Posted by: Johnold Strey | March 25, 2016

Sermon on Matthew 27:62-66

Lent Sermon Series: THE IRONIES OF THE PASSION

 Sermon Theme: “HE SAID, ‘I WILL RISE AGAIN’”

 Text: Matthew 27:62-66

 Introduction

Good Friday began with a trial before Pontius Pilate. A mob stood outside his palace, worked into a mob mentality by the Jewish religious leaders who convinced the mob to cry out for Jesus’ crucifixion. Pilate tried to give them every reason to calm the mob, but to no avail. He gave in and allowed Jesus to be crucified at the hands of his enemies, even though he was personally convinced that Jesus was innocent of any wrongdoing.

For several excruciating hours, Jesus hung on the cross. The physical pain of the cruelest form of capital punishment ever carried out was the easy part. The worst part was the eternal punishment that Jesus endured on behalf of and in the place of the entire world—we call that hell. Three eerie hours of darkness from noon to 3:00 p.m. reflected the unfathomable, that God forsook God as Jesus hung on the cross. But 3:00 p.m. arrived, and after enduring an eternity of punishment for the world, Jesus finally cried out, “It is finished!” and committed his soul to God as his body expired. Two previously private disciples come forward, now publicly, to give him a rushed but honorable burial on what can only be described as the most cataclysmic day in human history.

Exposition

Now what? What happens next is kind of strange. “The next day, the one after Preparation Day, the chief priests and the Pharisees went to Pilate. “Sir,” they said, “we remember that while he was still alive that deceiver said, ‘After three days I will rise again.’” On Friday, these religious leaders were leading a riot before Pilate’s palace. On Saturday, some of them stop by the palace to politely do business. On Friday, they wanted Jesus dead. On Saturday, they’re afraid that he will be alive again. 

But Jesus is dead and buried. His enemies should have no problems with him anymore, right? But suddenly they remember something. What they remember was probably what Jesus said to them in Matthew 12: “Some of the Pharisees and teachers of the law said to him, ‘Teacher, we want to see a miraculous sign from you.’ He answered, … ‘As Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.”

It almost seems like the chief priests and Pharisees who came before Pilate were trying to convince themselves that Jesus wasn’t going to rise in the midst of the faint sound of his prediction echoing in the back of their minds. The Pharisees did believe in the concept of the resurrection even though they didn’t want to believe that Jesus would rise. Just the way they spoke about Jesus, you could hear the distain. “While he was still alive that deceiver said, ‘After three days I will rise again.’” But they quoted his prediction of his resurrection! How ironic that they quote the very words that they didn’t want to believe and would unsuccessfully prevent from happening.

So here was the solution to their highly ironic fears. They said to Pilate, “Give the order for the tomb to be made secure until the third day. Otherwise, his disciples may come and steal the body and tell the people that he has been raised from the dead. This last deception will be worse than the first.” If they really didn’t have any doubts about their position, why do they need a guard at the tomb? Did they really think the disciples, who would spend the weekend behind locked doors in fear, would steal the body and successfully fake a resurrection? Was Jesus’ death somehow insufficient proof that he wasn’t going to bother them anymore? Were they thoroughly and completely convinced that he was not the Son of God? Perhaps there was a little part of them, a whisper deep within their conscience, that wondered if they were wrong. In any case, they didn’t want the so-called deception that Jesus was the Son of God to be complemented with another “deception” that he would be raised from the dead.

I suspect Pilate was a little annoyed on Saturday morning. How much trouble had this group caused him the day before? They worked up a mob into a frenzy that could have cost Pilate his job. So it seems that Pilate gave them as short of a response as he could to send them on their way. “‘Take a guard. …Go, make the tomb as secure as you know how.’ So they went and made the tomb secure by putting a seal on the stone and posting the guard.” They could have Roman soldiers standing guard at the tomb for those three days. They could have a seal placed on the tomb so that anyone who tried to role the stone away would leave evidence behind that the tomb had been tampered with. But all of this just led to further irony because the request of Jesus’ enemies put even witnesses of the risen Jesus at the tomb on Easter morning!

Application

Our sermons this Lenten season have focused on the ironic events of Jesus’ passion. And while there a few ironies in this short account, there is one that stands out the most: the Pharisees’ statement to Pilate, “We remember that while he was still alive that deceiver said, ‘After three days I will rise again.’” It seems like they are trying to push down and deny any thoughts that maybe this was really going to happen! All the data they had should have added up for them. They remembered Jesus’ statement that he was the Son of God. They heard all about his miracles from the masses. They remembered that he predicted his own resurrection. The Pharisees even believed in the resurrection of the body! If all the data added up so well, why would they fail to believe his words?

Is that a Pharisee problem? Is that just a problem in the ancient world—to push down and deny the truth of what Jesus had to say? Or is the ironic fear of the Pharisees one that hits closer to home than we would normally think?

Do any of these situations sound familiar? God promises in his Word to make all things work out for the good of his people. Meanwhile we think to ourselves that our life is an out of control mess that God doesn’t care about. God promises that he rules and reigns over all things from heaven above. Meanwhile we read the news and watch the latest polls and assume that this world is going to end before the next presidential election. We can name countless variations of the same problem—not taking the clear words of God to heart.

But maybe there is one variation of this that deserves our attention as we ponder the events of Good Friday. Does this sound familiar? Jesus said from the cross, “It is finished.” And we think to ourselves, “No it isn’t.” God’s Word says that you are saved by grace alone and through faith alone in the saving work of Jesus Christ. And we think to ourselves, “Yeah, but I’m a pretty good person too.” God’s Word says that he so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son to be our Savior. And we think to ourselves, “God loves the world, but there’s no way he loves me. There’s too much hidden in my closet.”

It’s not just Jesus’ ancient enemies that had a hard time swallowing what he had to say. Sometimes even good Lutherans who attend midweek Lent services have moments of either pride or despair that lead us to doubt the words Jesus speaks to us in his Word. Even people who know their Bible well still have a hard time applying the grace of God to themselves. Even people who can recite the Apostles’ Creed from memory have a hard time believing that those facts were all carried out on your behalf. Even those who know that St. Paul wrote that “There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” have a hard time not condemning themselves for their own faults and sins and failures.

If those doubts assail your conscience, then follow the soldiers to the cross as they guard and seal Jesus’ tomb. Keep vigil with them the whole weekend—except you won’t! Because the ironic fears of the Pharisees who remembered Jesus’ prediction of his resurrection became the remarkable reality on Sunday morning. And in that forthcoming resurrection, Jesus dispels all our doubts—doubts that he is in control of our lives, doubts that we aren’t good enough to be in his eternal family, doubts that he will forgive that one shameful sin of your past that you would rather forget, doubts that you are somehow not a part of the world for whom he died.

I like to say that you should always trust the guy who rose from the dead. It may sound humorous, but isn’t it true? Is there any reason for me to doubt that God forgives me if he raised his Son back to life on Easter? Is there any reason for me to doubt that God keeps his promises to me if he kept his promise that our Savior would die for us and rise again for us? Is there any reason for me to doubt that God is deeply concerned about my well-being even when times are tough, because in Jesus Christ he has secured my eternal well-being? Even as we rightfully mourn the gravity of our sins today and how my sins put my Savior on the cross, we have been every reason to dispel any doubts of God’s love for us, knowing that his Son would trade places with us on the cross so that we could take our place with God forever in heaven.

Perhaps it is ironic that even God’s children today could fall into a variation of the doubting sin of Jesus’ enemies so long ago. But today we rejoice that the ironic concerns of Jesus’ enemies ironically proclaimed the truth we believe. Christ has died! Christ is risen! And so we can look forward for Christ to come again! Amen.

Advertisements

Categories

%d bloggers like this: