“Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joses were watching where he was laid. . .Very early in the morning, on the first day of the week, they went to the tomb at sunrise. They were saying to one another, ‘Who will roll away the stone from the entrance to the tomb for us?’ Looking up, they noticed that the stone – which was very large – had been rolled away.” (CSB – Read chapter 15 here, and 16 here)
Have you ever mourned a missed opportunity? You had the chance to do something, but didn’t take it. And then it was gone. There was nothing you could do about it. It was too late. You simply missed it. As Jesus’ body was laid in His tomb, His followers all thought that He had missed an opportunity and them with Him. He had missed an opportunity to do an even greater good with His life. But now He was dead, and the opportunity was gone. If only they knew…
When Jesus died, there was not anyone in the world who thought He would come back from the dead. Instead, they all thought that was it. Pilate thought that was a political problem solved. The chief priests celebrated the end of this threat to their established order. His followers all figured that was the end of their movement. No one thought things might possibly continue.
Actually, to say “no one” thought He might come back from the dead isn’t quite totally accurate. In a great twist of irony, the chief priests gave the notion at least a glimmer of thought. They didn’t really believe the nonsense about His resurrection, but they had heard Him say it enough times they worried the disciples might try and steal the body and begin telling everyone He had risen. Then, as Matthew relates it, “the last deception will be worse than the first.”
They were so concerned about this possibility they asked Pilate to station a guard unit at the tomb to make sure the disciples couldn’t try anything. Then, when the angels showed up to roll away the stone and the guards all passed out from fear, the chief priests later reported to the Roman authorities that the disciples did in fact steal the body, something Matthew reports “has been spread among Jewish people to this day.” He wrote that in the 60s. The chief priests’ lie obviously had some good legs to it because there are skeptics who still today claim the disciples stole the body.
Other than the chief priests, though, no one had any notion of Jesus’ rising from the dead. The disciples certainly didn’t. They hid from the authorities so they weren’t caught up and crucified like Jesus was. Their boastful insistence that they would die for Jesus before betraying Him was revealed to be nothing more than a bit of in-the-moment bravado. They would later develop the character to back up their claims, and history would give them the chance, but that hadn’t happened yet. On Sunday morning, there was no crowd waiting to do a countdown to dawn and Jesus’ triumphant exit from the tomb. The guard had a boring night all by themselves. When Jesus appeared to the group on the day of the resurrection, they were all gathered in a locked room for fear of the Jewish authorities. Even after Jesus had appeared to them and they went back to Galilee at His instruction, when Jesus next encountered them, they were fishing. They had gone back to life before Jesus because they still didn’t really believe the movement was going to continue. The opportunity had passed.
What we see in these couple of verses is yet another major piece of evidence that all of this is the case. These women who were so close to Jesus headed out early on the morning of resurrection to head for the tomb. They had paid careful attention to where the tomb was. They had watched the initial burial preparations being made. They knew the job hadn’t been finished because of the arrival of the Sabbath. They were going with all the supplies they needed to finish embalming His body so that it was properly buried. You don’t go to prepare someone’s body for a proper burial if you think there’s a even a chance he is going to be alive when you get there. They were going to prepare His body for burial because they knew He was dead, and that wasn’t changing on this morning or any other.
The scene at the tomb that greeted their arrival caught them completely by surprise. If you read Matthew’s timeline carefully, it seems like the guards were still passed out on the ground from fear of seeing the angels. That means there were soldiers lying around when they went up the tomb. The stone, which would have taken several strong men to move, was rolled away. And then, there was no body inside. They were shocked and bewildered and utterly clueless as to what to make of what they were seeing. Even then, the thought of Jesus’ being alive again didn’t register.
So, what does all of this mean? It means the resurrection was not something anyone made up. No one had been sitting around concocting this plot for years and had finally executed their carefully laid plans. There was no conspiracy behind any of this. No one was prepared for it. It happened and caught all of them completely by surprise. When they started claiming Jesus rose from the dead, the only reason they did so was because it had happened. He had risen from the dead. Jesus is alive. Now, you have to decide whether or not you are going to adjust your life accordingly.