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.
“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.
anointing of Jesus at
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.
prediction of Peter’s denial (vv. 30-35): As Jesus’ and his disciples walked to
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)
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
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)
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
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.
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
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.
journey to Emmaus (vv. 13-27): These disciples remained in
arrival at Emmaus (vv. 28-32): The location of Emmaus is uncertain, but it was
situated about seven miles from
return of the two disciples to
immediate return trip to
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.
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
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