Most people think “fake news” is a recent phenomenon. According to Google Trends, the phrase particularly caught fire during the 2016 election season. But the spectacle of dishonest news has existed as long as there has been any news at all. In his famous book 1984, George Orwell characterized this as “newspeak.”
A glaring example of fake news occurred shortly after one of history’s most momentous events, the resurrection of Jesus Christ. The massive stone blocking His grave was supernaturally rolled away. The tomb was empty, except for the folded linens Jesus left behind. And the women who came to visit the gravesite were notified by an angel:
Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for He is risen, as He said. Come, see the place where the Lord lay (Matthew 28:5-6).
While Jesus’ resurrection was good news for humanity, it potentially was very bad news for the soldiers who were responsible for guarding His tomb. What was their explanation for how the stone was rolled away? How could they have allowed the body to disappear? Because of their presumed negligence, these men were in danger of losing not only their jobs, but probably their lives as well.
But look what happened next…
Some of the guard came into the city and reported to the chief priests all the things that had happened (Matthew 28:11).
So far, so good. They reported what actually happened – just the facts. This is the proper role of true journalism, to communicate events accurately and without bias.
However, unbiased reporting hardly ever happens. And here the “spin” got started almost immediately:
When they had assembled with the elders and consulted together, they gave a large sum of money to the soldiers, saying, “Tell them, ‘His disciples came at night and stole Him away while we slept’” (vs. 12-13).
The leaders recognized that the truth of the matter would have validated Jesus’s claims and shattered their religious establishment. So they cooked up a false narrative: There’s nothing to see here except grave robbing by Jesus’ disciples.
It’s not enough to spread lies and innuendos. The truth must actively be suppressed at all costs:
“And if this comes to the governor’s ears, we will appease him and make you secure.” So they took the money and did as they were instructed; and this saying is commonly reported among the Jews until this day (Matthew 28:12-15).
Here’s where the story gets really interesting. Remember, the guards could have lost their lives for negligently losing track of Jesus’ body. Knowing this, the religious leaders promised to protect the guards from any consequences. This was collusion, plain and simple. I’ll cover your back if you cover mine.
Notice that money was at the very heart of this fake news story. Do you see how this applies to nearly every form of fake news today? Follow the money, and you will see why a story is reported in such and such a way.
The guards were bribed with “large sums of money” to spread these lies. In the same way, many people today are very well paid to spin news stories in order to validate a certain political position or commercial product.
This points to an important challenge for us as we commemorate Jesus’ resurrection: If people are willing to spend large sums of money in order to spread lies, God’s people should be willing to sacrificially donate to Gospel-preaching ministries and honest news outlets that will spread the truth. You see, it’s not enough to decry “fake news” if we’re not willing to stand up for the truth whenever we have an opportunity.
And one more thing…
People of God, we’ve never had such a crucial need for DISCERNMENT! Don’t believe everything you hear. Like the Bereans, be sure to test everything by the Scriptures (Acts 17:10-11).
Also important, don’t forget to discern the spirit behind the news reports and opinions you hear. Many of my Facebook friends post things I agree with – yet often I very much disagree with their abrasive tone and lack of civility.
Sometimes we must dig a little bit if we’re going to find the truth of a matter. Jesus advised us in John 7:24 (NLT), “Look beneath the surface so you can judge correctly.” The Message paraphrases it this way: “Don’t be nitpickers; use your head – and heart! –to discern what is right, to test what is authentically right.”
Friend, while the TRUTH will set us free (John 8:32), believing LIES will always lead us to bondage. Can we handle the truth today? I’m praying we will heed the admonition of King Solomon, “Buy the truth, and do not sell it” (Proverbs 23:23). In an age when fake news is everywhere, truth has never been a more important commodity.