(This was part of a series on the Kingdom of God.)
Text: Mt 27
The theme of God’s kingdom is prominent in Matthew’s Gospel:-
1:1 – ‘the son of David’
2:2 – “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews?”
3 – John and Jesus announce, ‘The kingdom of heaven has drawn near.’
5 – The kingdom of heaven belongs to the poor in spirit and to those who are persecuted.
6 – ‘Your kingdom come…Seek first God’s kingdom and righteousness.’
13 – He taught them the ‘parables of the kingdom’.
16 – He tells Peter that he will give him the keys of the kingdom, and he speaks of himself, as Son of Man, coming in his kingdom.
19 – He welcomes little children, declaring that the kingdom belongs to such as these.
21 – The triumphal entry fufills the words of the prophet: ‘See, your king comes to you, gentle and riding on a donkey’.
What an anti-climax in chapter 27, as they set about executing the King, and demolishing his kingdom. Look at the sledge-hammer blows that are aimed at this fragile kingdom.
1. The hammer-blow of political expediency. Pilate, representative of one of the most advanced legal systems the world has ever seen, fudges it. Knowing Jesus to have done no wrong, v23, he nevertheless hands him over to his accusers, v26.
2. The hammer-blow of mob rule. I don’t know how many people in this Good Friday crowd screaming, “Crucify!” (v22) had been in the Palm Sunday crowd, singing, “Hosanna!” But public opinion is a fickle thing, and has turned from adulation to hatred in less than one week.
3. The hammer-blow of brutalising force, V27ff the soldiers mock him as king, beat him up, and strip him naked.
4. The hammer-blow of desertion by friends. Already denied by Peter, and betrayed by Judas. No-one is left even to help him carry his cross, v32. A stranger is forced to do so. It is just the women, v55, who watch from a distance, appalled, waiting for an opportunity to give him a decent burial.
5. The hammer-blow of religious bigotry, v41. The full listing of Jewish leaders emphasises the total rejection by official Judaism.
6. The hammer-blow of divine rejection, v46
The king dies, and so does the kingdom, apparently.
But wait…heaven is giving its verdict.
(a) The sky is growing darker and darker, v45. Just as the light of a strange star shone over Bethlehem to herald Jesus’ birth, so an uncanny darkness falls over Calvary at the time of his death.
(b) The great curtain in the temple is ripped from top to bottom, v51. This barrier that has shut men and women out of the presence of God has been torn apart.
(c) The ground underneath their feet is shaking, v51. But this earthquake is bringing not death, but life out of death. Nearby, some of the tombs are breaking open, and, before long, the bodies of the holy men and women inside are going to be walking and talking again. At the very moment of Christ’s death life was beginning to break forth.
As earth does is worst to the Son of God, heaven replies saying that this is not at all what it seems. God was not standing by silent and motionless. He was in it all along. In fact, this chapter is dripping with irony.
1. The irony of who is on trial here. Jesus says and does virtually nothing. He refuses even to defend himself, v12. It’s not really Jesus at all, who is on trial, but Pilate, the Jewish leaders, the crowd, we ourselves.
2. The irony of the choice between Barabbas and Jesus Christ, v17. The innocent Jesus takes the place of the guilty Barabbas. ‘Which Jesus do you want me to release?’
3. The irony that everyone speaks far more truly than they realise. See in vv37ff the exalted names and titles: King of the Jews, temple-builder, Son of God, King of Israel, Son of God.
4. The irony that although the hearts of his fellow-Jews remain rock-hard, the hearts of Gentiles begin to melt. A Gentile woman, Pilate’s wife, who warns her husband to have nothing to do with ‘that innocent man’, v19. A Gentile soldier confesses, v54, “Surely he was the Son of God!”
5. The irony that Jesus is even more of a King than he is accused of being. Rejected as King of Israel, he turns out to be King of heaven and earth. Mt 28:18.
6. The irony that this was the plan all along. Mt 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.’
The kingdom was never more alive than when its King died. For this is precisely the way things are in the kingdom of God.
‘Our Lord…came to carry a cross, and not to wear a crown. He came not to live a life of honour, ease, and magnificence, but to die a shameful and dishonoured death. The kingdom he came to set up was to begin with a crucifixion, and not with a coronation. Its glory was to take its rise not from victories won by the sword, and from accumulated treasures of gold and silver, but from the death of its King’ (Ryle).
And this is the way things must be for the subjects of the kingdom.
In Mt 20:20ff we are told that the mother of James and John approached Jesus with her two sons asking that they might be given the two most important jobs in his kingdom.
When the other disciples hear of this, they are furious. So, Jesus calls them all together and explains: they must be like the Son of Man, who did not come to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.
- he didn’t come to get, but to give
- he didn’t give as little as possible; but as much as was needed
- he didn’t give grudgingly, but willingly
- he didn’t make a hopeful start and then give up, he saw his task through right to the end
- he didn’t look for the approval of men, he looked for the approval of his heavenly Father
- he didn’t come to be served, but to serve
This is our God, the Servant King
Who calls us now to follow him
And give our lives as a daily offering
Of worship to to Servant King.