Queen Elizabeth celebrates her diamond jubilee this year. Sixty years as queen of England! She’s seen THIRTEEN British Prime Ministers come and go during her reign! What an incredible effort!
Her coronation in 1953 was the first ever broadcast on television. She’s seen marriages and divorces, deaths and births all around her. And that’s just in her family.
The world she lives in TODAY is very different from the one she was crowned in. She’s seen wars and revolutions. She’s seen nations rise and fall. She’s seen floods and droughts, famines, earthquakes and tsunamis. She’s seen the hole in the Ozone layer grow, and the Greenhouse effect become more significant. She’s seen the fall of Iron Curtain and the Berlin Wall.
And through it all, she’s been the ruler of the British Empire. The Commonwealth. Still wearing her hats and sensible shoes, carrying her generous handbags, and walking her corgis.
From start to finish, it’s a story about HER REIGN.
Just like the story of Jesus here in Matthew’s Gospel. From start to finish it’s about JESUS THE KING. The one who brings in the Kingdom of God.
The story BEGAN – the very first verse of Matthew – with the introduction “A record of the genealogy of Jesus Christ THE SON OF DAVID.” That’s KING David.
And then the Magi came looking for Jesus, THE ONE BORN KING OF THE JEWS.
And Matthew BEGINS Jesus’ ministry with the announcement at 4:17
17 From that time on Jesus began to preach, “Repent, for the KINGDOM OF HEAVEN is near.”
And Jesus’ whole ministry – his teaching and his miracles – were about showing what that KINGDOM was like. What it means for Jesus to be KING.
It’s what the SERMON ON THE MOUNT is all about. Living in the kingdom. How to be GREAT in the kingdom.
And at the END of that first section of Matthew, we get the summary statement. 9:35
35 Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, PREACHING THE GOOD NEWS OF THE KINGDOM and healing every disease and sickness.
And as we’ve moved into these LAST chapters of Matthew, we’ve seen what an important theme it is. The contrast between the kingdoms of THIS world, and the Kingdom of God.
His disciples see EARTHLY influence and power. But Jesus sees a SERVANT king. Who takes up A CROSS, and demands that everyone who follows him DO THE SAME.
The crowd wants to make him King, so he’ll lead an uprising and drive out the Romans. But he comes ambling into town riding on a DONKEY.
And instead of military conquest, and riding in glory straight into Pilate’s palace. Jesus heads straight for the TEMPLE. To crack some skulls. Because God’s no longer the centre there.
Jesus’ eyes are on A DIFFERENT kingdom. A kingdom that will NEVER end. NEVER be overthrown. He can see the Son of Man coming on the clouds into HEAVEN’S throne room. And being crowned by GOD with all glory and authority and power. Not just over ONE nation, but over EVERY NATION.
And if we jump over TODAY’S story to the END of Matthew. We see Jesus RESURRECTED. Vindicated. Victorious. About to return to heaven. The kingdom of heaven has begun.
And he’s sending his disciples out into the world, equipped with the truth that ALL AUTHORITY ON HEAVEN AND EARTH HAS BEEN GIVEN TO HIM. In other words, He’s KING!
From start to finish, Matthew’s biography is a story about Jesus as KING.
And it’s a theme that keeps popping up in today’s verses TOO.
Turning the other cheek (27-31)
First up. Turning the other cheek. V27 of Ch 27. Jesus has been sentenced to death. And the Roman soldiers take him down to the barracks for some fun.
Just goes to show that bullying in the armed services isn’t a new thing.
They think it’s hilarious that this weak, abandoned, silent man is sentenced to death as THE KING OF THE JEWS. He’s the best this miserable nation can come up with.
The whole garrison gathers. They strip him, find a scarlet robe to drape across his bare shoulders. Then someone finds a thorn branch. They twist it into a rough crown, and jam it down on his bowed head. They find a broom handle to put in his hand as a royal sceptre.
Then the fun begins. They kneel before him. And ridicule him. “Hail, king of the Jews!” They spit on him, and take the staff off him and hit him on the head with it.
But he won’t play along. He’s no fun. He just TAKES it. Turns the other cheek.
He BEARS the shame and the insults precisely because he IS the king of the Jews. Just a different SORT of king. He’s the SERVANT king. The heavenly Son of Man who looks for acclaim from ANOTHER source.
When the soldiers get bored, and work out he won’t react. They dress him in his own clothes again. And lead him out to crucify him.
Your Kingdom Come (32-56)
He’s too weak to carry his cross, so they grab Simon from Cyrene to carry it FOR him.
And Matthew picks up details that remind us of the TYPE of kingdom Jesus is bringing in. Back in the Sermon on the Mount – Ch 5 – Jesus said that whoever obeyed his teaching would be GREAT IN THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN. And then he taught (v39).
38 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ 39 But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. IF SOMEONE STRIKES YOU ON THE RIGHT CHEEK, TURN TO HIM THE OTHER ALSO. 40 AND IF SOMEONE WANTS TO SUE YOU AND TAKE YOUR TUNIC, LET HIM HAVE YOUR CLOAK AS WELL. 41 IF SOMEONE FORCES YOU TO GO ONE MILE, GO WITH HIM TWO MILES.
And here we have Jesus PRACTISING what he preaches. Turning the other cheek. Giving up his tunic and cloak. And then being forced to go two miles. Because that’s the way to live in the kingdom of the Servant King.
They come to Skull Hill. Golgotha (v33). He’s crucified there. Lifted up in front of them. But not in honour and exaltation. The passing crowds slow down just long enough to hurl INSULTS at him.
And the soldiers sit at his feet. Not in submission to his rule, but to gamble for his clothes.
And his offsiders, one on his right and one on his left, are not his loyal counsellors, his right hand men, rewarded for their faithful service. But two CRIMINALS, meeting the same shameful fate as him. And they’re ridiculing him TOO!
While his TRUE disciples are nowhere to be seen.
And over it all, the ironic sign above his head (v37). The crime he’s executed for. “This is Jesus: The KING of the Jews.”
Ironic, because it was meant by Pilate as AN INSULT. Not just to Jesus. But to the whole Jewish race. To keep them in their place.
Yet it speaks better than he knows. Because Jesus IS the KING of the Jews. King of THE kingdom. And they WON’T stop him simply because they’ve murdered him.
And do you notice the taunts of the crowd? (v40) “IF you’re the son of God, come down from the cross!” The same from the leaders (v43).
43 He trusts in God. Let God rescue him now if he wants him, for he said, ‘I AM THE SON OF GOD.'”
In other words, “What sort of a FATHER just leaves his Son to die like THAT!?”
And yet keen-eyed readers of Matthew will know that’s EXACTLY what’s going on here. Because Jesus IS God’s son. Back in ch 3, John the Baptist is baptising Jesus, and heaven opened, and the Spirit of God descended on Jesus like a dove. And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love, with him I’m well pleased!”
And straight after (Ch 4), Jesus is lead into the desert where Satan tempts him for 40 days and nights. When he’s hungry, Satan says, “IF YOU’RE THE SON OF GOD, tell these stones to become bread.”
Then he took him to the top of the temple. “IF YOU’RE THE SON OF GOD, throw yourself down, and God’s angels will protect you!”
And finally, in Ch 4, the theme of KINGS AND KINGDOMS. Satan offers to give him ALL THE KINGDOMS OF THE WORLD. And all their splendour if Jesus worships him.
But it doesn’t interest Jesus. Because he marches to a different drum. A different kingdom. A different Master.
So, back in Ch 27, when the crowd are teasing him as he hangs on the cross, “If you’re the Son of God, let God rescue you,” that’s the very reason he WON’T be rescued. He WILL bear it – drink the cup of suffering to the bottom – because he IS the Son of God. The Son who always does the will of his Father.
And that’s ALSO the reason God WON’T abandon him. Jesus can bear the agony of the cross because he knows that God’s PLEASED with him. And that, in time, God WILL rescue him. Vindicate him. Just not this side of DEATH.
Which is coming up soon. V45. From midday to 3pm there’s darkness over the whole land. The sun fades because THE SON is fading.
Jesus quotes from Ps 22, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” It’s not because he’s asking A QUESTION. But he’s pointing to the experience of the Psalmist who WROTE it. He felt abandoned by God. Surrounded by dogs who pierce his hands and feet.
But then he sees God’s RESCUE. The Psalmist looks forward to being able to praise God with the rest of his congregation.
23 You who fear the LORD, praise him! All you descendants of Jacob, honor him! Revere him, all you descendants of Israel! 24 For he has not despised or disdained the suffering of the afflicted one; he has not hidden his face from him but has listened to his cry for help.
And in the end, the Psalmist is able to proclaim
27 All the ends of the earth will remember and turn to the LORD, AND ALL THE FAMILIES OF THE NATIONS WILL BOW DOWN BEFORE HIM, 28 FOR DOMINION BELONGS TO THE LORD AND HE RULES OVER THE NATIONS.
Ps 22, God’s kingdom WILL ultimately triumph. Despite appearances. Despite the short term. In the LONG term, God always wins.
“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” It’s not a cry of despair or faithlessness. It’s a cry of TRUST. Trust in the face of the worst sort of physical and spiritual suffering. Trust that his Father will bring him through it. And bring victory out of defeat. And that HIS kingdom will prove victorious over all OTHER kingdoms.
He doesn’t last much longer. V50. One final cry. Then he GIVES UP HIS SPIRIT. Even THAT seems to be an act of his will.
And as the Son of God dies, it seems like his whole Creation begins to mourn. Everything was made BY him, and everything holds together BECAUSE of him. Now, at his death, it’s like creation begins to fall apart.
It’s not there in the NIV, but v51 begins with “And behold!” Sights eyewitnesses would never see again. The sky is already dark. But then the earth shakes, and rocks split.
They’re A SIGN OF THINGS TO COME.
When Jesus dies, in a sense, all the kingdoms of this world die WITH him. They’re superseded. Outdated. And the kingdom of God begins. Kingdoms that threatened with fear and death. Kingdoms that come and go. That rise and fall. Another kingdom taking their place.
Jesus brings in, instead, a kingdom that will NEVER fall. That death CAN’T end.
It begins NOW as we live WITHIN those earthly, fading, temporary kingdoms. With eyes fixed on God’s ETERNAL, death-conquering kingdom instead.
And those earth-shattering events are a sign of things to come in OUR FUTURE, TOO. One day God will bring this rotting, festering world to an end. And bring in a perfect, restored new heaven and earth. And it will all happen because of what Jesus is doing on the cross.
But that’s not the ONLY signs of things to come. V51.
51 At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom.
Completely destroyed! The sign of things to come. Jesus had PREDICTED it. Pronounced JUDGMENT on it. A rotten, corrupt, broken system. Headed for the scrapheap.
And now, in Jesus’ broken body, all the animal sacrifices of the temple become obsolete. Sin punished ONCE, and FOR ALL.
And before long, the REST of the temple will follow. To this day, never rebuilt. Outdated and superseded.
But they’re not the ONLY signs of things to come. V51. Not mentioned anywhere else in the Bible.
52 The tombs broke open and the bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life. 53 They came out of the tombs, and after Jesus’ resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many people.
The sign of things to come IN THE SHORT TERM. The first little mention that Jesus will be resurrected. Matthew can hardly wait to tell us that it’s not the end for Jesus.
But not only HIM. An entrée of better things to come for all who FOLLOW him. Jesus defeats sin and death by his willing sacrifice. And so death is wound back for many holy people around Jerusalem.
And what do HOLY people do? They find somewhere HOLY to go. They go to the HOLY CITY after Jesus’ resurrection. And plenty of people SEE them.
Presumably they go on to die AGAIN. But they’re a foretaste of what will, one day, happen for ALL of us. When Jesus returns we’ll ALL be raised. THIS time for ETERNITY. Whether Christian or not. And ALL given eternal bodies. Some raised for judgment. Others raised for acquittal. All depending on our attitude to Jesus.
Amazing events. Look at how the very soldiers who’d been ridiculing Jesus respond NOW (v54).
54 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!”
The crowd and the leaders had been MOCKING when they said it. But they were RIGHT!
Answering all objections (57-66)
And witnessing it all (v55), MANY WOMEN. (More about them on Sunday)
And then Joseph of Arimathea comes and takes Jesus’ body. And the women are watching all this too (v61).
Matthew’s including all the details needed for retelling the story for the next generation to believe. We know after Jesus’ resurrection various false stories surfaced about what had happened to Jesus’ body. The disciples stole it. Jesus wasn’t’ really dead. The women went to the wrong tomb. Or it was a different body.
But Matthew’s account answers all the objections. The women follow from the cross to the tomb. No mistake there. They’ve got the right tomb.
And it’s a new tomb. No other bodies sharing the space.
And it’s sealed with a large stone. Even guarded by Roman guards. No sneaking in and out with the body.
It may be HARD TO BELIEVE. But there’s no easier alternative.
And Matthew and the others re-told the story in the months and years that followed. They found that people BELIEVED the story. The lies the Jewish leaders spread DIDN’T hold water.
And instead of staying in Jerusalem, history tells us that people would flock to a DIFFERENT hill. Not to the temple mount. The broken, superseded meeting place with God.
But to a hill OUTSIDE the city instead. To Golgotha. To a Servant King. Who died in our place. To bow in grateful worship. To say, along with the centurion, “Surely he WAS the Son of God!”
And while the earth shakes and rocks split, Jesus shake things up LITERALLY. But before long, he’ll shake the world METAPHORICALLY.
The message of Jesus’ defeat of sin and death spreads from one end of the world to the other. He’s changed the world like NOTHING ELSE.
A simple carpenter who never wrote a book, and never travelled more than 300km from his birth place. But to quote from James Allan’s story, One Solitary Life,
Nineteen centuries have come and gone. And today Jesus is the central figure of the human race and the leader of mankind’s progress. All the armies that have ever marched, All the navies that have ever sailed, All the parliaments that have ever sat, All the kings that ever reigned put together Have not affected the life of mankind on earth As powerfully as THAT ONE SOLITARY LIFE
And it reaches its CLIMAX. TODAY. On Skull Hill, with a barbaric and unjust murder. And then the conclusion three days later.
As YOU’VE witnessed the events around that first Easter. How have YOU responded?
Will you stand with Jesus, like those women?
Will you honour and worship him, like the Roman centurion. “Truly this WAS the Son of God?”
Is Jesus’ death shaking YOUR world?
Is it rocking YOUR pretensions and self-sufficiency?
Is it rattling the cages of your ambition, and your comfort and your pride and your plans?
Is his death making a difference in your work, and your family? In your relationships and your priorities?
Or are you RESISTING him?
Is there something ELSE driving your world?
Is it all too DIFFICULT? Is it easier – less scary – just keeping your OWN hands on the wheel. Trying to contain and manage your own world? Solve your own problems?
But that’s the original sin of mankind. Thinking they know better than God. But it’s FOOLISHNESS. Because you CAN’T control ANYTHING about your world. You can’t even control your world enough to stop yourself catching a cold!
Why not hand it all over to Jesus. Let HIM shake your world up.
Is the death of Jesus making a difference in YOUR life – LIKE it has IN THE WORLD?
Bow before him. Honour him as the King of God’s kingdom. Worship and serve and FOLLOW him. That’s the way to respond to the Servant King.