The Power of Proclamation
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, death, burial, resurrection and the ascent of Jesus to heaven. For example, John's Gospel is the most philosophical of the four, using imagery (i.e. Jesus is the light) 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. He did this 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. 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 which he states in making his point about Jesus. That's why when you're reading Matthew, he is always connecting Jesus to the Old Testament prophets with the phrases, 'as it was said', or 'as it was foretold'. Matthew is always making sure that everything he writes about Jesus is supported with a text from 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 work seeking to develop the biblical theme of the Kingdom of Heaven, which I have tried to do in this study, and anyone trying to teach on this particular topic or various facets of this theme, needs to examine Matthew's account, since his gospel is completely immersed in the imagery of the King and His kingdom.
The title of this chapter, therefore, is Kingdom Victory: The Power of Proclamation. As the title suggests 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 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 but also adds the commission to the Apostles as well. To begin with, 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 both a gesture of honor and respect, as well a prefigurement of His death, as His body was being prepared for the grave. The anointing occurred 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 converged on Jerusalem to celebrate this religious event. They would sacrifice a lamb and 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.
The next scene was played out in the garden of Gethsemane. This place was a garden located outside the city walls of Jerusalem. At this place Jesus struggled in prayer with His humanity, which recoiled at the thought of what He would have to face, this being a normal reaction for the human part of His nature. 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. At this point 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 prefigured His burial; the supper, His remembrance; the garden, a preview of suffering and surrender. Note that in each instance the Lord was preparing Himself and especially His Apostles for the death He would endure in only a few hours.
The second part of the passion scenario are the trials, Matthew 26. We don't have time to read all of 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 capital offense trial at night. They were done without all of the leaders present, and there was no 24-hour period of reflection which 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 confirming that the sentence would be death. It was a kind of a cooling-off period which was ignored in the haste to execute Jesus. 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 was a hearing before Annas the former High Priest who quickly passed Jesus on to the current High Priest, Caiaphas. Here He was mocked and baited by those assembled. They had no charge, as one witness after another contradicted himself. Finally, out of exasperation, Caiaphas asks Jesus directly if He thinks He is the Messiah. Jesus, being true to Himself, does not deny the claim, and in so doing gives Caiaphas the charge (blasphemy - claiming to be God) he so desperately is looking for. Under Jewish law blasphemy was punishable by death, but while they were under Roman rule the Jews did not have 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 important trial, therefore, was the trial before Pilate, the Roman governor.
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 permits the execution to go forward; the release of one innocent Jew was not worth the trouble that a riot would cause on his governing 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 your experience to what they did to the One who was completely innocent and without sin in order to get a proper perspective.
The third section of the passion describes the crucifixion and the burial. Again, Matthew 27:32-66 describes the passion in the third section of this narrative, by relating the events of Jesus' crucifixion and burial. The method of execution, 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, slaves and 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. For example, 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, one of whom later repented.
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 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 to make matters even worse, had done it through the hands of pagans.
In the third section Matthew describes the crucifixion, and then the burial. Matthew goes on to describe the scene as Joseph of Arimathea and Mary Magdalene prepare 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 was properly guarded. He permits them to double the garden and to put a seal on the stone, so there would be no tampering, no switching of bodies - parading some live look-alike to fake a 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 is the proof text for this study - 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 is now leading to the main thought that I'd like to share.
The Resurrection – 28:1-15
1Now 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 came with the hope of finishing the burial procedure left undone because Jesus' death occurred too near the Sabbath day.
2And 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. 3And his appearance was like lightning, and his clothing as white as snow. 4The 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).
5The angel said to the women, "Do not be afraid; for I know that you are looking for Jesus who has been crucified. 6He is not here, for He has risen, just as He said. Come, see the place where He was lying. 7Go 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.
8And they left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy and ran to report it to His disciples. 9And behold, Jesus met them and greeted them. And they came up and took hold of His feet and worshiped Him. 10Then 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).
12And when they had assembled with the elders and consulted together, they gave a large sum of money to the soldiers, 13and said, "You are to say, 'His disciples came by night and stole Him away while we were asleep.' 14And if this should come to the governor's ears, we will win him over and keep you out of trouble." 15And 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 of 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:
18And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, "All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. 19Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, 20teaching 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 through this book, made a proclamation of the King's victory through His glorious resurrection. Sometimes we say, well you've got to preach the gospel. If you're wondering what that is like, in the time you've been reading this chapter, you have also been reading my own preaching of the gospel: the life, the ministry, the crucifixion, death, burial, resurrection and ascension into heaven of the Lord is the proclamation of Jesus Christ. That's the gospel!
The title of this chapter 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? Is the power in the amount of detail? Is the power the type of presentation, using images, song, drama or 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, then recorded and preserved in the Bible. Like previous believers before us 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 or Tulsa or Rio de Janeiro but we are, however, responsible for our community, our town and neighbors. We're responsible for these.
There is, therefore, power in the proclamation of Jesus' victory, because the resurrection is the answer to every doubt and fear, failure and disbelief in this fallen world. We, the believers, are responsible for making that proclamation to the people around us. On October 1st, 2017 a man in Las Vegas shot and killed dozens of people, and he did it on purpose. He planned it carefully. He organized his resources and then went about killing as many innocents 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 this man 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 kill 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. All the talk about 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 at some time or other, and in some way or another. It's sad, but it's true.
The issue here was not death. The issue was 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 repent of wrongdoing in their own lives. They were at a concert listening to music, the last thing on their mind was judgment.
We know that there will be a judgment, the Hebrew writer tells us, "It is given to man to die once, then comes the judgement" (Hebrews 9:27). We are aware of the fact that death comes to every one of us albeit in different ways: You die once from cancer, getting hit by a car, old age, arthritis, or you die from a gunshot wound. It is given to man to die once. Sometimes the young die, sometimes the old, sometimes folks die suddenly and at times death only comes after years of suffering, but one thing is sure, you die some way or another... 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 judgment, 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 families of those killed the gospel says, if your loved one was in Christ, you may be sorrowful 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 being trampled in the frenzy caused by the shooter 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 unsee 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 the wounded in life.
- To the shooter's family, who reported that he had no religious affiliations. He was not a man of faith. His passion was gambling, not God. He now becomes an example of how wicked a person can become without Christ in his life and more importantly why Jesus died on the cross to begin with. He may have escaped justice here on this earth in taking his own life 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,
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 the 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 the gospel 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 salvation far into the future. For example, 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 no one 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 for over 600 years into the future. We are amazed at Daniel's ability as a prophet to interpret a dream about matters well into the future. More specifically the rise and fall of four world empires, one after another, but do we think for a moment that each of these nations would become 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. The proclamation's purpose is to call people out of the kingdom of darkness and into the Kingdom of Light, (Colossians 1:13), a declaration that brought hope to countless generations before and after us as well.
The world is on fire and it'll be destroyed along with everything and everyone whose life is bound to it. Peter says, concerning those who have been saved, that they have escaped the corruption that is in world by lust (II Peter 3:1-4). And note that on Pentecost Sunday, after he had finished proclaiming the good news of Jesus' resurrection, Luke records Peter's ongoing message, "With many other words he solemnly testified and kept on exhorting them, saying, 'Be saved from this perverse generation," (Acts 2:40).
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 is that Christians are 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 start proclaiming the Good News.
The first question to ask ourselves when considering the growth of the church is, "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; using radio spots, cable TV, websites, life, class or gospel meetings? The more the victory is proclaimed outside of the church building, the more people will eventually end up on the inside of the church building. Simple as that. No 20-step plan. Simply train and encourage each individual member of the congregation to accept 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 and to their children.
The more we proclaim the Good News on the outside, the more our congregations 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 to try to proclaim the Good News in some way to someone else. 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.