“He is not here; he has risen, just as he said.” – Matthew 28:6
On Easter Sunday, most Christian churches saw their biggest attendance day of the year. People who rarely if ever attend at any other time showed up to pack the place. And we might ask ourselves … why?
Before we look at that question, let’s take a look at that first Easter morning. We usually focus on the group of women who went to Jesus’ tomb, but they weren’t the first to arrive there. They were beaten to the tomb by about 36 hours … by Roman guards. Governor Pontius Pilate had ordered the tomb sealed and guarded by armed soldiers after the chief priests and Pharisees remembered that Jesus had predicted, “After three days I will rise again” (Matthew 27:63). They wanted to make sure Jesus’ disciples couldn’t steal the body and claim that he’d risen from the dead. So, when the women arrived, the guards were standing right outside.
As a sign of respect and love, the women had come to anoint Jesus’ grave cloths with spices and oils. But their plans were shaken up—literally. According to Matthew 28:2, there was a “violent earthquake” as an angel from heaven came down rolled back the stone and sat on it. “His appearance was like lightning, and his clothes were white as snow” (v. 3), and the guards were so terrified that they “shook and became like dead men” (v. 4). They were frozen in place—so scared they couldn’t even run away. The angel announced: “He is not here; He has risen, just as He said” (v. 6). The angel sent them to share the good news with the disciples, and the women saw Jesus for themselves on their way back.
In verses 11-15, Matthew tells us some of the guards went into the city and told the Jewish leaders what had happened. The leaders hastily met and devised a quick plan. They gave the soldiers “a large sum of money”—likely a year’s wages, or about $30,000 in today’s currency. They ordered the soldiers that, if anyone asked them what happened to Jesus’ body, “You are to say, ‘His disciples came during the night and stole him away while we were asleep” (v. 14). The soldiers took the money and obeyed their orders (v. 15). That was their story, and they were paid well to stick to it. But deep down, the soldiers knew the truth. And so did the women. And later that day, so did Jesus’ apostles. Within a few short years, Christianity swept across three continents, because the fact of the resurrection was plain for all to see.
Now, I want to ask you two very important questions:
Question #1: Did you go to an Easter service to worship Jesus because you were somehow PAID to be there … or because you WANTED to be there? The soldiers at the tomb were there on Easter morning because they were PAID to be there. The women at the tomb were there because they WANTED to be there. Across our nation, millions of Americans attended Easter services last week who haven’t set foot inside a church building in a long time. Many of them came because a family member pretty much made them come. Others might have come to church because they were serving lunch afterward. Still others came for an Easter Egg Hunt, prize giveaways or free entertainment. All that to say, many people come to Easter services because they are—in some way or another—paid to be there.
Question #2: Are you walking past a goldmine of eternal treasure for a few quick bucks? As the Roman guards left the temple courts with a bag full of cash, they thought they’d struck it rich. They were fools! They ran past a goldmine to pick up a few pennies. That’s how it is when we choose money over Jesus, when we choose goods over God, when we choose the temporary things of earth over the eternal things of heaven. And many of us do it every day. We live for the moment. We live for pleasure. So, many of us don’t read God’s Word every day, because we don’t feel like reading God’s Word every day. We don’t go to church with our families each week, because we don’t feel like it. We’ve got more important things to do. You can do that. God has given you free choice. But when it comes to your time, your priorities and your money, if you and your family are the center of your universe, you and your family ARE your god.
Are you more like a paid soldier who was at the tomb for the money, or are you more like one of Jesus’ followers, who came to the tomb because they truly loved Jesus Christ and wanted to be close to Jesus, worship Jesus and live for Jesus? If you’re just in it for the money, your church will still be glad to see you. But you and I both know—that’s not going to fly with God. I hope and pray that when you come to church, it’s because you WANT to be there. I hope and pray that instead of toying with Jesus Christ, you trust in Him … love Him … and serve Him.
Dane Davis is the pastor of Impact Christian Church in Victorville. Join us at Impact for Sunday services: in person at 9 a.m., or online at 10 a.m. on YouTube or Facebook Live. For more information, visit www.GreaterImpact.cc.