jump to navigation

Just Another Mystery of Easter: The Guards March 18, 2013

Posted by michaelnjohns in Uncategorized.

Who Do You Work For?

This year I started reading through Matthew in January and finished just in time to have some verses really get stuck in my head.  You know how that happens.  Something doesn’t make sense and it rattles around for a while until the next thing gets stuck up there.  I got all the way to Matthew 28 this time.  And I knew somehow that I’d be meditating on that chapter from January until Easter. 

Here’s the sticky excerpt from Matthew 28 (NRSV)

11 While they were going, some of the guard went into the city and told the chief priests everything that had happened. 12 After the priests had assembled with the elders, they devised a plan to give a large sum of money to the soldiers, 13 telling them, “You must say, ‘His disciples came by night and stole him away while we were asleep.’ 14 If this comes to the governor’s ears, we will satisfy him and keep you out of trouble.” 15 So they took the money and did as they were directed. And this story is still told among the Jews to this day.

How many guards guarded the tomb of Jesus?  We aren’t told.  But we do know these were guards under the command of Rome.  Rome had conquered, and controlled, the civilized world by this time in history.  They knew how to take control, they knew how to put down an uprising or two, and they knew how to handle people, including internal management.  So knowing that Jesus had about 12 disciples at the time of his death, there should have been enough guards to put down those 12 and maybe a few more from the crowds that followed him while he was alive.  The Sunday school art doesn’t do this scene any justice.  You might see one sleepy guard, leaning on his spear, maybe two, guarding the stone covered grave of a dead guy.

From Wikipedia.com:  The contubernium was the smallest organized unit of soldiers in the Roman Army and was composed of eight legionaries, the equivalent of a modern squad.   Soldiers of a contubernium shared a tent, and could be rewarded or punished together as a unit.  It was led by a Decanus, the equivalent of a junior non-commissioned officer. They were appointed from within the contubernium and were most likely the longest serving legionary.   Their duties would include keeping discipline.

Oh, here’s a grand example of discipline.  “They took the money and did as they were directed.”

The scene was very different in  Acts 12.

12  1 About that time King Herod laid violent hands upon some who belonged to the church. 2 He had James, the brother of John, killed with the sword. 3 After he saw that it pleased the Jews, he proceeded to arrest Peter also. (This was during the festival of Unleavened Bread.) 4 When he had seized him, he put him in prison and handed him over to four squads of soldiers to guard him, intending to bring him out to the people after the Passover. 5 While Peter was kept in prison, the church prayed fervently to God for him.  6 The very night before Herod was going to bring him out, Peter, bound with two chains, was sleeping between two soldiers, while guards in front of the door were keeping watch over the prison. 7 Suddenly an angel of the Lord appeared and a light shone in the cell. He tapped Peter on the side and woke him, saying, “Get up quickly.” And the chains fell off his wrists. 8 The angel said to him, “Fasten your belt and put on your sandals.” He did so. Then he said to him, “Wrap your cloak around you and follow me.” 9 Peter went out and followed him; he did not realize that what was happening with the angel’s help was real; he thought he was seeing a vision. 10 After they had passed the first and the second guard, they came before the iron gate leading into the city. It opened for them of its own accord, and they went outside and walked along a lane, when suddenly the angel left him.  18 When morning came, there was no small commotion among the soldiers over what had become of Peter. 19 When Herod had searched for him and could not find him, he examined the guards and ordered them to be put to death.

Do you see why I was so confused?  The guards who had Peter in prison failed to do their job:  Guard one man and keep him contained until morning.  And they were interviewed and executed.  The guards who had Jesus in the tomb also failed to do their job as well:  Guard one corpse for 3 days and make sure no one steals the body.  But they were interviewed, left alive, and given a bonus in pay.  Something is wrong with this picture.  Why are the guards entrusted with Jesus’ body alive?  It’s not fair.  It’s not right.  It’s not like Rome to allow guards who fail to do their job to live.

I prayed about this for a while, and it was almost Easter before I had an answer.  When I was in college I had to take a course in economics.  One day, there were complicated graphs and diagrams and charts on the board, and we were asked to figure out who would receive a block of money.  The trouble was, there were two answers, and they were both supportable from the evidence in the problem.  Neither answer could be called wrong.  Finally, one bright young man in the class raised his hand.  The professor called on him, and asked his answer.  “It depends on who I work for?” he asked.

The professor smiled, and said, “you have a future in economics.”  Because he was right.  In the problem presented, the answer to who got the money was, Who do I work for?  In life sometimes the question can be analyzed with charts and graphs, sometimes with complicated ethical discussions, but more often the answer depends on who we work for.

You say, “all of those soldiers worked for Rome!”  Yes.  So this means that something else was the deciding factor in why one group lived and got paid off, and the other group was immediately put to death.  Let’s look at this from a spiritual perspective then.  John 10:10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.

We all know who the Thief is:  Satan, right?  Jesus comes to grant life: abundant life.  Satan comes to steal, kill and destroy.  So it is Satan’s agenda to bring loss, death, and destruction.  But in the ethics of the situation, it came down to what would be more profitable for Satan.  Should he immediately pronounce death upon those Roman guards, or would some other answer prove more profitable? 

Satan’s answer is why I believe all the more firmly that Jesus really was resurrected;  He really did come back from the dead, just as He promised.  I believe it because spreading the lie that Jesus’ body was stolen by his disciples “while we were sleeping(!)”  was worth more to Satan than the truth and the immediate execution of those guards who failed to carry out their job.

The truth:  Matthew 28: 1After the Sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb. And suddenly there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord, descending from heaven, came and rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow. For fear of him the guards shook and became like dead men. 

The truth:  Matthew 28: 11 some of the guard went into the city and told the chief priests everything that had happened. 12 After the priests had assembled with the elders, they devised a plan to give a large sum of money to the soldiers, 13 telling them, “You must say, ‘His disciples came by night and stole him away while we were asleep.’

The truth:  Matthew 28:  15 So they took the money and did as they were directed. And this story is still told among the Jews to this day.

Satan is an old liar.  He knows the value of a good lie.  He knows that sometimes in the situational ethics of evil, sometimes you gain more by spreading a lie than by spreading death.  If those soldiers had just been put to death, the lie would have died with them.

We listen to a great many lies, and we let them slide beside us without raising an eyebrow, much less a protest.  If it weren’t so, the advertising industry would have to take a whole different approach to selling.  We listen to lies all the time.  We may even confess we tell lies all the time.  ChangingMinds.org summarized some lengthy research neatly:   They have asked a group of people to catalog lies in order of how bad they were, from least to worst kinds of lies, and the following results were obtained:

Ranked from 5 (Not Bad) to 1 (Very Bad), the findings were as follows:

5 “Not bad”-  Saying a lie to save others from minor hurt, shame and embarrassment.  Maybe this is why the advertising industry can use lies and half truths to sell us beauty and fashion products so well

4 “Not that bad”-  Saying a lie to protect yourself or another from punishment or disapproval for a minor failing or blunder which hurts nobody.

3  “Bad”-  Saying a lie to make yourself appear better than you really are or to protect some gain, acquired some time ago, to which you were not really entitled.  The background screening industry was formed to ferret out just this kind of lie.  If resumes were really honest, would your boss, or their boss, have their job?  Would you have your job?

2  “Moderately Bad”-  Saying lies that could make others do something that would benefit you while, at the same time, harming themselves or causing themselves a loss.  I can only speak from personal experience about experiences in the employment realm.  Suffice it to say that your boss may be tempted to say you’re going to get that bonus or raise or promotion, and then turn and tell someone else the same thing, or decide there wasn’t enough profit to grant the bonus or raise or promotion, and tell us that so they can take the money for themselves.  And what can I tell you about gossips?  They tell the “truth” they know, spun in such a way as to make another person look bad, and by extension make themselves look better.

1  “Very Bad”-  Lies that hurt someone else so that you can gain.  Know any politicians who endorse war for profit?  Know any lawyers who tell people to sue other people to get money for an error in judgement, or a behavior that brought on a set of consequences?  Blame someone else!  Know any doctors who say that they “do no harm,” but endorse certain obviously harmful practices and hide them behind well chosen language?   


So everybody does it, perhaps.  But back to our true story.  What kind of lie were the soldiers asked to spread?  “Oh, we were all sleeping and the disciples came and stole the body in the middle of the night.”  Ignore the normal consequence of death to the soldiers.  Ignore the training and strict discipline of the ordinary Roman Legionnaire.  Ignore the torchlight trained on the stone, and lighting the area around the stone, lest someone should try to steal the body.  Ignore the weight of the stone and how many strong men it would take to remove it.  And of course, we can’t believe in any story that an angel scared the soldiers half to death.  If we believe the soldiers are telling the truth, then someone needs to ask them why they’re not dead, and where they got the fancy new equipment and the extra rations. 

What are the consequences of the lie?  If we believe that Jesus’ body was stolen by the disciples, while all 8 or 10, or more, guards were sleeping, then Jesus’ resurrection is a lie and the world needs to look for another savior.  If we don’t believe that Jesus came back from the dead then we can’t believe the rest of the Gospel.  Then there is no good news at all.  Life ends when it ends, there is no reason to do anything good or do anything bad, and there is no judgment or consequence at the end of it all.  Nothing matters.


 If the Bible is right about Jesus’ resurrection, then following Him makes good sense.  If the Bible is right about “the wages of sin is death,” and “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” then we’re all headed there without hope.  We need a savior, and Jesus is the only One Who is qualified.

 Who are you going to believe?  It affects your eternity.  That’s how big the lie is.  It’s not a little white lie that doesn’t hurt anyone.  The lie will eternally hurt you, and Satan is the only one who is going to gain anything, the satisfaction of dragging another soul to eternal punishment.

 As for me, the evidence is clear.  It’s all economic.  The lives of those Roman soldiers were only preserved because the truth would have hurt Satan and interrupted his agenda.  He wants to steal your mind and make you believe the lies.  He wants to kill you, but not until you’ve served his purposes.  He wants to destroy the credibility of the Bible, and if you believe his lie, he wins and you lose.  And if you spread his lies and make other people not believe the truth, he wins more.

I believe Jesus was resurrected because the story that Jesus’ body was stolen in the middle of the night doesn’t make any sense.  It falls apart under the loosest scrutiny.  If it was stolen, those soldiers would be dead and the body would have been found.  I believe Jesus was resurrected because if it didn’t happen, the rest of the Bible makes no sense.  The Old Testament prophecies point us to Jesus.  The New Testament tells how everything fell into place around the person of a Savior. 

What will you do?  Whose story will you tell?  The one about Jesus’ disciples hiding the body somewhere after the “Mission: Impossible” scene of them stealing it, and then conspiring to lie and all going to their deaths steadfastly proclaiming He is Risen?  Or the one where God, by His power, and according to the scriptures, allowed Jesus to be our sacrificial lamb, atone for our sins, and be raised to life on the third day?  Which version requires more faith?  Which offers you hope?  Which offers you heaven?  What happens if you believe?

The answers for your eternity “depend on who you work for.”

I believe He is Risen.



No comments yet — be the first.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: