Each of the four men who recorded the life and the ministry of Jesus Christ had his own perspective and objective in mind when assembling his eyewitness account of the life, and the death, the burial, resurrection, and the ascent of Jesus. For example, John's Gospel is the most philosophical of the four, using imagery: Jesus is the light. Using imagery to convey the concept that Jesus was the embodiment of truth.
Mark presents Jesus as the powerful Son of God, devoting much of his account to describing eighteen of the thirty-five miracles recorded, the most of any of the Gospel writers.
Luke is interested in showing Jesus, the Son of God, as fully human. And doing so by grounding his gospel record in precise history and the social and religious customs of the Jewish nation.
Matthew's unique perspective is to prove that Jesus is the Jewish Messiah according to the scriptures. And he does this in two ways:
- By proof texting much of Jesus' life and ministry to the passages in Scripture that described and foretold what the Messiah would say and do when He would appear. This is why there are 68 Old Testament references in Matthew, that Matthew states in making his point about Jesus. That's why when you're reading Matthew, it's always, 'as it was said', 'as it was foretold'. Matthew is always making sure that everything he writes about Jesus he supports it with a text in the Old Testament.
- Matthew is the only writer to specifically describe Jesus as a royal figure, the promised King from David's lineage. The true King of the heavenly kingdom.
For this reason, any study seeking to develop the biblical theme of the kingdom of heaven, which I have tried to do this morning and I'll try to do tonight, anyone trying to teach on this particular topic and various facets of that theme, needs to examine Matthew's account, since his gospel is completely immersed in this imagery of the King and His kingdom.
The title of the lesson is Kingdom Victory: The Power of Proclamation. And it suggests that there are two things to consider:
- The victory
- The proclamation
Matthew addresses both of these. So let's go to his gospel and first examine the events that occurred during Jesus' final hours leading up to His death and subsequent victorious resurrection three days later. Now many writers and commentators have referred to the last hours of Jesus' life, including His torture and crucifixion. They refer to all of this activity as the passion. And so, like the other three gospel writers, Matthew devotes the final portion of his written record to the passion and resurrection of Jesus, and he adds the commission that Jesus gave to the Apostles. You could say, not only the commission, but the proclamation, that He gave to His Apostles. So the passion is divided into three sections.
First of all, you have the final hours with the Apostles. The time with the Apostles included several scenes, the first of which is the anointing. A woman anoints Jesus' head with costly perfume. This was at the same time a gesture of honor and respect, and as well a prefigurement of His death, as His body is being prepared for the grave. This was done as Jesus ate with the disciples at the house of Simon the leper in Bethany. This act moved Judas to make an arrangement with the Jewish leaders to find a place and a time convenient for them to arrest the Lord.
The second scene is the Last Supper. The period of the year was the Passover, when thousands of Jews from all over the world conveyed on Jerusalem to celebrate this religious event. They would offer a lamb, a sacrifice, and they would gather to eat the Passover meal in remembrance of the time that they were liberated from Egyptian slavery many years before. Jesus, a devout Jew, gathered His Apostles, and together they shared the Passover meal, as the Jewish people had done for centuries. Near the end of the meal, however, He instituted a new meal of sorts. From that day forward, He told His disciples, they would share the Lord's Supper of bread and wine to commemorate His death on the cross, to save them from the condemnation due to all men and women because of sin. There was to be no more sacrificing of the lamb, because He was the final sacrifice for sin. He was the Lamb of God. There was to be no more bitter herbs to eat as a reminder of the bitter experience of slavery. From now on the unleavened bread would represent His pure body offered on the cross. And the fruit of the vine or the wine would represent His blood shed for sin. And the entire experience would now commemorate their freedom from sin, to a promise of an eternal home in heaven with God.
And then, the next scene was Gethsemane. The third event with the Apostles takes place in a garden outside the city walls of Jerusalem. At this place Jesus struggles with His human nature, which is recoiling at the thought of what He will have to face, and this is normal for this side of His nature. Some people wonder why was Jesus - He knew, He was the Son of God, He understood. Well, it wasn't His divine nature that was recoiling at this, it was His human nature that was recoiling at the thought of the suffering that He would have to undergo. And this would be normal. Any normal human being would feel this way. In the end the Apostles are with Him, but not much help, because they are weary with sorrow and sleep. The final scene shows the Lord coming to grips with the horror before Him. And as He does, Judas, the traitor, arrives to betray Him into the hands of the Jewish authorities, and the Apostles scatter, just as Jesus said that they would. Now what's interesting about these events is that each one contains a prophetic element about the death to come. For example, the anointing prefigures the burial. The supper, of remembrance. The garden of suffering and surrender. Note that in each instance the Lord is preparing Himself and especially His Apostles for the death He will endure in only a few hours.
The second part of the passion scenario, the trials, Matthew 26. We don't have time to read all these, but I think this is familiar material to most of us. Jesus had several trials or hearings which were organized in unlawful ways. For example, they were done at night. The law said you couldn't have a trial at night. They were done without all of the leaders present, and there was no 24-hour period of reflection, that was required between trials that sought the death penalty. The law said if you had a trial and a person was condemned to death, you had to wait an entire day between pronouncing the sentence and then 24 hours later confirming that the sentence would be death. It was a kind of a cooling-off period. Well, that was ignored. Of course the purpose of the trials was not to determine truth or justice. No, these were show trials that were conducted to provide a reason or a charge by which Jesus could be executed. Matthew describes two scenes.
The first, the trial before Caiaphas. Caiaphas was the high priest at the time, and Jesus was brought to him from the garden, after the betrayal by Judas. Here He was mocked and baited by those assembled. They have no charge, as one witness after another contradicts himself. Finally, out of exasperation, Caiaphas asks Jesus directly if He thinks He's the Messiah. Tell us, he says, are you the Messiah? And of course Jesus does not deny the claim, and in so doing He gives Caiaphas the charge he so desperately is looking for, and that is blasphemy - claiming to be God. Under Jewish law blasphemy was punishable by death, but while they were under Roman rule the Jews did not have the will of the civil or legal authority to carry out the death penalty. This could only be decreed by a Roman court, and carried out by Roman law. The next trial was the trial before Pilate.
The Jews now bring Jesus before Pilate, hoping to persuade him to carry out the death penalty that they have levied on Jesus. Pilate, in examining Jesus, finds nothing under Roman law to justify the execution of this man. On the contrary, the more he speaks with Jesus, the more he wants to release Him. Even Pilate's wife appeals to him to let the Jewish prisoner go, having had a dream about Him.
Pilate even tries to exchange Jesus for a notorious murderer, but to no avail. The Jews are adamant. Finally when he sees that the Jewish leaders are fomenting a riot over the issue, he relents and he permits the execution to go forward; the release of one innocent Jew was not worth the trouble that a riot would cause on his record.
In both trials no proof or credible charge was made, no guilt was found, no crime was committed, and no justice was meted out. Jesus was falsely accused, illegally tried, improperly sentenced, and brutally executed for being who He really was. There's the irony. They killed Him because of who He was. So anytime we feel unjustly treated or under-appreciated or falsely accused, compare it to what they did to the One who was completely innocent and without sin, and surely it will get things into perspective for you and for me, alright.
The third section of the passion describes the crucifixion and the burial. Again, Matthew 27:32-66. He describes the passion in the third section of this narrative, by relating the events of Jesus' crucifixion and burial. The crucifixion, Roman crucifixion, was merciless, excruciating, and deadly; so much so that a Roman citizen was not allowed to be put to death in this way. It was reserved for the worst criminals, for slaves, and for foreigners. Matthew does not provide much detail about the crucifixion itself, but rather spends more time describing the reaction of the people who were present at the cross. Interesting. I mean, he describes the soldiers as they gambled for His clothing, and the crowd who mocked His helpless person on the cross. He describes the Jewish leaders who taunted Jesus and also the criminals crucified with Him who insulted Him, and then one later repents, and Luke is the one who kind of describes that.
Matthew also describes the unusual things that took place once Jesus actually died: the veil of the temple was torn in two, the earth shook, some were raised from the dead who had been disciples and believers, one of the centurions who had participated in the crucifixion was converted on the spot, and Jesus' female disciples gathered together to witness His final moments. All these things described by Matthew.
And with this scene unfolding, Matthew also describes the fact that above His head on the cross was a sign that read 'this is Jesus, King of the Jews'. Now, the Romans had it put there to annoy and to humiliate the Jews. The Jews had objected and wanted Pilate to write 'He said, I am The King of the Jews'. John tells us this in John 19:21, thus putting the humiliation on Jesus and not themselves, but Pilate was adamant and the sign remained as it was originally written. Now despite the lies and disbelief, what was written above the head of the Lord as a form of mockery was, in the end, the exact truth of the matter. He was the King of the Jews. The Jews, in collaboration with the Roman authorities, had executed their own Messiah, and had done it through the hands of pagans, to make matters even worse.
So in that third section you had the crucifixion, and then the burial. Matthew goes on to describe the scene as Joseph of Arimathea and Mary Magdalene prepared the body for burial. There were others who participated, but Matthew mentions only these two. He also describes how the Jews, knowing of Jesus' prophecies concerning His resurrection, go to Pilate to make sure that the tomb is properly guarded. He permits them to double the garden, to put a seal on the stone, so there would be no tampering, no switching of bodies - putting a live look-alike to fake some kind of resurrection. This is the final scene leading up to the glorious event where Jesus will provide insurmountable proof to confirm His claim. And here's the money shot for this sermon - to provide and confirm the claim that He is the King of the kingdom of God in heaven, as well as the King of the kingdom of God here on earth. Who else could be the king of the kingdom of God on earth, but the One resurrected from the dead. So let's read Matthew's account of the King's victory, because this now is leading into the thought that I'd like to share with you tonight.
The Resurrection – 28:1-15
1 Now after the Sabbath, as it began to dawn toward the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary came to look at the grave.
It was early Sunday morning as several of His female disciples come with the hope of finishing the burial procedure left undone because Jesus' death occurred too near the Sabbath day.
2 And behold, a severe earthquake had occurred, for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven and came and rolled away the stone and sat upon it. 3 And his appearance was like lightning, and his clothing as white as snow. 4 The guards shook for fear of him and became like dead men.
Matthew describes what happened before the women had arrived that morning. The angel's presence had caused an earthquake when He rolled the stone away. The angel appeared as a man (they always do in the Bible). Matthew describes the angel in terms of bright light (common for spiritual beings to be described this way; i.e. Jesus at transfiguration). The guards fainted (they were afraid and unworthy to see the sight of the risen Christ).
5 The angel said to the women, "Do not be afraid; for I know that you are looking for Jesus who has been crucified. 6 He is not here, for He has risen, just as He said. Come, see the place where He was lying. 7 Go quickly and tell His disciples that He has risen from the dead; and behold, He is going ahead of you into Galilee, there you will see Him; behold, I have told you."
The angel instructs the women as to what has happened and what they should do.
8 And they left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy and ran to report it to His disciples. 9 And behold, Jesus met them and greeted them. And they came up and took hold of His feet and worshiped Him. 10 Then Jesus said to them, "Do not be afraid; go and take word to My brethren to leave for Galilee, and there they will see Me."
On their way to do this, Jesus appears to them and they worship Him as the King.
He also repeats the instructions of the angel (who originally received them from the Lord).
12 And when they had assembled with the elders and consulted together, they gave a large sum of money to the soldiers, 13 and said, "You are to say, 'His disciples came by night and stole Him away while we were asleep.' 14 And if this should come to the governor's ears, we will win him over and keep you out of trouble." 15 And they took the money and did as they had been instructed; and this story was widely spread among the Jews, and is to this day.
Matthew describes the scene where the Jewish leaders construct a story to explain the disappearance of the body and the amazing experience of the soldiers. It is interesting to note that Matthew credits this story as something that was still being spread by the Jews as a way to discredit the resurrection; even some thirty years later when Matthew was writing and circulating this gospel.
But Jesus has risen and the tide of human history will now change forever. A new King is crowned to rule over the kingdom that God has established on the earth in place of the evil ruler that held the power of death over the people.
One royal duty remains for the King to carry out.
The Commission – 28:16-20
Jesus' position as the Savior/King has been established fulfilling all the prophecies about Him. The prophets said that the Messiah and true King of God's people would provide proof of His identity by resurrecting from the dead. Many prophets and leaders did miracles, raised the dead and won great victories, but only the Messiah/King would die for the people and resurrect three days later. This was the final proof of His identity as King/Savior "who was declared the Son of God with power by the resurrection from the dead" Romans 1:4.
Now that this fact has been established, there remains one last act for the King to do. He now gives His Apostles a commission and the authority to proclaim the King's message throughout the world. The commission and message are the following:
18 And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, "All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age."
The Power of Proclamation
In reviewing the details of the Lord's suffering, death, and resurrection from Matthew's gospel, I have, in my own way tonight, made a proclamation of the King's victory through His glorious resurrection. Sometimes we say, well you've got to preach the gospel. Well, if you're wondering what it sounds like, well, the last 15 minutes or so you've been hearing the gospel: the life, the ministry, the crucifixion, death, burial, resurrection, and proclamation of Jesus Christ. That's the gospel.
The title of the lesson is The Power of Proclamation. And so, one might ask, well, where is the power? I've heard the proclamation, based on Matthew's witness, but how is this proclamation powerful? Is the power based on the eloquence of the speaker? I don't know about that guy, he drinks a lot of water. He has to read his notes. I don't know so much about eloquence. Is the power in the amount of detail? I don't think I've said anything that anyone here has not heard before. Is the power the type of presentation, using images or song or drama, emotion. Is that the power?
No, the power of the proclamation is not found in the speaker or the style, but in the content of the proclamation itself. We proclaim that Jesus, King of the kingdom, has achieved the victory over man's greatest enemy, which is death. And this victory has been witnessed by hundreds of people, recorded and preserved in the Bible. And we have been given the task to proclaim this good news to our generation today. We're responsible for today. We're responsible for this place. We're not responsible for New York. We're not responsible for Tulsa. We're not responsible for Rio de Janeiro. But we are responsible for Choctaw, and Harah, and Jones, Midwest City. We're responsible for that.
There is, therefore, power in the proclamation of Jesus' victory, because the resurrection is the answer to every doubt and fear and failure and disbelief in this fallen world. And we are responsible for making that proclamation to the people around us. A few months ago a man in Las Vegas shot and killed 59 people, and he did it on purpose. He planned it carefully. He organized his resources and then he went about killing as many people as he could, and he managed to kill 59 people and injured over 500 spectators attending a concert before killing himself. The worst single shooter, mass murder in American history. I hate when they say that - the worst. It's like he's won the title for the worst murderer, and it seems to appeal to the mind of these people who are deranged - thinking, wow, fifty-nine. Maybe I can get sixty if I get a bigger gun, and I'll add bombs or something. The media loves to splash this in front of the nation. Immediately after the incident, politicians and lobby groups began debating gun control laws and people started to raise funds for the wounded and there were endless articles about how to prevent these type of things: more counseling, better screening, more security at concerts.
How to prevent needless killing and death, but nobody bothered to bring up the idea that death was not the issue. You know why? Because everybody dies some time or other, and in some way or another. It's sad, but it's true. The issue wasn't death. The issue is judgment. What happens after we die? This person sent 59 people to judgment, whether they were ready or not, they were going to judgment. They had no time to prepare. They had no time to think. They had no time to review. They had no time to kind of repent. They were at a concert listening to music, the last thing on their mind was judgment. We know that there will be a judgement, the Hebrew writer tells us, "It is given to "man to die once." And you know what? You die once from cancer, getting hit by a car, old age, arthritis, you die from a gunshot wound. It is given to man to die once. Sometimes die young, sometime die old, sometimes die suddenly, sometimes die long and drawn-out dying, but one thing is sure, you die some way or other. And then comes the judgment. We now have confirmation of this with Jesus' resurrection, which among other things, affirms as true all that is written in the Bible. The risen Christ declares that there will be a judgement, and this truth cuts through all the tears and sorrow and clattering media noise surrounding this horrific event, and it speaks to the people involved in the following ways:
- To the family of those killed; and it says, if your loved one was in Christ, you may be sorrowful now, and in pain now, but you have hope because Jesus' resurrection guarantees their resurrection and yours as well, when the time comes.
- To those wounded and witnesses scarred for life. I mean, 500 people were wounded by bullets or whatever, or being trampled on in the riot, but what about the people who witnessed the carnage? You can never unsee an innocent person being murdered. And you certainly can never unsee 50 innocent people being murdered in front of your eyes. You cannot unseen that. Your life has changed forever. And so, to the wounded, and to the witnesses, the gospel says, you have a chance to reflect on your life - what is true, what is not true. You have been spared and you can still contemplate the resurrection and what it means for you, and what it means for your future. That's the message of the gospel to this guy.
- To the shooter's family, his brother said that he had no religious affiliations. He was not a man of faith. His passion was gambling, not God. He becomes an example of how wicked a person without Christ in his life can actually become, and why Jesus died on the cross to begin with. He may have escaped justice here on this earth, but Jesus' resurrection guarantees that he will face God's justice when all men will be resurrected to be judged for their deeds done in the body. Paul says in Romans two,
On the day when, according to my gospel, God will judge the secrets of men through Christ Jesus.
- Romans 2:16
The proclamation of Christ has power not only for the good news that it announces, but also for the answers it provides for those who are hurt and sorrowful and frightened, as well as the warning of judgment to come for disbelievers and mockers and the wicked in this world. And believe me, there are wicked people in this world. Parents and grandparents, you do well to protect your children. There are bad people in the world who consciously want to harm us. This shooting is the reason we need to proclaim and keep doing so until Jesus returns. Let the politicians worry about who has and who hasn't got any guns, that's not our job. Our job is to proclaim the gospel.
If you want to gauge how powerful the proclamation of the gospel is, try to imagine a world without that proclamation. We get a glimpse of a world without the proclamation, of a powerful message from God, where only a few people held fast to a promise of future salvation way in the future. For example, one was during the pre-diluvian era of Noah, where the Bible describes a society whose every thought was constantly evil. Can you imagine living in a society where every thought of every person was evil? At least in this nation there are many, many believers, thousands, millions of believers. And yet, Noah was in a minority, an extreme minority. He did not have a message of great hope or joy. He had a message of salvation, but nobody listened to him. The other was the King's dream interpreted by Daniel, who declared that the entire world would be ruled by pagan empires. Think about it now, for over 600 years. This morning I talked about Daniel's - not his dream, but his interpretation of the king's dream. And we were amazed at the idea that this prophet of God was able to predict accurately the rise and fall of four world empires, one after another, but do we remember for a moment, do we think for a moment that each of these empires were pagan empires? He was telling the world that you better get ready, because for the next six centuries pagan empires are going to rule. The proclamation of a risen Christ will not fix a broken world, this is the promise of ideologues and politicians. We're going to fix the world. Yeah, good luck with that. The proclamation's purpose is to call people out of the kingdom of darkness and into the kingdom of light, (Colossians 1:13).
The world is on fire and it'll be destroyed along with everything and everyone whose life is bound to it, as Peter says, concerning those who have been saved, that they have, as he says, escaped the corruption that is in world by lust, Second Peter verse one to four. And note that on Pentecost Sunday, after he had finished proclaiming the good news of Jesus' resurrection, Peter said - and I'll show it up here - What did he say? "With many other words he solemnly testified and kept on exhorting them, "saying, 'Be saved from this perverse generation."
The kingdom's victory is not that somehow we have won over the world or we've repaired what is broken and bent. The victory is that those who were dead in sin, now can be made alive in Christ, and will be resurrected to eternal life when He returns. That's the good news. The message is powerful, if we would only proclaim it. The number one reason why churches are small and remain small, is not because they are in small towns or they don't have a full-time preacher or their building is not suitable, these are symptoms, not causes.
The cause for non or very limited growth anywhere, not just here in Oklahoma, is that we're not proclaiming. Proclamation is the most powerful tool we have for growing churches anywhere in the world. Find a medium that you have access to and you can afford, and start proclaiming the Good News.
Ask yourself - and I say, let's ask ourselves the question, how are we proclaiming Christ to our community? Are we being trained for evangelism? Do we regularly communicate with our community in some way, sharing the gospel with them? Inviting them to our congregation to hear God's word being spoken. Radio spots, cable TV, websites, life, class, gospel meetings. It doesn't matter. We need to figure out a way. The more the victory is proclaimed outside the church building, the more people on the inside of the church building. Simple as that. I have some individuals that have invited me to come and do a church growth seminar in Kentucky next year. We're just talking about that, and he wanted to know what's the basis? Is there a complicated, 20-step plan? No 20-step plan. Simply train and get each individual member of the congregation realizing that they, in their own way, are responsible for proclaiming the Good News to their mothers, to their brothers, to their neighbors, to their family, to their children.
The more we proclaim the Good News on the outside, the more our congregation will be filled with people who have heard the Good News and responded to it on the inside of the building. It sounds simple. It's not always simple to do, but really that's the action plan. Those are the marching orders. Again, nothing new. I think I'm preaching to the choir here, but something that we always need to keep in our minds and in our hearts. And so, as I finish, I exhort us, a new year is coming. Some make some kind of plans for new year resolutions. Whatever it is, make that a resolution. In some way, I'm going to try to proclaim the Good News in some way to someone else this year. This is the action plan. So I pray that God blesses all of us as we renew our efforts to proclaim the victory of Christ to our community and to our nation. If, however, you are here this evening and you yourself have not responded to the Good News for whatever reason, you've neglected to do so, you've put it off, there were things missing in your faith, understanding, whatever it is, if you're ready to respond to Christ now, the Good News of His resurrection and the promise of your own, then I do encourage you to do that this night, as we sing the song of encouragement.