On Advent Sunday we’re appropriately looking at this passage under the heading Jesus’ Coming. You see the word Advent means ‘coming’, referring to both Jesus’ first coming and to his second coming. And these verses are concerned with both the purpose of Jesus’ first coming – with who he is and why he came - and with the fact of his second coming. They remind us of the humiliations and sufferings the Son of God went through in order to rescue us from our sins and that he is coming again in glory. And also that while many religious leaders today want to do away with the real Jesus just as many did then, and while we’ll be tempted to keep our heads down, keep our distance and deny Jesus, just as Peter did, we’re actually called to proclaim him and to invite people to hear the gospel at Carols and Christianity Explored, whatever the cost. And it’s urgent that we follow and obey Christ in this and take opportunities in a world where people are looking for hope and true security.
But it will mean going the way of the cross: denying ourselves daily, taking up our cross and putting Christ first. Here in Matthew 26 Jesus is going the way of the cross. As we’ve seen already in Matthew 26 Jesus could have asked for help when being arrested. You can see that in v53. He would then have had 12 legions of angels at his disposal. But what then of the divine purpose? Scripture must be fulfilled. The purpose of God was in those prophecies. It must be thus, Jesus says in v54 and 56. Jesus put his Father’s will first and we too must put God’s will first. Now those who had Jesus arrested and brought to trial had their own agenda. But in fact they were simply doing what the prophets had long foretold. As Isaiah 53: 12 says,
“He [Jesus] was numbered with the transgressors.”
You see foolish and wicked men can never overthrow the purposes of God, which brings us to Caiaphas, the Sanhedrin and the trial.
However just before we come to the trial, because we started looking at the events of Matthew 26 this time last year we can so easily forget the actual timescale and intensity of them. So let me briefly remind you of all that was happening to Jesus in the space of 48 hours. And because Jesus is God he even knew what was going on behind his back. So Matthew 26:4 – the chief priests and elders plotted to arrest Jesus in some sly way and kill him. In Bethany, v6-13, Jesus is anointed by a woman with costly perfume, which Jesus declares to be
“a beautiful thing…she did this to prepare me for my burial.”
Judas then agrees to betray Jesus (v14-16). Then Jesus and his disciples share what has become known as the Last Supper together (v17-30). Jesus then predicts, v31-35, that this very night his disciples would desert him and that Peter would deny him three times. Then he and his disciples went to the Garden of Gethsemane, where they slept and he agonised in prayer to his Father over the cup of suffering he was about to drink. May your will be done, he concluded. Almost immediately Jesus is then betrayed with a kiss by Judas and arrested. And while his disciples desert him he is (John 18) brought first to Annas the former high priest and then, still bound, taken for trial late at night to Caiaphas, the current high priest, and the Jewish council – the Sanhedrin (v57). So now to that trial and my first heading.
The religious leaders wanted Jesus dead v57-63
Have you ever been falsely accused? Last month it was reported that a woman who was locked up for 70 years after being falsely accused of stealing half-a-crown died just months after being reunited with her family. In 1937, at the age of 15, Jean Gambell was falsely accused of stealing 2s 6d (12.5p) from a doctor's surgery, where she worked as a cleaner. She was detained, sectioned and even though the money was later found, she was moved from mental institution to mental institution until she was released in 2007.
Jesus Christ underwent two ‘trials’, one before the Jews and one before the Romans. He was declared guilty though he had done nothing wrong. Indeed in the trial we’re looking at this morning Matthew tells us (v59) that:
“The chief priests and the whole Sanhedrin were looking for false evidence against Jesus so that they could put him to death.”
From Matthew 21 onwards the Jewish religious leaders had been looking for a way to get rid of Jesus. Matthew tells us in v45 & 46 of that chapter:
“When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard Jesus' parables, they knew he was talking about them. They looked for a way to arrest him, but they were afraid of the crowd because the people held that he was a prophet”.
And from John 11 we learn that the Sanhedrin had already decided Jesus should die. They said (v48):
‘If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and then the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation." Then one of them, named Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, spoke up, "You know nothing at all! You do not realize that it is better for you that one man die for the people than that the whole nation perish."
Unwittingly Caiaphas spoke accurately of Jesus dying for the people. Jesus himself had predicted all this.(Matthew 16:21)
“From that time on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.”
And Jesus’ sufferings had been prophesied 700 years before his first coming. (Isaiah 53:3):
“He [Jesus] was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering. Like one from whom men hide their face he was despised, and we esteemed him not.”
And Jesus has now been betrayed, arrested and deserted, even by his disciples (v56). Even Peter keeps his distance (v58). And he’s about to be found guilty and worthy of death, spat upon and mocked (v65-68). Jesus is alone. And so Jesus had to face his sufferings alone. How hard is that? - suffering without any support from friends. Perhaps you’ve experienced that. Jesus had no-one. Jesus was rejected by his friends. And he’s now brought before Caiaphas, the high priest and the Sanhedrin, which we’re told had already assembled (v57). So this proceeding as well as the outcome had been planned in advance. These were men who should have been doing everything in their power to bring men to God, but instead they were doing everything in their power to keep men away from God! And the trial itself was plagued by illegalities. Don Carson comments,
"Breaches of the law were so numerous as to be unbelievable.",
It was a kangaroo court about to judge unjustly the Son of God.(Matt 29.59-63):
“The chief priests and the whole Sanhedrin were looking for false evidence against Jesus so that they could put him to death. But they did not find any, though many false witnesses came forward. Finally two came forward and declared, "This fellow said, 'I am able to destroy the temple of God and rebuild it in three days.' "Then the high priest stood up and said to Jesus, "Are you not going to answer? What is this testimony that these men are bringing against you?" But Jesus remained silent.”
Again Jesus fulfils Scripture. (Isaiah 53:7):
“He was oppressed and afflicted yet he did not open his mouth. He was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and so as a sheep before her shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth.”
Matthew makes it quite clear that it was the high priest and the chief priests who were the principal players in bringing about Jesus’ death. They were willing to put forward false witnesses who misquoted Jesus’ words. They showed no understanding that the temple of Christ’s body incarnate, crucified and risen would replace the temple at Jerusalem. As Ryle points out it is clear proof that high ecclesiastical office exempts no man from gross errors in doctrine and tremendous sins in practice. And we see that clearly today. In the Episcopalian (Anglican) Church in the USA the hierarchy are getting rid of those who stand up for the truth of the Bible. And it’s happened in this country too. But we must also beware of regarding any church minister as infallible. The teaching and conduct of all ministers must be tested by the Word of God. This is something which we’ll be looking at in Home Groups this week from 1 John. Ryle says that church ministers are to be followed so long as they follow the Bible, but no longer. Isaiah 8:20 says:
“To the law and to the testimony! If they do not speak according to this word, they have no light of dawn.”
Secondly we learn from these verses that Jesus is the Christ and is coming again v63-66
Caiaphas put to Jesus the question which he hoped would lead the prisoner to incriminate himself. This was highly illegal but Caiaphas was determined. V63:
“The high priest said to him, "I charge you under oath by the living God: Tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God."
It was a crucial moment. What would Jesus reply? The fate of the world hung in the silence before that reply. If Jesus said ‘No’, he would walk out of that trial a free man. If he said ‘Yes’ he signed his own death warrant. Which was it to be? Could he face the bitter cup that he was agonizing over in the Garden? But then the decision was made. His reply was affirmative. V64:
"Yes, it is as you say," Jesus replied.
But it was slightly guarded. It was not his way of putting things. Both titles were so swathed in confusion. But yes he could not and would not deny it. He was the Messiah. He was the Son of God. Jesus then put it his way. V64 again:
"But I say to all of you: In the future you will see the Son of Man [Jesus] sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven."
The complete fulfilment of what Jesus is saying lies in the future. Yes he’s about to be killed, rise from the dead and ascend into heaven to sit at his Father’s right hand. And that’s where he is now interceding for us. But he will come again on the clouds of heaven. In the words of Revelation 1:7
“every eye will see him, even those who pierced him”.
Earlier in Matthew 24 & 25 we learnt that only the Father knows when this will happen. No-one else, not even Jesus. But we are to be ready because he will come when we don’t expect him (Mt 24:44). And when he comes he comes as Judge. Those who trust in and live for him as Lord and King will go with him to eternal life and those who have rejected him will go away to eternal punishment (Mt 25:46). What have we done with Jesus? Will you accept him before its too late or reject him? And if you have accepted him are you living in the light of his return? How will that affect the way you celebrate Christmas this year?
It’s striking that one of the last words spoken by Jesus to the Jews was a warning prediction about his own return. But in v65-67 there was no bowing of the knee, no belief, no acceptance of the Messiah. Rather unbelief, prejudice and self-righteousness typified the response of Caiaphas and the Sanhedrin. Spiritual blindness abounded. And spiritual blindness still abounds today both in the church and outside. Paul writing in 2 Corinthians 4 v4 says that:
“The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.”
How we need to pray for God to shine his light into the minds of those we’re inviting to Carols and Christianity Explored.
Matthew is showing his readers that Jesus is the Messiah – his sufferings and responses prove that he is the one prophesied in Isaiah 53. But for Caiaphas Jesus’ declaration was what he needed to pronounce him guilty. It wasn’t blasphemy for anyone to claim to be the Messiah and there was a sense in which a man might be called a son of God (2 Sam 7:14) but what Jesus had now said about himself and his return went far beyond that. (Matt 29.65-66):
“Then the high priest tore his clothes and said, "He has spoken blasphemy! Why do we need any more witnesses? Look, now you have heard the blasphemy. What do you think?" "He is worthy of death," they answered”.
Of course their verdict that Jesus is worthy of death is both untrue and true. Why? Well it’s untrue because he’s doing nothing wrong, he’s God the Son. But its also true that because he is who he is – fully God and fully man -and has done nothing wrong that he’s the only one worthy to die on the cross instead of sinners like you and me, taking the punishment we deserve on himself so that we can be forgiven and know God personally. And it’s ironic that the then high priest should pronounce the one who is now our true High Priest guilty and so unwittingly be part of the plan that puts Jesus into that position. Yet as someone has written ‘It was only suitable that the Jewish high priest should do his part, and declare sin to be upon the head of the victim before he was led forth to be crucified (Lev 26:21)’. But there is no sense that Caiaphas and the Sanhedrin knew they were fulfilling Scripture. They just poured scorn on the Messiah, which brings us to my third and final heading
Jesus was persecuted and his followers will be too v67-68
“Then they spat in his face and struck him with their fists. Others slapped him and said, "Prophesy to us, Christ. Who hit you?"
The Son of God was spat on, struck, slapped and slighted. How amazing it is that Jesus, the Holy Son of God, should have voluntarily submitted to such indignities, to rescue such miserable sinners as we are.
And we should not be surprised if we have to endure similar ridicule and mockery as well as false accusations, because we belong to Christ. Jesus said (Matthew 10:24):
“A student is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master.”
Recently I’ve been humbled and challenged by a number of Coptic Christians from Egypt who joined us for Christianity Explored. Where they come from persecution is part of the normal Christian life. But the joy on their faces and their love of and devotion to Jesus is plain to see. As one of them said – Jesus suffered and died, so why should we expect it to be easy? If God is making us more like Christ then we will have to endure at least some suffering on the way. As James writes in chapter 1 of his letter:
“Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything”.
Earlier in Matthew Jesus says (chapter 5:11-12):
“Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you”.
So let’s not be put off when some people mock us or worse or simply reject our invitation to Carols or to Christianity Explored. Pray for them and invite others. If we are called to suffer in this way for Christ we are to bear it patiently just as Jesus does here. You see we drink the same cup that was drunk by our Lord. But there is one great difference: at the worst, we only drink a few bitter drops; He drank the cup to the very dregs.