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Lenten Devotional: March 30, 2024

by Rev. Margaret Rountree, Pastor of Community Life


Holy Saturday


“The next day, that is, after the day of Preparation, the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered before Pilate 63 and said, ‘Sir, we remember how that impostor said, while he was still alive, ‘After three days I will rise.’ 64 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.’ 65 Pilate said to them, ‘You have a guard of soldiers. Go, make it as secure as you can.’ 66 So they went and made the tomb secure by sealing the stone and setting a guard.”


Matthew is the only Gospel writer to write about what happens on Holy Saturday, the Sabbath day. Matthew is writing for a Jewish-Christian audience, who would have heard the charges circulating among the Jews that the disciples had stolen Jesus’ body. The chief priests and Pharisees go to Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor at the time, to make sure the dead man remains dead. At least once, Jesus specifically predicted to the Pharisees that He would rise in three days and the Pharisees have not forgotten this prediction. These religious leaders are neither brainless nor blind. They have witnessed Jesus’ miraculous powers, and they want to be doubly sure that whatever power is behind Jesus is not liberated from that tomb. Some pretty incredible events happened after Jesus’ crucifixion: the curtain of the temple was torn in two (from top to bottom), there was a massive earthquake, tombs were opened, dead bodies were resurrected and appeared to many people in the city of Jerusalem, and fearsome darkness covered the earth. Clearly, there was power behind this dead man. These Jewish leaders sense that things may get out of control, so they ask Pilate to secure the tomb because they have no authority themselves to post guards on a “criminal” executed by Roman authorities. They want this tomb to be guarded to make sure that Jesus’s disciples will not perpetuate some grand hoax about Jesus’ resurrection.


This was a group of people that wanted to discount and discredit what we know as Christianity. Some things never really do change. These people still exist today, on Holy Saturday 2024. If you are going to discredit and discount the Gospel, you must address two events, Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection. Over the years, people have devised numerous theories to explain what happened between Good Friday and Resurrection Sunday. One theory claims that Jesus’s disciples stole His dead body.


Do you remember what the disciples did after Jesus was crucified on the cross? Scripture tells us that they hid, lied, and denied. It was dodge, duck, dip, dive and dodge. You mean to tell me this band of eleven guys (remember Judas had betrayed Jesus), who were afraid to even be at the crucifixion, somehow mustered up the courage to show up at Jesus’s tomb, fight off a contingent of guards, rolled the one-to-two ton stone away, took Jesus’ dead body, and hid His body somewhere for the rest of their lives? Yet, all the disciples, for the rest of their lives, claimed over and over that Jesus was alive and had resurrected from the dead. I’m sorry, that theory does not make any sense to me. Did you know that every single one of the disciples died, not for what they believed in, but for what they said they saw with their own eyes and heard with their very ears? All types of crazy people die for what they believe in. Just look at the 1978 Jonestown mass murder-suicide and the Waco massacre in 1993. But who would die for a lie?


Matthew was martyred in Ethiopia by a sword. Mark died in Egypt; he was drug to death by horses. Luke was hung in Greece. John is the only disciple who did not die. The Romans tried to kill him. They tried to boil him to death, but John simply would not die because Jesus was not finished with him yet. He still had to give him the Book of Revelation, that book at the end of your Bible that's kinda scary. So, they took John and they put him on the island of Patmos to let him grow old there. And then there was the apostle Peter. Remember him? He was the loudmouth that was scared to admit that he knew who Jesus was on the night Jesus was betrayed. The apostle Peter was crucified upside down. You mean to tell me that Peter would die for a lie? All Peter had to say was, "Okay, never mind, never mind. We made it up. He's in my bedroom right now, let me go get him." But Peter saw a dead man walking. He saw the Resurrected Christ. Who would die for a lie? Then there’s James. The Romans took James up to the temple and told him to recant his faith. James refused so they threw him off the top of the temple, but he didn't die at first. He just broke his legs so then they went down and beat him to death with a club. Bartholomew was whipped to death. Andrew was crucified on an x-shaped cross. Historians tells us that it took him two days to die and on the cross, for two days, he would not stop preaching the Gospel. Remember Doubting Thomas, the one that said, "Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe” (John 20:25). Then Jesus shows up and proves Himself to Thomas. After his encounter with the Resurrected Christ, Thomas took the Gospel to India and there was stabbed with a spear. Jude was killed with arrows. Matthias, who replaced Judas, was stoned and beheaded. Paul was beheaded by the emperor Nero in A.D. 67. Perhaps my favorite is James, the son of Zebedee. James was on trial and would not stop talking about the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. His testimony was so influential to the Roman guard that was watching over him that on the day of James’ execution, something unbelievable happened. The Roman guard took James down to the gallows to behead him and as James laid his head down, the Roman guard said, “I too believe that Jesus Christ is my Lord and Savior.” The guard knelt down and gave his head too. You see, who would die for a lie?


What will happen tomorrow cannot be explained by any theory or made-up story. What we will celebrate tomorrow is the greatest miracle in human history. It is not a lie; it is the Gospel, the good news. What happened is that Jesus Christ actually rose from the grave. That’s what happened.


Brothers and sisters, Sunday’s coming.


Prayer

Dear Jesus,

As I find myself hoping, trusting, and waiting for the full effect of the resurrection to take place tomorrow, may I wait in great expectation on this Holy Saturday. I realize that hope is a confident expectation and anticipation that rests in what I believe. And I believe in the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ. I believe when you pushed up on your nail-pierced hands and feet and proclaimed, “It is finished” that your work on the cross counted even for me. I believe that you are the Victor, the King of Kings, and the Lord of Lords. All that I have, all that I am, and all that I will be, is Yours.

Amen.


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