties meet.
The confrontation between them is over the stone and the seal.
It is about claiming ownership of this piece of ground. Rome vs Heaven.
It is about keeping things closed and dark.
Or opening it up for all to see, and for light to stream in.
That’s the issue.
Gotta love that angel. If anyone doubts whether there is such a thing as heavenly humor they just need to consider this scene:
The last chases of darkness whisping away, mist rising over the garden, bored guards ready to be relieved, fed up, trying to think of new ways to pass the time
the seal is cracked, stone is moved
Well, these fellows had been all over the world.
Fought in Gaul. Chased Huns. Marched through North Africa.
No one had been able to stop them.
But this light.
And the figure in it.
They scramble to get away.
Quivering. Falling. Trying to get up. Collapsing.
Eventually recovering enough to hightale it out of that garden faster than a cat with a hound on its tail.
And the angel quietly settles back on the stone,
I can picture that heavenly being:
Hands folded. A hint of smile beginning to show. "Bye guys."
Oh, the mighty Roman Empire.
Oh, the ruthless ruler Pilate - who had said to Jesus, "Don’t you realize I have power either to free you or to crucify you?" and who had heard from the lips of the Son of God, "You would have no power over me if it were not given to you from above....."
Oh, you ever so confident soldiers.
Your seal has been broken. The turf you claimed as indisputably yours has just been claimed by another power, far higher than your own.
And you, Pharisees and Scribes - who so desperately wanted to contain religious sentiment and spiritual energy, coralling it in for yourselves..... your worst fears have been confirmed.
You can’t manage it, can you?