Then and Now

Today I finished up the gospel of Matthew, chapters 27-28. A total of 86 verses describes the two most important events in human history – the crucifixion of Jesus, and His resurrection.

Jesus is delivered by the religious leaders into the hands of Pilate, the Roman governor. Judas sees that He has been condemned to die and feels remorseful. He returns the price of betrayal (30 pieces of silver) and goes out and hangs himself. Guilt ended his life but there’s no indication he repented. Jesus stands before His accusers, silent. Pilate knows without a doubt He is not guilty of anything worthy of death but conforms to the wishes of the crowd and sentences Jesus to be crucified. He condemns an innocent man and releases a convicted murderer named Barabbas.

Jesus is stripped, spat on, and scourged. A crown of thorns is pressed into His head, a scarlet robe thrown over His bleeding back; He is mocked by the soldiers and led out to be crucified. For three hours, the sky darkens as creation watches the Creator suffer. After six excruciating hours, He yields up His spirit willingly and dies. At the moment of His death, the earth groans with an earthquake, and the bodies of many saints come to life in their tombs and are seen walking around Jerusalem. Jesus’ family and friends bury Him in a borrowed tomb, and the chief priests request Pilate set a guard of soldiers to prevent the disciples from stealing the body and claiming resurrection.

We know how this turned out, praise God! Jesus did indeed rise from the dead on the first day of the week, just as He promised. He greets the women first, who ran to tell the disciples. And behold, Jesus met them and greeted them. And they came up and took hold of His feet and worshiped Him (Matthew 28:9).

Matthew doesn’t give many details of the next 40 days. He “cuts to the chase,” jumping quickly to the words Jesus spoke just before His ascension back to the Father in heaven, what we know as the Great Commission. Just before this, though, he reveals the payoff made by the chief priests to the soldiers, to spread the lie that Jesus’ body was stolen – a story that is still accepted by many today.

Because we have the rest of scripture, we know how important these events are to our salvation; they are the foundation of our faith. Some people might say they are just an allegory or a nice fictional story; or, that Jesus wasn’t an innocent man but an insurrectionist against the current religious and political powers and was justly condemned. Some might not believe He really was resurrected.

The fact (and reason for) Jesus’ death and resurrection is spiritually discerned. God has to open our eyes to believe; He grants faith and repentance to those who respond to the clear evidence in the natural world of a divine Creator, and who seek the truth willingly. If you believe, it is because God has awakened your spirit to know Him, and you responded.

Human nature hasn’t changed much, has it? The thought occurs…

* The loudest voices (the crowds) most often get it wrong.

* Crowds are easily deceived, stirred up, and manipulated to support immoral schemes.

* People in power (both political and religious) often ally themselves in wicked conspiracies.

* Innocence doesn’t always win in the moment.

* Convicted criminals get set free by corrupt politicians.

* Truth is often suppressed and is still spiritually discerned.

* Political and religious leaders will support a lie if it fits their agenda.

* Sometimes God allows evil to have its way, in order to accomplish His greater purposes.

* Evil people always think they’ve won, but Jesus will eventually prove them wrong.

Are you discouraged by the deteriorating, immoral condition of our culture? Are you anxious about the continuing rise of wickedness? Are you surprised at what people in power will do to maintain their position and wealth? Well, it wasn’t much different in Jesus’ day. And look how that turned out!

Jesus came because humanity was in trouble. We’re still in trouble, and we need the Savior, today more than ever. Don’t worry if things look grim and evil seems to be winning. Remember there were two events that weekend. One day, just as He did that day at the tomb, He will meet us, and greet us, and like the disciples, we will fall at His feet and worship. It’s not over until Jesus comes, and He is coming.

Until then, take heart. Just as the Master suffered, so will we, so that the life of Jesus will be visible to the watching world. Be faithful to the gospel. Our resurrection is coming.

1 Corinthians 4:7-11 – But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, so that the surpassing greatness of the power will be of God and not from ourselves; we are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not despairing; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying about in the body the dying of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body. For we who live are constantly being delivered over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh.

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