History Making Decisions We Rarely Hear About
Jesus rising from the dead. This is the foundation of Christianity and so much has been written it seems there is hardly anything left to write. Whether you argue for or against it doesn’t really matter.
There is one story though that garners little attention. It barely receives notice, unless of course you have ever served in the military. If you’ve served in the military you’ll notice little details like this.
It’s a familiar story that has been happening throughout the history of the world.
This is the story of soldiers who were part of the story, but nobody ever really looks into their part of this historic moment.
Roman soldiers were badasses. Check out the image up above. Do these dudes look at all like they’re going to be stunned and lie motionless while a tombstone is supposedly rolled out of the way by a couple of young ladies while they steal a body from the tomb?
However, these soldiers did just that and they are the characters I want to focus on as we enter Passion Week as followers of Jesus.
I will send soldiers to guard the tomb,” Pilate replied. “Go with them and make the tomb as secure as possible.” So they (the chief priests and the Pharisees) left and sealed the stone, and Pilate’s soldiers secured the tomb. Matthew 27:65–66 (The Passion Translation)
Something Terrifying Must Have Happened
For Roman soldiers to not fulfill their duties, something absolutely terrifying had to have happened. The punishment for dereliction of duty was more than severe. And that from all accounts of the story is what these soldiers did.
I searched for articles and found Wikipedia with the most extensive of descriptions. “ Following a court-martial sentence for desertion or dereliction of duty, the soldier would be stoned, or beaten to death by cudgels, in front of the assembled troops, by his fellow soldiers, whose lives had been put in danger. Soldiers under sentence of fustuarium who escaped were not pursued, but lived under sentence of banishment from Rome.
In my head I picture the conversation these soldiers had in the dawning day. For context, you have to understand where these soldiers are standing guard.
“Dude, we’re outside the city hanging out at a grave. How did we get stuck with this duty?” Soldier 1 grumpily asks.
“I don’t know but this is creepy and I’ve got a bad feeling that nothing good is going to come of this.” replies Soldier 2 looking around warily.
“Dude, what was that noise?” Soldier one gasps. “Did that just come from inside the tomb?”
The soldiers are instantly frozen and fall to the ground as if they are dead. As they lay on the ground stunned, they see a dazzling figure in white appear. This is when it becomes way too much for them to handle.
“Let’s get out of here. There is no way this can be happening!!!!” the soldiers scream as the stone rolls away and a bright light shines forth from the tomb. They run screaming away into the distance, never to be seen or heard from until they go to the chief priests and not their commanders.
The Scene is Set
First you have to try and picture what these badass soldiers experienced. This was a terrifying moment in these men’s lives.
After the Sabbath ended, at the first light of dawn on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went up to take a look at the tomb. Suddenly, the earth shook violently beneath their feet as the angel of the Lord Jehovah descended from heaven. Lighting flashed around him and his robe was dazzling white! The guards were stunned and terrified — lying motionless like dead men. Matthew 28:1–4 (The Passion Translation)
Maybe it wasn’t the dead of night. Maybe it was at the first light of dawn. I have no idea, but I do know that the next time the guards were mentioned in the Bible is later in Matthew 28.
After the women left the tomb, a few of the guards went into Jerusalem and told the chief priests everything they had seen and heard. So the chief priests called a meeting with all the religious leaders and came up with a plan. They bribed the guards with a large sum of money and told them, “Tell everyone, ‘While we were asleep, his disciples came at night and stole his body!’ If Pilate finds out about this, don’t worry. We’ll make sure you don’t get blamed.” So they took the money and did as they were told. Matthew 28:11–15 (The Passion Translation)
There is no amount of money that a soldier will take that could equal what their lives are worth. That’s the punishment they were facing if/when Pilate found out about what really happened.
To me the soldiers are the central part of this story that doesn’t ever really get told. What could possibly entice a couple of soldiers to lie about what happened and make as if nothing happened to their commander? A bag of silver coins? No way. Silver could never equal my life and with what the Romans were capable of in terms of cruelty and torture would blow our ever living minds if we really knew.
This is why the soldiers intrigue me. The extravagance of the deception and what it would take to silence a couple of soldiers from talking about what really happened had to have been really something.
What Can We Learn From These Soldiers
One of my quests in life is to constantly be learning lessons from incidents that happen in my life. So as I read this story beginning in Matthew 27 and going through Matthew 28, what stood out to me the most were the life lessons I could take from these soldiers to make sure my life matters in the end.
- If you don’t stand for something, you will fall for anything. These soldiers knew the truth of what happened. Yet, because they had nothing to stand for, when the chief priests fed them some money and a story to tell, they fell for it and went along with it. As a culture today, we are much the same way. Some famous news anchor or entertainer says something and as a society because we don’t really know what we stand for, we spend years of our lives repeating the same bold faced lie we are fed until we actually believe it. Even if the truth is out there for all to see, we fall for anything. This is why you must determine what you stand for. Then learn everything you can about your stance and be prepared to defend it with grace and respect.
- A bag of money doesn’t solve your problems. I’ve made really good money throughout my career. I’ve also been dead broke, out of a job and wondering if I was going to be homeless soon. The point is that neither having money nor not having money solved any of my problems. These soldiers had a problem. The tomb they were guarding was opened by an angelic being and the ground beneath their feet moved. They were witnesses to a man rising from death and walking forth from a tomb. Yet, when it really mattered, they were willing to go along with a lie for a bag of money. Their problem was they knew the truth, but the truth was inconvenient. So they increased their problem by thinking a bag of money would solve their problem. Instead, we never find out what happened to them, but I am willing to be they never made it home to their families. That whole cudgel thing is what most likely happened to these soldiers and they never got to enjoy the bag of money.
- Truth always triumphs. The story of the soldiers ends right there. They are never mentioned again. However, the truth is still being talked about and debated and discussed today. The truth, in the form of the risen Jesus, is still a topic today. The lie that the soldiers were told to repeat died right there on that day. No matter what you have gone through or what you are going through, the Truth will always triumph. All you have to do is maintain your integrity and continue to believe the truth.
I feel sorry for the soldiers in a way. They were right there, available to be used to be history makers. They could have told of the angel that appeared and rolled the tombstone away and greeted Jesus as he walked forth from the grave. Instead, they were awestruck by a bag of money and a lie, and they became just a mere footnote in history. Less than a footnote in fact because Matthew is the only Gospel that even mentions them.
I don’t want to end up like the soldiers, selling out the Truth for a bag of money so it can temporarily satisfy something inside of me. I want to be a part of history in the making. I want to tell others of history being made and be a witness to things I could never comprehend in my limited way of thinking.
How about you? Are you going to settle for a bag of money or are you going to walk and talk with history? The thing about this is that you never know who is going to make history. It could be that nobody whose work you are reading or watching or listening to. You may one day say, “I knew him/her when…” and look back and say you saw history being made.
That is a far greater choice than settling for a bag of money. And the beauty is, you are the one who gets to make that choice.