If we believe the legend, the warrior Aeneas escaped the burning city of Troy to embark on a personal odyssey of momentous import. Touching on the North Africa coast, he remained at Carthage just long enough to seduce her queen and leave her sobbing on the shore. The jilted lover safely behind him, Aeneas found his way to central Italy.
From his line came the wild boys who the she-wolf had suckled – Remus and Romulus. The city they founded had the warrior’s blood flowing through its veins and the wolf’s milk in its belly. It name was, and is, Rome. The city was destined to rule – just ask its senators; strong men who could create armies and build roads to march them down.
After defeating Carthage (always a bridesmaid and never a bride) there was no looking back. Rome conquered the rest of Mediterranean world. All of it. And what Rome conquered, it held on to. Whenever a problem began to bubble up, Rome would send it’s legions down its roads and put a lid on it. A problem did not exist that Rome could not put a lid on.
That is until they meet Jesus of Nazareth.
The Jewish religious leaders of the 1st century were convinced that they knew God’s will perfectly. It was their birthright and they would not surrender it. Many young rabbis or zealots would pop up with new ideas, but these ideas were always squelched.
That is until they meet Jesus of Nazareth.
Matthew 27:62-28:15 recounts the attempt of the Roman military machine and the Jewish religious machine to put a lid firmly on the boiling pot that was Jesus. The Romans and the religious leaders had a formula that always worked – a quick one-sided trial followed by an excessively cruel execution. It always worked and it always proved a point: the religious machine backed by the military machine was invincible.
That being said, this Jesus character presented an unusual wrinkle. He claimed to be from God and that he would die, but rise again on the third day. This is something God was doing, Jesus said. It was God’s will that his son would die, not to cover up an inconvenient problem but to fix a lethal one. As a perfect sacrifice for the atonement of human sins, Jesus would die and then rise again, trumpeting victory over sin and death.
The leaders of the religious machine had heard Him say this. Clearly this was impossible, but what if his followers stole the body and claimed he was alive? A lid needs to be placed on that pot, they decided. So the religious leaders demanded that the officers of Rome seal Jesus’ tomb and set a guard. The will of the religious leaders and the muscle of Rome could bury and seal off any problem.
Early Sunday morning, an angel sent by God tossed away the stone and announced the victory, “Jesus is not here. He is risen!” The Roman guard, sent by the most powerful force on the globe, was powerless to stop it. The seal was broken, the water was boiling over, the horse was out of the barn, and the cat was out of the bag. All that could be done was to pay the guards “hush money” and pretend nothing had happened.
Much like Rome, we may think that we can impose our will upon this life, that we can put a lid on every problem. But it rarely works out that way. Like a demented Tigger, our problems continue to creep around behind us, waiting for the right opportunity to pounce and make their presence known again. Sin is a boiling pot we can’t put a lid on. Death is even more reliable than taxes. Our inability to fix relationships and get along with ourselves and others undergirds every human problem from addiction to war crimes. We can’t put a lid on any of this. The best we can do is try to ignore the problem, but that didn’t work for Rome and it won’t work for us.
Thankfully, we can’t seal Jesus in the tomb any better than the Romans. He has risen! 500 reliable eye witness were still around when Paul wrote that great chapter on the resurrection, 1 Corinthians 15. (See 1 Cor. 15:6) He is risen! We must decide how to live in light of this truth.
“I am the resurrection and the life,” Jesus said. “He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die.” And then he looks at us and asks, “Do you believe this?” (John 11:25-6)
Do we? Shall we attempt to put a lid on this truth or simply ignore it? Either way, the top will come flying off.