Soldiers, perhaps the same squad that performed the gruesome crucifixion, were scattered in front of the tomb.
One by one the sixteen soldiers of the Roman guard stirred from the deep sleep that had taken each of them. They groaned and stretched as if they were waking from an all-night drunk. But it was still the middle of the night. The full moon floated serenely overhead and the night sounds common to a garden graveyard could still be heard. Each soldier also jerked awake when he remembered what had happened just before this heavy sleep had struck the down. Shakily each one stood to his feet, looked for his sword and shield, and reconnoitered the tomb site.
The huge stone that took all sixteen of them plus a lever and fulcrum to roll into place was back where they found it. The sight of this sparked the memory of the tall soldier in white who had easily manipulated the stone. They were glad he was gone. The soldiers exchanged apprehensive looks. The tomb was standing open, a dark cavern holding unknown terrors. The officer knew it was up to him. He could command any of the guard to look inside and he would do it. But he was a Roman officer and he was honor-bound. He knew they were in deep trouble if the body was gone. And he knew that the open tomb could really mean nothing else. He would have to answer to his many superiors, so it was he who must investigate.
He signaled for a torch, ordering a soldier to thrust it into the darkness of the tomb’s mouth to illuminate what was inside. The officer tightened his grip on the sword in his right hand and the shield in his left and looked into the tomb. He could see that the body was gone. He commanded the soldier with the torch to move it around so he could see everywhere inside. He could see no one hiding in ambush. He exchanged his sword for the torch and entered the Tomb.
The stone slab where the body was supposed to be contained only the linen wrappings of the body. Why would thieves do this? Wouldn’t they need the protection of the anointed grave clothes when they carried the body away? And, another wonder, it was all so neat. The linens were not torn or disturbed in any way and the head clothes were folded neatly as if they were meant to be some sort of mute witness. But, witness to what? A robbery under the noses of sixteen Roman soldiers? None of this made any sense.
What to do?
Finally, the squad of defeated warriors could relax and try to determine what they should do next. When their superiors found out about this either their lives or their careers were in jeopardy. The youngest of them knew what he should do. With his eyes on his commander, he back away into the darkness and at a safe distance turned and ran into the night. A good idea has many companions. The others followed in quick succession until finally the officer stood alone holding the torch, its limited light offering little illumination to his dilemma. Slowly he picked up the scattered implements of battle and trudged out of the darkness of the night into a future even darker.
Report to the Leaders
Later some of the soldiers took the only action that made sense; they went to the Jewish leaders and told them all they had seen. To their amazement, the leaders looked more alarmed than the soldiers had been! Quickly they produced cash and a promise.
“Don’t tell anyone the truth; lie and say His disciples stole the body while you slept.”
“But there were sixteen of us!”
“No problem! Money is no object–Here’s more. Tell all your companions that if Pilate gives them any trouble, we will cover for you. This means more to us than it does to Rome.” The soldiers went away, richer for the experience.
Thus the conspiracy began that continues to this day:
“Suppress the truth about Jesus. Lie, murder, slander, persecute believers, do what must be done to keep the truth about Jesus sealed in a tomb. If the truth gets out, it will set people free.”
Matthew 27:62-66 NIV
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.’ So 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.” “Take a guard,” Pilate answered. “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.
Matthew 28:11-15 NKJV
… some of the guard came into the city and reported to the chief priests all the things that had happened. When they had assembled with the elders and consulted together, they gave a large sum of money to the soldiers, saying, “Tell them, ‘His disciples came at night and stole Him away while we slept.’ And if this comes to the governor’s ears, we will appease him and make you secure. “So they took the money and did as they were instructed; and this saying is commonly reported among the Jews until this day.
Indeed Herod and Pontius Pilate met together with the Gentiles and the people of Israel in this city to conspire against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed.
Lord Jesus, let me always contemplate the cross through the opening of the empty tomb. The Bible says Your death was “once and for all”—a never to be repeated event. There is no need to repeat it. Unlike the innumerable lambs sacrificed under the Old Covenant, You, Lord, are the Lamb of God, taking away the sins of the world. However, Your victory over death is repeatable—each of us can share in Your new life! Help me walk in resurrection power today, countering the lies people tell about You. Help me live and tell the truth. As the ancient Christian confession proclaims, “Christ has died. Christ his risen. Christ will come again!” “Even so, Come, Lord Jesus! Amen.
Words and Music: Robert Lowry
1. Low in the grave he lay, Jesus my Savior,
waiting the coming day, Jesus my Lord!
Up from the grave he arose;
with a mighty triumph o’er his foes;
he arose a victor from the dark domain,
and he lives forever, with his saints to reign.
He arose! He arose! Hallelujah! Christ arose!
2. Vainly they watch his bed, Jesus my Savior,
vainly they seal the dead, Jesus my Lord!
3. Death cannot keep its prey, Jesus my Savior;
he tore the bars away, Jesus my Lord!
© 2017 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved