Irrationality of unbelief - "Sunnyhill" Herne Bay Evangelical Free Church

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Sermon Notes > Topical > Easter 2017
Sunday after Easter


The Irrationality of Unbelief
How far some will go in order to reject Jesus Christ

Reading:  Matthew 27:62-66

In 1945 an advertising specialist called Roy S. Durstine wrote an article the magazine Advertising & Selling. The article described a meeting between an advertising agency and one of their clients.

The findings of a market survey carried out by the agency clearly showed that the policies being followed by their client could lead only to disappointment and perhaps disaster.

Despite being presented with these facts the client however showed no desire to change his existing strategy:

"I still think we’ll go along as we have been doing." he said.

"But the evidence..." protested an agency man.

The client paused deep in thought. At last he responded quietly:

"Don’t confuse me with facts!"

A fuller version of this idea was expressed by a member of the US House of Representatives, a certain Earl Landgrebe. Opposing the impeachment of Richard Nixon 1974 Mr. Landgrebe declared:

"Don’t confuse me with facts: I’ve got a closed mind,"

While we might smile the sad thing is that many of us and our contemporaries act in a very similar manner. We like to think of ourselves as open-minded reasonable folk but all too often we have our own prejudices and hidden agendas. It is one of the fruit of sin in our lives for sin affects even the way we think and our thought processes are seriously flawed.

When it comes to matters of personal faith and trust while we might like to imagine that our decisions are logical and based upon a firm foundation when in actual fact nothing could be further from the truth. For a clear illustration of just how irrational our behaviour can be all we need to do is to consider how the Jewish leaders persisted in their hostility towards Jesus and how they continued to reject his claims in the face mounting evidence. They were in possession of so many facts and confronted by so much hard evidence and yet they had made up their mind about him long before and they weren’t about to let anything alter their position.

Jesus and his Claims
The Jewish authorities knew a great deal about Jesus and yet what they knew they didn’t like and so they failed to welcome the truth and to act in accordance with it.

Instead they searched for ways to discredit him and to destroy his reputation and when all those efforts came to nothing they had him executed. In their ferocious opposition to this man they were quite prepared to go against many of the principles that they held dear and rightly so. It is amazing what men and women are prepared to do to resist Jesus’ claims upon their lives!

If you are not yet a Christian I wonder what lengths you’re prepared to go to in order to keep Jesus at arm’s length, in order not to ask him to forgive you your sins, in order not to submit to his Lordship?

Well I’ve said that the authorities knew a lot about Jesus – now let me spell out some of what they did know.

  • They knew he claimed to be able to forgive sins

  • They knew that he backed up this claim by demonstrations of power in miraculous healing

  • They knew his claims to save people and of how he invited all and sundry to turn to him and find rest for their burdened souls

  • They knew that he accomplished all kinds of miracles and signs and they knew too that he wouldn’t perform at their request

  • They knew he called God his Father

  • They knew he taught with an unusual authority and not at all like themselves

  • They knew too that he had spoken about being put to death and being raised from the dead on the third day

  • They knew too that they would have to fabricate a case against him for he was an innocent man

Yes, they knew all this and more yet they hated him for it. Instead of rethinking their own understanding of God’s promises they simply rejected Jesus and all he stood for, worse still they secured his condemnation and then mocked him as they watched him die his cruel death.

Yet these men were not unprincipled. They claimed to be concerned about a number of very important matters:

  • They were interested in the Law of God

  • They were particularly concerned about the Sabbath

  • They were concerned about their participation in the religious festivals

  • They professed a desire to see God honoured and glorified

And they were right to do so.

And yet, and yet...

They were prepared to fly in the face of those very principles when they thought that by doing so they could destroy Jesus. How easy they found it to jettison what had been long standing convictions when it came down to getting rid of Jesus!

Was it really honouring to God to kill God’s own son? Well they didn’t think he was so perhaps you might want to excuse them from deliberate wrong-doing at that point. But what about the way they had conducted themselves in the events leading up to Jesus’ betrayal and subsequent trials?

They had willingly paid Judas 30 pieces of silver in order to betray his Master – what do you make of that? Was it simply a clever piece of manoeuvring of was it simply wrong? It was wrong and they knew it to be so. Do you remember how they reacted when Judas tried to return the money realising that he had acted terribly in betraying an innocent man? Judas threw the monies down in the Temple but the chief priests weren’t prepared to put it the Temple coffers because they knew it to be blood money. However, the fact that they had been the ones who had made this silver blood money didn’t seem to bother them at all!

Then as they sought to find a way to condemn the man from Nazareth they had no hesitation about turning to false witnesses. But did not the Law say:

"You shall not bear false witness against your neighbour"?

But none of this mattered to them as long as they could have done with Jesus.

And now they had succeeded. They had manipulated Pilate and secured Jesus’ execution – all they thought they had to do now was to tie up a few loose ends. So with Jesus dead and buried they’re off to see Pilate again.

That’s where we meet them in the passage we read earlier Mt.27:62ff.

There are some important details for us to notice which further reveal just how deceitful the human heart can be. (cf. Jer.17:9 "The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?")

When did this new meeting with Pilate take place?

v.62 "Next day, the Day after the day of Preparation..." what day are we talking about? This day was the Sabbath cf. Mk.15:42). The leaders who were normally so picky about what could and couldn’t be done on the Sabbath had no qualms it appears of going about the very worldly business of going to the Roman governor and securing a unit of soldiers to act as guard.

Nor were these leaders showing any of the anxiety about ceremonial cleanliness that they had shown earlier – the Jesus affair was almost dealt with, or so they thought, every last detail must be secured and blow any principle that might hold us back.

The request for a guard is itself an interesting one. The Jewish leaders wanted one because they knew Jesus had spoken about being raised from the dead. This was remarkable. Jesus had spoken openly and frankly about this to his closest followers and they had totally failed to grasp his meaning and what he was talking about. These Jewish authorities only had access to much more veiled teaching and yet they had got it! The problem was they didn’t believe it and worked hard to prevent any semblance of a resurrection taking place.

Generally the Jews hated the Roman presence in their country but these Jewish leaders now go to Pilate and address him with polite respect "Sir". At the same time they continue to demean the reputation of the man from Nazareth. To them Jesus is now simply "that impostor". As they had proved themselves fundamentally dishonest in the events leading up to Jesus’ execution they now expect his followers to behave with similar dishonesty and to steal the body. Having been fraudulent themselves they fully expect Jesus’ disciples to perpetrate fraud too!

How unlikely that was! The disciples were crushed. They believed with the death of their master that all was lost – all they wanted to do was to keep their heads down.

The Guard is Set
Pilate was happy to give the Jewish authorities what they were asking for and a unit of soldiers is placed temporarily under their charge. Pilate told them to make the tomb as secure as they could. The Jewish leaders added a seal to the large stone (an ancient version of the "Police Line Do Not Cross" tape you see in TV programmes.) and with the guard they felt they had done all that needed to be done. No-one was going to get at that dead body.

And in the words of Psalm 2 "he who sits in the heavens laughs; the LORD holds them in derision." (Ps.2:4).

How foolish we humans can be! We huff and we puff and imagine that we’re firmly in control and we fail to realise that God is God and "Our God is in the heavens; he does all that he pleases." (Ps 115:3).

A seal was put on the den of lions into which Daniel was thrown – Daniel wouldn’t be able to climb out: he didn’t need to for God shut the mouths of the lions.

The seal on Jesus’ tomb was an attempt to dissuade men from stealing a dead body – but the seal was burst by an angel and an earthquake so that men can see that the dead body had already gone, raised to newness of life!

The soldiers had never experienced anything like this before: a dazzling angel and a great earthquake – all they could do was to quake in their boots before splitting up and getting away from that garden as quickly as they could!

Some of the soldiers went back to the Jewish authorities and reported what they were aware of – there is no record that they saw the risen Lord but they certainly made it known that the body was no longer in the tomb. And what reason might they have had for scattering from the tomb if something dramatic had not occurred?!

Something most certainly had happened – what to do next?

The Jewish Authorities Persist in their Unbelief
They knew the man from Nazareth was special. They knew he’d spoken about resurrection. And now some soldiers who surely had no axe to grind are telling them of extraordinary happenings and an empty tomb.

Will they not reconsider? Will they not make further investigation? Will they not at last face the facts and change their minds concerning this man who had been executed under that sign which read This is the King of the Jews?

But no. More stubborn resistance. Where was the logic in that? They had made up their minds – these men weren’t for changing; they weren’t about to reassess however many facts presented themselves.

Instead they persisted with their dishonest attempts to smother the truth.

It cost them dear too! They had to pay those soldiers a considerable sum – after all what soldier would want it spread around that he’d fallen asleep on guard duty? They needed to add an assurance that if Pilate found out they’d intervene to make sure the soldiers came out of it all OK.

Well I suppose those religious leaders were confident of their abilities to manipulate poor old Pilate after all they had done so over Jesus’ execution and they had got the guard they wanted from him. (If the soldiers knew those religious leaders as we do I’m not sure they’d have a lot of confidence in them keeping their word.)

How improbable the story that had to be spread too – the guard fell asleep. Not just one soldier or two soldiers but every single one of them and all at the same time. Unlikely? Yes, I think so. And then of course if it were true how on earth could they testify that Jesus’ disciples had come and stolen the body. They couldn’t affirm that if they had been asleep at the time – they simply wouldn’t know.

But there you go. Men clutch at straws to try to cling to their cherished beliefs. These leaders didn’t believe because they didn’t want to believe. It wasn’t evidence they were short of it was desire and the will to believe that they lacked.

It simply wasn’t logical to press on like this and to keep on trying to suppress the truth that wouldn’t go away simply because they hoped it would. Jesus was alive and their refusal to admit it wouldn’t affect the reality of his resurrection. In fact all their refusal to believe would achieve would to shut themselves out of enjoying any of the benefits his resurrection might bring them.

And what about you?

Don’t you already know enough about this extraordinary man Jesus Christ? Don’t you know that he died to pay the price of sin so that all those who trust him might be forgiven and enjoy a new relationship with the living God? Don’t you realise that deep down inside you don’t even meet up to your own standards let alone God’s?  Don’t you know that you have a never-dying soul that must be saved in this life or it will be forever lost in the age to come?

Is it really further evidence that you need? Is it not that you need your will to be set free from its sinful bondage so that you might call out wholeheartedly to God to save you through his Son Jesus Christ?

Don’t try to hide away any longer behind a smokescreen, God commands us to trust in his Son and you know enough to cry out to God. May we all do so and enjoy the salvation that Jesus won for us on the cross and which has been confirmed to us by his glorious victorious resurrection.

And to God alone be the glory.


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