Wednesday, October 9, 2019

Dare to Dream 5

“What's in Your Hand?”
(No video link available)

Read Judges 6:1-6.
  • Formulate a job description for the task envisioned.
Read Judges 6:11-16
  • What kind of “mighty warrior” did God choose to commission?
  • On the face of it, did Gideon possess any of the qualifications needed to do the job?
Read Judges 6 33-35
  • What made the difference in Gideon’s ability to respond?
Today’s video took place in Hawthorn Hill, the home that Orville Wright built and lived in with his father and sister. We watched for the question “What’s in your hand?” as well as the three key questions Mike Slaughter poses that will help answer that question.

Bible Study and Discussion
  1. Mike states that, in God, you already have everything you need to accomplish the mission you were created for. If we are like a seed in which the genetic code to grow is already present, how does the Holy Spirit function to awaken that potential within us?
  1. What aspects or situations can we name that might prevent that potential from ever developing?
  2. Mike names the computer as an ordinary tool of his own that has potential to be used for God’s purposes. What ordinary tools are at our disposal that might have power we had not imagined?
  3. Mike observes that God often demonstrates the transforming power of simple tools to fulfill God’s purposes, but one’s collective life experience can be an equally powerful tool. Name some ways in which Moses’ life experience growing up in Pharaoh’s household might have been useful.
  4. Moses, says Mike, could have considered his life a failure. He experienced an abrupt descent from the position of power and influence in Pharaoh’s household to that of a lowly shepherd. Have you ever experienced a failure you were later able to use or learn from?
  5. Name some other persons from the Bible who were able to fulfill expansive God-purposes, despite having flaws that would seem to limit their potential.
  6. Mike Slaughter points out that, at God’s direction, Moses threw down his staff, taking a bold and definitive action. What happens when it seems too risky or costly to offer a gift to God?
  7. What does Mike mean when he says that we can’t think our way into a new way of acting; we have to act our way into a new way of thinking? Do you agree or disagree?

Building Your Life Mission Statement: Part 5

Revisit the three key questions that will help identify the gifts and talents we are supposed to use in our life mission.
  • What are the gifts of my head?
  • What are the gifts of my hands?
  • What is the passion of my heart?
Think about the three questions in the same way you would a self-analysis prior to writing up a résumé, except that this résumé is not for a new job but for a lifelong mission!

Monday, September 16, 2019

Dare To Dream 4

Dare To Dream – 4 “Lose your Big Buts”

Pre-Video
Think about the questions from last session:
  • What struggles in your life have you had to overcome?
  • How have those struggles defined you?
Jot down your birth date followed by a dash. Obviously we cannot know the dates of our deaths, but we do know that we have a limited time between the dash and the addition of that final date on a grave marker. Keep this fact in mind as we explore the excuses we hold onto, and the self-limiting beliefs we all tend to internalize, that come from inside and outside.

Watch Video 
 
Post Video - Bible Study and Discussion

Imagine being eighty years old and receiving a calling from God such as Moses received. Moses’ response in this session’s Scripture reading is to come up with a number of excuses, which Slaughter calls “big buts.”

• Mike Slaughter observes that if you feel qualified for your life mission, then your mission probably is not big enough. What is your response to this?
• Should a life mission stretch and challenge you? To what degree? Do you think it’s possible for God to call you to a life mission that truly is beyond your capabilities?
• How do you feel about God’s promise to be with us always? In what ways is that a comfort for you?

Review the other 3 excuses
  • I'm spiritually unfit
  • No one will believe me
  • I'm afraid
• Which of the excuses do you, personally, find the biggest challenge as you consider your life purpose?
Are there other excuses you might make to avoid embracing a life mission to which God may be calling you?

Building Your Life Mission Statement: Part 4
  1. What tightly held excuses prohibit you from living God’s dream for you?
  1. Excuses aren’t always something we come up with on our own. Sometimes we claim self-limiting beliefs assigned to us by others. From what self-limiting beliefs do you need to break free?
  1. Becoming clear about your life mission statement means chopping away at excuses to follow the purpose God has for you. Take some time and write a prayer asking God to remove your excuses. List your excuses in the prayer.

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Dare To Dream 3

Dare To Dream – 3 “Your Burning Bush”

Pre-Video
Before viewing the video segment, talk about generational differences: Silent Generation (born around 1925–1945); Boomers (around 1946–1964);Gen X (around 1965–1984); Millennials (around 1985–early 2000s). What is an experience society went through that had a profound impact on everyone of your age group? Rather than generational events, Slaughter talks about “Life stages” that can be experienced at any age.


Following the video,
Name the three life stages, as well as the three prayers Mike Slaughter says are characteristic of each stage.
  • Which life stage do I seem to be experiencing?
  • What is my recurring prayer to God?
Bible Study and Discussion

Exodus 3:1-10 Now Moses was shepherding the flock of his father-in-law Jethro, the priest of Midian, and he led the flock to the far side of the desert and came to the mountain of God, to Horeb.
2 The angel of the LORD appeared to him in a flame of fire from within a bush. He looked– and the bush was ablaze with fire, but it was not being consumed!
3 So Moses thought, "I will turn aside to see this amazing sight. Why does the bush not burn up?"
4 When the LORD saw that he had turned aside to look, God called to him from within the bush and said, "Moses, Moses!" And Moses said, "Here I am."
5 God said, "Do not approach any closer! Take your sandals off your feet, for the place where you are standing is holy ground."
6 He added, "I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob." Then Moses hid his face, because he was afraid to look at God.
7 The LORD said, "I have surely seen the affliction of my people who are in Egypt. I have heard their cry because of their taskmasters, for I know their sorrows.
8 I have come down to deliver them from the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up from that land to a land that is both good and spacious, to a land flowing with milk and honey, to the region of the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites, and Jebusites.
9 And now indeed the cry of the Israelites has come to me, and I have also seen how severely the Egyptians oppress them.
10 So now go, and I will send you to Pharaoh to bring my people, the Israelites, out of Egypt."
  • Talk about burning bush moments.
Building Your Life Mission Statement: Part 3
“Building Your Life Mission Statement: Part 3.” The questions are:

• What struggles in your life have you had to overcome?How have those struggles defined you?
• God can use all things to strengthen his kingdom, and we are called to do the same. How can you share the lessons learned from your struggles?
How have those lessons helped you in the past, and how might God use them to shape your future?

Thursday, March 14, 2019

Dare To Dream 2

Session 2 "Discovering Your Birthright"

Video can be watched HERE

A major theme in the video is  contrasting 'identity' with 'birthright'. We all have different ways of defining our personal identity. For example... by profession, some by religion, some by family.

Mike Slaughter defines identity in this way... "We are children of God living under the kingship of Jesus Christ"

As Christians that's who we are.
What about birthright?

Bible Study and Discussion

Read Genesis 28:18 The next morning Jacob got up very early. He took the stone he had rested his head against, and he set it upright as a memorial pillar. Then he poured olive oil over it.

Mike Slaughter suggests that what Jacob saw at the top of the ladder (or staircase) was God. Slaughter urges us to ask ourselves what (or who) is at the top of our ladder, since he believes that our life dreams will be limited by the ceiling of our life pictures. As we picture our own personal ladder. is God at the top, or is something else—such as a job, a vocational ambition, or even another person?

What limitations are our life pictures placing on us?

 Genesis 28:20-22 “Then Jacob made this vow: "If God will indeed be with me and protect me on this journey, and if he will provide me with food and clothing, 21 and if I return safely to my father's home, then the LORD will certainly be my God. 22 And this memorial pillar I have set up will become a place for worshiping God, and I will present to God a tenth of everything he gives me."

What characteristics.... negative or positive do we see in Jacob here?
Do we ever make conditions?
Are we faithful in worship and tithing?

THE WORK OF THE HOLY SPIRIT

 • God comes into our lives through the Spirit, which serves as the ladder that connects us and leads us in all things to come.
• How do we develop an intimate relationship with the Holy Spirit?

Our discussion group came up with practices such as...

Worship
Prayer
Spiritual disciplines (i.e. walking the labyrinth)
Scripture Reading
Meditation

1 Corinthians 2:9-15 9 That is what the Scriptures mean when they say, "No eye has seen, no ear has heard, and no mind has imagined what God has prepared for those who love him." 10 But it was to us that God revealed these things by his Spirit. For his Spirit searches out everything and shows us God's deep secrets. 11 No one can know a person's thoughts except that person's own spirit, and no one can know God's thoughts except God's own Spirit. 12 And we have received God's Spirit (not the world's spirit), so we can know the wonderful things God has freely given us. 13 When we tell you these things, we do not use words that come from human wisdom. Instead, we speak words given to us by the Spirit, using the Spirit's words to explain spiritual truths. 14 But people who aren't spiritual can't receive these truths from God's Spirit. It all sounds foolish to them and they can't understand it, for only those who are spiritual can understand what the Spirit means. 15 Those who are spiritual can evaluate all things, but they themselves cannot be evaluated by others.

Galatians 2:1-2 Then fourteen years later I went back to Jerusalem again, this time with Barnabas; and Titus came along, too. 2 I went there because God revealed to me that I should go. While I was there I met privately with those considered to be leaders of the church and shared with them the message I had been preaching to the Gentiles. (Gal 2:1-2 NLT)

Homework : Building Your Life Mission Statement: Part 2
In Genesis 28:18, Jacob got up early in the morning, took the stone that he had put near his head, and set it up as a pillar to serve as a memorial stone. Mike Slaughter share his personal Mission Statement in the video. He recommends addressing three questions to begin the process of developing our own life mission statement:

• Where do you see the greatest need around you in your neighborhood, your community, or your world?
• How can you meet that need?
What gifts do you bring to further that mission?

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Dare to Dream 1

Dare To Dream – 1


Mike Slaughter is pastor emeritus at Ginghamsburg Church, a large Methodist congregation in Ohio with worldwide influence. (Ginghamsburg.org)

In this book “Dare To Dream” he writes of dreams and visions that God offers us as guidance for our life. He speaks of our lives needing a “BHAG” … a “Big Hairy Audacious God-Purpose” and encourages us to find our own.

The first Session speaks of Jacob (Genesis 28:1-17)

Also referenced in the book is the work of the Holy Spirit in John 14:16-19a: “ And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, who will never leave you. He is the Holy Spirit, who leads into all truth. The world cannot receive him, because it isn't looking for him and doesn't recognize him. But you know him, because he lives with you now and later will be in you. No, I will not abandon you as orphans-- I will come to you. Soon the world will no longer see me, but you will see me.

Mention is made of “Thin Places” a Celtic term for those moments and places in our lives where we connect with God.

 Book can be purchased HERE on Amazon.Com

Homework

Identify 3 people you admire.

What are the greatest qualities they exemplify?


What steps have they taken to nurture those qualities?


Why are these qualities important to you? How would your life be different if you lived into those qualities more?

Monday, December 3, 2018

29. Resurrection

According to Matthew”
A study of the Gospel of Matthew
Part 29: Resurrection!

Our journey through the gospel according to Matthew has reached it's final chapter. Chapter 28 is all about resurrection. Resurrection has been mentioned time and time again throughout the previous chapters. Just as He has often spoken of His death, so Jesus has taught His disciples 'On the third day I will be raised to life'. Just as, until it happened, they did not accept He would die, so, until they encounter His risen presence do they accept that He would be raised to life.

The resurrection is not simply an afterthought. It is not a happy ending tagged onto the end of an otherwise tragic story. It is the culmination of all that Matthew has taught us about Jesus. If there be no resurrection then the rest of what he has told us has only limited meaning. There are many accounts of people with lofty ideals who came to tragic ends. There are numerous historical instances of people who worked wonders and taught eternal truths, but their graves are their shrines and they live only in memories.

An oft used Christian formulation is the phrase; 'Christ died, Christ has Risen, Christ will come again.' Such a formula reminds us that the gospel is not that we have, in Jesus, a hero to emulate, but that we have a God who, in Christ, is with us, yesterday, today and forever. A God who sends the presence of His Holy Spirit to lead us, guide us, comfort us and renew us. For Christianity resurrection is not what happens when we die, it is the atmosphere in which we live and move and have our being. Because He lives, we live.

The accounts the different gospels give us are not consistent with each other. The authors offer us what may be best described as  'theological tableau' (using the word tableau here to speak of something that is 'a graphic description or representation'). They do not provide us with a historical reconstruction, nor do they seek to explain the event, but rather insist that the resurrection took place and seek to demonstrate what it means both for the individual and for the church community.

They accounts read more like the description of a volcanic eruption than something that happened in a graveyard. Exactly who saw what and when, and the precise sequence of events is obscured by the magnitude of the revelation. Jesus died. Now He lived. This was unprecedented , and, even though Jesus had told them it would turn out that way, it was also completely unexpected. Let us read verses 1 – 7.

Matthew 28:1-7 After the Sabbath, at dawn on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to look at the tomb. There was a violent earthquake, for an angel of the Lord came down from heaven and, going to the tomb, rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothes were white as snow.  The guards were so afraid of him that they shook and became like dead men. The angel said to the women, "Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified.  He is not here; He has risen, just as He said. Come and see the place where He lay.  Then go quickly and tell His disciples: 'He has risen from the dead and is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see Him.' Now I have told you."
One of the huge tectonic shifts made following the earthquake of the resurrection was that the Christian church decided that the Sabbath should not be observed Saturday (the seventh and last day of the week) but Sunday (the first – or eighth day of the week). That this change came within a community Jewish in origin, whose founder and first adherents were all religious Jews who had Sabbath observance rooted in the very core of their identities makes that shift all the more unlikely. Unlikely that is, unless something had shifted in the nature of their reality to justify such a radical change. It is not by coincidence Matthew, writing predominantly for a Jewish audience tells us that the resurrection takes place on 'the first day of the week'.

The first day had become the day that Christians worshiped their God. Matthew wants his readership to know that the reason why, was not accidental, but had everything to do with their belief that the resurrection of Jesus was an earth shaking historical event. Just as he tells us that the earth quaked when Jesus was crucified, he tells us the earth shakes at the revelation of His resurrection.

At the birth of Jesus angels play an important part in the drama. They largely disappear from the story, except to minister to Him after His wilderness temptations. Now, in the accounts of His rebirth, an angel reappears. As with the angelic appearances in the birth narratives the angel appears in a way that is so dazzling that it is unnerving. 'Fear Not' were the words of angelic address to both Mary and the Shepherds. In this account we have soldiers fainting and falling to the ground as dead men.

By the time the women appear, it seems the angelic glory has become muted and the angel is pictured as sitting atop of the stone that he had rolled away. Matthew Henry views the fact that it is an angel, and not Jesus Himself who rolls the stone aside, as being a glorious picture of all heavens approval and joy at the resurrection of Jesus. He compares it to the way a jailer is dispatched to open the prison door for an inmate who had been declared innocent of all charges, an admission by the earthly powers that they have been thwarted by a greater truth.

However that may be, there is an almost whimsical quality to the image of the angel sitting on the stone, relaxing in the morning sun, almost in a 'Hey ladies! What's happening' kind of mode! For some reason whenever I read it the Otis Redding song 'Sitting on the Dock of the Bay' comes to mind.

Some commentators see a significance in the fact that there are two women in attendance. There was a legal ruling in the Book of Deuteronomy that, in the case of a crime, at least two witnesses had to be present to make the charges stick.  Deuteronomy 19:15 "One witness is not enough to convict anyone accused of any crime or offense they may have committed. A matter must be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.” Matthew has previously referred to this law when he was speaking about church discipline in chapter 18.

There is also significance in that the angel describes Jesus to them as being the 'crucified one'. In Greek the grammatical sense of the phrase ('ton estaursmen'  - crucified one) indicates a completed act with ongoing consequences. To quote from the New Interpreters Bible 'Jesus crucifixion was not a temporary episode in the career of the son of God, a past event nullified, transcended or exchanged at the resurrection of heavenly glory. Even as the risen one, He bears the mark of His self-giving on the cross, as His permanent character and call to discipleship.'

In John's gospel we are given the account of Thomas, who has severe doubts about the claims of the rest of his fellow disciples that Jesus is alive. When he eventually encounters Jesus for himself, he is invited to touch the wounds left by crucifixion. He recognizes Jesus, not because of His radiance or beauty, but because of His scars. In the Book of Revelation the image of Jesus is not only as the conquering King, but also as the 'lamb who was slain.'  The two great themes of Christian theology are the cross and the Resurrection. They cannot be separated as neither makes much sense without the other!

The women are reminded that the resurrection had taken place 'just as He said.'  This underscores the point we made earlier that the resurrection is not a happy ending tagged onto the end of the story, but an intrinsic part of Matthews message throughout his gospel.

They are told to go and share the message with His disciples. As well as the fact of His rising, they are instructed to tell them that Jesus 'is going ahead of you' . The image of the Risen Christ being one step ahead of us, leading us to new encounters with His life and love, is a positive one that stirs us to action. Which is exactly what happens! Read verses 8 thru 10.

So the women hurried away from the tomb, afraid yet filled with joy, and ran to tell His disciples. Suddenly Jesus met them. "Greetings," He said. They came to Him, clasped His feet and worshiped Him. Then Jesus said to them, "Do not be afraid. Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me."

This moment is beautifully captured in the second verses of the Easter hymn “Thine Is the Glory”

    Lo! Jesus meets us, Risen from the tomb;
    Lovingly He greets us, Scatters fear and gloom.
    Let the church with gladness ,Hymns of triumph sing,
    For the Lord now liveth; Death hath lost its sting.

Verse 8 gives us this wonderful image of those who are first called to proclaim the resurrection as being  'afraid yet filled with joy'. It is not simply the angel that they are fearful of, but the very fact that Jesus has been raised. Whilst I'm sure the full implications of the event had yet to sink in, the dead coming back to life is definitely up there on the 'scary' scale.

When eternity breaks in it upsets our whole apple cart. If Jesus lives, then it calls us to re-evaluate everything we are living for. It places life in a whole new framework. It calls us to think of our existence not as being from birth to death, but as something that begins before the womb and continues long after the tomb.

It affects our values and puts meat on the flesh of Jesus teaching. Only if eternity is reality does it make sense to take up a Cross and follow Him. Seeking His Kingdom over and above all other things is only an option if we believe that His Kingdom is a greater prize than all that the kingdoms and powers of earth can offer us. Either we adopt the philosophy “Eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die” or we build upon the notion that what we do on this earth has eternal consequences.

If there be no eternity, then there is no final reckoning. Whilst we may choose to adopt a moral code, because life is a lot easier if everybody gets along, ultimately there is no imperative to do so and no matter how much pain or trouble we may cause we answer to nobody but ourselves. Unless, that is, something actually happened in that tomb that is a game changer!

A blogger by the name of Rick Rice writes 'If Christ is risen, that proves He is Who He said He was; God in the flesh. What could possibly be more important than that? And if Christ is NOT risen? What is the point of life, the universe and everything? Life only means what I say it means to me. And I have but a few years of existence and then; nothing.'

One of the most celebrated scholars of the 20th century, Jaroslav Pelikan; author of 30 books, Yale University professor, President of the American Society of Arts and Sciences, died of lung cancer in 2006. But before he died, he said, "If Christ is risen, nothing else matters. And if Christ is not risen – nothing matters.

It is a fearful notion that everything we thought about life could be wrong. Yet it is also a joyful thing. Resurrection life is so much more than just getting by. In John's gospel Jesus is recorded as saying "I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly."(John 10:10). We are constantly pushed to make our choice. As one preacher told his congregation in an Easter service; “What do you want? Life in Jesus name or just more of the same?'

I guess folk sometimes wonder why we make such a fuss about worship. Well, here we have the example of the women. 'They came to Him, clasped His feet and worshiped Him.' If we genuinely believe Christ died for our sins, that without His love we haven't got a hope in hell and that Jesus is not only alive, but with us every moment of our existence, then the only right response to make is to bow down in worship, in such a way as to get a grip on His reality. We 'take a hold of His feet', that we may learn how to walk His way. We worship Him because He is worthy of our worship, the Son of God, come to redeem us and who sends His Holy Spirit to be with us and continue His world changing mission.

The joy comes as we follow where He leads. Then we discover His presence is with us. The disciples are invited to go to where Jesus tells them so that 'there they will see' Him. We used to have a phrase in Great Britain that the 'proof of the pudding was in the eating.' The reality of the resurrection sometimes only dawns upon us as we seek to do the things we believe Jesus is calling us to do and be the people we believe He is inviting us to be.  But, of course, not everybody sees things this way!

In our last chapter we saw how guards were posted at the tomb to prevent the spread of any rumors about a resurrection having taken place. Matthew gives us a follow up on that story. Read 11-15.

While the women were on their way, some of the guards went into the city and reported to the chief priests everything that had happened. When the chief priests had met with the elders and devised a plan, they gave the soldiers a large sum of money,  telling them, "You are to say, 'His disciples came during the night and stole him away while we were asleep.'  If this report gets to the governor, we will satisfy him and keep you out of trouble." So the soldiers took the money and did as they were instructed. And this story has been widely circulated among the Jews to this very day.
William Barclay comments on this passage;

It is interesting to note the means that the Jewish authorities used in their desperate attempts to eliminate Jesus. They used treachery to lay hold on Him. They used illegality to try Him. They used slander to charge him to Pilate. And now they were using bribery to silence the truth about Him. There is a Roman proverb that declares, 'Great is the truth, and it will prevail”. It is the fact of history that not all humanities evil machinations can in the end stop the truth. The gospel of goodness is greater than the plots of wickedness.

The guards were in an awkward position. They had failed at their task. Matthew doesn't tell us they witness the resurrection, only that they fell, as if dead, at the appearance of the angel. Yet regardless of what they had seen or heard they still have to report to their superiors that the tomb was now empty.

In the light of their report the chief priests do what religious folk always do when there is a threat to their system. They call a meeting of the elders. At this meeting they devise a plan to stop the rumor of resurrection from spreading. 'As in the case of Judas, money oils the wheels of hypocrisy, but here the sum is greater. It costs more to suppress the resurrection message than it did to engineer the crucifixion.' (NIT Commentary)

They promise the soldiers that there will be no repercussions following their failure, just as long as they spread a rumor that the disciples came in the night and stole the body. Even today people use exactly the same story to explain away the resurrection. Or they insist that if He was seen alive, then He couldn't possibly have ever died. The Qur’an, composed some 600 years after the New Testament, though insisting that Jesus will be raised, in a general resurrection at the end of all things, skirts around the story of the empty tomb by claiming that Jesus was never actually crucified.

'That they said [in boast], "We killed Christ Jesus the son of Mary, the Messenger of Allah," but they killed him not, nor crucified him. Only a likeness of that was shown to them. And those who differ therein are full of doubts, with no [certain] knowledge. But only conjecture to follow, for of a surety they killed him not' (Surat Al-Nisei 4:157).

Such is one of the more difficult passages to deal with in Christian/Islamic dialogue. When our statement of faith claims 'Christ lived, Christ died and Christ is Risen' having only two of the three acknowledged makes it a little tricky! But the dialogue must continue and at the end of the day the best we can bring to the table in any discussion of faith is to say “I totally respect your opinion, and I even understand where you are coming from. This is what I believe....”

Like the women who run from the tomb, our sense of awe and joy cannot be taken away just because others don't understand it. Neither should we feel we have to apologize for our enthusiasm to anybody. As the inspirational hymn of John Newton, 'Amazing Grace' explains; “I was blind, but now I see.” That's not something you can't give expression to!

Matthew Henry makes the point that conviction of the reality of Christ's resurrection can only come to a person by revelation of the Holy Spirit. That all the arguments and discussions in the world never quite get to the core of the matter. That it all boils down to a question of faith. Only the action of God's Holy Spirit creates the faith needed to believe, but as we seek to do and be disciples the door to faith is opened wide.  He suggests that there is a deep connection between action and experience.

Meanwhile, back in Galilee... let us read our closing verses 16 -20.

Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go.  When they saw Him, they worshiped Him; but some doubted.  Then Jesus came to them and said, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go 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 I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age."
The closing words of the gospel according to Matthew give us a blueprint of the churches mission and  capture Matthew's vision for what the church should be.

Church is a Place 'Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go”

The disciples go to the place where Jesus has invited them to meet Him. Geographical locations have significance. Gathering together for worship and service  is important. Christianity is not an individual spiritual quest, but a pilgrimage made in the company of others. We learn of the Kingdoms ways  from each other. One of the dominant images in the New Testament is of the church being a body, with every part being necessary for the health of the whole.

In an age of rampant  individualism, in which people are urged to seek self fulfillment, the corporate nature of true Christianity is often obscured or laid aside. You don't have to go to church to be a Christian. We are saved by grace through faith. But if you want to be faithful to Scriptures teaching you will understand that you can only do that in the company of others. The place you will find that company is in a physical location... usually a building we call a church.

Jesus did not die just for you. I'm sure He would have done if you were the only human being alive, but Paul tells us that Christ 'died for us'... plural. Jesus invites us to pray; beginning our prayers with the phrase 'Our Father'.  The central celebration of Christian faith is the communion service, the word 'communion' obviously so closely related to the word 'community.'

The disciples are invited by Jesus to meet him, as a community, at a definite physical location. That, for Matthew, is part of what the church is meant to do!

Church is a place for Worship 'When they saw Him, they worshiped Him; but some doubted.'

We rightly call our meetings on a Sunday 'services of worship.' It may feel some weeks that we get side-tracked from our primary reason for existing. Everything from endless announcements to disruptive children may distract us. We may not even always be in the right frame of mind when we walk through the door. So it is good to remind ourselves that the reason we come to church is to worship God. Not to catch up on the news, not to publicize some future event or campaign we are involved in, not to see friends, not even because that's what we always do on a Sunday morning and it's become a habit.

There is a gospel chorus that says: “Turn your eyes upon Jesus, look full in His wonderful face, and the things of earth will grow strangely dim, in the light of His glory and grace”. It is as the disciples see Jesus that they worship Him. It is hard to turn our focus away from ourselves to our Savior, but when we do, when we consider the many blessings that are around and within our lives, we find worship comes so much easier.

I love the fact that Matthew includes the phrase 'but some doubted'. There is room in his vision of the church for those who aren't quite sure yet. He sees church as a place not just for those who think they have got it, but also for those who know that they haven't got there yet. I feel that includes most of us!

Church is a place where we can be empowered by encountering Jesus. Then Jesus came to them and said, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.”

As they are in the place Jesus has invited them to be, and as they bring Him their worship and doubts, so there comes to them the word they need to hear, the word about the authority of Jesus over all of life. The oldest Christian affirmation of faith is the statement 'Jesus is Lord'.

The dominant theme of the gospel according to Matthew has been that Jesus is a King, a King nothing like Herod, a King like no other King on earth. He is the Servant-King, the High Priestly-King, the Risen King and we are invited to live as citizens of His Kingdom, building into our lives the principles of the Kingdom He outlined in the sermon on the mount. Throughout the gospel Jesus has demonstrated His authority over sickness, over evil, over the created order, even over death itself. Now He comes to His disciples and tells them "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.”

As we gather for worship we seek to place ourselves under His authority. We seek to lay aside our personal claims and prejudices and be transformed by the authority of Jesus love, that impacts our lives through the action of the Holy Spirit. We seek to be empowered. We need to be empowered, because we have a job to do.

Church is a place where we learn to serve. Therefore go 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 I have commanded you.

Our Church Worship Service lasts maybe a little over an hour (though if you are in choir or teaching Sunday School or serving in some other way it may take a couple more hours). We are not given a time scale on their meeting with Jesus at Galilee that the disciples experience. However we can assume it didn't take all day, all week or all year. The point being that most of our Christian life is lived outside of the church building.

We come together in church to worship, we go out into the world to serve. We go, because Jesus tells us to go! Many moons ago I entered a song writing competition hosted by a mission agency. I didn't win. My over the top disco based mission hymn was not what they were looking for. (LOL) But I still think the words I came up with for the chorus were appropriate.
Go! Take my message to the world
Tell them what you've seen,
Tell them what you've heard,
Go! in the power of my Spirit,
With a love that has no limit,
You can conquer the world!
You can conquer the world!

We are invited to go and make fellow disciples of others throughout all creation. This is not because we are in competition with any other agency in the world (except for the devil and all his minions) but because our lives our being transformed by the love of Jesus Christ and it's such an amazing thing it just doesn't seem right to not let others in on it. As the late Larry Norman penned in one of his songs;
 'When you know a wonderful secret, you don't let it go unsaid,
You tell it to your children as you tuck them into bed.
When you know a beautiful secret, you tell it to your friends,
Tell them that a life time filled with Jesus is like a song that never ends”

There is both a sacramental and Trinitarian aspect to our mission. Christian practice and doctrine are important to Matthew. We are to baptize people. Not just with water, but deeply immerse them and ourselves in the message of the Kingdom. We do this in the name of One God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

We are given a mission of teaching. We are to fulfill that mission in the way Jesus fulfilled His, namely that it is not just about the words we speak but about the way we live our lives, the deeds we do and the people we share our lives with. 'All the world' includes those bits of the world we don't always want to have anything to do with.

We are to teach people what Jesus has commanded us to teach them. We know from Matthew that Jesus  gave us two commands that summed up all the others and  were both equally important and equally focused.  Very simply... “Love God' and “Love our Neighbor”. Finally, if we do all of this we receive a precious promise.

Church is a place of Assurance. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.
In our first session I compared the gospel according to Matthew to a movie. We have reached the final scene. If it were a Western, the music would swell, Jesus would ride off into the sunset, and the words would come up onto the screen, 'And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.' And we would leave the theater inspired to never live in the same old boring way ever again in our lives. At least until next week!

Seriously, this is one of the great promises of Scripture and its truth has been confirmed by countless numbers of God's faithful people throughout the generations. When we apply ourselves to living lives of worship and service that welcome the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, we learn that we are not alone, but He walks with us. It's not always easy. Taking up a cross isn't meant to be easy. It's not that we are always sure. We always have those moments of doubt. But at the end of all things, we are assured that Jesus is with us. At the end of all things, that's all we need to know.

So our journey through the gospel according to Matthew has reached it's end. What an amazing book! From the opening credits to the final words it never ceases to challenge us and instruct us. We have been taught about Kings and Kingdoms, we have heard of great wonders, we have walked up mountains that have been transfigured by light and through times of deep darkness and suffering that culminated in the betrayal, torture and death of Jesus Christ upon the Cross. We stood by and heard a Roman soldier declare “Surely this was the Son of God”.

In chapter 28 we have heard about the resurrection and seen how Matthew envisioned the church. Over 2000 years later, here we are. Still discovering, still studying, still praying, still serving, still worshiping, still seeking to be renewed and empowered to be disciples of Jesus Christ.

My prayer is that this study has not simply been an academic exercise but that through it we have come to a deeper appreciation of God's word and God's purpose for our lives.

And to God's name be all glory. Amen.


Rev. Adrian J. Pratt B.D.

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

28. The Darkest Days

According to Matthew”
A study of the Gospel of Matthew
Part 28: The Darkest Days

Tonight we reach passages of Scripture that are central to our faith. All of the gospel writers make the climax of their story the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus. They differ, both in the chronology of events that lead up to these days, and in the interpretation that they give to the events, but when it comes to His death offer a common understanding. Jesus is betrayed, goes through a kangaroo court, is tortured and ultimately murdered through the act of crucifixion.

In our previous chapter the process of His betrayal has been put into motion. Judas has betrayed Jesus with a kiss. We speculated last time on what Judas's motives may have been. We begin this study with Matthew's account of his tragic end. Read 1-10.

 The Death of Judas

 Matthew 27:1 Early in the morning, all the chief priests and the elders of the people made their plans how to have Jesus executed. So they bound Him, led Him away and handed Him over to Pilate the governor. When Judas, who had betrayed Him, saw that Jesus was condemned, he was seized with remorse and returned the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and the elders. "I have sinned," he said, "for I have betrayed innocent blood." "What is that to us?" they replied. "That's your responsibility." So Judas threw the money into the temple and left. Then he went away and hanged himself. The chief priests picked up the coins and said, "It is against the law to put this into the treasury, since it is blood money." So they decided to use the money to buy the potter's field as a burial place for foreigners. That is why it has been called the Field of Blood to this day. Then what was spoken by Jeremiah the prophet was fulfilled: "They took the thirty pieces of silver, the price set on him by the people of Israel, and they used them to buy the potter's field, as the Lord commanded me."

We saw in our last study how the actions of Judas were foreshadowed by an account from Zechariah, where the powers that be try and 'pay-off' Zechariah, to stop him prophesying their doom, by giving him thirty pieces of silver. Zechariah takes the money and throws it into the Potter's field. In an act of great irony, the temple authorities take the money given them by Judas, and use it to buy a field that becomes known as 'The field of blood', a burial place for foreigners, but which was formerly known as 'The Potter's Field'.

Judas commits suicide. In Matthew he hangs himself. In the Book of Acts his body  falls to the ground and his body splits open, so presumably, he was left hanging for a while. It is a gruesome end and a chilling reflection on the words of Jesus that it would be better for the man who betrayed Him never to have been born.

Was suicide the only option left for Judas? We know that he was not the only disciple to betray Jesus. Our last chapter ended with Peter's denials. Both Peter and Judas had to deal with the stigma of failure. The difference seems to be that Peter tearfully repented, and knew enough about the grace and forgiveness of Jesus to know that there was always a second chance. Judas does not to seem to have the same grasp on God's ability to forgive him. He is unable to forgive himself. He takes the only option that seems left.

Is suicide the unforgivable sin? I've been asked as a pastor, 'Do people who commit suicide go to Hell?' My understanding is that we all, when we die, rest in the hands of God. We can never know what is going through a persons mind when they feel their only option is to take their life. They are certainly not in a healthy state of being. Jesus seems particularly loving to those who are sick in mind or body.  God is a God of grace and forgiveness. Thankfully, the eternal destiny of us all lies with God's grace, not in each others opinions!

Sadly suicide is at a high rate in our society, particularly high among our young people. Having ministered to families in the midst of such tragedy, on more occasions than I would wish for, it is clear to me that what is required in such situations, is not judgment, but compassion of the highest order. It is one of the darkest and most disturbing of all bereavement situations.

Haunting questions such as 'Could I have done more to prevent this?', 'Was this really just a cry for help?' and 'Did they really mean to end their life?' remain forever open and unanswered. Even in obituaries and on death certificates a verdict of 'accidental death' is often recorded. Often times people look for a situation or a person to blame. The effect on  families left behind can be devastating. There are just too many unanswered questions.

Speaking of 'unanswered questions' Jesus is now taken to Pilate. Read 11-14.

The Trial before Pilate

 Meanwhile Jesus stood before the governor, and the governor asked Him, "Are you the king of the Jews?" "You have said so," Jesus replied. When He was accused by the chief priests and the elders, He gave no answer. Then Pilate asked Him, "Don't you hear the testimony they are bringing against you?" But Jesus made no reply, not even to a single charge--to the great amazement of the governor.

This brief passage gives little details as to what was actually said by his accusers. As with the previous trial by the Sanhedrin, Jesus refuses to answer any accusations, so we can presume it was more of the same trumped up charges. His innocence is clear to Pilate, who seems to completely underestimate the strength of their hatred towards Him. To His accusers minds Jesus was dangerous and had to go, no matter what the truth about him may be! In an effort to get himself out of a tricky situation Pilate has plan. There was another prisoner on death row called Jesus...an accused man known as Jesus Barabbas. Read 15-26

The Release of Barabbas

 Now it was the governor's custom at the festival to release a prisoner chosen by the crowd. At that time they had a well-known prisoner whose name was Jesus Barabbas. So when the crowd had gathered, Pilate asked them, "Which one do you want me to release to you: Jesus Barabbas, or Jesus who is called the Messiah?"  For he knew it was out of self-interest that they had handed Jesus over to him. While Pilate was sitting on the judge's seat, his wife sent him this message: "Don't have anything to do with that innocent man, for I have suffered a great deal today in a dream because of him." But the chief priests and the elders persuaded the crowd to ask for Barabbas and to have Jesus executed. "Which of the two do you want me to release to you?" asked the governor. "Barabbas," they answered. "What shall I do, then, with Jesus who is called the Messiah?" Pilate asked. They all answered, "Crucify him!" "Why? What crime has he committed?" asked Pilate. But they shouted all the louder, "Crucify him!" When Pilate saw that he was getting nowhere, but that instead an uproar was starting, he took water and washed his hands in front of the crowd. "I am innocent of this man's blood," he said. "It is your responsibility!" All the people answered, "His blood is on us and on our children!" Then he released Barabbas to them. But he had Jesus flogged, and handed Him over to be crucified.

I have spoken before of considering Matthew as a movie script. In one of the gospel blockbusters, (though I forget which one) this event is memorably pictured. The crowd are shouting for 'Jesus of Nazareth' to be released. Agitators, obviously belonging to those who want to see Him destroyed, are looking at each other in the midst of the crowd. 'What do we do now?' they ask each other. One looks at the other, with an 'I've got it' look in their eye and begins to shout at the top of his voice, “Jesus Barabbas, Jesus Barabbas!” The others join in, “Jesus Barabbas, Jesus Barabbas!”

Slowly the crowd become influenced and also change their chant from 'Jesus of Nazareth, Jesus of Nazareth' to 'Jesus Barabbas, Jesus Barabbas!'. Obviously the screenwriter is taking a large degree of poetic license with the gospel account, but it at least makes the point that crowds are easily swayed and are not known for their logical thinking. You may recall from our last chapter that Jesus had been handed over because of the fear of a riot.  Pilate has similar fears.

His fears are further intensified by the strange dreams of his wife. The Message bible pictures her sending him the message "Don't get mixed up in judging this noble man. I've just been through a long and troubled night because of a dream about him." We are not told what her dream actually was, but should remember that dreams were considered as a communication from the divine realm and were not to be treated lightly!

Pilate at first pleads with the crowd. But his protestations are drowned by the insistence that Jesus be crucified. Aware that he is losing the battle, Pilate takes a bowl and in front of the crowd, washes his hands as an act to demonstrate he was no longer being held responsible for their actions. The blood of the accused would be upon their hands, something the crowd are willing to accept as they respond ; "His blood is on us and on our children!"

 Throughout Matthew's gospel the conflict between two kingdoms, a kingdom of violence and God's kingdom of peace are the choices laid before the reader. In the garden He warns His disciples, “Those who live by the sword, will die by the sword”. Here, the people choose the option of power exerted through violence over the authority and power of God present in meekness, grace and forgiveness. They reject God's Kingdom and the fate of God's servant is sealed.

Later generations have wrongly used this passage to justify anti-semitism, suggesting that the betrayal of Jesus by the crowd, and their petition that the responsibility for His death should fall upon them, implies that the Jewish people were forever under the curse of being Christ-Killers. That is not the intention of Matthew's account. If there is any judgmental aspect to it, it is past, and took place at the Fall of Jerusalem in AD70, an event that would befall those in the crowd and their children. As the New International commentary points out 'Matthew does not wish for revenge or pronounce a sentence on all Jews forever.'

As to Pilate, there was an ancient legend that his wife, Claudia Procula, was a convert to Judaism at the time of her dream, and afterward became a Christian. According to this tradition, under his wife's influence, Pilate also became a convert in his old age. Interestingly the Eastern Coptic Church include both Pilate and his wife in their list of saints. However laying behind this absolving of Pilates' guilt is a desire to put all the blame upon the Jews.

Fact is, Pilate was the head honcho. The buck stopped there. He was responsible for the life of an innocent prisoner, no matter how loud the crowd shouted. He went against his conscience, his wife and the responsibility of his office in handing Jesus over to them. In Shakespeare's play 'Macbeth', there is the haunting image of Lady Macbeth, (Act 5, Scene 1) repeatedly trying to wash the blood of her crimes from her hands saying “Out, damned spot! out, I say!”. Hand washing does not circumnavigate responsibility.  Jesus is handed over to the crowd. Read 27-31.

Jesus is Tortured

Then the governor's soldiers took Jesus into the Praetorium and gathered the whole company of soldiers around Him. They stripped Him and put a scarlet robe on Him, and then twisted together a crown of thorns and set it on His head. They put a staff in His right hand. Then they knelt in front of Him and mocked him. "Hail, king of the Jews!" they said. They spat on Him, and took the staff and struck Him on the head again and again. After they had mocked Him, they took off the robe and put His own clothes on Him. Then they led Him away to crucify Him.

Matthew's theme of contrasting kings is given a perverse twist in the actions of the soldiers who mock Jesus. Failing to recognize His Kingdom, they initiate a violent parody based upon the aspects of Kingship. All the accouterments and insignia of royalty are present. Jesus is a clown-King complete with 'robe' 'crown' 'scepter'. They mockingly kneel before Him and acclaim His office as 'King of the Jews'

Early on in Matthew's gospel we had the account of the travelers from the East , the Magi, who come bearing gifts in deep devotion that they offer to the infant King. Among the gifts they bring is 'Myrrh'  a spice associated with suffering and death. Such was an odd gift to bring to a child, but in retrospect, Myrrh, seems all too appropriate.

A crown of thorns, that have sharp points that radiate outwards, like the rays of divinity that surrounded the emperors heard on a Roman coin, is placed upon Him, which must have been excruciatingly painful.  Yet Matthew does not focus on the pain or the details of Christ's torture. His original readers needed no description of what it meant to be crucified.

Those who are victims of violence, or even torture, in today's world, find in these accounts a God who is no stranger to their own suffering. I vividly recall visiting a parishioner in a city parish who, as an elderly lady, half-crippled and frail, had been robbed in her home, tied to her chair whilst the perpetrators ransacked her meager belongings, sworn at, beaten and kicked before they left. There's not really a lot you can say to a person who goes through such an experience, but I recall her words to me.

She said, “They beat Him... didn't they.” The fact that Jesus was an innocent victim subjected to mockery, violence and torture,  resonated with her and gave her hope. She did not feel God was absent, but in a curious way felt she had gained a new appreciation of what Jesus was prepared to go through for her, that she may live free and forgiven. One of the true privileges of ministry is that you get to meet people who truly redefine the term 'saint' and give you a whole different perspective on faith.

The reality is Jesus was not just a murder victim but also an innocent victim of mockery, torture and the grossest kind of violence we can imagine. All this at the hands of soldiers whose job was to stand for justice and restrain such acts as those in which they willingly participated. Such seems to be a feature of every war that's ever fought. We heard during the Iraq war of those whose actions made a mockery of their profession. Allegations of torture and violence are not just confined to history but remain a disturbing trend at times of conflict when prejudices are inflamed and opponents see each other as somehow less than truly human.

The darkness deepens and Jesus is led out to be crucified. Read 32-44

Jesus is Crucified

As they were going out, they met a man from Cyrene, named Simon, and they forced him to carry the cross. They came to a place called Golgotha (which means "the place of the skull"). There they offered Jesus wine to drink, mixed with gall; but after tasting it, He refused to drink it. When they had crucified him, they divided up his clothes by casting lots. And sitting down, they kept watch over Him there. Above His head they placed the written charge against Him: THIS IS JESUS, THE KING OF THE JEWS. Two rebels were crucified with Him, one on his right and one on His left. Those who passed by hurled insults at Him, shaking their heads and saying, "You who are going to destroy the temple and build it in three days, save yourself! Come down from the cross, if you are the Son of God!" In the same way the chief priests, the teachers of the law and the elders mocked Him. "He saved others," they said, "but He can't save himself! He's the king of Israel! Let Him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in Him. He trusts in God. Let God rescue Him now if He wants Him, for He said, 'I am the Son of God.'" In the same way the rebels who were crucified with Him also heaped insults on Him.

Gentile Kings welcomed the birth of Jesus. Now Simon, most probably a Gentile (as he hails from the Romanized district of Cyrene), is press-ganged into carrying His cross. Matthew, the most Jewish of the gospels, continues to emphasize the importance of the Gentiles. One man, a Jew, formerly named Simon (we know him as Simon-Peter) has denied his Master and sits broken in tears, and though he proclaimed he would walk to the end of the road with Jesus he is now nowhere to be seen. He is replaced by another Simon, who does go with Jesus all the way, this one an outsider and a stranger. Maybe this is one of Matthews ways of saying that it doesn't matter who you are or where you are from, right now this story of the crucifixion, is about you!

Wine was used not only for pleasure, but also as a narcotic to dull the sense of pain, rather like, every time anybody needs a tooth pulled or limb amputated in Wild West movies you see whiskey being used. Interestingly, as we contemplated earlier the gifts the wise men brought the infant Jesus, the wine administered as a narcotic was often augmented with Frankincense to increase the numbing effect. Such maybe the 'gall' referred to in our passage. However that may be, after tasting it, Jesus refuses it.

William Barclay comments, “He would not drink it, for He was determined to accept death at it's bitterest and its grimmest, and to avoid no particle of pain”. In order to fully enter into the human situation of death and suffering, Jesus will take nothing to prevent Him plumbing the depths of abandonment.

At the time of prohibition anti-alcohol preachers made great play of the fact that even in His hour of death Jesus rejected  demon drink. Of course they also completely ignored, or reinterpreted the fact that He both turned water into wine at a wedding and encouraged His disciples to drink wine to remember Him at His Last Supper. Some argued that the wine mentioned on those occasions was non-alcoholic, but there is scant evidence historically that such was the case.

The act of crucifixion is not dealt with in gory detail. This is not Mel Gibson's “The Passion” movie. As stated earlier, there was no need for Matthew to describe what a terrible death it was as, at the time he wrote, his original readers would be familiar with the Romans' barbaric execution methods.  For them it didn't need explaining.

What Matthew does focus on is the events that happen around the Cross. The soldiers divide His clothes. Many commentators see here a reflection on Psalm 22,  in which a dying person laments that their relatives are already dividing up their belongings.

There is deep irony in the fact that it is in mockery they nail a sign to the Cross 'THIS IS JESUS, THE KING OF THE JEWS.' Such a sign would be offensive to the Romans, because it would challenge the emperors all embracing power, and  to the Jews, whom the Romans sought to belittle by portraying their King as broken and defeated. The Romans would consider it a warning to any potential Jewish Messiahs that may arise in the future.

Isaiah  53:12, considered one of the Messianic prophecies of the Old Testament, reads: “Therefore I will give Him a portion among the great, and He will divide the spoils with the strong, because He poured out His life unto death, and was numbered with the transgressors. For He bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors." (Isa 53:12 NIV)

Commenting on Christ's crucifixion at the center of two criminals (and by implication suggesting He was the worst of them) commentator of old, Matthew Henry, writes: “Though while He lived, He was separate from sinners, yet in their deaths they were not divided, but He was made to partake with the vilest malefactors in their plagues, as if He had been a partaker with them in their sins; for He was made sin for us, and took upon Him the likeness of sinful flesh. He was at His death, numbered among the transgressors and had His lot among the wicked, that we, at our death, might be numbered among the saints and have our lot among the chosen.”

Those who pass by, those who sought His death, the chief priests, teachers of the law and elders, and even those crucified with Him, throw back the words Jesus has spoken during His ministry to mock Him. They dispute His claims to destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, His claim to be the Son of God, His works of salvation, His claim to be King, His hopes for Resurrection and His trust in God.

Two thousand years later those who mock the Christian message often pick on similar things. They dispute with us regarding Resurrection, Salvation and the claim of Christ to be Lord . They misinterpret His words, just as the passers by misunderstand His words about the temple. They say to us, “Show us a miracle and then we will believe” but fail to recognize the implications of the Son of God dying for our sins.

General Booth, the founder of the Salvation Army, once said, “It is precisely because He would not come down that we believe in Him”. Barclay comments “The Jews (and all of Christ's opponents) could see God only in power; but Jesus showed that God is sacrificial love” .

The events of the darkest day continue to unfold. Read 45-54.

 The Death of Jesus

 From noon until three in the afternoon darkness came over all the land. About three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, "Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?" (which means "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?").  When some of those standing there heard this, they said, "He's calling Elijah." Immediately one of them ran and got a sponge. He filled it with wine vinegar, put it on a staff, and offered it to Jesus to drink. The rest said, "Now leave Him alone. Let's see if Elijah comes to save Him." And when Jesus had cried out again in a loud voice, He gave up his spirit. At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook, the rocks split and the tombs broke open. The bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life. They came out of the tombs after Jesus' resurrection and went into the holy city and appeared to many people. When the centurion and those with Him who were guarding Jesus saw the earthquake and all that had happened, they were terrified, and exclaimed, "Surely He was the Son of God!"

As with the passage about dividing up His clothes, the words Jesus speaks about His abandonment are from Psalm 22, a Psalm in which a suffering person cries out to God for vindication. Those who knew the Psalm would understand that in the original instance the story ended with celebration, just as Matthew's gospel ends in resurrection, extending the call of the gospel to all nations and all peoples of all generations.

When ever we say together the words of the Apostles Creed we include the phrase “He descended into Hell”. Whilst the phrase is often linked to a rather obscure passage in Peter's letters about Christ preaching salvation to the spirits of the imprisoned dead,  it finds a deeper meaning in Christ's cry of dereliction from the Cross. There was no deeper abandonment , no deeper Hell, Jesus could travel through than feeling completely abandoned by His Father God. He cries out “My God, My God...” and the implication is that His God had left Him and abandoned Him to His fate.

With the benefit of hindsight and viewed through the lens of Resurrection, we know that was not the case.  What these words can mean for a person of faith is that, when we feel abandoned by God, or even if we feel like we are traveling through an undeserved Hell, then we have a Savior who totally understands and has experienced that most profound depth of suffering characterized as abandonment by our God.

'He descended into Hell' can be interpreted as one of the most hope filled phrases in the whole creed. The words imply that when we travel through times that take us beyond what we can endure, Jesus not only knows how that feels, but walks with us towards resurrection and restoration. At the time, we won't see it. But in God's time, we will find healing. Such is the tremendous promise of these words.

Of course the passers by don't see it that way. They misinterpret the mumbling of Jesus as though He is calling upon Elijah to save Him. But the reader of Matthew knows that Elijah had already come in the person of John the Baptist, the fore-runner to the Messiah. Jesus had explained to the crowds, back in Chapter 11:13-14 “For all the Prophets and the Law prophesied until John. And if you are willing to accept it, he is the Elijah who was to come.”

With a loud cry Jesus dies, He 'gives up His spirit'. A number of signs follow.

1. The curtain in the temple is split from top to bottom. The temple curtain was the barrier that divided the Holy of Holy's from the people.

a) The curtain represented Christ's body, which, as we demonstrate every communion meal when we tear the loaf into two pieces, was broken.  He is mocked upon the cross for saying the temple would be destroyed, but as Matthew has explained, the temple He spoke of was His body, which would be crucified and be raised on the third day. As His body, the true temple of God, was broken, so the veil in the temple was also split down the middle.

b) The curtain represented the mysteries of the Old Testament. The veil in the temple was designed to conceal, as was the veil  n the face of Moses when he came down from the mountain after receiving the ten commandments. In 1 Corinthians chapter 3:13-16 Paul teaches how the removal of the 'veil' or 'curtain' signified the old order that was passing away.

 “We are not like Moses, who would put a veil over his face to prevent the Israelites from seeing the end of what was passing away. But their minds were made dull, for to this day the same veil remains when the old covenant is read. It has not been removed, because only in Christ is it taken away.  Even to this day when Moses is read, a veil covers their hearts. But whenever anyone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away.”

The curtain was called the 'veil of covering' for it was an offense for anybody but the High Priest to proceed beyond the veil, and this in a cloud of smoke only once a year, to offer a sacrifice for the peoples sins. In the holy of holy's were the mercy-seat, a symbol of God's forgiveness (for Christians a representation of the forgiving grace of Jesus) and a pot of manna gathered in the wilderness during the Exodus, which according to new Testament     writers pointed to Jesus, the true Bread of Life.

c) The tearing of the curtain signified the uniting of Jew and Gentile. In Ephesians 2:14-16 we read; “For He (Jesus) Himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by setting aside in His flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in Himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which He put to death their hostility.”

d) The tearing of the curtain indicated the laying open of a new way to God through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. He becomes the High Priest who offers the sacrifice of Himself, 'the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world',  as John the Baptist proclaimed Him to be at the start of His ministry. In Hebrews chapter 10:19 -22 we read ; “Therefore, brothers and sisters, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus,by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water.”

Revelation 3:21 – 4:1 has a glorious picture of how the death of Christ has opened a way for us, through the veil, into the presence of God. “To the one who is victorious, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne, just as I was victorious and sat down with my Father on his throne. Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches. After this I looked, and there before me was a door standing open in heaven.”

2. The Earthquake. Matthew pictures for us the death of Jesus as being a moment in time of earth shattering significance. Until quite recently we used to number our years BC and AD, the popular designation of each epoch being 'Before Christ' and 'After Death'.  Evil is dealt an earth shattering and fatal blow as God shakes the nations.

3. The tombs of Israelite Saints, surrounding the city and the Temple Mount, are opened. These rock tombs anticipate the tomb in which Jesus shall be laid. We are given a rather peculiar picture of the saints being resurrected on Good Friday, but not going into the city till after Easter Sunday. The New International Commentary suggests “That we have (here) theology in narrative form, and not bare historical reporting, is clear. Although no theory of the atonement is elaborated, it is clear that for Matthew the death of Jesus is not a mere minus that will be negated by the resurrection. Already in the death of Jesus the eon-changing, dead-raising power of God breaks in

The crucifixion does not just impact the Jews who are standing watching the proceedings, but even the soldiers and officers are  awestruck by the signs that accompany it, leading one of them to declare "Surely He was the Son of God!". Again Matthew is keen to point out that this was an event that was a game changer for both Jew and Gentile. After death comes burial. Read 55-61.

Jesus is Buried

Many women were there, watching from a distance. They had followed Jesus from Galilee to care for his needs. Among them were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Joseph, and the mother of Zebedee's sons. As evening approached, there came a rich man from Arimathea, named Joseph, who had himself become a disciple of Jesus. Going to Pilate, he asked for Jesus' body, and Pilate ordered that it be given to him. Joseph took the body, wrapped it in a clean linen cloth, and placed it in his own new tomb that he had cut out of the rock. He rolled a big stone in front of the entrance to the tomb and went away. Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were sitting there opposite the tomb.

Though the disciples had abandoned Him, Matthew tells us that not all had scattered. Some of the women who had been following Him from earliest days of His ministry remained with Him. We have encountered them at various points in Matthew's story, but it is only at the end of the story their true faithfulness is revealed.

We are also encouraged to see that though there were many among the Jews who opposed Him, there were also those whose life had been transformed by Him, even amongthe ruling classes. The account of Joseph, a rich man of Arimathea, giving up his own tomb that Jesus may receive the dignity of a decent burial, is a wonderful picture of how faith could triumph over prejudice. But the story isn't over yet.  Read 62-66

The Next Day

The next day, the one after Preparation Day, the chief priests and the Pharisees went to Pilate. "Sir," they said, "we remember that while he was still alive that deceiver said, 'After three days I will rise again.' So give the order for the tomb to be made secure until the third day. Otherwise, his disciples may come and steal the body and tell the people that he has been raised from the dead. This last deception will be worse than the first." "Take a guard," Pilate answered. "Go, make the tomb as secure as you know how." So they went and made the tomb secure by putting a seal on the stone and posting the guard.

Then as now, those who deny the resurrection could have happened, suggest that the disciples must have stolen the body. I guess such a rumor was doing the rounds in Matthew's day because he gives us this story of the tomb being sealed to 'nip it in the bud.' Pilate tells the guards to “Make the tomb as secure as you know how." Presumably it was more than their job was worth to not do it properly.

Matthew wants us to understand that this was a tomb that not only had a huge stone rolled across it, but was then sealed and watched. If there was going to be a resurrection in three days, as Jesus suggested, then it had to be clear that such was a work of God against insurmountable probability, not some clever conjuring trick designed to lift the hopes of those who had seen their hero come to a tragic end.

And what happens next? Why, chapter 28 of course!