Behold! Dead Men and Their Tales
"Behold" translates a Greek particle often used in imitation of a Hebrew word telling the hearer to pick up his ears, pay attention; this is something out of the ordinary. Newer translations often ignore it. NASB usually doesn't. "Behold a severe earthquake." "Behold Jesus goes ahead of you to Galilee." "Behold I've told you." "Behold Jesus met them." There's a lot to behold in the Easter account particularly when it comes to dead men and their tales.
Behold, dead men do and don't tell tales. Those guarding the tomb "became like dead men" when they saw the angel descend from heaven and roll away the stone. These dead men tell no tales. After they saw the angel and the empty tomb, some returned to Jerusalem and "reported to the chief priests all that had happened." But they spoke the tale of Jesus' resurrection to no one else. Why not? Because the chief priests gave them a large sum of money "and said, You are to say, His disciples came by night and stole Him while we were asleep." They did as they were instructed. They told no tale that the resurrection Jesus had promised had happened. They instead told the tall tale that Jesus' disciples had stolen His body; the disciples had done the very thing they had been on guard to stop.
There's a big truth in this tall tale. If you think "Jesus should have just shown Himself alive to the Jewish and Roman rulers, and that would have been that," think again. Only those in hell think this way. Jesus tells the damned rich man, "If a person doesn't listen to the Bible, he won't believe even if someone rises from the dead." That's why the first reading said, "Jesus was not seen by all the people, but by witnesses whom God had. commanded to preach to the people."
Anybody can say the words, "Christ is risen; He's risen indeed." The guards could have said that; the chief priests could have said it, but these men would've remained dead. Knowledge of the fact Jesus rose isn't enough. Behold, you need more than tales told by men who "became like dead men." Behold, you need a Man who had been dead telling tales.
The first tale told by the risen Jesus is that He is true God. This Man born of the virgin Mary, crucified on Friday, and now risen on Sunday is God in flesh and blood. Rom. 1:4 says, "He was declared the Son of Godby the resurrection from the dead." The only reason Jesus died was to pay off the world's debt of sins. Once the debt was paid, death had to spit Him out. Death can't swallow divinity, and once Jesus' humanity was joined to His divinity in the Virgin's womb, where the Deity went the humanity did to.
When you're talking rising from the dead, the resurrection of this flesh, you're talking divinity. In 1969, The owner of the last place Washington Senators wanted to revive his club. He recruited the legendary Ted Williams as manager. When asked why, he said, "You don't go after anything less than the divine when you're trying to raise the dead" (The Kid, 528). If you're to face the black fear that floats in the back of your mind; if you're to escape from that dark shadow that falls across your soul at odd times; if you're going to avoid waking up from a dream that you are dying, to the reality that you're dead, you need nothing less than the Divine.
The Jesus who had been dead tells more than the tale that He is God in your flesh and blood. He tells the tale that all sins are paid for. Rom. 4:25 says, "Jesus was delivered to death for our sins and was raised to secure our justification." Easter is not the payment for your sins. The payment was Jesus' entire life of sorrow which culminated in His dying drop by bloody drop and was finished when He said it was. God the Son says the payment that you rightly fear you owe for the sins everyone knows and for that sin no one knows was finished on the cross. Raising Jesus from the dead is God the Father saying, "Amen, Yes, this is most certainly true. All your sins are paid for. My wrath is satisfied."
The once dead Man Jesus rises to tell of His divinity, of you being redeemed from everything you are afraid of, and that you too shall rise. Don't think in terms of the resurrection of the dead but of the body. Dead trees in winter rise in Spring but no decayed, decomposed body of a tree ever does (Chesterton, XX, 90), but your body will. The Church, Old and New Testament, has always spoken of salvation as the resurrection of the flesh; this body will come back into being. The world likes to speak of the immortality of the soul.' The Scriptures don't deny this; but "'immorality of the soul,' speaks of something less definite, more faceless, and of a disembodied bliss" (Dawn to Decadence, 25). Luther's "hope was not only in the immortality of the soul: I also want the body'" he said (Brecht, III, 141).
The once dead man Jesus tells tales, and this one will blow you away: All the dead rise. 1 Cor. 15:22 plainly says, "For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all shall be made alive." It's like the legend of St. Martin of Tours. He died November, 397 A.D. away from home. A boat carried his body home up a river. All along the way the winter trees lining the banks burst into fragrant blossom (Whose What? 150-51). The dead body of a saint can't do that; the risen body of God in the flesh does much more.
Jesus said, "The time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear My voice and come out." There is not a grave so deep or a body so decomposed that the resurrection of Jesus does not rise. There is no one lost at sea who the sea does not give up. There is no one lost to history that the Last Trumpet will not find. Every grave, everywhere, even if they someday be on the Moon or Mars, will open.
There's a difference; not all are raised incorruptible. Some are raised as dead men walking, the walking dead. Unbelief has no problem embracing the "Big Sleep" as Churchill called it or the "dirt nap" as right wing radio host Neal Boortz calls it. But what if this life doesn't end in a grave, in a nap, in a deep eternal sleep? What if all the graves open and all the dead come out?
Behold! Dead men do and don't tell tales. The guards won't speak the true tale of the resurrection of Jesus, but they will tell the tall tale of a stolen body. Behold! The once dead Man Jesus comes out of the grave telling of divinity, paid for sins, and the resurrection of all flesh. And, behold, dead men don't believe the Galilean tale. This fact is one of the most puzzling in the Easter account.
Maundy Thursday Jesus tells the apostles, "After I have been raised, I will go before you to Galilee." The plan was to meet in Galilee. No one goes to Galilee, not the faithful women who endured the crucifixion, not the faithless men who ran from it. So, Jesus has an angel tell the women to tell His disciples, "He has risen from the dead; and behold, He is going before you into Galilee; there you will see Him." But there's more. Jesus personally meets the women and says, "Go and take word to My brothers to leave for Galilee, and there they shall see Me."
This is very early Easter morning. On Easter evening where do we find the disciples? Locked in the upper room fearing for their lives not leaving for Galilee. Where do we find the disciples an entire week after Easter? Locked in the upper room, this time not for fear, but still nowhere near Galilee and making no moves in that direction.
And you think you have trouble believing the resurrection? You think you have problems obeying Jesus? Let's take the last first. I don't know about you, but when my kids were in the home and I specifically told them to do something, I didn't give them 3 chances. Jesus specifically commands "go to Galilee" and specifically promises "there" not "here" you will see Me. But nobody goes. Dead men don't believe the Galilean tale. They don't believe Jesus is their brother or that God is their Father. This additional tale Jesus sent by Mary Magdalen: "Go to My brothers, and say to them, "I ascend to My Father and your Father."
"Pastor, please tell me there is nothing I could have ever done that Jesus will not forgive me for." Two people, as I recall, have said that to me over the years. Both of them woman. If you ask me, this is a statement more apropos of men. Look at Holy Week. Who fall asleep in Gethsemane ask yourself how many women have you ever seen sleeping in church? Who flees from Him Gethsemane? Who betrays Him? Who denies Him? The answer is men, men, and men.
The men are the ones guilty of having done things that no man could forgive them for, but the God-Man Jesus did. In fact, in the entire Easter account what is the only sin that Jesus calls the men to task for? For not believing the women. Mark 16:14: "Later Jesus appeared to the Eleven as they were eating; He rebuked them for their lack of faith and their stubborn refusal to believe those who had seen Him after He had risen." He didn't rebuke them for fleeing, denying, or abandoning Him. He didn't rebuke them for not going to Galilee. He rebuked them for not believing the Good News the women proclaimed of a risen Jesus forgiving sins.
It's always shocking to meet life where you expect death. "'Look out!' we cry, it's alive.'" And this is the very point so many draw back from Jesus (Lewis, Miracles, 150). A historical Jesus men can tolerate; a Jesus of the past is fine. But to think the One you betrayed, denied, left for dead is alive, "Behold! Watch out! He's alive." But He's alive not to frighten you, but to forgive you even if you can't forgive yourself, even if others won't forgive you. He's alive to prove to you He is your Lord and God; Death is not your destiny, and Sin is not your legacy.
But you have doubts. Welcome to the club. When the disciples finally do go to Galilee this is what we read in Matthew 28: "The 11 disciples journeyed to Galilee, and seeing Jesus they worshipped; they doubted." And still Jesus didn't turn away. In fact, He said His final behold, "Behold, I am with you always even to the end of the age." The answer to doubts is not beholding more facts, but beholding more Jesus. Amen.
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
The Resurrection of Our Lord (20170416); Matthew 28: 1-10