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Jesus Before Pilate October 21, 2018

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Here are my thoughts on Matthew 27:11-26.

Summary: In this passage, Jesus stands before Pontius Pilate. The Jewish leaders then accuse Him of leading a rebellion against Rome – yet He does not respond to their charges, to Pilate’s amazement.

Now Pilate has a custom where he releases a criminal during Passover to show mercy to his subjects. In particular, he has a prisoner of note named Barabbas. He then asks the crowd before him – including the Jewish leaders – if he should release Barabbas or Jesus (their anointed).

The Jewish leaders persuade the rest of the crowd to demand that Pilate 1) release Barabbas and 2) crucify Jesus.

Pilate initially refuses to meet their demands, as 1) he has found Jesus to be righteous and 2) his wife has endured a nightmarish dream that has confirmed Jesus’ righteousness.

Yet the crowd persists in their demands to the point of starting a riot.

Eventually Pilate relents and frees himself from the guilt of Jesus’ execution. He releases Barabbas and has Jesus scourged in preparation for His crucifixion.

Thoughts: This passage sharpens the contrast between the righteousness of Jesus and the unrighteousness of all others. Here, Pilate reveals his unrighteousness. Ryle offers some thoughts on this point:

Pilate appears to have been inwardly satisfied that our Lord had done nothing worthy of death…Left to the exercise of his own judgment, he would probably have dismissed the charges against our Lord, and let him go free…But Pilate was the governor of a jealous and turbulent nation; his great desire was to procure favor with them and please them: he cared little how much he sinned against God and conscience so long as he had human praise.

Again, lest we, as modern-day believers, assume that we are superior to Pilate, we should remember that if we had been in his position, we would also have attempted to free ourselves from the guilt of Jesus’ execution. Indeed, no modern-day believer would have had the fortitude to reject the crowd’s demand that He be crucified. We are reminded that although we would have condemned Him, He still graciously chose to save us from (eternal) condemnation. We must regularly meditate on this point through the peaks and valleys of our walk with Him.

We also see that the Jewish leaders stirred up the crowd before Pilate to clamor for Jesus’ crucifixion. Ryle offers some thoughts on this point:

They hated him because he told them the truth; they hated him because he witnessed that their actions were evil; they hated the light, because it made their own darkness visible. In a word, they hated Christ because he was righteous and they were wicked – because he was holy and they were unholy – because he testified against sin, and they were determined to keep their sins and not let them go.

This reminds me of the fact that I – and many others, I presume – struggle to accept criticism. Legitimate criticism can be painful, especially when the one who criticizes me does not soften their tone. When I am criticized, my mind instinctively rejects that criticism and judges the one who delivers it. Thus, I usually need to exercise significant self-control in order to 1) refrain from attacking the one who criticizes me and 2) assess the merits of their words (I see the value of thinking before speaking in these situations). Indeed, if criticism has merit, we must accept it, even if the one who delivers it does not even attempt to soften their tone, e.g. Jesus’ interactions with the Jewish leaders during the latter part of His ministry.

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Judas Hangs Himself October 20, 2018

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Here are my thoughts on Matthew 27:1-10.

Summary: In this passage, the Sanhedrin formally votes against Jesus at sunrise. They then take Him to Pontius Pilate, as they lack the legal authority to execute Him.

When Judas sees that Jesus has been condemned to judgment, he feels sad and attempts to return the money that he has received from the chief priests, asserting that he has sinned in betraying an innocent man.

The chief priests are indifferent to Judas’ sadness, though. He responds by going to the Holy Place and throwing down his silver coins in angry defiance. He then hangs himself.

The chief priests know that these silver coins were illegitimately paid to kill Jesus; thus, they cannot be put in the temple treasury. Instead, the chief priests use these silver coins to purchase a potter’s field where Gentiles could be buried – thereby fulfilling a prophecy in Zechariah 11:12-13.

Thoughts: In verses 9 and 10, Matthew notes that when the chief priests use Judas’ silver coins to purchase a potter’s field, they fulfill a prophecy of Jeremiah – not Zechariah. Ryle offers some thoughts on this point:

It is a great and undeniable difficulty, that the words quoted as having been used by “Jeremiah the prophet” are not to be found in any writings of Jeremiah that we possess, and that they are found in the prophet Zechariah…A question of this sort, which has puzzled many interpreters, is not likely to be settled at this date.

In John MacArthur’s sermon on this passage, he notes:

But it is a direct prophecy from Zechariah. You can’t make it fit into Jeremiah. The category of the prophets in rabbinic tradition, in rabbinic manuscripts and in the Talmud is always headed by the book of Jeremiah. So to a Jew the three sections of the Old Testament would be the law, Jeremiah and the Psalms. So when the writer refers to Jeremiah, he is simply taking the name that was at the top of the prophetic roll…

MacArthur appears to furnish a straightforward explanation of this issue; thus, I am curious as to how this explanation eluded Ryle. Have there been nontrivial advances in Biblical scholarship since the 19th century, enabling modern expositors such as MacArthur to resolve baffling details in Scripture? Did Ryle grasp the concept of “authorial intent” as it relates to the Old Testament? Did Matthew actually commit an error when writing this passage? Is MacArthur’s explanation of this issue actually correct? I anticipate meeting Matthew, Ryle and MacArthur at some point and probing them on this issue.

Peter Disowns Jesus October 14, 2018

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Here are my thoughts on Matthew 26:69-75.

Summary: In this passage, one of Caiaphas’ maids mockingly states that Peter has been with Jesus. Peter denies her assertion.

This assertion is repeated twice by others outside Caiaphas’ house; each time, Peter denies it. He also:

  • makes a personal pledge of truthfulness before God
  • pronounces death upon himself at the hand of God in the event that he is lying.

After his third denial, a rooster crows, causing him to recall Jesus’ prediction of his denials and weep audibly.

Thoughts: Here, Peter emphatically disowns Jesus. Ryle offers some thoughts on this point:

We see a man who had followed Christ for three years, and been forward in professing faith and love towards him – a man who had received boundless mercies and loving kindness and had been treated by Christ as a familiar friend. We see this man denying three times that he knows Jesus! This was bad.

This passage sharpens the contrast between the righteousness of Jesus and the unrighteousness of all others. Here, Peter reveals his unrighteousness. Indeed, he – along with James and John – was especially close to Jesus, possibly viewing himself as the leader of the Twelve. In light of this fact, his denial of Jesus was egregious. We see that none – not even His closest disciples – were willing to take a stand for Him as He endured unjust suffering and punishment. This shows that even His closest disciples were in need of a Savior; even they needed His complete righteousness to cancel out their complete unrighteousness.

Before the Sanhedrin October 13, 2018

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Here are my thoughts on Matthew 26:57-68.

Summary: In this passage, Jesus is taken to the house of Caiaphas. There, the scribes and elders attempt to find liars who will witness against Jesus – giving them a pretext to kill Him. Yet none of these liars can agree on their fabrications.

Eventually two liars come forward and concur on the following assertion: Jesus declared that He would destroy the temple and restore it in three days. Caiaphas responds by coming out of his seat and asking Him to respond to this accusation – yet He continues silent.

Caiaphas then calls Him to make a solemn oath before the living God that He is the Son of God. Jesus responds by:

  • asserting that He is the Son of God
  • reinforcing this point by quoting from Daniel 7:13; thus, He will be exalted to the right hand of God and will return to Earth to establish His eternal kingdom.

Caiaphas responds by rending his garments and asserting that since He has dishonored God, they can now condemn Him to death. The scribes and the elders then repeatedly mock Him.

Thoughts: In verse 61, two false witnesses accuse Jesus of asserting that He would destroy the temple and then rebuild it in three days. When I read that verse, I was baffled, as I could not recall Jesus making that statement in this Gospel. Had I actually overlooked that quotation while strolling through an earlier chapter? After some sleuthing, I found that in John 2:19, Jesus does make a similar statement. In that instance, though, He does not state that He will destroy the temple; He only states that if the Jews destroy it, then He will rebuild it. This shows that in that instance, He was actually referencing His body. Indeed, it is amazing that Jesus was able to maintain His integrity before this kangaroo court, refusing to succumb to a plethora of assaults on His character.

This passage also sharpens the contrast between the righteousness of Christ and the unrighteousness of all others (especially the chief priests and the Pharisees). Again, lest we, as modern-day believers, assume that we are superior to the chief priests and the Pharisees, we should remember that if we had attended this kangaroo court, we would also have mocked Him. Indeed, no modern-day believer would have had the fortitude to stand up and defend Him against the assaults on His character. Instead, we would have condemned Him to death. This is a sobering thought. Thus, we should be eternally grateful that although we were His enemies, Christ still chose to extend His grace to us.

Jesus Arrested October 12, 2018

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Here are my thoughts on Matthew 26:47-56.

Summary: In this passage, Judas appears at the Garden of Gethsemane; he is joined by a great multitude carrying daggers and nightsticks. As they need to identify Jesus in order to arrest Him, Judas affectionately kisses Him.

Jesus responds by addressing him as “fellow” and telling him to carry out his act of betrayal. He is then seized by the great multitude.

Peter responds by using his dagger to slice off the ear of Malchus, a servant of Caiaphas.

Jesus responds by:

  • commanding Peter to put away his dagger, as those who kill others will be executed
  • stating that He has actually refrained from calling on His Father for more than 72000 angels – as He must allow Himself to be arrested in order to fulfill the Scriptures
  • asserting that since He was not arrested while He taught in the temple, the chief priests and the elders are now guilty of wrongful arrest – thereby fulfilling the Scriptures.

His disciples respond by fleeing.

Thoughts: Here, Jesus resists the temptation to call on His Father to rescue Him from His enemies. Ryle offers some insights on this point:

He was not taken captive because he could not escape: it would have been easy for him to scatter his enemies to the winds if he had thought fit…He came on purpose to fulfill the patterns and promises of Old Testament Scriptures and, by fulfilling them, to provide salvation for the world. He came intentionally to be the true Lamb of God, the Passover Lamb.

When I strolled through this passage, I pondered the possibility of Jesus actually calling on His Father for assistance – and then working with a plethora of angels to defeat His enemies. This spurred me to ponder the following questions:

  • is this passage similar to Matthew 4:1-11, since both passages caused me to ponder the fact that Jesus is both divine and human?
  • if Jesus had actually disobeyed His Father in this instance, what would have been the effect on the intimacy of the Trinity?
  • if Jesus had actually disobeyed His Father in this instance, did God have an alternate plan for saving sinful humanity?

These questions do not have simple answers; even pondering them is unpleasant. Thus, as believers, we should be eternally grateful to Jesus that He chose the immeasurably difficult path of obedience in this instance. Indeed, He sought long-term rewards and eschewed short-term benefits; we must pray that we can hew to His example in this regard.

Gethsemane October 7, 2018

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Here are my thoughts on Matthew 26:36-46.

Summary: In this passage, Jesus – who is in deep anguish, knowing that He is away from home – and His disciples come to a garden called Gethsemane. He tells them to wait at the entrance while He pours out His heart to God. After bringing Peter, James and John with Him into the garden, He tells them that He is surrounded by sorrow – enough to kill Him.

He then:

  • tells them to keep watch over Him and pray for Him – and for themselves
  • goes a stone’s throw from them and prostrates Himself
  • calls on His Father, praying that if there is another way for His divine plan of salvation to be fulfilled, then He should let it happen
  • resigns Himself to the will of His Father
  • returns to His disciples and finds them sleeping
  • rebukes them, noting that although they have a renewed spirit, it is often defeated by their humanness.

This sequence of events is actually repeated two times. He then tells them to arise, as those who have come to arrest Him have arrived. In particular, they should go and meet Judas, who has come to deliver Him up.

Thoughts: Here, Jesus wrestles with His impending suffering and death. Ryle offers some insights on this point:

Why is the almighty Son of God, who had worked so many miracles, so heavy and disquieted? Why is Jesus, who came into the world to die, so ready to faint at the approach of death…There is but one reasonable answer to these questions…the real weight that bowed down the heart of Jesus was the weight of the sin of the world, which seems to have now pressed down upon him with unique force…

When I strolled through this passage, I focused on Jesus’ impending physical suffering – influenced by my vivid memories of The Passion of the Christ. Yet Ryle’s thoughts compelled me to ponder Jesus’ impending spiritual suffering. In particular, we cannot begin to comprehend the intimacy of the union that He enjoyed with His Father and the Holy Spirit. When He assumed the burden of the sins of the world, that intimate union was marred (albeit temporarily). Imagine the depth of the anguish and pain that must have engulfed Him at the mere thought of being separated from the Father and the Spirit! How could He emerge victorious over those torturous feelings? Indeed, this passage sheds valuable light on the intimacy of the Trinity.

Jesus also rebukes His disciples for failing to keep watch and pray for Him – and for themselves – “for one hour.” This caused me to ponder the fact that I have never prayed continuously for even one hour (to the best of my knowledge). While I attended several prayer meetings as a graduate student, the prayers during those meetings never lasted an hour. While I do pray before I sleep, those prayers never exceed twenty minutes. Perhaps this is related to the fact that I rarely wrestle with God in my prayers (though I will wrestle with Him after hearing about a tragic event, as that causes me to ponder the inevitability of evil and suffering in this world). At this point, I fail to appreciate the value of wrestling with God in prayer, as I believe that His will is paramount and that He will accomplish it regardless of my struggles. This raises the following questions:

  • is God pleased when believers wrestle with Him in their prayers?
  • will wrestling with Him actually enrich my prayer life?
  • how can I refrain from sinning when wrestling with Him?

Jesus Predicts Peter’s Denial October 6, 2018

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Here are my thoughts on Matthew 26:31-35.

Summary: In this passage, Jesus asserts that His disciples will be trapped because of Him – thereby fulfilling a prophecy in Zechariah 13:7. In particular, Peter will even deny that he knows Him.

His disciples – led by Peter – respond by asserting that they will die before allowing themselves to be trapped in this manner.

Thoughts: Here, Jesus’ disciples – who have just celebrated the Lord’s Supper with Him – affirm their loyalty to Him. Ryle offers some thoughts on this point:

It shows us plainly that we must not make great knowledge and great strength of grace an indispensable qualification for communicants. People may know but little, and be no better than children in spiritual strength, but they are not on that account to be excluded from the Lord’s table…Doubtless we must do all we can to exclude unworthy communicants: no graceless person ought to come to the Lord’s Supper.

While Ryle’s latter suggestion is sound, I am unsure as to how a church would actually implement it. As a longtime churchgoer, my impression is that churches are generally more liberal – not conservative – when observing the Lord’s Supper. Some presiders will note that one should be a baptized believer in order to receive Communion – yet I have never seen a Communion server prevent an attendee from receiving the Communion elements. It seems that churches trust that the recipients of the Communion elements have already assessed their own spiritual state. This raises the following questions:

  • if a Communion server actually prevented an attendee from receiving the Communion elements, how would that attendee respond?
  • if that attendee were to raise a ruckus, would that affect the other recipients of the Communion elements?
  • should churches continue to trust that God will judge those who receive the Communion elements in an unworthy manner?

The Lord’s Supper September 29, 2018

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Here are my thoughts on Matthew 26:17-30.

Summary: In this passage, Jesus commands Peter and John to:

  • enter Jerusalem, where they will find a certain man carrying water
  • follow this man to a house
  • inform the owner of this house that the time of the Rabbi’s death has arrived and that the Rabbi has been divinely ordained to celebrate the Passover at his house.

They respond accordingly.

Later, while eating the Passover meal with His disciples, He asserts that one of them (i.e. Judas) will deliver Him up – thereby fulfilling God’s divine plan. That disciple is cursed and will experience the severest damnation in hell.

The disciples are exceedingly sorrowful and doubt themselves, as they are unsure as to the identity of the traitor in their midst. After some time, they are able to resume eating the Passover meal.

Later, He takes bread, gives thanks to God for His provision, and distributes it, telling them:

  • to eat it
  • that it is emblematic of His body, which He gives to die in death for man.

He then takes a cup, gives thanks to God for His provision, and gives it to them, telling them:

  • to drink it
  • that it is emblematic of His blood, which seals a new covenant between God and man.

Indeed, His blood will bring about forgiveness for all who believe.

Thoughts: In verse 24, Jesus asserts that it would be better for Judas if he had never been born. Ryle offers some thoughts on this point:

There are always people who deny the reality and eternity of hell. We live in a time when a morbid charity induces many to exaggerate God’s mercy at the expense of his justice, and when false teachers are daring to talk of a “love of God lower even than hell.” Let us resist such teaching with a holy jealousy, and abide by the doctrine of Holy Scripture…

I still struggle to grasp the connection between hell and eternal suffering. While I believe that this is a genuine connection – as it is established by Scripture – it does not resonate with me. It is difficult to picture those who have not accepted God’s offer of eternal salvation being compelled to endure eternal suffering. Indeed, I wonder: what does eternal suffering look like? My struggles are at least partially fueled by the knowledge that I also deserve that punishment – and it is only by God’s grace that I will not have to pay that penalty. Perhaps this connection will resonate with me as I grow in my understanding of God’s holiness.

In verses 26-29, Jesus institutes the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper. Ryle offers some thoughts on this point:

Our Lord knew well the things that were before him, and graciously chose the last quiet evening that he could have before his crucifixion as an occasion for bestowing a parting gift on his church.

Even though I have taught several Sunday School lessons on this particular topic, I was able to glean a new insight on this particular stroll through this passage. In particular, I was struck by the fact that Jesus instituted this sacrament less than 24 hours before His death. He knew that He was about to endure an unfathomable degree of physical and emotional pain – yet He still calmly instituted this sacrament. How did He remain focused on the task at hand? Did He experience any turmoil in His heart as He distributed the bread and the wine? If I had been in His position, I would have succumbed to my fears. Thus, as we continue to observe the Lord’s Supper, we should be mindful of the courage and strength that He displayed as He instituted it.

Judas Agrees to Betray Jesus September 28, 2018

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Here are my thoughts on Matthew 26:14-16.

Summary: In this passage, Judas (from the region of Kerioth) goes to the chief priests and sets up his betrayal of Jesus. After bargaining for thirty pieces of silver, he spends a week planning his heinous act.

Thoughts: This passage sharpens the contrast between the righteousness of Jesus and the unrighteousness of all others. Here, Judas reveals his unrighteousness by willingly betraying his Lord. Indeed, Judas had spent the last three years with Jesus – observing His miracles, hearing His sermons, and sharing in his private teachings. Essentially, he learned how to live righteously before God during that wonderful period. Yet he grew disillusioned with Jesus and eventually betrayed Him. As modern-day believers, we are tempted to view Judas with an air of superiority – yet we must not fall into this trap. Indeed, we are also in danger of growing disillusioned with our Savior, and so we need His grace on a daily basis.

Jesus Anointed at Bethany September 23, 2018

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Here are my thoughts on Matthew 26:6-13.

Summary: In this passage, Jesus is at the house of Simon – a former leper – in Bethany. Mary approaches Him with a vessel made of alabaster containing perfume that is worth a year’s wages; she then pours it all over Him.

This angers the disciples, as they believe that she has wasted her perfume. In particular, Judas had wanted to enrich himself by selling it.

Jesus responds by:

  • asking them why they are furnishing Mary a burden – as she has shown her love for Him by lavishly preparing His body for burial
  • asserting that while they should still meet the needs of the poor, they should show their love for Him at this time
  • asserting that all who read the Gospels will encounter a memorial of Mary’s act of love.

Thoughts: Here, Mary worships Jesus by preparing His body for burial. Ryle offers some thoughts on this point:

Third, we see in this incident a blessed foretaste of things that will take place in the day of judgment. On that great day no honor done to Christ on earth will be found to have been forgotten. The speeches of parliamentary orators, the exploits of warriors, the works of poets and painters, will not be mentioned on that day; but the least work that the weakest Christian woman has done for Christ, or his members, will be found written in a book of everlasting remembrance.

The main point of this passage is to celebrate Mary’s beautiful act of worship of Her Savior. Now if one attempts to apply this passage to the process of drawing up a church budget, difficult questions arise. For example, a deacon could ask, “should we use these miscellaneous funds to start a literacy program for neighborhood youths, or should we transfer them to our building fund?” Such questions often lack simple answers. Thus, I believe that when reading this passage, we should not attempt to complicate matters by pondering its modern-day applications; instead, we should be thankful that God worked through Mary to help her grasp the reality of Jesus’ impending death – a fact that the disciples failed to grasp.