The Stone that Spoke
1. “Authority” To those who killed the Christ
2. “Hope” To those who were left in shock
3. “Obedience” Of a Son who kept His Father’s will
Matthew 27:57-61 Now when evening had come, there came a rich man from Arimathea, named Joseph, who himself had also become a disciple of Jesus. 58 This man went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. Then Pilate commanded the body to be given to him. 59 When Joseph had taken the body, he wrapped it in a clean linen cloth, 60 and laid it in his new tomb which he had hewn out of the rock; and he rolled a large stone against the door of the tomb, and departed. 61 And Mary Magdalene was there, and the other Mary, sitting opposite the tomb. (NKJV)
The beginning of this week, Palm Sunday, is one of the few accounts that is recorded in all four Gospel books. Usually, that signals something that is very significant, as Palm Sunday undoubtedly was. However, only Luke’s account includes an interesting detail about Palm Sunday. At the very end, Luke writes, Luke 19:39-40 And some of the Pharisees called to Him from the crowd, "Teacher, rebuke Your disciples." 40 But He answered and said to them, "I tell you that if these should keep silent, the stones would immediately cry out."
The Pharisees were present, at least some of them, on Palm Sunday too. But they weren’t shouting Jesus’ praises. Rather, they wanted Him to hush His followers. And Jesus told them if He did, even the stones would cry out. That’s a pretty amazing thought, and I have no doubt that Jesus meant every word of it. He certainly had the power to make it happen if he wanted. But, on Palm Sunday, no stones would be needed. The peoples’ voices carried the day despite the Pharisees’ complaints.
There was a stone that would speak, though, albeit not in a miraculous way. As we’ve traced a line of mementos this season through our meditation of Jesus’ passion, we see one more here on Good Friday – the stone that sealed the tomb. This stone spoke a message without uttering a single word. The first message it spoke was to those who killed the Christ.
Those who wanted Christ dead must have been quite satisfied at the day’s completion. Not only had Jesus died earlier than expected, His burial was cut and dry. But the chief priests and Pharisees had an uneasy feeling in the back of their minds. They remembered hearing how Jesus predicted His resurrection from the dead. Of course, they scoffed at this notion, but they didn’t want some deception from the disciples to take place. So, in the verses immediately following our text, they requested that Pilate allow them to make the tomb more secure. He gave them freedom to do what they pleased, so the Pharisees and chief priests had the stone sealed and set a guard.
To seal the entrance to a tomb at that time was quite a process. It typically involved wrapping a thick robe across the stone disk and sealing it on the ends in wax. If anyone tampered with the tomb in any way, it would be revealed. Sometimes, the seal even was marked with the official imprint of the Roman empire to communicate that breaking it would be a punishable crime. One top of all that, the stones which were used to block the entrance of a tomb were purposely large, as our text indicates. These stones were rolled into a groove that angled downward. Therefore, it was much easier to set the stone in place, than it was to open the entrance up. Again, it was purposely designed this way to discourage grave robbers.
Once the stone was sealed, and a guard posted, the Pharisees and chief priests probably felt quite at ease. There was truly no way that the disciples would be able to steal Jesus’ body away. To the enemies of Christ, that stone represented victory for their cause – an absolute end to Jesus. However, God had a different plan in mind, and the stone would ultimately speak a much different message. What seemed to pronounce a fool-proof way to achieve the purposes of unbelieving men, actually became a testimony to God’s power and Christ’s authority as Lord and Savior.
For when the angel broke open the grave of Jesus on Easter morning, all the plans that were put in place to show man’s triumph over God’s Son, worked to the opposite effect. The efforts of the Pharisees and the chief priests only served as evidence against the lie they would create to explain away the resurrection, namely that Jesus’ disciples had stolen the body. Without even knowing it, they were doing God’s will and giving evidence that Jesus was the Savior. God, of course, knew all this in advance, as He is able to work through the mightiest efforts of those who oppose Him. And the religious leaders should have known the same, for Psalm 33:10-11 tell us The LORD frustrates the counsel of the nations; He thwarts the plans of the peoples. 11 The counsel of the LORD stands forever, the plans of His heart from generation to generation.
Psalm 2:1-4 Why are the nations in an uproar, And the peoples devising a vain thing? 2 The kings of the earth take their stand, And the rulers take counsel together Against the LORD and against His Anointed: 3 "Let us tear their fetters apart, And cast away their cords from us!" 4 He who sits in the heavens laughs, The Lord scoffs at them.
The stone spoke to the Pharisees and the chief priests that no matter how hard they tried and how much power they held, they could not thwart God’s plan.
[Could add in Caiaphas’ prediction as another example]
However, not all of the Pharisees hated Christ. Two of them were instrumental in His burial. Our text tells us about Joseph of Arimathea, a Pharisee who loaned his tomb for Jesus’ body. The Gospel of John informs us of another Pharisee, Nicodemus, who assisted in the task. Believers were also present during the burial of Jesus and the stone meant something to them too.
One can imagine the pain and shock that the believers felt, especially those who witnessed the crucifixion. Our text also tells us of the two Marys who watched the burial, sitting opposite the tomb. For those in grief, especially over the death of a loved one, having closure is extremely important. You can sense this from Joseph and Nicodemus, who almost see it as their duty to ensure that Christ’s body gets a proper resting place. You see it in the image of the women too, as they sit there in wonderment at Christ’s body being wrapped up and placed in the tomb. It’s almost as if they have to see it through to fully believe it. The stone certainly meant closure to the believers. There was no uncertainty about Jesus’ death and sacrifice from that point on.
Yet, a greater message was delivered by the stone that day – a message of hope. It wasn’t a message about death alone, but also about life. It would be the very same Marys who would first witness the stone removed on Easter morning. This moment on Good Friday was important in that respect. They saw the stone placed and set. They witnessed the body entombed. And that would mean something come Easter morning, as they saw all the pain they experienced reversed.
That’s the thing about hope. It’s often accompanied by pain or heartache. The low moments we experience give meaning and emphasis to the hope that we hang onto. For the believers, the stone of the tomb symbolized a finality to the death of Jesus, but it was a meaning far overshadowed by the new beginning that it meant on Sunday. Part of the reason they had such joy in the resurrection was because they had witnessed the seeming hopeless of the crucifixion. And God would have us reminded of the same truths each time we conclude Lent.
Each you have felt deep emotional or physical pain, probably on a similar level as these believers. Some of you may even be going through something today, or recently, that has caused you to question God’s power. Perhaps you’ve sat by, watching in wonder as the Marys did, at how such a thing could happen. Left with lots of questions but no answers; the stunned silence that punctures the confident confession of the believer.
Let this story be a reminder of hope in Jesus. The tragedies and despairs of life are set within the background of His grace for each and every person. And even when we are at blame, when we’ve led ourselves astray, God restores. That had to have been on the mind of the believers, too, even in that moment. What more could Joseph or Nicodemus have done to protect Jesus? Had the Mary’s listened intently enough to Jesus while He was with them? Had He given them something needed that they forgot? Would they have another chance to see Him again? How had their sins brought Him to that point? These are the swirling thoughts within the heart of one who is entangled in the effects of sin. Jesus gives you hope to see through all that. The stone of His own tomb spoke a better word to the believers, as it does to us in each tragedy we face.
Of course, that hopes rests completely on whether or not Jesus actually did what he said He would. The last word of the stone is “obedience,” and was given from the Son to His Father.
Go back to the Garden of Gethsemane. As Jesus agonized over the coming events, He prayed to His Father, “If it is Your will, take this cup away from Me; nevertheless, not My will, but Yours, be done (Luke 22:42).” Jesus asked that if there was another way possible to atone for sins, outside of having to die, that it might be done. But even as He spoke these words, He surely knew the answer. The Father’s divine will – justice for sins – had to be done.
That sentiment alone is definite - unchangeable. There was no other way, and there was no way back. This is what was going to happen. So, we see the same finality in the stone. It was the end. There was no way around it. Just as it could not be moved by human hands, so it would not be avoided by divine will. The testimony of God’s Word made it so. There was no other way life could be restored in place of death – for God had promised long ago that this was the price to be rendered.
The final word of the stone was “obedience” – obedience from the Son to the Father. We see and appreciate the beauty of this thought. The Son of God, who owed nothing, would step in and submit where sinful mankind refused to. But that’s how it works with obedience. We see it as beautiful when displayed by others, but we resist and despise it when it calls upon our lives. It’s quite amazing that the message of the crucifixion endures today, because obedience is under attack in all areas of our culture – and there’s nothing more that Satan, and our sinful nature hates more, than a humble sinner who submits to God.
Jesus embraced the word of obedience from the stone of His tomb, the finality of divine justice from His Father, in love for those who wouldn’t obey – for us.
Despite the three words spoken by this memento, these were not the last words on the matter. For in three days, this stone which loomed so large in meaning and weight, would be cast aside. As powerful and encompassing as it sat on Good Friday, it would be an angel from God who held power over it in the Resurrection. As strong and important as the words of authority, hope, and obedience are – they can’t contain eternal life. And no amount of power in earth or hell could hold back what was coming out of that grave. And so, the stone fell, and so it faded to the pages of history.
But for this evening, to provide a proper backdrop to the gift of eternal life we joyfully embrace in three day, let us remember the stone’s meaning again and let us ponder and appreciate the impact of what it speaks through God’s Word. Amen.