Day 86 – Matthew 27:15-28:20 – April 1, 2013

brick-wall1My original plan was to continue to post each day right through the reading schedule; but as we celebrated the risen Christ, wrapped up the series this morning, and begin preparations for a new preaching series next week, I just felt like it was time to wrap this up as well. So our reading today, as I’ve amended it, takes us right to the end of the Book of Matthew. I have broken up by our daily reading, if you’d like to do it that way, but it just seemed right to wrap it now, this Easter Monday.

Matthew 27:15-31, Sending Jesus to be Crucified: In this scene Pilate decides to go with the custom granted to him to release a prisoner to the crowd. He brings up Barabbas and Jesus and asks the crowd to choose who will go free. Pilate has been warned by his wife, who was warned through a dream, to release Jesus. The only other time the Greek word for “dream” is used in the scriptures is in Matthew’s account of Jesus’ birth. It comes up a handful of times in the nativity story, and every time the dream is a warning to protect the life of Christ. Here at the end of Matthew’s Gospel, the word comes up again, and, yes, as a warning to protect the life of Christ. But this time the warning is not heeded, and Christ is handed over to be crucified. How might things have ended had Pilate heeded the warning from his wife’s dream? Many would say that we would all be in bad shape had Christ been spared the cross. I say “hogwash”. How small is our God, if our God cannot get the necessary redemptive work done no matter what actions we choose? Nevertheless, the warning is not heeded and Jesus is handed over.

Matthew 27:32-37, To The Cross: As strange as it may sound, this is one of my favorite stories in the Gospels. I don’t care for the whipping and beating, but there is something particularly poignant in the help Jesus receives from Simon of Cyrene. There are many ways to read this, but when I read it, I find I am humbled by the fact that here God calls an ordinary person, like you or me, into the redemptive work of God. Simon does not do any redeeming, but he plays a part. Christ is beaten down to the degree that cannot do it all alone, and Simon comes in to play a part. What must that have been like? He certainly didn’t know what he was doing at that time, but in all of the “heroes of faith”, I wonder if Simon of Cyrene, who gets just three verses, belongs there. Yes he was forced, yes he didn’t know what he was doing, but he played an intimate role in the redemptive work of Christ. How are we playing our roles? Do we pick up the cross in our lives when Christ is getting beaten down, or do we hide away with the crowd?

Matthew 27:38-56, Torn in Two: He is nailed to the cross and then mocked- people reminding him of his own words about tearing down the temple and then rebuilding it in three days. As he breathes his last, the curtain on the temple is torn in two. The curtain was a thick veil around the Holy of Holies, the place where the Spirit of God was said to dwell. Just minutes ago Jesus was mocked, and now, in essence, he has torn the temple down. He has unleashed the Spirit of God onto the world. She is no longer veiled, but she is made available to all. The Spirit of God, the same spirit who breathed life into Adam now breathes new life to all of humanity…

Matthew 27:57-66, Sealed Up: …but the body of Christ is not free. Pilate grants Joseph of Arimathea permission to give Jesus a proper Jewish burial, a beautiful moment, but also a not-so-subtle way for Matthew to remind us that this Christ is indeed Jewish, just as his genealogy back in chapter 1 showed. He is given the proper burial, laid in the tomb and his body is sealed up by a large stone and guarded by Roman Centurions. As darkness falls over the land, and over the hearts of Christ’s followers, his body is sealed up tight. For now…

Matthew 28:1-15, He is Not Here: …but on the third day, the day which is Biblically known as the day that God shows up, God showed up. The tomb is empty and we are told, “he is not here, he is risen.” As I talked about in worship yesterday, just as Jesus would not be held back in life, he would not be held back in death. And just as the body of the Christ is not here but is risen out in the world, so too should we, “The Body of Christ” not be “here” but out in the world. What is easy to miss in this resurrection narrative is that Jesus does not appear to “The 12” until we get to what we know as the “The Great Commission”, which takes place in Galilee some 90 miles away. Why is this? Could it be perhaps that ever since the genealogy Matthew has a Jesus breaking the Kingdom of God wide open, and so his first appearance to “The 12” is not in Jerusalem, but away from the holy city. It is in Galilee where it all began, and it is from there that Jesus hands off the baton of breaking the kingdom wide open to his disciples as he commissions them to…

Matthew 28:16-60, To All the World: …”Go therefore 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 that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age”. He says “to all nations”. The word for “nations” here is the Greek word “ethnos” (εθνοσ). It’s where we get our word for “ethnic”, and is often translated as “gentile”. If you recall, back in Matthew 10:6 Jesus told his disciples to go to the “lost sheep of the house of Israel”. Having done that, having started with those within Israel that Jesus counted as “lost”, which, arguably, led to his crucifixion, Jesus now hands off the baton to his disciples and says take it worldwide. The Kingdom of God has been broken wide open, and the disciples now take it and go with it. They don’t do it perfectly, but here I sit, 2000 years later, taking 86 days to work through the Gospel of Matthew. Glory to God. The Kingdom has broken wide open, but there is still opening to be done. I would be willing to bet that the disciples often felt as though their work was falling in vain. I’m sure at times they felt like what they were doing was having no long term impact on the world. But here I sit writing. And here you sit reading.

May we do our part. And when it all feels in vain, may we remember the work of our brothers and sisters who began this work, by the power of the Spirit of God, who kept going; who believed enough in this good news to keep working to break it all wide open. So friends, “let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching” (Hebrews 10:24-25, NRSV). And let us work  by, and with, the Spirit of God to take the good news of new life in Christ to all nations, all people, everywhere and always, remembering that “all” means “all”. No exceptions.

Thanks for joining me on this journey. It has blessed me more than you know. God be with you as you do your part to break open the Kingdom. Amen.

 

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Day 85, Easter Sunday – March 31st, 2013 – Matthew 27:1-14

Today is Easter Sunday. The day Christ rises from the tomb. It is a very good day, but our reading schedule has us only at 27:1-14, where Judas takes his own life and Jesus is on trial. While we will celebrate the risen Lord in worship this day, the daily reading will continue through the week of Easter.

Today’s reading is a dark one for Easter Sunday. It is difficult for me to read with any attention all that follows these words about poor Judas: “Throwing down the pieces of silver in the temple, he departed; and he went and hanged himself”. Again I want to refer to a portion of our Good Friday service two nights ago. I believe Judas deserves a deeper look than he often gets. He is often painted so two dimensionally, as just a mere tool to get Jesus to that cross, that his humanity and, I believe, true three dimensional character is lost. Here is what we talked about on Friday:

There may be no character in the Scriptures for whom my heart breaks more than Judas. Poor Judas. The scriptures are hard on him. In Matthew and Mark he is “the betrayer”. In Luke, Satan enters into him. In John, he is darkness and has the devil in his heart. History too has been unkind. His name has become synonymous with “traitor”. But there is something we often forget about Judas and something we often miss about him. We forget that at one point Judas left his life behind to follow Jesus. Just like with many of us, something about Jesus inspired him enough to follow when many did not. We need to remember that about Judas. He followed. And we often miss a key phrase in this passage. We hear “betrayer”, we hear “hanged himself”, and we hear “pieces of silver”; but do we hear, “he repented”? Do we hear the admission of sin, do we hear the word repent, a form of which literally means “to have regrets about something in the sense that one wishes it could be undone”? I don’t know about you, but there have been times in my life where I have had “regrets about something in the sense that I wish it could be undone”.

Have you ever felt that way? Do you feel that way today? Has the weight of your actions toward God or another caught up to you that you feel, like Judas, that you are unworthy of Jesus and his sacrifice? Or maybe it’s not something you did, but something some one else did to you that made you feel unworthy. Judas was in utter despair about what he had done. If the devil had entered his heart, I wonder if it was manifested not in as much what he did, but more so in what he thought of himself for having done it. When he looked in the mirror what he saw was what the scriptures label as him as: “betrayer”. It was true. He did betray. But there was something about him which he couldn’t see, and which was even more true. 1 Corinthians 13:12 says, “For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known”. The mirror into which we often look is dim. And in it we see things like “betrayer”, “sinner”, “unworthy”, “not good enough”, “dirty”, “weak”, “unholy”. But on the cross the deceiving steam on the mirror is wiped away and we see ourselves as God sees us. God who fully knows us. It is there in the sacrificial love of the Christ on the cross that what is most true about us is revealed. And what is most true about us is not things like “betrayer”, “sinner”, “unworthy”, “not good enough”, “dirty”, “weak”, “unholy”. What is most true about us is that we are “forgiven”, “beloved”, “righteous”, “holy”, “free”, “alive”, “strong”, “enough”, “beautiful”, “risen with Christ”, and a whole host of other glorious words which God ascribes to us. If only Judas could’ve seen himself in this way.

Day 84 – March 30th, 2013 – Matthew 26:69-75

If you were at our Good Friday service last night this may, and hopefully will, sound familiar. As I sat down to write about Peter’s denial, it was difficult to see past the meditation from the service last. So today’s post, comes from last night’s Good Friday experience…

Jesus gets people into trouble. Earlier in his ministry Jesus said, “Do not think I have come to bring peace to earth. I have not come to bring peace but a sword”. Jesus has come to bring a sword but it is not a broadsword meant for battle. It is a small sword meant to divide. It is a precise sword that separates. It separates the old life from the new. It separates what is holy from what is profane. It separates what was from what will be. It is a sword that reveals to us what is real and what is counterfeit. When we are cut by this sword, we cannot help but live differently. Live a new kind of life, a life in the ways, rhythms, and voice of Christ. This Christ. This Christ who is in chains, accused of blasphemy, and soon to be condemned to die. When we choose to live in his ways, rhythms, and voice, we begin to look and sound like him. We speak in his accent. And just as being Christ got him into trouble, so too when we look and sound like Christ do we get into trouble. “You were with him… yes, you were with him… your accent betrays you”.

How many times have we, like Peter, tried to cover up our accent? How many times have we hidden Jesus, the light of the world, behind the curtains of our hearts. How many times have we denied our master for fear of the trouble we might get into? Fear of being outcast socially; of being marginalized professionally; of being limited economically; fear of what might be. Under the shadow of cross we deny Christ, yet on the cross his blood still pours out for us. Endless denial, an abyss of hiding, infinite covering up cannot drown out the forgiving, freeing, love laden blood of Christ’s sacrifice. His accent reveals who we are, his light exposes how we live, his embrace carries us through the troubles. So let us speak authentically, let us shine brightly, let us be carried confidently through the troubles that can come with following this piercing Jesus.

Day 83 – March 29th, 2013, Good Friday – Matthew 26:57-68

I remember early on in my acting studies in college learning a lesson about the strength of stillness. I was doing some scene work where the character gets angry, and in an attempt to be dramatic I went crazy on the stage. My prof revealed to me the strength of playing the anger not so violently but under total control. Calmness is actually more strong than lots of movement and volume. It’s what makes Anthony Hopkins’ Hannibal Lecter so terrifying. It pierces you. I don’t know if Jesus is angry here, and he is certainly no Hannibal Lecter, but his calmness in this scene reminds of that kind of strength and power. We have just come from Gethsemane, where Jesus reveals his weakness. He says, “I am deeply grieved, even to death”. He prays, “let this cup pass from me”. The weakness of his humanity comes through in Gethsemane. But it is also there that he submits and walks towards his accusers. Now he stands before them and the image that comes to my mind is of a confident, strong, fully in control man of God. It is piercing. In contrast we have Caiaphas tearing his garments in rage, and I believe this rage is a response to the power in Christ’s steady, calm manner. The calm strength of the Christ exposes the enraged weakness of Caiaphas.

The strength Jesus portrays here is very real, but not of him. It comes through laying himself down before his Creator, through being authentic about his fear and weakness, and through letting the grace of God, that is the activity of the Spirit of God in his life, come upon him. Jesus’ ability to face his accusers and ultimately embrace the cross with the strength and power that he does is perhaps the most full manifestation of God’s grace the world has ever seen. It is the power and activity of God in Jesus’ life that enables him to overcome his weakness and move towards God’s call for him. And this is true about you and I as well. It is by God’s grace that we can live and move through the hard stuff of life. By ourselves, we cannot do it. But God’s power and strength is an ever flowing stream for us. What are you facing these days? Don’t worry. Don’t panic. Find your “Gethsemane”, and in it let the grace of God envelop you, and through it, know that you can stand calm and strong in the face of your accusers.

Day 82 – March 28th, 2013 – Matthew 26:47-56

Judas has come, and betrays Jesus with a kiss. There is a lot going on in this passage, a whole series worth of sermons if you ask me. But every time I read it, I get stuck on the kiss. Why the kiss? What is going through the mind and heart of Judas at this time?

It was after the woman anointed Jesus’ feet that Judas went and made the deal (Matthew 26:14). By the time we get to the institution of the Lord’s Supper, this scene is a forgone conclusion. Judas has, as lady Macbeth said, “done the deed”, even though he says, “surely not I, Rabbi”. Matthew doesn’t tell us when, but somewhere between the supper and Gethsemane Judas takes off to get the “large crowd” with swords and clubs. Images of Frankenstein come to mind. And he has it set up that he will kiss Jesus and that will signify who the one they are to arrest is. But, again, why the kiss? Why not just say, “it’s him, that one”? Is he trying to play it off like he’s innocent so he gives Jesus the proper greeting? Or is there sarcasm in his kiss?

From what we know about Judas’ end, I think he was, in a very literal sense, out of his mind. My heart breaks for Judas. He is deeply troubled. He often is painted simply as “the betrayer”, which is what Matthew calls him here, and we demonize him as almost not human. But we forget that, which I think I addressed in an earlier post, that Jesus chose Judas. Jesus did. Jesus, who sees people for who they most fully are. Jesus, who sees the heart of people and knows their intents, chose Judas as one of his 12. Many may argue, and there is an argument to be made, that he chose him simply to fulfill the prophesies and get him to the cross, but I’m not so sure. I think Jesus saw a man of passion and conviction in Judas, but his passion and conviction got the best of him. I am not going to presume to know the answers, but I know that I would like to repaint Judas a bit. Let’s remember that he was a person, just like you and I. He was a flawed, troubled, beloved child of God, just like you and I. He is easy to demonize, but we also must remember what Paul said in Ephesians: “For our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh” (Ephesians 6:12). That means that if it has flesh and blood, it is not our enemy. It is not one we can demonize.

So why the kiss? I don’t know, but I wonder if it is that he couldn’t say it. Deep down inside he knew what was true, right and good, and couldn’t outright point and accuse. He had to do it passively, for in passivity we can do that which we can’t do. When we move towards that which we know deep down is wrong in the company of the truth, we get passive. It’s a way of fooling ourselves into dodging what we’re actually doing. Perhaps that’s what’s in the mind and heart of Judas, but I really don’t know. Why do you think Judas betrays with a kiss?

Day 81 – March 27th, 2013 – Matthew 26:36-46

Jesus doesn’t want this. He is “deeply grieved, even to death” about this. He prays that this cup might pass from him. What I love about the scene in Gethsemane is the vulnerability of Jesus. Ever since chapter 23, and even before, we have seen a strong, confident Jesus, saying the hard words in the hard way to the religious elite, and boldly and clearly predicting his death. He does not seem to have any fear or hesitation about what is about to happen. He appears ready. Even when dining with his disciples, he seems confident and ready, even naming his betrayer. But as they approach Gethsemane, you can almost see him pause, take a deep breathe, turn to his friends, perhaps with a tear in his eye or a crack in his voice, and say, “I’m scared. I’m unsure. My heart is heavy. My soul is deeply grieved”.

He then heads in, falls to the ground and prays, but not before asking something of his disciples: “Remain here and stay awake with me.” There is no way that any of them could have understood what Jesus was going through at that moment. But in one of his most human moments, Jesus doesn’t need them to understand. He only needs them to stay awake with him. He only needs them to sit with him. We live in a culture that wants to fix things. When we see a friend who is hurting, we want to know why, we want to fix it, and in many cases we want some one to pay. And if we can’t do any of those things we often feel paralyzed, so we shut off and go to sleep. Jesus doesn’t need his friends to fix anything. he doesn’t need them to have answers. In his grief, he only asks that they stay awake with him.

Remember in chapter 25 when he talked about “what you’ve done to the least of these, you’ve done to me”? The poor, broken, homeless, naked, hungry, imprisoned are Jesus in this world. Sometimes we look at things like poverty, and, with the best of intentions, we want to fix it. But most of us can’t . It’s a good and noble thing to do what we can to fix it, and we should fight for the cause of the poor, to be sure, but for the most part we can’t fix it. So what do we do? I wonder if we go to sleep. We can’t fix it, answer it, solve it, or justify it so we go to sleep. I wonder if all God wants is for us to stay awake. I wonder if God is saying to us, “could you not stay awake with me for on hour?”. It’s hard to do, but some times all God is asking us to do is simply stay awake and sit with the Christ in his moments of brokenness, hurt, fear and grief.

Day 80 – March 26th, 2013 – Matthew 26:30-35

Now we are moving. The meal has finished and Jesus and his disciples are on the move now. Everything that happens from here on out is one more step closer to the cross. As they approach Gethsemane, Jesus says, “You will all become deserters because of me this night”. I don’t know about you, but I was struck by the word “deserters”. The only context in which I’ve heard that word is when a soldier deserts his or her post trying to flee the war in which he or she is charged to fight. In many ways that imagery fits here, but looking it up in other translations reveals something else. The King James says, “ye shall all be offended”; the NET and NIV say, “you will all fall away; the NASB also says, “fall away” but with a note saying “or stumble”. The Greek word is defined as “to cause to be brought to a downfall”. It is the same word used when Jesus warns us about being a stumbling block or causing one to sin. So prior to this verse, Jesus says things like, “If any of you put a stumbling block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were fastened around your neck and you were drowned in the depth of the sea” (Matthew 18:6), yet here he says, “you will become [stumbling blocks] because of me”. Let’s make sure we’re reading this correctly. He is essentially saying, “you will be caused to sin because of me”. Is Christ, “the solid rock”, also a stumbling block? Is Jesus causing us to sin? Or is something else using the context of Jesus’ arrest, trial, suffering and death to cause us to sin? I think it’s the latter, otherwise I think it would read, “I will cause you to sin this night”. It’s a curious statement by Jesus, and with all the warnings he’s given about his suffering and about stumbling blocks, it’s no wonder that Peter (and all the disciples) deny that this will happen.

What strikes me in this is that at some time we all become deserters. We all turn the other away, turn our backs to Jesus. And yet, from the very beginning, Jesus has been saying, “repent… turn around for the kingdom of heaven is at hand”. Our backs are toward Jesus, yet he makes the first move in coming to this earth to be with us. Even with him right in our very midst, we will again turn away. But then he makes a second first move towards us by going to the cross. God’s love is always moving towards us even though we may turn away. God’s love is always pursuing us, even though we may be fleeing. God’s love is always making the first move to capture us, and though we may run, the pursuit of God’s love is relentless. In a very real way, we can run, but we cannot hide. God’s love is there, whether we want it or not. So slow down. Stop. Turn around. Quit deserting and look upon the gracious, loving face of the Christ who calls you beloved.