Today’s reading brings us to the day of Passover. Caiaphas now goes to Pilate ON the most holy day in Israel’s calendar to make SURE Jesus doesn’t fulfill His words.
This should have been a day for rejoicing for Caiaphas and all the other religious leaders who wanted Jesus dead; but it wasn’t. This should have been a strictly observed Sabbath rest day; but for Caiaphas and crew, it was not that either. It should have been a day of rejoicing and celebration; but for Jesus’ followers it wasn’t that either. It was the day of Passover, but it was one unlike any other since its inception in Egypt.
The first Passover happened as the last of the 10 plagues designed to get Pharaoh to release Israel from slavery. The afternoon, before twilight, they took a lamb, killed and cooked it, and used hyssop branches dipped in the lamb’s blood to paint on their doorposts and across the top of it. They then ate ALL of the lamb for dinner that night. They were to eat hurriedly, dressed and ready to travel, and stay inside their homes. At midnight, the angel of death would go throughout the land of Egypt and kill the firstborn, including livestock, in every household, NOT painted with the blood. This final plague broke Pharaoh’s spirit and started Israel on their journey to the Promised Land. God instructed the people to observe this ritual every year afterwards.
Jesus’ followers celebrated the Passover with Him 24 or so hours before. Caiaphas and the rest of the religious leaders should be enjoying theirs lamb dinner after sunset on the night of Jesus’ death. But instead of enjoying his meal, Caiaphas is wracked with worry.
Caiaphas remembered Jesus’ words about rising from the dead. Jesus had promised them the “sign of Jonah” right to their faces. Jesus said outright that He would “be in the heart of the earth for three days and three nights” (Matthew 12:40). No mistaking that reference for Caiaphas. “What if His disciples try to make His prophecy come true? That would be a disaster! Kill the Man just to have His disciples’ claim He came back to life! I CAN’T let that happen!”
As far as Jesus’ disciples were concerned, Caiaphas needn’t worry. They were in another house mired in grief and fear. They had the doors and windows shut, expecting every minute to be dragged away to their own death. They weren’t even thinking about the rest of Jesus’ words about His death. They were dumbfounded as to how it all went wrong. They were expecting Jesus to take the reins of Israel, but instead He is dead, and they could easily be next.
Caiaphas is so upset that he does the unthinkable. He goes to Pilate on the most holy of Sabbaths; the day of Passover. He drew the line at going into Pilate’s home, as that would defile him. Caiaphas requested, through Pilate’s guards, the he have an audience with Pilate on the portico. Pilate agrees and comes out to meet with Caiaphas. Pilate is weary of dealing with this man, but as governor, he still has to interact with him.
“What is it now Caiaphas?” demands Pilate.
Caiaphas realizes that a little groveling might come in handy about now. “Sir”, Caiaphas begins while bowing slightly, “We remember how this imposter [said with a sneer] said, while He was alive, ‘After three days I will rise’, therefore we need you to ensure that the tomb is secure until the third day, or His disciples might come and steal His body away in order to convince the people that He has risen. If they did this, it would be even worse than it was when He was still alive!” Caiaphas bows again, just for impact sake.
Pilate is not fooled by Caiaphas’ feigned reverence. He remembers how this man forced him into taking the life of an innocent man. Still, he has a point, but not one Pilate is willing to waste his soldier’s time on. Let them use the resources Rome has already given them. “You have a contingent of soldiers already. Use them. Make the tomb as secure as you can.” Secretly, thanks to Caiaphas’ information and demeanor, Pilate is wondering at Jesus’ words too. “No way anyone ‘comes back to life’ after a Roman crucifixion! But what would happen if… Nah, no use worrying about the impossible.”
Caiaphas goes to the temple and personally instructs the soldiers. He is not taking any chances on this one. “Go to the grave where the man Jesus is buried. It is near the Garden of Gethsemane. You will find a large stone blocking the entrance. Take sealing wax with you, or whatever else you may need, to seal the door shut. After you have sealed it, you are to remain on guard at all times, until AFTER three days and three nights have passed. Let NO ONE inside; especially any of His disciples.”
“Sir, we have other duties here. Why are you asking us to guard the tomb of a dead prisoner?” asks the centurion in charge.
“His men may try and steal His body away to claim He rose from the dead. Your other duties mean nothing compared to this task. You will be required to pay with your lives if you let them steal His body.”
As a Roman soldier, disobedience or failure always carried the possibility of death. Every assignment was taken seriously, whether the guards agreed with the task or not. The centurion assigns four men shifts to the task and retrieves the materials necessary to secure the stone. Caiaphas accompanies the centurion and guards, seventeen in all, to the tomb to ensure the stone is secured. The centurion himself affixes the seal on the door. The soldiers not on duty remained in the area to provide backup. Caiaphas is satisfied with the preparations. Finally, he can go home and rest.
Father God, Caiaphas had every reason to be afraid. Sunday’s on the way! If only Jesus’ disciples would have remembered Jesus’ words too. Then they wouldn’t have passed their waiting time in fear. If I had been there, which “worry camp” would I be in? Worried that Jesus would rise, or worried that I would be joining Him in death? After Sunday morning, both camps are radically altered. One will embark on a great cover up and the other will shine a brilliant light on the events!
Again, thank You for putting me on this side of the promise. Because of seeing this promise fulfilled, I KNOW You can fill any and all others. Fear not!