Death Could Not Keep Him

Matthew 27:62-66

Jesus died on the day of Preparation, that is, the day before the Sabbath (Mark 15:43)

Let’s start with this dark reality.  We all die.  With very few exceptions in recorded history, everyone has died.  All preceding generations are in the grave.  However, the promise of Easter is that it will not stay that way.  We will all be raised.  1 Corinthians 15:25-26 says:
For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death. (1 Corinthians 15:25-26 ESV)

Today, we are going to consider the defeat of this last enemy, death.  We are going to consider the defeat of death by looking at the means death uses to keep its victims. First, we will consider the lies death uses to keep its victims.  Second, we will consider the guard death uses to hold its victims.  Finally, we will consider the authority death uses to keep its victims.

First, we will consider the lies death uses to keep its victims.

We see the lies in the chief priests and Pharisees gathered before Pilate in Matthew 27:62-64:
The next day, that is, after the day of Preparation, the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered before Pilate and said, "Sir, we remember how that impostor said, while he was still alive, 'After three days I will rise.' Therefore order the tomb to be made secure until the third day, lest his disciples go and steal him away and tell the people, 'He has risen from the dead,' and the last fraud will be worse than the first." (Matthew 27:62-64 ESV)

In this passage, the chief priests and Pharisees show that they know the truth.  They call Jesus an “imposter,” and thus reveal that they do not believe what Jesus said and taught.  However, they do know what He said and taught.  When Jesus was on trial before the high priests, they asked Him a very telling question.  They said, “...tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God.” (Matthew 26:63). With this question, they show that they know who Jesus claimed to be, and with the word "imposter" (or deceiver), they show that they do not believe what He said.  In their unbelief, they take steps to stop the spread of what they are calling deception. They express their fear in the words, “...and the last fraud will be worse than the first.”  They were willing to go to great lengths to stop the spread of this “fraud.”  They held an illegal trial. They pushed for the crucifixion of an innocent man.  They asked for the release of a known criminal. And even now, they were violating the Sabbath by coming to make this request of Pilate.

It is important to remember that these men were pawns in a spiritual battle.  The Bible pulls back the curtain in certain places to give us glimpses of what is going on in the spiritual realm.  Such is the case in Job, where Satan is shown in his operations of trying to destroy Job.  Ephesians 6:12 tells us:
For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. (Ephesians 6:12 ESV)

The high priests and Pharisees were responsible for their unbelief and therefore Jesus reasoned with them daily in the temple and in Jerusalem during His ministry. Because they were not willing to accept the truth, they exchanged the truth for a lie and became prey for the devil.  2 Corinthians 4:4 says this about unbelievers:
In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. (2 Corinthians 4:4 ESV)

Our enemy will stop at nothing to keep us in darkness, but lies are His main weapon.  When you are persecuted for your faith, remember that they persecuted Jesus also.  Satan’s lies are designed to keep us from coming to the truth that we might have life.

Lies are not the only thing death uses to keep its victims.  Next, we will consider the guard death uses to keep its victims.

It was not enough for the chief priests and Pharisees that Jesus was put to death on that cross.  They asked Pilate for a guard, not a single soldier, but a detachment of soldiers.  Matthew 27:65 says:
Pilate said to them, "You have a guard of soldiers. Go, make it as secure as you can." (Matthew 27:65 ESV)

In this verse, we see that Pilate supplied a detachment of Roman soldiers to guard the tomb.  In the next verse, we are told that they “...sealed the stone and set the guard.” This had the effect of making the escape or rescue of Jesus a physical impossibility.  First, because He was dead.  Even if the disciples could have stolen the body, a corpse would eventually be found.  Second, the disciples were not fighting men.  They fled in the garden when the soldiers came to arrest Jesus.  Now they would have to face armed guards.  Third is the stone.  While not impossible to move, this stone could not have been moved while fighting with soldiers, or if the soldiers were sleeping, without waking them up.

Like the lies the enemy uses to keep people from the truth, he also places guards.  These guards are obstacles.  I think about the former Soviet Union that systematically removed every possibility of anybody hearing the gospel.  They did not succeed but not for lack of trying.  Their efforts made it almost impossible for a normal citizen to read a Bible.  Have you ever heard the question, “What about those who have never heard?”  Organizations like Wycliffe are making every effort to make sure everyone has a chance to hear, but the physical barriers are immense.  In addition, Jesus has promised that the gates of hell will not prevail against His Church.  Obviously, hell has set up many gates to keep those who are lost from being saved.  Gates with guards can be anything from attitudes to physical barriers like distance or mountain ranges.  The enemy uses movies, television, radio and even laws to set up barriers in the hearts and minds of people so that they are unable to hear the truth.  The lie is told that the Bible is archaic and full of fables and this lie acts as a guard or barrier set up in the hearts and minds of many people who stop listening as soon as they hear, "the Bible says."

Along with the physical barriers, death used all the authority it could muster to keep Jesus in the grave.  Verse 66 of Matthew 27 says:
So they went and made the tomb secure by sealing the stone and setting a guard. (Matthew 27:66 ESV)

Sealing the stone was a way of making sure the stone was not moved or tampered with.  It did not increase physical security, but rather made tampering with it an offense against the Roman government.  The seal was simply one or more ropes strung across the stone and sealed to the tomb on either end.  It would be similar to putting police tape across a crime scene that reads “Do Not Cross.”  Such barriers do not present much of a physical barrier but they represent the governing authority.

The devil is called the prince and the power of the air, and he has many of the governments of the world under his thumb.  In more than half of the countries of the world, it is illegal to proclaim the gospel.  Laws against the proclaiming of the gospel, the reading of the word of God or public preaching of the word of God are all examples of the use of authority to keep people in darkness.  As laws in the United States get more restrictive, we see the darkness making advances.  In some countries where the Church first started, it is illegal to preach the gospel.  The darkness seems to be winning the battle by the use of authority.

However, the battle is not over.  Just when the chief priests and Pharisees thought they had won the battle, Matthew 28:1-10 tells us:
Now after the Sabbath, toward the dawn of the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb. And behold, there was a great earthquake, for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven and came and rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow. And for fear of him the guards trembled and became like dead men. But the angel said to the women, "Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here, for he has risen, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples that he has risen from the dead, and behold, he is going before you to Galilee; there you will see him. See, I have told you." So they departed quickly from the tomb with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples. And behold, Jesus met them and said, "Greetings!" And they came up and took hold of his feet and worshiped him. Then Jesus said to them, "Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee, and there they will see me." (Matthew 28:1-10 ESV)

Death could not keep Him.  All the powers that the devil had arrayed against the son of God failed to keep Him in the grave.

Jesus won the victory over death and the grave. Therefore, this is why 1 Corinthians 15:25-26 says:
For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death. (1 Corinthians 15:25-26 ESV)

The victory He won is for those who believe in His name.  Romans 10:9 tells us:
because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. (Romans 10:9 ESV)

Part of being saved is being saved from death and the grave.  We too will be raised from the dead.  We will have a new imperishable body, and we will be forever with the Lord.  This is what 1 Corinthians 15:51-58 tells us.
Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: "Death is swallowed up in victory." "O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?" The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain. (1 Corinthians 15:51-58 ESV)

Jesus defeated the lies because he is the way, the truth and the life.  He defeated the guards because as creator of all things no physical barrier can stop Him. He defeated the authorities arrayed against Him because all authority in heaven and earth has been given to Him.  He is our hope and salvation.  

Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.  (1 Corinthians 15:58 ESV)


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