Bribing a Guard For the Truth: Matthew 28:1-10

Focus Passage: Matthew 28:1-10 (NCV)

The day after the Sabbath day was the first day of the week. At dawn on the first day, Mary Magdalene and another woman named Mary went to look at the tomb.

At that time there was a strong earthquake. An angel of the Lord came down from heaven, went to the tomb, and rolled the stone away from the entrance. Then he sat on the stone. He was shining as bright as lightning, and his clothes were white as snow. The soldiers guarding the tomb shook with fear because of the angel, and they became like dead men.

The angel said to the women, “Don’t be afraid. I know that you are looking for Jesus, who has been crucified. He is not here. He has risen from the dead as he said he would. Come and see the place where his body was. And go quickly and tell his followers, ‘Jesus has risen from the dead. He is going into Galilee ahead of you, and you will see him there.’” Then the angel said, “Now I have told you.”

The women left the tomb quickly. They were afraid, but they were also very happy. They ran to tell Jesus’ followers what had happened. Suddenly, Jesus met them and said, “Greetings.” The women came up to him, took hold of his feet, and worshiped him. 10 Then Jesus said to them, “Don’t be afraid. Go and tell my followers to go on to Galilee, and they will see me there.”

Read Matthew 28:1-10 in context and/or in other translations on!

Of all the gospels to describe Jesus’ resurrection morning, Matthew is the only one who actually includes the guards’ perspective. Matthew is also the only one to include the religious leaders bribing the guards, and starting the lie that the disciples rolled the stone away while the soldiers slept at their post.

I wonder if Matthew, from his days as a tax collector, had a friend who was a guard that was posted at the tomb. Matthew would have known many Roman soldiers as a tax collector because they would work together when collecting taxes. I am curious if an earlier relationship with a roman soldier paid off in helping Matthew uncover the details of what happened at the tomb from the guards’ perspective. Maybe there was a bribe involved, or maybe Matthew called in a favor to help discover the truth.

In an interesting twist, the religious leaders’ fear of the disciples stealing Jesus’ body actually places a group of witnesses to be present at the exact moment the angel comes to roll the stone away. Had the religious leaders not cared, or if they hadn’t paid attention to Jesus’ predictions of resurrection, then no one would have been there for the event the universe celebrated.

Matthew describes the event like this: “At that time there was a strong earthquake. An angel of the Lord came down from heaven, went to the tomb, and rolled the stone away from the entrance. Then he sat on the stone. He was shining as bright as lightning, and his clothes were white as snow. The soldiers guarding the tomb shook with fear because of the angel, and they became like dead men.” (v. 2-4)

It is interesting that the angel’s job is to simply roll the stone away. The earthquake happened before the angel came, and all the angel did was roll the stone away and sit on it. The angel was tasked with the responsibility of keeping the stone off of the tomb’s entrance – in case the guards wanted to quickly put the stone back after recovering from their shock.

However, an angel sitting on the stone terrifies and paralyzes the guards from fear. They all watch as Jesus walks out through the tomb’s entrance unassisted. Perhaps the angel briefly disappears, allowing them the time to run away to tell the priests and religious leaders. I wonder if the guards actually pass the women as they are coming to the tomb.

Jesus resurrection was witnessed by the least likely individuals: pagan Roman soldiers. Had the Jewish leaders not been so worried about a scandal, no one would have known exactly what had happened at the tomb when Jesus rose from the dead.

This thought was inspired by studying the Walking With Jesus “Reflective Bible Study” package. To discover insights like this in your own study time, click here and give Reflective Bible Study a try today!

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A Transformational Encounter: Luke 19:1-10

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While one of Jesus’ twelve disciples had formerly been a tax collector, when we think of stories involving Jesus and tax collectors, the event we will be looking at in our passage for this episode is likely the one that first comes to mind. While Matthew got years of face-to-face time with Jesus and while Matthew ultimately writes an entire gospel dedicated to Jesus’ life, Zacchaeus get’s the top spot in most peoples’ minds when we think of Jesus’ encounters with tax collectors.

However, when we look closely at Zacchaeus’ story, we discover some amazing details that are easily overlooked. In the culture, certain groups of people were stereotypically assumed to be a certain way, and one such group was tax collectors. These groups were simply judged based upon the stereotype, regardless of whether they fit into the stereotype.

Which brings us to a question I want to ask us before reading our passage for this episode: Was Zacchaeus a corrupt tax collector, fitting perfectly into the stereotype, or was Zacchaeus an honest man in a hated occupation?

Let’s read the passage and see if we can find some clues leading to an answer for this question. Our passage is found in Luke’s gospel, chapter 19, and we will read from the New Century Version. Starting in verse 1, Luke tells us that:

Jesus was going through the city of Jericho. A man was there named Zacchaeus, who was a very important tax collector, and he was wealthy. He wanted to see who Jesus was, but he was not able because he was too short to see above the crowd. He ran ahead to a place where Jesus would come, and he climbed a sycamore tree so he could see him. When Jesus came to that place, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down! I must stay at your house today.”

Zacchaeus came down quickly and welcomed him gladly. All the people saw this and began to complain, “Jesus is staying with a sinner!”

But Zacchaeus stood and said to the Lord, “I will give half of my possessions to the poor. And if I have cheated anyone, I will pay back four times more.”

Jesus said to him, “Salvation has come to this house today, because this man also belongs to the family of Abraham. 10 The Son of Man came to find lost people and save them.”

As we were reading this passage just now, the statement the crowd made stood out to me. After Zacchaeus has been seen by Jesus and after Jesus basically invites Himself over to Zacchaeus’ home, the crowd grumbles the statement in verse 7, “Jesus is staying with a sinner!

I’m not sure exactly why this phrase sounds funny in my mind, but perhaps it has something to do with the small detail that if Jesus stayed with anyone, regardless of who they were, He could be accused of staying with a sinner.

This statement is funny and profound at the same time. It is funny because the people who were grumbling and complaining in the crowd about what they saw happening could have had the exact same complaint and accusation tossed their way if Jesus had chosen one of them. This statement is profound because it tells us that God doesn’t mind associating with sinners – especially sinners whose hearts are ripe for redemption.

So then let’s return to our question: Was Zacchaeus a sinner? Yes.

Was Zacchaeus a corrupt tax collector who fit the stereotype? Let’s look at the evidence.

If we were to build a case for Zacchaeus being corrupt, three details are present that could support this claim. First, we have the detail that Zacchaeus was wealthy. If Zacchaeus was one of the wealthiest tax collectors in the region, then that could be because he acquired his wealth in a dishonest way.

Next, we have the detail that the people’s perception of Zacchaeus was that he was a sinner. If Zacchaeus was honest, or in any way atypical of the norm, we would likely see the crowd sharing a different response.

Thirdly, after having met with Jesus, Zacchaeus determines to give his wealth away. It stands to reason that having this wealth wouldn’t be an issue if it was acquired honestly, but if it was acquired dishonestly, then Zacchaeus would morally need to get rid of it as part of his repenting and turning to God. Since Jesus validates Zacchaeus’ decision to give up his wealth, we could logically conclude it was because Zacchaeus acquired it dishonestly.

For those three reasons, we could conclude that Zacchaeus was dishonest and fit perfectly into the stereotypical tax collector.

However, what are some counter reasons to suggest that Zacchaeus was atypical.

To our first point, wealth is simply wealth. While it can be acquired dishonestly, nothing says that it is only ever acquired this way. Zacchaeus may have inherited a good percentage of his wealth, or he may have simply been an excellent saver. As an important or chief tax collector, he may have had a higher government salary for the position he held, which could account for the extra income and/or wealth.

The second point stands to reason that many people likely knew of Zacchaeus but didn’t know him personally. If Zacchaeus was a manager of other tax collectors, people could project their dislike of the whole profession onto Zacchaeus without knowing him personally. It is easy to judge people without knowing their situation. In the same way, it is easy to judge Zacchaeus simply because of the stereotype, and not because of anything specific to Zacchaeus himself.

The third point speaks to generosity more than dishonesty. After meeting Jesus, it is perfectly possible for Zacchaeus to have a change of heart from being a hoarder or a saver, which is something that can be done honestly, to being a generous giver. Zacchaeus may have had an unhealthy focus on acquiring wealth, and while he acquired wealth honestly, he had let that wealth become an idol in his life.

Now that we have three alternate points to the points that Zacchaeus was dishonest, there is one big point that doesn’t add up if Zacchaeus fits the dishonest stereotype. The way Zacchaeus handles his gift doesn’t allow for much dishonesty. Verse 8 tells us Zacchaeus’ response while He was with Jesus: “I will give half of my possessions to the poor. And if I have cheated anyone, I will pay back four times more.

If I’ve done the math correctly, Zacchaeus could have cheated no more than 12% of those who he collected from before bankrupting himself. The stereotypical tax collector would have cheated much more than this. I arrive at this number because Zacchaeus first pledges half of his wealth away, leaving him with only 50%, and he promises to pay 4 times any amount that was cheated. Fifty divided by four equals 12.5%.

However, Zacchaeus also challenges those present by saying “if I have cheated anyone”. This is a challenge and an invitation for all those who were cheated to come forward. It’s possible there were some who did, but it is also very possible that Zacchaeus just broke out of the stereotype. If Zacchaeus’ pledge and promise were not doable, I doubt Jesus would have praised him.

From reading the details of this event, I fully suspect that Zacchaeus was honest in his position, and that Jesus’ praise for Zacchaeus was based on Zacchaeus’ change of focus from hoarding wealth to being generous.

Following this event, nothing is mentioned about Zacchaeus leaving his occupation of tax collecting. Jesus doesn’t give Zacchaeus an invitation like He gave Matthew. After meeting Jesus, at the very least, if Zacchaeus had not been honest before, he would be honest from that point forward.

Before ending our episode, I have one more observation to share with you. Early on in our year podcasting through Luke’s gospel, we read about John the Baptist preaching along the Jordan River. Jericho was a city that was near the Jordan River. In Luke chapter 3, when Luke is sharing a summary of John the Baptist’s teaching and the impact it had, we learned that corrupt tax collectors asked John what to do. This can be found specifically in verses 12 and 13.

It wouldn’t surprise me if Zacchaeus had heard John’s message many years before. It wouldn’t surprise me if Zacchaeus had been corrupt before and had turned his actions and attitude around at that point. It also wouldn’t surprise me if Zacchaeus was honest before that point, and that it was other tax collectors Zacchaeus knew who were most affected by John’s message.

More than the wealth we have, God is interested in our focus. If our focus is on building our wealth, then it doesn’t matter whether the wealth is being built honestly or dishonestly, we have a bad focus. However, if our focus is on helping others and on using what God blesses us to be a blessing to others, than we have a better focus. I see Zacchaeus shift from a poor focus on his wealth to a better focus, and Jesus applauds this decision of an atypical, honest, tax collector.

As we come to the end of another podcast episode, here are the challenges I will leave you with:

As always, intentionally seek God first in your life. Choose to live your live with a spirit of generosity and use the wealth God has blessed you with to help others.

Also, continue to pray and study the Bible for yourself to grow personally closer to God each day. Don’t let anyone get between you and God and filter the messages you hear through the lens of the Bible!

And as I end every set of challenges by saying in one way or another, never stop short of, back away from, chicken out of, or walk away from where God wants to lead you to in your life with Him!

Year in Luke – Episode 39: When Jesus visits Jericho, discover how He has a powerful encounter with a man named Zacchaeus, and how meeting Jesus transforms Zacchaeus’ focus and his life!

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The Value of Persistence: Mark 10:46-52

Focus Passage: Mark 10:46-52 (GNT)

 46 They came to Jericho, and as Jesus was leaving with his disciples and a large crowd, a blind beggar named Bartimaeus son of Timaeus was sitting by the road. 47 When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout,
         Jesus! Son of David! Have mercy on me!

 48 Many of the people scolded him and told him to be quiet. But he shouted even more loudly,
         Son of David, have mercy on me!

 49 Jesus stopped and said,
         Call him.

   So they called the blind man.
         Cheer up! they said.
         Get up, he is calling you.

 50 So he threw off his cloak, jumped up, and came to Jesus.

 51 What do you want me to do for you? Jesus asked him.

         Teacher, the blind man answered,
         I want to see again.

 52 Go, Jesus told him,
         your faith has made you well.

Read Mark 10:46-52 in context and/or in other translations on!

In our passage today, we witness struggle, persistence, and triumph. It is a perfect example for one of my favorite phrases: “Everything worth achieving involves a challenge.”

In this passage, the gospel of Mark gives the man with the challenge a name: Bartimaeus. Bartimaeus was blind, and this was the big obstacle in his life.

In that era, those who were disabled in some way had the social stigma that some sin they did, or a sin their parents did, was the reason for the disability being in their life. So they were an outcast from the start, and in that era, almost all occupations required some form of eyesight, so these individuals with disabilities were left to beg for money, food, and the other necessities of life. The culture was not their friend. There was no “government assistance” available to help – unless you requested death at the hands of a gruff Roman soldier.

But what makes the encounter Jesus has with Bartimaeus so interesting in my mind is that once Bartimaeus has a sliver of hope – that Jesus of Nazareth is close by – he does not let that sliver of hope slip out of his grasp. He is in a difficult situation, but his persistence, his hope, and his faith keep him from giving up.

Since he cannot pick Jesus out in the noise of the large crowd, he does the next best thing: Try to get Jesus’ attention to focus on him. Even the crowd trying to silence him does not distract him; it probably actually encouraged him because it meant that Jesus might have been coming within earshot.

Bartimaeus is a perfect example of the big idea for this entry because through his hope, his persistence, and his faith, he is healed. Through Bartimaeus’ example, we learn that: Persistence is one way to find healing and/or freedom from the “disabilities” in our lives.

When we persist and focus all our energy on overcoming an obstacle in our lives, eventually, we will either overcome the obstacle, or minimize its significance in light of new understanding. Our willpower alone cannot remove serious physical disabilities, but with willpower and the help of a team of friends, we can move the focus off the disability and minimize its significance.

This thought was inspired by studying the Walking With Jesus “Reflective Bible Study” package. To discover insights like this in your own study time, click here and give Reflective Bible Study a try today!

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The Woman Messenger: John 20:11-18

Focus Passage: John 20:11-18 (GNT)

11 Mary stood crying outside the tomb. While she was still crying, she bent over and looked in the tomb 12 and saw two angels there dressed in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been, one at the head and the other at the feet. 13 “Woman, why are you crying?” they asked her.

She answered, “They have taken my Lord away, and I do not know where they have put him!”

14 Then she turned around and saw Jesus standing there; but she did not know that it was Jesus. 15 “Woman, why are you crying?” Jesus asked her. “Who is it that you are looking for?”

She thought he was the gardener, so she said to him, “If you took him away, sir, tell me where you have put him, and I will go and get him.”

16 Jesus said to her, “Mary!”

She turned toward him and said in Hebrew, “Rabboni!” (This means “Teacher.”)

17 “Do not hold on to me,” Jesus told her, “because I have not yet gone back up to the Father. But go to my brothers and tell them that I am returning to him who is my Father and their Father, my God and their God.”

18 So Mary Magdalene went and told the disciples that she had seen the Lord and related to them what he had told her.

Read John 20:11-18 in context and/or in other translations on!

In Jesus’ conversation with Mary Magdalene following His resurrection, we uncover an interesting statement and idea that would be challenging for those in that culture to grasp. Aside from some terrified guards who were present for the removal of the stone and Jesus emerging from tomb, the first person who actually talks with Jesus is Mary.

Jesus’ conversation with Mary concludes with Him telling her to, “go to my brothers and tell them that I am returning to him who is my Father and their Father, my God and their God.” (v. 17b)

What would make this message challenging for those in the first century to grasp is that Jesus would send an important message through a woman, because women in that culture were not valued like they are today. A woman’s testimony was not equal to a man’s testimony in that culture, and Jesus sending a message to the disciples through Mary would not make sense. If the gospel writers wanted to make up a believable story, this would be a poor way to do it.

Jesus first appearing to a woman, and one with a very shady past, before sending this woman with the message to tell the rest of the disciples what they had discussed is all very counter cultural at the time.

But if this was actually what happened, even if many people wouldn’t believe it, it cannot change the historical truth.

But in Jesus’ message, we see something else that is fascinating. Jesus calls us His brothers, and God the Father as our Father, and God as our God. Through His death on the cross, Jesus has solidified our adoption into God’s family, and this is something worth celebrating.

The Bible tells us that a place is being prepared for us in heaven right now, and when the time is right, Jesus will return to bring us home with Him.

We are adopted into God’s family when we place our faith, hope, and trust in what Jesus has done for us. This makes our future eternal life a promise we can count on God fulfilling when Jesus returns for us!

This thought was inspired by studying the Walking With Jesus “Reflective Bible Study” package. To discover insights like this in your own study time, click here and give Reflective Bible Study a try today!

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