The Beastie Boys (Revelation 13:1-18)

I gotta say, I love Wikipedia.  Where else can you search for ‘deals with the devil in pop culture?’

Some of the films you might recognize, at least by their title, that feature such deals are, The Devil’s Advocate, Bedazzled, O Brother Where Art Thou?, Constantine, and Ghost Rider.

Regarding their hugely popular song, Bohemian Rhapsody, Queen once explained that the song “is about a young man who has accidentally killed someone and, like Faust, sold his soul to the devil.”

Television seems to love the selling of souls to Satan.  Multiple episodes of The Twilight Zone are dedicated to it.  The Simpson’s have at least two episodes along those lines.

I found this next one a little disturbing.  The Muppet Show featured a plot in which Alice Cooper attempts to sell the Muppets a contract that promises “fabulous riches and worldwide fame” on behalf of the devil.  Several characters consider the offer, while Gonzo fervently pursues the deal.  Ultimately, he becomes frustrated at not being able to find a pen to sign away his soul.

In the future Tribulation, people will knowingly forfeit their souls by worshipping both the devil and the world leader we most commonly call the antichrist.

We won’t be on the earth when the antichrist is revealed.  Our text is about those who are left behind after the church is raptured.

Does that mean there is nothing here for us except some information to satisfy our curiosity about the future?

Hardly, because as we work through the verses, we are reminded that the devil, even now, incites people to worship him.

Satan asked Jesus to worship him in the wilderness temptation.  If he went after Jesus, he will probably go after Jesus’ followers, too.

I’ll organize my thoughts around two questions: #1 What Are You Being Offered To Worship The Devil, and #2 How Are You Being Threatened To Worship The Devil?

#1    What Are You Being Offered
    To Worship The Devil?

The Tribulation earth will want a hero – but not the kind you think.  The vast majority of earth’s population will be weary of God’s judgments, but will steadfastly refuse to repent.  They’ll be looking for an alternative to Jesus Christ; looking for someone to be their champion instead of Christ.

In fact, that is the meaning of the name antichrist; ‘anti’ means instead of Christ.  Let’s meet him in our text.

Rev 13:1  Then I stood on the sand of the sea. And I saw a beast rising up out of the sea, having seven heads and ten horns, and on his horns ten crowns, and on his heads a blasphemous name.

The NIV translates this, “and the dragon stood on the shore of the sea. And I saw a beast coming out of the sea…”

The “dragon” is Satan and it is he who is standing “on the shore of the sea” having been thrown down to the earth at the end of chapter twelve.  His final strategy is to energize two men that will do his bidding.

The first beast is the antichrist.  We saw him earlier as the first of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse rode forth.  It is his signing of a treaty with Israel that starts the clock for the Tribulation.  These verses tell us about his empowering by Satan near the mid-point of the Tribulation.

Revelation 13:1  …He had ten horns and seven heads, with ten crowns on his horns, and on each head a blasphemous name.
Each of these symbols is defined for you in chapter seventeen.

The “ten horns” are identified as ten kings who are united by this one man.

The “seven heads” are the seven hills of the city in which his power resides.  Rome is universally known throughout history as the city of the seven hills; thus this is often thought to be a confederation of ten nations or ten world regions based in Rome ruled over by the antichrist.

The “seven heads” also represent seven kingdoms in world history.

Revelation 13:2  Now the beast which I saw was like a leopard, his feet were like the feet of a bear, and his mouth like the mouth of a lion. The dragon gave him his power, his throne, and great authority.

Speaking of animals… The Washington Post published a chart of the animals that are statistically most likely to kill you.

Sharks, alligators, venomous snakes, and spiders are, surprisingly, on the very bottom of the list.  At the top of the list are bees, wasps, and hornets.

Cows and dogs kill far more people than sharks and gators.  Statistically, cows kill twenty-times as many people as sharks.  Think about that during Dairy Month.

The animals listed here are the ones that the prophet Daniel used to represent certain kingdoms of the world:  the leopard was Greece, the bear was Medo-Persia, and the lion was Babylon.

The antichrist and the kingdom he will rule is another in this succession of satanic kingdoms.

The antichrist is called the “beast” in this chapter.  He has about forty-six descriptive names in the Bible – thirty-three in the Old Testament and thirteen in the New Testament.

Revelation 13:3  And I saw one of his heads as if it had been mortally wounded, and his deadly wound was healed. And all the world marveled and followed the beast.

The antichrist doesn’t have two heads.  Why, then, does it say “one of his heads?”  Because, prior to this event, he is only ruler over one portion of the larger empire.  He will reemerge from his “deadly wound” to take sole control of the empire.

Towards the middle of the Tribulation the antichrist will be mortally wounded but come back from the dead.  The words used describe a violent death, like an assassination.  Revelation 17:8 makes it clearer when you read, “the beast that you saw was, and is not, and will ascend out of the bottomless pit and go to perdition. And those who dwell on the earth will marvel…”

According to Zechariah 11:16, the antichrist’s arm will be permanently withered and his right eye totally blinded.  I wonder if this isn’t in mockery of the fact Jesus Christ rose from the dead with wounds in His body?

It is while he is in the bottomless pit that he is completely energized by Satan.  When he returns, he has supernatural abilities.

Revelation 13:4  So they worshiped the dragon who gave authority to the beast; and they worshiped the beast, saying, “Who is like the beast? Who is able to make war with him?”

His restoration to life will inspire nonbelievers to openly worship both him and Satan.  The world will embrace their hero – their ‘instead-of’ Christ.

Revelation 13:5  And he was given a mouth speaking great things and blasphemies, and he was given authority to continue for forty-two months.

Forty-two months is three and one half years.  This is the last half of the seven year Tribulation.  He will be “given authority” means that, while he seems to take control of things, God remains in charge, and history will come to its prophesied end.

Revelation 13:6  Then he opened his mouth in blasphemy against God, to blaspheme His name, His tabernacle, and those who dwell in heaven.

First, he will “blaspheme [God’s] name.”  He might argue that God’s wrath being poured-out proves He is a vengeful deity, not to be worshipped.

Second, he will blaspheme God’s “tabernacle.”  Both Daniel and Jesus spoke of the antichrist defiling the Temple.

Third, the antichrist will blaspheme “those who dwell in Heaven.”  He will be all about the here-and-now, inspiring nonbelievers to be materialists who care mainly about present satisfaction.

Revelation 13:7  It was granted to him to make war with the saints and to overcome them. And authority was given him over every tribe, tongue, and nation.

For a time the antichrist will seem to succeed in his war against God as God’s earthly people are “overcome.”

Martyrdom, however, is never a defeat.  It is the ultimate victory of faith in the face of opposition.

Revelation 13:8  All who dwell on the earth will worship him, whose names have not been written in the Book of Life of the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world.

It is the writing of the names in the Book of Life, not the slaying of Jesus on the Cross, that happened “from the foundations of the world.”

John Walvoord says of this good news,

Some references to the Book of Life seem to indicate it is the book of the living, namely, of all born in the world, and that those who do not [eventually] trust in Christ are blotted from it leaving only those who are saved… The simplest explanation here seems the best, namely, that their names were written in the Book of Life from eternity past.  This was made possible by anticipation of the future dying of the Lamb on their behalf.

Revelation 13:9  If anyone has an ear, let him hear.

We recognize this phrase from earlier in the book but immediately notice the important difference.  In the opening chapters it read, “he that has an ear to ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”  The dropping of “the Spirit” and “the churches” is one more indication that the church is not on the earth for the Tribulation.

Will “anyone have an ear?”  Yes.  The Tribulation is a time during which multitudes are saved.  Most of them will be martyred, but they will be saved.

Revelation 13:10  He who leads into captivity shall go into captivity; he who kills with the sword must be killed with the sword. Here is the patience and the faith of the saints.

This is a chant of victory.  You can almost hear it on the lips of the Tribulation martyrs.  As the agents of the antichrist capture them, and sentence them, and execute them, you can hear them say to their persecutors, “He who leads into captivity shall go into captivity; he who kills with the sword must be killed with the sword.”

Does that seem harsh?  In the Tribulation, by the time these believers are being martyred, it will be too late for their persecutors to be saved.  The agents of the antichrist will have already sworn their irrevocable allegiance to him.

John adds, “here is the patience and faith of the saints.”  Their “patience” is the certainty that Jesus is coming back.  Their “faith” is their faithfulness to live accordingly and to accept whatever earthly fate befalls them in light of their eternal future.

Satan gets what he wants – worship – by giving nonbelievers what they want.  They want to be left alone to sin.  Earlier we read,

Rev 9:20  But the rest of mankind, who were not killed by these plagues, did not repent of the works of their hands, that they should not worship demons, and idols of gold, silver, brass, stone, and wood, which can neither see nor hear nor walk.
Rev 9:21  And they did not repent of their murders or their sorceries or their sexual immorality or their thefts.

What is the devil offering you?  Is it happiness – if you will just leave your husband or your wife?  Is it more possessions – if you’ll just lie or cheat or steal?

Is it something from the list I just read?

Believe me, he is offering you something, or someone.  He wants to do a deal with you, and every Christian.

“Here is the patience and faith of the saints.”  Resist him; go on resisting him.  Resist him to the shedding of blood; to death, even.

#2    How Are You Being Threatened
    To Worship The Devil?

Besides giving folks what they think they want, the devil threatens to withhold everything they physically need, and to kill them.

Revelation 13:11  Then I saw another beast coming up out of the earth, and he had two horns like a lamb and spoke like a dragon.

“Another beast,” means another of the same nature.

The antichrist rises out of the “sea,” which might be a reference to the Mediterranean Sea.  If so, it simply means the antichrist will come from that part of the world.

Scholars argue about his descent – whether he is Gentile or Jewish.

Many say he will be European, because Daniel says he descends from the people who destroyed the Temple.  We tend to forget, however, that the Roman Empire spanned far more territory than Western Europe.  Titus and his men, who sacked Jerusalem, were Syrian.  So we are not certain his nationality.

The second beast comes from the “earth.”  I’m sure it is a clue to his origins but I don’t know what it means, other than to tell us he is a man, not a demon.

His description as having “two horns like a lamb” is interesting in that everywhere else the word “lamb” is used in the Revelation it refers to Jesus.  It has led some to speculate that this man will claim to be Jesus.  We know from our Lord that the beginning of the Tribulation, the first half, will see a slew of false Christ’s rise up.  It’s likely he will be one of them.

He will emerge as the leader of a false religious system (of which we read more about in chapter seventeen).

Though claiming to be Christ or Christ-like, the second beast will speak “like a dragon.”  It means his words will be satanic.

I wonder if that’s why the world’s best selling dictation software is called Dragon?

Revelation 13:12  And he exercises all the authority of the first beast in his presence, and causes the earth and those who dwell in it to worship the first beast, whose deadly wound was healed.

“In his presence” means on the behalf of.  He has all the antichrist’s authority and makes things happen in his evil administration.

One major thing that he makes happen is to cause “the earth and those who dwell in it to worship the first beast whose deadly wound was healed.”  Here is how he does it:

Revelation 13:13  He performs great signs, so that he even makes fire come down from heaven on the earth in the sight of men.

“Performs” is in a tense that indicates repeated activity.  He does sign after sign.  The “signs” are designed to persuade mankind to follow the antichrist.  They point to him as the one to watch and worship.

One of the “signs” is “he even makes fire come down from Heaven in the sight of men.”  This can be understood in one of two ways:

God’s two witnesses, who we saw in a previous study, can kill with fire.  In the Old Testament, Moses performed various signs that were mimicked by the magicians of Egypt.  This could be something similar, as if to say, “Anything God can do, I can do.”

It could also be a fire that counterfeits what happened on the Day of Pentecost.  The Holy Spirit fell upon the church and tongues of fire hovered over them.  If the second beast claims to be Jesus he could be counterfeiting a second Pentecost.

Revelation 13:14  And he deceives those who dwell on the earth – by those signs which he was granted to do in the sight of the beast, telling those who dwell on the earth to make an image to the beast who was wounded by the sword and lived.

“Deceives” means to lead astray.  Miracles, signs, and wonders can validate the Word; or they can lead you astray.  God’s Word must be used to judge their source by their message.

The people on earth will be led “to make an image to the beast who was wounded by the sword and lived.”  They won’t simply worship an image to the beast.  They will help “make” it.

Remember the Golden Calf?  Aaron, Moses’ brother, had the Israelites bring their gold and jewelry in order to use them for making the idol they would worship.

What, exactly, this “image” is we are not told.  It will be something more than a mere likeness but beyond that I haven’t a clue.

Revelation 13:15  He was granted power to give breath to the image of the beast, that the image of the beast should both speak and cause as many as would not worship the image of the beast to be killed.

John is careful not to say that he gives life to the image.  Only God can do that.  It is something miraculous, but also deceptive and false.

Those who refuse to worship the beast are to be killed.  Notice that it is the image itself which causes the non-worshippers to be killed.  Again, I can’t fathom exactly what it means. But it’s creepy.

Revelation 13:16  He causes all, both small and great, rich and poor, free and slave, to receive a mark on their right hand or on their foreheads,

“Causes” doesn’t mean he forces them.

Here is how I see it.  People will already be utilizing some sort of technology to conduct cashless business.  The second beast will demand allegiance to the antichrist by worshipping him in order for folks to continue using the technology.

It’ll be a choice.  No one ever takes the mark, so to speak, accidentally, or without knowing what they are doing.  In the very next chapter we will read,

Rev 14:9  Then a third angel… [said] with a loud voice, “If anyone worships the beast and his image, and receives his mark on his forehead or on his hand,
Rev 14:10  he himself shall also drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is poured out full strength into the cup of His indignation. He shall be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb.

“All” in verse sixteen means all types and classes of people.  They are described in contrasting pairs.

“Small and great.”  It won’t matter if you are educated or uneducated, white collar or blue collar or no collar.  Those distinctions will still exist but being “great” will not exempt you, nor will being “small” exclude you.

“Rich and poor.”  There will always be disparity of wealth.  The concept here is that wealth will be useless unless you are participating in the system.

“Free and slave.”  That sounds ominous.  A little later we’ll read in 18:13 that men trafficked in “the souls of men.”  Human trafficking is already a huge problem in the world.  It will worsen.  But even if you’re “free” you can’t avoid the decision to take the “mark.”

John specifically mentions the “right hand” and the “forehead.”  I see no reason this should not be taken literally.

By the way: In the Old Testament book, Deuteronomy, you’ll recall God saying to His people regarding His statutes, “you shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes” (6:8).

It’s why orthodox Jews wear phylacteries –  small, leather boxes with verses inside – on their heads and forearms.  The mark of the beast is a mocking, a mimicking, of this old practice.

Revelation 13:17  and that no one may buy or sell except one who has the mark or the name of the beast, or the number of his name.

We report quite frequently, in our Prophecy Updates, about the multiple technologies which exist right now that certainly could fit the description of a “mark” in or on your hand or forehead.

A person will not be able to conduct any business whatsoever without worshipping the antichrist.  There will be no access to public services or health care or anything.

Revelation 13:18  Here is wisdom. Let him who has understanding calculate the number of the beast, for it is the number of a man: His number is 666.

In both Hebrew and Greek each letter of the alphabet really does correspond to a number.  The first nine letters correspond to 1 through 9, the next nine to 10 through 90, and the last few letters to the hundreds.  The number of a word or name is the sum of the numerical equivalents of its letters.

Relating this to 666, Jewish commentator David Stern writes,

The number could be entirely symbolic.  The name of Messiah in Greek, Iêsous, equals 888; 7 is regarded as the perfect number; and triple repetition symbolizes absolute ultimacy (as in Isaiah 6:3, “Holy, holy, holy is Adonai of Hosts”).  Therefore 888 means that Yeshua is absolutely and ultimately beyond perfection, while 666 means that the beast in every respect falls short of perfection and is therefore absolutely and ultimately imperfect and evil.

I like that; it’s simple and biblical.  I’d add the observation that 666 is 6 repeating itself three times.

That may not seem profound, but it is helpful because, if you stick to the context, the Revelation discusses six world-ruling kingdoms up to and including the time the apostle John was writing: Egypt, Assyria, Babylon, Medo-Persia, Greece, and Rome.

Historians like to point out that the Roman Empire has never really been totally eradicated.  So the next world-ruling empire will be the future revived Roman Empire of the Tribulation.  It is, in that sense, a repeat of the sixth kingdom.

The revived Roman Empire of the Tribulation will then be taken over by Satan’s beast.  It is, in a sense, another repeat of the sixth kingdom.

Rome of the past, the revived Rome of the future, and the revived Rome ruled by the antichrist is the sixth world-ruling kingdom repeating itself three times – thus 6-6-6.

Mankind will never progress beyond this sixth kingdom.

Seven is the number of completion.  Jesus will establish His Kingdom of Heaven on earth – the true seventh kingdom.

The threat of being totally cut-off from society, unable to buy or sell or conduct any business, will be a powerful incentive to take the mark of the beast.

Most of the believers on the earth, right now, live under the constant threat of persecution, even unto death.

How is Satan threatening you?  You were probably threatened when you first got saved.  Your family and your friends threatened to abandon you.  Your boss may have threatened to fire you.

If you’re not currently facing any threats, maybe you need to get back in the fight.

Those of you who follow baseball have heard announcers compliment a pitcher whose stuff is wicked-good by saying “He’s really dealing.”

Satan is wicked-bad, and he’s dealing.  You don’t want what he’s offering; and you need not be intimidated by his threats.

Nothing can separate you from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus.

Are you a believer?  Your name is written in the Book of Life; but you must believe, before you die, in order for it to remain there.

Believe on the Lord, Jesus Christ, and you will be saved.

The Commish (Matthew 28v1-20)

If you’re stressed about Christmas shopping, I can help.

Today is December 14th, 2014.  It’s also December 1st, 2014.  You see, we are using what is called the Gregorian calendar.  But there is a Julian calendar, and on the Julian calendar, it’s only December 1st.

I’ve just given you thirteen more shopping days.

There are lots of calendars, and today is different on all of them:

Today is Safar 21, 1436, on the Islamic calendar.

It is Azar 23, 1393, on the Persian calendar.

It is Agrahayana 23, 1936, on the Indian subcontinent.

I wasn’t able to calculate what day it is today on the Chinese, or the Hindu, or the Ethiopian calendars.

I can tell you that it is Kislev 22, 5775, on the Hebrew calendar.

The Hebrew calendar should be of interest to us because, unless we understand the dates, we will miss a lot of what was happening when Jesus Christ rose from the dead.

Jesus rose from the dead on the 16th day of the month Nisan on the Hebrew calendar.

That date probably means nothing to most of us; but any Jew recognizes it as the Feast of First Fruits.

In fact, Jesus was crucified on Passover; He was in the tomb for the Sabbath following Passover, which was the beginning of the Feast of Unleavened Bread; then He rose on First Fruits.

What is the significance of Jesus rising from the dead on the Feast of First Fruits?  I’ll organize my answer around two points: #1 Jesus First Fruits Guarantees You Will One Day Rise, and #2 Jesus First Fruits Guarantees You Can Everyday Serve.
#1    Jesus First Fruits Guarantees
    You Will One Day Rise

Let me make something clear: I do not think that we, as Gentile believers, ought to celebrate the Jewish feasts.  We are under no obligation, as the apostle Paul says in Colossians, regarding “food or… drink, or regarding a festival or a new moon or sabbaths, which are a shadow of things to come, but the substance is of Christ” (2:16-17).

Having said that, it’s just foolish to ignore the fact that Jesus fulfilled all of the Hebrew spring feasts, to the letter, on the very day they occurred, in His first coming.

How did He fulfill them?

He fulfilled Passover by dying on the Cross just as the Passover lambs were being slain in the temple on Nisan 14.  He was God’s final sacrificial lamb, the lamb of God Who takes away the sin of the world.

As His body lay in the tomb the next day, Jesus fulfilled the Feast of Unleavened Bread.  Celebrated on Nisan 15, it marks the beginning of a seven day period during which the eating of leavened bread is forbidden.  Leaven is a symbol of sin (First Corinthians 5:6).  Jesus fulfilled the feast in that His was the only sinless life ever lived, and His was the only sinless body ever to be entombed.

As for First Fruits, it was an offering of the very first of the harvest, brought to the Lord, representing confidence in the fuller harvest to come.

Jesus was the first Person to rise from the dead never to die again.  His resurrection promised a greater harvest to come.

For one thing, He wasn’t the only person raised from the dead in such a manner at His resurrection:

Mat 27:52  and the graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised;

Mat 27:53  and coming out of the graves after His resurrection, they went into the holy city and appeared to many.

These saints, raised right after Jesus, were the First Fruits of the greater harvest to come.  Their resurrection, on the Feast of First Fruits, guarantees that all believers in Jesus Christ will be resurrected.

There is another spring feast on the Jewish calendar – the Feast of Pentecost.  Listen carefully to this quote from Zola Levitt:

The fourth feast, Pentecost, occurs 50 days after First Fruits, and on that very day, the Holy Spirit attended the Pentecost festivities at the Temple site “like a rushing, mighty wind.”  Pentecost represents the summer harvest, a larger harvest than First Fruits, but not so large as the fall crops, and the Holy Spirit harvested 3,000 people (Acts 2:41).

What happened on Nisan 16 has a direct bearing on you rising from the dead.  You and I are among the ongoing greater harvest.

Mat 28:1  Now after the Sabbath, as the first day of the week began to dawn, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary came to see the tomb.

These gals had spent a restless Sabbath, waiting for the first moment they could go to the tomb.

We’re told elsewhere they wanted to further anoint Jesus’ body for burial, as the initial preparations had been too hasty.  They fully expected Jesus to be in His tomb.  It’s been pointed out many times that the first unbelievers of the resurrection of Jesus were the believers.

Mat 28:2  And behold, there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven, and came and rolled back the stone from the door, and sat on it.

Mat 28:3  His countenance was like lightning, and his clothing as white as snow.

Mat 28:4  And the guards shook for fear of him, and became like dead men.

What’s with the earthquake?  It wasn’t just the human race that was affected by Adam and Eve’s sin.  The whole creation groans, waiting to be redeemed.  This earthquake prefigured that future day when there will be a new earth.

Angels are fierce.  They are terrible – in the Old English use of that word.  185,000 Assyrian warriors were no match for one angel in the Old Testament, so it’s no wonder a handful of Roman guards “shook for fear of him.”

Jesus was already resurrected.  The angel didn’t roll away the stone so that Jesus could get out.  It was so men could see in.

Mat 28:5  But the angel answered and said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified.

Mat 28:6  He is not here; for He is risen, as He said. Come, see the place where the Lord lay.

Mat 28:7  And go quickly and tell His disciples that He is risen from the dead, and indeed He is going before you into Galilee; there you will see Him. Behold, I have told you.”

I wonder if he thought there would be a large crowd at the tomb?  You’d think that, with Jesus’ promise that He’d rise on the third day, multitudes would be on hand.

I wonder if the angel thought no one would be at the tomb?  After all, why go to an empty tomb?  Jesus had, before His death, told His disciples He would see them again in Galilee:

Mat 26:32  “But after I have been raised, I will go before you to Galilee.”

Whatever he thought, angels are God’s messengers, and this one faithfully delivered his.

I take every chance I get to comfort myself, and you, that God rewards faithfulness, not results.  Do what God tells you; go where God sends you; speak what God gives you to say.  Don’t wonder about who, or how many, will be gathered, or affected.

Mat 28:8  So they went out quickly from the tomb with fear and great joy, and ran to bring His disciples word.

Mat 28:9  And as they went to tell His disciples, behold, Jesus met them, saying, “Rejoice!” So they came and held Him by the feet and worshiped Him.

They went right away.  They did not pass Go; they did not collect $200.00.

They ran into Jesus.  It suggests that I have the greatest chance of Jesus meeting me on the way if I’m being obedient to His direction.

Mat 28:10  Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid. Go and tell My brethren to go to Galilee, and there they will see Me.”

It’s interesting that, even though Jesus said He’d see them in Galilee both before He died and after He rose; and the angel confirmed it; the disciples hung around Jerusalem, behind locked doors, for at least another week:

It was on Sunday evening that the Lord appeared to the disciples, with Thomas being absent.

Then, one week later, He appeared to them again, with Thomas in the group.

The Lord is so patient with us – especially in our fears.  Even though He’d been clear in His directions, He condescended to meet them in Jerusalem, twice.

Are you waiting in fear about something the Lord has told you to do, e.g., telling someone you are a believer?  Or taking a step of faith?

Jesus is patient… But He wants His perfect love to cast out your fear.

Did you notice that Jesus called the disciples His “brethren?”  It’s a word that, first off, would communicate His forgiveness.

John had been at the Cross, but the other nine had scattered, and Peter had three times denied Him.  Still, they were His brethren.

If someone rose from the dead, never to die again, and did so on First Fruits… and many others rose with Him in glorious eternal bodies… Wouldn’t you want to get on board, and live forever?

Not these guys:

Mat 28:11  Now while they were going, behold, some of the guard came into the city and reported to the chief priests all the things that had happened.

Mat 28:12  When they had assembled with the elders and consulted together, they gave a large sum of money to the soldiers,

Mat 28:13  saying, “Tell them, ‘His disciples came at night and stole Him away while we slept.’

Mat 28:14  And if this comes to the governor’s ears, we will appease him and make you secure.”

Mat 28:15  So they took the money and did as they were instructed; and this saying is commonly reported among the Jews until this day.

It must have been a lot of money; like, enough to retire on, with a new identity, in Spain.  No Roman soldier worth his salt would want to admit to dereliction of duty on such a massive scale.

Later on, in the Book of Acts, Peter was in prison, being guarded by sixteen Roman soldiers.  An angel helped him escape.  Finding him missing, Herod ordered that all sixteen of the guards be executed.

If a person is not a believer in Jesus Christ, they have some “saying” as to why they do not believe He rose from the dead.

I used to think it was up to me, as a believer, to prove Jesus rose from the dead.  It’s a fact of history; so, really, it’s up to the nonbeliever to explain the empty tomb – and all the explanations are insufficient.

Are you familiar with the expression, “Don’t bother me with the facts; I’ve already made up my mind”?  It was made famous by Foghorn Leghorn.

Anyone who denies the resurrection is about as insightful as Foghorn Leghorn.

Concerning your resurrection, the apostle Paul wrote,

1Cor 15:22  For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive.

1Cor 15:23  But each one in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, afterward those who are Christ’s at His coming.

He elaborated on this order in First Thessalonians:

1Thess 4:14  For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who sleep in Jesus.

1Thess 4:15  For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord will by no means precede those who are asleep.

1Thess 4:16  For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first.

1Thess 4:17  Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord.

We – the believers of the church age that began on the harvest Feast of Pentecost – will “all… be made alive.”  We will be resurrected and have glorious, eternal bodies.

Those who have died physically, and who will yet die, will be raised from the dead; those who are alive at the Lord’s coming for the church will be raptured – changed in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye.

Israel had a very specific calendar, with its feast days.  They also had a prophecy, from Daniel, of the exact calendar date that their Messiah would enter Jerusalem.

The Jews missed every one of those days, rejecting Jesus as the One Who fulfilled them in His first coming.

The result, as we have seen throughout Matthew’s Gospel, is that there is a postponement in the establishing of the kingdom of Heaven on the earth.

We live during this postponement; and, since about chapter twelve or so, the Lord has been telling us how we ought to live, waiting for His return for us.

#2    Jesus the First Fruits Guarantees
    You Can Everyday Serve

Certain passages of Scripture are so popular, or so beloved, or so essential, that we give them names: the Sermon on the Mount and the Olivet Discourse and the Beatitudes come to mind.  If I say “the Love chapter,” you know it’s First Corinthians thirteen.

The Gospel of Matthew ends with what we call the Great Commission.

Mat 28:16  Then the eleven disciples went away into Galilee, to the mountain which Jesus had appointed for them.

Jesus was a hiker.  He spent a lot of time on mountains; and some of His greatest sayings were delivered from those heights.

Mat 28:17  When they saw Him, they worshiped Him; but some doubted.

The doubt of the eleven was settled back in Jerusalem, in the two evening appearances I referenced – one without Thomas present, then the next with him there.

Scholars therefore suggest that when Jesus appeared on the mountain, there were more of His followers than the eleven.

The four Gospels record at least eleven resurrection appearances of Jesus to hundreds of individuals over a period of several weeks.  One of those appearances is listed in listed in First Corinthians 15:6, where we read,

First Corinthians 15:6  After that He was seen by over five hundred brethren at once, of whom the greater part remain to the present, but some have fallen asleep.

It may be that the Great Commission was given, not just to the eleven, but to this greater group of “over five hundred.”

Mat 28:18  And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth.

As the Creator of all things, Jesus always had “authority” in Heaven and on earth.  Here He was letting them know that the mission He was sending them on would be empowered by Him.

Something you almost never want to here is, “Hey, you’re on your own!”  They wouldn’t be; and neither are we.

Mat 28:19  Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,

Mat 28:20  teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Amen.

I think we absolutely must refer to another passage, or we’ll miss the whole thing.

Jesus said, “Go,” but before He ascended, He also said “don’t go until the promise of the Father, the Holy Spirit, has come upon you.”

Act 1:4  And being assembled together with them, He commanded them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the Promise of the Father, “which,” He said, “you have heard from Me;

Act 1:5  for John truly baptized with water, but you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.”

This baptism with the Holy Spirit is the way Jesus empowers His followers to fulfill the Great Commission.

When Jesus said, “Go,” the verb should be translated, as you are going.  It isn’t a call to some foreign mission field; it is a description of you as a missionary in any field you find yourself.

It wouldn’t be a stretch to paraphrase it, “wherever you go, and wherever you are… I am with you always, to empower you.”

Here is what I’m getting at.  Jesus was raised from the dead, and we will one day be raised from the dead.  In the mean time, we are told, “[since] the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you” (Romans 8:11).

The apostle Paul elsewhere said that he wanted to know Jesus, “and the power of His resurrection” (Philippians 3:10).

The Great Commission isn’t something we must do.  It’s something that Jesus does, something that happens, as we are going through life, because of who we are – saved individuals who can live in the power of the resurrection, having God the Holy Spirit in us, and upon us.

Don’t get me wrong; we are to “do” certain things.  But we can only “do” them as unto the Lord if we understand our empowering.  They should then simply happen as we are yielded to Jesus.

We are “to make disciples of all the nations.”  This is the only command in these verses – “make disciples.”

How?  By “baptizing,” and by “teaching.”

We understand baptism to be water baptism, and that it follows repentance and faith in Jesus Christ as an outward sign of the inward work of salvation.

“Baptizing,” then, is the culmination of the sharing of Jesus Christ with others, commanding them to repent and be saved.  It is the preaching of the Gospel – all the time, anywhere and everywhere we are “going.”  Those who respond with repentance and faith, we water baptize to signify salvation.

Jesus said to baptize “in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.”  It wasn’t meant to be a formula – although, for the sake of doctrinal clarity, it’s a good idea to baptize folks using this description of God, Whom the Bible presents consistently as one God in three Persons.

If we were Jewish, we’d know that the Jews practiced baptism.  There was process through which a non-Jew could become a Jewish proselyte, and that process involved three things: a sacrifice, circumcision, and then water baptism.

To a Jew, Jesus’ reference to baptize would simply, but powerfully, mean that the person was a true convert.

The Jews did not baptize in anyone’s name; they had no such formula.

Baptizing them “in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit,” was an explanation that the Father – Jehovah – is God, and that the Son is God, and that the Holy Spirit is God.

Not a formula; not the name of God; but an explanation of the Godhead.

Albert Barnes wrote,

The union of these three names in the form of baptism proves that the Son and Holy Spirit are equal with the Father.  Nothing would be more absurd or blasphemous than to unite the name of a creature – a man or an angel – with the name of the ever-living God in this solemn rite.  If Jesus was a mere man or an angel, as is held by many who deny His divinity, and if the Holy Spirit was a mere “attribute” of God, then it would have been the height of absurdity to use a form like this, or to direct the apostles to baptize people under them.

Those who are saved we are to “[teach]… to observe all things that I have commanded you.”  To know exactly what Jesus intended by “teaching,” I think we need to take the whole Book of Acts as our model; and the rest of the New Testament as our text.

Jesus did not merely say: “teach them all the things I have commanded you.”  Rather, He said, “Teach them to observe all the things I have commanded you.”

“Teaching to observe” means to be the church – the called-out ones, meeting together in community, ministering one-to-another in the gifts of the Holy Spirit, then out in the world sharing our faith in Jesus.

The actual teaching of the Word is fundamental and foundational to that process, and should always be a priority.  It is job one.

But there’s a whole lot more that goes into “teaching to observe.”

Think about your driver’s training.  You can learn everything you need to know about driving a car from books.  Until you get behind the wheel, with an instructor, you won’t know how to drive.

“All things that I have commanded you” are whatever is found in the completed Word of God.

Jesus promised to “always” be with them – to be with us.  It’s a strong claim of His deity, because only God is everywhere present.

Jesus indicated there would be an end to this age.  History is following a course set down in eternity past; and God, by His providence, keeps history on course.

Since we’re talking feasts on the Hebrew calendar, I should mention that there are three fall feasts: the Feast of Trumpets, the Day of Atonement, and the Feast of Tabernacles.

If Jesus meticulously fulfilled all the spring feasts, can we not assume He will fulfill the fall feasts?

Of course He will… But how?

Leviticus 23:24 requires that, “in the seventh month, in the first day of the month, shall ye have a Sabbath, a memorial of blowing of trumpets.”

Because we are told that the resurrection and rapture of the church is accompanied by a trumpet blast, many scholars have suggested over the years that the rapture might occur in September, on the Feast of Trumpets.

I’m not saying it will, or it must; and the Bible no where says it will, or it must.  But this is why many suggest it will.

I do know that the rapture is presented as being imminent.  It could happen any moment.

If it occurs, and it isn’t the Feast of Trumpets, what gives?
Well, something else will be the fulfillment of that feast.

The Day of Atonement would seem to find its fulfillment after the church has been removed from the earth, at the Second Coming of Jesus, at the end of the Great Tribulation, when all Israel will be saved.

The Feast of Tabernacles corresponds to the one thousand year reign of Jesus over the earth.  He will again be tabernacling with men.

Mean time we simply “Go,” and as we are going, the Lord wants to use us, everyday, to reveal to a sick, lost, and dying world, the power of His resurrection.

We are First Fruits; not just because we will one day be raised or raptured, but because we can walk in the power of the resurrection right now.

Want to “do” something?  Start expecting Jesus to do what He’s been doing since He rose from the dead; and to do it using you.

Come Out, Come Out, Resurrected You Are! (Matthew 27v45-66)

I say, “Grim Reaper,” and you immediately see a skeletal figure carrying a large scythe and clothed in a black cloak with a hood, hourglass in hand, waiting for the last drop of sand to fall.

That image has been the personification of death in the Western world since at least the 15th century.

In literature, or on film, he sometimes disguises himself, so as to sneak-up on those whose souls he has come to reap.

In the Twilight Zone episode, ‘Nothing in the Dark’, an old woman has been avoiding the Grim Reaper by living as a recluse, refusing to open her door. The Reaper, played by a handsome aspiring actor by the name of Robert Redford, tricks her into letting him in by pretending to be a wounded policeman.

The Bible personifies death.  In the Revelation of Jesus Christ, death is described as one of the four horsemen of the Apocalypse:

Rev 6:8  So I looked, and behold, a pale horse. And the name of him who sat on it was Death, and Hades followed with him. And power was given to them over a fourth of the earth, to kill with sword, with hunger, with death, and by the beasts of the earth.

The apostle Paul personifies death at least two times in his inspired writing:

In First Corinthians 15:26, he writes, “the last enemy that will be destroyed is death.”

A little later in that same chapter, he quotes the Old Testament, and personally addresses our “last enemy,” saying, “O Death, where is your sting? O grave, where is your victory?” (v55).

Death is not directly personified in our text in Matthew; but he describes some incredible events that occurred at the moment the Lord died, showing death’s defeat.

The religious leaders, fearing Jesus might somehow be shown to be alive, put themselves in the awkward position of defending death.  They placed a seal, and a guard, on the tomb, hoping Jesus would stay put.

I want to live knowing death has been defeated, not defending it by living in fear.  I’ll organize my thoughts around two points: #1 Your Enemy, Death, Was Defeated At The Cross Of Jesus Christ, and #2 Your Enemy, Death, Could Not Be Defended At The Tomb Of Jesus Christ.

#1    Your Enemy, Death,
    Was Defeated At The Cross Of Jesus Christ

We’re so anxious to get to the resurrection of Jesus Christ that we can overlook the effects of His death on the Cross.

We’re told that it was at the Cross He “disarmed principalities and powers, [and] made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them in it” (Colossians 2:15).

Sure, the Cross was necessary to get to the resurrection.  But it was more than just a means to that end.  The Cross itself was a victory in God’s long spiritual warfare with Satan.

Mat 27:45  Now from the sixth hour until the ninth hour there was darkness over all the land.

There is some evidence in secular history of this darkness.  “[Early church leaders] Origen and Eusebius quoted words from Phlegon (a Roman historian) in which he made mention of an extraordinary solar eclipse as well as of an earthquake about the time of the crucifixion.”

Since it was Passover, and Passover always occurs on the calendar when the moon is full, it’s not possible that this was a natural event, like a solar eclipse.  It was supernatural.

Mat 27:46  And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?” that is, “MY GOD, MY GOD, WHY HAVE YOU FORSAKEN ME?”

Jesus was put on the Cross about 9AM.  The darkness began at high noon.  Then, after a total of six hours on the Cross, at the ninth hour of the day as the Jews reckoned time – at 3PM – He cried out, and dismissed His own Spirit.

You might recognize these words as the opening line of Psalm 22.

There is a tradition that Jesus said, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?,” and then recited the whole psalm, and perhaps all the subsequent psalms until Psalm 31:5, which reads, “Into Your hand I commit my spirit…”

Did the Father really forsake Jesus?  Is that why there were three hours of darkness?

A little later in Psalm 22, in verse twenty-four, you read,

Psalm 22:24  For He has not despised nor abhorred the affliction of the afflicted; Nor has He hidden His face from Him; But when He cried to Him, He heard.

In His humanity, Jesus certainly felt forsaken.  But the psalm itself indicates that He was unforsaken by His Father.

I don’t pretend to know what was occurring, in the dark, for those three hours.  But I’ve come to question the emotional, over-preaching of the forsakenness of Jesus.

It’s more on point to realize that Psalm 22 – written about a thousand years prior to the crucifixion – describes what was happening to Jesus, on the Cross, in detail – even quoting some of the words the people in the crowd would shout.

Jesus was letting the people know that the Cross was no accident or afterthought.  It was an integral part of the plan of redemption.

Mat 27:47  Some of those who stood there, when they heard that, said, “This Man is calling for Elijah!”

Mat 27:48  Immediately one of them ran and took a sponge, filled it with sour wine and put it on a reed, and offered it to Him to drink.

Mat 27:49  The rest said, “Let Him alone; let us see if Elijah will come to save Him.”

They misheard His words and thought He was calling upon the Old Testament prophet, Elijah, to come save Him.

Jesus’ illustrated sermon from Psalm 22 was wasted on at least some of the crowd.  They weren’t really listening.  They had already made up their minds, and filled-in the blanks with their own ideas.

Don’t you wonder, sometimes, how people can hear the Word and not get saved?  Or how believers can listen to a Bible study, but go away unaffected?

Well, if people in that crowd, at the Cross, could hear Psalm 22, and see Jesus living it, and read in it words they themselves were predicted to say over one thousand years earlier – it shouldn’t surprise us people today harden their hearts.

God’s Word is powerful; it can divide between the soul and the spirit.  What we need is ears to hear it; what we need is to develop a greater humility in listening.

John, in his Gospel, tells us that Jesus said, “I thirst,” and that this soaked sponge was offered to alleviate Him from being so parched.

Mat 27:50  And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice, and yielded up His spirit.

After being beaten by the Jews, scourged by the Romans, and been on the Cross for six hours, you would not expect Jesus to be able to “cry out… with a loud voice.”  It was to show us His complete command of the situation.  No one took His life; He laid it down voluntarily.

Why end it at precisely 3PM?  The timing was perfect.  Jesus dismissed His spirit, and died, just as the Passover lambs were being slain in the Temple.

In a few hours, on the third day, Jesus would rise from the dead.  But His death had already defeated death.  Matthew makes that clear by relating a few things that happened right as Jesus died.

Mat 27:51  Then, behold, the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom…

Properly understood, the “temple” is the two rooms called the Holy Place and the Holy of Holies.  The Book of Hebrews describes those two rooms, saying, “for a [temple] was prepared: the first part, in which was the lampstand, the table, and the showbread, which is called the sanctuary; and behind the second veil, the part of the [temple] which is called the Holiest of All” (9:2-3).

The Holiest of All, also called the Holy of Holies, was were the presence of God was supposed to dwell.  It was only entered once each year, on the Day of Atonement, by the high priest who went in offering blood as a sacrifice.

I said it was where the presence of God was “supposed to dwell” because, after the destruction of Solomon’s Temple, the ark of the covenant with its lid, called the mercy seat, were lost to the Jews.  The prophet Ezekiel describes the glory of God departing from the temple at that time.

To access the Holy of Holies, you passed through the veil that kept it hidden from view.  It was quite the curtain.  It was sixty-feet by thirty-feet and at least four inches thick.  Josephus remarked that two teams of horses, if tied to either end, could not tear it apart.

Yet the precise moment Jesus dismissed His spirit, and that He offered Himself as the final lamb, it was torn, from top to bottom.

God supernaturally reached down from Heaven, tearing the veil, signifying that the way to Him was open to all believers.

The Book of Hebrews puts it like this:

Hebrews 10:18  … there is no longer an offering for sin.

Hebrews 10: 19  Therefore, brethren, having boldness to enter the Holiest by the blood of Jesus,

Hebrews 10: 20  by a new and living way which He consecrated for us, through the veil, that is, His flesh,

When Jesus died, the need for all further sacrifice ended.

Think of it this way: Just as the priests were about to sacrifice the Passover lambs, the darkness over all the land suddenly ended, and when they looked behind them, they could see into the Holy of Holies through the torn veil.

The curtain, as it were, was opened, and the spotlight was on the new and glorious way of relating to God, by the once-for-all sacrifice of Jesus’ death on the Cross.

Why was there ever a need for a sacrifice in the first place?

In the Holy of Holies used to be the ark of the covenant with its mercy seat lid.  Inside the ark were the two tablets of the law.  The law of God condemns us as sinners; and the wages of sin is death.  Only by the blood sacrifice of a substitute could sin be dealt with.

The apostle Paul explained it this way, saying, “the sting of death is sin, and the strength of sin is the law” (First Corinthians 15:56).

Because of what Jesus did, dying as the Lamb of God Who takes away the sin of the world, Paul also said, “Death is swallowed up in victory.  O Death, where is your sting? O Hades, where is your victory?” (v55).

The torn veil, among other things, tells us that death is defeated.

Matthew provides more evidence that death is defeated:

Mat 27:51  Then, behold, the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom; and the earth quaked, and the rocks were split,

Mat 27:52  and the graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised;

Mat 27:53  and coming out of the graves after His resurrection, they went into the holy city and appeared to many.

“Rocks were split, and the graves were opened.”  In other words the earth quaked in order that graves would be opened as a show of victory over death.

If there was any question about the meaning of the quake-opened graves, there was a resurrection of certain saints from the dead.

The question is always asked, “Did these rise from the dead only to die again?”  No; certainly not.  That would ruin the typology.

Jesus is called “the firstfruits of them that slept” (First Corinthians 5:20).  He was the first to rise from the dead in a glorified body never to die again.

If these token saints rose only to again die, that wouldn’t show anything at all about firstfruits.

No, these rose, in glorified bodies, never to die again.

But, notice carefully, Matthew says they came out of their graves “after [Jesus’] resurrection.”  They did not precede Him.  They could not precede Him Who must be first among many.

O, and by-the-way: According to the Jewish calendar, Passover is on the 14th of the month Nisan.  It is followed by a sabbath on 15 Nisan.  Then, on Sunday, 16 Nisan, is Firstfruits.

Jesus rose from the dead on Firstfruits – and many saints rose with Him as firstfruits of the resurrection!

O, and by-the-way: Some Messianic Jews point out that Jesus, in His first coming, fulfilled all the spring feasts on the Jewish calendar – Passover, Unleavened Bread, Firstfruits, and Pentecost.  They make a strong case that, in His Second Coming, He will fulfill the fall feasts of Trumpets, Atonement, and Tabernacles.

What became of the resurrected sants?  We’re not told, but obviously they went to Heaven at some point after they had been seen in Jerusalem.

Torn veil – Death is defeated since I no longer have to pay the wages of sin, which is death.

Quake-opened graves – Death is defeated since the graves are opened.

Raised saints – Death is defeated because I will one day be raised in a glorified body fit for eternity.

Thus we say that death was defeated at the Cross.  Not yet destroyed; and we’ll come to that as we close.  But certainly defeated.

Death is an incredible foe.  Knowing ‘he’ is defeated strengthens and encourages me – even as people still die, and even as I may die.

Paul applied it, this victory over death, by saying,

First Cor 15:57  But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

First Cor 15:58  Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain in the Lord.

Have you heard the saying, “when you’ve got nothing, you’ve got nothing to lose”?

If you are a believer, you’ve got everything spiritually speaking – eternal life, rewards storing-up for you in Heaven where nothing can steal or corrupt them, the promise that you might never die if you’re raptured, but that you’ll be resurrected if you do die.

The fact that death is defeated leads us to say, “when you’ve got everything, you’ve got nothing to lose.”

Don’t fear the Reaper!

#2    Your Enemy, Death,
    Could Not Be Defended At The Tomb Of Jesus Christ

Matthew highlights a few things to show Jesus was dead, and not just mostly dead.

Mat 27:54  So when the centurion and those with him, who were guarding Jesus, saw the earthquake and the things that had happened, they feared greatly, saying, “Truly this was the Son of God!”

Did the centurion get saved?  Maybe; hopefully.  But commentators note that he is quoted as saying “this was the Son of God,” past tense, which sort of minimizes Jesus’ deity.

I think it’s more a declaration to tell us Jesus was dead.

If you die in Kings County, the Sheriff is the Coroner who will examine your death and provide the death certificate.

The centurion in charge of Jesus’ crucifixion was the Coroner.  He knew death, and death by crucifixion.  When he said, “this was,” he was declaring that Jesus was dead beyond doubt.

Mat 27:55  And many women who followed Jesus from Galilee, ministering to Him, were there looking on from afar,
Mat 27:56  among whom were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Joses, and the mother of Zebedee’s sons.

Also at the Cross were the apostle John, Jesus’ mother, Mary, and her sister.

They were “looking on from afar,” not because of fear; they weren’t hiding.  The soldiers would establish a reasonable perimeter, and there was quite a crowd of haters.

Mat 27:57  Now when evening had come, there came a rich man from Arimathea, named Joseph, who himself had also become a disciple of Jesus.

Mat 27:58  This man went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. Then Pilate commanded the body to be given to him.

Mat 27:59  When Joseph had taken the body, he wrapped it in a clean linen cloth,

Mat 27:60  and laid it in his new tomb which he had hewn out of the rock; and he rolled a large stone against the door of the tomb, and departed.

Mat 27:61  And Mary Magdalene was there, and the other Mary, sitting opposite the tomb.

The bodies of crucified criminals were usually left on the Cross to be torn by scavenger birds.

Jews were under obligation from the law of God to not let a dead body remain out; but, being crucified as a criminal, they probably would have thrown Jesus into the dump.

It was a miraculous fulfillment of Bible prophecy, of Isaiah 53:9 to be exact, that Joseph came forward.

Isaiah 53:9  He was assigned a grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death, though he had done no violence, nor was any deceit in his mouth.

Isaiah accurately predicted that the Messiah would be put to death with the wicked, but buried in a rich man’s tomb, 700 years before it occurred.

It was just another of the nearly 30 Bible prophecies fulfilled at the Cross.

The Sabbath was fast approaching, when Jews could do no work, so they hastily prepared Jesus’ body for entombment.  Even though time was limited, there was enough time, and contact with the body, for them to know He was really dead.

Mat 27:62  On the next day, which followed the Day of Preparation, the chief priests and Pharisees gathered together to Pilate,

The day after, Saturday, was a Sabbath.  These guys were violating the Sabbath by meeting together, and by meeting with Pilate.  Hypocrites – as all legalists ultimately must be.

Mat 27:63  saying, “Sir, we remember, while He was still alive, how that deceiver said, ‘After three days I will rise.’

Mat 27:64  Therefore command that the tomb be made secure until the third day, lest His disciples come by night and steal Him away, and say to the people, ‘He has risen from the dead.’ So the last deception will be worse than the first.”

They’d been listening to Jesus’ sermon tapes!  They understood His claim to rise from the dead – perhaps more clearly than His disciples.

Nonbelievers sometimes – maybe even mostly – have a warped understanding of what it means to be a Christian.  But if they’ve had some exposure to the Bible, there are some things they will expect of you and me, if we call ourselves Christians.

One thing, a general principle, is that we, as Christians, claim to have transformed lives.  We say we live in the power of the resurrection.
So, as we live and move among nonbelievers, they have a reasonable expectation that we will manifest that transformation.

Bottom line: If we are just like nonbelievers, where is the power?

Mat 27:65  Pilate said to them, “You have a guard; go your way, make it as secure as you know how.”

Mat 27:66  So they went and made the tomb secure, sealing the stone and setting the guard.

These guys didn’t realize it at the time, but they were helping to prove that Jesus was really dead!  One of the theories to explain the resurrection, and say it was a myth propagated by the disciples, was that they stole His body.

Well, this guard, and this seal, were especially set to thwart just that possibility!

Another theory was that Jesus was only mostly dead, and recovered in the tomb.  He somehow unwrapped Himself, then rolled away the stone and escaped.

Nope.  These religious leaders killed that possibility, too.

These guys were in the unenviable position of trying to defend death.  Instead of being excited by the possibility that, if Jesus rose, they, too, might one day rise – they wanted Him to stay dead.

Death was their champion.  They were betting on him in this fight for the bodies and souls of men.  They were fans cheering for the Reaper.

Alas, death had already been defeated.  It was only a matter of hours when, on the third day – on Firstfruits – Jesus would rise, and with Him the token saints that declare our future rapture o resurrection.

I want to return to the very important fact that, although defeated, death has not been destroyed, in that we still die.

We live in the time between the two comings of Jesus.  I’ve explained it many times before by comparing it to World War Two and D-Day.

D-Day was a resounding victory for the Allied forces; it effectively ended the war.  But the Axis troops fought on until one day short of one year later.

Satan and his malevolent forces fight on – and the casualties are real and severe.  Death takes people; but not in the same way.

We are confident, convinced, that, for believers, to be absent from the body is to be immediately present with the Lord.

If I live, great; if I die, greater!

One day, soon, death will be destroyed:

First Corinthians 15:23 But each one in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, afterward those who are Christ’s at His coming.

First Corinthians 15:24 Then comes the end, when He delivers the kingdom to God the Father, when He puts an end to all rule and all authority and power.

First Corinthians 15:25 For He must reign till He has put all enemies under His feet.

First Corinthians 15:26 The last enemy that will be destroyed is death.

The death of death is described this way:

Rev 20:14 Then Death and Hades were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death.

One commentator wrote:

So is death now our friend?  Or is it still our foe?  For believers, death is a friend insofar as it ushers us into the immediate presence of Christ.

But insofar as it is still coupled with much suffering, it remains the last enemy that must be totally vanquished.

However, our problem with death is not with death itself but with the process that leads up to it.  It is dying that is still feared by Christians.  What Christian would be afraid of death if we could just shut our eyes and wake up in Heaven?  We know that the other side of death is glory and that death is but the portal or threshold to that glory.

You’ve got everything, and, therefore, nothing to lose, but everything to gain.

Cross My Heart And Choose To Die (Matthew 27v27-44)

When Jesus cried out, “It is finished!,” and died on the Cross, do you think that the devil thought he had won his long war against God?

It’s probably not a good idea to speculate on what the devil thought or thinks.  But I’ve heard it taught, and have probably repeated the teaching, that Satan believed he was victorious when Jesus died.

C.S. Lewis illustrated this in his classic story, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. Aslan, the Lion King who represents Jesus, took the place of Edward and died the death Edward deserved.  The witch, who represents Satan, thought she was victorious.

But Aslan reappeared, surprising the witch, because, in Lewis’ story, there was a deeper ‘magic’ that the witch knew nothing about.

I’m not so sure we can honestly say that Satan was unaware of what might happen should Jesus die.  After all, Jesus had been forthcoming about going to the Cross as a sacrifice for the sins of the world.

God addressed Satan in the Garden of Eden, right after mankind sinned, promising to come Himself as the Savior, and die.  The devil saw God slay an animal – probably a lamb or maybe two – in order to cover Adam and Eve’s sin until He would come.

Satan would have understood John the Baptist’s declaration concerning Jesus, “Behold the Lamb of God Who takes away the sin of the world!”

Jesus had made no secret of the fact that, if He were to be crucified, He would draw all men to himself.

What am I getting at?  In the account of His crucifixion that we find in the Gospel of Matthew, there seems to be an emphasis on mocking Jesus in order to get Him to come down off the Cross.

In verse forty, “if you are the Son of God, come down from the Cross.”

In verse forty-two, “let him come down now from the Cross, and we will believe him.”

In verse forty-four, “even the robbers who were crucified with Him reviled Him with the same thing.”

I’m not saying Satan understood all the ramifications of Jesus’ substitutionary death for us.  I’m not saying Satan, who the Bible describes as a “murderer from the beginning,” wasn’t elated that Jesus had died.

I am seeing though, in this text, that there was a powerful temptation, incited by Satan, for Jesus to come down off the Cross.

Had He done so, there would be no forgiveness of sins, no reconciliation of God with mankind, no eternal life in a glorious Heaven in fellowship with our Creator.

As we work through the verses, remember something else about the Cross.  Jesus had told His disciples that they, too, would take up their Cross.

This text is not about us; not directly.  But we are in it, as those called upon to follow after the Lord, taking up our Cross.

I’ll organize my thoughts around two points: #1 You’ll Be Tested By The Weight Of The Cross You Take Up For Jesus, and #2 You’ll Be Tempted To Withdraw From The Cross You Take Up For Jesus.

#1    You’ll Be Tested By The Weight
    Of The Cross You Take Up For Jesus

It’s been insightfully said that if Jesus had not been nailed to the Cross, love would have held Him there.

True, and blessedly so.  But we must recognize that it emphasizes the fact that dying on the Cross, including all the terror and suffering that led up to it, were a choice Jesus made.

He could have stopped His torment at any point.

He could have come down from the Cross.

As we work through these verses, think of how powerful an incentive the pain and torture – both physical and spiritual – were for Jesus to cry “Uncle!” instead of seeing it through and crying out to His Father, “It is finished!”

Mat 27:27  Then the soldiers of the governor took Jesus into the Praetorium and gathered the whole garrison around Him.

A “garrison” was six hundred soldiers.  It’s not likely all of them were involved; just those on-duty at the time.

A word of encouragement: You never know when Jesus might, in a spiritual way, become the subject of your everyday activities.  Be ready to take advantage of it.

From a review of the other Gospel accounts, it seems that Pontius Pilate was on hand to witness the soldiers mistreating Jesus.

Mat 27:28  And they stripped Him and put a scarlet robe on Him.

This wasn’t something they normally did.  It was specifically designed to mock Jesus’ claim to be King of the Jews.

How much mocking can you take?  Before you answer, add to it torture during the mocking.  Then consider that, at any moment, you could choose to end the mocking and the torture.

If Jesus, being fully human, had a point at which He would snap, and take up His divine attributes, Satan was trying to find it.

Think of the devil, at the Cross, as one of those guys in movies, who is the torturer, who never fails to break his subject.  He always has some incredible device or devices for inflicting pain in order to achieve his goal.

Mat 27:29  When they had twisted a crown of thorns, they put it on His head, and a reed in His right hand. And they bowed the knee before Him and mocked Him, saying, “Hail, King of the Jews!”

They literally pressed it down upon His head, causing great physical pain.

A crown of thorns is so appropriate though, is it not, to symbolize the suffering of our Lord and King?

Mat 27:30  Then they spat on Him, and took the reed and struck Him on the head.

There’s something disgusting about being spit on.  Again, it’s a combination of physical abuse with spiritual abuse.
Mat 27:31  And when they had mocked Him, they took the robe off Him, put His own clothes on Him, and led Him away to be crucified.

The scholars who figure-out timelines think that Jesus was mistreated by the soldiers for about two hours.

Four of them would lead Him away to be crucified.

Mat 27:32  Now as they came out, they found a man of Cyrene, Simon by name. Him they compelled to bear His cross.

Condemned men carried their cross to the place of crucifixion.  Scholars cannot agree as to whether or not a criminal carried the entire cross, dragging it behind; or just the 100-pound cross-bar, strapped to the shoulders, which would then be attached to the vertical part waiting at the crucifixion site.

It seems predictable that a person would fall under the weight of it.  Jesus especially was weakened by the ordeal He had suffered in the last fifteen or so hours.  His ordeal included the following:

The tense atmosphere of the Upper Room, where Satan entered Judas.

The betrayal by Judas.

The agony of the Garden of Gethsemane.

The desertion by His disciples.

A series of six illegal trials.

A beating from the Sanhedrin.

The denials of Peter.

The crowds preferring Barabbas be released rather than the Son of God.

The pronunciation of His death sentence.

The scourging by the Roman soldiers.

The crown of thorns.

All of this with the deprivation of sleep and the realization He was going to suffer and die on the Cross and take upon Himself the sins of the whole world.

Simon would have been coming in to Jerusalem, to go to the Temple, to offer the sacrifice of his Passover lamb.  On his way in, he encountered a crucifixion procession.

Did you know that, if the court needs to call a jury and they’ve run-out of potential jurors, the bailiff can come out into the Government Center courtyard and compel you to be a juror?  Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

One source I searched said that travel from Cyrene to Jerusalem could take a month or more.  The Passover was, therefore, a pretty big deal to Simon.

Helping Jesus would immediately disqualify Simon from the Passover ceremonies, because would come into contact with blood.  Talk about ruining your plans!

Regarding Simon, Warren Wiersbe writes,

[In his Gospel] Mark referred to Simon as though the people reading his Gospel would recognize him [calling him] “the father of Alexander and Rufus” (Mar 15:21).  Apparently these two sons were well-known members of the church.  It seems likely that this humiliating experience resulted in Simon’s conversion as well as in the conversion of his family.  Simon came to Jerusalem to sacrifice his Passover lamb, and he met the Lamb of God who was sacrificed for him.

Mat 27:33  And when they had come to a place called Golgotha, that is to say, Place of a Skull,

The Latin word for “Golgotha” is Calvaria, where we get our English word, Calvary.  A couple of thoughts on the Place of a Skull:

Some say that the site bears this name because, from a distance, it resembles a skull.  There is such a site in Israel, and many believe it to be the place of the crucifixion.  However, others point out that it likely looks that way on account of excavations in the Middle Ages, and did not resemble a skull in the first century.
Others say the site derived its name from the simple fact it was the normal place of execution, and so many had died there.

Truth is, we do not know the site of Calvary, not for certain.

Mat 27:34  they gave Him sour wine mingled with gall to drink. But when He had tasted it, He would not drink.

Mark says they offered Jesus wine mingled with myrrh, and he refused it; Matthew, that they offered him wine mingled with gall, and he tasted it and then refused it.

One source explains this seeming contradiction like this:

Myrrh may have been used with wine to strengthen the drink but it has no effect on pain.  But myrrh tastes bitter; so a large dose of it mingled with wine would make the latter undrinkable.  Whether customary or not, the drink was offered to Jesus; but it was so bitter he refused it, and, according to this view, the soldiers were amused.  Mark keeps the word “myrrh” to describe the content, and Matthew uses “gall” to describe the taste…

If that is true, it means that the soldiers were still mocking Jesus.  They offered Him something to dull His pain, but in a form that was undrinkable – simply to be cruel.

Mat 27:35  Then they crucified Him…

Four words.  None of the Gospels describes in graphic detail the crucifixion.  If the Gospel writers, who were inspired by the Holy Spirit in what they wrote, said little, then so should we.

Mat 27:35  Then they crucified Him, and divided His garments, casting lots, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet: “THEY DIVIDED MY GARMENTS AMONG THEM, AND FOR MY CLOTHING THEY CAST LOTS.”

The prophecy is from Psalm Twenty-two.  We’ll have more to say about Psalm Twenty-two when we get to verse forty-six, where Jesus says, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?”  Those words are the opening line of Psalm Twenty-two; and many commentators believe that Jesus would have not stopped there, but would have recited the entire psalm.

Most of you know that it predicts, with 100% accuracy, Jesus’ suffering on the Cross, about 400 years before it happened.

One of the things  we read in Psalm Twenty-two, in verse twelve, is, “Many bulls have compassed me: strong bulls of Bashan have beset me round.”

Bashan is mentioned sixty times in the Bible.  Bashan was a city on the east side of the Jordan River.  Og, who was king of Bashan, was the last of a line of giants that Moses was to conquer.

There are those who believe that Bashan was the land where the fallen angels, who married the sons of men in Genesis chapter six, dwelt.  Thus, the prophecy could very well be referring to the demonic spiritual forces that were present around the Cross.

It’s one biblical reason I feel comfortable saying that the devil was at the Cross.

Mat 27:36  Sitting down, they kept watch over Him there.

Mat 27:37  And they put up over His head the accusation written against Him: THIS IS JESUS THE KING OF THE JEWS.

Hanging there, on the Cross, Jesus was exactly the King predicted centuries earlier by Isaiah:

Isa 52:14  Just as many were astonished at you, So His visage was marred more than any man, And His form more than the sons of men;

Isa 53:5  But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; The chastisement for our peace was upon Him, And by His stripes we are healed.

Isa 53:7  He was oppressed and He was afflicted, Yet He opened not His mouth; He was led as a lamb to the slaughter, And as a sheep before its shearers is silent, So He opened not His mouth.

In the Book of Hebrews we are told, concerning the Cross, to “[look] unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God” (12:2).

You, and I, were the joy set before Jesus; our salvation.  He pushed beyond any breaking point in order to save us.

I mentioned the comment of Jesus to His followers earlier in His ministry, when He said,

Mat 16:24  … “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me.

Mat 16:25  “For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it.

People have twisted this to describe something in their lives that is a terrible burden, describing it as “a cross to bear,” and giving the impression that they’d get rid of it if only they could.

We understand it to mean that following Jesus requires 100% commitment of our lives, including dying for Him if it becomes necessary in order to obey Him.

He endured His Cross for you – for the joy set before Him. We are to endure our Cross for Him – for the simple joy of obeying Him, anticipating seeing Him, and looking full in His wonderful face.

We can learn things about what taking up a Cross is like from seeing Jesus as He took up His.  One thing we see is that, at one point, His Cross became too heavy for Him.  He fell under its crushing weight.  He had to be helped.

That tells me that there may come times in your life that taking up your cross becomes so heavy, so crushing, that you fall under it.

I don’t mean you fall into sin.  I mean that something – some news, some condition, some event – halts you in your tracks, and you feel like you’re being crushed.

The apostle Paul put it this way: “for we do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, of our trouble which came to us in Asia: that we were burdened beyond measure, above strength, so that we despaired even of life” (Second Corinthians 1:8).

God will see to it you are enabled to continue.  He will provide a Simon of His own choosing; it could be a person or persons, but it need not be restricted to that.

Realize that God will provide you with a Simon, He will enable you, to go on taking up your Cross and thereby dying to yourself.  Taking up the Cross is meant to be permanent; it’s lifelong.

You are dying to self everyday more-and-more, until you are dead.

#2    You’ll Be Tempted To Withdraw
    From The Cross You Take Up For Jesus

When we read the Gospels we almost always want to give what’s called a harmony of the Gospels.  We want to put all the accounts together, and give a moment-by-moment commentary.

There’s a place for that.  But sometimes, in doing that, we can miss the peculiar emphasis a particular Gospel might introduce.

In these remaining verses, Matthew emphasizes the crowd at the Cross mocking Jesus by demanding He come down from the Cross and save Himself.

Since we know that Jesus was in control of His own life, even on the Cross, we should see this as a genuine temptation; and one that, if succumbed to, would have overthrown the whole plan of salvation.

Mat 27:38  Then two robbers were crucified with Him, one on the right and another on the left.

Robbery was not a capital crime.  It’s likely that the three crosses that day were for Barabbas and two of his associates.

Jesus took Barabbas’ place as His substitute.  The whole scene depicts Him taking the place of all men as the substitutionary atonement for their sin.  The two thieves represent all of humanity, who are potentially saved, but only if you believe.

We read of the two men, in verse forty-four,

Mat 27:44  Even the robbers who were crucified with Him reviled Him with the same thing.

Now we know one of these criminals believed Jesus and was saved.  But, notice, that is not Matthew’s emphasis.  He omits that incredible detail.  He wants us instead focused on the concerted efforts of everyone at the Cross to tempt Jesus to save Himself.

Mat 27:39  And those who passed by blasphemed Him, wagging their heads

Mat 27:40  and saying, “You who destroy the temple and build it in three days, save Yourself! If You are the Son of God, come down from the cross.”

“If you are the Son of God” sounds familiar.  Twice, in his wilderness temptation of Jesus (back in chapter four), the devil had approached the Lord, saying, “If you are the Son of God.”

It’s yet another reason we can be confident Satan was at the Cross.

In the desert, Jesus had been weakened by forty days of fasting.  At the Cross, well, He was reduced to something barely human – both in appearance and what we would call strength.

Jesus once said, “no one takes it from Me, but I lay it down of Myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again. This command I have received from My Father” (John 10:18).

It was, strictly speaking, up to Jesus to decide if He was going to finish what He had started.

Mat 27:41  Likewise the chief priests also, mocking with the scribes and elders, said,

Mat 27:42  “He saved others; Himself He cannot save. If He is the King of Israel, let Him now come down from the cross, and we will believe Him.

Mat 27:43  He trusted in God; let Him deliver Him now if He will have Him; for He said, ‘I am the Son of God.’ ”

“We will believe Him.”  Wasn’t that the goal – to be believed and received by the nation of Israel, as their King?

Yes… and No.  Several times in Jesus’ life, He shows that He was a man on a mission.  He had a purpose, which He intended to fulfill.  Even at a young age, Jesus knew that He “must be about [His] Father’s business” (Luke 2:49).  In the last days of His earthly life, Jesus “resolutely set out for Jerusalem,” where He knew He would be killed (Luke 9:51).

Jesus put it this way in Luke 19:10: “The Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”

Because He would save others, Jesus would not save Himself.  He could have saved Himself; but He would not, and He did not.

By His obedience unto death, He draws all men to Himself, to save those who, by the grace of God, believe on Him.

Back up for a minute.  Prior to the Cross, Satan tried to keep Jesus from going to the Cross in ways besides the wilderness temptation:

First, he tried to have Jesus killed, as an infant, by inciting Herod to kill all the children under two years of age.

At the very beginning of His public ministry, Satan incited the members of the local synagogue to try to throw Jesus off of a cliff.

Satan was involved when Peter tried to talk Jesus out of going to the Cross.  You remember that Jesus addressed Peter in a way that outed the devil, saying, “Get behind Me, Satan.”

Jesus kept focused on the Cross.  He spoke openly of dying there, and of what it would accomplish.  Satan kept trying to block Jesus from going to the Cross, either by getting Him to avoid it, or by killing Him prematurely.

We know that the Jews did not have the legal right to execute anyone.  But that didn’t stop them, in the Book of Acts, from stoning Stephen to death.

Satan may have hoped that the Jews would have stoned Jesus to death, for blasphemy, without sending Him to Pontius Pilate, thus nullifying the prophecies of the Cross.

On the Cross, Satan was tempting Jesus to come down.  The Lord was at His weakest point, physically speaking.  If ever He might take up His own life again, it was as He hung there.

He did not come down.  As we sing in one of our choruses,

You did it for me, You did it for love
It’s Your victory, Jesus You are enough
Because of Your cross my debt is paid
Because of Your blood my sins are washed away
Now all of my life, I freely give
Because of Your love I live

Satan’s not done trying to defeat the plan of God.  Among his current strategies, he’s trying to exterminate all Jews from planet earth, which would nullify God’s many promises to return to a remnant, save them, and establish the promised Kingdom of Heaven on the earth.

We are to take up the Cross; and Jesus is our example.  From this account in Matthew, we learn that as we take up the Cross, we will be tempted to abandon it.

It could be a total abandonment, what we call apostasy, as a person denies the Lord.

More often it is what we call backsliding, as we simply refuse to obey the Lord in some area or areas.

Disobedience is, effectively, us laying down the Cross, for some selfish reason.

I quoted Hebrews 12:2 earlier:

Heb 12:2  [look to] Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.

The writer applies that truth in the very next verse:

Heb 12:3  For consider Him who endured such hostility from sinners against Himself, lest you become weary and discouraged in your souls.

Is the Cross crushing you today?  Then a Simon will be compelled by God to help you.  It may be a person; it may be a verse from God’s Word.  God has many resources.  Wait for it; he, or she, or it, will come.  Don’t restrict God’s source to any one person or thing; accept His help in whatever form it takes.

Are you thinking about laying down the Cross, even for a moment, while you put yourself first?  Are you entertaining the thought, “God wants me the be happy,” as a way of overruling what you know to be God’s will for your life?

Turn and look at Jesus, on the Cross, barely recognizable as a person; He did it for you… He did it for love… It can bring you victory – the victory of obedience, and the joy set before you, of seeing Jesus face-to-face.

Notorious B.A.R. (Matthew 27v11-27)

“I am Spartacus!” is one of the truly memorable moments in movie history.

I’m not referencing the more recent TV series, which I have not seen.  I’m talking about the 1960 film, starring Kirk Douglas as the Roman slave, a gladiator, who leads other gladiators in a rebellion against Rome.

The rebellion fails and, in the end, the Romans say they will release their captives, instead of crucifying them, and kill only Spartacus, if he will identify himself.

As he is standing to surrender himself to save the others, two of his fellow slaves stand with him, and shout, “I am Spartacus!”  Then, one-by-one, all the thousand or so captive slaves say the same – identifying with him as their leader.

There is a hilarious viral-video, by the way, in which a customer at a local Starbucks orders a latte and gives “Spartacus” as his name.  When the barista calls out his name, by prearrangement, a troop of actors in the shop start shouting out, “I am Spartacus!,” and they continue until a guy in a Roman slave costume comes in and says, “No, I am Spartacus!,” and takes the coffee.

We haven’t read our text yet, but most of you are already familiar with the historical figure, Bar-Abbas.  He’s the notorious insurrectionists and murderer, condemned to be crucified, who is instead released by Pontius Pilate.

Knowing what you do about Bar-Abbas, would anyone have stood up for him, and said, “I am Bar-Abbas!”?

One did.  It was Jesus.

He didn’t shout, “I am Bar-Abbas!”  But He certainly took his place that day.

You might think it wasn’t His decision; but it was.  He had come into the world for just that moment – to take the place of Bar-Abbas and die instead, as his substitute.

Not just for Bar-Abbas:

Heb 2:9    … Jesus… was made a little lower than the angels, for the suffering of death crowned with glory and honor, that He, by the grace of God, might taste death for everyone.

Everyone?  That’s what it says – making Bar-Abbas an illustration to us of the whole human race.

As we work through these verses, let’s think about two things: #1 You Are Bar-Abbas And Deserve To Die, and #2 You Are Bar-Abbas For Whom Jesus Died.

#1    You Are Bar-Abbas And Deserve To Die

Bible doctrine can be hard to get a handle on.  For example the Bible teaches what theologians call the substitutionary atonement of Jesus Christ.

What’s that?  The Scriptures teach that all men are sinners (Romans 3:9-18, 23).  The penalty for our sin is death; Romans 6:23 reads, “For the wages of sin is death…”

Jesus Christ died in our place when He was crucified on the Cross.  We deserved to be the ones placed on that Cross to die because we are the ones who are sinners.

But Christ took the punishment on Himself in our place – He substituted Himself for us and took what we rightly deserved.  “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (Second Corinthians 5:21).

As a result, our sins are atoned for; we are “at-one” again with God.

Those few comments merely scratch the surface regarding the doctrine.  But to cement the overall concept in our spiritual understanding, the Bible give us the illustration of a substitute in the case of Bar-Abbas.

Jesus literally took his place on the Cross.  I say that Bar-Abbas, then, represents the human race.  I am Bar-Abbas; you are Bar-Abbas; the entire human race is Bar-Abbas.

Mat 27:11    Now Jesus stood before the governor. And the governor asked Him, saying, “Are You the King of the Jews?” Jesus said to him, “It is as you say.”

I mentioned last week that Jesus had a total of six trials – three before the Jews, and three before Romans.

Pilate, after a preliminary hearing of the case and upon learning that Jesus was from Galilee, as a friendly gesture, sent Him to Herod, who was in Jerusalem at the time.  Herod, after encountering complete silence from Jesus, sent Him back to Pilate to be judged.

We’re picking up the story at Jesus’ third and final Roman trial.

The Jews had told Pilate Jesus was guilty of three political offenses: 1) That He was a revolutionary; 2) That He told people to not pay taxes to Rome; and, 3) That He claimed to be a King.

Matthew concentrates on the kingship of Jesus because he was originally writing for a Jewish audience, and Jesus had come offering them the Kingdom of Heaven on the earth.

Jesus answers in the affirmative.  He was, and is, the King of the Jews.

One thing to notice, however, is that this didn’t seem to trouble Pilate in the least.  He understood that Jesus was no political King, not at His first coming anyway; and, therefore, He posed no threat to the Roman government.

Mat 27:12    And while He was being accused by the chief priests and elders, He answered nothing.

Mat 27:13    Then Pilate said to Him, “Do You not hear how many things they testify against You?”

Mat 27:14    But He answered him not one word, so that the governor marveled greatly.

Jesus wasn’t there to answer accusations.  He didn’t need to defend Himself.  He was on His way to the Cross, innocent and sinless, to die for the sins of the world.

Once the Jewish leaders officially rejected Jesus as their King, the promised kingdom was put on hold.  Jesus will still establish it – a real, earthly, one-thousand year Kingdom of Heaven on the earth.  But it will have to wait for His Second Coming.

Pilate “marveled greatly.”  Remember that Jesus had been beaten by the Jews before they brought Him to Pilate.  It was clear He was being falsely accused.  Yet He had no malice towards the Jews.  He was not looking to be vindicated.  He was still willing, in fact, to own up to being their King.

Who would want subjects like them?  Or, for that matter, followers like me, or you?  I’m not saying that to put us down; but it’s true – we are mostly less than stellar subjects of our Lord.  Yet He has promised to complete the work He has started in each of us; and to present us faultless, and beautiful, to our Father in Heaven.

Mat 27:15    Now at the feast the governor was accustomed to releasing to the multitude one prisoner whom they wished.

Mat 27:16    And at that time they had a notorious prisoner called Bar-Abbas.

I’m guessing they usually released a less dangerous prisoner.  From the various Gospel accounts, and statements in the Book of Acts, we gather that Bar-Abbas was an insurrectionist who had committed murder in a failed rebellion and was due to be executed.  He was a terrorist with blood on his hands.

He likely was not popular with the Jews.  After all, Pilate hoped that the crowd would ask him to release Jesus, not Bar-Abbas – so he obviously wouldn’t bring out someone they liked, or who he thought had any chance of being picked over Jesus.

Mat 27:17    Therefore, when they had gathered together, Pilate said to them, “Whom do you want me to release to you? Bar-Abbas, or Jesus who is called Christ?”

Mat 27:18    For he knew that they had handed Him over because of envy.

Pilate was no dummy.  He was a shrewd, and history says, cruel, governor.  He was playing what he thought to be a masterful hand.  Surely they could not prefer Bar-Abbas to Jesus; no rational person would make that choice.

Pilate believed he had won.  Man, was he in for a surprise!

Mat 27:19    While he was sitting on the judgment seat, his wife sent to him, saying, “Have nothing to do with that just Man, for I have suffered many things today in a dream because of Him.”

Pressure from the little misses.  It all points to Jesus’ absolute innocence.  Should He go to the Cross, to be crucified, it would be the death of an innocent man in place of a guilty man.

And that’s just what was about to unfold.

A couple of very interesting things about Bar-Abbas.  First of all, Bar-Abbas doesn’t really seem to be a name.  It literally is “bar,” son of, “abbas,” the father.

It’s ambiguous.  This guy is a son of some father.  Now the local Jews, and the Romans, knew who he was; but he has this totally generic name.

He’s John Doe; he’s every man.  That’s the point: He represents every man.

You say, “Wait a minute!  Every man isn’t a murderer.”  We kind of are:

For one thing, in His Sermon on the Mount, Jesus established that if we are even angry in our heart, it is as sinful as murder.  We are all angry in our hearts, because we find we have, residing in us, a sin nature.  It’s inherited from our original parents, Adam and Eve.

For another thing, until we are Christians, we are in the devil’s kingdom, and he is called a “murderer from the beginning” in the Gospel of John (8:44).  Even if we do no actual murder, we are at enmity with God, in our natural state; we are His enemies.  We are spiritual insurrectionists.

Here is something enormously interesting.  It’s also a little unusual, so I’ll quote a solid source.

Bar-Abbas was also known as Jesus bar-Abbas, according to the New Revised Standard Version, based on a Greek textual variant of Matthew 27:15-18 found in a few manuscripts.

The verse reads, “At that time they had a notorious prisoner, called Jesus Bar-Abbas. So after they had gathered, Pilate said to them, ‘Whom do you want me to release for you, Jesus Bar-Abbas or Jesus who is called the Messiah?’” (NRSV).

It is thought by some that the criminal’s full name was “Jesus Bar-Abbas,” but that some later copyists dropped the “Jesus” in his name out of respect for our Lord Jesus Christ.

Another source says:

Many textual scholars believe the double name “Jesus Bar-Abbas” was the original reading.  They suggest that “Jesus” was omitted from several Greek manuscripts of Matthew out of reverence.  The church father Origen (d. 254) said, “In the whole range of the scriptures we know that no one who is a sinner [is called] Jesus.”

Whether or not Bar-Abbas was “Jesus” Bar-Abbas, it’s clear that Matthew’s intention is for us to see Jesus Christ, the Son of God, taking his place as a Substitute.

In doing so, it represents Jesus taking my place, and your place, and the place of every human being ever conceived.

I already quoted the verse in Hebrews that says Jesus tasted death for every man.  I’m fond of quoting John 12:32, where Jesus promised, “if I be lifted up I will draw all men unto Myself.”  The lifting-up He was talking about was His death on the Cross.

What I’m saying is that His substitutionary atonement was sufficient for all men; for everyone.  It is unlimited in its scope.

As First John 2:2 says, “He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world” (NIV).

First Timothy 2:4 says that “God desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth,” and the following verses continue, “For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time (First Timothy 2:5-6).

We are told elsewhere, “the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost” (Luke 11:10), “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners” (First Timothy 1:9), “the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world” (First John 4:14), God is “the Savior of all people” (First Timothy 4:10), Jesus is “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29), who “died for the ungodly” (Romans 5:6), and “died for all” (Second Corinthians 5:14-15) when “in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them” (Second Corinthians 5:19).

Are all men, therefore, saved by His substitutionary atonement?  No, of course not.  As we read in First Timothy 4:10, He is the Savior of all men – especially those who believe.

One doctrinal statement I read puts it like this:

Out of love, God sacrificed His only Son for the world so that those from the world who trust in Jesus and his atoning sacrifice will benefit from that atoning sacrifice and be saved while those from the world who reject that atoning sacrifice in unbelief will not benefit from it but remain condemned and perish.

His atoning death on the Cross is sufficient to save all who will believe in Him.

This unlimited atonement is illustrated for us a little later, at His crucifixion.  You remember that Jesus was crucified between two thieves?  It is probable that they were colleagues of Bar-Abbas and that all three were going to be crucified together.

Commentators point out that the word for “thieves” can mean insurrectionists; and, since Rome did not crucify thieves (it wasn’t a capital crime), these guys were most likely just like Bar-Abbas.

Jesus was substituted for Bar-Abbas.  Because Jesus was “lifted up” on the Cross, one of the thieves believed, and was saved; one did not believe, and remained lost and damned.

Could the second thief have been saved?  Of course!  Jesus’ death as his substitute was sufficient.  But he was not saved, because he did not believe.

The fact that we are sinners means that we deserve to die.  We deserve the eternal punishment of the Lake of Fire.  But Jesus was delivered up for our offenses.  He was crucified for our sins.

He was Bar-Abbas’ Substitute.  He was everyone’s Substitute, because we all deserve to die.

#2    You Are Bar-Abbas For Whom Jesus Died

Are you ready to say, “I am Bar-Abbas?”  Donald Grey Barnhouse said, “Bar-Abbas was the only man in the world who could say that Jesus Christ took his physical place.  But [all who are Christians] can say that Jesus Christ took [their] spiritual place.”

Mat 27:20    But the chief priests and elders persuaded the multitudes that they should ask for Bar-Abbas and destroy Jesus.

Mat 27:21    The governor answered and said to them, “Which of the two do you want me to release to you?” They said, “Bar-Abbas!”

All you can say about this is zugzwang.

It’s a German word for a situation found in chess and other games, where one player is put at a disadvantage because he must make a move when he would prefer to pass and not to move.

The fact that the player is compelled to move means that his position will become significantly weaker.

A player is said to be “in zugzwang” when any possible move will worsen his position.

Mat 27:22    Pilate said to them, “What then shall I do with Jesus who is called Christ?” They all said to him, “Let Him be crucified!”

He never, in the proverbial million years, expected the crowd to ask for Bar-Abbas.  The governor was losing his composure.  He was a fool to ask the crowd a question; it only showed weakness, and kept him back-peddling.

Mat 27:23    Then the governor said, “Why, what evil has He done?” But they cried out all the more, saying, “Let Him be crucified!”

Not that we need it, but this is more testimony to the absolute innocence of Jesus.

Mat 27:24    When Pilate saw that he could not prevail at all, but rather that a tumult was rising, he took water and washed his hands before the multitude, saying, “I am innocent of the blood of this just Person. You see to it.”

The hand-washing was not a Roman custom.  It’s likely that Pilate was trying to mock the Jews, who did practice ritual hand washing.  It was a last-ditch effort to retain some political dignity – a gesture intended to say to the Jews, “you are meticulous about external rituals, like hand washing, while simultaneously committing heinous acts of evil.”

In fact, Pilate was committing a heinous act of evil – knowingly condemning a man he had declared to be innocent simply because he wanted to insure his political future.

Here is an amazing factoid.  The Greek Orthodox and Coptic faiths canonized Pilate and his wife as saints.  June 25 is Saint Pontius Pilate Day.

There is a tradition, totally unsubstantiated, that he and Mrs. Pilate were converted at the tomb of Jesus; and that they became closet-Christians.

I’d like to think they got saved but it’s just silly to speculate.  He bears responsibility for sending Jesus to His death; he was just as guilty as the Jews.

In fact, venerating him only fuels anti-semitism – as if the Jews alone killed Christ.  In my humble opinion, canonizing Pilate is a move to shift the blame and guilt totally on the Jews, and to justify anti-semitism.

Mat 27:25    And all the people answered and said, “His blood be on us and on our children.”

They had no idea how true that would be.  In 70AD, Titus and thew Roman legions would siege, then destroy, Jerusalem.  The people and their children would bleed and die.

Josephus, the first century historian,  claims that 1.1 million people were killed during the siege, of which a majority were Jewish, and that another 97,000 were captured and enslaved.

Quoting him:

The slaughter within was even more dreadful than the spectacle from without.  Men and women, old and young, insurgents and priests, those who fought and those who entreated mercy, were hewn down in indiscriminate carnage.  The number of the slain exceeded that of the slayers.  The legionaries had to clamber over heaps of dead to carry on the work of extermination.

To say nothing of the centuries of dispersion of the Jews throughout the world – mostly the recipients of terrible persecution, leading up to the Holocaust.

Mat 27:26    Then he released Bar-Abbas to them; and when he had scourged Jesus, he delivered Him to be crucified.

The Romans scourged by stripping down the prisoner and tying him to a post.  He would be brutally whipped with an instrument that had pieces of lead and sharp bone embedded in the leather.  Unlike the more merciful Jewish beating, which only allowed a maximum of forty lashes, the Roman scourging could go on indefinitely.  It was often their way of securing a confession.

Donald Grey Barnhouse speculated about Bar-Abbas.  Here is what he wrote:

Picture Bar-Abbas sitting in the prison, staring at his hands, which were soon to be pierced by nails, and shuddering at any sound of hammering that might remind him with horror of his own impending crucifixion.

Suddenly he hears a crowd roaring outside the prison.  There are angry voices.  “Crucify him! Crucify him!”  He thinks he hears his own name.  Then a jailer comes to unlock the door of his cell.

Bar-Abbas thinks that the time for his execution has come, but instead the jailer tells him that he is being set free.  The crowd has called for his release.  Jesus of Nazareth is to die instead.

Stunned, Bar-Abbas joins the processional that is making its way to Calvary and watches as Jesus is crucified.  He hears the sound of the hammer and knows that the blows that are fastening Jesus to the rough wooden cross were meant for him.  He sees the cross lifted high into place and knows that he is the one who should be dying on it.

Jesus cries, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34).

The centurion who has commanded the execution party exclaims, “Surely this man was the Son of God! ” (Mark 15:39).

Bar-Abbas must have been saying, “That man took my place.  I am the one who should have died. I am the condemned murderer.  That man did nothing wrong.  He is dying for me.”

Bar-Abbas and Jesus changed places.  The murderer’s bonds, curse, disgrace, and mortal agony were transferred to the righteous Jesus; while the liberty, innocence, safety, and well-being of the innocent Son of God became the lot of the murderer.

I am Bar-Abbas; you are Bar-Abbas; everyone is Bar-Abbas.

But Jesus took your place, on the Cross.  And that leads into the second illustration.

Seeing Him, nailed there, which murderer are you – the one who by believing will be with Him in Heaven and for eternity?
Or the one who will die in your sins and perish in the Lake of Fire?

It’s a choice you are enabled to make as the grace of God works upon your heart to free your will to believe in Jesus Christ.

If you are not a believer, the Holy Spirit is here to convict you of sin, and of your need for God to give you His righteousness, in order to avoid the judgment that is coming.

For the majority of us, who are saved, it is always appropriate to remember that,

Col 1:21  [we] who once were alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now He has reconciled

Col 1:22  in the body of His flesh through death, to present you holy, and blameless, and above reproach in His sight…

Judas Priests (Matthew 27v1-10)

Could you give a comprehensive summary of the Gospel in seven words or less?

Christian Century magazine issued a challenge for theologians to do just that back in 2012.

I have to say, their summaries were less than inspiring.  In fact, they were weird.  Here are a few; and, yes, these are real – I’m not making them up.

“Everybody gets to grow and change.”

“In Christ, God’s “Yes” defeats our “No.”

“We are the church of infinite chances.”

I think you get the idea.  Or, should I say, you don’t get the idea, not really, of what the Gospel is from any of those sentences.

A reporter once asked theologian Karl Barth if he could summarize what he believed.  Barth thought for a moment and then said: “Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so.”

That’s better.  But let’s quit trying to be clever.  How did the first proclaimers of the Gospel summarize their message?

In the very first message of the church age, on the Day of Pentecost, when asked by the crowd what they must do, Peter said, “Repent, and let each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins” (Acts 2:38).

In Acts chapter three, after healing the lame man, Peter addressed the crowd that gathered, and he said, “Repent therefore and return, that your sins may be wiped away…” (v19).

After taking the Gospel to the household of Cornelius, Peter said, “God has granted to the Gentiles also the repentance that leads to life” (Acts 11:18).

Did you notice the one word Peter repeated, and emphasized?  It was “repent.”  It’s a key word in any Gospel summary.

John the Baptist called Israel to “Repent!  For the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand… Therefore bear fruits worthy of repentance” (Matthew 3:1&8).

Matthew 9:13 says that Jesus Christ came to call sinners to repentance.

In Luke 24:47, the Great Commission Jesus gave is that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be preached in His name to all peoples.

In Acts 17 verse 30 the Bible says, “God commands all men everywhere to repent.”

Second Peter 3:9, “God is not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.”

Luke 15:7 and 10 indicates that there is joy in Heaven over one sinner brought to repentance.

Repentance is not just for nonbelievers.  There are calls in the New Testament for saints to repent – most notably in Jesus’ letter to the church in Ephesus where He urged them to “remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent and do the first works, or else I will come to you quickly and remove your lampstand from its place – unless you repent” (The Revelation 2:5).

Our text in Matthew gives us opportunity to discuss repentance from a negative example.  Two negative examples, actually: Both Judas and the religious leaders of Israel betrayed Jesus and failed to repent.  In their bad examples we will see two things repentance is not.

I’ll organize my thoughts around two points: #1 You Need Repentance, Not Religion and #2 You Need Repentance, Not Self-righteousness.

#1    You Need Repentance, Not Religion

I’m taking the approach that Judas could have repented and been restored.

What he did, he did of his own free will.  God’s providence saw to it Jesus was betrayed, according to prophecy.  But Judas was not a person predestined to damnation against his own will.

Jesus’ tender warning at the beginning of their final supper testifies to His love for Judas, and His reaching-out to save him.

When Judas had come to betray the Lord in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus called him, “Friend,” extending to him forgiveness and restoration.

Now Judas will see Jesus for the final time.

Mat 27:1    When morning came, all the chief priests and elders of the people plotted against Jesus to put Him to death.

Mat 27:2    And when they had bound Him, they led Him away and delivered Him to Pontius Pilate the governor.

Altogether, Jesus had six trials: three in front of the Jews, and three in front of the Romans.

Matthew doesn’t record Jesus having been first taken to the house of Annas before going to Caiphas’ house.  Now that it was daybreak, the Sanhedrin met again, in the Temple, in a more ‘legal’ way, to ratify what they had illegally decided.

Judea was occupied and under Roman rule, meaning the Jews could sentence someone, but had no power to execute anyone.  For that, they’d need the co-operation of Roman governor.

A charge of religious blasphemy would not mandate capital punishment from Rome.  So they “plotted” how to portray Jesus as a revolutionary, dangerous to Rome.

Judas had a final encounter with Jesus.  J. Vernon McGee writes, “the Lord Jesus was there when Judas came.  As the chief priests and elders were leading Him through that hall to take Him to Pilate, here comes Judas.”

Mat 27:3    Then Judas, His betrayer, seeing that He had been condemned, was remorseful and brought back the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and elders,

Mat 27:4    saying, “I have sinned by betraying innocent blood.” And they said, “What is that to us? You see to it!”

Judas was “remorseful,” and his feelings were powerful enough to lead him to commit suicide.

He genuinely regretted what he had done.  He knew it was wrong – even saying “I have sinned.”

It seems like he was ready to repent and be restored.

But notice.  Instead of addressing Jesus, he addressed the Sanhedrin.  He looked to them to confess his sin, and to be restored.

They wouldn’t help him… And they couldn’t help him – even if they wanted to.  They had neither the authority, nor the power, to forgive sins.

Maybe you think it would have been impossible for Judas to approach Jesus as He was being led away.  How impossible would it have been to shout out to the Lord, “Forgive me!”?

Judas was looking to the religion of his people, to Judaism, and to the Law of Moses, to provide him with forgiveness and salvation.

To that end, he tried to give-back the money he had been paid to betray Jesus.

Sin doesn’t work that way.  You can’t indulge yourself in sin, then realize what it has done to you and to others, and simply act like nothing ever happened.

I’m not talking about making restitution for wrongs you’ve done.  Restitution is a good thing, and often those who repent and are saved feel compelled to make right certain wrongs.

I’m talking about giving back the thirty pieces of silver, as if nothing ever happened, and letting bygones be bygones.

It was too late for that.  The damage – in this case, the condemnation to death of an innocent man – had been done.

Charles Spurgeon wrote, “sinner, you may sell Heaven for a few carnal pleasures, but you cannot buy Heaven by merely giving them up.”

Sin is damaging.  Maybe not at first.  But as you continue in it, it destroys.  Not just you, either.  It affects all those around you – in your home, in your church, at work; everywhere.

We should hear James when he warns, “each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed.  Then, when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, brings forth death” (1:14-15).

Remember the old Brylcreem hair product commercials?  Their jingle was, “a little dab’ll do ya.”

We like to think that we’re only dabbling with sin; it seems so little, so harmless.  Why can’t we learn from the fall of so many others before us that it brings forth death?

Mat 27:5    Then he threw down the pieces of silver in the temple and departed, and went and hanged himself.

Judas threw the money, literally, into, or as close to, the Holy of Holies in the Temple as he could get.  It was as close to God Himself Judas thought he could get.

Having failed to find any spiritual relief from the religious leaders, throwing the coins towards the Holy of Holies was a kind of appeal directly to God.

Yet he had been with Jesus for over three years – God in human flesh.

Again, I’m saying he was genuinely remorseful.  But he was going through religious motions, throwing the coins to where he was taught God dwelt, when all he had to do was throw himself on the mercy of the omnipresent God.

It prompted one commentator to note that perhaps Judas’ greatest betrayal was that of refusing God’s mercy.

We get a little more information about Judas’ suicide in the Book of Acts.  While choosing Matthias as Judas’ replacement, according to the Scripture, this is said:

Acts 1:18  (Now this man purchased a field with the wages of iniquity; and falling headlong, he burst open in the middle and all his entrails gushed out.

Acts 1:19  And it became known to all those dwelling in Jerusalem; so that field is called in their own language, Akel Dama, that is, Field of Blood.)

A couple of things:

Judas threw the money in the Temple, and the religious leaders will use it to buy a field.  When it says here, “this man purchased a field,” it simply means it was his money that they used to purchase it.

Apparently Judas hung himself then, as he was hanging, fell on sharp rocks below, slicing him open. In fact there is a tradition that says he hung himself off a tree branch, and it broke, causing him to fall.

The text doesn’t say he committed suicide in the field they bought.  In fact, had he died there, the field would have been rendered unclean and unusable.
It was called “Field of Blood” either because it became a burial ground, or because it was purchased with Judas’ blood money.

Let’s talk about suicide for a moment.  Suicide is not an unpardonable sin.  I can say that, with authority, because there is only one unpardonable sin; only one blasphemy of the Holy Spirit; and that is a final rejection of salvation in Jesus Christ.

Yes, suicide is self-murder, and the Bible says, “Thou shalt do no murder.”  So, ask yourself: Are all murderers unpardonable?

But, you say, a Christian would never kill himself, or herself.  Well, they should not; but they do.

Life is tragic; it can be crushing.  You are sometimes given more than you, as a person, on your own, can handle.

You CAN do all things, however, through Jesus Christ, Who strengthens you.

Some people in Scripture felt deep despair in life:

Solomon, in his pursuit of pleasure, reached the point where he “hated life” (Ecclesiastes 2:17).

Elijah was fearful and depressed and yearned for death (First Kings 19:4).

Jonah was so angry at God that he wished to die (Jonah 4:8).

Even the apostle Paul and his missionary companions at one point “were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired of life itself” (Second Corinthians 1:8).

However, none of these men committed suicide:

Solomon learned to “fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the duty of all mankind” (Ecclesiastes 12:13).

Elijah was comforted by an angel, allowed to rest, and given a new commission.

Jonah received admonition and rebuke from God.

Paul learned that, although the pressure he faced was beyond his ability to endure, the Lord can bear all things: “This happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead” (Second Corinthians 1:9).

Don’t kill yourself.  If you’re thinking about it, or ever do, talk to someone.  Get help.  Jesus died so you might live – now and forever.  He has good works that He has ordained for you to discover and perform, for His sake.  Your life belongs to Him – not to you.

We know that Judas is in Hades, awaiting an eternity in the Lake of Fire.  Peter tells us, in Acts 1:25, “he went to his own place,” referring to his eternal damnation.  He is elsewhere called, “the son of perdition,” which means doomed to destruction (John 17:12).

Judas isn’t lost because he committed suicide, but because he willfully rejected salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ.

Religion had nothing to offer Judas in his hour of greatest need.  All of the world’s religions are bankrupt; and they are an offense to the Cross of Christ, because they offer some substitute for His death.

Men, and women, who themselves do not know Jesus, cannot lead you to Him; and in Him alone is the forgiveness of sins and eternal life.

Judas needed only to repent.  The apostle Paul explained it best when he told the Christians in Corinth, “For godly sorrow produces repentance leading to salvation, not to be regretted; but the sorrow of the world produces death” (Second Corinthians 7:10).

Repentance, not religion, is what Judas needed.  Instead of repenting, he became the poster-boy for the kind of worldly sorrow that falls far short of repentance.

#2    You Need Repentance, Not Self-righteousness

There is an important use of words that we can easily miss in our English translations of the Bible.

In verse two, the word translated “delivered” is the same word in verse three translated “betrayed.”

Judas betrayed Jesus, but so did the religious leaders representing Israel.  They were all Judas’.

These guys, and the nation, needed to repent, but they weren’t even thinking about doing so.  They were trusting in what they had always trusted in – their adherence to the Law of Moses in order to be righteous before God.

I can’t right now think of another passage of Scripture that shows the absolute stupidity of thinking that self-righteously keeping certain laws and traditions will save you.

At the very moment these guys were knowingly sending an innocent man, and their Messiah, to His death, they were meticulously keeping the laws about the proper handling of the blood money  they had paid to have Jesus betrayed.

It’s insane… And so always is a dependance upon self-righteousness.

What’s the difference, you ask, between religion and self-righteousness?  In this context, religion is what Judas looked to to provide him with forgiveness and restoration after he had sinned.  In their self-righteousness, the Jewish leaders thought that they had not sinned at all.

Self-righteousness is the poison fruit of religion, keeping you from repentance.

Mat 27:6    But the chief priests took the silver pieces and said, “It is not lawful to put them into the treasury, because they are the price of blood.”

Why can’t they see it?  If blood money was so bad, how could their paying it to Judas, in the first place, be any good?

All I can say is that we have an amazing capacity to lie to ourselves, and to others, about things God calls sin.

Judas’ attempt to return the coins ought to have pricked their consciences.  It did not.  It shows us how incredibly hard a self-righteous heart can be.

Mat 27:7    And they consulted together and bought with them the potter’s field, to bury strangers in.

Mat 27:8    Therefore that field has been called the Field of Blood to this day.

The “potters field,” in this case, was not a field in which the ruined, broken pieces of pottery would be discarded.  This potters field was more like what we’d call a quarry where clay to make the pottery was gathered.  Once the layer of clay had been depleted, the field was no longer useful to potters, and could be sold for other uses.

In this case the chief priests bought it as a public cemetery in which they could bury “strangers.”  It’s probably a reference to Gentiles who, while visiting Jerusalem, died, and needed to be buried; but they had no relatives in Jerusalem, and could not lawfully be buried alongside Jews.

Purchasing this field, for this use, was a very generous act.  If they had plaques in those days, I’m sure they’d mention themselves on it, pointing to their big-hearted generosity.

Mind you, the money had been used, initially, to capture an innocent Jew they planned to murder.  Yet they saw no contradiction.

I mentioned earlier that these guys were no help to Judas.  He came seeking spiritual help from them, and they basically said, “You’re on your own.”

Self-righteous leaders can be a little more subtle than that.  A self-righteous Christian won’t usually turn you away and tell you that you’re on your own.  Instead they will talk about everything you ought to be doing to be right with God, implying that they are doing all that, and more.

They give you a laundry list of spiritual activities and leave you with the impression that, in doing them, you will be made right, and remain right, with God.

They reduce your relationship with Jesus to something mechanical rather than intimate and romantic.

When you need spiritual help, seek out those who will tell you who and what you are – not what you must do.  You are in Jesus Christ, in-dwelt by the Holy Spirit.  Your sins – past, present, and future – have been forgiven at the Cross.  He who began a good work in you will be faithful to complete it.  He is simultaneously building you, in Heaven, a mansion, and He is hoping to reward you when you make your glorious entrance home.

Religion could not save Judas.  Self-righteousness could not save the Judas’.  Purchasing a field with blood money could not cancel-out paying blood money in the first place.

Only a Savior can cancel-out sin.  From the very beginning, God had promised to send a Savior.  It was a matter of prophesy.

Mat 27:8    Therefore that field has been called the Field of Blood to this day.

Mat 27:9    Then was fulfilled what was spoken by Jeremiah the prophet, saying, “AND THEY TOOK THE THIRTY PIECES OF SILVER, THE VALUE OF HIM WHO WAS PRICED, whom they of the children of Israel priced,


Scholars spend a lot of time in these three verses; but that’s why they are so scholarly, I guess.
You see, the actual quote seems to come from Zechariah, even though Matthew attributes it to Jeremiah.

The quick answer is that the Jews divided-up their Scriptures into three parts: the Law, the Psalms, and the Prophets. The first five books were the Law – even though some of the books, like Genesis, really didn’t contain the Law.

Likewise there were books in the Psalms division that were not psalms.

Since Jeremiah was the first prophetic book in the section called the Prophets, often that whole section would be called Jeremiah.

It’s one of several possible explanations.  Another is that, since Jeremiah and Zechariah both mentioned the potter and his field, this was a blending of the two, giving Jeremiah priority since he was considered the major prophet.

We’re not ignoring it, but it’s not really a problem, and it’s certainly not Matthew’s point.

His point: Everything that was happening to Jesus had been carefully prophesied centuries before.

Jesus was going to the Cross, according to the plan of God, so that mankind might be commanded to “Repent!” and believe on Him for salvation.  By dying on the Cross, all men can be drawn to Him by the Holy Spirit.  He is the Savior of all men – especially those who believe.

I’m not even going to try to summarize the Gospel in seven words.  But, if I did, or if you do, try, get the word “repent” in there prominently.

Normally we think of nonbelievers, like Judas and the Judas’ of Israel, needing to repent, but we’ve seen that believers, too, are called upon to continue to repent.

What does that look like?

When Jesus urged the believers in Ephesus to repent, it wasn’t a call for them to start doing good works to get back in to His good favor.  They were already doing all the good works they could possibly be doing.

Good works will follow genuine repentance, as a consequence, not a cause.

Jesus pointed out they had left their first love.  It was because they had settled into a works-based relationship that they needed to repent.  Their repentance was a matter of realization that intimacy with Jesus had been abandoned.  The solve was to return to the passion of that first love and to do their “works” from love, not law.

If you are not a believer, you are among the Judas’.  You can be saved.

For us believers – let’s call sin what it really is, and confess it.

And let’s be certain our love for Jesus is the first, passionate love of our engagement, and never something based on our works.

The Witness Pathetic Program (Matthew 26v57-75)

Chuck Norris has made something of a comeback on social media as a hero.  Here are a few of the most recent on-line Norris-isms:

When Chuck Norris was born, the only one who cried was the doctor.  Never slap Chuck Norris.

Death once had a near-Chuck Norris experience.

Chuck Norris and Superman once fought each other on a bet.  The loser agreed to start wearing his underwear on the outside of his clothes.

We like our heroes that way – tough, in control, undefeated.

Jesus seemed anything but heroic to the Jewish ruling council, the Sanhedrin.  They arrested Him, accused Him of blasphemy, sentenced Him to death, spitting in His face and beating Him with their hands while mocking Him.

What kind of hero lets Himself be treated that way?

If Jesus is the hero of the Gospel, then in His absence the heroes and heroines are those whom He chooses to follow Him and to proclaim the Gospel.

Peter, one of Jesus’ closest disciples, seemed anything but heroic as he followed Jesus from a distance, then denied Him three times.

Let’s face it, both Jesus and Peter seemed to fail.  But we know the sequel:

Jesus rose from the dead and ascended to Heaven.  He conquered sin and death and now offers all mankind the forgiveness of sins and eternal life.

Having been “lifted up” on the Cross, His grace is at work on men’s hearts, to free their wills to choose or reject the Gospel.

Peter would give the first testimony of Jesus in the Church Age.  Once afraid of a servant girl, he would be fearless before a mocking crowd.  Three thousand men and women were saved.

We’re going to talk a little bit about power and failure, with an emphasis upon our failures being overcome as we seek the Lord.

I’ll organize my thoughts around two questions: #1 Do You See Jesus’ Power Despite His Apparent Failure?, and #2 Do You Seek Jesus’ Empowering Despite Your Actual Failures?

#1    Do You See Jesus’ Power
    Despite His Apparent Failure?

We do see the Lord’s power as He answered the Sanhedrin, but it’s because we know the rest of the story.

Try to put yourself in this scene without reference to what we know happened afterwards,  Let’s pretend you don’t know anything past Jesus’ trial.

The only power being wielded seemed to be by the Jewish ruling authority.

Mat 26:57    And those who had laid hold of Jesus led Him away to Caiaphas the high priest, where the scribes and the elders were assembled.

These who assembled were the Jewish Sanhedrin – or, at least, a majority of it.  Let me quote from a Jewish source that describes them:

The ancient Jewish court system was called the Sanhedrin.  The Great Sanhedrin was the supreme religious body in Israel during the time of the Holy Temple.  There were also smaller religious Sanhedrins in every town in the Land of Israel.

… sources describe the Great Sanhedrin as an assembly of 71 sages who met in the Chamber of Hewn Stones in the Temple in Jerusalem.  The Great Sanhedrin met daily during the daytime, and did not meet on the Sabbath, festivals or festival eves.  It was the final authority on Jewish law and any scholar who went against its decisions was put to death.

The Sanhedrin judged accused lawbreakers, but could not initiate arrests.  It required a minimum of two witnesses to convict a suspect.  There were no attorneys.  Instead, the accusing witness stated the offense in the presence of the accused and the accused could call witnesses on his own behalf.  The court questioned the accused, the accusers and the defense witnesses.

This assembly was wrong; it was illegal:

This meeting was pre-dawn, not in the daytime.

It was at Caiaphas’ house, not in the Temple.

It was during a festival, Passover.

And they had ordered the arrest with a view to condemning Jesus to death.

Mat 26:58    But Peter followed Him at a distance to the high priest’s courtyard. And he went in and sat with the servants to see the end.

It took some courage to follow Jesus into that hostile courtyard. Not only was Peter a close associate of Jesus, but Peter had assaulted the servant of the high priest, cutting off his ear.

Peter saw what happened next.

Mat 26:59    Now the chief priests, the elders, and all the council sought false testimony against Jesus to put Him to death,

Mat 26:60    but found none. Even though many false witnesses came forward, they found none. But at last two false witnesses came forward

If a person gave false witness to the Sanhedrin, the prescribed penalty was death.  But not on this night, because everybody was a false witness.

You’d think that these guys would have been better prepared.  Their whole mock trial was about to fail – until, finally, two false witnesses came forward who said the same thing.

Mat 26:61    and said, “This fellow said, ‘I am able to destroy the temple of God and to build it in three days.’ ”

This is like accusing Jesus of terrorism.  They charged Him with threatening to destroy the Temple.

Did He?  Of course not.  Here is what Jesus actually said about destroying the Temple: “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days” (John 2:19).

First of all, He wasn’t speaking about the Temple in Jerusalem, but the temple of His body.  It was a reference to His crucifixion and resurrection.

Second, He wasn’t the one who was going to do the destroying. He said, “if you destroy the temple of My body…”

Third, His promise was to “raise it up again,” not destroy it.

Even a first year law student could get this charge dropped.

Mat 26:62    And the high priest arose and said to Him, “Do You answer nothing? What is it these men testify against You?”

The accused was supposed to defend himself.  That’s the way the Sanhedrin system worked.  No defendant remained silent… Until Jesus.

A little insight as to why He remained silent.  After His arrest, because of where they were and where they were going, Jesus would have been escorted through what was called the Sheep Gate.  It was an entrance into Jerusalem, and in particular it was the entrance through which the sacrificial lambs would be brought to the Temple.

Thus did Isaiah prophesy,

Isa 53:7  He was oppressed and He was afflicted, Yet He opened not His mouth; He was led as a lamb to the slaughter, And as a sheep before its shearers is silent, So He opened not His mouth.

Furthermore, in a few short hours, Jesus would be crucified – just at the very time when the Passover lambs were being slain in the Temple.

Mat 26:63    But Jesus kept silent. And the high priest answered and said to Him, “I put You under oath by the living God: Tell us if You are the Christ, the Son of God!”

“Christ” comes from the Greek word Christos, meaning “anointed one” or “chosen one.”  This is the Greek equivalent of the Hebrew word Mashiach, or “Messiah.”

In the Old Testament the person anointed with oil was regarded as having been singled out by God as having special powers and functions.  As time passed, among the Jews, the term gradually came to refer to a deliverer, himself a descendant of David, who would restore Israel to the golden age she enjoyed under the rule of David.

“Son of God” did not mean, to the first century Jews, what it means to us.  Here is a quote from the Jewish Encyclopedia:

[Son of God is] a term applied to an angel or demigod, one of the mythological beings whose exploits are described in Genesis 6:2-4, and whose ill conduct was among the causes of the Flood; in many passages “gods” and “judges” seem to be equal (Exodus 21:6); and it is applied to the real or ideal king over Israel (Second Samuel 7:14, with reference to David and his dynasty).  “Sons of God” and “children of God” are applied also to Israel as a people (Exodus 4:22 and Hosea 11:1).

They ultimately conclude, “the term by no means carries the idea of physical descent from, and essential unity with, God the Father. The Hebrew idiom conveys nothing further than a simple expression of godlikeness.”

Jesus was the “Son of God” like other Israelites in that He was a descendant of Abraham; and in that He was the real and ideal descendant of David.  But the term meant more when applied to Him: it expressed a nearness to God other Jews did not possess.

Thus could He say, “if you’ve seen Me, you’ve seen the Father” (John 14:9), and “I and the Father are one” (John 10:30).  He called God the Father “Abba,” a term of endearment, the equivalent of saying Daddy, that no Jew ever used.
Was Caiaphas asking Jesus if He was God?  Or was he asking Him if He was the anointed one, the deliverer, the Messiah?

Either way, Jesus goes beyond what Caiaphas asked, and made a definite claim of deity.

Mat 26:64    Jesus said to him, “It is as you said. Nevertheless, I say to you, hereafter you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Power, and coming on the clouds of heaven.”

Yes, He was the Christ, the Son of God, as Jews understood it.  And He was also the unique Son of God, as He had presented Himself in His life and ministry – as one with His Father.

But He was also “the Son of Man.”

Now, to us Gentiles, Son of God seems to carry more weight than Son of Man.  We think Son of God means deity, whereas Son of Man means humanity.

But we’ve said that, for a Jew, Son of God can, in fact, mean a mere man.  In common, everyday Jewish culture, it did not signify deity.

Not so Son of Man.  The term “Son of Man” is used in Scripture in contexts of Jesus’ deity.

For example, the Bible says that only God can forgive sins (Isaiah 43:25; Mark 2:7).  Then it says, as the Son of Man, Jesus had the power to forgive sins (Mark 2:10).

Jesus will return to earth as the “Son of Man” in clouds of glory to reign on earth (Matthew 26:63-64).  Jesus is citing Daniel 7:13 where the Messiah is described as the “Ancient of Days,” a phrase used to indicate deity (Daniel 7:9).

When Jesus was asked by the high priest whether He was the “Son of God,” He responded affirmatively, declaring that He was also the “Son of Man,” that He was God, Who would come in power and great glory.

The high priest clearly understood Jesus’ claim to be God:

Mat 26:65    Then the high priest tore his clothes, saying, “He has spoken blasphemy! What further need do we have of witnesses? Look, now you have heard His blasphemy!

In the Gospel of John, the Jews arguing with Jesus tell us what they considered blasphemy:

John 10:33  The Jews answered Him, saying, “For a good work we do not stone You, but for blasphemy, and because You, being a Man, make Yourself God.”

When Caiaphas tore his robe and accused Jesus of “blasphemy,” it was because he understood Jesus was claiming to be God.

Mat 26:66    What do you think?” They answered and said, “He is deserving of death.”

Mat 26:67    Then they spat in His face and beat Him; and others struck Him with the palms of their hands,

Mat 26:68    saying, “Prophesy to us, Christ! Who is the one who struck You?”

We read in Isaiah,

Isa 50:6  … I did not hide My face from shame and spitting.

The shame of it speaks for itself.  G. Campbell Morgan commented, “As one reads this story one wonders more and more at the greatest miracle of all, the patient suffering of the spotless One.”

Ironically, just at the moment they were mocking His ability to prophesy, His prophesy to Peter – about the rooster crowing – was being fulfilled.

Jesus seemed powerless, not powerful; defeated, not victorious.  To all observers, His mission seemed a failure, despite all He had accomplished up to that point.

Do you see His power?  Of course you do.  It was power under control, for the good of humanity – including those who were abusing Him.  He would rise from the dead… Ascend into Heaven… Sit at the “right hand of the Power” (which was a Jewish way of referring to God without speaking His name)… And come back on the clouds of Heaven – a reference to His return to establish a Kingdom upon the earth.

We mentioned that Jesus came through the Sheep Gate, and kept silent like a lamb led to the sacrifice, to be crucified just as the Passover lambs were being slain.  You probably recall John the Baptist identifying Jesus, at His baptism, as “the lamb of God Who takes away he sins of the world.”

In Heaven, seated at the right hand of God, Jesus is still identified as the lamb.  When He steps forward in the Revelation, to begin the judgment of the earth that will occur prior to His coming on the clouds, He is described like this:

Rev 5:6    And I looked, and behold, in the midst of the throne and of the four living creatures, and in the midst of the elders, stood a Lamb as though it had been slain…

Rev 5:11    Then I looked, and I heard the voice of many angels around the throne, the living creatures, and the elders; and the number of them was ten thousand times ten thousand, and thousands of thousands,

Rev 5:12    saying with a loud voice: “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain To receive power and riches and wisdom, And strength and honor and glory and blessing!”

Something more is indicated by Jesus’ choice of words.  When He said, in verse sixty-four, “hereafter you will see,” the words can be translated “from now on you will see.”

He wasn’t merely saying that, in some distant future, that He would return.  That’s true, of course; but that’s not the whole story.

He said from now on; from this point going forward; “you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Power, and coming on the clouds of Heaven.”

How so?

You will “see” Him as He is revealed to the world, in His absence, by His followers, as they proclaim the Gospel.  His power and rule will be evident in and through them.

History bears witness that Jesus’ prediction is true.  The original disciples turned the world upside-down with the Gospel; and it’s been changing lives ever since, in every generation, in every culture where it has been introduced.

For the most part, the Gospel has been spread while Jesus and His followers seemed weak and powerless failures.  Governments have tried in vain, however, to silence believers, to no avail.

It cannot be stopped.  But we certainly wouldn’t have thought the Gospel would get out of the first century based on the example of Peter in the courtyard of the high priest.

#2    Do You Seek Jesus’ Empowering
    Despite Your Actual Failures?

Normally we discuss, for our own exhortation, the reasons for Peter’s abysmal failure, e.g., he “followed from a distance,” and his prayerlessness in the Garden of Gethsemane.

Now I’m all about encouraging myself and you to prayer, and to closing any distance between us and Jesus.

But is that really why Peter failed?  Couldn’t we argue that he failed to give a testimony about Jesus because he had yet to receive the Holy Spirit?

After He rose from the dead, Jesus instructed His small band of followers to wait for the promise of the Father, which He called the baptism with the Holy Spirit.

On the Day of Pentecost, the promised baptism came from Heaven.  Then this same Peter addressed a mocking crowd of thousands and gave an incredible apologetic for Jesus being the God-man Who alone can forgive us our sins and save us for eternity.

Three thousand were saved.

Was that the same guy?  Well, yes and no.  It was Peter, but now baptized with the promise of the Father, the Holy Spirit.

What I see in Peter, in the courtyard of Caiaphas, is that failure is inevitable without the baptism of the Holy Spirit.

Sadly, I fail just as miserably – with the Holy Spirit available to me!  And so do you (at times).

We need to be encouraged to be baptized with the Holy Spirit, and to only pursue serving the Lord as we are led by the Spirit.

And we need to be encouraged to repent, when necessary, and let the Lord fill us with His Spirit again, and use us.

Mat 26:69    Now Peter sat outside in the courtyard. And a servant girl came to him, saying, “You also were with Jesus of Galilee.”

Mat 26:70    But he denied it before them all, saying, “I do not know what you are saying.”

Peter was not questioned before a hostile court, or even an angry mob.  Peter’s fear made a servant girl a fierce adversary, and he cowered in fear before her.

Mat 26:71    And when he had gone out to the gateway, another girl saw him and said to those who were there, “This fellow also was with Jesus of Nazareth.”

Mat 26:72    But again he denied with an oath, “I do not know the Man!”

Peter’s sin of denying his association with Jesus grew worse with each denial.  First, he merely lied; then he took an oath to the lie; next he will curse and swear.

Mat 26:73    And a little later those who stood by came up and said to Peter, “Surely you also are one of them, for your speech betrays you.”

Mat 26:74    Then he began to curse and swear, saying, “I do not know the Man!”…

William Barclay notes, “so ugly was their accent that no Galilean was allowed to pronounce the benediction at a synagogue service.”

Sitting in the courtyard, surrounded by danger and nonbelievers, Peter represents all of us as we daily venture out into a hostile world.

You see a few of the ways Peter represents us in the comments made about him. The first comment was that Peter was with Jesus.  If you are a Christian, it doesn’t take long for people to see that you have been with Jesus.  When you get saved, God the Holy Spirit comes to live inside you.  He begins to radically affect your motives and behavior.  You change – and people see that there is Someone with you.

The next comment directed toward Peter was that he was one of them.  He had hung-out with the other followers of Jesus.

When you get saved, you want to be around other believers.  You start attending a fellowship; you get involved serving in it.  People begin to see you are one of them.

Then they busted Peter because of the way he talked.  In his case, it was his Galilean dialect.  In your case, your language is affected as you are with the Lord and among His people:

First, you quit cursing – usually without even trying to.

Second, you begin to use a vocabulary unique to the Bible and Christians.  Words like fellowship, rapture, justification, sanctification, and spirit-filled sneak their way into your speech.  Phrases like ‘the flesh’ fall off of your lips.

You and I, everyday, are sitting in the world.  It might be a dinner table at home, or a water cooler at work, or a classroom at school.  We want to tell others about the Lord, not deny Him in any way.

We fail.  Sometimes, abysmally.

Mat 26:74    Then he began to curse and swear, saying, “I do not know the Man!” Immediately a rooster crowed.

Mat 26:75    And Peter remembered the word of Jesus who had said to him, “Before the rooster crows, you will deny Me three times.” So he went out and wept bitterly.

Peter remembered the word of the Lord.  Think of it: a particular rooster had been appointed by God to crow at this exact moment.

If the Lord could fulfill His prediction of a crowing rooster, then He could and would certainly fulfill the promise He had also given as a word to Peter earlier that evening:

Luke 22:31  And the Lord said, [Peter, Peter].  Indeed, Satan has asked for you, that he may sift you as wheat.

Luke 22:32  “But I have prayed for you, that your faith should not fail; and when you have returned to Me, strengthen your brethren.”

Peter “went out and wept bitterly.”  We say he repented – not just because of the tears, but because he returned to the Lord and was restored.

One writer said, “repentance is best evidenced by our abounding in the contrary grace and duty.”

I’m liking the word ‘abysmal’ today.  I have been an abysmal spiritual failure at times.  I’m guessing, so have you.  You might have recently failed the Lord; you might be failing Him even as we speak.

Maybe you will fail Him tomorrow, as some trial gets dropped into your life that shakes you to the very foundations of your faith.  You might be called upon to take a stand for Jesus that could cost you your job or your family.  In many places around the world, it could cost you your life.

Repent.  Return to the Lord; return to your first love.  It’s really that simple, because God’s grace is available to you, and it is sufficient for you.

“From now on,” Jesus said, people would see Him sitting at the right hand of God, poised to return.

People see Him in you; they see Him through you; they see Him by your testimony.

There is nothing quite so powerful as a transformed life.

Not merely a reformed life.  It’s great when a person can reform themselves.  Biggest Loser testimonies are awesome as folks shed hundreds of pounds by strength of their will and discipline.

Transformation is something internal; something spiritual; something that can only be accomplished by God residing in us.

People need to see Christians doing things no one can or would do apart from God.  Not by our effort and discipline, but by our dependance upon the Lord.

From Ear To Eternity (Matthew 26v47-56)

There are a lot of famous swords, both from history and fiction.

Everyone has heard of Excalibur, the legendary sword of King Arthur.  Some say it is the Sword in the Stone, while others say they are two different blades.

Glamdring, Orcrist, Sting, and Narsil are all well-known to fans of The Lord of the Rings.

The apostle Peter had a sword, made infamous when he used it in the Garden of Gethsemane to cut off the ear of the servant to the high priest.

English lore has it being brought to England by Joseph of Arimathea along with the Holy Grail.

In 968AD, however, a sword was brought to Poland by Bishop Jordan – a sword which he claimed was the actual sword of Peter.  The Bishop’s sword, as it is called, considered the true relic, remained in Poland and was eventually moved to the Archdiocese Museum in Poznan.

Did the sword belong to Peter?  It is a falchion – a type of sword likely not in use during Peter’s time.  Metallurgy tests have dated it to long after his death.

Swords – not just Peter’s – figure prominently in the account of the arrest of Jesus in the Garden.

The disciples had at least two swords.

Those who came for Jesus had many swords.

But the most important, and certainly the most powerful, sword in the Garden of Gethsemane was the one wielded by Jesus Himself.

It was the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God.  For example in the Gospel of John Jesus asks those who had come for Him, “Whom are you seeking?”  They answer, “Jesus of Nazareth.”  He then says, “I Am,” which is a name of God.

At this spoken Word, John records that the crowd “drew back and fell to the ground” (18:6).

A moment later He tells Peter to put away his sword because Jesus had at His voice command “more than twelve legions of angels” (Matthew 26:53).

These verses describe to Matthew’s readers the factual events of Jesus’ arrest.  They also minister to his readers an important truth: The sword of the Spirit, the Word of God, is our preferred weapon in spiritual warfare, and for furthering the Gospel.

I’ll organize my thoughts around two points:  #1 Be Certain That The Sword You Wield Is Not Of The World, and #2 Be Certain That The Sword You Wield Is Of The Word.

#1    Be Certain That The Sword You Wield
    Is Not Of The World

We are told, directly, that the Word of God is sword-like in two New Testament passages:

Eph 6:17  And take… the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God;

Heb 4:12  For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.

We see the power of the sword of the Spirit, the Word, when it is wielded by Jesus at His Second Coming:

Rev 19:15  Now out of His mouth goes a sharp sword, that with it He should strike the nations…

Rev 19:21  And the rest were killed with the sword which proceeded from the mouth of [Jesus]…

It’s not as obvious in the Garden of Gethsemane, but Jesus wields the sword, and it is shown to be superior in every way to the swords of His disciples and captors.

Before we press on, let me briefly address something that always comes up whenever we discuss Jesus and swords.  Christian pacifists believe it is always wrong to injure other humans, no matter what the circumstances.  And the same principles supporting pacifism carry over to nonresistance – the belief that any form of self-defense is wrong.

Since Jesus told Peter to put away his sword, and since He surrendered Himself to the authorities without a struggle – are we therefore called to lay down all weapons and be pacifists?

In a word, “No.”

One commentator puts things into perspective:

In terms of following Christ’s example, one must remember that His personal nonresistance at the cross was intertwined with His unique calling.  He did not evade His arrest because it was God’s will for Him to fulfill His prophetic role as the redemptive Lamb of God.  During His ministry, however, He refused to be arrested because God’s timing for His death had not yet come (John 8:59). Thus, Christ’s unique nonresistance during the Passion does not mandate against self-protection.

Prior to His crucifixion, Jesus revealed to His disciples the future hostility they would face and encouraged them to sell their outer garments in order to buy a sword:

Luk 22:36    Then He said to them, “But now, he who has a money bag, let him take it, and likewise a knapsack; and he who has no sword, let him sell his garment and buy one.

The “sword” He was referring to was a dagger or short sword that belonged to the Jewish traveler’s equipment as protection against robbers and wild animals.  A plain reading of the passage indicates that Jesus approved of self-defense.

The New Testament commends Old Testament warriors for their military acts of faith (Hebrews 11:30-40).  Moreover, it is significant that although given the opportunity to do so, none of the New Testament saints, nor Jesus, are ever seen informing a military convert that he needed to resign from his line of work.

There is obviously a lot more that could be said on the topic of pacifism and non-resistance.  For our purposes today, we’re not really discussing whether or not we should all carry concealed weapons.  That isn’t at all what these verses are about.  I just don’t want there to be any confusion.

What we are looking at has to do with how we approach, and carry-out, ministry as believers who wish to promote the Gospel.  We are to put-away any and all worldly means of serving the Lord and base our service totally on the Word of God.

In other words, relying on the world and its resources is being compared to wielding an inferior sword, when you could and should be relying on the sword of the Spirit, the Word of God.

Mat 26:47    And while He was still speaking, behold, Judas, one of the twelve, with a great multitude with swords and clubs, came from the chief priests and elders of the people.

Judas had left the Last Supper to betray Jesus.  He may have first led the arresting mob to the Upper Room and, not finding the Lord still there, taken them to the Garden of Gethsemane.

The Lord was not hiding; He was not avoiding arrest.  He knew the time had come.  In a few short but sorrowful hours, He would die on the Cross, just at the very time of day the Passover lambs were being slain in the Temple.

A “great multitude with swords and clubs” were dispatched, probably more because the authorities feared the crowds than they did Jesus.  The Lord was popular with the people.  Only a few days prior they had hailed Him as He entered Jerusalem, on what we call Palm Sunday.

John’s Gospel says there was a “detachment of troops” (18:3), as well as “officers.”  Based on the words used, some have put the number of men with swords and clubs as high as one thousand or more.  It seems unlikely there were that many, logistically; but there was a substantial group.

Mat 26:48    Now His betrayer had given them a sign, saying, “Whomever I kiss, He is the One; seize Him.”

Mat 26:49    Immediately he went up to Jesus and said, “Greetings, Rabbi!” and kissed Him.

To earn his blood money, Judas must lead them to Jesus, and positively id Him.  In the dark, by lantern light, in a crowd, at a time when there were no corrective lenses – Judas would need to get close to Jesus.

When it says Judas “kissed Him,” it’s a word that indicates multiple kisses.  It’s that kissing some cultures do, from cheek to cheek several times as a show of affection.

Jesus had already busted Judas – already let him know that He knew Judas was His betrayer.  Yet Judas proceeds as if he is acting in secret right up until the seizure.

It speaks to us of how we sometimes act.  When we sin, for example, we act as if the Lord doesn’t know what we are doing.  We might “kiss” Him, so to speak, in our devotions, or by serving Him – only to get right up and run to some sin we are committing.

Mat 26:50    But Jesus said to him, “Friend, why have you come?” Then they came and laid hands on Jesus and took Him.

We saw in a previous study that, while God’s providence was at work in the betrayal of Jesus, Judas acted by his own free will.  He could have acted otherwise.

Jesus was still offering Judas salvation.  “Friend” is a term of great endearment.

Why ask Judas “why have you come,” when the Lord knew very well why?  Remember the verse I shared earlier, about the Word of God being a sword?  It penetrates the heart.

Jesus was speaking a Word that could penetrate Judas’ heart, dividing between the soul and the spirit.  He was evangelizing His betrayer right up until the end.

It’s an example to us to wield the sword of the Spirit no matter our circumstances.  To keep our focus on the Gospel, i.e., the need men and women and children have to be saved – regardless what they might be doing to us.

Mat 26:51    And suddenly, one of those who were with Jesus stretched out his hand and drew his sword, struck the servant of the high priest, and cut off his ear.

The other accounts tell us it was Peter who wielded the sword; and that the servant’s name was Malchus.

This swordplay is the action Matthew seems to want to focus our attention upon.  A crowd of nonbelievers with swords comes against them.  Jesus models for us the proper use of the Word as a sword, while Peter instead mimics the world by fighting on their level.

One practical problem with relying on the world’s resources is identified here.  The world is always going to be more powerful than you when you fight on its level.

Peter drew his sword.  Earlier in the Gospel accounts there’s a moment in which the disciples show Jesus that, among them, they have two swords.

What good are two swords against multitudes of swords?  And what good are carnal, fleshly, physical things in reaching a heart for the Lord?

Matthew doesn’t mention it, because he wants to stay on point, but Jesus healed Malchus’ ear.

It’s interesting, is it not, how the Holy Spirit edited the inspired writers of the Bible?  I mean, I’d have a hard time leaving out that pretty major detail!

It ministers to us to listen closely to the still, small voice of the Holy Spirit as He leads us day-by-day.  He knows what a person needs to hear, or see, in our lives.  We must remain open and flexible if we are going to be used to proclaim the Gospel.

Here comes the application:

Mat 26:52    But Jesus said to him, “Put your sword in its place, for all who take the sword will perish by the sword.

To touch upon pacifism once again, this verse is often cited as teaching that we must not use weapons.  If we do, we will only, eventually, destroy ourselves.

But that’s not at all what Jesus meant – not in context.  Looking just at Peter, to whom Jesus was talking, if he didn’t put away his sword, he was going to get hacked to ribbons in a fight with that multitude.

True, if you take up a sword you risk injury or death.  Everyone in law enforcement, and in the military, knows this, and lives with that choice every day of their career.  They do it because they have a moral responsibility to help those in need.

Jesus told Peter to “put your sword in its place.”  He didn’t tell him to surrender his sword.  The sword, as a weapon, has its proper place.

You know that famous line of dialog in The Untouchables, when Sean Connery’s character says that his assailant has brought a knife to a gun fight?  That’s what Peter was doing here.  The real weapon was the Word of God – not his puny dagger.

Jesus was letting Peter, His disciples, and us, know that with regards to serving Him and spreading the Gospel, the world’s swords were puny weapons that will only get you in trouble.

When in doubt, look to Jesus.

There’s a saying that’s become hugely popular recently, even though it’s been around a long time.  It’s the one that says, “Keep Calm,” and then you add whatever you want.

“Keep Calm and Carry On” was the original saying.  It was a motivational poster produced by the British government in 1939 in preparation for the Second World War.  The poster was intended to raise the morale of the British public, threatened with widely predicted mass air attacks on major cities.  Although 2.45 million copies were printed, and although the Blitz happened, the poster was never publicly displayed and was little known about until a copy was rediscovered in the year 2000.

The only one calm in the Garden of Gethsemane was the one Person Who seemed to have the most to lose; the one Person Who was being betrayed and arrested to His cruel beating and death at the hands of wicked men – men whom He came to bless, and heal, and save.

More about that in a minute.  These first verses, while telling the events, also establish the priority and the power of the Word as our primary weapon in spiritual warfare, and for the furthering of the Gospel.

It is at the very least a reminder to us to not borrow techniques and strategies and methods from the world in order to try to accomplish spiritual things.

Something may seem like a good idea; it may even produce results on some level.  But if it isn’t led by the Spirit, and substantiated by the Word of God, it needs to be sheathed in favor of God’s wisdom.

Using Peter as an example, we note that he was asleep in the Garden when he ought to have been in prayer.  Then, faced with a situation, he resorted immediately to a worldly response – fighting swords with a sword.

It prompted Charles Spurgeon to comment, “It would have been far better if Peter’s hands had been clasped in prayer.”

Likewise we ought to trust in the spiritual weapons of our warfare as more than sufficient; they are superior.

#2    Be Certain That The Sword You Wield
    Is Of The Word

We’ve already seen Jesus masterfully wield the sword of the Spirit.  He was definitely ordering the events of His arrest, showing the disciples and Judas and the soldiers the power of the Word.
Just how powerful was Jesus?

Mat 26:53    Or do you think that I cannot now pray to My Father, and He will provide Me with more than twelve legions of angels?

Bear in mind that, in the Old Testament, two angels were all that were needed to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah.  And, really, I think the hard part was getting Lot to leave!

In another account, one angel kills 185,000 Assyrian soldiers as they sleep encamped in a siege against Jerusalem.

“More than twelve legions” is over 72,000 angels, locked and loaded.

Jesus did not call for angelic armies to deliver Him.  It was an example to His followers of things to come.  The age in which we live is one that is to be characterized by God being revealed as strong in our weakness – not in our strength.

Who is the greatest Christian of all time?  Well, we won’t know until we get to Heaven – and then it won’t matter.  But I’d bet most of us would say it was the apostle Paul.

Here is what he said about himself:

2Cor 12:10  Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

I recoil from words like “infirmities, reproaches, needs, persecutions, and distresses.”  They make it sound like you’re having a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day.

Let me list the kinds of things Paul meant by “infirmities, reproaches, needs, persecutions, and distresses.”

2Cor 11:23  in labors more abundant, in stripes above measure, in prisons more frequently, in deaths often.

2Cor 11: 24  From the Jews five times I received forty stripes minus one.

2Cor 11: 25  Three times I was beaten with rods; once I was stoned; three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I have been in the deep;

2Cor 11: 26  in journeys often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils of my own countrymen, in perils of the Gentiles, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren;

2Cor 11: 27  in weariness and toil, in sleeplessness often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness –

2Cor 11: 28  besides the other things, what comes upon me daily: my deep concern for all the churches.

2Cor 11: 29  Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is made to stumble, and I do not burn with indignation?

2Cor 11: 30  If I must boast, I will boast in the things which concern my infirmity.

We don’t usually boast in this kind of weakness.  We even teach against it.  Recently a pastor, at a conference (not a Calvary Chapel one), said that a fellow pastor who is having difficulties made a serious error by preaching almost every Sunday for several years without an extended leave of absence.

I think Paul would take issue with a statement like that.  Since when is working hard a hardship on the level of being shipwrecked, or robbed and left for dead?

We need to get our game faces on in this thing called serving God.  And by that I mean we must wrap our heads around the fact that “when I am weak, then I am strong.”

Whatever you are going through, God has legions of angels at His disposal.  If He doesn’t dispatch them, you can be certain you don’t need them to reveal true power.  Your weakness becomes the pulpit from which power is preached.

Mat 26:54    How then could the Scriptures be fulfilled, that it must happen thus?”

It’s been calculated that Jesus, in His birth, life, ministry, death, resurrection and ascension, fulfilled to the letter more than 300 Bible prophecies.

Most of them He fulfilled without effort on His part, e.g., being born of a virgin.

And they were fulfilled by God’s providence without Him ever violating the free will of the human beings involved.

The Bible is so common, so available to us here in America, that we no longer wonder at its prophetic accuracy.

Mat 26:55    In that hour Jesus said to the multitudes, “Have you come out, as against a robber, with swords and clubs to take Me? I sat daily with you, teaching in the temple, and you did not seize Me.

This wasn’t spoken from bitterness.  Jesus was establishing both His innocence and His deity:

He was pointing out His innocence by saying they could easily have seized Him anytime in the Temple.  The fact that they did not, but came secretly, in the middle of the night, shows that they knew He was not guilty of anything.

He was pointing to His deity by mentioning the multitude, and their felt need for weapons.  Why so many armed men to arrest one unarmed itinerant teacher?  He must be more than a mere man.

Mat 26:56    But all this was done that the Scriptures of the prophets might be fulfilled.” Then all the disciples forsook Him and fled.

Another reference to the Scriptures being fulfilled.  Fulfilled prophecy certainly shows the power of the Word of God.  Unlike any other book, the Bible makes specific predictions that must come true to the letter – or else you can ignore the whole book.

Most of the Bible’s more than 2500 prophecies have been fulfilled to the letter.  It’s a fact of history.

“Then all the disciples fled.”  From one perspective, it got worse-and-worse for Jesus.  Betrayed by a close friend and colleague, arrested by those He came to help, now He was totally abandoned by the rest of His guys.

Peter and John would stop and follow from a distance – but then Peter would deny the Lord three times within Jesus’ hearing.

It was according to plan – the plan of God determined before the world was ever created.  The Lord, the God-man, God in human flesh, Jesus, must go to the Cross to die as Sacrifice and Substitute.

Then He’d arise… Then He’d ascend… Then He’d come again, and in that Second Coming, He will wield the sword of the Word very differently, using it to destroy the enemies of God so that He can establish the Kingdom of Heaven on the earth.

In the mean time… When it comes to spiritual service, and warfare, we are to wield the sword of the Word the way Jesus did; the way His disciples did after Pentecost; the way the apostle Paul did.

We are to reveal God’s power through our dependance upon Him in our weakness.

Keep Calm and Carry On.

The Victory Garden (Matthew 26v30-46)

Was it a harmless prank – or misdemeanor battery?

Workers at Intel in Albuquerque secretly taped a “Kick Me” sign to the back of a co-worker as a prank, then kicked the confused man a number of times as fellow employees laughed hysterically.

The employee said that once he suspected something was taped on his back, he went to a senior staffer to ask if something was there.

The staffer promptly kicked him three times in the buttocks.

The employee felt demoralized and assaulted and he began to cry during his drive home.  He initially could not tell his wife because he was so embarrassed and ashamed.

Two of the prankers were convicted of petty misdemeanor battery and ordered to perform sixteen hours of community service.  Both also lost their jobs.

In another story, a New York City elementary school suspended a fourth grade student for taping a “Kick Me” sign on another students back.

When I was a kid, we’d alternate between “Kick Me” and “Kiss Me.”  Kid’s, and adults who act like them, are mean.

You may not have a “Kick Me” sign taped to your back, but some days it seems like you do.  You seem to be a target for all kinds of abuse and trouble from the world.

In fact, if you are a Christian, you are targeted by the devil and the nonbelievers he has taken captive to do his will.

Good thing you are simultaneously safeguarded by Jesus.

While most of what happens in our text is unique to the eleven disciples, there is this general principle of being targeted as well as simultaneously safeguarded.  Let’s see if we can make some sense of it.

I’ll organize my thoughts around two points: #1 Jesus Said It Was Because Of Him You’d Be Targeted, and #2 Jesus Said It Was Because Of Him You’d Be Safeguarded.

#1    Jesus Said It Was Because Of Him
    You’d Be Targeted

We are down to the final 24 hours leading up to the Crucifixion.  Judas left the Upper Room to betray Jesus; the Last Supper was instituted; the Lord and His boys headed out to spend the night under the stars on the Mount of Olives.

Mat 26:30    And when they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.

Could you sing praises to God on your way to your betrayal and death?  Yes, yes, you could, because God would supply His grace in abundance to you in your time of need.

It was not unusual for Jews visiting Jerusalem for the Passover to spend the night outdoors, camping.  Jesus was headed for their regular spot; and Judas was, too.

Mat 26:31    Then Jesus said to them, “All of you will be made to stumble because of Me this night, for it is written: ‘I WILL STRIKE THE SHEPHERD, AND THE SHEEP OF THE FLOCK WILL BE SCATTERED.’

It’s a quote from the Old Testament prophet, Zechariah 13:7.  The “I” is referring to God; the “Shepherd” is Jesus; the “flock” are His eleven disciples.

Make no mistake about it: the events leading up to, and including, Jesus death on the Cross were no afterthought.  They were necessary.

It was not morally possible for God to atone for sin and redeem lost men and women apart from the sacrificial death of Jesus on the Cross.

The Shepherd must be struck; He must be killed.

Momentarily Judas would come with the Roman soldiers and the eleven would, indeed, be “scattered.”

What does it mean that they would be “made to stumble?”  After all is said and read, it comes down to this: the arrest, the trials, and the crucifixion of Jesus would shake these men to the very foundation of their faith.

Think of it like this.  Although Jesus had told them repeatedly that He must die at the hands of the religious leaders, the eleven either ignored Him or they misunderstood Him.  They were certain He was going to inaugurate the Kingdom of Heaven on the earth, in which they would play a major role and hold positions of honor.

A stricken Shepherd was not part of their equation.  It would seem to them as if Jesus were not powerful enough to perform what He had promised.

Isn’t that the same problem most people, including Christians, struggle with?  If God is so powerful, why all my suffering?  Why doesn’t God do something?

With perfect hindsight, we see that God was doing something.  In fact, He was doing everything.  He was defeating sin and death so men could be forgiven their sins and receive eternal life.

If we had hindsight of our own lives, we’d see something similar.  Of course, we can’t; but we can walk by faith believing God is the same today as He was then.

I want to call our attention to three words easy to overlook: “Because of Me.”

Jesus was assuming the responsibility for them being scattered.  It wasn’t because they lacked faith, or some such thing.  No; it was all on Him, because of Him.

Think of it this way.  If a shepherd was out in the fields tending his flock and was attacked, lets say, by a cougar, and killed, what would we expect his sheep to do?

Would we expect them to rally and present a strong defense against the cougar?  No!  We’d expect them to run and scatter, because the shepherd was their sole protection.

Jesus said, “because of Me,” and it was full of emotion.  He had put the target on their backs, as it were.  It didn’t say “Kick Me,” or “Kiss Me.”  It said, “Kill Me.”

Today we, too, are targeted.  Jesus told us that since the world hated Him, it would hate us just as much.  In such a world we can expect persecution.  It’s unusual for believers not to be persecuted.  It’s the exception rather than the norm.

Since it’s “because of Him,” we can rejoice when we are treated badly, because we are being identified with Jesus.

Mat 26:32    But after I have been raised, I will go before you to Galilee.”

Besides being certain that death could not hold Him; that He would rise from the dead, conquering death as well as sin; these words contain an incredible promise for the eleven, and for all believers.

It’s a promise – an absolutely rock-solid promise – that all eleven guys would be regathered after Jesus rose from the dead.

They’d be scattered… Stumbled to various degrees… Reduced to a sort of hopelessness.  But hope there was in abundance in these word of Jesus.

No matter how hopeless your situation may get; no matter how helpless you become; the Lord will gather you to Himself, and He will regather all of His church together, to always be with Him.

The guys didn’t really hear that last promise.  They objected.

Mat 26:33    Peter answered and said to Him, “Even if all are made to stumble because of You, I will never be made to stumble.”

Mat 26:34    Jesus said to him, “Assuredly, I say to you that this night, before the rooster crows, you will deny Me three times.”

Mat 26:35    Peter said to Him, “Even if I have to die with You, I will not deny You!” And so said all the disciples.

We’ll talk about the rooster’s crowing when it happens.  For now concentrate on Peter, and “all the disciples,” thinking there was no way they could stumble.

We sometimes, perhaps most of the time, use the word “stumble” to describe falling into sin.  What I’m talking about today, from this text, is a different kind of stumbling.

As I presented it earlier, it’s more like doubt of the Lord and of His Word on account of the tribulation that you suffering.  It’s the “Why, God?” or “Where is God?” kind of stumbling.

And it can be crippling.  I know people who never recover from some tragedy.  They blame God and cease to walk with Him.

I know it hurts to realize God could have kept you out of your trouble rather than letting you go through it, but how does it help you to turn your back on Him?

It doesn’t.  Instead look full in His wonderful face.  Look at Jesus Who suffered for you, and Who promises to never, ever leave you nor forsake you.

#2    Jesus Said It Was Because Of Him
    You’d Be Safeguarded

In the Gospel of John Jesus prays to His Father for His disciples before they left the Upper Room to go to the Mount of Olives.  He says to His Father, “While I was with them in the world, I kept them in Your name.  Those whom You gave Me I have kept; and none of them is lost except the son of perdition, that the Scripture might be fulfilled.

But now I come to You, and these things I speak in the world, that they may have My joy fulfilled in themselves.  I have given them Your word; and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world.  I do not pray that You should take them out of the world, but that You should keep them from the evil one (John 17:12-15).

Jesus was asking His Father to safeguard the eleven disciples.  But He didn’t ask just for them.

Joh 17:20    “I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word;

Jesus had kept them; now His Father would keep them, and all believers, safeguarded on earth as the “evil one” seeks to rob,kill, and destroy us.

Let’s talk about God safeguarding us.  We already know it doesn’t mean we will never suffer.  It seems to mean that we will, or at least we can, always be victorious in our suffering.

Take Peter for an example.  In the Gospel of Luke we read,

Luk 22:31    And the Lord said, “Simon, Simon! Indeed, Satan has asked for you, that he may sift you as wheat.

Luk 22:32    But I have prayed for you, that your faith should not fail; and when you have returned to Me, strengthen your brethren.”

Peter was going to be sifted; he was the target of the enemy.  Jesus’ prayer would safeguard Peter; he would “return,” and he would serve, “strengthening his brethren.”

One commentator said this:

We can imagine a picture like this: Satan has a big sieve with jagged-edged wires forming a mesh with holes shaped like faithless men and women.

What he aims to do is throw people into this sieve and shake them around over these jagged edges until they are so torn and weak and desperate that they let go of their faith and fall through the sieve as faithless people, right into Satan’s company.  Faith cannot fall through the mesh.  It’s the wrong shape.  And so as long as the disciples hold to their faith, trusting the power and goodness of God for their hope, then they will not fall through the mesh into Satan’s hands.

We’re going to be sifted, but we are safeguarded by God and can always be victorious.

Mat 26:36    Then Jesus came with them to a place called Gethsemane, and said to the disciples, “Sit here while I go and pray over there.”

I approach this section, this story, with real caution.  One commentator duly noted,

No man can rightfully expound such a passage as this; it is a subject for prayerful, heartbroken meditation, more than for human language.

“Gethsemane” means oil press – appropriate as this was the Mount of Olives.

Jesus strategically leaves eight disciples near the entrance.  He would take three others further.

Mat 26:37    And He took with Him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and He began to be sorrowful and deeply distressed.

The “two sons of Zebedee” were James and John.  These three were a sort of inner circle, often witnessing events the other disciples were not privileged to.

We shouldn’t assume they were more spiritual; or that they had earned these positions.  God chose them to this service.  Period.

I’m told these last words, “sorrowful and deeply depressed,” are among the strongest word in the Greek language to express a depth of emotion.

Have you ever been hit with a wave of emotion?  Been overcome to a point you can’t really function?

Jesus was fully God; but He was also fully human, and in His humanity, waves of emotion were billowing over Him.

Mat 26:38    Then He said to them, “My soul is exceedingly sorrowful, even to death. Stay here and watch with Me.”

Have you ever muttered the words, “I feel like I’m going to die?”  You mean that you feel awful, emotionally.  Beat up and left for dead spiritually.

Shifting gears, have you ever been around someone else who felt that way?  If you have, you certainly wanted to help them, encourage them, strengthen them.  You probably didn’t know what to do or say.

Jesus tells you what a person in that state needs more than anything else: For others to “watch” with the sufferer.  As the scene unfolds, we’ll see what that means.

Mat 26:39    He went a little farther and fell on His face, and prayed, saying, “O My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as You will.”

Here is what the person intensely suffering ought to do – pray, falling on his or her face, seeking the Lord for relief or for the resolve of accepting His will.

Regarding Jesus’ prayer, it establishes that there was no other way for God to forgive sin and save a lost race.  Jesus, as the God-man, must drink the “cup,” a picture from the Old Testament to describe God’s wrath against sin.

Jesus was determined to go to the Cross, but here, in Gethsemane, He decided He would.  One commentator said,

‘Not your will but mine’ changed Paradise to desert and brought man from Eden to Gethsemane.  Now ‘Not my will but yours’ brings anguish to the man who prays it but transforms the desert into the kingdom and brings man from Gethsemane to the gates of glory.

Mat 26:40    Then He came to the disciples and found them sleeping, and said to Peter, “What! Could you not watch with Me one hour?

Before we form an opinion, something Luke says in his Gospel should be remembered.  He says that their eyes were heavy from sorrow (Luke 22:45).  Jesus had just told them some disturbing things: One of them would betray Him (Mark 14:18); He was leaving them (14:25); they would all fall away (14:27) and Peter would deny Jesus three times (14:30).

They weren’t sleeping as the result of normal weariness at the end of the day, but because they had been rocked by reality.

It has also been suggested that there were evil forces at work here – a demonic attack.  It makes sense that Satan would want to hinder the prayers of the disciples in order to try to undermine the decision of Jesus to obey His Father.

I’m not making excuses for Peter, James and John – only pointing out that praying is work, and it’s warfare.

Mat 26:41    Watch and pray, lest you enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.”

“Flesh” is more than the physical body getting tired.  “Flesh” is that propensity we find within us to fulfill our physical needs in sinful ways.

Again, this was more than mere tiredness after a long day.  This was warfare.  In actual warfare, you don’t want to be asleep when the assault comes; and neither can you afford to slack off in spiritual warfare.

Note, too, that, even though the disciples’ praying could have comforted Jesus, He was concerned for them.  “Temptation” here means testing.  A test, a trial, was coming, and they needed to be ready to meet it head-on.

Mat 26:42    Again, a second time, He went away and prayed, saying, “O My Father, if this cup cannot pass away from Me unless I drink it, Your will be done.”

Jesus’ prayer has changed.  He acknowledges the “cup cannot pass away from” Him; that He must “drink it.”

The wages of sin is death.  Jesus would die as Substitute for every member of the human race that our sins might be forgiven, and that we might have life – eternal life.  There is no other way to deal with sin, and to be saved.

Mat 26:43    And He came and found them asleep again, for their eyes were heavy.

Jesus checked on them a second time.

Are you the kind of person who constantly checks on a baby, to make sure he or she is OK when sleeping?  I am; I’m a fanatic about it.  It’s so hard to tell if a baby is breathing; so I’ve been known to touch, or to poke.  Then they stir, and cry.

Jesus was poking His disciples, in a sense, to see if they were spiritually active.

Mat 26:44    So He left them, went away again, and prayed the third time, saying the same words.

In the Gospel of Mark you learn that Jesus woke them a second time (14:40).

Watch; pray.  It seemed so simple, but it proved so hard.

Here’s what I mean.  When the soldiers come to arrest Jesus, Peter is going to draw his sword and cut-off a guys ear.  It’s easier to wield a sword than it is to yield to the sword of the Spirit.

We want to think we are doing something, and watching and praying don’t seem to us to be as important as taking action.

Mat 26:45    Then He came to His disciples and said to them, “Are you still sleeping and resting? Behold, the hour is at hand, and the Son of Man is being betrayed into the hands of sinners.

Mat 26:46    Rise, let us be going. See, My betrayer is at hand.”

From one perspective, the disciples had failed.  They had been in a spiritual skirmish, and had been overcome by the flesh, and by whatever demonic forces were at work.  When Jesus seemed to need them the most, their own needs overwhelmed them.

When they could have been ministering to Jesus, He must minister to them.

Now the Lord wakes them, and leads them into the mouth of the roaring lion.  They will all be scattered, just as He predicted.

But they will nonetheless be safeguarded, will they not?  They will be regathered; none of them will be lost; they are safe, spiritually speaking.

You and I will face the roaring lion – the devil – as he goes about seeking whom he may devour.

We will be readier for some troubles than we will for others.

We will have varying degrees of spiritual success and failure.

We will sometimes sleep when we ought to be awake, aware, watching and praying.

Through it all, remember these words of Jesus:

Joh 17:15    I do not pray that You should take them out of the world, but that You should keep them from the evil one.

Our heavenly Father will “keep” us; He will safeguard us.  We can break-through to victory, even after failure.

Make no mistake – we will not be kept from trouble or testing.  Because of Jesus, we have “Kill Me” targets taped to our backs.
But as we watch and pray, we are reminded that all our enemies have been defeated.

Our sin was atoned for by Jesus’ death, and we receive in its place His righteousness.

Death was defeated on the Cross and we expect to be raptured without ever dying.  If we die prior to the rapture, we are immediately absent from our bodies, and present with the Lord in Heaven.

The devil may roar, but we can resist him and need not fall into sin.

If his roaring is to bring persecution and suffering, we can endure it by the sustaining grace of God.

Thinking about being safeguarded, I came across some information about disaster preparedness.  Experts identify four phases in a disaster plan:

Prevention, preparedness, response, and recovery.

Now I don’t want to force this disaster preparedness outline on spiritual things; but we can note a few parallels.

As to prevention, you can prevent many of your potential troubles by simply obeying God, and yielding to the Spirit rather than the flesh.

As to preparedness, it’s more than just a suggestion that you stay in fellowship, read your Bible, pray, and share your faith.  These build you up spiritually and keep you awake rather than asleep.

As to response, this is going to vary.  As I said a moment ago, some trials will seem like smooth spiritual sailing, but others may seem like you’ve been shipwrecked.

Recovery, however, is promised you by the fact Jesus prayed, as is still praying, for you.

We are all in one of those categories today.  Whichever one it is for you, know that you can break through to victory, no matter how badly you’ve failed or are failing.

Separation Anxiety (Matthew 25v1-46)

It’s called jargon.  It’s the vocabulary that is peculiar to a particular profession, or trade, or group.  Some of the words are unique, but others are common words that have taken on a different meaning.

My family owned an automotive repair shop when I was growing up.  If my dad told me to take the rotors to be turned, I knew what he was talking about.

If my brother diagnosed an engine and said it was dieseling, I knew what he meant.

Hanging around cops, as a Chaplain, I hear a lot of jargon.  Your FTO may want you to FI a suspect to be certain they’re not 5150.

Wherever you work, there’s probably jargon that you take for granted.

We have our own jargon as believers, called by some, Christianese.  We might, for example, say that someone came forward and had hands laid on them to receive the anointing.  It sounds pretty weird if you aren’t familiar with it.

Shepherding is a common occupation in the Bible.  It has its own unique jargon.  For example, there’s an expression, “to pass under the rod.”  The rod of the shepherd was a two-foot long club that doubled as an instrument by which the shepherd could count and inspect his sheep one-by-one as they passed by him.

At the end of Matthew twenty-five we will read the famous passage where Jesus says that, at His return, He will separate the Gentiles “as a shepherd divides his sheep from the goats.”

In shepherding jargon, they will pass under His rod.

So will the Jews who survive the Tribulation.  While there is no direct mention of it in Matthew twenty-five, Jews understood from their Scriptures that one day they, too, would pass under the rod of their Great Shepherd.

They knew the passage in Ezekiel twenty which reads,

Eze 20:34    I will bring you out from the peoples and gather you out of the countries where you are scattered, with a mighty hand, with an outstretched arm, and with fury poured out.

Eze 20:35    And I will bring you into the wilderness of the peoples, and there I will plead My case with you face to face.

Eze 20:36    Just as I pleaded My case with your fathers in the wilderness of the land of Egypt, so I will plead My case with you,” says the Lord GOD.

Eze 20:37    “I will make you pass under the rod, and I will bring you into the bond of the covenant;

I’ll organize my thoughts around two points: #1 Before You Reign With Jesus In His Kingdom, Israel Will Pass Under The Rod, and #2 Before You Reign With Jesus In His Kingdom, The Gentiles Will Pass Under His Rod.

#1    Before You Reign With Jesus In His Kingdom,
    Israel Will Pass Under The Rod

I snuck something in on you.  Who said anything about reigning with Jesus?

It is our teaching that the church age saints will be resurrected and raptured to Heaven before the Tribulation on the earth can begin.

In Revelation 5:9-10, describing the raptured church in Heaven,  we read,

Rev 5:9    And they sang a new song, saying: “You are worthy to take the scroll, And to open its seals; For You were slain, And have redeemed us to God by Your blood Out of every tribe and tongue and people and nation,

Rev 5:10    And have made us kings and priests to our God; And we shall reign on the earth.”
The church is in Heaven in Revelation chapter five.  The Tribulation is described, in Revelation chapters six through eighteen.  Then, in chapter nineteen, Jesus returns, and we return with Him.

When Jesus returns in His Second Coming, He will establish a real, physical kingdom on the earth, administrated from Jerusalem.  It will last one-thousand years, which is why it is sometimes called the Millennial Kingdom.

It is the kingdom that was promised to Israel throughout their Scriptures, but postponed when the leaders of Israel officially rejected Jesus as their King.

I don’t know exactly what we will be doing when we “reign on the earth” with Jesus in that kingdom.  I have a few of my own ideas about where I’d like to be posted; but that’s going to be up to the Lord to determine.

Something to keep in mind; something that often confuses folks when we talk about the coming kingdom on the earth.  When Jesus returns, at the end of the Great Tribulation, there are human beings who have survived the terror and carnage of those days.  There will be Jews and Gentiles in their human bodies.

These verses are about those future people.

Those among them who believe in Jesus Christ will remain on the earth and begin to repopulate it.  They are compared to sheep.

Those among them who do not believe in Jesus Christ will be taken away to await their eternal punishment.  They are the goats.

By the way, this is one reason why a post-tribulation rapture of the church is impossible.  If all the believers on the earth were raptured at the Lord’s Second Coming, there would be no human beings left in their natural, non-glorified bodies to repopulate the Millennial Kingdom.

Mat 25:1    “Then the kingdom of heaven shall be likened to ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom.

Do you remember the ’90’s sitcom, with puppets, called Dinosaurs?  The baby used to say to the dad, “Not the mama!”

As we encounter the ten virgins, I want to say, “Not the bride!”

The ten virgins are, at best, bridesmaids.  They are probably more like invited guests.  They are not the bride of Christ.

Other than a general biblical principle to always be ready, these virgins have nothing to do with the church.  The scene Jesus was describing was His Second Coming – not the rapture.  The church is raptured, safe in Heaven, at least seven years before the Second Coming.

Once you understand that, the interpretation of the parable itself is relatively straightforward.

Mat 25:2    Now five of them were wise, and five were foolish.

Mat 25:3    Those who were foolish took their lamps and took no oil with them,

Mat 25:4    but the wise took oil in their vessels with their lamps.

The wedding ceremony was taking place at the home of the bridegroom.  The ten unmarried, young, female friends of either the bride or the bridegroom are awaiting the return of the wedding party so they can attend the wedding feast.  The custom was to have oil lamps, on poles, by which the invited guests could illuminate the procession.

The lamps themselves did not hold much oil, so it was wise to have an extra supply.

Mat 25:5    But while the bridegroom was delayed, they all slumbered and slept.

I’ve officiated at weddings like that.  After the ceremony, the guests wait and wait and wait while the wedding party takes its sweet time taking pictures.

Mat 25:6    “And at midnight a cry was heard: ‘Behold, the bridegroom is coming; go out to meet him!’

Mat 25:7    Then all those virgins arose and trimmed their lamps.

Mat 25:8    And the foolish said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’

Mat 25:9    But the wise answered, saying, ‘No, lest there should not be enough for us and you; but go rather to those who sell, and buy for yourselves.’

They weren’t ready.  In the story, they’re told to try to wake up some shop owner and buy oil.  But the point was simply, it’s too late to get any oil.

Mat 25:10    And while they went to buy, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with him to the wedding; and the door was shut.

Mat 25:11    “Afterward the other virgins came also, saying, ‘Lord, Lord, open to us!’

Mat 25:12    But he answered and said, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, I do not know you.’

From the standpoint of a wedding feast, this seems pretty harsh.  However, Jesus wasn’t teaching first century wedding etiquette.  This is a story to illustrate a single, simple spiritual truth; and that truth is in verse thirteen.

Mat 25:13    “Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour in which the Son of Man is coming.

We saw, in chapter twenty-four, that this phrase is not referring to the rapture of the church.  It refers to the Second Coming of Jesus.  For various reasons we gave, it will be impossible to know the exact moment of the Lord’s Second Coming.

When He comes, it will be too late for a person to change their eternal destiny.

Those who were ready – believers who have been anticipating His return – will enter the kingdom.

Those who were not ready – nonbelievers – will be excluded from the kingdom.

Jesus started with a parable about a wedding feast, because He will be returning with us, His bride, and there will be a celebration on the earth.  Revelation 19:9 calls it “the marriage supper of the Lamb.”

His next parable gets down to business, because the Kingdom of Heaven on the earth will also be a time of growth and prosperity, and the Lord will install servants of His in positions of oversight and authority.

Mat 25:14    “For the kingdom of heaven is like a man traveling to a far country, who called his own servants and delivered his goods to them.

Mat 25:15    And to one he gave five talents, to another two, and to another one, to each according to his own ability; and immediately he went on a journey.

This was a pretty common occurrence in their culture.  Notice, in passing, that their lord did not divide his goods evenly.  Hold onto that thought.

Mat 25:16    Then he who had received the five talents went and traded with them, and made another five talents.

Mat 25:17    And likewise he who had received two gained two more also.

Mat 25:18    But he who had received one went and dug in the ground, and hid his lord’s money.

Mat 25:19    After a long time the lord of those servants came and settled accounts with them.

Mat 25:20    “So he who had received five talents came and brought five other talents, saying, ‘Lord, you delivered to me five talents; look, I have gained five more talents besides them.’

Mat 25:21    His lord said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant; you were faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things. Enter into the joy of your lord.’

Mat 25:22    He also who had received two talents came and said, ‘Lord, you delivered to me two talents; look, I have gained two more talents besides them.’

Mat 25:23    His lord said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant; you have been faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things. Enter into the joy of your lord.’

Mat 25:24    “Then he who had received the one talent came and said, ‘Lord, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you have not sown, and gathering where you have not scattered seed.

Mat 25:25    And I was afraid, and went and hid your talent in the ground. Look, there you have what is yours.’

We’re going to talk about faithfulness in a moment, but that’s not the real point of this parable.  When reading the parables it is important to not get bogged down in the details of the story.  Details are there so that the story makes sense.  The main point is what counts.

The main, single, simple point of the Parable of the Talents is that the servants needed to believe the master was returning, and live accordingly.  Their behavior would give evidence of their belief.

Two servants anticipated their lord’s return; one did not.

Mat 25:26    “But his lord answered and said to him, ‘You wicked and lazy servant, you knew that I reap where I have not sown, and gather where I have not scattered seed.

This is not an admission that their lord was really like this.  He was simply repeating back what the servant had said, and, in fact, by doing so, he was showing how foolish an assessment it was.

Mat 25:27    So you ought to have deposited my money with the bankers, and at my coming I would have received back my own with interest.

Don’t miss this.  This servant was not afraid; he was, in fact, shrewd.

Why not at least put the money in the bank to earn interest?  Because then there would be a record of it.  If the master never returned, the third servant could, in fact, simply keep the portion allotted to him, since it was buried in his backyard.

He fully expected that the master would not return; or he hoped he would not; and he acted accordingly.

Mat 25:28    So take the talent from him, and give it to him who has ten talents.

Mat 25:29    ‘For to everyone who has, more will be given, and he will have abundance; but from him who does not have, even what he has will be taken away.

Mat 25:30    And cast the unprofitable servant into the outer darkness. There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’

At His Second Coming, Jesus will appoint servants to oversee and administrate His kingdom.

Those who are like the first two servants, anticipating the return of the King, will enter the Kingdom of Heaven on earth, and they will be rewarded with positions of service.

Those who are like the third servant, certain that the King is not going to return, will be excluded from the Kingdom.

Why do we think these parables are directed to the nation of Israel?

Well, for one thing, there’s the passage from Ezekiel I referenced earlier.  Jesus was describing His Second Coming and the Jews must, at some point at their Lord’s Second Coming, “pass under the rod.”

Eze 20:37    “I will make you pass under the rod, and I will bring you into the bond of the covenant;

Eze 20:38    I will purge the rebels from among you, and those who transgress against Me; I will bring them out of the country where they dwell, but they shall not enter the land of Israel. Then you will know that I am the LORD.

Charles Lee Feinberg commented on these verses, saying, “This is an exclusive judgment on Israel which will take place during the time of Jacob’s Trouble [the Tribulation], probably at the end of the period.”

Another reason we think these parables are for Israel are their Jewish tone.  For example Gentiles had completely different wedding customs than the ones taken for granted in the Parable of the Ten Virgins.  It’s not a parable Gentiles would easily identify with.

A final reason we think Jesus had Israel in mind in these opening verses is because He will make a very sharp distinction in the remaining verses between Gentiles and those He calls “My brethren” (v40).

Before we go on, there is something here, a timeless principle applicable to all believers at all times.

God rewards faithfulness.  It’s something you can be – no matter what you’ve got to work with.
All men might be created equal, but we certainly do not all have the same talents, abilities, or opportunities to serve the Lord.

There are five-talent Christians… Two-talent Christians… And one-talent Christians.

(You could say the same thing regarding churches)

The Lord commended the two-talent servant for his faithfulness in  exactly the same way He commended the five-talent servant.

Nothing is more freeing than for you to realize that God rewards faithfulness.  It’s something all of us can do – be faithful.

Add to that an honest realization that some churches and Christians really do have more to work with, and you will quit being so depressed when you seem to be accomplishing less than others.

And you’ll quit thinking it has anything to do with you when you have more, when really it’s all the Lord.

In fact, over the years I’ve wondered how five-talent Christians would fare if God had given them less.

Be faithful.

#2    Before You Reign With Jesus In His Kingdom,
    The Gentiles Will Pass Under The Rod

The judgment that is described in these remaining verses is not a parable.  It is a true description of Jesus separating out nonbelievers for eternal punishment, using imagery of sheep passing under the rod of the shepherd.

Mat 25:31    “When the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the holy angels with Him, then He will sit on the throne of His glory.

Mat 25:32    All the nations will be gathered before Him, and He will separate them one from another, as a shepherd divides his sheep from the goats.

Mat 25:33    And He will set the sheep on His right hand, but the goats on the left.

At His return, the Lord will turn His attention to “the nations.”  It is a term which is mostly used to distinguish non-Jews from Jews.

We believe it definitely has that usage here because in verse forty Jesus contrasts these “nations” with those He calls “My brethren.”  Clearly there is an ethnic distinction between Gentiles and Jews.

Mat 25:34    Then the King will say to those on His right hand, ‘Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world:

Mat 25:35    for I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in;

Mat 25:36    I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me.’

Mat 25:37    “Then the righteous will answer Him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry and feed You, or thirsty and give You drink?

Mat 25:38    When did we see You a stranger and take You in, or naked and clothe You?

Mat 25:39    Or when did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’

Mat 25:40    And the King will answer and say to them, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.’

Jews will be the special target of satanic persecution during the last three and one-half years of the Great Tribulation.  Those who escape to the Judean wilderness when the antichrist defiles the Temple will be supernaturally protected.

Presumably there will be Jews all around the world who will lack that supernatural protection.  They will be hungry, thirsty, naked, sick and imprisoned.  To help them will give evidence a person is a genuine believer, since they risk being similarly treated.

A person can’t be saved by these good works done towards the Jews; but the works will be the evidence they are saved – that they are a tribulation saint.

I love the way Jesus identifies with His brethren.  Feed them… Clothe them… Visit them… And a person is doing it to Him.

Mat 25:41    “Then He will also say to those on the left hand, ‘Depart from Me, you cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels:

Mat 25:42    for I was hungry and you gave Me no food; I was thirsty and you gave Me no drink;

Mat 25:43    I was a stranger and you did not take Me in, naked and you did not clothe Me, sick and in prison and you did not visit Me.’

Mat 25:44    “Then they also will answer Him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to You?’

Mat 25:45    Then He will answer them, saying, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.’

This is them passing under the rod, to be identified as goats.  Jesus reveals their treatment of the Jews, His brethren, desperate for the bare necessities of life, and for human kindnesses.

Sure, it will potentially mean imprisonment or death if a person helps the Jews.  But it means eternal punishment to not help.

Again, it isn’t the lack of works that condemns, but the lack of genuine faith in Jesus that would produce those works.

In any dispensation – Old Testament, New Testament, Tribulation, or the Kingdom – a person is saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ.  At the Cross you receive the forgiveness of your sins, and God gives you the righteousness of Jesus Christ.

Mat 25:46    And these will go away into everlasting punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

Only saved Jews… Only saved Gentiles… will be left standing as the Tribulation survivors pass under the rod of Jesus Christ.

They will be the citizens of the Millennial Kingdom, repopulating the planet for the next thousand years.

Even though these verses look to the future, they reveal the Lord as compassionate.  He cares for those who are persecuted – and so should we, if we have His heart.

It’s always a good spiritual exercise to analyze what we are doing to assist the poor and the persecuted church world-wide.

Yes, there are needs at home; we need to address those.  But without a bigger worldview, we will end up spending all our talents on ourselves; and we will implode.

We are in a position to help the poor and persecuted believers.  Let’s do so, regularly, sacrificially, and joyfully.