On Mission

Explore the Bible Series

November 25, 2007


Background Passage: The Gospel of Matthew 26:1-28:20

Lesson Passage: The Gospel of Matthew 27:35-37, 45-50; 28:5-10, 18-20


Introduction: The Gospel of Matthew gives disproportionate attention to the last days of Jesus’ ministry, as do the other Gospel writers.  The narrative downshifts into a more detailed account of the events of the final week of the Lord’s earthly work, and the thoughtful reader must conclude that these writers had some profound reason for this unusual narrative strategy.  In my work as a historian, I read a great deal of biographical materials, and I have never read a book, other than the New Testament, that devotes as much attention to the end of a person’s life.  For the Gospel writers, the arrest, torture, crucifixion, and resurrection of Jesus had special significance. The final chapters of the Gospel of Matthew capture essential elements of the Good News; indeed, there is no Good News apart from the death and resurrection of Jesus.


Serious Bible students see parallels between Jesus’ ministry and the work of the great religious leaders who preceded him.  Like Jesus, Old Testament prophets preached with great power, healed the sick, performed signs and wonders, and even raised the dead.  These parallels, I believe, were a mans by which Jesus identified himself with the Hebrew historical and prophetic tradition; however, the Gospels make clear that Jesus, in important ways, stood apart from those who came before him: his virgin conception, his sinless life, his profound insight and authority in preaching, and his remarkable messianic claims.  Above all, the unique death and resurrection of Jesus identify this man as someone very special, the Son of Man, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.


May I insert a personal word at this point?  I understand the frustration that some may experience when faced with studying and teaching through a lengthy, dense passage like this.  How does one do justice to the sheer volume (three chapters) of such a lesson?  Furthermore, the lesson covers the most important materials of the Gospel narratives.  How does a teacher, in a forty-five minute Sunday School class, cover these profound things?  Hopefully, these few words will encourage you a bit.  Please consider these points.

  1. Originally, the early church read these documents in ways modern evangelicals often do not.  Early accounts of the liturgies of the church indicate that our ancient brothers, in their public assemblies, read the Bible more extensively than we typically do.  Remember that early Christians did not have personal copies of the Scriptures; rather, as local congregations collected copies of the Sacred Writings, they devoted much of their public worship to simple, straightforward reading of the texts.  These readings did not serve as a mere prelude to the preaching (though preaching did play an essential role).  Instead, these early believers had confidence that the unadorned reading of the Scriptures carried great power and blessing. I respectfully encourage you to devote much of the Sunday School class to careful, reverent reading of the lesson text.
  2. Trust the Holy Spirit to use the reading of the Scriptures in the lives of the members of your Sunday School class.  I believe in the careful exposition, explanation, and illustration of the Bible; however, surely we all share a profound confidence in the text of Scripture itself.  I fear, at times, that our confidence may rest in our explanations rather than the Scriptures themselves.  These explanations (through preaching and teaching), of course, are essential to the vitality of God’s people, but our confidence must rest in the text, not in our expositions.
  3. Healthy Bible teaching encourages class members to study the Bible for themselves.  The Sunday School session should promote and augment careful personal study for all Christians.  If you don’t cover all the material in a given lesson, encourage class members to seek the Lord through their own examination of the text.  The goal of a class must not focus on the exegetical skills of one person; rather, the Bible sessions should equip all participants to “rightly divide the word of truth.”
  4. There is great value in surveying large segments of the Scriptures.  Again, I have great respect of careful, painstaking exposition of the Bible.  However, if that is the only focus of the Bible-teaching ministry of the church, we may miss the forest for the trees.  Again, please recall that the early church apparently did not read the Scriptures in this way.
  5. Above all, be encouraged in our Kingdom labors. The Bible is a powerful instrument in the hands of the Holy Spirit.  Stand back, for instance, from the majestic spectrum of the Matthew’s account of Jesus’ Passion.  Observe the stately narrative and let it grip your heart.  Hear it as if you had never encountered the story before.  Cry out for the gracious assistance of the Holy Spirit, and trust him to use the “two-edged sword” in ways you might never imagine.  Perhaps we might all revisit the words of the familiar hymn.

“Tell me the story most precious, sweetest that ever was heard.”





Outline of the Background Passage:


I.                   Events Leading to the Crucifixion of Jesus (26:1-27:31)

A.    The conspiracy of the religious leaders (26:1-5): All four Gospels reveal that this conspiracy intensified over a lengthy period, but, of course, the plot came to a crescendo during Passion Week.  These were not genuinely misguided men.  The text indicates that they knew exactly what they were doing, and they strategized stealthfully to carry out their sinister plan at an opportune moment.

B.     The anointing of Jesus at Bethany (26:6-13): Three gospel writers, Matthew, Mark, and John record this story.  A devoted disciple of Jesus, a woman named Mary, approached Jesus as he ate the evening meal in the house of a Simon the Leper.  John tells us that Martha and Lazarus, Jesus’ old friends, helped host the gathering.  I appears that the Mary mentioned in John’s account was the sister of these siblings from Bethany.  A. T. Robertson argued persuasively that Bible students should not confuse this story with the narrative in Luke 7:36-50.  The disciples responded poorly to the worshipful act Mary.  They grew indignant and criticized Mary for her devoted extravagance toward the Master (John points out the central role Judas played in this criticism).  Jesus, however, met their disapproval with a firm commendation of Mary’s memorable act, an act that symbolized the impending death of the Savior. 

C.     Jesus’ observance of the Passover with the disciples (26:14-35)

1.      the plot of Judas (vv. 14-16): Judas, stung by Jesus’ rebuke of the disciples’ criticism of Mary, conspired with the Jewish leaders to betray Jesus into their hands.  John pointedly mentioned that Satan entered Judas as he carried out his unthinkable scheme.

2.      the observance of the Feast of Unleavened Bread (vv. 17-29): Traditionally, the Jews observed a special meal on the evening before Passover, and Jesus appears to combine the two observances.  As the disciples ate the meal, Jesus tacitly identified Judas as his betrayer; then, the Lord instituted the eucharist (New Testament term for the thanksgiving meal--see I Corinthians 11:24), and enjoined a commemorative ordinance still observed by God’s people today.

3.      Jesus’ prediction of Peter’s denial (vv. 30-35): As Jesus’ and his disciples walked to the Mount of Olives, the Lord predicted that his followers would abandon him, in his hour of trail.  Peter, impetuous as always, bristled at the Lord’s words, and Jesus  observed that the impulsive disciple would deny the Master three times.

D.    Jesus’ Prayer in Gethsemane and Betrayal by Judas (26:36-56)

1.      Jesus’ prayer in Gethsemane (vv. 36-46): The Lord prepared for his passion through prayer.  The disciples accompanied the master to Gethsemane, but, oblivious to the impending crisis, they fell asleep as Jesus prayed.  Peter, James, and John followed Jesus to a secluded place, but they dozed as the Savior agonized.  We do not know how the drowsy disciples knew the content of Jesus’ prayer, but all three Synoptic Gospels record the Lord’s words.  The weight of a world of sin pressed upon him, and he asked that the cup of God’s wrath might pass from him; nevertheless, he submitted to the Father’s sovereign design. This passage gives some insight into the mysteries of the Lord’s humanity and deity.

2.      Judas’ betrayal of Jesus (vv. 47-56): As previously arranged, Judas betrayed the Lord by a kiss.  One of the disciples (John identifies Peter) drew a sword and struck off the ear of the high priest’s servant (John says his name was Malchus). The Lord, pf course, rebuked Peter for his violent act and reminded the violent disciple that those who live by the sword will die by the sword.  Matthew pointed out that a large crowd of armed men came to arrest him, and, in the face of this intimidating circumstance, the disciples ran away.

E.     Jesus’ trial before Caiaphas (26:57-68): The men who arrested the Lord took him to the high priest, and the religious authorities produced false witnesses who brought spurious charges against Jesus.  Finally, Caiaphas asked Jesus about his identity, and Jesus answered with an unmistakable claim of deity.  The high priest, outraged at Jesus’ response, pronounced Jesus guilty and deserving of death on the charge of blasphemy.  The religious leaders spat on the Lord and mocked him.

F.      Peter’s denial of Jesus (26:69-75): As Jesus predicted, Peter three times denied his connection with the Lord, the last denial in the form of an oath.  Peter, broken by his weakness, wept bitterly.

G.    Jesus’ trial before Pontius Pilate (27:1-31)

1.      Pilate’s involvement in the legal proceedings (vv. 1-2 and 11-25): The religious leaders had no legal authority to execute Jesus; therefore, they took the Lord to the Roman governor, Pontius Pilate.  Twice, Pilate tried to relieve the tense situation.  First, he tried to determine the veracity of the charges brought by the religious leaders.  The text seems to indicate that the charges had changed.  When Jesus stood before Caiaphas, the charge was blasphemy, but Pilate’s concern centered on Jesus’ claim to be the King of the Jews.  Second, Pilate tried to shift responsibility from deciding this case by offering to release a notorious criminal named Barabbas.  The unpredictable crowds called for the release of Barabbas and the crucifixion of Jesus.  Pilate, yielding to the demands of the crowds, delivered Jesus to the Roman soldiers for torture and execution.

2.      The suicide of Judas (vv.3-10): After Jesus’ arrest, Judas was overcome by remorse and sought to return the blood money.  The religious leaders refused to keep the money and used the tainted coins to buy a cemetery.  Matthew tells us that Judas hanged himself, and the Book of Acts reveals that, sometime after his death, Judas’ body fell to the ground and burst open.


II.                The Death and Burial of Jesus (27:32-66)

A.    The crucifixion (vv. 32-56): One can scarcely imagine more horrific methods of execution than crucifixion.  The soldiers, having severely wounded Jesus, conscripted Simon of Cyrene to carry Jesus’ cross to the Place of the Skull.  There, the soldiers stripped his clothes and nailed him to the cross.  Two other men were killed with Jesus, and the abusive crowds mocked the Savior as he suffered. Several off the female followers of Jesus stood at a distance and observed the horrible proceedings. The Lord died about three o’clock, and Matthew recorded a number of remarkable consequences of his death: an earthquake struck the region, the veil of the Temple was torn, and many of God’s people rose from the dead.  Even the jaded Roman soldiers, men who carried out this ghastly detail very often, were astounded by the remarkable events that accompanied Jesus’ death.

B.     The burial (vv. 57-66): A wealthy follower of Jesus asked Pilate for Jesus’ body, and, after hurried preparations, Joseph and a few of the women, placed the corpse in a freshly-hewn tomb.  The Jewish authorities, remembering Jesus’ predictions about the resurrection, asked Pilate for a Roman guard to protect the sarcophagus.  The governor refused, and the Jews posted their own guard and sealed the tomb.


III.             The Resurrection (28:1-20)

A.    The angel’s appearance to the women (vv. 1-10):  The four Gospels differ somewhat in the details of the resurrection appearances, and efforts to harmonize the accounts prove difficult.  This variety, in my judgment, verifies the eyewitness authenticity of the Gospel records.  According to Matthew, two women approached the tomb about sunup on the Sunday following Jesus’ death.  An angel appeared to the women and announced that Jesus had risen from the dead; then, the heavenly messenger instructed the women to report the good news to the disciples. As the two Marys hurried to speak with the disciples, Jesus suddenly appeared to them and asked them to tell the apostles that he would meet them in Galilee.  (Please note that I have attached an outline of the resurrection account from the Gospel of Luke that addresses some of the variances in the Synoptic accounts).

B.     The report of the guard (vv. 11-15):  Matthew recounted the fear of the guards when the angel appeared at the tomb; now, however, the guards report to the chief priests.  The religious leaders gave the guards a bribe and demanded that the men lie about the things they had seen. Only Matthew records this aspect of the resurrection narrative.

C.     The Great Commission (vv. 16-20): As promised, Jesus preceded the disciples to Galilee (the other Gospel writers identify several appearances of Jesus, to his followers, before he left Jerusalem).  The Risen Christ asserted his authority by commanding his followers to make disciples of all the nations.  His commission bears these characteristics.

1.      “as you are going”: Jesus assumed that his followers would not sequester themselves in isolated groups; rather, they would consciously take the gospel to the world.

2.      “make disciples”: Jesus did not call his apostles to merely “decisionalize” people; instead, he called them to engage in the costly and difficult work of making true disciples.

3.      “baptizing them”: This phrase helps clarify, in part, what it means to make disciples.  Disciples must follow Christ in baptism. The ordinance serves as an essential element of submission to and identification with the Lordship of Christ.

4.      “teaching them to observe all things”: Biblical evangelism s not getting minimal information to the maximum number of people.  True gospel work requires a thorough teaching ministry that places great demands on the time and resources of the Lord’s laborers.

5.      “behold, I am with you always”: What a precious promise for those involved in Kingdom work.  The King will not forsake his servants.



Luke Twenty-four Outline on the Resurrection



Introduction:  Everyone has a certain “life-lens” through which we interpret Scripture.  I, for instance, see the Bible through the eyes of a historian; therefore, I give special attention to the methods of historical research and interpretation as I examine the Bible.  Others, obviously, approach the Bible from a different direction.  It is, I think, the universal book, and it addresses the deepest of human needs and inquiries.  All of us come to the message of the Bible as sinners, moral failures who have disparately fallen short of the glory of God.  This grand book addresses our needs in ways that wonderfully transcend what we could ask or think.


Historians have examined the story of the resurrection in every way imaginable, and I have read some of these studies with great interest.  Their task is two-fold: (1) historians determine, through careful examination of the extant evidence, what happened in a particular situation, (2) these scholars offer learned explanatory hypotheses to explain the meaning and significance of these occurrences.  Antiquarians content themselves with merely ferreting out the data, but historians press beyond that preliminary task to venture on explanatory models.  Dr, Jesse Northcutt, late professor of homiletics at Southwestern seminary, taught me the most important academic lesson I ever learned.  After hearing a student sermon I delivered for my preaching class, the dear old master probed the value of my address by asked me a sobering question, “So what?”  He did not intend to cruelly crush my fragile ego; instead, he taught me that our work (as historians or preachers) must center on meaning.


As a historian, I have examined the four Gospel accounts of the resurrection of Jesus.  While the biblical accounts were not written by trained historians, in the modern sense of that term, they did give eye-witness testimony to what they saw and heard.  It simply won’t do to dismiss these stories as fictional, theological accounts of the dogma of early Christians.  Some believers grow frustrated with the variations in the Bible record of the resurrection (i.e. one angel at the empty tomb or two); however, these dissimilarities actually authenticate the reliability of the accounts.  If the early church had merely manufactured the “story” the writers would have, I think, ironed out the variant wrinkles. Historians cannot “prove” the historicity of the resurrection, but they can establish that the resurrection really happened, but they can affirm that these eye-witnesses really believed they had encountered the resurrection of Jesus from the dead.  Then, the scholar must ask, “So what?”  What does this testimony mean? 


Scientists view the accounts of the resurrection somewhat differently (if I may be so bold to speak for my scientific colleagues). People trained in the sciences deal with repeatable, testable phenomena.  They can (and should) assert that the scientific method indicates that dead people do not rise from the grave.  At the moment of death, the body begins to undergo certain irreversible processes that make resuscitation impossible.  After a short period of time, the body simply cannot reanimate.  Any reasonable person affirms this unbendable principle of nature, and Christians must acknowledge this.  Jesus died as a result of the unspeakable violence of Roman crucifixion.  The Roman soldiers received thorough training in this form of execution, and victims did not survive this efficient means of disposing of criminals.  Moreover, men did not recover from these atrocities, and I have no doubt that Jesus died from the horrible wounds inflicted by the soldiers.  A few of his disciples had no doubt that he died, and, in the limited time they had, these discouraged followers hurriedly prepared the body for burial and entombed Jesus’ remains in a nearby grave.  His body stayed in that tomb for approximately forty hours (three o’clock Friday afternoon until about six o’clock on Sunday morning).  Jesus died, and his disciples laid his corpse in a rock-hewn grave.  Like the remains of every other human being, scientists would affirm that this irreversible process of decay occurred during those hours.  No man could possibly resurrect from that progression of decay. 


Here, then, is the unique claim of Christianity, a claim that centers on the affirmation that what could not happen, did happen.  The scientist can rightly assert that the resurrection could not occur, but he cannot affirm that it did not happen.  That is the nature of miracles: that which cannot occur, does indeed take place. Christians believe that the impossible, in this case, actually happened.  Jesus rose from the dead in an unrepeatable, unique act of God.  History seems to indicate that First-Century believers affirmed, based on eye-witness accounts, that Jesus resurrected from the dead.  Our lesson for this week examines one of those records of this event.  As the lesson progresses, the text will compel us to determine the significance and meaning of this occurrence. 


Background Passage Outline:


I.                   The Encounter of the Women at the Tomb (24:1-12)

A.    The arrival of the women at the tomb (vv. 1-3):  The previous chapter reveals that several of Jesus’ female followers took great care to prepare the body of Jesus for proper burial.  Each culture has its own practices and rituals related to disposal of corpses, and First-Century Middle groups insisted on wrapping the body in linen fabric and anointing it with expensive, aromatic spices.  Circumstances on Friday prevented these Jewish women from completing the task of preparation; therefore, they returned to the tomb, early Sunday morning, to complete their funereal task.  To their surprise the women found a disturbed gravesite, and, of course, they felt compelled to examine the tomb for evidence concerning the disturbed grave site.  When they stepped into the tomb, they found the body missing. The dismay these women felt on Friday was multiplied as they feared that someone had desecrated Jesus’ grave.

B.     The appearance of the angels (vv. 4-8): The appearance of two angels (The text uses the word “men”, but this construction is not unique to this account. The angels appeared, as men, to the women (thus, the Gospel writer used the term “aner” to refer to the heavenly messengers) and interrupted this brief moment of perplexity.  The women, stunned by the glorious appearance of the angels, fell to the ground, and the messengers reminded them of the words of Jesus, “The Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, and be crucified, and on the third day rise from the dead” (See Luke 9:44 11:29-30, and 18:31-33).

C.     The women’s report to the eleven (vv. 9-12):  The other Gospel accounts record the angel’s instructions to the women concerning the report to the eleven, but Luke simply recounts the effect of their commission.  The disciples did not believe the news of Jesus’ resurrection, but Peter, accompanied by john, ran to the tomb to affirm the women’s report.  Peter, of course, found the sepulcher empty, just the women had said.


II.                The Savior’s Encounter with Two Disciples on the Road to Emmaus (vv. 13-49): Only the Gospel of Luke records this incident (the long ending of Mark may make reference to this episode). The beloved physician, unlike other Gospel writers, did not chronicle several appearances of the Lord; rather, he gave an account of one event, Jesus’ meeting with two men from the extended group of disciples. 

A.    The journey to Emmaus (vv. 13-27): These disciples remained in Jerusalem long enough to hear the claim that Jesus rose from the dead, but they left the city to return to their home.  Clearly, the text indicates that they were perplexed about the report, and, frankly, it appears they did not believe the story.  The passage does not indicate why the men did not recognize Jesus, but they seemed completely unaware of the Savior’s identity. In fact, they didn’t have, it would appear, a clear understanding of the Lord’s person because they simply referred to him as prophet who did miraculous deeds (See v. 19).  Jesus offered a mild rebuke of their unbelief (See v. 25) and began to expound the Scriptures to them.

B.     The arrival at Emmaus (vv. 28-32): The location of Emmaus is uncertain, but it was situated about seven miles from Jerusalem.  Upon arrival in the small town, the mysterious traveler indicated that he intended to travel on, but the two disciples constrained him to stay the night with them.  This kind of hospitality characterized much of the ancient Middle East.  As the three men prepared for the evening meal, they paused to give thanks for the bread, Jesus prayed, broke the bread, and gave it to the two.  This action, of course, revealed Jesus’ identity, and immediately the Lord disappeared from the room.  Note: While this breaking of bread has some resemblance to the Last Supper, perhaps Bible students should exercise some caution in making that connection.  Matthew and Luke indicate that that Jesus marked his final Passover meal with “the twelve.”  It is possible other disciples attended the meal, but the text gives no such indication that I can discern.  Therefore, these two men, not members of the apostolic band, probably had no firsthand recollection of Jesus breaking the Passover bread with his disciples.  Whatever the case, the two men recognized the Lord, and immediately he disappeared from their presence.  This occurrence is shrouded in mystery.  Why did he not remain to seize this teachable moment with these two men?  Why did he disappear without any explanation?  For that matter, why did Jesus conceal his identity from these perplexed followers?  The Bible simply does not answer these questions.

C.     The return of the two disciples to Jerusalem (vv. 33-49)

1.      The immediate return trip to Jerusalem (vv. 33-35): The two wasted no time; they immediately walked the seven miles back to Jerusalem. There, they found the Eleven, conversing about the Lord’s appearance to Simon Peter.  When the two men arrived, they told the story of Jesus’ appearance in Emmaus. 

2.      The Lord’s sudden appearance (vv. 36-42): As the men spoke, Jesus suddenly appeared in the room.  Of course, the men were startled.  Mingled terror and joy filled their hearts, and they could scarcely believe what they saw.  Though the Savior appeared to them in such an unexpected and miraculous way (they thought he was a spirit), the text gives unmistakable evidence that the resurrected Christ possessed a real corporeal body: he invited the men to examine his wounds from Friday’s crucifixion, and he ate fish with them.

3.      The Lord’s teaching (vv. 43-49): Perhaps the Lord did not give further instruction to the men in Emmaus because he anticipated this more strategic opportunity in Jerusalem.  He reminded his followers that none of the events of that holy weekend should have caught them off guard.  He had clearly predicted the sequence of events, and they had been eyewitnesses to occurrences that, from that point onward, would constitute the message they were to take to the nations.  He commissioned these men to go to the nations, beginning in Jerusalem, and preach the necessity of the Lord’s sufferings and his resurrection.  Also, he enjoined them to call sinners to repentance for the remission of sins.  Finally, he compelled the men to remain in Jerusalem for a time.  He promised that they would receive an endowment of power for their essential task.  Clearly, the Lord referred to the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost.


Conclusion: The lesson outline has addressed one aspect of the historian’s task, an examination of the primary resources, in this case eye-witness accounts, to determine what these people believed had occurred.  Now, I challenge you to complete the task.  Determine, based on the historical data, what all of this means.  Why did the writer recount the story as Luke did?  Since we may surmise that Luke was not an eye-witness to the events surrounding the resurrection, what resources did he likely use to construct the narrative? Why did he select the story of the Emmaus Road to convey his message?  What is the significance of the resurrection of Jesus?