How frightened the chief priests and the Pharisees of Jerusalem were of a dead man! Their fear is utterly astounding! In their own words, they left no doubt about their opinion of Jesus of Nazareth. He was a fraud, a deceiver, an impostor, a charlatan. Worse yet, He was a blasphemer, a rabble-rouser, a teacher who sounded like one of them in His words, yet who consorted with tax-collectors and sinners. Now, as Jesus lay dead and buried, there is no doubt in their minds that He is really and truly dead. They have carried out their plot against Him successfully, and He is no longer a problem for them. Sure, He had His disciples, men whom He had handpicked, and they had been loyal—until He was arrested, tried, condemned to death, and crucified. At His arrest, most of them abandoned Him. His leading disciple had denied even knowing Jesus, and denied Him three times at that. What delicious irony! Oh, and better still, another one of His handpicked disciples betrayed Jesus to them, for thirty pieces of silver. A lordly sum indeed, the price of a slave! With friends like that, who needs enemies? And yet, Jesus had plenty of enemies. These men, the chief priests and scribes and Pharisees, arrayed themselves against Jesus, because He spoke and taught against them. Jesus had threatened their position at the top of Jewish religious life and society.
But not anymore! They had seen to that. He was dead and buried. Two of their own number, that is, two Pharisees, saw to Jesus’ burial. They didn’t do this at the Council’s behest. For they had not consented to the Council’s decision to destroy Jesus. Rather, Joseph of Arimathea was “secretly” a disciple of Jesus, and presumably so was Nicodemus, who helped Joseph with the burial of the Lord. Recall that it was Nicodemus who had come to see Jesus by night and had said to Him, “Rabbi, we know that You are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that You do unless God is with him” (Jn 3:2). Clearly, Nicodemus had not been alone among the Pharisees in holding this view of Jesus. What, then, led all but these two, Joseph and Nicodemus, to turn against Jesus? We cannot say for certain about all of them; but fear was probably a factor for many of them—fear of the loss of their prestige, and fear that the Romans would come in and destroy the nation, the fear expressed by Caiaphas the high priest (Jn 11:50).
Even with Jesus dead, though—buried in a tomb, His body wrapped in linens with spices and ointments, the tomb sealed with a great stone at the entrance (Jn 19:39–41; Mt 27:59–60)—even with all of that leaving no doubt that Jesus is truly, completely dead, fear still lives in the hearts and minds of these men from the Council. They go to Pilate the governor, saying, “Sir, we remember how that impostor said, while He was still alive, ‘After three days I will rise.’ Therefore order the tomb to be made secure until the third day, lest His disciples go and steal Him away and tell the people, ‘He has risen from the dead,’ and the last fraud will be worse than the first” (Mt 27:63–64). “Order the tomb to be made secure.” Let there be no doubt that He is dead and still in the tomb. Let there be no doubt that He has not risen from the dead. Soon enough His disciples will become dispirited and dispersed, and Jesus’ movement will be no more. Any disciples who do try anything will be dealt with in due course. Pontius Pilate’s response means either that he consented to the request of the chief priests and Pharisees, providing the guard of soldiers and the seal on the tomb, or that he believed they had enough guards and authority on their own to accomplish the task. Either way, a guard of soldiers was set at the tomb of Jesus, and the stone was sealed with an official seal, the breaking of which was breaking the law. If the guard was of Roman soldiers, let there be no doubt that they would not have fallen asleep while on guard duty. Their centurion, their captain, would see to that. Any soldier caught sleeping while on guard duty would be severely beaten by the centurion with his vitis, his grapevine staff. If the guard was of temple guard soldiers, let there be no doubt that they would not have fallen asleep, either. Their captain would see to that. He carried a torch, and if he found a guard asleep on duty, he would set the guard’s clothes on fire. The textual evidence would seem to favor Roman guards. But let there be no doubt that Jesus was truly dead and buried in a securely sealed and guarded tomb.
Nearly six centuries earlier, Daniel was one of three presidents whom King Darius had set over the 120 satraps who governed his kingdom. These satraps and the other high officials feared Daniel, for he was the king’s favorite, whom the king was ready to appoint as the highest official over his whole kingdom. One wonders what it was about Daniel that filled his colleagues with such fear. Whatever their reasons, they conspired and plotted to destroy Daniel. They went to Darius, saying, “O King Darius, live forever! All the presidents of the kingdom, the prefects and the satraps, the counselors and the governors are agreed that the king should establish an ordinance and enforce an injunction, that whoever makes petition to any god or man for thirty days, except to you, O king, shall be cast into the den of lions. Now, O king, establish the injunction and sign the document, so that it cannot be changed, according to the law of the Medes and the Persians, which cannot be revoked” (Dan 6:6–8). This was more than flattery; this was a case of appealing to the king’s aspirations to godhood and his “divine” authority. Such was the case with most kings and emperors of the ancient world, including the Pharaohs of Egypt, the Caesars of Rome, and even into the 20th century with the Tennō, the emperors of Japan.
These officials of the Medo-Persian Empire actually lied to their king, as they claimed, “All the high officials of the kingdom … are agreed” that he should issue and sign that decree. Daniel was most certainly not party to this; he was the target of this plot. “Now, O king, establish the injunction and sign the document, so that it cannot be changed, according to the law of the Medes and the Persians, which cannot be revoked” (Dan 6:8). In other words, Let there be no doubt that this is the law of the land. So then there will be no doubt that Daniel is a lawbreaker who pays no heed to the king’s decree. Was the king foolish for having fallen for their scheme against his beloved servant Daniel? Perhaps. When Daniel’s violation was brought to his attention, the king admitted, “The thing stands fast, according to the law of the Medes and Persians, which cannot be revoked” (Dan 6:13b). Daniel was thrown into the den of the lions, and a stone was set over the den’s mouth, sealed with the king’s signet and the signet of his lords (v. 17), so there was no doubt that Daniel had to face the unjust punishment for his so-called “crime” and it could not be changed.
Let there be no doubt that the LORD God delivered His faithful servant Daniel from the mouth of the lions. For when the seal was broken and the stone moved the next day, not a scratch was found on him. Instead, the king ordered Daniel’s enemies thrown to the lions. Let there be no doubt, though, that even if the LORD had not preserved Daniel from the mouth of the lions, Daniel would never have obeyed that decree and so turned against his God, the only true and living God, the Maker of heaven and earth.
Let there be no doubt that God the Father delivered not His faithful, beloved Son, Christ Jesus, from “the mouth of the lion,” as He pleads in Psalm 22:21. Let there be no doubt that the Father instead delivered His Son, the Suffering Servant, into the hands of sinful men. Let there be no doubt that Jesus suffered and died upon the cross. Let there be no doubt that the dead body of Jesus was laid into a tomb, and let there be no doubt that the tomb was sealed shut with a large stone, the stone was sealed with an official seal, and a guard of soldiers was set over the tomb. Let there be no doubt that God the Father gave His Son into suffering and death, and the Son willingly submitted to this Passion, to deliver us from sin, death, and the power of the devil.
Let there be no doubt that the LORD God sent a flood over all the earth in the days of Noah. Let there be no doubt that the LORD preserved believing Noah and his family, eight souls in all, in the ark through the water. That ark is a type of the holy ark of Christ’s Church. Let there be no doubt that Holy Baptism is the antitype of the Flood, that Baptism is indeed the Greater Flood. Let there be no doubt that, through your baptism, God has brought you into His holy ark of the Christian Church, has brought to you the salvation and redemption which Jesus won on the cross for you, and in your baptism He has forgiven you all your sins. Let there be no doubt that, confessing your sins before your pastor as before God Himself, the Holy Absolution, your pastor’s forgiveness for you, is God’s forgiveness. Let there be no doubt that the seal of the confessional is sacred and secure; whatever sins confessed here are truly forgiven, dead and buried in the tomb of your pastor’s ear. Let there be no doubt that this is so, because the stone, seal, and guard set over the tomb of Jesus were set in vain. By the power of the Holy Spirit, let there be no doubt “in Him who raised from the dead Jesus our Lord, who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification” (Rom 4:24b–25).
In the name of ✠ Jesus. Amen.
And the peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in ✠ Christ Jesus. Amen.