I am putting three days in a row here – 8/7-10 as I will be away from my desk and computer during that span. We begin Ephesians on 8/13. I’ll write again then.
We now move to the other events of Holy Week as Matthew reports them (remember Palm Sunday was in chapter 22). There are elements in the story that always get my attention. The plot to kill Jesus (26:1-5) reveals that the message and the person of Jesus have become personally dangerous for the religious leaders. These are the chief priests and the “elders of the people”. They want Jesus to be killed quietly so as to not cause a riot (a riot would have led to military intervention by the Romans and would have been even more trouble than Jesus was being). In verse 14 we see one of Jesus 12 chosen followers, Judas Iscariot sell Jesus out for 30 pieces of silver (the price of a common slave).
17-34 are the events of the so called “Last Supper”. Jesus transforms the Seder meal into a celebration of his death and resurrection. In the midst of the meal is the ongoing language of the betrayal (is it I, Lord?) and the prediction of Peter’s denial. I am reminded that even in the holiest of times we are still broken and flawed human beings.
In 36 we go to the garden and Jesus prays what has to be the perfect prayer. He clearly asks for what he wants but still submits to the Father’s will. I think that is the essence of prayer. Ask, be specific, for what you believe you want (how many of us actually know what we want?) but trust God’s providence and grace to provide. Jesus’ act of submission is one of the most profound moments in the entire New Testament. The crucifixion that follows can only follow because of his submission in the garden.
47 to the end report the early hours of Good Friday. Jesus is arrested (thanks to Judas) he is taken to the High Priest for a trial and Peter denies he even knows Jesus while waiting outside. The gospel does not present the disciples/apostles of Jesus in a very good light. We see them as authentic, broken, and occasionally clueless human beings trying to figure it all out.
Now it is on to Good Friday. Jesus is taken to the Roman governor. This determines the kind of death Jesus is to die. Had he died at the hand of the Sanhedrin he would have been stoned to death. But, at this time in history, the Sanhedrin was forbidden to administer the death penalty (killing citizens was reserved for the mighty Roman Empire).
27:3-10 tells us that Judas may not have been the all evil bad guy we often paint him to be. His attempt to purchase Jesus back indicates remorse and a change of heart. Many speculate that Judas was not trying to get Jesus killed. Many speculate that Judas was trying to force Jesus hand; still believing after all the teaching to the contrary that Jesus kingdom was going to be set up by violence just like every other kingdom in the history of the world.
Matthew contains some details of the crucifixion that are not in the other gospels. The most interesting is in the posting of the guard at the tomb (62-66). In 65 Pilate says take a guard of soldiers and make the tomb as secure as you can. The Greek word for guard is “koustudia” which is a military term. A koustudia was a 16 man security force that fought as a unit as was trained to fill the gap should there be a breach in the shield wall on the field of battle. This is not sleepy Sam, part time security guard. This is a core of 16 Special Forces level trained men armed and fit for battle. When we get to the Resurrection account in 28 and the question is raised “what happened to the body?” No matter what solution we come up with we have to deal with these 16 soldiers outside the tomb.
Resurrection day is recorded by Matthew as “resurrection with attitude.” My favorite verse in the entire Bible is verse 2: “And suddenly there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord, descending from heaven, came and rolled back the stone and sat on it.” There is a sense of “Jesus is Risen” and I dare you to try and put him back. Remember the 16 member guard unit? They are so freaked by the angel that they play dead (vs. 4).
Angels must have been fearsome creatures. We have no clear picture of what they looked like. There are indications that they can appear in human form but whatever they are whenever they appear they have to say the same thing “Do not be afraid!” Whether it is to shepherd watching their flocks in Bethlehem or Mary and Mary coming to the tomb on the first day of the week, the presence of an angel is a scary thing.
The guard is bought off (11-15) and the Gospel according to Matthew concludes with the “Great Commission”. “All authority in heaven and on hearth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age (28:19-20).” Notice that we are not commissioned to make church members, we are not commissioned to build churches, and we are not commissioned to do many of the things that Churches get hung up doing. We are commissioned to MAKE DISCIPLES. The Christian movement will not change the world: Christian Disciples will. A Disciple is a fully devoted follower of Jesus Christ who knows their gifts and is using them in mission and ministry. When we make Discipleship the focus and goal of every Christian church the Kingdom of the Heavens will no longer have arrived in spirit but will have arrived in actuality. Disciples of Jesus Christ transform the world and carry out the mission and purpose that Jesus began.