THE BROKEN SEAL
Christ is risen. He is risen indeed. Alleluia!
Long-time actress and comedienne Gracie Allen once received a small, live alligator as a gag gift. Not knowing what to do with it, Gracie placed it in the bathtub and then left for an appointment. When she returned home, she found this note from her maid: "Dear Miss Allen: Sorry, but I have quit. I don't work in houses where there is an alligator. I would have told you this when I took the job, but I never thought it would come up.”
I suppose that if you work as a maid you would come across some pretty interesting things every now and again. But there are some things, like finding an alligator in the bathtub, that are totally unexpected.
As we look at our text for today a number of observations can be made, but the one I would have us focus on is that there really was not any expectation that Jesus would rise from the dead. What the chief priests and the Pharisees did expect was that some of Jesus disciples would steal Jesus body and claim that he had risen from the dead. But that reasoning was more than just a little bit paranoid. Upon his death, Jesus’ disciples not only did not have any expectations his resurrection, but they scattered in fear, like geese upon hearing the first gunshot in spring.
But the chief priests and the Pharisees did not want to take any chances. They wanted to put this whole Jesus business behind them. They were not satisfied with the stone that had been rolled in front of the entrance of the tomb, even though they should have been. Depending on the type of stone used, it could weigh between 1-2 tons .This is quite heavy! Even though two men could move it into place, removing the stone was quite another matter.
Generally speaking, the rolling stone was set inside a groove in front of the entrance, and secured from falling over by a stone wall that stood in front of tomb opening. In addition to this, the groove was often not level, but slightly sloped. To close the tomb, the stone would be rolled down the groove at a decline and come to rest in front of the entrance. To open the tomb, the stone would have to be rolled up the groove at an incline; not an easy thing.
Despite the difficulty removing such a stone would present, the religious leaders wanted the extra precaution of putting a seal on the stone and posting a guard. These measures were a guarantee, so to speak, that there would be no fraudulent removal of Jesus body from the tomb. Think about it. Jesus’ body was laid in a tomb, where no corpse had ever been before; in a tomb cut out of a rock, to which there was no access, but at the door; where a great stone was rolled; a seal put upon it; and a guard of soldiers posted to keep watch. Never had there been so much effort to keep a dead body in the grave.
All of this makes me wonder what Pilate was really thinking. Was he simply trying to appease both sides: allowing Joseph of Arimathea to take Jesus’ body, and then allowing the chief priests and Pharisees to seal and guard the tomb? Or, would Pilate have taken the observation of the centurion, who confessed Jesus to be the Son of God, to heart, and allowed the Jewish leaders to secure the tomb knowing that if Jesus was truly the Son of God, there would be no power on earth able to prevent his resurrection? We may never know the answer to these questions, but at least one early church father, Tertullion, believed the later to be true, writing that he believed Pilate, in his conscience was a Christian.
In any event, whatever was intended, God brought good out of it. Those soldiers who were posted to guard the tomb, actually became eye witnesses of the resurrection even though they were bribed to lie about it later. Here was all the power of earth and hell combined to keep Jesus a prisoner of death. But it was all in vain. When the time had come; death, and all the powers of darkness could no longer hold him, no longer have dominion over him.
To guard the tomb against some frightened disciples was one thing; but to guard it against the power of God was just down right foolishness. Those guards saw it first hand. When the seal on that stone was broken, and the stone rolled away, it was clear that the centurion was right. The chief priest and the Pharisees were wrong. Their authority was broken. The old covenant had given way to the new. Jesus was the Son of God who had come to take away the sin of the world.
The question is what does this mean for us? In a word, the answer is everything.
Think for a moment about the iPod. It wasn’t all that long ago that people were walking around and jogging with a Walkman, a portable cassette player with earphones. When the first MP3 players came out they could hold maybe 15 - 20 songs, depending on how long the songs were. When the iPod came out everything changed. The digital format was thrust into high gear and the Walkman went the way of the dinosaur. The iPod was a real game changer. It revolutionized the way in which music was purchased and consumed.
Our Lord’s resurrection from the dead should be even more of a game changer. We read in 1 Corinthians 15 that because of the resurrection the power of sin and death have been overcome. This is why the resurrection is the center piece of the Gospel; because without the resurrection we are still in our sin. It is the validation of our Lord’s sacrifice on Good Friday. It is that which gives us hope for the life to come, and purpose for the here and now. It is that which gives us strength in the face of adversity and comfort in times of distress. It is that which gives us peace in the face of conflict and refuge in times of temptation.
If none of us would go back to using the Walkman instead of the iPod, why in the world would any of us go back to living as if the resurrection never happened? Why in the world would any of us go back to living as if the seal was never broken?
Today we will all bask in the light of our Lord’s glorious resurrection. Tomorrow we will have a choice to make. We can either settle back into our old routines, allowing the world to once again take over its spot in the drivers seat, letting this day to become nothing more than a memory; or we can continue to live in the light of the resurrection, seeking the Lords will and bearing witness with our words and way of life.
I recently read of a Muslim in Africa who became a Christian. Some of his friends asked him, Why have you become a Christian? He answered, Well, its like this. Suppose you were going down the road and suddenly the road forked in two directions, and you didn't know which way to go, and there at the fork in the road were two men, one dead and one alive--which one would you ask which way to go?
The answer seems simple enough. The seal is broken.The Lord is risen, and it is him that I shall follow.