What is the most important thing I could say this morning? Is it something that would be the key to you having more success in your work place, figuring out how to ensure a financially secure retirement, how to excel in school, or how to make sure you’re in a good and healthy dating relationship? Perhaps our answers to what is the most important thing I could say gives insight to us concerning what we most value, doesn’t it? Just as that which we pray about most often probably shows where our priorities are, so answering this question is revealing, isn’t it?
What makes this difficult is that we’re easily confused as to what’s most important and find ourselves fickle in our answers. At one point in our lives, getting children to sleep through the night probably felt like priorities one, two, and three in our lives. At another point, the topic of dying well probably feels a bit more relevant and pressing. This is why it’s good for us to submit ourselves continually to God’s Word, giving up our attempts to discern what is best, most helpful, and most important in our lives. And thankfully the Bible actually speaks to this topic of what is most important.
In 1 Corinthians 15:1-4, Paul writes to the Corinthians saying that he wants to remind them of the gospel, which he preached to them, which they received, by which they were being saved. Then he writes this: “For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures” (1 Cor. 15:3-4).
What was most important in Paul’s mind for him to say and the Corinthians to hear was something he’d already said and something they’d already heard and received. It was the gospel, the good news that Christ lived, died, was buried, and was raised on the third day, and that all of this happened in accordance with the Scriptures. He knew nothing was more important than for him to say and for them to hear this message.
Now, I’m going to confess something to you. Positively, I love and think about the gospel often. My greatest joy as a pastor is to see in you all a love for the gospel. I remember vividly sitting on the side of the sanctuary in our old building, during a funeral, watching you all not only finding yourself comforted by the truth of the gospel but rejoicing in it, being moved to love God more, as we sang the gospel truths together in song. And, in that moment, I thought, as a pastor, I could not be prouder. But, negatively, there are times when I want to shrink back from preaching the gospel.
Now, by that, let me tell you what I don’t mean. I don’t mean that I’m tempted to believe that there is salvation outside of repentance and faith in the crucified and risen Lord Jesus Christ alone. That’s not what I mean. Nor am I even tempted to preach a sermon without mentioning the life, death, and resurrection of Christ for us and reminding us that we must repent and believe if we are to be saved. I’m actually not at all tempted to shrink back from that. I make it my intentional goal to state and remind us of the good news of Christ’s death and resurrection and our response to him often.
What I do mean is that I can feel the temptation when I think that the main message of the text I’m preaching is simply to remind the Lord’s people (and all who do not know him as well) of the basics of the gospel message, especially when it seems that this was the main point of the last number of texts I preached, to want to find something more creative, something new, something you might not know, and hold that up for you.
But as I’ve looked at this text this week, continued to meditate on these verses, and even read of some tragic examples of individuals who’ve abandoned the gospel, I’ve been reminded that I must not give in to the temptation to try to be wiser than God but to trust that what he’s inspired in his Word and made sure it is stated repeatedly is something that he desires to be preached repeatedly, even if it means that the main points of your sermon could just be copied and pasted from one set of slides to the other each week.
Therefore, this morning, as we look at Matthew 26:47-27:26, I want to hold up for you what the Scripture tells us is the most important thing I could say this morning. And my prayer is that as we meditate on and are reminded of the glory of the gospel once more, that it will function to make us grow more amazed at the gospel, more attracted to the good news, more desirous to proclaim it ourselves, more eager to apply it to ourselves, and more in love with our Lord who lived, died, and raised for us.
What then does Matthew 26:47-27:26 teach us in terms of the gospel? First, we are reminded that:
The death of Christ was necessary in order to fulfill God’s redemptive plan for us
It feels like over these last few chapters of Matthew that Jesus is bending over backwards in his teaching to the disciples (and Matthew in his writing of this gospel) to make sure that we understand that Jesus’ death was not simply some accident of history. The gospel isn’t a message of good news if Jesus was simply killed by men who outmaneuvered and got the best of him. It’s only good news if Christ’s death was something Jesus himself chose to do in order to fulfill what was necessary for our salvation in accord with God’s redemptive plan for us, and that’s exactly what our text this morning reminds us is true.
This section of Matthew’s gospel covers Jesus’ betrayal at the hands of Judas, arrest and sham trial before the high priest, chief priests, and elders, Peter’s denial of Jesus, Judas’ sad ending of his life, and Pilate’s questioning of Jesus before handing him over to be crucified. But it is in this first section, where Matthew records the betrayal and arrest of Jesus that this is most clearly seen.
The situation plays out even as Jesus had earlier predicted, knowing that Judas would betray him. While Jesus was speaking with the disciples, after having been praying in the garden, Judas comes up to him, leading a great crowd with swords and clubs, coming from the chief priests and the elders to arrest Jesus. Now it may be that despite all the news of Jesus that had spread through the area, many were still unsure what he looked like (after all, these weren’t the days of having your picture plastered everywhere), so Judas tells them that they can seize the one whom he kisses. Then, he walks up to Jesus, saying, “Greetings, Rabbi!” and kisses. Jesus, of course, knows what’s going on and the men lay hands on Jesus and seize him.
Now, having just told Jesus that he won’t deny him, Peter perhaps sees this as his moment of truth. He takes his sword and tries, as seems most likely, to kill one of the soldiers. After all, most people don’t aim their swords at people’s ears. But because of Peter’s poor aim or the soldier’s agile dodging, Peter is only able to cut off the man’s ear.
But Jesus does not praise Peter for his heroism. In fact, he rebukes him. He reminds Peter that if he’s going to make himself someone who is a man of violence, seeking justice with his sword, then he’ll likely be one who’ll die by the sword as all. After all, Jesus doesn’t need Peter to defend him. Jesus tells Peter, “Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels?” (26:53).
Now, when you consider that a Roman legion was made up of about 6,000 men, and that we have record of one angel in 2 Kings 19:35 killing 185,000 Assyrians in one night, the fact that Jesus has 72,000 angels at his disposal any minute makes Peter’s poor sword skills feel a bit silly and obviously unnecessary.
But Jesus’ point isn’t that he doesn’t need Peter to defend him because he’ll call down angels to do that work. His point is that even though he could call down angels to wipe out anyone he wants, he is voluntarily allowing himself to be arrested and ultimately killed because, as Jesus says, “How then should the Scriptures be fulfilled, that it must be so?”, which is again confirmed in verse 56 as Jesus says, ‘But all this has taken place that the Scriptures of the prophets might be fulfilled.”
In other words, far from Jesus’ death being an accident of history, it was foretold that this would be the way that God would redeem his people. For example, the prophet Isaiah wrote in Isaiah 53, “He was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he opened not his mouth. . . . Yet it was the will of the LORD to crush him; he has put him to grief; when his soul makes an offering for guilt, he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days; the will of the LORD shall prosper in his hand. Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied; by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant, make many to be accounted righteous, and he shall bear their iniquities” (vv. 4-7, 10-11).
Jesus gave himself over to death in order to submit to the will of his Father (as he did in the garden), knowing that this was the only means that would redeem his people, atoning for their sins, so that they [so that we] might be counted righteous before God. Jesus asked in the garden if there was another way. There wasn’t. So he submitted himself to the will of his Father, fulfilling Scripture, and redeeming us in the only way possible. His death was no accident of history. It was a voluntary sacrifice so that we might be free from the penalty our sin had earned us.
And I’ll add that the reason this is man’s only hope is because outside of Christ, none of us can measure up. Even bold-talking, seemingly courageous Peter will only lie and run away when he’s trusting in his own power. Peter’s denial stands in this story, not so that we might look on him in judgment, but so that we might be reminded that he is a picture of us—those who have no hope in our own strength, but who through forgiveness and grace can live unto the Lord and see him accomplish much for the sake of his kingdom. Christ’s died not to call the righteous but sinners like Peter, and you, and me to repentance. And we should rejoice this morning that he did.
But this text isn’t simply about Jesus’ death. We’re also reminded that:
Jesus’ judgment and death ultimately gave way to a great reversal
After Jesus was seized by the group, they took him to Caiaphas, the high priest who had been appointed such by the Romans. And the elders and scribes had gathered there. Now, they knew that Jesus wasn’t a criminal in any sense, so they intentionally sought false testimony against him. And the text tells us, “They were seeking false testimony against Jesus that they might put him to death, but they found none, though many false witnesses came forward” (vv. 59-60). So, how does this work?
Well, what it probably means is that many people were coming and bringing false charges against Jesus, reports of him being unlawful and the like, but no two agreed on anything, perhaps even contradicting one another. That’s one of the problems of people coming forward as witnesses and lying. It’s hard to get on the same page. But finally, Matthew tells us in verses 60-61, “At last to came forward” and corroborated each other’s stories, saying, “This man said, ‘I am able to destroy the temple of God and to rebuild it in three days.”
Now, that’s not really what Jesus said, and he was talking about his body, not the temple itself. Nonetheless, Caiaphas capitalizes on this, saying to Jesus, “Have you no answer to make? What is it that these men testify against you?” (v. 62). But Jesus, even as Isaiah predicted, remained silent. So Caiaphas charged him under oath to answer him, saying, “I adjure you by the living God, tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God” (v. 63).
And Jesus answers, “You have said so” (v. 64). Now, I remember years ago when I first read this section of Matthew’s gospel and saw Jesus’ answer, I was a bit disappointed. I would have preferred for him to say something like, “Yes, I am,” not “You have said so.” What does, “You have said so” even mean?
But it has been pointed out, helpfully, that this exact phrase was uttered by Jesus to someone else just a few verses earlier. In the Passover meal with his disciples, Jesus had said that one of them would betray him, and we read in verse 25 that “Judas, who would betray him, answered, ‘Is it I, Rabbit?’ [And Jesus] said to him, ‘You have said so.’”
And what’s interesting about this is that Judas had already made the deal to betray Jesus. He knew it was him. So, why would Jesus answer him, “You have said so” instead of just, “Yes, it is”? Well, perhaps the reason is because Jesus wants to answer in a pointed, stinging kind of way. That is, instead of Jesus saying, “Yes,” Jesus says, “You have said so,” because Judas was asking a question he knew the answer to, trying perhaps to act as if he was innocent, and Jesus was saying, “It’s you and you know it’s you.”
I think that’s pretty much what Jesus is saying to Caiaphas here. Caiaphas cannot act as an innocent bystander, as Jesus stands before him to be judged. Caiaphas has seen plenty. He has been given sufficient proof. When he asks if Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God,” he already knows the answer, he’s simply unwilling to profess what he knows to be true.
So, Jesus not only says something that we should perhaps understand as, “It’s true, and you know it’s true,” but he also follows with, “But I tell you, from now on you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power and coming on the clouds of heaven” (v. 64). That is, Jesus is saying, “You know it’s true, and you can act like it’s not true all you want right now, but one day, you’ll see plainly who I am, and you’ll no longer be able to deny it.”
In fact, if they were looking for a reason to execute Jesus, he gives it more clearly than any of the false witnesses. He makes it clear that he is claiming to be the one in Daniel 7 who will receive the kingdom. He is claiming to be God’s Messiah, the King who will reign over the world and judge all men. That’s why Caiaphas responds by tearing his clothes, accusing Jesus of blasphemy, and declaring, “He deserves death” (v. 66).
But don’t miss what Jesus is saying in this answer. He is telling Caiaphas (and all of us who have eyes to see and ears to hear) that though Jesus now stands to be judged and will ultimately be executed, there is a great reversal coming. Yes, Jesus will die. We will read of his crucifixion and death in the second half of chapter 27. Yes, he is now standing to be judged by these men and will be condemned of blasphemy. Yes, he looks to be much weaker than these who exercise their power over him, even spitting on him, slapping him, and mocking him.
But one day, Jesus is saying, I’ll be dead no more. One day, you’ll see me alive, recognizing that death was not the last word. One day, you’ll see that your charge of blasphemy could not be more wrong as you’ll see me seated at the right hand of Power, coming on the clouds of heaven. One day, you’ll no longer be seated as I stand before you to be judged, but I’ll be seated at the right hand of power, and you will stand to be judged by me. There is a great reversal coming, Jesus says. And we know that it has come. Jesus was raised on that Sunday (it’s why we gather on Sundays now), and he not only ascended into heaven to be seated at his Father’s right hand, but he is one day coming back to judge all men.
This then leads us to the final point I want to make from the text this morning.
Every person must respond to Jesus, and the only right response is repentance and faith
One of the things that you can’t avoid as you read through this section in Matthew’s gospel is that every person is put on the spot to see how they’ll respond to Jesus. When Jesus proves that he isn’t going to go at Rome with the sword but rather lay down his life, the disciples flee and Peter denies him. When he stands before Caiaphas, we see someone suppressing in his unrighteousness what he knows to be true.
But we also see two other inadequate responses to Jesus from Judas and Pilate in 27:1-26. It’s interesting that these men’s stories are woven together. I mean, when you read the story, they’re obviously not together because Matthew is giving us chronological history. In 27:1-2, we read that the chief priests and elders gathered together in the morning, took counsel against Jesus, and determined he should die. Now, if you’ve paid attention, you’re probably asking, “Why did they have to do that? Didn’t they just do that overnight in their trial?” Well, yes they did. But their law requires them to handle such cases in the day. So, they gather in the morning, go through the motions, and get it done.
But they can’t actually carry out an execution, however, so they have to take him to the Roman governor, Pilate, to get the deal done. That’s why verse 2 ends with the word that they’re delivering him over to Pilate. And you’d think that the next element in the story would be what we find in verse 11, namely, “Now, Jesus stood before the governor.” But it’s not. Instead, Matthew inserts the story of Judas regretting his decision, trying to give the money back, throwing the silver in the temple, and going out and taking his own life. Moreover, we’re also told that the chief priests and elders gather up that money and go buy a field (which they obviously didn’t do in the time between verse 2 and verse 11. So, why does Matthew put these stories together? I think it’s to show two inadequate responses to Jesus.
Judas is a picture of feeling sorrowful about his sin, but not actually repenting and believing. Pilate is a picture of showing admiration for Jesus, he’s even amazed at him at points (knowing he’s innocent), but in the end, he does not repent and believe either.
The message Matthew is showing us, is that sorrow for sin and respect for Jesus that doesn’t turn into repentance and faith in Jesus only leads to condemnation. This is obviously something that needs to be heard by all those who have never repented and believed and are with us today. But it’s also a word for those of us who have professed faith for a while, isn’t it?
Brothers and sisters, the Christian life is one of continually repenting and believing. Each day we’re consistently turning from thoughts and actions and trusting in the crucified and risen Lord. Even the anxiety we often feel that stems from us thinking we’re only safe if we’re in control is answered by repenting (turning from that way of thinking) and trusting that the Lord is sufficient to govern your life. And I could use example after example, but the answer is always the same. Repentance and faith aren’t what marked the beginning of our Christian lives but what characterize our Christian lives.
And though none of us here this morning have gone to the point of trying to pay for our sins by an act of self-atoning to the point that Judas did (by taking his own life), I know that there are some of us who fall into the pattern of thinking that we’re right with God and forgiven by him only if we beat ourselves up enough, wallow in our sorrow long enough, or distance ourselves from certain sins long enough. Brothers and sisters, that is self-atonement that not only is unhelpful and unnecessary but that says you’ve failed to believe that Christ’s atoning work for you is sufficient. This is why we need to hear the gospel so regularly as believers. We are prone to forget it and have ourselves shaped by other things.
And I think it’s why the Lord brings up the elements of the gospel so consistently in the Scriptures which he commands us to preach. He knows we need to hear it, and he wants us to know and delight in the freedom from condemnation which is ours, not because of any works we have done, but simply because we’ve turned from hoping in all else and are trusting by faith in the sufficient work of our crucified and risen Lord Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen.