November 24, 2017

Appearances of the Risen Lord, 10

By Chaplain Mike

We are marking the Great Fifty Days of Easter with a series of devotional thoughts on the post-resurrection appearances of Jesus.

Today we look at a unique narrative in Matthew’s story of Jesus’ resurrection and appearances, from Matthew 28:11-15 (MSG).

Text

Meanwhile, the guards had scattered, but a few of them went into the city and told the high priests everything that had happened. They called a meeting of the religious leaders and came up with a plan: They took a large sum of money and gave it to the soldiers, bribing them to say, “His disciples came in the night and stole the body while we were sleeping.” They assured them, “If the governor hears about your sleeping on duty, we will make sure you don’t get blamed.” The soldiers took the bribe and did as they were told. That story, cooked up in the Jewish High Council, is still going around.

Thoughts

This resurrection narrative, unique to Matthew, reminds us that the Easter story is not all sweetness and light. Opposition to Jesus and his message remains, coming from those who have power in the world, who have the most to lose by his triumph.

  • Matthew began his Gospel with an account of a plot to destroy the infant King (by Herod—Matt. 2),
  • brought the story of Jesus to its climax through the plots the Jewish authorities and Judas (Matt. 26),
  • and now concludes the book with an ongoing plot to cover up the reality of the resurrection (Matt. 28).

This brief pericope serves a few different purposes.

First, it is an apologetic. The plain fact is that Jesus’ tomb was empty. Unable to come up with his body, the only recourse for those who wished to deny the resurrection was to concoct an alternate story—“His disciples came in the night and stole the body while we were sleeping.”

Second, it is an implied warning to all who would follow the risen Christ. Though Jesus defeated the powers of sin, evil, and hell through his death and resurrection, there remains a battle. The world, flesh, and devil still conspire to discredit the Good News.

If the world hates you, be aware that it hated me before it hated you. If you belonged to the world, the world would love you as its own. Because you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world—therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you, “Servants are not greater than their master.” If they persecuted me, they will persecute you; if they kept my word, they will keep yours also. But they will do all these things to you on account of my name, because they do not know him who sent me. (John 15:18-21)

Third, it sets forth a contrast with the scenes Matthew records before and after.

  • Verses 1-10 describe people of faith who “go and tell” the Good News that Jesus is alive.
  • Verses 16-20 set forth Jesus’ commission to “go” into all the world with this message.
  • But here, in verses 11-15, the only “going” and “telling” involves covering up the truth in fear, deception, and for dishonest gain.

The way we overcome the opposition of the world (those who are “going and telling” another story)  is through continued faithfulness in living and telling the best story of all—the Good News of Jesus. He is alive! He has triumphed! God has reconciled the world to himself through Christ! God has defeated the powers of evil! Christus Victor!

Our words, of course, are not enough. We must live in the reality of this Good News, showing forth signs of life in the midst of a dying world. The life of Jesus will be revealed as we exhibit sacrificial love in his name that addresses the corruption, pain, and brokenness of a world gone astray from God, as we continue his ministry of welcoming with grace and hospitality those whom the world rejects, and as we build communities in which and through which people serve one another in genuine love, pointing always to the kingdom message of Jesus and his finished work in the cross and empty tomb as the world’s true hope.

Despite the obstacles, the risen Christ is with us and in us through his Spirit to make it so!

Prayer

Remember, O Lord, what you have wrought in us and not what we deserve; and, as you have called me to your service, make me worthy of your calling; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

(Prayer appointed for the week from The Divine Hours)