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The Great Commission November 26, 2018

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Here are my thoughts on Matthew 28:16-20.

Summary: In this passage, the eleven disciples go to a certain mountain in Galilee that Jesus has appointed. When He appears, they prostrate themselves in adoring worship. He then approaches them and asserts that He has freedom without limitation. Therefore, they – having gone around the world – must make disciples by:

  • immersing them in water – to demonstrate their union with Him
  • teaching them all of His commands – which they must obey.

To this end, He will empower them – by His presence – until His Second Coming.

Thoughts: This passage contains the Great Commission. Ryle offers some thoughts on this point:

Let us never forget that this solemn injunction is still in full force. It is still the duty of every disciple of Christ to do all he can in person, and by prayer, to make others acquainted with Jesus. Where is our faith if we neglect this duty? Where is our love? It may well be questioned whether people know the value of the Gospel themselves if they do not desire to make it known to all the world.

I have found that obeying the Great Commission requires striking a delicate balance. On the one hand, we want unbelievers to know that God has graciously extended an offer of salvation to them; He has initiated this transaction, and they simply need to respond to Him. On the other hand, we should have empathy for unbelievers; if they are not prepared to respond to Him, then we must not compel them to accept His offer of salvation. I should note that I am naturally reserved, and so I often fall into the trap of placing undue weight on this latter point; thus, I often shy away from sharing the Gospel message. I need to pray for more wisdom (to be able to discern when an unbeliever may be prepared to respond to Him) and strength (to actually share the Gospel message when the timing is right).

Now that I have completed my stroll through Matthew, I have been reflecting on this journey. At this point, I believe that in this Gospel, Jesus sets an extremely high bar in terms of righteousness; moreover, He calls us to strive to clear it. In particular, His commands to:

  • love my enemies (or even those whom I dislike)
  • refrain from judging others (as I am rather judgmental)
  • make the advancement of His kingdom my highest priority (especially as I struggle with unfulfilled desires)

continue to challenge me. Upon further reflection, I believe that I was naive in assuming that I would be able to flawlessly obey all of these commands after completing this stroll through Matthew. Perhaps the mere fact that I am cognizant of my weaknesses (and continue to strive to overcome them) shows that God is at work within me, though. Indeed, I believe that God will continue to bear fruit through me as I wrestle with the interplay between His commands and my sinfulness.

The Guards’ Report November 18, 2018

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Here are my thoughts on Matthew 28:11-15.

Summary: In this passage, some of the guards report back to the chief priests after regaining consciousness. The Sanhedrin is then convened officially and passes a formal resolution, which entails:

  • giving silver money to the guards
  • instructing them to lie about the resurrection by asserting that while they were asleep, Jesus’ disciples stole His body
  • promising that if this news reaches Pilate, then the Sanhedrin will 1) satisfy him and 2) make the guards without anxiety.

The guards follow their instructions, and the Jews are convinced by their story for at least thirty years.

Thoughts: Here, the Jewish elites instruct the Roman guards to lie about the resurrection. Their actions raise several questions, including:

  • did the Jewish elites believe that Jesus actually rose from the dead?
  • were the Jewish elites (privately) convinced that Jesus was the Son of God?
  • did the Roman guards entertain any doubts about their instructions?
  • how did Matthew learn about this act of collusion between the Sanhedrin and the guards?
  • did a member of the Sanhedrin – or a guard – accidentally reveal the details of this plot to Matthew (or a trusted source)?
  • did any of the guards repent of their lie concerning the resurrection?
  • did Pilate remain ignorant of the news concerning the resurrection?

While I long to travel back in time and interview the Roman guards, the impossibility of that act compels me to trust in the veracity of this passage.

The Resurrection November 13, 2018

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Here are my thoughts on Matthew 28:1-10.

Summary: In this passage, a group of women – including Mary Magdalene and Mary, the mother of James the Less – come to Jesus’ tomb at dawn on Sunday to anoint His corpse.

At that point, an angel hits the ground, causing an earthquake. The angel then rolls back the stone from Jesus’ tomb and sits on it. The Roman guards are knocked unconscious out of terror, and the women are afraid.

Yet the angel asserts that the women do not need to be afraid, since the whole Trinity has been involved in Jesus’ resurrection. He then tells them to:

  • go into Jesus’ tomb
  • convey the news of Jesus’ resurrection to His disciples.

They then run towards Jerusalem, fearful – yet joyful. Along the way, they meet Jesus – who gives them the ordinary salutation of the marketplace. They fall at His feet and worship Him, and He repeats the angel’s instructions to them.

Thoughts: The resurrection of Jesus is (arguably) the most important event in human history, and many questions have been raised concerning it. My queries regarding this passage include:

  • did the guards actually see Jesus depart from His tomb, and if so, how did they respond?
  • did anyone besides the guards and the group of women sense the angel-induced earthquake?
  • what were the thoughts and feelings of the women when Jesus greeted them?
  • what were Jesus’ thoughts and feelings as He greeted the women?
  • what happened to the angel after he spoke to the women?
  • when did the guards regain consciousness?
  • if the guards did not see Jesus depart from His tomb, did they search for His body after they regained consciousness?

The Guard at the Tomb November 9, 2018

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Here are my thoughts on Matthew 27:62-66.

Summary: In this passage, the representatives of the Sanhedrin enter the praetorium on the Passover to see Pilate. They state that while Jesus was alive, He asserted that He would rise from the dead after three days. They then order him to prevent His disciples from stealing His body – enabling them to “demonstrate” the veracity of His assertion.

Pilate responds by giving them a Roman guard. They then:

  • place some wax on the stone before His tomb
  • place some wax on the wall of His tomb
  • run some string to seal the wax
  • place the Roman guard before His tomb.

Thoughts: Here, the Jewish religious elite order Pilate to prevent Jesus’ disciples from stealing His body. Ryle offers some insights on this point:

They little thought what they were doing; they little thought that unwittingly they were providing the most complete evidence of the truth of Christ’s coming resurrection. They were actually making it impossible to prove that there was any deception or imposition. Their seal, their guard, their precautions, were all to become witnesses, in a few hours, that Christ had risen. They might as well have tried to stop the tides of the sea, or to prevent the sun rising, as to prevent Jesus coming out of the tomb.

The Jewish religious elite were convinced that Jesus would not rise from the dead. They did believe that His disciples could steal His body from His tomb, and so they took what they believed to be appropriate precautions. Broadly speaking, it is amazing that God can work through the plans of those who oppose Him; while they utilize their limited knowledge and understanding to advance their plans, He utilizes His omniscience and omnipotence to advance His plans. As modern-day believers, we must maintain our confidence in this point as we are confronted by the apparent triumph of evil throughout the world on a daily basis.

The Burial of Jesus November 4, 2018

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Here are my thoughts on Matthew 27:57-61.

Summary: In this passage, a rich man from Arimathea, Joseph, goes to Pilate between three and six in the afternoon. When he begs for the body of Jesus, Pilate accepts his request. Joseph then:

  • takes His body and wraps it in linen
  • places it in a tomb that has been cut by hand out of a wall of rock
  • rolls a stone across the door of the tomb and leaves.

Mary Magdalene and Mary – the mother of James the Less – remain by the tomb.

Thoughts: Here, Joseph of Arimathea boldly asks Pilate for the body of Jesus. Ryle offers some thoughts on this point:

A man named Joseph, of Arimathea, comes forward when our Lord is dead and asks permission to bury him. We have never heard of this man at any former period of our Lord’s earthly ministry: we never hear of him again. We know only that he was a disciple who loved Christ and did him honor.

I anticipate meeting Joseph in the next life and learning more about him. How did he come to faith in Christ? Did he witness any of the miracles that He performed during His earthly ministry? How did he respond to His death? How did he summon the courage to ask Pilate for His body? How did he respond to the news of His resurrection? Did he actually see Him after that dramatic event? How did he live after His ascension? Was he persecuted by the Jews? On a more frivolous note, what are his thoughts on the legend that he possessed the Holy Grail?

The Death of Jesus November 3, 2018

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Here are my thoughts on Matthew 27:45-56.

Summary: In this passage, Jesus yells, “my God, why have You forsaken me?” at three in the afternoon. After yelling again, He voluntarily gives up His spirit.

Several dramatic events occur during – and after – His death, including:

  • the Sun goes out from noon until three in the afternoon
  • the curtain that surrounds the Holy of Holies is ripped from top to bottom
  • a devastating earthquake
  • a resurrection.

The centurion and the soldiers under his command who have been guarding Jesus are terrified at these events; they declare that Jesus is the Son of God.

Thoughts: In verse 51, we see that at the death of Christ, the curtain that surrounds the Holy of Holies is torn in two. Ryle offers some thoughts on this point:

But there was a meaning in the sudden tearing of the curtain from top to bottom which must have pricked the heart of any intelligent Jew. The conscience of Caiaphas, the high priest, must have been hard indeed if the news of that torn curtain did not fill him with dismay.

I am curious as to how Caiaphas, the chief priests, the Pharisees, and the teachers of the law responded to this dramatic event. Did they dismiss it as a mere coincidence with the death of Jesus? Did they fail to ponder its significance – and immediately commission a new curtain? How did they respond to the darkness that spread over Jerusalem before His death? How did they respond to the devastating earthquake and the resurrection after His death? Did any of them sense that God actually caused these events? I assume that I will never receive an answer to these queries (though I hope to meet at least some of these Jewish elites in the next life and learn how they eventually came to faith in Christ).

In verse 54, we see that at the death of Christ, the centurion and the soldiers under his command who have been guarding Him assert His divinity. I am curious as to how their relationship with God progressed from that point. Did they possess genuine faith in Jesus as their Lord and Savior? If so, did their superiors punish them for worshiping a foreign deity? If not, how swiftly did they reaffirm their belief in the Roman deities? Did they believe that Jesus was divine – while failing to ponder His exclusive claims to divinity? Did they ever come to regret their harsh words and deeds toward Him in the hours preceding His death?

The Crucifixion October 28, 2018

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Here are my thoughts on Matthew 27:32-44.

Summary: In this passage, Pilate’s soldiers and Jesus go forth out of Jerusalem with His cross. When they arrive at the skull place, they crucify Him and part His garments by gambling for them. They then sit down and stay on guard. Two robbers are crucified on either side of Him.

He is then continually reviled by:

  • careless passersby, who challenge Him to destroy (and rebuild) the temple and come down from His cross
  • the religious wicked, who assert that although He has healed others through His miracles, He cannot heal Himself in this instance
  • the two robbers on either side of Him.

Thoughts: A tenet of Christianity is that Jesus was crucified for our sins. Ryle offers some thoughts on this point:

Last, but not least, let us learn from the story of the passion always to hate sin with a great hatred. Sin was the cause of all our Saviour’s suffering. Our sins twisted the crown of thorns; our sins drove the nails into his hands and feet; on account of our sins his blood was shed. Surely the thought of Christ crucified should make us loathe all sin.

Ryle rightly highlights the connection between the passion of Christ and our sinfulness. One thought is that if we loathe our sinfulness, we should desire to be free from sin in this life. Yet we cannot be perfect; indeed, we fall short of perfection on a daily basis. How do we address this conundrum? One idea is that we must not be complacent about our sinfulness. While we remain cognizant of our inherent limitations in this life, we must continue to loathe our sins and strive against them – as God can bear fruit through our struggles.

In Luke 23:39-43, we learn that one of the robbers who was crucified beside Jesus actually repents of his sins before his death; moreover, Jesus asserts that he will join Him in paradise. This caused me to ponder the following question: how does that event relate to Jesus’ earlier discussion concerning sheep and goats? Indeed, this may lead to a broader question: how do deathbed confessions relate to that earlier discussion? If one does not perform good deeds for believers, and then makes a deathbed confession, will they truly join Him in paradise? If one lives as a “goat,” and then makes a deathbed confession, do they instantly become a “sheep?” Are deathbed confessions essentially unrelated to that earlier discussion? These are challenging questions that (I believe) do not possess simple answers. In any event, I believe that we should strive to live as “sheep,” as that will please Him.

The Soldiers Mock Jesus October 26, 2018

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Here are my thoughts on Matthew 27:27-31.

Summary: In this passage, Pilate’s soldiers take Jesus into the common hall and gather the entire cohort around Him. They then mockingly give Him homage as a king before leading Him out of the common hall to be crucified.

Thoughts: This passage sharpens the contrast between the righteousness of Jesus and the unrighteousness of all others. Here, Pilate’s soldiers reveal their unrighteousness. While I struggle to identify with Pilate’s soldiers – especially in light of their actions in this passage – I need to remember that my sinful thoughts, words and deeds fueled the mockery and scorn that they heaped on Him. Indeed, the passion of Christ reminds me that:

  • I need Him as my Savior
  • I should be grateful that He endured the highest level of suffering to fulfill His calling.

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.

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.