March 14, 2015.
Daily Reading: Matthew 26-28.
Background: Matthew 23-25.
Concepts and Connections.
1. Foreshadowing: As He has told His disciples on a number of occasions, Jesus once again tells them that He is about to be delivered over to be crucified. His hour had come and they would soon be tested like they had never before been tested, for they would soon see their Messiah lifted up on a cross. But Jesus tells them before hand, probably to give them some warning and time to prepare, and if they were in denial, to lessen the blow when it happened. It was the moment that had long been prophesied (see Isaiah 53), the defining moment in history where He would bear our iniquity and make intercession for our sins. There is a lot of foreshadowing in this chapter, from His direct statement, to the woman with the alabaster box who had anointed Him before His burial, to the passover where He would identify His betrayer (though it would seem that the disciples might not have understood the identification). Soon their whole world would change.
2. The passover and institution of the Lord’s supper: It is very interesting (and probably not a coincidence) that Jesus’ hour to be delivered was on the passover week. This fits together quite well with the plan of God as Jesus would serve as our passover Lamb, sacrificing Himself, pure and without blemish, for our souls, which are laden with sin. The passover was a time for Jews to look back and remember the Lord’s deliverance of His people from the bondage of Egypt and a time of atonement (just as Christ’s death delivers us from and atones for our sin). During the last passover that Jesus would observe with His disciples on this earth, He instituted a similar memorial that would serve as a time of remembrance and a proclamation of His death until He returns again. We know this as the Lord’s supper (see I Corinthians 11:17-34). The supper was a time of fellowship in Christ, with a focus on His death and what it accomplished for us. It became a very important meal to the disciples after the resurrection, as we still observe it today (though we typically observe it very differently than the early disciples). During supper, Jesus took bread and broke it, and took it to represent His body that would be broken on the cross. Similarly, He took the wine and blessed it, portraying it as His blood that would be shed for us. As often as we break this bread and drink this cup in a worthy manner, we proclaim the Lord’s death until He come (see I Corinthians 11:26).
3. The garden: The garden of Gethsemane is one of the most heart wrenching scenes portrayed in the gospels. Jesus went with His disciples to the garden to pray to the Father, for His hour had come. He wanted them to stay with Him, watch and pray, probably for moral support. Sometimes we tend to forget the human side of Jesus and the anxiety He must have been dealing with at this moment. He took Peter, James and John with Him further into the garden because it seems they were His inner circle of discipleship. But even though they had probably spent the most time with Jesus, they could not stay awake while He prayed. Three times He came out to find them sleeping. Perhaps they didn’t fully grasp the gravity of the situation, though He had told them upon numerous occasions.
We often look at the prayer of Jesus in the garden and take from it that we should pay “if it be your will” (and then if things don’t happen we just say it wasn’t His will), but if you look closely you will see that this was not Jesus’ prayer. Jesus did not pray “if it be your will,” for He knew that if He asked for it, His Father would send twelve legions of angels down to deliver Him (see v. 53-54). No, rather Jesus made a choice that the scriptures might be fulfilled. He prayed “not my will, but yours be done.” Do you see the difference? One of the prayers is left open ended and vague, thus it can always be considered to be “answered.” The other is a defined choice to follow the will of the Father (the will that Jesus knew vividly). Jesus made the choice to lay down His life for His sheep (see John 10:1-18). Thus in the garden He was betrayed by a close friend, and taken into custody, fulfilling the prophecies (see Psalm 88:8, 18, John 16:32).
4. Jesus’ first trial: Jesus was taken to Caiaphas the high priest for His first trial, that they might sentence Him to death (though the Jews did not have the authority to execute the death penalty, thus why He would then go to Pilot). Though this was a “trial,” there was nothing fair about it. They had stacked everything against Jesus, taking Him at night so as to not cause an uproar amongst the people, and having the whole counsel against Him. They were simply looking for the slightest thing they could use to put Him to death. There were many different accusations, but no two were the same (by Mosaic Law, a man could only be convicted of a crime if there were two or more witnesses, not on the basis of one, see Deuteronomy 19:5). Finally, there were two that quoted Jesus saying that if they destroyed the temple, He would rebuild it in three days (see John 2:19). Ironically, He was speaking of His crucifixion and resurrection, which was about to take place. When He is asked if He is the Christ, the Son of God, He replies, “You have said it,” which they understood as Him answering in the affirmative. At this they said they had no further need of witnesses, for the ‘blasphemy’ that He has spoken had been heard by everyone present. They were never interested in listening, but just finding something so that they could put Him to death. And Jesus had given them that something.
5. Peter’s denial: Earlier in the chapter, Jesus tells Peter that he will deny Him three times before the rooster crowed, an insight that Peter staunchly denied. He thought that he was ready to follow Jesus anywhere, even to the point of death. At first, even, Peter seemed to stick to his confidence, drawing his sword in defense of Jesus when the mob came to take Him away (see John 18:10). But Jesus rebuked Peter for doing so, and eventually all the disciples would be scattered. Peter did, however, follow behind Jesus at a difference, trying to lay low and not be seen. But he was seen, as a servant girl calls him out and he denied Christ. Then another servant girl claims that he is a disciple, to which he denies again, this time with an oath. Finally, when the bystanders press him hard, pointing out his accent, Peter calls a curse down on himself to stress that he does not know Jesus, and immediately the rooster crowed and Peter remember the words of Christ. Luke records that Jesus looks at Peter after his third denial, which could have been nothing less than crushing. Peter then went out and wept bitterly. There is an interesting insight connecting this story and Jesus’ conversation with Peter after the resurrection found in John 21:15-19, where Jesus asks Peter three times if he loved Him, even though Peter had answered that he loved Him each time. It is possible that Jesus was referencing Peter’s denial to make a point about commitment. Fortunately, it would seem that Peter finally understood the commitment he made after the resurrection.
1. Judas: Few names in history have been as hated and loaded with connotations as the name of Judas, the disciple who betrayed the Lord in the garden. It is evident how the disciples felt about him after his betrayal, as he is often listed as the one who betrayed Jesus throughout the gospels. John even calls him a thief (see John 12:6). But his deeds, though inconceivable by many, were prophesied in great detail. Not only was it prophesied that Jesus would be betrayed by His close friend (see Psalm 88:18), but the price that He would be betrayed for and even the field that Judas would be buried in is named (see Zechariah 11:13). Judas had realized what he had done, and went back to the chief priests and elders to give back the money, confessing his sin. But they didn’t care. They had gotten what they were after. It is interesting to note, however, that the priests and elders who had paid Judas to betray Jesus knew exactly what they had done. They could not put the money into the treasury because it was blood money. Judas would go on to kill himself, not being able to bear the reproach he had brought on himself, and the field that he was buried in became known as the field of blood.
2. Pilate: Probably second only to Judas is the name of Pilate, the Roman judge who delivered Jesus to be crucified though he found no fault worthy of death in Him. The Jews had brought Jesus to Pilate because Roman law did not allow any of the nations that were ruled by them to execute the death penalty lest it come from a Roman official. Pilate tries to do everything he can to avoid putting Jesus to death while still appeasing the people. He first finds no fault in Jesus, and then he tries to release Him as was custom for him to do yearly. His wife even sent to him and told him not to have anything to do with this innocent man Jesus. As he delayed, the people pushed harder. Eventually Pilate gave in because he feared what the people might do. But he ceremoniously washed his hands of the crime, for he did not think Jesus had done anything worthy of death. This washing, however, did little to absolve him. But it is interesting that the Jews took the blood of Jesus upon their own heads and the heads of their children. The Jews would from that time forward have many struggles against many different nations, beginning in AD 70 with the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans and then rampant anti-semitism consistent throughout history. It would seem that very few peoples have experienced the persecution and hatred as much as the Jews have throughout time.
3. The crucifixion and burial: After Pilate washed his hands and delivered Jesus over to the Jews, they took Him and crucified Him, but not before multiple beatings, torment and mocking. The pain and agony that Christ had to endure during this time is appalling to say the least. They dressed Him as a king, mockingly kneeled before Him and then stripped Him while on the cross. Psalm 22 and Isaiah 53 well describe the scene that is set forth in the gospels. The scene is dismal and chilling, but perhaps the most heartache that can be felt during the crucifixion was the darkness in the land, representative of the Father having to turn His back on the Son because of the sins that He was bearing for our own sake. This is where Jesus cries “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” (“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”). At the point of death, there was a great earthquake, the veil of the temple was torn in two from the top down, and some of the tombs of the saints were opened, as they went into the town and appeared to many. The signs were so great that even the centurion overseeing the crucifixion understood that Jesus had to be the Son of God. After He was confirmed death, Joseph, a rich man from Arimathea, came and requested His body from Pilate which he would lay in a new tomb and cover with a large rock, sealing the entrance. A guard was placed at the entrance so that the disciples could not come by night and steal the body of Christ, claiming that He had risen from the dead. However, there was no rock, no Roman guard, no power of hell that could contain Jesus in the grave.
1. The resurrection: Here is the good news. On the third day, after the crucifixion, after His body had been laid in the tomb, after all the prophecies, the tomb was found empty! Mary Magdalene and the other Mary had come to the tomb early in the morning, but what they found was not a sealed tomb, but rather an open empty one, for Christ had raised from the dead, defeating death and sin, giving us hope of a future resurrection and salvation (see Romans 8:24 and I Corinthians 15:20-28). Then the risen Christ appeared to the women and told them to go spread the good news. When the guard told the Jewish leaders what had happened, they paid them to spread a lie that the disciples had come by night while they were sleeping and taken the body. But no lie could trample out the truth, and the news of the resurrection spread, as Jesus Himself appeared to many people throughout the next few weeks, until He would ascend into heaven in presence of many witnesses (see Acts 1:6-11). Christ our Lord lives. And this is good news.
2. The great commission: Jesus appeared to His disciples on multiple occasions after the crucifixion as recorded by the other gospel writers, but the occasion that Matthew chose to record is one that is of great importance to the disciples then and even us today. We often refer to this section of scripture (28:18-20) as the Great Commission, because Jesus here sends the disciples out into the world, instructing them to spread the good news, baptizing people in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, making disciples of every nation. Jesus ministry took 12 men to disciple (one of which was a traitor) who would be the front line of the spread of the gospel after the resurrection. It was always the plan of God to use mere men to propagate the gospel. Though we are but jars of clay, we posses a great and wonderful power that belongs to God (see II Corinthians 4). It is the will of the Father that we be His hands and feet while on this earth, teaching and loving one another as Christ has done for us. Indeed, “how beautiful on the mountain are the feet of him who brings good news!” (ref. Isaiah 52:7 and Romans 10:15) The Lord has done so much for us, but it is not for us only that He gave is life. God does not want any to perish, but for all to come to repentance (see II Peter 3:9). It is now our job as ambassadors of the gospel to bring the good news to people. How often do we neglect our mission! Let us not forget the wondrous gift of salvation, for why should we be blessed along? The gospel is for all.
Tomorrow’s Reading: I Corinthians 9-10.
Let us spread the news near and far.