Good morning. If you recall when Jesus made his way into the city of Jerusalem he was given a parade. What an entrance! Oh how things have changed! Judas, the treasurer of the band of disciples, betrayed Jesus by handing him over to those who wanted to kill him. Peter, one of the inner circle of Jesus, denied ever knowing him. Peter, after denying Jesus the third time, "went outside and wept bitterly." (Matthew 26:75b) Then there was the end for Judas: "he went away and hanged himself." (Matthew 26:5b) Matthew tells us that Judas "was seized with remorse." (Matthew 26:3b) Why did Judas betray Jesus? Well, there is a chance that he did so for the same reason as Peter, except, Judas thought that his actions would have led Jesus to show his authority and take on the Roman authorities. Therefore, he thought his actions would have ushered in the kingdom of God here on earth.
Peter was alone, Judas was alone, and so was Jesus. The parade is now over. The people are given a chance to free Jesus as they are offered a choice of Jesus or Barabbas. "Which of the two do you want me to release to you?" asked the governor." (Matthew 27:21) Each year as part of the Passover festivities a prisoner would be given his freedom. He would be at the mercy of the people. One would think that the people would have preferred Jesus to be released back into society than a hardened criminal. No! Their verdict and sentence could not have been clearer: "Crucify him!" (Matthew 27:23b) The disciples leave Jesus and the people want no part of him. Then, when he is crucified, "From the sixth hour until the ninth hour darkness came over all the land. About the ninth hour Jesus cried out in a loud voice, Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachtani? -which means, 'My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" (Matthew 27:25-26) Yes, even God left him. He was alone.
I will say a lot more about he crucifixion of Jesus as we go through each of the other gospels and make reference back to Matthew. Once we are done with all the gospels we will have a clearer picture of the entire story. I do want to mention that Matthew does tell us that Jesus was executed between two thieves. Matthew tells us that these two hurled insults at Jesus just as everyone else did. I find it ironic that these two thieves who were about to die found it necessary to insult another man who was dying with them.
I also want to say something about the last statement of Jesus. Through the years there has been much said about "the seven last sayings of Jesus from the cross." Sermons have been preached and lessons taught about these statements. But, not one gospel writer has Jesus making seven statements. In fact, Matthew only has him making one. Matthew records the same statement as Mark. The statement: "My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?" is a quote from Psalm 22:1. As we continue through the gospels we will see that Jesus is not just speaking out last statements. No, he is doing something else as we will eventually see.
O.K., as we have discovered there were those who thought that the messiah had come. They were then disappointed to discover that Jesus was not who they thought he was. Even the disciples had their own understanding of the one they had left everything to follow. Jesus is now dead. What kind of messiah is this? According to them, not one at all. Now, I want to introduce you to a character that becomes one of the most important characters in Matthew, Mark, and Luke; the Roman centurion. "Who? How is he an important character?" you may ask. Well, you will see.
"And when Jesus had cried out again in a loud voice, he gave up his spirit. At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook and rocks split. The tombs broke open and the bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life. They came out of the tombs, and after Jesus' resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many people. When the centurion and those with him who were guarding Jesus saw the earthquake and all that had happened, they were terrified and exclaimed, 'Surely he was the Son of God!" (Matthew 27:51-54)
What just happened? Well, this event is only described this way in Matthew. *Except the tearing of the curtain. Remember, I said that Matthew's gospel was written to a Jewish-Christian audience. The resurrection of the dead was integral to many Jewish eschatological scenarios. The Roman centurion makes his confession not just due to the death of Jesus, but based on death and resurrection. The centurion is able to see what the disciples or anyone else could not. He understood that the messiah was not about taking the world by sword, but he had come to establish his kingdom through the death and resurrection.
Well, I invite you to join me tomorrow as we begin looking at the Gospel of Mark. I hope to be in the birth narrative found in Luke's gospel in time for Christmas. So, we will cover a lot of ground between now and then. The Gospel of Mark is a fascinating study as you will see. God Bless! -Pastor Rick.