Free to Live As Slaves

Bondservants are to be submissive to their own masters in everything; they are to be well-pleasing, not argumentative, 10 not pilfering, but showing all good faith, so that in everything they may adorn the doctrine of God our Savior. – Titus 2:9-10 ESV

In our modern-day, 21st-Century context, reading two verses addressed by an apostle of Jesus Christ to slaves within the body of Christ is always a bit disconcerting. They appear out of place and, rather than condemning the practice of slavery, actually, appear to condone it. In fact, it wasn’t that long ago in our own historical context when verses like these were used to justify slavery as acceptable and biblical. But Paul’s mention of slaves in his letter should in no way be taken as his seal of approval on the institution itself. Slavery was a normal part of 1st-Century life. It was stitched into the corporate fabric of daily existence. And while Paul’s failure to condemn it as unjust and untenable has been interpreted by some as tacet approval, this is a gross misrepresentation of the facts.

Like Jesus, Paul had a much more expansive and consequential mission in mind than the transformation of society through political and cultural innovations. Like his fellow apostles, Paul was following the lead of their teacher, the Messiah, and promoting a revolutionary new way of life that was focused on life change that emanated from the inside out. The gospel of Jesus Christ was about the renovation of the sinful heart of man and the restoration of the relationship between the Creator God and His creation.

Jesus Christ had come into a world where every human being was a slave – a slave to sin. Their status in society had no bearing on the state of their enslavement. From the rich young ruler and the Samaritan woman at the well to Nicodemus the Pharisee and Zacchaeus, the tax collector, they were all held captive by sin. And the only means of finding escape from their captivity was the gospel of Jesus Christ. Which is why Jesus told His fellow Jews, “I tell you the truth, everyone who sins is a slave of sin. A slave is not a permanent member of the family, but a son is part of the family forever. So if the Son sets you free, you are truly free” (John 6:34-36 NLT).

Paul had a commission from Jesus Christ Himself to take to the Gentile world the good news regarding release from the captivity of sin. Like his Messiah, Paul was not out to foment cultural revolution or to eradicate social injustices. He was out to restore sinful humanity to a right relationship with God through faith in Jesus Christ the Son.

What is interesting to note is that Paul addressed slaves at all. And he did so quite frequently. The very fact that Paul saw slaves as deserving of his attention and clearly believed them to be worthy recipients of the gospel speaks volumes. Paul did not view them as second-class citizens, but as fellow citizens in the Kindom of Heaven. It is clear from his letters that slaves were part of the early church. They were coming to faith and becoming a part of the local congregations springing up around the world. And, in some cases, slaves and their masters found themselves as members of the same local fellowships. Paul wrote an entire letter to a man named Philemon, regarding a runaway slave named Onesimus. It seems that Onesimus had come to faith in Christ and had become a companion to the apostle, ministering to his needs while he was in prison. But Paul, knowing that Onesimus was a fugitive, encouraged him to return home and make things right between him and his master. And Paul sent a letter to Philemon encouraging him to see Onesimus in a new light.

It seems you lost Onesimus for a little while so that you could have him back forever. He is no longer like a slave to you. He is more than a slave, for he is a beloved brother, especially to me. Now he will mean much more to you, both as a man and as a brother in the Lord. – Philemon 1:15-16 NLT

Legally, Onesimus was still a slave. According to the culture of his day, he remained the property of his master. But Paul saw their relationship as permanently altered because of their mutual relationship with Jesus Christ.

In his first letter to the believers in Corinth, Paul addressed them regarding their newfound status as followers of Christ. It seems that some were thinking that the freedom they had found in Christ was an opportunity to escape their current conditions. Women who came to faith were wondering if they should leave their unbelieving husbands. Jewish males who accepted Christ were questioning whether their circumcision somehow invalidated their status as Christians. Gentile males were confused as to whether they should be circumcised like their Jewish brothers. And Paul’s counsel to them all was the same: “Each of you should remain as you were when God called you” (1 Corinthians 7:20 NLT). And he had a specific word of advice for slaves.

Are you a slave? Don’t let that worry you—but if you get a chance to be free, take it. And remember, if you were a slave when the Lord called you, you are now free in the Lord. And if you were free when the Lord called you, you are now a slave of Christ. God paid a high price for you, so don’t be enslaved by the world. – 1 Corinthians 7:21-23 NLT

So, in Titus 2, verses 9-10, Paul turns his attention to the men and women within the local congregations on Crete who were slaves. These individuals were just as important to Paul as the wealthy and influential. Their status as slaves in no way influenced Paul’s attitude towards them. He singled them out because they were slaves, knowing that their particular circumstance was unlike anyone else’s in the church. And he doesn’t encourage them to escape the injustice of their slavery. He doesn’t demand that their masters set them free.  No, he calls on them to live godly lives amid their unjust and unpleasant circumstances.

While many have tried to soften the edges of these verses by making them a call for employees to serve their employers well, we can’t escape the fact that this is the apostle Paul addressing a group of believers who were living as unwilling slaves, not paid employees who had the right to quit at any moment. Notice that he calls on them to obey their masters and to do what pleases them. As slaves, they really had no other choice. Refusal to obey meant punishment. Failure to please could bring down their master’s wrath. But Paul is providing them with new motivation for their behavior.

No longer were they to be driven and controlled by fear. And they were not to allow their old sinful natures to drive them to retaliation or rebellion. The sin-fueled desire to lie, steal, and disobey was to be replaced with a Spirit-empowered desire to live lives that exhibited “all good faith.” In other words, their faith in Christ was to show up in their status as slaves, “so that in everything they may adorn the doctrine of God our Savior.” 

The way they responded to their life circumstances would enhance the gospel message. Their response to injustice and ill-treatment would be a living testimony to the life-transformative power of the gospel. And what a lesson these individuals would be to the rest of the church as they practiced their faith in far-from-ideal conditions. Peter gave similar advice to believing slaves in the church to which he wrote.

You who are slaves must accept the authority of your masters with all respect. Do what they tell you—not only if they are kind and reasonable, but even if they are cruel. For God is pleased with you when you do what you know is right and patiently endure unfair treatment. Of course, you get no credit for being patient if you are beaten for doing wrong. But if you suffer for doing good and endure it patiently, God is pleased with you.

For God called you to do good, even if it means suffering, just as Christ suffered for you. He is your example, and you must follow in his steps. – 1 Peter 2:18-21 NLT

If Paul could have waved a magic wand and set free every individual suffering from physical slavery, he would have probably done so. But his job was to set free all those who were enslaved by sin and death. Paul knew that, had Onesimus run away from Philemon but had never found faith in Christ, he would have been nothing more than a former slave enslaved by sin. As far as Paul was concerned, every individual within the body of Christ had an obligation to let their faith in Christ manifest itself in whatever circumstance they found themselves. Old or young, male or female, Jew or Gentile, slave or free – it didn’t matter. What mattered was that each and every one of them had been set free from slavery to sin by Jesus Christ. And Paul drove home that point on a regular basis.

There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male and female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus.Galatians 3:28 NLT

In this new life, it doesn’t matter if you are a Jew or a Gentile, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbaric, uncivilized, slave, or free. Christ is all that matters, and he lives in all of us. – Colossians 3:11 NLT

Some of us are Jews, some are Gentiles, some are slaves, and some are free. But we have all been baptized into one body by one Spirit, and we all share the same Spirit. – 1 Corinthians 12:13 NLT

We tend to believe that a change in our circumstances is the key to joy, fulfillment, and contentment. But Paul would have us understand that it is the change in our relationship with God, made possible through faith in Christ, that brings us true contentment. And he knew first-hand the power of contentment that comes from faith in Christ.

I have learned how to be content with whatever I have. I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything. I have learned the secret of living in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little. For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength. – Philippians 4:11-13 NLT

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

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Keep On Keeping On

18 Yes, and I will rejoice, 19 for I know that through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ this will turn out for my deliverance, 20 as it is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death. 21 For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. 22 If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. 23 I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. 24 But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account. 25 Convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with you all, for your progress and joy in the faith, 26 so that in me you may have ample cause to glory in Christ Jesus, because of my coming to you again. Philippians 1:18-26 ESV

Paul opens this section by reconfirming his determination to rejoice in his circumstances. While news of his imprisonment had been disconcerting to the believers in Philippi, For Paul it was just another God-ordained opportunity to spread the gospel. And if others were attempting to take advantage of his situation by filling the role of messenger is his absence, so be it. As long as Christ was being lifted up, he was perfectly okay with it all, even if some of these people were motivated by envy and not a sincere love for the lost.

Paul knew that any success he had enjoyed in his ministry had not been because of his powers of persuasion, but it had been due to the power of the gospel. In writing to the believers in Thessalonica, Paul reminded them of the treatment he and Silas had suffered in Philippi because of their preaching of the gospel. Not long after their arrival in Philippi, they had cast a demon out of a young slave girl. With the exorcism of the demon, she lost her ability to act as a fortune teller for her masters and they lost a much-needed source of revenue. In an act of revenge, they grabbed Paul and Silas and dragged them before the magistrates of the city, where the two men were severely beaten and thrown in jail. And Paul reminds the Thessalonian believers that all of this had taken place just prior to his arrival in their town.

You yourselves know, dear brothers and sisters, that our visit to you was not a failure. You know how badly we had been treated at Philippi just before we came to you and how much we suffered there. Yet our God gave us the courage to declare his Good News to you boldly, in spite of great opposition. So you can see we were not preaching with any deceit or impure motives or trickery.

For we speak as messengers approved by God to be entrusted with the Good News. Our purpose is to please God, not people. He alone examines the motives of our hearts. Never once did we try to win you with flattery, as you well know. And God is our witness that we were not pretending to be your friends just to get your money! As for human praise, we have never sought it from you or anyone else. – 1 Thessalonians 2:1-6 NLT

In spite of all that had happened in Philippi, Paul and his companions declared the Good News boldly in Thessalonica, even in the face of opposition. And they did so, not for money or the praise of men, but to please God as His faithful messengers. So, Paul was not concerned with the motives of others. As long as they were preaching salvation by faith alone in Christ alone, he was satisfied and could rejoice. Paul had never been in the ministry for what he could get out of it. For him, it was a calling, not a job. And He never saw himself as this gifted spokesman for God using his talents to further the Kingdom of God. He even describes himself as nothing more than a fragile clay jar containing the great treasure of the gospel message (2 Corinthians 4:7). And he wrote to the Corinthian believers, reminding them that their conversions were due to the power of the Spirit, not his own eloquence.

When I first came to you, dear brothers and sisters, I didn’t use lofty words and impressive wisdom to tell you God’s secret plan. For I decided that while I was with you I would forget everything except Jesus Christ, the one who was crucified. I came to you in weakness—timid and trembling. And my message and my preaching were very plain. Rather than using clever and persuasive speeches, I relied only on the power of the Holy Spirit. I did this so you would trust not in human wisdom but in the power of God. – 1 Corinthians 2:1-5 NLT

But as Paul writes to the Philippian believers from his house arrest in Rome, he shares with them the tremendous internal conflict he was having. It had nothing to do with a fear of death. He knew that was a possible outcome of his pending trial before Nero and he was perfectly at peace with that. In fact, he flatly stated, “My desire is to depart and be with Christ” (Philippians 1:23 ESV). He saw death as a reward, not a punishment. But he also struggled with the desire to continue his ministry among them. As much as he longed to be with the Lord, he felt that his work on Christ’s behalf was far from over. In fact, he told the Philippians, “I am convinced that I will remain alive so I can continue to help all of you grow and experience the joy of your faith” (Philippians 1:25 NLT).

One thing motivated Paul’s actions and attitudes – bringing glory to the name of Christ. If he could do that through deliverance from prison and a continuation of his ministry, so be it. But if his trial resulted in a death sentence, he saw that as a gracious deliverance by God from this sin-marred world. When all was said and done, Paul simply wanted to honor Christ in all that he did, which is why he stated, “I trust that my life will bring honor to Christ, whether I live or die” (Philippians 1:20 NLT).

Paul was not making much of himself. He was not bragging about his superior spirituality or attempting to set himself up as some icon of righteousness and religious virtue. He was attempting to encourage the believers in Philippi to share the same perspective on life that he had. He didn’t view his arrest and imprisonment as a setback or a sign of God’s disfavor with him. He sincerely believed that it was all a part of God’s will for his life. By maintaining his focus on Christ and trusting in the will of God for his life, Paul had “learned to be content whatever the circumstances” (Philippians 4:11 NLT). So, he was able to say, “I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation” (Philippians 4:12 NLT).

He knew that the Philippian believers were facing their own set of difficulties. They were going to have struggles in their faith journey, just as Paul had. And Paul wanted them to stay strong, to remain committed to the cause of Christ, and to see the sovereign hand of God in all that happened in and around their lives.

Paul was convinced that he was going to be released and that he would one day see them again. But in the meantime, he wanted to encourage them to keep on keeping on. Later on in this letter, Paul writes these powerful words of testimony and encouragement.

I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us… – Philippians 3:14 NLT

Then he follows up this statement of personal conviction and commitment with a call for them to follow his lead.

Dear brothers and sisters, pattern your lives after mine, and learn from those who follow our example. – Philippians 3:17 NLT

And in the following verses, Paul will provide the Philippians with specific details concerning the conduct of all those who claim heavenly citizenship as God’s children.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

The Suffering Servant

1 Who has believed what he has heard from us?
    And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?
For he grew up before him like a young plant,
    and like a root out of dry ground;
he had no form or majesty that we should look at him,
    and no beauty that we should desire him.
He was despised and rejected by men,
    a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief;
and as one from whom men hide their faces
    he was despised, and we esteemed him not.

Surely he has borne our griefs
    and carried our sorrows;
yet we esteemed him stricken,
    smitten by God, and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions;
    he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him 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.
By oppression and judgment he was taken away;
    and as for his generation, who considered
that he was cut off out of the land of the living,
    stricken for the transgression of my people?
And they made his grave with the wicked
    and with a rich man in his death,
although he had done no violence,
    and there was no deceit in his mouth.

10 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.
11 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.
12 Therefore I will divide him a portion with the many,
    and he shall divide the spoil with the strong,
because he poured out his soul to death
    and was numbered with the transgressors;
yet he bore the sin of many,
    and makes intercession for the transgressors. Isaiah 53:1-12 ESV

This is, arguably, one of the most significant chapters in the entire Bible. It actually extends from verse 13 of the previous chapter and provides an amazing portrait of the suffering servant: Jesus Christ. Chapter 53 of Isaiah is quoted by the New Testament authors more than any other section of Scripture. And you can see why they aligned themselves with this remarkable section of God’s Word, because in it is contained the quinticential description of Jesus as the suffering servant of God.

For anyone familiar with the New Testament account of Jesus’s life, it would be difficult to read this chapter in Isaiah and not see a clear and compelling portrait of the Jesus and His crucifixion. He is described as being marred in appearance, despised, rejected, pierced, crushed, wounded, oppressed, afflicted, and burdened with the sins of mankind. The amount of detail provided in these verses is difficult to fathom, when you consider that Isaiah penned these words more than seven centuries before Jesus appeared on the scene.

The descriptions of Jesus in this passage are far from flattering. He is portrayed as a yowneq, which is the Hebrew word for a small shoot or suckling. It refers to a small sprout that appears after a tree has been cut down. It is an unexpected shoot that appears out of nowhere in dry ground because of the presence on an unseen root. Isaiah referred to this aspect of Jesus earlier in his book.

There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse,
    and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit. – Isaiah 11:1 ESV

In that chapter, Isaiah describes Jesus, the shoot, as having power and authority. He will come as a conquering King, not a suffering servant.

…and he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth,
    and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked.
Righteousness shall be the belt of his waist,
    and faithfulness the belt of his loins. – Isaiah 11:4-5 ESV

In that day the root of Jesse, who shall stand as a signal for the peoples—of him shall the nations inquire, and his resting place shall be glorious.

In that day the Lord will extend his hand yet a second time to recover the remnant that remains of his people. – Isaiah 11:10-11 ESV

But the Jesus of Isaiah 53 is quite different. The Jesus who came to earth as a man, in His incarnate form, was anything but beautiful and physically impressive. In fact, Isaiah says, “There was nothing beautiful or majestic about his appearance, nothing to attract us to him” (Isaiah 53:2 NLT). He didn’t have a charismatic personality, come from an influential family or wield  a lot of power.  Born in relative obscurity in the town of Bethlehem, Jesus spent His childhood in the backwater town of Nazareth. He was the adopted son of a lowly tradesman, and spent the early years of His adulthood living at home and working alongside His father.

And even when Jesus began His earthly ministry, He would do so without a lot of fanfare or noteriety. And while He received the glowing endorsement of His Heavenly Father at the commencement of His ministry, things did not end well for Him. Isaiah describes Him as “despised and rejected—a man of sorrows, acquainted with deepest grief” (Isaiah 53:3 NLT). During the 3-1/2 years of His earthly ministry, Jesus encountered far more rejection than He did acceptance. The Jewish religious leaders hated Him with a passion. The majority of the Jewish nation, while enamored with His miracles and amazed by His teaching, would end up rejecting His claims to be their long-awaited Messish.

And Isaiah fast-forwards into the closing days of Jesus’ earthly existence, describing events associated with His eventual trials and crucifixion. Speaking in the past-tense, Isaiah says the suffering servant, “has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows” (Isaiah 53:4 ESV). The Jewish people believed that Jesus died for His own sins. He was accused by the Pharisees of blasphemy because He had claimed to be God. And the Jews “thought his troubles were a punishment from God” (Isaiah 53:4 NLT). But Isaiah clears up the confusion, declaring that Jesus “was pierced for our rebellion, crushed for our sins. He was beaten so we could be whole. He was whipped so we could be healed” (Isaiah 53:5 NLT). Don’t miss the significance of this verse. It was written hundreds of years before Jesus was even born and yet, it perfectly describes the details associated with the crucifixion of Jesus.

And, just in case we miss his point, Isaiah stresses that Jesus died because of our sins, not His own.

Yet the Lord laid on him
    the sins of us all. – Isaiah 53:6 ESV

Men were the ones guilty of straying from God, walking away from His love and faithfulness. And yet, Jesus was the one who died in their place. And like an innocent sheep being led to the slaughter, Jesus didn’t utter a word in His own defense. Mark describes the fulfillment of this prophecy in his gospel account.

Then the high priest stood up before the others and asked Jesus, “Well, aren’t you going to answer these charges? What do you have to say for yourself?” But Jesus was silent and made no reply. – Mark 14:60-61 NLT

Jesus would end up unjustly condemned, sentenced to death, and stripped of life, without a single descendant. His life was cut short, having done nothing to deserve the death He suffered. And He would suffer the ignominy of having to be buried in a borrowed tomb. The gospel writers provide us with the fulfillment of this prophecy when they describe Joseph of Arimathea asking Pilate for the right to bury the body of Jesus in his own tomb.

And Isaiah delivers the amazing part of this entire story. The death of the suffering servant was all the plan of God Almighty. It had been the will of God from the very beginning.

Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him – Isaiah 53:10 ESV

None of what happened to Jesus took place outside the divine will of God. It had all been a part of His sovereign plan. God had a method to His seeming madness. What Isaiah is describing had to have sounded farfetched and difficult to understand from the perspectives of the Jews in his audience. Why in the world would God do something so heinous to His own servant? What could be remotely redeeming about any of this? And the answer would be, “Everything.” The suffering servant would eventually recognize the wisdom behind God’s plan.

When he sees all that is accomplished by his anguish,
    he will be satisfied.
And because of his experience,
    my righteous servant will make it possible
for many to be counted righteous,
    for he will bear all their sins. – Isaiah 53:11 ESV

One of the truly amazing things about this passage is its undeniable accuracy. So much of what we read in these verses was fulfilled in the life and ministry of Jesus. He lived out these verses to the smallest detail. And because of His obedience to the will of God, Jesus was exalted.

I will give him the honors of a victorious soldier,
    because he exposed himself to death.
He was counted among the rebels.
    He bore the sins of many and interceded for rebels. – Isaiah 53:12 NLT

Jesus hung on the cross, bracketed by the two “rebels” who were crucified on either side of Him. And Jesus went to that cross willingly, not begrudgingly. The apostle Paul describes what happened because of Jesus’ willing submission to His Father’s redemptive plan for mankind.

…he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. – Philippians 2:8-11 NLT

The people of Judah were facing the prospect of some intense suffering, all as a part of God’s will concerning them. And God wants them to realize that this plan was to be embraced, not rejected. Like the suffering servant, they were to trust God for their future and submit to His will. If they would only listen, they would be exalted at just the right time. God’s will for Jesus included suffering and, eventually, death. But it also included exaltation and glory. God always has a purpose behind His actions. And while the people of Judah were having a difficult time understanding why God was bringing His judgment on them, He wanted them to rest in His sovereign will for them.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

There Is More To Come.

55 There were also many women there, looking on from a distance, who had followed Jesus from Galilee, ministering to him, 56 among whom were Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James and Joseph and the mother of the sons of Zebedee.

57 When it was evening, there came a rich man from Arimathea, named Joseph, who also was a disciple of Jesus. 58 He went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. Then Pilate ordered it to be given to him. 59 And Joseph took the body and wrapped it in a clean linen shroud 60 and laid it in his own new tomb, which he had cut in the rock. And he rolled a great stone to the entrance of the tomb and went away. 61 Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were there, sitting opposite the tomb.

62 The next day, that is, after the day of Preparation, the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered before Pilate 63 and said, “Sir, we remember how that impostor said, while he was still alive, ‘After three days I will rise.’ 64 Therefore order the tomb to be made secure until the third day, lest his disciples go and steal him away and tell the people, ‘He has risen from the dead,’ and the last fraud will be worse than the first.” 65 Pilate said to them, “You have a guard of soldiers. Go, make it as secure as you can.” 66 So they went and made the tomb secure by sealing the stone and setting a guard. – Matthew 27:55-66 ESV

Jean_Jouvenet_Descent_From_The_Cross

Man’s sin debt had been paid, but the cost had been high. Jesus, the Son of God, had given His life so that others might experience eternal life. He died so that others might live. But, as the apostle Peter reminds us, “God paid a ransom to save you from the empty life you inherited from your ancestors. And the ransom he paid was not mere gold or silver. It was the precious blood of Christ, the sinless, spotless Lamb of God” (1 Peter 1:18-19 NLT). But as the Roman soldiers removed the lifeless body of Jesus from the cross, He was anything but spotless. He body had been beaten and bruised. His face had been slapped repeatedly leaving it bruised and practically unrecognizable. And hundreds of years earlier, the prophet Isaiah had described just how badly Jesus would be disfigured by this tragic event.

But many were amazed when they saw him. His face was so disfigured he seemed hardly human, and from his appearance, one would scarcely know he was a man. – Isaiah 52:14 NLT

He was covered in the blood that had flowed from the wounds left by the large nails pounded into his hands and feet. He had a gaping wound in His side from the point of the spear that had been meant to ensure His death. The crown of thorns that had been mockingly pressed onto His head had caused blood to flow down His face and into His eyes. The sinless, spotless Lamb of God had been slain.

In the Book of Revelation, John is given a glimpse of Jesus in His resurrected and glorifed state, standing in the throne room of God Almighty. And John’s description of Jesus is quite interesting.

…between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders I saw a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain. – Revelation 5:6 ESV

He doesn’t see Jesus as a man, but as a Lamb. But he adds the telling descriptor: “as thought it had been slain.” The Greek word translated as “slain” is sphazō and it was used to refer to the slaughter of an animal for sacrifice. It can also be translated as “butchered.” Jesus had been the sacrificial Lamb, offered for the sins of many. And the ordeal had left its marks on Him.

It’s interesting to note that Matthew describes the followers of Christ who had remained to the bitter end, looking on from a distance. He only mentions women. None of the disciples are named. And among the women is “the mother of the sons of Zebedee” (Matthew 27:56 ESV). One has to wonder what had been going through her mind as she watched Jesus being crucified between the two thieves. She is the one who had come to Jesus and begged Him, “Say that these two sons of mine are to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your kingdom” (Matthew 20:21 ESV). And Jesus had told her, “You do not know what you are asking” (Matthew 20:22 ESV). It’s likely that, as she watched Jesus die, she imagined her own two sons, James and John, hanging on the crosses to His right and left. Little had she shown that Jesus’ crowning as king was going to involve thorns, not gold. His entrance into His Kingdom was going to demand crucifixion, not a coronation. His exaltation would be proceeded by humiliation and death. And rather than taking up residence in a palace, Jesus would be placed in a borrowed tomb.

Joseph of Arimathea, a follower of Jesus, offered up his own tomb so that Jesus could have a proper burial. And once again, the prophet Isaiah spoke of this long before it ever happened.

But he was buried like a criminal; he was put in a rich man’s grave. – Isaiah 53:9 NLT

As Joseph had the stone rolled across the opening to his own tomb, the entire scene has a sense of finality to it. Jesus was dead. The crowds had dispersed. The supernatural darkness had passed and the light had returned. And everyone in Jerusalem had gone back to their lives as usual. Only a handful of women stood by, watching as Jesus was buried. This sad and sobering scene was also foretold by Isaiah.

He was despised and rejected—
    a man of sorrows, acquainted with deepest grief.
We turned our backs on him and looked the other way.
    He was despised, and we did not care. – Isaiah 53:3 NLT

But the religious leaders, still wary of the influence Jesus had over the people, took steps to ensure that nothing would happen that might resurrect the memory of Jesus. They knew that, while Jesus was alive, He had said that He would rise again. So, in order to prevent His disciples from stealing the body of Jesus and spreading rumors that He was alive, they stationed guards at the tomb with orders to remain there until the three days had passed. Evidently, they had attempted to get Pilate to provide Roman guards, but he refused. “So they went and made the tomb secure by sealing the stone and setting a guard” (Matthew 27:55 ESV).

And they waited.

This chapter ends in sadness. Its tragic conclusion provides the reader with little in the way of hope. Jesus is dead. The disciples have scattered to the four winds. The mother of Jesus and the women who loved and followed Him are in deep sorrow, having not been given the opportunity to anoint His body for burial. Which makes the anointing of Jesus in Bethany so important. Matthew records that “a woman came up to him with an alabaster flask of very expensive ointment, and she poured it on his head as he reclined at table” (Matthew 26:7 ESV), and Jesus had clearly pronounced, “In pouring this ointment on my body, she has done it to prepare me for burial” (Matthew 26:12 ESV).

As dark as this moment may appear, there is the invisible, yet sovereign hand of God evident in all that is going on. This is all taking place according to His divine plan – down to the last detail.

…he was pierced for our rebellion, crushed for our sins… – Isaiah 53:5 NLT

…He was beaten so we could be whole. – Isaiah 53:5 NLT

…He was whipped so we could be healed. – Isaiah 53:5 NLT

…He was oppressed and treated harshly. – Isaiah 53:7 NLT

…He was led like a lamb to the slaughter. – Isaiah 53:7 NLT

…Unjustly condemned, he was led away. – Isaiah 53:8 NLT

his life was cut short in midstream… – Isaiah 53:8 NLT

…he was struck down for the rebellion of my people. – Isaiah 53:8 NLT

he was buried like a criminal; he was put in a rich man’s grave. – Isaiah 53:9 NLT

All of this had been the pre-ordained will of God. And Jesus had willingly played His role in the whole affair – out of obedience to His heavenly Father and love for mankind. And while the closing verses of chapter 27 present a dismal scene, we know that the story is far from over. There is more to come. God’s plan is not yet complete. And Isaiah provides us with yet one more premonition of what lies ahead.

And because of his experience,
    my righteous servant will make it possible
for many to be counted righteous,
    for he will bear all their sins. – Isaiah 53:11 NLT

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Hail, King of the Jews!

24 So when Pilate saw that he was gaining nothing, but rather that a riot was beginning, he took water and washed his hands before the crowd, saying, “I am innocent of this man’s blood; see to it yourselves.” 25 And all the people answered, “His blood be on us and on our children!” 26 Then he released for them Barabbas, and having scourged Jesus, delivered him to be crucified.

27 Then the soldiers of the governor took Jesus into the governor’s headquarters, and they gathered the whole battalion before him. 28 And they stripped him and put a scarlet robe on him, 29 and twisting together a crown of thorns, they put it on his head and put a reed in his right hand. And kneeling before him, they mocked him, saying, “Hail, King of the Jews!” 30 And they spit on him and took the reed and struck him on the head. 31 And when they had mocked him, they stripped him of the robe and put his own clothes on him and led him away to crucify him. – Matthew 27:24-31 ESV

Jesus mockedPilate washed his hands of Jesus. He wanted nothing to do with the death of this innocent man, but because of the growing anger of the mob that had gathered outside his home, he gave in to their demands and turned Jesus over to be crucified. Yet, he made his position on the matter perfectly clear: “I am innocent of this man’s blood; see to it yourselves” (Matthew 27:24 ESV).

According to Luke’s account, Pilate had attempted to set Jesus free. His own wife had warned him not to have anything to do with putting Jesus to death because she had experienced disturbing dreams about him. Upon discovering that Jesus was a Galilean, Pilate had sent Jesus to Herod in order that he might examine him.

“…after examining him before you, behold, I did not find this man guilty of any of your charges against him. Neither did Herod, for he sent him back to us. Look, nothing deserving death has been done by him. I will therefore punish and release him.” – Luke 23:14-16 ESV

The people could have cared less what Pilate or Herod thought. Their minds were made up. They wanted Jesus dead, and the continued to cry out, “Crucify, crucify him!” (Luke 23:21 ESV). And Luke records that, for the third and final time, Pilate had responded:

“Why? What evil has he done? I have found in him no guilt deserving death. I will therefore punish and release him.” – Luke 23:22 ESV

But the people would have none of it. They were not interested in the facts of the case. The guilt of Jesus had been established by the religious leaders and that was enough for them. And Luke continues his account:

But they were urgent, demanding with loud cries that he should be crucified. And their voices prevailed. So Pilate decided that their demand should be granted. – Luke 23:23-24 ESV

Fearing a riot, Pilate gave into the demands of the people, and handed Jesus over to his guards to begin the process. The people responded with what would be a prophetic statement that would seal their own fates, as well as their descendants for generations to come.

“His blood be on us and on our children!” – Matthew 27:25 ESV

With this rashly spoken vow, these people unknowingly admitted their culpability for Jesus’ death, and included their children and grandchildren in their guilt. Sometime later, after Jesus was resurrected and had ascended back into heaven, Peter would address the high priest and the Sanhedrin and would remind them:

“The God of our ancestors raised Jesus from the dead after you killed him by hanging him on a cross.” – Acts 5:30 ESV

Peter was simply restating what the crowd had declared. The blood of Jesus was on them. They would be held responsible by God for the death of His Son. And it would be because of their refusal to accept Jesus as their Messiah, that God would turn to the Gentiles with the good news of salvation through His Son. The apostle Paul makes this fact perfectly clear in his letter to the Romans. But he also reminds us that, in spite of their blood-guilt, God is not yet done with Israel.

Did God’s people stumble and fall beyond recovery? Of course not! They were disobedient, so God made salvation available to the Gentiles. But he wanted his own people to become jealous and claim it for themselves. Now if the Gentiles were enriched because the people of Israel turned down God’s offer of salvation, think how much greater a blessing the world will share when they finally accept it. – Romans 11:11-12 NLT

And just in case, we don’t understand the weight of his words, Paul adds:

What does all this mean? Even though the Gentiles were not trying to follow God’s standards, they were made right with God. And it was by faith that this took place. But the people of Israel, who tried so hard to get right with God by keeping the law, never succeeded. Why not? Because they were trying to get right with God by keeping the law instead of by trusting in him. They stumbled over the great rock in their path. God warned them of this in the Scriptures when he said,

“I am placing a stone in Jerusalem that makes people stumble,
    a rock that makes them fall.
But anyone who trusts in him
    will never be disgraced.” – Romans 9:30-33 NLT

The people of Israel had stumbled over Jesus. His arrival on the scene had left them disappointed and disillusioned. He was not the kind of Messiah they had been expecting, so they rejected Him. And their refusal to accept Him led to the gospel being sent to the Gentiles. But there is a day coming, when God will refocus His divine will and His everlasting love on His chosen people: Israel. Paul goes on to state the unmistakable reality of that fact.

Some of the people of Israel have hard hearts, but this will last only until the full number of Gentiles comes to Christ. And so all Israel will be saved. As the Scriptures say,

“The one who rescues will come from Jerusalem,
    and he will turn Israel away from ungodliness.
And this is my covenant with them,
    that I will take away their sins.” – Romans 23:25-27 NLT

The people in the crowd gathered outside Pilate’s residence had demanded the death of Jesus. They had rejected Him as their Messiah and demanded that a common criminal be released in His place. They would be complicit in the death of the Savior of the world. But it would be His death that made redemption possible for the world. Their rejection of Jesus made His offer of salvation available to the Gentile world. And since the day of Pentecost, when the church began, millions upon millions of Gentiles of all tribes, nations and tongues, have come to faith in Jesus. But the day is coming when the full number of Gentiles that God has ordained for salvation will be complete. Then, He will turn His attention to Israel once again, extending His grace and mercy to a people responsible for the death of His own Son. The blood of Jesus, covering their heads as a sign of their guilt, would also be used by God to cleanse them from all unrighteousness. The one they crucified would be the one who would deem them justified.

But first, Jesus would have to suffer and die. And HIs suffering began with the guards of Pilate, who stripped Him, beat Him and sarcastically mocked Him as the king of the Jews. In this depressing scene we see Jews and Gentiles alike rejecting the Savior of the world. They ridicule rather than revere Him. They spit in the face of the one who created them. They crush a crown of thorns onto the head of the King of kings and Lord of lords. And in their ignorance, they jokingly, and prophetically, cry out, “Hail, King of the Jews!” Little did they know just how true were the words they spoke. Jesus was the King of the Jews and He was willingly laying down His life for His people. He was dying so that they might live. He was taking on their guilt and suffering the death they deserved, so that they might receive His righteousness and God’s forgiveness.

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Faithful In the Face of Death.

36 Then Jesus went with them to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to his disciples, “Sit here, while I go over there and pray.” 37 And taking with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, he began to be sorrowful and troubled. 38 Then he said to them, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death; remain here, and watch with me.” 39 And going a little farther he fell on his face and prayed, saying, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.” 40 And he came to the disciples and found them sleeping. And he said to Peter, “So, could you not watch with me one hour? 41 Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” 42 Again, for the second time, he went away and prayed, “My Father, if this cannot pass unless I drink it, your will be done.” 43 And again he came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were heavy. 44 So, leaving them again, he went away and prayed for the third time, saying the same words again. 45 Then he came to the disciples and said to them, “Sleep and take your rest later on. See, the hour is at hand, and the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. 46 Rise, let us be going; see, my betrayer is at hand.” – Matthew 26:36-46 ESV

agony-in-the-garden-1-1024x768.jpgHaving completed the Passover meal, Jesus and His disciples made their way through the city of Jerusalem, out the eastern gate, and onto the Mount of Olives. They stopped at a place called Gethsemane, which means “an olive press.” Here, Jesus took three of His disciples, Peter, James and John, and found a secluded place where He could pray. These are the same three men He took with Him when He experienced His transfiguration. On this occasion, rather than seeing Jesus in His glorified state, they would watch as He agonized over His coming trials.

Jesus described to them His state of mind: “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death” (Matthew 26:38 ESV). His emotional state was one of deep and overwhelming sadness over what was about to happen. His sorrow alone was enough to kill Him. But what was it that caused such a drastic state of deep melancholy in Jesus? Was He afraid to die? Did He regret His decision to sacrifice Himself on behalf of sinful mankind? Was He having second thoughts? The text, along with the words and actions of Jesus, provide us with the answers. Matthew relates that Jesus went off by Himself and immediately fell on His face before His Father in a state of prayer. He pleaded, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me” (Matthew 26:39 ESV).

One of the things this passage reveals is the human side of Jesus’ nature. He was 100 percent God, but also 100 percent man – a state often referred to as the hypostatic union. At His incarnation, Jesus, the eternal, second person of the Trinity, became the God-man. His assumption of a human nature was essential to the role He would play as the Savior of mankind. The author of Hebrews explains:

Because God’s children are human beings–made of flesh and blood–the Son also became flesh and blood. For only as a human being could he die, and only by dying could he break the power of the devil, who had the power of death. – Hebrews 2:14 NLT

The apostle Paul would put it this way:

[God] sent his own Son in a body like the bodies we sinners have. And in that body God declared an end to sin’s control over us by giving his Son as a sacrifice for our sins. – Romans 8:3 NLT

Jesus never relinquished any of His divine nature, but, in becoming a man, He combined His human and divine natures into one person. And as a man, Jesus felt pain, experienced hunger, grew tired, and, as we will see, could suffer death. In His humanity, Jesus knew that what He was about to endure would be excruciatingly painful. He would be scourged mercilessly with a flagellum, a whip featuring multiple leather strands, each weighted with lead balls or pieces of bone. He would be beaten, spit upon, slapped and degraded. And eventually, He would be nailed to a wooden cross and left to die by exposure and suffocation. Jesus’ human nature was repulsed by the prospect of facing such a painful and gruesome death. He longed for another way, a plan B. But, in His divinity, He knew that this was all part of His Father’s sovereign will. Which is why He stated, “nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will” (Matthew 26:39 ESV).

But there is a second explanation behind Jesus’ intense sorrow and His cry for an alternative plan. He was fully aware that, upon the cross, He would be taking on the sin debt of the entire world. He who never committed a single sin would bear the weight of God’s wrath against all the sins of men for all time.

For God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ. – 2 Corinthians 5:21 NLT

Sin separates mankind from God. And Jesus knew that, when He took on the sin debt of mankind, He would become separated from His Father for the first time in all of eternity. Their fellowship would be broken. And, in His divine nature, that prospect was unfathomable and unthinkable to Jesus. But He knew it was all part of God’s plan and, therefore, necessary.

Jesus longed for this “cup of wrath” to pass. If you recall, back in chapter 20, Matthew recorded an encounter between Jesus and the mother of James and John, the two brothers who were with Him in Gethsemane that night. She had asked Jesus to allow her two sons to sit on His right and on His left when He established His kingdom on earth. But Jesus had responded to her two sons, “You don’t know what you are asking! Are you able to drink from the bitter cup of suffering I am about to drink?” (Matthew 20:22 NLT). Only He was worthy to suffer for the sins of mankind. He alone could meet God’s demanding criteria for an acceptable sacrifice – an unblemished, sinless Lamb.

And it’s interesting to note that when Jesus stopped to check on Peter, James and John, He found them asleep. While He had been agonizing over His coming death, these three were obviously unconcerned with and unsympathetic to His pain. They slept while Jesus wept. And Jesus made an interesting observation, stating, “The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak” (Matthew 26:41 ESV). This was most likely aimed at Peter, who had been the one who had vehemently denied Jesus prediction that they would all bail on Him in His time of greatest need.

“Though they all fall away because of you, I will never fall away.” – Matthew 26:33 ESV).

And yet, here was Peter finding it difficult to even stay awake while His master suffered under the weight of His pending death.

Three separate times Jesus expressed His feelings to His heavenly Father, and three times He communicated His willingness to do His Father’s will. He was committed. Every ounce of His humanity longed to escape what was to come, but His divinity provided the strength He needed to do what He had been called to do.

In his commentary on the book of Matthew, D.A. Carson writes:

“In the first garden ‘Not your will but mine’ changed Paradise to desert and brought man from Eden to Gethsemane. Now ‘Not my will but yours’ brings anguish to the man who prays it but transforms the desert into the kingdom and brings man from Gethsemane to the gates of glory.” – D.A. Carson, “Matthew,” p. 545.

Jesus was willing to face the fate God had planned for Him, because He trusted His heavenly Father. He knew that there was no other way. Salvation was only possible through His obedient submission to the sovereign will of God the Father. And the hour had come for Him to begin His journey from Gethsemane to Golgotha. Having finished His prayer time with the Father, Jesus turned to His disciples and said, “the hour is at hand, and the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners” (Matthew 26:45 ESV). Judas was on his way, bringing with him the guards of the high priest. The darkness of that night was about to deepen as the forces of evil began their ill-fated attempt to snuff out the Light of the world.

But as John would later write:

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness can never extinguish it. – John 1:5 NLT

God’s light came into the world, but people loved the darkness more than the light, for their actions were evil. All who do evil hate the light and refuse to go near it for fear their sins will be exposed. But those who do what is right come to the light so others can see that they are doing what God wants. – John 3:19-21 NLT

Jesus would end up buried in the darkness of a borrowed tomb. His life would be forcefully taken from Him, but as He had predicted, it would be on His terms.

“No one can take my life from me. I sacrifice it voluntarily. For I have the authority to lay it down when I want to and also to take it up again. For this is what my Father has commanded.” – John 10:18 NLT

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Broken For You.

26 Now as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is my body.” 27 And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, “Drink of it, all of you, 28 for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. 29 I tell you I will not drink again of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.”

30 And when they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives. 31 Then Jesus said to them, “You will all fall away because of me this night. For it is written, ‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.’ 32 But after I am raised up, I will go before you to Galilee.” 33 Peter answered him, “Though they all fall away because of you, I will never fall away.” 34 Jesus said to him, “Truly, I tell you, this very night, before the rooster crows, you will deny me three times.” 35 Peter said to him, “Even if I must die with you, I will not deny you!” And all the disciples said the same. – Matthew 26:26-35 ESV

break-bread-300x178Jesus and His disciples had gathered in the upper room of a borrowed house somewhere in the city of Jerusalem, in order to celebrate the Passover together. It was at this gathering that Jesus revealed the one who would betray Him: Judas. One of the original 12 disciples, Judas had already made a deal with the chief priests, agreeing to turn Jesus over to them in return for a bounty of 30 pieces of silver. And, when Jesus exposed Judas as the one who would betray Him, rather than repent and beg for forgiveness, Judas left the room, intent on doing what he had agreed to do.

Jesus shared some serious words of warning regarding Judas.

“…woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been better for that man if he had not been born.” – Matthew 26:24 ESV

Judas’ decision to betray Jesus was part of God’s redemptive plan. Jesus had been well aware of it and knew it was necessary for God’s will to be fulfilled. But Judas had made the willful choice to betray his master and friend. He put his own self-interests ahead of any devotion he may have had for Jesus. And, evidently, Judas had done a masterful job of disguising his true nature from the rest of the disciples, because when Jesus had announced that one of them would betray Him, they each wondered if he was speaking of them. But Jesus made it perfectly clear who the betrayer was.

26 “It is he to whom I will give this morsel of bread when I have dipped it.” So when he had dipped the morsel, he gave it to Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot. 27 Then after he had taken the morsel, Satan entered into him. Jesus said to him, “What you are going to do, do quickly.” 28 Now no one at the table knew why he said this to him. 29 Some thought that, because Judas had the moneybag, Jesus was telling him, “Buy what we need for the feast,” or that he should give something to the poor. 30 So, after receiving the morsel of bread, he immediately went out. And it was night.” – John 13:26-30 ESV

His departure must have left the rest of the disciples in a state of disbelief. It’s interesting to consider that no one among them attempted to stop Judas, not even the normally impulsive Peter. Judas simply left the room. and the meal continued.

What happened next takes on an even more serious tone when we consider that Judas was on his way to meet with the religious leaders in order to set in motion the betray and ultimate arrest and crucifixion of Jesus. He was about to set in motion a chain of events that would lead to the death of the Son of God. And as Judas made his way through the streets of Jerusalem with the words of Jesus echoing in his mind, Jesus addressed His remaining disciples.

He took a piece of unleavened bread, prayed over it, then divided it among them. And He announced, “Take, eat; this is my body.” In his gospel account, Luke adds, “which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me” (Luke 22:19 ESV). It may be that, at this moment, some of the disciples recalled the words of Jesus spoken earlier in His ministry:

“…the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” – John 6:33 ESV

I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.” – John 6:35 ESV

I am the bread of life. Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” – John 6:48-51 ESV

Jesus was about to lay down His life as a sacrifice for the sins of mankind. His body would be beaten, broken and bruised. He would have His life brutally taken from Him by those whose very existence were His doing. Yet, Jesus was commemorating for His disciples what was about to happen, so that they might always remember the source of their salvation. His death would be the means of their eternal life. No amount of good works would earn for them what Jesus was about to provide for them by the sacrifice of His own life.

And then Jesus took one of the cups of wine, prayed over it, and said, “Drink of it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins” (Matthew 26:27-28 ESV). Jesus, as if to emphasize what He had just said, pointed the disciples to the sacrificial nature of His pending death. His blood would be poured out, like the lambs used in the temple sacrifices.

It was John the Baptist who had announced at the arrival of Jesus at the Jordan River:

“Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” – John 1:29 ESV

Jesus was the consummate paschal lamb, the sinless substitute who would offer up His life as payment for the sin debt of fallen humanity. And as the author of Hebrews made so clear:

…without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins. – Hebrews 9:22 ESV

There was no other way. Jesus would have to die. His body would be broken and His blood would be spilled, because the just wrath of God against the sins of mankind had to be satisfied or propitiated. And the apostle John would later write, “He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world” (1 John 1:29 ESV). And John would go on to describe what Jesus did on the cross as an expression of God’s love for sinful mankind.

In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. – 1 John 4:10 ESV

All of this had to hit the disciples like a lead weight. It was all so unexpected and unbelievable. It was not as they had hoped and dreamed. Their world was collapsing all around them, and it was about to get even darker as the night progressed. Jesus informed them that this would be their last meal together, but assured them that they would feast together again at a later date, most likely a reference to the Marriage Supper of the Lamb.

But with the Passover meal completed, they made their way through the dark night, out the eastern gate of the city to the Mount of Olives. And Jesus dropped yet another bomb on His already shell-shocked disciples.

“You will all fall away because of me this night. For it is written, ‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.’ – Matthew 26:31 ESV

Every single one of them would desert Him at His greatest hour of need. Under the coming persecution of the religious leaders, the disciples would scatter and hide. But upon hearing this pronouncement from Jesus, the always impulsive Peter said, “Though they all fall away because of you, I will never fall away” (Matthew 26:33 ESV). Those words would come back to haunt Peter. And Peter would make matters even worse for himself by refuting Jesus’ claim that he would deny the Lord three times.

“Even if I must die with you, I will not deny you!” – Matthew 2:35 ESV

He was well-intentioned. And he spoke for all the disciples. But none of them knew what was about to happen. They had no idea just how bad things were going to get in the next few hours. But Jesus did. And yet, He gave them a subtle, yet confident bit of news:

“…after I am raised up, I will go before you to Galilee.” – Matthew 26:32 ESV

Jesus knew that He would die, but He also confident that He would rise again. That was the Father’s plan. His death was necessary, but so was His resurrection. His death would be payment for the sins of mankind. But His restoration to life would be proof that His death had been sufficient and fully satisfactory to God.

This dark cloud had a silver lining. The events of the next few hours would be horrific for the disciples. They would be agonizingly painful for Jesus. But He faced it all with confidence and faith in His Father’s will. And what He was about to do, He did willingly.

“No one can take my life from me. I sacrifice it voluntarily. For I have the authority to lay it down when I want to and also to take it up again. For this is what my Father has commanded.” – John 10:18 NLT

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

The Son of the King.

22 As they were gathering in Galilee, Jesus said to them, “The Son of Man is about to be delivered into the hands of men, 23 and they will kill him, and he will be raised on the third day.” And they were greatly distressed.

24 When they came to Capernaum, the collectors of the two-drachma tax went up to Peter and said, “Does your teacher not pay the tax?” 25 He said, “Yes.” And when he came into the house, Jesus spoke to him first, saying, “What do you think, Simon? From whom do kings of the earth take toll or tax? From their sons or from others?” 26 And when he said, “From others,” Jesus said to him, “Then the sons are free. 27 However, not to give offense to them, go to the sea and cast a hook and take the first fish that comes up, and when you open its mouth you will find a shekel. Take that and give it to them for me and for yourself.”  –  Matthew 17:22-27 ESV

You may have noticed something missing in this passage: A verse 21. In several of the ancient manuscripts containing the Gospel of Matthew, verse 21 was not included. It appears that copyists had chosen to include a line that Mark had included in his account of this same event.

And he said to them, “This kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer.” – Mark 9:29 ESV

It had not been a part of Matthew’s account but had been added later by copyists in an attempt to better harmonize the two gospel accounts. But the older, more reliable manuscripts do not include that verse in Matthew’s account. Thus, the missing verse 21.

But following His transfiguration and verbal castigation of the disciples’ lack of faith, Jesus chose to bring up again the touchy subject of His coming death in Jerusalem. When He had brought it up before, it had produced a shocked response in His disciples and had elicited a stern rebuke from Peter.

“Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you.” – Matthew 16:22 ESV

The news regarding His coming death was unacceptable to the disciples. It made no sense to them and most certainly did not fit into their preconceived notions regarding the coming Messiah. Nowhere in their understanding of the Messiah was there a place for His death at the hands of the people. And Jesus infers that He will be “delivered into the hands of men.” The Greek word is paradidōmi and it carries the idea of delivering someone up through treachery. Not only would He die, it would be the result of His betrayal.

And Matthew records that the disciples were “greatly distressed.” While we recognize that the death of Jesus is an essential part of the Gospel or Good News, it was anything but good news to the disciples. While Jesus had clearly stated that He would be raised up on the third day, that important aspect of the news escaped the disciples. All they heard was betrayal and death. The concept of His resurrection escaped them. And Jesus chose not to elaborate on what He had said, leaving them in a state of distress. It seems that He was slowly revealing to them the truth about His mission, and it was in direct conflict with their perceptions. They had not been looking for a suffering Savior. Ever since they began following Jesus, these men had been expecting big things. They were growing in their belief that He was the long-awaited Messiah and they had high hopes that He was going to establish His kingdom on earth. And because they had been the first to follow Him, they were convinced that they would play significant roles in that kingdom. Their expectations did not include His death.

But Jesus was preparing them for the inevitable and unavoidable. He had to die. It was why He had come. But the disciples did not yet understand this. In fact, they would continue to wrestle with the idea of Jesus’ death, almost refusing to accept it as a possibility. Later on in his gospel, Matthew records the request made to Jesus by the mother of James and John.

“Say that these two sons of mine are to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your kingdom.” – Matthew 20:21 ESV

She was convinced that Jesus had come to establish His earthly kingdom, and she wanted her sons to play important roles in that kingdom. But Jesus told her she had no idea what she was asking. His immediate future held suffering and death, not honor and glory. And His disciples were going to share in His suffering. Then Jesus gave all the disciples a valuable lesson on leadership, using His own life as an example.

25 But Jesus called them to him and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. 26 It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, 27 and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, 28 even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” – Matthew 20:25-28 ESV

His death, while opposed by the disciples, would have great value. It would become the means by which sinful mankind could be restored to a right relationship with God. A restored Jewish state with a reconstituted monarchy was not going to solve the problem of sin and mankind’s separation from God. The Jews had had many kings over the years, but even the most righteous of them had failed to restore the people to a right relationship with God. And it had resulted in God punishing the people of Israel with exile at the hands of their enemies. Their problem was spiritual, not political. Their Sovereign was to have been God, not a man. But they had rejected God and had demanded that they be given a king, just like all the other nations. And God had given them what they asked for.

But now, God was preparing to give them what they really needed: A Savior. Someone who would restore the broken relationship between God and man. Jesus had come to pay the penalty for mankind’s rebellion against God. His death would act as a sacrifice, covering the sins of man and satisfying the just demands of a Holy God. The disciples did not yet comprehend this aspect of Jesus’ mission. Their understanding of His role was incomplete and inaccurate. But over time, Jesus would continue to reveal the truth about His identity and His God-ordained responsibility to act as the atonement for man’s sin.

From this difficult exchange, Matthew shifts gears and describes an encounter between Jesus and a few temple-tax collectors. These men were out collecting the two-drachma tax from all the adult Jewish males between the ages of 20 and 50. This was a mandatory tax used to provide for the upkeep of the temple in Jerusalem. These men approached Peter and asked Him whether Jesus paid this tax? Peter responded, “Yes.”

Jesus had evidently overheard this exchange, because when He and the disciples were alone, He brought it up with Peter. While this was a Jewish tax and not a civil tax required by the Romans, Jesus compared the two. He asked Peter if the son of a king was required to pay taxes instituted by his own father. And Peter stated that the king collected taxes from others, not his own son. His son would have been exempt from such taxes. Jesus confirmed this by stating, “Then the sons are free.” The whole point of this exchange was to emphasize Jesus’ role as the Son of God. He was the son of the King. And as such, He was exempt from having to pay taxes to His Father. But in order to keep from offending the religious leaders, Jesus agreed to pay the tax. But He did so in an unusual way. He sent Peter, a fisherman, to catch a single fish. And in that fish’s mouth Peter would find the money for the tax, enough to pay for he and Jesus. 

This story almost seems out of place. But it reveals the tension that existed in Jesus’ life as He continued to walk this earth in human form. He was a man, but He was also the Son of God, fulfilling the will of His heavenly Father. While on earth, He had to live in keeping with the laws of men, adhering to the religious requirements established by the Mosaic law. But the whole time, His focus was on His God-ordained mission. Yet, it would be the sinlessness of Christ that made Him the perfect sacrifice for the sins of mankind.

For God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ. – 2 Corinthians 5:21 NLT

And you know that Jesus came to take away our sins, and there is no sin in him. – 1 John 3:5 NLT

This High Priest of ours understands our weaknesses, for he faced all of the same testings we do, yet he did not sin. – Hebrews 4:15 NLT

Jesus was modeling for His disciples a life of obedience. He was letting them know that His role as Messiah did not exempt Him from living in harmony with the laws of the land. He may have been the Son of the King, but He was willing to keep the laws of the King. Not only that, He was willing to live in obedience to the laws of the Romans. And His disciples would learn that their lives would be models for all those around them. Peter would later articulate the lesson he learned from the lips of Jesus.

13 For the Lord’s sake, submit to all human authority—whether the king as head of state, 14 or the officials he has appointed. For the king has sent them to punish those who do wrong and to honor those who do right.

15 It is God’s will that your honorable lives should silence those ignorant people who make foolish accusations against you. 16 For you are free, yet you are God’s slaves, so don’t use your freedom as an excuse to do evil. 17 Respect everyone, and love the family of believers. Fear God, and respect the king. – 1 Peter 2:13-17 NLT

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Sinners in Need of a Savior.

As Jesus passed on from there, he saw a man called Matthew sitting at the tax booth, and he said to him, “Follow me.” And he rose and followed him.

10 And as Jesus reclined at table in the house, behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and were reclining with Jesus and his disciples. 11 And when the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” 12 But when he heard it, he said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. 13 Go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.” – Matthew 9:9-13 ESV

By this point in Matthew’s narrative, it is obvious that there is something radically different about Jesus. He is not your average rabbi or teacher. He has supernatural powers that allow Him to heal with a touch of His hand or a word from His mouth. He exhibits a never-before-seen authority that allows Him to cast out demons and control the wind and waves of the sea. To the Jews, He’s like nothing they have ever seen before. To the religious leaders, He is an enigma and a growing concern, because of His increasing popularity among the people.

And in today’s passage, we are going to see yet another aspect of Jesus’ radically different nature. We have already seen that He has no problem associating with the unclean, such as the leper whom He touched and healed. And unlike most Jews, Jesus was willing to have contact with Gentiles, even healing the servant of the Roman centurion. Now, in Matthew’s account of his own calling by Jesus, we are going to see that Jesus broke all rules of social protocal by associating with known sinners, such as tax collectors. It just so happens that Matthew himself had been a tax collector, and his retelling of his call by Jesus provides the perfect occasion to, once again, illustrate the radically different nature of Jesus’ ministry.

Just as He had done with Peter, Andrew, James and John, Jesus used a simple two-word phrase to issue His call to Matthew: “Follow me.” And Matthew records that he did just that. Luke provides us with a bit more information regarding this initial encounter between Jesus and Matthew.

Jesus went out and saw a tax collector by the name of Levi sitting at his tax booth. “Follow me,” Jesus said to him, and Levi got up, left everything and followed him. – Luke 5:27-28 ESV

We’re not given an explanation as to why Matthew (Levi) had two different names, but it was probably nothing more than a case of him having a given name as well as a nick-name. But Luke makes it clear that Matthew “left everything” and followed Jesus. He turned his back on what had to have been a lucrative business as a tax collector in order to obey the invitation of Jesus. And one of the first things he did was invite Jesus into his home for a meal. It was this occasion that set the stage for yet another illustration of Jesus’ out-of-the-ordinary behavior. Evidently, Matthew wanted his friends and business associates to meet Jesus, so he records that he invited “many tax collectors and sinners” (Matthew 9:10 ESV). Notice the close association between these two groups. From a Jewish perspective, tax collectors were despised and seen as some of the worst of all sinners. They were traitors to their people, choosing to make a profit off their fellow Jews by collecting taxes for the Roman government. Tax collectors were well known for their corruption and vice. They were viewed as social pariahs by the Jewish community. Which explains why Matthew invited other tax collectors and known sinners to his party. And yet, Jesus willingly accepted Matthew’s invitation, choosing to dine with those whom the average Jew would readily shun.

The Pharisees who witnessed this appalling scene addressed their shock to the disciples of Jesus, asking, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” And before the disciples had a chance to respond, Jesus provided the Pharisees with an answer:

“Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick.” – Matthew 9:12 ESV

This carefully worded retort from Jesus was like a missile aimed at the prideful arrogance of the Jewish religious leaders. Jesus knew exactly what they were thinking and was well aware that these men saw His actions as unacceptable and unworthy of someone who claimed to be a faithful Jew, let alone a rabbi or teacher. In their minds, Jesus had discredited Himself by His actions. But Jesus’ statement revealed the radical difference between His outlook on sinful humanity and their own. The Pharisees saw themselves as anything but sinners. They were not only Jews and, therefore, part of the chosen people of God, but well-respected religious leaders and experts in the law of Moses. They were professional law-keepers, priding themselves on their knowledge of the law and their adherence to it. But as Jesus had revealed in His sermon on the mount, most of their interpretations of the Mosaic law were flawed. And their so-called righteousness was deemed inadequate by Jesus when viewed from God’s perspective.

The problem, as Jesus exposes it, was that these men did not see themselves as sinners. They prided themselves on their righteousness and their ability to earn a right standing with God through their actions. Which is why Jesus refers to them sarcastically as “those who are well.” They had the mistaken impression that they were somehow better than the tax collectors and sinners sitting at the table with Jesus. It is reminiscent of the story Jesus told about the two men praying in the temple. Luke tells us that “Jesus told this story to some who had great confidence in their own righteousness and scorned everyone else” (Luke 18:9 NLT). In the story, Jesus compares the prayers of tax collector and a Pharisee. The tax collector “dared not even lift his eyes to heaven as he prayed. Instead, he beat his chest in sorrow, saying, ‘O God, be merciful to me, for I am a sinner’” (Luke 18:13 NLT). But the Pharisee exhibited a dramatically different attitude.

“The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed this prayer: ‘I thank you, God, that I am not a sinner like everyone else. For I don’t cheat, I don’t sin, and I don’t commit adultery. I’m certainly not like that tax collector! I fast twice a week, and I give you a tenth of my income.’’” – Luke 18:11-12 NLT

Notice that the Pharisee prided himself on a sinlessness that was based on his self-manufactured righteousness. He fasted and tithed. He didn’t cheat, commit adultery or sin. But remember what Jesus said in His sermon on the mount: “But I warn you–unless your righteousness is better than the righteousness of the teachers of religious law and the Pharisees, you will never enter the Kingdom of Heaven!” (Matthew 5:20 NLT). This self-produced kind of righteousness was inadequate. It was insufficient to earn anyone a place in the Kingdom of God. No man could earn his way into God’s favor. As Paul puts it in his letter to the Romans, “For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard” (Romans 3:23 NLT).

The Pharisees, standing outside Matthew’s house and shaking their judgmental fingers in the face of Jesus and His disciples, pridefully viewed themselves as non-sinners. They were above the fray, having already earned their right standing with God through their status as God’s chosen people and their strict adherance to the law. But Jesus reveals that He came to minister to those who recognized their need for a physician. In other words, He came to provide spiritual healing to those who recognized their sinfulness. Like the tax collector in Jesus’ story, they cry out, “be merciful to me, for I am a sinner!”

When Jesus stated, “I came not to call the righteous, but sinners,” He was not commending the Pharisees or indicating that they were somehow exempt from the need for His salvation. He was simply stating that their prideful belief in their own self-produced righteousness was going to keep them from ever admitting their need for a righteousness outside of themselves. They were convinced that they could earn a right relationship with God on their own. They needed no Messiah. But they were wrong. Dead wrong.

Jesus refers the Pharisees to an Old Testament passage they would have not quite well: Hosea 6:6:

For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice,
    the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.

Like their Old Testament ancestors, the Pharisees prided themselves on their strict adherance to the laws of Moses and their keeping of the religious rules and rituals associated with temple worship. But in all their activity they had lost their knowledge of God. It had become all about rule-keeping, not a relationship with God. And these arrogant men were as guilty as their ancestors, whom God condemned as little more than hypocrites.

“These people say they are mine. They honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. And their worship of me is nothing but man-made rules learned by rote.” – Isaiah 29:13 NLT

Jesus willingly associated with sinners, because they are the ones for whom He came give His life. And while the Pharisees refused to admit it, they too were sinners in need of a Savior. But pride and self-sufficiency would prevent them from seeing and admitting their need. Their self-reliance would keep them turning to Jesus for the salvation they so desperately needed.

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Paralyzed by Sin.

1 And getting into a boat he crossed over and came to his own city. And behold, some people brought to him a paralytic, lying on a bed. And when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Take heart, my son; your sins are forgiven.” And behold, some of the scribes said to themselves, “This man is blaspheming.” But Jesus, knowing their thoughts, said, “Why do you think evil in your hearts? For which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise and walk’? But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—he then said to the paralytic—“Rise, pick up your bed and go home.” And he rose and went home. When the crowds saw it, they were afraid, and they glorified God, who had given such authority to men. – Matthew 9:1-8 ESV

According to the other two synoptic Gospels, this event actually occurred before the scenes depicted in chapter eight, but Matthew chose to place it here in order to continue his effort to prove Jesus’ claim to be the Messiah. Matthew seems less interested in providing us with an accurate timeline of the events in Jesus’ life than with evidence for His deity. Matthew has grouped these scenes together in an effort to display Jesus’ power over disease, nature, the demonic realm and, with this story, sin itself.

There are several interesting aspects to this story. First, there is the reference by Jesus to the faith of the men who brought the paralytic. There is no mention in the story of the paralyzed man exhibiting faith. His friends brought him to Jesus in order that he might be healed. And we know from Luke’s account of this same story, that the men had been unable to make their way through the crowds that had gathered inside the home where Jesus was teaching. So, they got creative.

…finding no way to bring him in, because of the crowd, they went up on the roof and let him down with his bed through the tiles into the midst before Jesus. – Luke 5:19 ESV

They were so determined to get their paralyzed friend in front of Jesus and so certain that Jesus could heal him, that they went out of their way to make it happen. And this leads us to the second interesting part of this story. The text tells us that Jesus saw their faith. Their actions were a visible manifestation of their faith. They had been willing to go the extra mile because they fully believed that Jesus had the power to heal their friend. This was exactly the point made by James in the book that bears his name.

Now someone may argue, “Some people have faith; others have good deeds.” But I say, “How can you show me your faith if you don’t have good deeds? I will show you my faith by my good deeds. – James 2:18 NLT

And the visible faith of these men resulted in the physical healing of the paralyzed man. Nowhere does Jesus mention the faith of the man himself. The paralytic had been the fortunate recipient of the faith of his friends. But this brings us to the third interesting aspect of this story. Notice what Jesus said to the man.

And when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Take heart, my son; your sins are forgiven.” – Matthew 9:2 ESV

He didn’t say, “Rise up and walk!” He forgave the man’s sins. This is not necessarily an indication that the man’s paralysis was a result of sin. It also does not mean that the man had been paralyzed by God as a form of punishment for a sin he had committed. Jesus is simply indicating that there is a close association with sin and sickness. Both are the result of the fall. Disease and death are the byproducs of sin’s entrance into the world. And by addressing the issue of the man’s sin, rather than his paralysis, Jesus was clearly indicating that sin was the greater problem. The man’s paralysis kept him from walking, but sin kept him from walking in newness of life. His paralysis left him bed-ridden, but his sin left him in bondage and condemnation, destined to an eternity separated from God. So, Jesus did for the man what only He could do: Forgive his sins. And in doing so, Jesus displayed His divine authority, not just over disease, but over death.

This action on the part of Jesus did not go unnoticed by the Jewish religious leaders. Upon hearing Jesus’ words, they immediately accused Him of blasphemy. From their perspective, Jesus was assuming divine authority, the ability to forgive sins. That was something only God could do. And that’s the point of the entire story. It’s the reason Matthew chose to place it at this point in his Gospel. Jesus had already proven He could heal, cast of out demons and calm storms. But in this scenario, He had upped the ante, displaying a unapologetic claim to have power over sin. What the scribes viewed as blasphemy was simply Jesus displaying His divine authority. He wasn’t claiming to have god-like authority, He was announcing that He was God.

And Jesus responds to these men with a question.

“For which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise and walk’?” – Matthew 9:5 ESV

Of course, the answer to His question is simple. It is far easier to say, “Your sins are forgiven” because there is no way to prove the veracity of your statement. How would anyone know if the man’s sins were truly forgiven? Only time would tell if what Jesus said was true. It wouldn’t be until the man died that even he would know whether his sins had been actually been forgiven.

So, Jesus does the more difficult thing. He tells the man to pick up his bed and walk and, not surprisingly at this point in the story, that’s exactly what the man does. But Jesus provides the scribes with the reason behind his actions.

“…that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins…” – Matthew 9:6 ESV

Jesus spoke and the man was healed. He was restore to perfect physical health. And the fact that the man did just as Jesus had commanded him, picking up his bed and walking home, was proof that Jesus had God-given authority over disease. But the real point of the story is that Jesus had authority over sin and death. Jesus had not come to restore men and women physically, but spiritually. The greater miracle performed that day was the forgiveness of the man’s sin debt. He had been spiritually paralyed by the debt of sin that hung over his life. He had been incapable of walking in community with God because of his unforgiven sin.

The fact is, every person in the crowd that day, including the scribes, were in the same sad state as the paralyzed man. While they had full use of their limbs, they too were paralyzed by sin. And as the author of Hebrews makes clear, “it is not possible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins” (Hebrews 10:4 ESV). The sacrificial system was never intended to remove sin.

Under the old covenant, the priest stands and ministers before the altar day after day, offering the same sacrifices again and again, which can never take away sins. – Hebrews 10:11 NLT

Under the old system, the blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a young cow could cleanse people’s bodies from ceremonial impurity. – Hebrews 9:13 NLT

The scribes may have been ceremonially pure, but their sin debt had left them stained and impure before a holy God. And they were right when they assumed that only God could forgive sin. But that was the whole point of this entire exchange. Jesus was God. He was “the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world” (John 1:29 NLT). And John reminds us, “You know that he appeared in order to take away sins, and in him there is no sin” (1 John 3:5 ESV).

Matthew wraps up this account by describing the reaction of the crowd who had witnessed it all.

When the crowds saw it, they were afraid, and they glorified God, who had given such authority to men. – Matthew 9:8 ESV

The crowd had seen yet another miracle performed by Jesus and they were appropriately amazed by what they had seen. They even saw Jesus’ actions as God-ordained. There was no doubt in their minds that Jesus had divinely-provided power. But that does not mean they saw Him as their Messiah and Savior. It is likely that their response was driven by the man’s physical healing, because that had been visible and verifiable. They had no way of knowing whether the man’s sins had been forgiven or not. And for most of them, it probably didn’t even matter. They were stuck on a physical plane and more interested in the miracle of a paralyzed man suddenly able to walk. But had they realized that Jesus had come to provide forgiveness from sin and escape from the sin debt that paralyzed each and every one of their lives, they would have been truly amazed and glorified God all the more.

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson