The Passover Feast was a joyful celebration, recalling Israel’s deliverance from the oppression of Egypt. It was also a solemn event, in which the blood of the sacrificed lamb pictured the passing over of God’s judgment on the sins of his people. But it is almost as though both aspects get reversed in the events described in Matthew 27:1–10.
This Passover leads to bondage and death. The original Passover brought deliverance for God’s people. Matthew has been careful to place his account of Christ’s suffering and trial within the observance of the Passover feast, Matthew 26:2, 5, 17, 19; 27:15. The original Passover had obtained freedom for God’s people from the oppressive, murderous rule of the pagan Pharaoh. More importantly, the Passover was the great picture of redemption in the Old Testament. It became clear that the God of Israel was not the divine Pharaoh, but the Lord.
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Do you recognize that awful feeling in the pit of your stomach that tells you you have been deserted by someone whom you should have been able to depend on? The focus of Matthew’s account in 26:69–75, is not Peter, nor the feelings of Jesus, but his actual isolation.
Your Lord was isolated for your sake. Three times Peter disowned his Lord. Peter had been the most vocal in protesting his commitment to Jesus. The denial is even worse than the desertion as the disciples fled. Peter denied even knowing Jesus. “The story is told with a vivid simplicity, in three escalating scenes. The pressure builds as the first challenge comes from a single servant girl, the second from another girl now appealing to the bystanders, and the third from a group of those bystanders coming at him together. And Peter’s response escalates accordingly: first comes an evasive denial, then a direct denial on oath, and finally a much stronger response which… is probably to be understood as actually uttering a curse against Jesus.: (R. T. France, The Gospel of Matthew, p. 1032) (The number of people in the courtyard and the likelihood of several taking part in the conversation helps explain the different emphases of the several gospels.) First questioned by a servant girl, Peter claimed not to know what she was talking about. When confronted with his association with Jesus a second time, Peter took an oath and protested that he did not know the man. The third time he again denied any knowledge of or association with Jesus, and supplemented that with oaths, possibly self-maledictory, possibly curses directed at Christ. Because of your union with Christ, your disobedience has the effect of denying him. It is a contradiction of what it means to be in Christ.
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Have you ever been unable to find something you were sure was there? The women experienced that at the empty tomb. They were sure that was where the body of Jesus was. They had seen him buried there. As Matthew 28:5–10 tells us, the absence of the Lord meant that he was, and would be present, not only with the women, but with you as well.
Jesus is absent from the tomb. The tomb stands empty. The women arrived to perform their last service to their Lord. They had been faithful during his earthly ministry. They, unlike the frightened disciples, had witnessed the death of their Lord, Matthew 27:55,56. Now they were visiting the tomb, and, as the other gospels tell us, intended to anoint the body. An angel rolled away the stone to reveal the empty tomb. His majestic appearance struck terror in the hearts of the Roman soldiers. Rolling back the stone was not so much to allow the Lord to exit (his risen body could appear in wonderful ways), but to show that the tomb was indeed empty. What had been a sealed barrier becomes a convenient seat! The empty tomb demands an explanation. The leaders of Israel had feared a hoax, and had obtained orders to seal the tomb. The women were at a loss. Note John’s account of Mary Magdalene’s grief. God provides an angelic messenger with the news that the empty tomb is explained by the resurrection of the Lord. God not only works great works of redemption, he provides the explanation, the meaning of those events.
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In Matthew 21, the gospel presented you with the triumphant King entering Jerusalem. The royal title, “Son of David,” was shouted by the crowd. Messianic prophecies were being fulfilled. But now, in Matthew 26:63–64, that messianic , triumphant King is on trial. The high priest places him under oath as he demands to know if Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God.
Listen to the silence of your Savior. The King who entered Jerusalem on a donkey is on trial—but is still King. The pace of Matthew’s narrative begins to slow down as Jesus enters Jerusalem. Listen to the shouts of the crowd: “Son of David!” That’s a royal title. The people are hailing him as the messianic king, though their concept of his kingship is flawed. Matthew explicitly quotes Zechariah, pointing to Jesus as the fulfillment of that messianic prophecy. The cries of Hosanna are from Psalm 118, a psalm that not only looked back to the Exodus from Egypt and was used at the Passover, but also looked ahead to the fulfillment of that event. Don’t miss the irony that the one hailed as King on Sunday is now a prisoner on trial late Thursday night. The complex legal situation made Jesus’ trials complicated. The hearing before the Sanhedrin, over which Caiaphas, the high priest presided, was held to come up with a reason to sentence Jesus to death. But the Romans reserved to themselves the authority to execute criminals. Thus this hearing would be followed by a trial before Pilate. Many false witnesses came forward with conflicting allegations. Finally two testified that Jesus had said he was able to destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, apparently an intentional twisting of his words in John 2:19. Even though the high priest baited Jesus, he refused to reply. The natural reaction would have been to object to false testimony, to correct misinterpretations of what he had said. But Jesus is silent.
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How do you respond in a crisis? The response of Peter and the other disciples to the crisis of the arrest of their Lord is important, not so much for what it tells us about the disciples, but what it tells us about the Savior as Matthew 26:47–56 points out.
Your Lord was betrayed by his “friend.” Judas betrayed Jesus with a kiss. While Jesus prayed in Gethsemane Judas had gone to lead the crowd from the chief priests and elders to arrest Jesus. Jesus apparently prolong his wrestling in prayer until Judas and the band were close. Despite the moonlight, it may well have been dark under the olive trees of Gethsemane. Thus Judas had arranged to indicate Jesus by greeting him with a kiss. Matthew again underlines the treachery by reminding us that Judas was one of the twelve. The greeting and kiss were signs of friendship, but in this context they are acts of betrayal. There is some evidence that a rabbi spoke first in exchanging greetings with his followers (for them to speak first implied equality with him). Thus the greeting and kiss may have included a not-so-veiled insult.
Continue reading “Betrayed, Defended, and Forsaken”