But his enemies are still here (Matthew 28:11-15)

If Christ is risen and reigning, why are we still suffering?

Why does Matthew interrupt the good news to tell us about a lie?

He was on a roll, describing Jesus’ victory over death. Risen. Reigning. Leading from the front like a shepherd. Authorizing angels to break death’s seal, to roll back the stone, to reveal the empty tomb. Then the risen king himself confirmed their commission and called them to the king’s council in Galilee.

So, why interrupt this climactic story of the Gospel to tell us the lie about the disciples stealing the body? There must be something here we really need to know.

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Risen and reigning (Matthew 28:1-10)

God’s government arrived with an empty tomb.

I doubt any of Jesus’ followers could sleep after his crucifixion. The men kept a low profile, fearing for their lives. If the leader had been crucified, what would they do to his followers? Their best chance was blending into the crowds returning to Galilee when the festival was over.

The women had watched from a distance (27:55). Those horror scenes would haunt them. Sleepless in Jerusalem, they rose while darkness still enveloped them to make their way to the only thing they had left: a tomb. The tombs of the prophets enshrined Jerusalem’s tragedies.

What they found

This tomb had been disturbed. It was no longer the final resting place they had watched as Jesus was buried (27:61). The tomb’s mouth gaped open. The stone was rolled to one side. And someone was sitting on the stone: not a gardener or a guard, a messenger in a glistening white uniform.

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Guarding the dead (Matthew 27:55–66)

Burial is a sign of respect. Even today in the Middle East, there’s an urgency to burying someone, not leaving them unburied (Deuteronomy 21:23). As Jesus was crucified on Friday of Passover week, no one wanted his body lying around during one of the holiest Sabbaths of the year.

So, the burial was a very public affair that many observed, including:

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The death that shook the world (Matthew 27:51-54)

The dead came out of the tombs? What was Matthew saying?

Death feels so final. God did not intervene to prevent Jesus’ death. As I read Matthew, I feel I need time to absorb the enormity of this tragedy, to process the loss, to grieve at the injustice, to feel the familiar futility of a world where God’s anointed falls.

Matthew doesn’t pause. He hurtles on with disjointed details from a turbulent timeline, confusing our grief:

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Jesus’ dying question: Why have you abandoned me? (Matthew 27:45–51)

Jesus wasn’t losing his faith; he was losing his life, and talking to his Father about it.

The final words of the crucified king in Matthew are these: My God, my God, why have you abandoned me? What did he mean?

Is this the dark night of the soul, the road ending in utter despair, all his hopes dying with him? Or should we ignore his emotion and seek a theological reason, like Jesus took on the sin of the world so his Father couldn’t stand him and rejected him? Was the trinity falling apart if Father and Son split up? Did Jesus lose his faith in the end? People raise all kinds of questions to try to make sense of Jesus’ cry of dereliction. Few of those ideas are supported by the context.

These words are not unique to Jesus. He was repeating the words of others who felt abandoned too. These are the opening words of Psalm 22. If you’ve ever found comfort in the words of the Psalms as you faced abusive treatment, you’ll understand what Jesus was doing.

That’s the irony. He feels abandoned, forsaken, cast aside by God. But he’s not alone with that feeling. It’s how the people of God have felt for centuries. It’s the unresolved story of his people, the anguish of their history and songs.

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The meaning of the cross (Matthew 27:32–44)

Why does Matthew tell the story of the cross as he does? Should we have the same emphasis when we talk about the cross?

There are so many ways to talk about the cross, the centre of our faith. So, why does Matthew tell the story of the cross the way he does? Does he have a consistent message? What is it?

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What the mocking reveals (Matthew 27:27–31)

Why do the Gospel writers describe the mockery of Jesus if their aim is to promote him?

What makes a king? Is it the coronation event, that special day when people lead you to the palace, dress you in regal robes, place a crown on your head and a sceptre in your hand, and perform the formal speech act of declaring you to be king?

Matthew describes a mock enthronement where Roman soldiers crown a condemned man to parody the powerlessness of his people. What I want to know is why the evangelists include this scornful humiliation, this parody of worship, if they’re seeking to promote Jesus.

Is there something in this story that reframes how we view power?

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The way of transformation (podcast) (2 Timothy 3)


2 Timothy 3 tracks the transformation that takes place through Christ, turning us inside out, from living for my own self-focused story to participating in God’s astounding story.

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Which Jesus do you want? (Matthew 27:15–26)

“Jesus Barabbas? Or Jesus called Christ?” What’s your response to Pilate’s question?

The governor was not convinced Jesus had done anything deserving death (27:23). He knew it was out of self-interest that the leaders had handed him over (27:18). He moved to pacify the crowd by offering a prisoner release, giving them the choice.

It seems both men were named Jesus (though this detail is omitted from some ancient manuscripts of Matthew). Pilate offered the people this choice (27:17):
Who do you want me to release to you?
– Jesus son of Abba (Bar-Abbas), or
– Jesus called anointed leader (Christ)?

Jesus was a relatively common name, meaning The Lord saves (compare Matthew 1:21). It’s the Hebrew name Joshua. But these two Jesuses have radically different views on how to save God’s people.

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Are you the king of the Jews? (Matthew 27:11–14)

How did Jesus respond as Pilate asked the ultimate question?

Pilate’s question goes to the heart of the gospel: Are you the king of the Jews?

From the very start, Matthew described Jesus as the anointed leader descended from King David (1:1). But Jesus has been less direct in claiming the regal title. Not until his crowning statement at the end do we hear the Christ claiming all authority in heaven and on earth (28:18).

Matthew treats this question as the focus of the investigation. The Jewish trial demands, Tell us if you are the anointed ruler (26:63). The gentile trial begins, Are you the king of the Jews? (27:11)

Jesus’ authority is the issue at stake. Seven times Matthew underscores Pilate’s official status as the governor (27:2, 11, 14, 15, 21, 27).

So how are we to understand the governor’s question and Jesus’ reply?

Matthew 27:11 (my translation, compare NIV)
Jesus was placed before the governor and the governor questioned him, “You are the king of the Jews?”
Jesus responded, “Your words.”

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Gospel encouragement (podcast) (2 Timothy 1)


The gospel will transform the world. The good news that God’s anointed (Christ) is our leader (Lord) changes everything.

So how do we live in a world that is not fully transformed yet? What’s our role? How do we participate in this big story? That’s what Paul discusses in his final letter to Timothy.

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How do you value Christ? (Matthew 27:1-10)

The tragedy of Judas was how he valued Jesus. Whatever his reason, he chose to hand Jesus over to the temple leaders, accepting whatever they offered (Mark 14:11 || Luke 22:5).

The chief priests set the price (Matthew 26:15). Thirty silver coins was a small price to be rid of the prophetic voice that exposed them as mere actors (23:13-29), rulers relying on death (23:27-32), leaders leading the city to destruction (23:33-39).

Jesus was heaven’s life-giving leader for the earth, and Judas was the leading example of trading Life for something less:

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Most popular posts of 2021

Did you miss any of these?

So much is beyond our control, “the best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men.” It shatters our illusions of being in control, triggering mistrust of our leaders. Turns out neither they nor we know where we’re going, let alone get there.

I’m finding encouragement from a guy whose life was ebbing away in isolation, yet kept his vision on the one who has our destiny sorted:  I know whom I have believed, and I am convinced that he is able … (2 Timothy 1:12).

There’s only one King of Kings. Serving as his agents in a suffering world is the meaning of our lives.

If you’d like something full of hope about where he’s leading us, these were our most-read posts in 2021:

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Wonderful Counsellor (podcast) (Isaiah 9:6)

Why did the wonderful counsellor begin with the place that went dark first? Can his mediation resolve the violence and oppression to restore peace to God’s world?

From cards to cantatas, Isaiah 9:6 is part of Christmas. The child who is born, the son who is given is recognized with throne-names like Wonderful Counsellor.

What did wonderful counsellor mean in Isaiah’s time? How does it relate to Jesus?

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The Lord’s Supper challenges culture (1 Corinthians 11:17–34)

Why were the Corinthians “doing more harm than good” when they met?

Why do churches meet? If we’re not clear what we’re meeting for, we may do more harm than good:

1 Corinthians 11:17-21 (NIV)
17 Your meetings do more harm than good. 18 In the first place, I hear that when you come together as a church, there are divisions among you …
20 When you come together, it is not the Lord’s Supper you eat, 21 for when you are eating, some of you go ahead with your own private suppers. As a result, one person remains hungry and another gets drunk.

The heart of what’s wrong here is competition instead of community.

This isn’t unique to the church. From the Parents and Citizen’s committee of the local school to the political parties that want to run the country, competing groups are always after the best outcome for their faction. It’s how the politics of power works.

But the church embodies the culture of a different kingdom. We’re doing more harm than good if our gatherings reinforce existing culture instead of the king whose authority comes from the cross.

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The new covenant meal (podcast) (1 Corinthians 11:23–26)

A new covenant? How did Jesus’ bloodshed establish a new covenant? Who are the parties? Why a new covenant? Could a previous covenant shed light on this one?

In the Ancient Near East, a national covenant defined who was in power. That’s what the Sinai covenant achieved: a people rescued from slavery became the first nation on earth to live under God’s reign, and the covenant that was celebrated with a meal (Exodus 24:7-11).

How did the new covenant establish God’s reign in Christ? What is it we’re proclaiming in this meal?

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The covenant meal (1 Corinthians 11:23–26)

Communion is a new-covenant feast. How does the body and blood of the Christ create a covenant between heaven and earth?

If your church celebrates the Lord’s Supper, you’ll be familiar with this:

1 Corinthians 11:23–26 (NIV)
23 For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, 24 and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.”
25 In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.” 26 For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.

We hear this so often we may not see how counter-cultural it is. When we celebrate our Lord, we’re proclaiming the king who gave his life to re-establish the covenant relationship between heaven and earth.

Those verses begin and end by proclaiming Jesus as kyrios — Lord. A kyrios in Greek culture was a master or a ruler. The head of a business was the kyrios: the master, the lord of the business. The head of the Empire was a kyrios: Caesar expected you to call him your lord.

But if you saw a convicted criminal hanging on a cross beside the road, you would not normally call him kyrios. The crowd would be more likely to call him Loser than Lord.

In what sense is Jesus our kyrios, the Lord?

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When the last man falls (Matthew 26:69-75)

Seeing no alternative, Peter disowned his king. Jesus never gave up on him.

Why did Peter deny Jesus? Was he just sitting at the wrong fire, in a crowd where he didn’t have the gumption to admit he was Jesus’ follower? That isn’t how this story works in Matthew’s Gospel.

Peter was the first to acknowledge Jesus as the Christ, God’s anointed leader (16:16). Jesus blessed him, but realized Peter had no idea of the conflict ahead. Peter’s denial began when he said, No Lord! This will never happen to you! Denying that Jesus would die at the hands of the Jerusalem leaders placed Peter on the enemy’s side (16:21-23). Peter could understand taking up his sword and kill to save his king (26:51-52), but he could not understand taking up his cross to follow the king into death to save his realm (16:24-28).

Once Jesus removed fight from the agenda, flight was the only option his followers could see. That’s why, All the disciples deserted him and fled (26:56).

Peter could make no sense of what was happening, but he couldn’t stay away either. Peter followed him from a distance … to see how it would end (26:58). That’s the reason Peter was there, trying to blend in with Jesus’ antagonists. That was never going to work, of course. A lumbering fisherman sprouting Galilean phrases was as inconspicuous as an Aston Martin in a spy movie.

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