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.