“What Do We Do?”

Matthew 27:50-66

We are reading through the Gospel according to Matthew and we are at the point where Jesus was executed. This story has changed the course of human history over the past two thousand years. The story itself is significant but so are the implications of what an event like this means in the history of our universe. 

We ended last week and Jesus had yielded His spirit. Most victims of crucifixion spend their last hours in complete exhaustion and unconsciousness. Although tortured and weakened, Jesus was able to speak right up to the moment of His death. 

There were some immediate results to Jesus’ death. 

> The veil of the temple was torn in two.

The veil in the temple was what separated the holy place from the most holy place in the temple. When Jesus gave us His spirit the veil was separated from top to bottom. It was God who did the tearing. I am not sure why every priest wouldn’t have gasped and wondered what had happened at this point. The veil separated the place where humans could actually be in God’s presence. Once a year, during Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, actually next Sunday this year, only one priest entered the Holy of Holies and offered a sacrifice for all of the Jews. They actually tied a rope around his ankle so if by chance he was not accepted and died inside, they could drag the body out without having to enter unclean. 

> Another immediate result was the earth quaked and the rocks were split. Nature itself was shaken by the death of the Son of God. Humans did not respond to the agonizing death of the Redeemer, but the rocks did. Christ didn’t die for rocks, He died for humans. Yet the rocks were more tender than the hearts of humans, at least some humans. 

The earthquake freaks out those ordered to guard Jesus. A hardened Roman centurion confessed this had to be the Son of God. 

How do we know this? Because many women who followed Jesus from Galilee, who had ministered to Him, were there looking from afar and told the disciples. You see these women have been with Jesus since Galilee and they have stayed with Him through it all. 

We read that Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Joseph, and the mother of the sons of Zebedee  were among a larger group of women who were there. These women were actually disciples of Jesus. They had been part of His group and had actually been the ones who had been funding the group and taking care of Jesus’ needs. 

Notice who wasn’t there? 

The male disciples of Jesus. 

When did they leave the scene? 

As far as we know all the men left at the Garden when Jesus was arrested, except for Peter, who followed, outside the gate of Jesus’ interrogation until the cock crowed three times, and then he fled as well. 

You could read through the gospel of Matthew up to this point and never realize that the group of Jesus’ disciples was actually coed. Not only that, a certain circle of women had a lot of cash and had been funding the movement. And they turn out to be the faithful ones. It is because of their eye witness testimony that we have these stories. 

It’s important to realize that this was not the first crucifixion they had seen and it would not be the last. Jesus’ death was unique but the way in which He died was not unique. The way He died, by crucifixion, had been done to thousands Jews before Him and thousands Jews after Him. Forty years after the death of Jesus, historians write that five hundred Jews were being crucified a day as the city of Jerusalem was being burned. 

So the scene we have at this point is these faithful women were watching Jesus die the same fateful death thousands of Jewish people had died as criminals throughout their whole life. This was an incident that demonstrated to them how the world is. That the powers at be could define how the world is, whether right or wrong, and people like Jesus simply got crushed by the human machine. Jesus actually participates in the suffering and oppression of his people. 

Stop, think for a minute, 

What do you suppose was going through the minds of these women? 

They had been following Jesus because He brought a message of hope, which they believed. However, at this point and time, for all extensive purposes, it certainly looked like the powers at be, were still in control. 

Then we read that a rich man, Joseph of Arimathea, who had also become a disciple of Jesus, went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus so that he may give it a proper burial. Most crucified bodies were left on the cross until the birds had eaten all the flesh. Then the bones were thrown into a pile.

Think about it. 

This was definitely a risky step. For a rich man in Jerusalem to connect himself with Jesus was not easy. According to Jesus’ own teachings it was easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to follow Jesus. I guess camels actually do go through the eyes of needles. Or was it because he was wealthy and prominent and he knew someone who knew someone and was able to make a deal. 

Regardless, he not only provided Jesus with a proper burial, he provided Him with a tomb that no one had used. 

Jesus came into the world from a virgin’s womb and came forth from a virgin tomb. 

Significantly this meant there was no confusion of who came out of the tomb as Jesus was the only person ever to be placed in it. Joseph of Arimathea then had a large stone placed before the entrance of the tomb. This would have been a customary way to seal an expensive tomb. There would have been a small entrance with one or more compartments where bodies were laid out after being somewhat mummified with spices, ointments and linen strips. The bodies would have been left to decompose leaving only the bones. This would have taken a few years. 

Then the bones were placed in a small stone box known as an ossuary. The ossuary would remain in the tomb with others from the family. 

The door was actually a heavy circular shaped stone, running in a groove and settled down in front of the door. It could only be moved by several strong men. Tombs like this were extremely expensive. Joseph of Arimathea made quite the sacrifice. But then again, Jesus only used it for a few days.  

I guess Pilate hadn’t “washed his hands of the ordeal.” At the same time the Pharisees and chief priests gather again before Pilate with another scheme. So much for obeying Sabbath rules. 

They must have believed that Jesus was dead, for they said, verse 63, 

 “We remember that while he was still alive that deceiver said, ‘After three days I will rise again.’

Notice how quickly they remembered what Jesus had said about rising after three days. The disciples don’t seem to recall this statement. We don’t see neither hide nor hair of them. But the religious leaders don’t want to leave any stone unturned. They request that the Roman leader put his seal on the tomb, assuring the disciples don’t go in and steal the body and claim Jesus has risen. Which by the way, the religious leaders use as their explanation in the end, not the disciples. Plus, the disciples have not been seen since the Garden arrest. 

Were they really a threat? 

No, the religious leaders were afraid of Jesus. 

You can almost see Pilate waving his hand in exasperation, verse 65,

“Take a guard,” Pilate answered. “Go, make the tomb as secure as you know how.” 

The very thing the religious leaders want gives greater testimony to the miracle of the resurrection. Think about it. If Jesus’ tomb had been unguarded, one could suggest that His body had been stolen, which would have been difficult to refute. Yet, because the tomb was sealed and well guarded we can be certain that His body wasn’t stolen. 

Humans do their best to stop Jesus from rising from the dead. 

They used a stone as a material obstacle. It was certain that the stone could not be rolled away from the inside. As if Jesus was in any shape or form to do so in the first place. The disciples could have rolled it away had there been enough of them, but it wouldn’t have been done so quietly. Besides, they were in hiding. 

The Roman guard secured the tomb with a seal, an obstacle of human authority. 

The seal was a rope, overlapping the width of the stone covering the entrance. The ends of the rope were secured to the cave on both sides with a glob of wax. The guards were there to witness the sealing being done. It was their responsibility to guard whatever was being sealed. This was serious business. The guards careers and perhaps their lives were on the line. It was also serious business because a Roman seal had legal authority. If you broke the seal it was like breaking a law of the Roman Empire. 

They also tried to stop Jesus by using human strength. 

Four Roman soldiers stood guard. Two watched while two rested. This guard would have been fully prepared with sword, shield, spear, dagger, armor. These were also Roman soldiers who did not care one iota about Jesus or Jewish laws or rituals. They worked for Rome and their job was to keep the tomb of a criminal secure. The only sacred thing in their minds was the Roman seal, because if it was broken they may lose not only their jobs, but their lives. Think about it. If they were cold-blooded enough to gamble over a dying man’s clothes they were not going to be tricked by confused disciples or jeopardize their jobs and lives by falling asleep. 

It’s over. 

Yet, while this is happening, who was watching? 

A group of women. 

Let’s think for just a moment what it would have been like for one of these Marys. You have been following Jesus for the past few years. You left everything and went on the road with Him. We know from the Gospel According to Luke that Jesus had healed Mary Magdalene from evil spirits. This group of women have been around Jesus and seen Him heal others. They have been transformed by His teachings. They have experienced His grace and mercy first hand. Jesus had this compelling vision of the world that had drawn them to Him. Jesus had claimed He was God’s Son and He was bringing God’s Kingdom to earth. He would invite anyone who was willing to join His family of disciples, especially those who had never been included in any family or religious groups before. They would celebrate together the Kingdom of God and they would celebrate the healing power and love of the Father. Jesus had taught them that God cared about the sparrows how much more they were worth. Jesus had led them to believe the world could be a safe place because of the Father’s love. They were just learning how to love their enemies. Jesus was beautiful, amazing and so compelling.  

Now this.  

“What do we do?” 

How did Jesus get crushed by the Roman Empire?  

Wasn’t God’s Kingdom stronger? 

It looks like Jesus is not that different from the thousands of Jews who had been crucified before Him or the thousand of Jews who will be crucified after Him. 

Their hopes of the world being like a place that Jesus had talked about were smashed. He could save others, but apparently, He couldn’t save Himself. 

Consider what these women have experienced on this day. They watched Jesus be crucified. They watched Him being buried, just like they had buried many of their own family members before. Then to top it all off, the powers to be do their best to make sure the Jesus movement they have been a part of gets erased from history, once and for all. 

These women were sitting there, perhaps in tears, thinking, yep, this is how the world is. It was nice to dream that the world could be different. Jesus helped foster that dream for a while, but now we are brought back to reality. What were we thinking? We live in a world where might makes right. Humans define good and evil the way they want to for themselves. Humans behave worse than animals because at least animals don’t crucify each other. 

Animals don’t devise ways to maximize pain and shame and torture each other the way we kill each other. That’s the kind of world that we live in. 

Many of us in this room have gone through excruciating loss and pain in our lives. And when we do, we are reminded that we are participating in what the majority of human history has been like. That is how our world is.

So whatever Christianity is, it is not a pipe dream or pie in the sky. Our Christian story looks right in the face of tragic evil that our world knows and participates in it. Jesus has just died the death of a criminal as an innocent man. What are these women supposed to think? 

Are they supposed to go home and learn how to cope? 

That’s often what many of us do. 

We have a vision of how the world is, our life experience teaches us how the world is. 

We get hurt, hard, 

we have a lot of pain and loss 

so you just find a way to cope. 

Pick up your boot straps and learn to cope. 

For many people that is what it means to be a human. 

But for disciples of Jesus, we are called to do something crazy. We are called to believe that that vision of the world is not the real world. It really happens but it is not the most true thing about the world. It is certainly not where the world is heading. We believe there is more to this life than just living and dying. That is what the cross is all about.  

This week we leave the story with the women watching across from the sealed tomb, in despair. 

But we know how the story ends. We will read that next week. In the meantime, whatever you do, don’t just cope. Believe what Jesus said after John the Baptist had been put in prison, back in chapter 4, 

“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”

It’s not here completely, but there are glimpses of it everywhere. 

Keep your eyes open and listen. 

Let’s pray.