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lome, had brought sweet spices that they might come and anoint him. And very early in the morning, they came unto the sepulchre, at the rising of the sun. And they said among themselves, Who shall roll us away the stone from the door of the sepulchre! And when they looked, they saw that the stone was rolled away: for it was very great."
Sepulchres in the East, (at least those belonging to rich men,) were formed of a small outer court, the entrance to which was covered by a huge stone; and opening from this court, within, was the chamber wherein the dead were laid. They were often hewn in the solid rock. The tomb of Joseph was in this fashion; and the women before they approached, suddenly remembered that the strength of several men would be needed to roll away the stone that covered the entrance. They consulted with each other what was to be done. They who seek for Christ crucified are often perplexed by doubts and fears, of the possibility of finding Him, and say within themselves "Who shall remove such and such a hindrance?" Behold the stone is rolled away! All hindrances are gone, for Christ is risen, and has gone forth to meet His people!
The two Marys enter into the outer court of the sepulchre, bewildered with grief and fear and astonishment, and behold! in the shadowy twilight of the tomb, there appear to them, beings in human form clothed in radiant white, watching by the empty grave. St. Luke writes,
LUKE xxiv. 4-7. "And it came to pass, as they were much perplexed thereabout, behold two men stood by them in shining garments. And as they were afraid and bowed down their faces to the earth, they said unto them, Why seek ye the living among the dead? He is not here, but is risen, remember how he spake unto you when he was yet in Galilee ; saying, the Son of man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, and be crucified, and the third day rise again.”
Then for the first time did the remembrance, and the understanding of the words of their Lord, rise up clear within their minds. He had foretold them before He left Galilee, for the last time to go up to Jerusalem, all that they had seen and were now seeing; that He should be crucified, and on the third day should rise again.
Verse 8. "And they remembered his words."
St. Mark mentions but one angel, probably he who had rolled away the stone. He writes of the two Marys,
MARK XVI. 4—7. "And entering into the sepulchre, they saw a young man sitting on the right side, clothed in a long white garment. And they were affrighted. And he said unto them, Be not affrighted: ye seek Jesus of Nazareth which was crucified he is risen, He is not here: behold the the place where they laid him. But go your way, tell his disciples and Peter, that he goeth before you into Galilee, there shall ye see him, as he said unto you.”
Thus did the angels deliver to the women the message left for them by their risen Lord. And thus we see how the Saviour thinks, and the angels know, of all the anxieties and fears of those who love Him. He brings to their mind His promises. He assures them, that He will not fail them in the time to come, that He will meet them and comfort them even when all comfort seems gone; and knowing the fears of the guilty conscience, He sends an especial message of love to the repentant sinners. Tell my disciples," (who had forsaken Him,) "and Peter," who had denied Him.
Verse 8. "And they (the women) went out quickly, and fled from the sepulchre: for they trembled, and were amazed. MATT. xxvii. 9. "They departed quickly with fear and great joy; and did run to bring his disciples word."
MARK XVI. 8. "Neither said they anything to any man; for they were afraid.”
To none whom they met between the city and the tomb did they say one word, but hurried on to reach the quarter where they knew they would find the disciples of Jesus.
There were others besides the women hurrying to Jerusalem.
MATT. xxvii. 11. "Now when they were going, behold some of the watch came into the city, and showed unto the Chief Priests all the things that were done."
We may imagine the astonishment and dismay with which Caiaphas and his brother-in-law Annas heard the tidings. We read that the Roman soldiers told them "all things that were done," and we know that they did "fear and quake" when they saw the angel of the Lord descend from heaven, amid the terrible confusion of a great earthquake, and roll away the stone from the entrance of the tomb, and that the lightning of his countenance, as he calmly seated himself upon it, so overcame them with terror, that "they became as dead men.” What followed they must have seen as they recovered from their trance, for "they related all the things that were done," to the Chief Priests, who must too well have understood the uselessness of all which they had done. Their first concern was to hide the truth, and to spread abroad a lie.
Verse 12. "And when they had assembled with the Elders, and had taken counsel, they gave large money unto the soldiers: saying, "Say ye, his disciples came by night, and stole him away while we slept."
The bribe must have been large indeed that could prevail upon Roman soldiers, falsely to accuse themselves of a crime the punishment of which was death, and the bare suspicion of which would cover them with disgrace; but the Chief Priests added to their bribe this assurance :
Verse 13, 14. "And if this come to the governor's ears, we will persuade him, and secure you (from punishment.) So they took the money, and this saying is commonly reported among the Jews to this day."
Reported, but not believed, for we never find it once stated among the many accusations brought by those very High Priests against the disciples.
They thought it well to spread such a report, which no doubt would be repeated in many different forms among the tens of thousands then met together in Jerusalem; but that the matter was not enquired into, is a sufficient proof that it was known to be false by those in authority. Had the Roman soldiers really slept at their post, it was a crime of the gravest importance; indeed the greatest that a Roman soldier could commit, and one so rare that it would have been sure to have excited much surprize and indignation. Nothing could have screened them from the punishment of death. The soldiers themselves would have been crucified, for thus were military crimes of so disgraceful a nature punished. It is impossible but that Pilate must have heard the report, if only through his wife, whose anxiety on the subject of the death of Jesus was not likely to suffer her to rest in ignorance of that which was known to all Jerusalem, that the sealed stone, the Roman watch, had all been in vain, and that the sepulchre was empty, It was so near the city gates, that when the report spread, the place might be visited by thousands; and when we remember how men flock to each place where anything wonderful has happened, we cannot doubt that crowds would for some time daily pass to and from the city to the tomb near Calvary, so lately itself a scene of excitement and terror. That the thing could be hid from Pilate the Governor, was impossible. Therefore we may well believe that the Chief Priests and the Elders persuaded him to let the matter pass in silence; since the more it was enquired into, the more fully their
and his guilt in condemning the Holy One and the Just would be made clear to all men. But what shall we say of the wickedness of those Priests? Miserable men! why did they not now fall down upon their faces before God, and confess the greatness of their sin? Why seek to bolster up their cause with lies? Alas! it is thus with men, when they set up their own will in opposition to the will of God. They harden themselves against the plainest truths, and to maintain their power they rush from sin to sin.*
"From all hardness of heart, from pride and unbelief, good Lord, deliver us."
MATTHEW XXVIII. MARK XVI. LUKE XXIV. JOHN XX.
We have read that the first tidings which reached any of the disciples, were simply these, "They have taken away the Lord out of the sepulchre, and we know not where they have laid him;" for Mary Magdalene had rushed from the tomb as soon as she saw that the stone had been rolled away. Thus do we often injure ourselves by haste in our judgment. Things are not as we expected, and therefore we conclude in fear and haste that they are against us. If we would have patience, we should see the goodness of the Lord, and that His mighty plans are working out their fulfilment by those very means which we had supposed must hinder them. Mary Magdalene hastened back to express her fears, and to complain of a distress which indeed was only in her own imagination. The other Marys remained, and on going nearer they saw a vision of angels, and they heard the glad good news of the rising of their Lord, and that
*John xi. 47-53.