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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Why was Jesus accused of blasphemy? (Matthew 26:59–66)

How could Jesus be tried and condemned for the sin of blasphemy?

“Speak against me, and you speak against God!” That kind of manipulation is common from cults to Catholicism, from micromanagers to megachurches. That’s what motivated Caiaphas to tear his garments at Jesus’ trial with the accusation, He blasphemed! (26:65)

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“Tell us if you are the anointed ruler” (Matthew 26:57–68)

Jesus’ trial before the Sanhedrin was all about whether he claimed to be king.

Why was Jesus called to stand trial before the Jerusalem Council?

It won’t do to say, “Well, Jesus claimed to be the second person of the trinity (Son of God), and the high priest thought that was blasphemous.” The notion of a triune God was not formulated until much later. The high priest was not investigating a Christian dogma when he said, I adjure you by the living God, tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God. (26:63 ESV).

Peter had used those titles: Christ, Son of God (16:16). We saw that the Gospel writers treat the two phrases as meaning the same thing (epexegetical). The Christ is the anointed ruler who represents on earth the reign of the heavenly sovereign. In that sense, he is the son proclaimed by the eternal sovereign. That’s what son of God meant to the high priest. It was the language of kingship (Psalm 2:2, 7), the language of God’s promises to David (1 Chronicles 17:13).

But the kingship had failed. The final Psalm in Book III laments the disconnect between God’s amazing promises and their experience of the failed kingship:

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Why did Jesus have to die? (Matthew 26:47-56)

How did Jesus’ death “fulfill the prophetic Scriptures?” Here’s the explanation he gave in Gethsemane.

Fight or flight? Many kings have faced that choice. In a field just outside his capital, the true king rejected both options. Neither would bring peace to a divided world.

If you don’t flee and you don’t fight, you could die. Not very attractive, but it is an option: stay and die.

Instead of taking flight, Jesus stayed in Gethsemane, consulting his Father, the architect of human history. He triple-checked for any other alternatives (26:36-46). When the crowd with swords and clubs arrived to take him, he rejected the fight option too.

Matthew doesn’t name Peter as the disciple who unsheathed a dagger. It’s too late for flight. He sees no option but to fight for his king. He swings his sword. The high priest’s servant sees it coming and drops his head to one side. The blow aimed at his neck slices off his ear.

The king orders him, Put your sword back in its place! All who take the sword will destroy themselves with the sword.

What astounding insight! Jesus wasn’t merely saying that those who rely on weapons for survival probably won’t. He said the very act of choosing weapons to kill humans destroys our own humanity (ἀπολοῦνται = future indicative middle).

Ask returning soldiers who’ve seen killing whether Jesus is right. Ask them how many friends they’ve lost to the spectrum from shellshock to suicide. War destroys more than the enemy.

But what sort of option is stay and die? Is that what the Scriptures required of him? It’s not what previous kings had chosen.

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Dark night without answers (Matthew 26:36-46)

Gethsemane isn’t the end, but it sure can feel like it.

Every fibre of his being wanted to run. He wouldn’t last twenty-four hours if he stayed. Grief, anxiety, debilitating distress was killing him.

One of his friends had turned traitor, agreeing to hand him to his enemies (26:20). His other friends didn’t understand, asleep while he faced the dark night of the soul. Though he felt like running for his life, Jesus spent his last moments of freedom facing his Father.

When I’m depressed or distressed, the Psalms advise me to hope in God … my Saviour and my God (Psalms 42:5, 11; 43:5). We’ve heard that nothing is impossible with God. Facedown in the dirt in abject submission, Jesus prayed, My Father, if it’s possible, let the cup pass me by (Matthew 26:39).

Why was God handing him a deadly chalice? It was tearing him apart as he prayed, If it’s what you want, I’ll take it.

Silence.

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Unjustly struck down (Matthew 26:31-35)

How did Jesus handle the rejection he faced?

My feelings affect what I hear from others. When we feel guilt, we hear condemnation. Even from Jesus.

“You will all desert me” is the New Living Translation of Matthew 26:31. It sounds like committing apostasy, and it has been heard that way since the second century.

But desert is an active word, and Jesus used the passive voice. He didn’t say they would fall away from the faith; he said they would be felled by the events of that night.

Jesus wasn’t blaming them. He was blaming God:

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What did Jesus sing? (Matthew 26:30)

The first worship song in the New Testament

Here’s the only record of Jesus singing:

Matthew 26:30 And having sung, they went out to the Mount of Olives.

Singing would be unremarkable today. Churches spend lots of time doing it. But this (|| Mark 14:26) is the only time the Gospels mention Jesus or his disciples singing.

So, what would they sing? I mean, it wasn’t from a Wesleyan hymnbook or a Hillsong stream.

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With you in my Father’s kingdom (Matthew 26:29)

What was Jesus referring to when he spoke of celebrating anew with them in his Father’s kingdom?

Closing his Last Supper, Jesus said, I tell you the truth, from this moment I will not drink the vine’s produce with you until the day when I drink it with you anew in my Father’s kingdom (Matthew 26:29).

What did he mean? According to some communion talks, Jesus was referring to the big banquet at the end of time when everyone is under God’s authority. But that doesn’t really work: within a few days, Jesus was eating with them again (Luke 24:30, 43; John 21:5-13; Acts 1:4).
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Great authority for a great commission (Matthew 28:18-20)

The king’s authority sets the servants’ task.

The great commission begins with all authority. Without understanding who is king and how he uses his authority, we’re likely to misuse that authority.

We’ve heard that it was said:

Go into all the world and convert everyone to Christianity.

What he said was more like this:

All authority in heaven and on earth has been entrusted to me. On that basis, everywhere you go you are to train the nations, plunging them into the leadership given by heaven for the earth: the authority of the Father, his Son, and the Holy Spirit.
Your role is training the nations to obey what their king has commanded. And I promise you I will always be with you my servants, until the goal of the era is fully accomplished (i.e. heaven’s authority is fully restored to earth).
— paraphrase of Matthew 28:18-20.

Begin with his authority, and his commission takes meaningful shape.

The authority of the Christ (28:18)

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You are the Christ (podcast) (Mark 8:27-35)

Open Mark 8:27-35 (ESV).

What do we mean when we say Jesus is the Christ? Is it merely part of his name? Or did Peter have something more in mind when he declared Jesus to be the Christ?

This is no minor matter. It goes to the heart of the Christian faith. It needs to be discussed in our churches, since Jesus’ identity and mission defines our identity and mission. So, how do we teach on this for a Sunday congregation?

This podcast (24-minutes) is from the message delivered to Riverview Church’s Joondalup campus on 8 August 2021.


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Thirty pieces of silver (Zechariah 11:12-13)

How the temple valued Jesus’ leadership is no different to how they valued God’s leadership in the past.

Zechariah 11:12–13 (NIV)
12 I told them, “If you think it best, give me my pay; but if not, keep it.” So they paid me thirty pieces of silver.
13 And the Lord said to me, “Throw it to the potter” — the handsome price at which they valued me! So I took the thirty pieces of silver and threw them to the potter at the house of the Lord.

Thirty silver pieces? Isn’t that the price Judas got for Jesus? Is there a connection? We’ll need to see what this means in Zechariah first, to understand what Matthew 27:3-10 makes of it.

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My blood of the covenant (Matthew 26:28)

What did Jesus mean by this phrase? The backstory is not to be missed.

I’m meditating on a phrase Jesus used at his last supper: This is my blood of the covenant (26:28). What did he mean by my blood? How is his blood covenantal?

Since this was a Passover meal, I’ve heard people say that Jesus was the Passover lamb sacrificed for us. You can draw that parallel (as Paul does in 1 Corinthians 5:7, to ask us to live unleavened lives). But I doubt that’s what Jesus was saying.

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Giving up your king (Matthew 26:14-16)

When it goes dark, it’s not the time to give up on the light.

Matthew 26:14-16 (my translation, compare NIV)
14 Then one of the twelve — the one called Judas Iscariot — went to the high priests 15 and said, “What are you willing to give me, and I’ll hand him over to you?” They settled on thirty silver coins. 16 From then, he was looking for the right moment to hand him over.

What did this mean for Jesus? And what did it mean for Judas? This doorway has two sides.

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An unexpected gift (Matthew 26:6-13)

Sometimes people honour Jesus in ways we don’t expect.

Jesus was a king, but he didn’t ask for the luxuries that usually attend royalty. With his inversion of power where the king served everyone in his kingdom, his servants actually thought it was crazy to give the king an extravagant gift:

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Why did Jesus die? (Matthew 26:1-5)

Ask why Jesus died on the cross, and people usually tell me he died in my place, to forgive me for my sins. Shortly we’ll be looking at the explanation Jesus gave at his last supper, but listen to how Matthew introduces the passion narrative, Jesus’ looming death:

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Who are “my brothers?” (Matthew 25:40)

Who was Jesus expecting us to help when he said, “Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me”?

Who are Jesus’ brothers/sisters in this statement?

The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’ (Matthew 25:40 NIV)

The context is where he’s sorting sheep from goats, based on how they took care of his needs. The sheep ask, “When did we ever see you in need and help you?” And that was the king’s response.

So, was Jesus thinking only of Christians as his brothers and sisters? Or did he have the whole human family in view? It matters, because the church needs to be clear about its mission. The answer you give reveals how you understand the scope of Jesus’ kingship.

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How the king evaluates his people (Matthew 25:34-46)

Our criteria don’t match his.

We’ve been celebrating how the world will be when Christ’s kingship extends to all the people of the world, when all the nations are under his reign. This is what finally brings peace, resolving every conflict.

How does he achieve that goal? His Father, our eternal sovereign, gives the kingship to the son of man, so he has the responsibility to sort out all the people of the earth. Like a shepherd, he separates sheep from goats (25:32).

So how does he know the difference? What criteria does the king use to evaluate his subjects and decide who are his?

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The king who sorts it out (Matthew 25:31-33)

Jesus’ final teaching story in Matthew reveals him as king of all nations, the only leader who can remove what’s wrong with the world and restore God’s reign.

This is the ultimate teaching from Jesus before the final passion narrative in Matthew’s Gospel. Everything Jesus has said about the kingdom of God comes together in this story as the son of man receives the kingship and resolves the justice issues of the world.

This final story contains the most explicit description Jesus ever gave of how he expects humans to live in his kingship. What he expects of his subject is so simple, and his wisdom is so decisive:

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The joy of serving (Matthew 25:14-30)

Two workers found the joy partnering with someone who gave them huge opportunity, while another dug a hole and discovered how small the world of the self becomes. We know it as the “parable of the talents.”

Jesus told a story about a businessman trusting his assets to his staff while engaged elsewhere. How is this “parable of the talents” a story of the kingdom? Is it about Jesus’ return at the end of the era, or does it have a broader application?

First, let’s clear up some misunderstandings:

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