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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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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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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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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