Guilty of Good Works

Matthew 28:11-15

Every Verse Counts
I’m finally coming up on the final few verses in the gospel of Matthew after spending the past year reading/studying in this book. There are a couple of reasons why it’s taken so long to plow through only twenty eight chapters, the first being the undeniable truth that ALL Scripture is God breathed, and therefore NONE of it should be dismissed, skimmed over, thought irrelevant, or taken lightly. I mean, if God is responsible for every last word/story in the Bible (which 2 Tim.3:16 gives him credit) then everything is in there for a TIMELESS purpose, right? 1 Peter 1:25 says “the word of the Lord remains forever“, so that tells us that it was written for all the ages, and nothing in it is out of date. I personally don’t want to miss the message God is speaking through each and every verse because I’m on a strict “read through the Bible in a year” program.

My second reason for my lengthy stay in Matthew is, admittedly, my own human shortcomings. I’m not faithful to read every day as I plan to. The honest truth is that if I miss a few days of reading/studying God’s Word I get really tired and ugly towards people because I focus on myself instead of on Jesus. I’m so thankful for His Grace and Long-Suffering towards me, as Keith Green sang, “I know that I would surely fall away, except for grace, by which I’m saved.”

Before I was saved; however,  I used to beat myself up inside about being “out of the Word” for long periods of time and I felt the need to “make it up to God” before I could feel good about reading my Bible and praying again. This is called believing in Works Based Salvation, or depending on your own good works to give you right standing with God instead of depending on Jesus alone. It’s very easy to be blind to its presence, which is precisely what my devotions from Matthew focus on tonight.

Testimony of the Roman Guards
The following account takes place immediately after the angel from heaven descended and rolled back the stone that covered Jesus’ grave; he speaks to the two women who had come to see the tomb while the Roman guards lie on the ground “like dead men” from fear, then the women and angel depart, the guards come to and rush into the city to bear witness to the chief priests of the crazy stuff they just experienced.

 While they were going (the women), behold, some of the guard went into the city and told the chief priests all that had taken place. And when they had assembled with the elders and taken counsel, they gave a sufficient sum of money to the soldiers and said, “Tell people, ‘His disciples came by night and stole him away while we were asleep.’ And if this comes to the governor’s ears, we will satisfy him and keep you out of trouble.” So they took the money and did as they were directed. And this story has been spread among the Jews to this day. Matthew 28:11-15 ESV

These guards were Romans. To me this seems very significant because it means that they were not believers in the God of Israel so they had no reason to cover up the truth of what they saw (the angel and the empty tomb) other than fear of their own punishment for neglecting their duties as guards, which is what would be presumed by the governor. Neglect of this sort was very serious and often ended in execution, so while the guards were terrified by the angel of the Lord, their fear of man was much greater and the Pharisees jumped at the chance to take advantage of their distress.

There are two things going on here which I find bewildering, first is the blindness of the guards and second, the blindness of the Pharisees. The guards had just witnessed a mighty demonstration of the power of God. They saw a supernatural, angelic being with their own eyes that caused them to collapse with fear, and when they awoke, the massive and immovable stone that had covered the entrance to the tomb was rolled aside with no other explanation than a heavenly one, and Jesus’ body was gone. In spite of the evidence they are blind to the truth and choose to accept the bribe from the chief priests to lie about what they saw. To me this proves that God allows some people to remain blind in order for his will to be accomplished. There is no other good reason why the guards should not have believed. And on the other hand, if the Pharisees had not been so blind themselves, they would have had wonderful opportunity to share the truth of God with these guards when they came to them first with the news.

Then comes the issue with the Pharisees response to the guard’s news, which brings me to the point of the passage….

Blindness and Hypocrisy
The Pharisees taught the Commandments and salvation by keeping them (works based salvation), within three days they murder the Innocent and lie innumerable times in order to maintain their power and control over the church. They broke at least half the Commandments in this short time frame! The shocking part isn’t that they sinned (that’s what sinners do) it’s their hypocrisy and their blindness to it.

 “The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light, but if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness! Matthew 6:22-23 ESV

The light that the Pharisees thought they had was actually darkness; their minds were darkened and they could not see the truth even when it slapped them in the face. They could have just taken a step back for a moment when those Roman guards rushed in with their miraculous testimony and said to themselves, “There’s no reason for these men to lie to us about this, it must be true, and if true then Jesus was telling the truth. He DID rise from the dead and he IS the Son of God!” But instead they assemble, “take counsel”, and come up with a hefty bribe for the guards to keep their mouths shut. They weren’t trying to preserve the church or God’s Law, they were trying to preserve themselves and their position.

All Works No Fruit
I used to have the heart of a Pharisee. Strange idea, I know. Basically, what that means is, “all works no fruit”. Work, work, work in the church, talk, talk, talk about God, then sin, sin, sin without freedom. It is very hard to see yourself this way if you are stuck in the middle of it, and truthfully it takes a supernatural work of God to see it, but that’s what He does….He makes the blind able to see. I spent ten years pursuing God through works, trying to please him but always failing and stumbling over the same rotten sins again and again, until one day He saw fit to open my eyes. I realized my hypocrisy, through the work of the Holy Spirit, and saw myself for the despicable sinner that I was for the first time.

The Ten Commandments are what opened my eyes and what will open the eyes of all who are saved whether they realize it or not. In short, the Ten Commandments summarize what sin is. If you don’t know what sin is or if you’re guilty of it, look at the Commandments and you’ll know. Growing up in a Christian home, I didn’t really think I was guilty of much until I realized the penalty alone for breaking God’s law about lying.

But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death.”
Revelation 21:8 ESV

The Pharisees tried to keep the Commandments and it made them hypocrites (they lied, murdered, stole, etc.), so we shouldn’t make the same mistake. We can’t just TRY to live good, Christian lives and not sin. Once we look in the mirror (the Commandments) and see how dirty we are (our sin) then it’s time to be washed (faith alone in Jesus’ blood).

Rags to Riches
All our hard work for social justice, peace on earth, evangelism, preparing a good sermon, or planning the next church event will be seen as “filthy rags” (Isaiah 64:6) if mustered up on our own steam in secret hopes of our own glory, we will be “guilty of good works” as were the Pharisees. But if we repent of our pride and trying to please God aside from Christ and then hide ourselves in Christ, THEN we will please God, have peace with Him, and be forgiven.

For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. Colossians 3:3-4 ESV

We can be forgiven because of Jesus. A peasant’s two cents would never impress a king, nothing we could offer God could please him unless it’s sealed with the blood of His Son. Are you sealed with His blood? Have you been working to please God on your own merit? Ask his forgiveness today and be free to serve him with a cheerful heart, and instead of works cast aside as rags you will bear rich fruit for God’s glory.

Preparing the Way,
~ Danae Martin