We come to the end of this observance with a JOYOUS conclusion! The tomb is open and it is EMPTY. He is RISEN!!!
The last time I commemorated this season I wrote from the perspective of Pilot and a centurion discussing what happened in the night. I thought about writing from the perspective of one of the women but remembered that I had already done that. Mary’s Personal Testimony is where I shared this perspective. I’m not sure where to go with our story today. SO much happened on this day. How about if we look back at the groups I identified yesterday and see what they are feeling by the end of this day.
There were three groups in our last time together. The first was the religious leaders. Caiaphas was specifically identified in this group. The second group was Jesus’ disciples and followers. The last group was the inhabitants of Heaven itself. Let’s take them one by one and in the previous order.
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Caiaphas, as high priest, is in attendance for the morning sacrifice. He is tired and on edge this morning. It has been three days now since that Rabble Jesus’ crucifixion. He was awake more than half the night, waiting for something to happen. He figured that if Jesus’ disciples were going to try anything it would be in the middle of this night. He couldn’t rest for fear of what they might do. He trusted the guards he had stationed there but he just couldn’t rest.
Just after tying the lamb to the altar the sound of running feet can be heard. Into the courtyard burst the Roman soldiers who were to watch the tomb. Caiaphas is incensed! First of all, how dare they enter the Temple. It is a holy place. Second, they are supposed to be on guard against Jesus’ followers perpetrating a hoax on the people.
Caiaphas steps forward and the guards come to a screeching halt. “What is the meaning of this” demands Caiaphas.
The head centurion steps forward to speak for the group. He is having trouble finding the right words. Finally he says, “Something has happened at the tomb of the man named Jesus.”
Caiaphas’ eyes narrow as he responds. “What happened” he asks with suspicion.
“It was in the last watch of the night when an earthquake shook the ground beneath our feet. A man in blinding white appeared and shoved the stone away from the entrance of the tomb. The weight of it and the seal meant nothing to him. Light radiated from within the tomb and the man who was laid there walked out.”
“What have you been drinking” demanded Caiaphas. “I’ll have your hides on the crosses next if you don’t tell me the truth!”
“We have drunk nothing and I speak only what is true!”
Caiaphas starts pacing the courtyard. “This can’t be happening” he keeps repeating to himself. After several minutes of pacing with the soldiers looking on Caiaphas comes up with an idea. This is going to take more than just him to carry it off though.
“Go and wait for me in the garden just to the south of the courtyard. Do not let anyone see you until after I come to you. I will have something brought to you and your men to eat. Speak to NO ONE and be seen by NO ONE. Do I make myself clear” asks Caiaphas.
“It shall be as you command.” At this the group of Roman soldiers move into the garden Caiaphas indicated and they sit down to wait.
The centurion’s second in command approaches him. “I don’t like the feeling of this my lord.”
“Nor do I but we have no other recourse. We failed in our duties.”
“But it wasn’t our fault…”
“That is of no comfort. It is a Roman soldiers’ duty NOT to fail.”
The second falls silent and they all wait.
While they wait, Caiaphas is conferring with his closest group of supporters. “We have to convince the guards to say that Jesus’ followers came and stole Him away in the night while they slept. It is the ONLY way to keep this from becoming a total catastrophe!”
“But what if they refuse? How do we guarantee they will comply? “And what Roman soldier would confess to sleeping while on watch?!”
“The one who is attached to our purse strings” snaps Caiaphas. “You see, they failed in their duties no matter how you look at it. They could be sentenced to death for this failure. But we will offer them money and protection to spread the story we have devised. This will discredit the resurrection story that His followers are sure to begin spreading and it will put His followers under suspicion throughout the land. ‘If they would concoct such a scheme, who would believe them as honorable men?’”
Everyone is happy with this story and agrees that the bribe will ensure the soldiers’ cooperation.
Caiaphas joins the soldiers in the garden. He searches out the head centurion and calls him to the side. “This is what you are to do and say. Do not speak of the events you have shared with me to ANYONE. If you are questioned say only that His disciples came in the night while you were sleeping and stole Him away.”
“But that would mean our death! NO Roman soldier sleeps on duty!”
“I realize this and we will protect you against reprisal from your superiors. This is the story you MUST tell. If not, the Jews will begin to riot and hundreds of thousands will wind up losing their lives.”
“What do I care for Jewish lives” growls the centurion.
“Maybe nothing but I bet you do care for money.”
The centurion’s eyes narrow and he asks, “How much?”
Enough so you could live in luxury for the rest of your life.”
The centurion nods and accepts payment from Caiaphas. He will share this with his fellow soldiers and instruct them as to the story to recite if questioned.
Caiaphas is still worried but he believes his plan will succeed. It HAS to succeed if the Jews are to survive under Roman rule.
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The second group is Jesus’ followers. This group is off to a rocky start. A group of the women left just as the first rays of light were making their way into the sky. They had prepared spices with which to anoint Jesus’ body. They left without even waking any of the men in their number. They didn’t want to be talked out of this task. The whole group was still mourning the loss of Jesus so none were even stirring when the women snuck out.
Just before reaching the tomb the women realized they might have a problem.
“Who will roll the stone away for us” asked Jesus’ mother.
“I hadn’t thought of that” replies Mary of Magdalene.
“We could ask the guards to help us” suggested another one of the women.
A fourth made a sound of derision before speaking. “As if they would. Those oafs will probably send us running for our lives. I heard that Caiaphas had the tomb sealed and no soldier would break a Roman seal.”
“We will see” said Mary as the group ventured on.
As they near the garden they see no signs of the soldiers they had heard were stationed there. They should have come upon them before even leaving the road. It was almost eerily silent as the group of women approached.
The group pushes past the last barrier obscuring their view of the tomb and are struck dumb at what they see. The soldiers are ALL gone, the stone that was in front of the tomb is rolled away and a man in white is sitting atop it.
He smiles at them warmly. He doesn’t even ask them their purpose as he already knows it. He simply points towards the empty tomb with an open hand. The women quickly rush inside only to find another man in glowing white sitting on the bench where Jesus was laid.
“Why are you seeking the living among the dead? Jesus is not here. He has risen just as He said He would. Go tell His disciples what you have found” commands the man.
The women cling to one another in wonder and shock. They quickly make their way back out of the tomb and hurry out of the garden. Once they are out of sight of the tomb they begin to talk among themselves.
“Did you see him too?” they ask one another.
Yes, they all saw the angels. But how do they tell Jesus’ disciples? “They will think we are crazy!” replies one. “They will never believe us” offers another. “We are women after all” agrees a third. “But the angel TOLD us to do this” remarks Mary of Magdalene.
They agree that they will offer the story to the disciples and let them do with it what they will. After telling the story few believe them.
Peter and John are very interested in the story but they want to see it for themselves. They rush to the tomb and also find Jesus missing. Missing by this time also are the angels. The two men did go inside the tomb and see firsthand that the wrappings Jesus had worn were there and His body was absent. They believed something had happened but they weren’t sure what yet.
As the day goes on little bits of information trickle back to the house where Jesus’ disciples are hiding out. A firsthand account of Mary of Magdalene who said she actually spoke to Jesus in the garden. Peter saying he believes he saw Him too. But the icing on the cake was when two of their number who had left them earlier that day come bursting back in.
“He is ALIVE! We saw Him!!! We spoke to Him! He actually walked with us to Emmaus. He explained the gospel to us from the beginning to this very day. But we didn’t even recognize Him as He spoke. It was only when He broke the bread and gave it to us to eat that our eyes were finally opened! But then He disappeared before our eyes too.”
Excitement is surging through this crowd. “We heard stories from the women but it sounded so unbelievable…”
Even as they are speaking, Jesus appears in the middle of them. Mouths drop open. Men begin to weep. Some fall to their knees and some recoil in terror. “Don’t worry, it’s Me” says Jesus.
A hush falls over the room at His words and they all stand there looking at Him. Finally He speaks again. “Do you have anything to eat? I’m hungry.”
With those words the spell is broken and everyone begins talking at once. The women quickly bring Him a meal and He sits at the table to eat it. Jesus smiles as those around Him complete their transformation from mourning into joy.
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Heaven itself is in high spirits. The MOMENT God said, “Now” the angels have been in high gear. The first instantly appeared at the tomb and flicked the heavy stone away. High fives rang out across the expanse of Heaven as they watched. All fell to their knees as they watched Jesus emerge from the open tomb. Shouts of, “Glory to God!” shook Heaven itself.
When the angels who met the women returned, they all laughed. “You should have seen their faces! I was ready to jump into action if one of them fainted at the sight of me.”
Another remarks, “I was ready to double over with laughter when I saw you at the tomb when you moved the stone and the Roman soldiers fell all over themselves. It’s a wonder they didn’t hurt themselves!”
“Can you believe Caiaphas? What a piece of work. Who will ever believe his cockamamie story.”
“You would be surprised” says God with a sad look on His face.
The angels nod in understanding. Some will do ANYTHING not to ‘rock the boat’ and keep what they have. And MANY will fall for the schemes of these desperate men.
Another round of laughter breaks out as the angels watch Jesus breaking the bread for the two disciples and then disappearing. “He KNEW that would get their attention” remarks one.
“I wonder why He hid His identity from them so long” asks another.
“Maybe He was seeing if they would figure it out on their own.”
“It’s possible” replies the first.
No time at all passes in Heaven as they watch the two men hurry back and tell their story. The moment Jesus appears in the middle of them a roar of applause breaks out in Heaven.
“You have to hand it to Him. He does have a flair for the dramatic” says God with a glowing smile splitting His face. Even God laughs when Jesus asks for something to eat. “If that doesn’t convince them He is alive I don’t know what will.”
Heaven continues their celebration! The major battle is won and Jesus is VICTORIOUS!
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I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to go on so long but my spirit just kept crying out to look a little longer into these groups. I can’t stop smiling! I’m firmly in Jesus’ disciples camp and Heaven’s. I would LOVE to see the look on the faces of Jesus’ disciples when He appeared in the room. I would love to have stood by Mary of Magdalene as Jesus spoke personally with her. Or have been there as He broke bread in that humble house in Emmaus. What an EXCITING day!!!
Lord Jesus, THANK YOU for ALL You did for me! From the beginning of creation until this moment in time You have NEVER forgotten me. Yes, me. I was on Your mind as You brought the world into existence. I was in Your thoughts as You watched over the ark with Noah and his family safe inside. You knew me when Abraham was called to be the first of God’s chosen people. My sins were worn by You on the cross. You broke my chains as You bested Satan and took the keys of death from him. You saw me when You sent the Comforter to inhabit Your people. You knit me together in my mother’s womb at exactly the right time in all history. And You called me to be Your child. I know I am only one in millions upon millions of people who You also knew but I KNOW You knew ME too.
You also let me celebrate this day with You in a unique style. Thank You Jesus for letting me share in Your story. THANK YOU for choosing me!
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Day of Rejoicing – looks at the story that could have been told to Pilot if the guard had told the truth.