We’ve arrived at the epic conclusion of the greatest story of our faith – the crux of Christianity. And Matthew, who has regularly subjected us to chapters that top out at over 70 verses detailing the parables and teachings of Jesus, gives us a whole 20 verses to wrap up everything from Jesus’ resurrection to his commissioning of the apostles. It’s almost startling in its brevity.
But it makes the details that Matthew DOES choose to focus on that much more interesting for their inclusion. He records how the very same events that occurred on the morning of the resurrection play out in dramatically different ways for the two sets of witnesses at the tomb.
On the one hand, we have the women who have been a constant presence throughout the events leading up to Jesus’ death and burial. When they see the open tomb and the angel, their response is a combination of fear, joy, and action. They are the first to hear of Jesus rising from the dead, and they are obedient in going to tell the disciples the good news. On their way, they see Jesus Himself, and their immediate instinct is to fall down and worship Him in response to his Godship and his triumph over death.
The women go on to share their message with the disciples, who meet with Jesus just as he promised in Galilee, where they also worship Him and receive their commission. It’s a truly joyful, miraculous event – sprinkled with some very realistic fear and doubt on the part of His followers – as they hope for the story of the resurrection to be true and then see that their hopes are not in vain.
On the other hand, we have the guards at the tomb, who experience the exact same opened tomb and angelic visit. And this also strikes fear in them, but this is where the similarity of their story ends….Their fear leads to inaction.They became “as dead men.” These miraculous events were not greeted with joy and wonder, despite the amazing things that were occurring right in front of them.
Matthew recounts that at the same time that the women are going in obedience and excitement to tell the disciples the news, members of the guard (who have apparently recovered from the events) also head out to report what happened to the chief priests. You can almost picture the two groups of messengers, forking away in different directions from the point of origin, racing to tell their tales.
When the guards recount the incredible events that occurred, there is no reaction of joy or wonder or even shame or regret for what has been done. There is no being swayed by this final, epic miracle – the kind of sign that they had all mockingly clamored for leading up to Jesus’ death. There is only the practical calculation of how best to control the damage and manage the fallout. The plan includes hush money, a weak cover story, political maneuvering, and an attempt to get their own spin on the tale out in front of the public first.
The same tomb. The same set of events. Two very different reactions and the consequences of the actions taken by those present at the empty tomb.
It’s the same set of choices we have have today when we encounter the story of Jesus. Matthew has laid out all his evidence of Jesus as the resurrected Messiah. And then he leaves us with Jesus’ great commission for those who choose to believe.
At the very end of the story, when we arrive at His resurrection, we get to choose our own response. Do we take the path of the guards or the women? Do we choose to turn away from what we’ve seen and allow ourselves to be talked into a different version of how events must have gone? Or do we choose Him?