The Easter Message According to Matthew

Matthew 26:1-28:20

Key Verse 28:6

“He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay”

Today’s we’re going to be looking at the Easter story as told by Matthew, the man who used to sit at his tax collector’s booth in a corner of the market place and collect taxes for the Romans from his own people. Not everyone paid up, so Matthew probably employed some thugs to shake up those who didn’t want to pay as well as those who couldn’t. I cannot imagine how cruel and heartless someone like this could be. Today, in a world controlled by money, people like him are everywhere, and their cruelty knows no bounds, not caring whose life they ruin as long as they are making money. Matthew was like that. But now Matthew’s the one who left us with this most remarkable story about all the events that happened towards the end of Jesus’ ministry and life. It is the story that has been told and retold more times than we know over the generations. It’s impossible to imagine what inspiration it has brought to the countless souls who have heard it! Of course, to some it was nothing more than just a story. But to others like Matthew who have seen through it to the love of God, they were blessed much. After meeting Jesus and knowing him for who he is, never again was Matthew the man he used to be. Nor was Peter nor Joseph of Arimathea nor the women, nor anyone else among those who followed him. In these last events of Jesus’ ministry and life, all these things come to light about these people. The Easter story is about Jesus of course, but it is also about what Jesus had done to them, to us, to the world, and to everyone who gets even a glimpse at the meaning of the Easter events. There is so much to be told in these chapters, yet in them all, there is just one eternal and inevitable truth. Jesus didn’t just die— he sacrificed himself— and that’s vital. People die. They die for nothing. They die for causes. They die for love. They die from old age. But Jesus died as a ransom sacrifice for our sins. I don’t know how many times people hear this and become numb to it. But for those who have not been born again through the repentance and faith, faith comes through hearing and hearing comes through the word of Christ. So the story needs be told.

If you look at chapters 26:1-2 you will see that Jesus for the sixth time during his whole time with his disciples, he tells them that he’s going to be crucified. Of course, the disciples had no idea up until the moment he was actually being dragged to the crucifixion site. They should have believed every word about it, like they believed every word about everything else he said to them. But who would have imagined that this larger than life Teacher who calmed storms at sea, who cured leprosy, who opened blind eyes, who even raised the dead could be crucified! Certainly they didn’t. They kept on thinking he might be talking in parables and riddles! But it was straight talk about the necessity of his death out of his love for them. Unless he sacrifices his life and spills his righteous blood for them, neither they nor anyone else could be forgiven. Already sinister plans were being hatched in secret to end his life. (3-5, 14-16)

Verses 6-13. While the enemies of the truth were plotting against Jesus, look at two of the most beautiful events that happened at the time. The first event Matthew records in verses 6-13. Jesus was on his way now to Jerusalem where he would die the next day. And Matthew tells us what a woman, perhaps Mary of the town of Bethany did. Listen to what he says: “A woman came to him with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume, which she poured on his head as he was reclining at the table.” (7) One of the most beautiful sacrifices ever made to the Lord in love. How could she put a price on all that he’s done for her, on his love and forgiveness? His love and forgiveness were priceless. It didn’t even cross her mind or heart that this very expensive perfume is wasted, because how could anything be wasted if it was offered to Jesus in his honor and for his glory! So Jesus made woman’s beautiful act of love and worship of Jesus a paradigm to learn and to emulate in gospel history when he said: “I tell you the truth, wherever this gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.” (13)

Verses 17-30.  The second beautiful event Matthew records is the famous Last Supper at the Passover, or what we usually have come to participate in— the Holy Communion, which the Lord Jesus had with his disciples on the last night before his crucifixion. They sit together, and Jesus declares that one of them will betray him. It had to be the hand of a friend. As usually, the devil found someone close who was once excited to be part of Jesus’ close circle, but when Jesus’ life and ministry eventually conflicted with his own life plan, he found a way out and quietly slipped away. He thought he was smarter than all the others to think for himself rather than to mindlessly follow the teaching of a Messiah doomed to failure. What kind of fair-weather friend is this! He leaves you just when you need him the most! Many friends seem to be like this in this pragmatic world! But After the betrayer left, Jesus did what God had promised to do since we were once broken and lost to him. He had promised to bind himself to us once again— and this time— he would do so even in flesh and blood forever. Jesus said to them as he says to us— which is also the Easter message: “While they were eating, Jesus took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to his disciples, saying, ‘Take and eat; this is my body.’ Then he took the cup, gave thanks and offered it to them, saying, ‘Drink from it, all of you. This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. I tell you, I will not drink of this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it anew with you in my Father’s kingdom.’” (26-29)

And what this means is that our soul is parched and dead but there’s nothing in this world that can either revive it or forgive it for the sins that we commit against God and each other. And if you think for a moment that any sin can go unpunished, your mistaken! If a crime against a neighbor ends you in jail here on earth, what do you think will happen when you have to face God for the sins you commit against him? And even if we sacrifice offerings for our sins, our sins are so many that not even all the animals and sacrifices in the world would be enough to cover all my sins and yours for our forgiveness. So God gave his Son’s blood so that even one drop of his blood can forgive all our sins, if we only ask for it. And that’s the covenant that Jesus came to make with us when he sacrificed his life on the cross. It would be a covenant or agreement that binds us to God forever, so that from the moment that you put your faith in Christ, you are forgiven, and his life begins to flow in you such that you are bound to him as he is bound to you in an inseparable way— forever— and you now belong to him and he now belongs to you. And this is the most beautiful thing you will ever hear in your life. And if you still don’t understand what this means, read John 15-17, and then Romans 8, and you’ll begin to understand!

Verses 31-35. Actually between verse 30 and 31 here in chapter 26, you can insert the discourse in John 15-17. After this most memorable supper in the history of the world, Jesus’ heart is now heavy, really heavy, but not only for himself. His heart is heavy for his disciples who were still so unspiritual and really understanding the spiritual war going on all around in the spiritual world which they could not see. Jesus needed to sacrifice his life. It was absolutely necessary for him to do so. He had come to this world to do specifically that. He had tried to tell them in so many ways, although their ears were closed in so many ways as well. Judas had gone off to betray him because he loved money more than he loved the Christian life. But what about Peter? Peter loved Jesus. But he also loved his own ego and self image too a lot! So when Jesus warned him that he was in danger of denying him, Peter’s stubborn pride got in the way— he didn’t listen. And so he was set for a devastating but necessary fall. ( 69-75) Sometimes when someone’s ego or self image is too strong to counsel or to instruct, nothing can be done except to wait until after their devastating fall, they hear the rooster crows. Peter was never the same self absorbed, self assured man that he was after this. Like Matthew, the Easter events changed him. They would change him yet again, until none of him left in him, but only Jesus was left in him.   

Verses 36-46.       Even though Jesus knew that he would be crucified, and he well knew about it long enough, it never made things any easier for him. Imagine having known it all his life! And imagine the time for it coming closer and closer. How dreadful it must have been for him! But he was prepared. And he was prepared in two ways, even though it wasn’t easy. He was prepared in the sense that unlike Peter and the others disciples (33,35; 40-41), Jesus himself had accepted the word of God. He had never doubted that what God had said would happen, was going to absolutely happen. (31; Zechariah 13:7) He believed that he would be stricken and would die according to the word of God. He believed that he would rise from the dead, also according to the word of God. (32; Acts 2:27) In that way his heart was prepared. Faith in the word of God always prepares us to face even the most dire of circumstances. On the other hand, he was also prepared because he was prayerful. Jesus came to the garden of Gethsemane specifically to pray. During his ministry, he had always prayed. He had prayed in every situation before and after all events, and for all things. Now, in this most critical moment of his life, Jesus was prepared even to die because he had learned to depend on God in prayer. Jesus came to Gethsemane prepared to sacrifice himself for us. He knew he needed to sacrifice himself. There had no doubt in his heart that he had to be a sacrifice. And he was armed with faith and with prayer. Still it wasn’t easy. In fact, Matthew tells us that he agonized more than anyone of us can imagine. And in his anguish, he prayed. But this is the question. What did he pray about? What he prayed about is in fact the foundation of all prayers— the one prayer that every prayer should be based on. “My Father….. May your will be done.” (42) To Jesus, at this moment in life and in time, “All that matters is your will Father, that’s all that I want”.  And because of that, you and I have the privilege to repent and ask for forgiveness, and to receive it; And to enter into a covenant with God, and to enjoy the sanctity of heaven and the company of angels and of the holy God forever!

Verses 47-56. When Jesus had finished praying, we can imagine the strength and courage God flooded his heart to face what was coming. And what was coming was nothing anyone of us wants to ever face. The unbearable suffering was about to begin. The betrayer arrives with a contingent of soldiers. He identifies Jesus and they drag Jesus away to face his accusers. And they were the members of the ruling class of his people, called the Sanhedrin. Verses 57-68. Not all of them, since all 70 members could not be gathered all at once for the quick mock trial the high priest’ cronies were about to give Jesus. They were not interested in the truth, nor were they interested in a fair trial at all. The only thing they were interested in was this: “The high priest said to him, “I charge you under oath by the living God: Tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God.’ ‘Yes, it is as you say,’ Jesus replied. ‘But I say to all of you: In the future you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven.’ Then the high priest tore his clothes and said, ‘He has spoken blasphemy! Why do we need any more witnesses? Look, now you have heard the blasphemy. What do you think?’ ‘He is worthy of death,’ they answered.’” (63-66) And that’s all they were interested in. They coaxed him into speaking out a truth he knew and they knew that it would humanly seal his death sentence. But Jesus didn’t simply declare to them himself to be the Messiah, the Son of God. He also lovingly warned them against making the wrong decision regarding the Messiah. He is now the Messiah who sacrifices himself for the forgiveness of those who repent and believe. But when he sits at the right hand of the Mighty and comes on clouds of heaven, he will come not as the loving Savior of men but as their judge, and God help those who stood on the wrong side of the fence! I think on that day, the regrets of human race will run like a river.

Chapter 27:1-10. Judas whom Jesus loved as his friend never imagined that abandoning Christ and life with Christ was like selling him out. But to the eyes of God and the whole world, Judas ended up selling his friend for money. And when it finally dawned on him, he went and hanged himself. He never heard the rooster’s crowing because he never listened long enough to take anything Jesus said to heart. If he had, he wouldn’t have hanged himself, but would have like Peter come to his senses, repented and become a new man in Christ who could share his testimony with the world. But each person has to make their own decision when it comes to how they listen to Christ and to his gospel message. That’s why the Easter message is a critical message for the whole world, and not only to Christians.

Verses 11-26. After his own people the Jews condemned him to death, they brought him before the Roman governor Pilate to seal that death sentence. Pilate questioned him. “Are you the king of the Jews?” It was the only question Jesus would answer because it was the question to which truth could be answered, and to which men of all generations could be held accountable for, because of what they would do on this day to him! And Jesus said “Yes, it is as you say”. (11)  Beyond that Pilate tried his best to free Jesus but couldn’t win over the bloodthirsty Jews who wanted him crucified and thwarted every effort Pilate made to free him. And so Jesus was condemned to death by crucifixion, the cruelest method the Romans used to torture their most notorious criminals.

Verses 27-66. It was not enough that Pilate condemned an innocent man to death, but Jesus was now handed over to be mocked and abused by the soldiers who had fun with him in the courtyard and prepared him for crucifixion. It is hard to imagine what suffering our Lord went through on that morning before he began his long walk to the place of the Skull where his cross would be raised. By the time they put the nails in his hands and feet and raised him on his cross with two other criminals on either side of him, his torture must have been unbearable. They offered him some pain numbing mixture to take but he refused it. To add insult to injury, those around him kept taunting him with hurtful words that no man needs to hear in his dying hour, especially not the one who has done nothing but pour out his life in the service of these very people. Jesus felt that pain very deeply. He felt a deeper pain still. “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me” he was heard saying in Aramaic from the cross. It was the pain of being separated from God when taking upon himself all our sins. Most do not think much about sin and the significance of sin in this world. And that’s because we are born in it and we are born to it, and we are as familiar and comfortable with it as we are walking down the street. But when we see the Son of God denied by his brother, betrayed by his close friend, captured and tried by his very own household, tried by unconscionable strangers, beaten and abused and mocked and tortured and crucified for no reason other than he loved and served, then we can better see what sin is. That was part of our many sins that God would take and place on Christ and crucify in him. And then when God turns away from his own Son so that his Son cries out “Why have you forsaken me”, then we can really see what sin has done to all of us, how it has cut us off from God. This is why Jesus had to be crucified. Because once your sin and mine are crucified in Christ, what’s left?

What happened after the crucifixion? We have chapter 28:1-11. And it’s all about the resurrection. This means that Jesus did not remain crucified. And he did not remain in the tomb he was buried in either. There was a centurion (27:54) who witnessed the death on the cross and was so transformed by it that he cried out “Surely he was the Son of God”. That Easter message was never the same for someone like him. After him, a man called Joseph (27:57), a prominent member of the very senate that condemned Jesus to death, and who used to be a secret disciple of Jesus, thought to himself, “It may destroy my career and my seat on the senate and all my business ventures, but the heck with it, I’m coming out!” He went to Pilate asked for Jesus’ body and buried it in his very own family tomb. Of course, all the woman who followed Jesus never cared who knew they were Christians. They were there at the cross. They were there at the burial. And those who stayed up were also there at the resurrection. First the angel said to them: “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…. Go quickly and tell his disciples. ‘He has risen from the dead.” After that Jesus himself found them and said to them: “Do not be afraid. Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.” And it was there that the Easter message has its beginnings. Just don’t be afraid! He has died! He has risen! That’s the Easter message.

Just don’t be afraid….. Don’t be afraid of what? I don’t know, he said don’t be afraid of those who can kill the body but who cannot lift a finger to h arm your soul. Of course, we cannot give you false hope that says don’t be afraid that no one will step on your toe as you walk out the church today! That’s ridiculous. But don’t be afraid of what?????? [your past— your future— your sins— your punishment— how God sees you— who you are— what might be— just don’t be afraid! He has died. He is risen. Don’t be afraid! Trust him. Believe in him. Proclaim him. Rejoice in him. Don’t be afraid.

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