Beyond Belief

Matthew 27:27-36

Then the soldiers of the governor took Jesus into the Praetorium and gathered the whole Roman cohort around Him. And they stripped Him, and put a scarlet robe on Him. And after weaving a crown of thorns, they put it on His head, and a reed in His right hand; and they kneeled down before Him and mocked Him, saying, “Hail, King of the Jews!” And they spat on Him, and took the reed and began to beat Him on the head. And after they had mocked Him, they took His robe off and put His garments on Him, and led Him away to crucify Him. And as they were coming out, they found a man of Cyrene named Simon, whom they pressed into service to bear His cross. And when they had come to a place called Golgotha, which means Place of a Skull, they gave Him wine to drink mingled with gall; and after tasting it, He was unwilling to drink. And when they had crucified Him, they divided up His garments among themselves, casting lots; and sitting down, they began to keep watch over Him there.

More irony of ironies; Jesus clearly clamied to be, King of the Jews, therefore they dress him up like a king to mock him. But we must remember that Jesus came as the humble, homeless King, riding on a donkey with the disciples’ clothes for a saddle, without wielding weapons of war. This mocking of Jesus displays the complete lack of understanding by the Romans and sadly, the Jewish people as well. They didn’t recognize or receive their King, though the Law and the prophets cry out concerning the crucifixion of the Christ. And this is another irony of ironies, Matthew makes no mark or mention of all the prophecy being fulfilled during this mocking and death as he does leading up to this point. Matthew distinctively and definitively displays a dozen, specific prophecies from the Old Testament concerning Christ, some from multiple sources, up until his crucifixion, but then they uncharacteristically cease, during the most prophesized day of days. Perhaps Matthew gives us too much credit. We see the prophecy of the disiples falling away and the 30 silver pieces of Judas through direct quotes but Matthew never mentions another specific prophecy in the rest of his book. I wonder why that is? Matthew’s aspiration to his audience is that they see Jesus as the long-awaited Messiah, whom was spoken about in the Law and the prophets. The people clearly missed the prophecies concerning the Christ and Matthew goes to great lengths to demonstrate how Jesus is the true Israel. Yet now, in an irony of ironies during this day of days, where many prophesies are fulfilled in Matthew’s own words, he doesn’t highlight them.

As always, given what I see in the world around me and the sublime string woven throughout the Bible, I have a question, two or more, actually. First, if they got prophecy wrong, that is, if they couldn’t see their long-awaited Messiah, what makes us think that we have a good handle on prophecy? How do we interpret prophecy? And more importantly, what was the purpose of prophecy? If this were a Bible study in which I taught teenagers, I would say, “Pop quiz! Scripturally speaking, what is the proposed purpose of prophecy?” Invariably I would be told, “to predict the future.” And my response would be, “why?” Sometimes the answer eludes us because of what we have been taught. Which is why I write, “unless you are learning for yourself, you only know what you have been taught.” We look at prophecy through a distorted lens because of our cross-cultural contamination, preconceived notions and presuppositions. We’ll get back to this, let me begin with another example.

Pop quiz! Scripturally speaking, why are we to work? That is, why do we have jobs to earn wages? Spiritually and Scripturally, why is the New-Testament gathering told to work? That is, within the context of the “the Christian Walk,” why is a man to labor? Is it so that he can provide for his family? Is it so that we can build bigger and better church buildings? Is it so that we have security for ourselves and to take vacations to exotic destinations? Forget about what you have been taught and our culture but consider the context, putting aside chapter and verse breaks.

“This I say therefore, and affirm together with the Lord, that you walk no longer just as the Gentiles also walk, in the futility of their mind, being darkened in their understanding, excluded from the life of God, because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the hardness of their heart; and they, having become callous, have given themselves over to sensuality, for the practice of every kind of impurity with greediness. But you did not learn Christ in this way, if indeed you have heard Him and have been taught in Him, just as truth is in Jesus, that, in reference to your former manner of life, you lay aside the old self, which is being corrupted in accordance with the lusts of deceit, and that you be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth. Therefore, laying aside falsehood, SPEAK TRUTH, EACH ONE of you, WITH HIS NEIGHBOR, for we are members of one another. BE ANGRY, AND yet DO NOT SIN; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and do not give the devil an opportunity. Let him who steals steal no longer; but rather let him labor, performing with his own hands what is good, in order that he may have something to share with him who has need.”

This is not written only to the literal theif but to the figurative theives, yet literal, that we all once were and some still are. Again, this was not written directly to us but to the church in Ephesus, regarding their time and troubles. Yet it is clearly applicable to us and written for us. Search the Scriptures, you will not find a better explanation of why we work. I believe it goes without saying that we work to eat, Paul all but writes this to the Thessalonians, but within the context of Christian conduct, Paul reveals the real reason why we are to work. Still, it is hard to swallow and difficult to digest because we are taught that the American Dream corresponds to the context of the Bible. And it can, do not get me wrong, yet when the American Dream is forefront and helping those in need is placed on the back-burner, we have been corrupted.

Back to my superlative question; why does God use prophecy? And then I have a follow-up question, which I will ask later. For now, let’s focus on the following: Scripturally speaking, why is prophecy prevalent​ in the pages ​of the Bible? Is it so that we will know the signs of the times for Christ’s second coming? What does the Bible say and to whom? What does the Master say concerning this?

In John’s account, in chapter 13 we read; “From now on I am telling you before it comes to pass, so that when it does occur, you may believe that I am He.” To whom was Jesus speaking? To his disciples; what was the context? The imminent betrayal and arrest of Jesus. While John shows the words of Jesus coming to pass, Matthew quotes more Old Testament passages than John. But both authors’  aspirations to their audience are the same; for people to believe that Jesus was the Son of God.

Why does Matthew constantly quote from our Old Testament tutor? Matthew presented almost 20 specific, fulfilled prophecies in his pages and alludes to even more. He also definitively displays Christ’s true knowledge of the Scriptures and the leaders of the people’s false knowledge. In the Triumphal Entry To Typically Tragic Times, Matthew presented 3 separate Scriptures to prove Jesus was their coming King. He even records the exchange between Jesus and the leaders of the people; “when the chief priests and the scribes saw the wonderful things that He had done, and the children who were crying out in the temple and saying, ‘Hosanna to the Son of David,’ they became indignant, and said to Him, ‘Do You hear what these are saying?’ And Jesus said to them, ‘Yes; have you never read, “OUT OF THE MOUTH OF INFANTS AND NURSING BABES THOU HAST PREPARED PRAISE FOR THYSELF?”‘ And He left them and went out of the city to Bethany, and lodged there.” The best news, if nothing else, my faithful followers have memorized Matthew 21:17; “And He left them and went out of the city to Bethany, and lodged there.” It is my most quoted Scripture. It’s true, yet still done for a little levity and to demonstrate how chapter and verse were never intended to stand alone but rather to consider the context. Speaking of context, we’re more than half way through this missive and we really have not considered the context. But that’s because I have unanswered questions​. Why has Matthew recorded numerous prophesies being fulfilled by clearly pointing them out but goes silent about fulfilled prophesies during this day of days concerning Christ’s crucifixion? Is Jesus not fulfilling prophecy on the cross? What was the intended purpose of prophecy if not to show Christ on the cross?

Within the immediate context of Christ on the cross in Matthew, numerous prophesies are fulfilled and yet Matthew does not mark them as fulfilled as he does in the rest of his Gospel account. As far as Matthew definitively displaying fulfilled prophesies, he has ceased. Nevertheless, we see several prophesies fulfilled, such as, Isaiah–pretty much all of chapter 53, and 50:6, Psalm 22:1-2, 7-8, 15 and especially 16 (concerning today’s text) and 18, Duteronomy 21:23, Numbers 21:8 and a thousand other allusions to Jesus on the cross. For time’s sake let’s focus on Psalm 22:7-16, juxtaposed to today’s text.

“All who see me sneer at me; [and they kneeled down before Him and mocked Him] They separate with the lip, they wag the head, [they spat on Him, and took the reed and began to beat Him on the head] saying, ‘Commit yourself to the LORD; let Him deliver him; Let Him rescue him, because He delights in him.” [‘HE TRUSTS IN GOD; LET HIM DELIVER Him now, IF HE TAKES PLEASURE IN HIM; for He said, “I am the Son of God.’’]  Yet Thou art He who didst bring me forth from the womb; Thou didst make me trust when upon my mother’s breasts. Upon Thee I was cast from birth; Thou hast been my God from my mother’s womb. Be not far from me, for trouble is near; For there is none to help. Many bulls have surrounded me; Strong bulls of Bashan have encircled me. They open wide their mouth at me, As a ravening and a roaring lion. I am poured out like water, And all my bones are out of joint; My heart is like wax; It is melted within me. My strength is dried up like a potsherd, And my tongue cleaves to my jaws; And Thou dost lay me in the dust of death. For dogs have surrounded me; A band of evildoers has encompassed me; [Then the soldiers of the governor took Jesus into the Praetorium and gathered the whole Roman cohort around Him. And they stripped Him, and put a scarlet robe on Him.] They pierced my hands and my feet. I can count all my bones. They look, they stare at me; [And after they had mocked Him, they took His robe off and put His garments on Him, and led Him away to crucify Him] They divide my garments among them, And for my clothing they cast lots [And when they had crucified Him, they divided up His garments among themselves, casting lots;].

There is much more we could consider concerning the juxtaposition of the continuing context of Matthew and Psalm 22. Nevertheless, what we have seen in this small sample is more than ample to appease our appetite. It’s almost a verbatim foretelling of what Jesus went through, leading up to, and on, the cross. But Matthew makes no mention to his audience to see the similarities. Therefore, using only Matthew as an example, I cannot dogmatically assert that Psalm 22 is actually Matthew 27; I don’t have that liberty. But Mark, Luke and John do, and they do. But the question remains, why didn’t Matthew write, “this was to fulfill the prophets,” as was his prior custom? Isn’t it obvious? It is obvious. There was no need to write it, Matthew’s first-century Jewish audience would have understood. Up until now, Matthew has force-fed his readers with Jesus fulfilling all that the people couldn’t, pleasing the Father and fulfilling the Law and prophets. But now that Jesus is fulfilling the ultimate prophecy, Matthew let’s the reader see the full fulfillment without force-feeding. Truthfully, it’s the way in which I write, and have been criticized for it. I have been told, “just say what you mean, don’t make us guess.” Therefore I do try to make strong suggestions but still rely on your minds seeing the sublime string. It’s the proverbial leading the horse to water but not making him drink. Also, I don’t want to be dogmatic like some are dogmatic. Because being dogmatic is what got the scribes and Pharisees in trouble, it is a snare and a trap, especially concerning prophecy. Three things that I am dogmatic about, Jesus died, was buried and rose again on the third day–I believe that, dogmatically.

And during his death, thousands of Scriptures were fulfilled. Which brings me back to my original question; what is the intended purpose of prophecy? Pop quiz! Scripturally speaking, what is the proposed purpose of prophecy? Another Pop quiz, why did Jesus make a myriad of miracles? Why did Jesus walk on water? Why did Jesus feed the five thousand? Why was Jesus born in Bethlehem? Why was Jesus baptized by John? Why was Jesus tempted in the wilderness? Why was Jesus transfigured before James, John and Peter? Why did Jesus have Peter fish for the poll-tax? Why did Jesus send his disciples out without a change of clothes to heal and cast out demons? Why did Jesus predict his betrayal? Why did Jesus compare his body and blood to bread and wine? Why did Jesus ride into Jerusalem on a donkey? Why did Jesus tell his disciples that they would fall away? Why did Jesus tell Peter that he would deny him three times before the cock crowed? Why did Jesus cry out, “my God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Why did Jesus deliver to the disciples, in private, the Olivet Discourse? Why did Jesus teach the disciples in parables? Why does today’s text line up perfectly with Isaiah 53 and Psalm 22? Why did the New Testament writers write about many miracles and healings and preachings and teachings of Jesus?

This goes to the Author’s Aspirations to his Audience. John writes; “Many other signs therefore Jesus also performed in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these have been written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name.”

Normally, like Matthew in his final two chapters, I would leave it there and let you think for yourselves. Nevertheless I know that we want application. Consider today’s text; the mocking, the beating, scourging, spitting and the crucifixion of Christ, which all the Law and prophets foreshadow. Matthew doesn’t even assert any effort to exclaim, “fulfilled!” He let the prophecies speak for themselves, because the context was completely clear. Notice the horror of the crucifixion of Christ, the only innocent man who has ever lived. Yet it had to be done, according to the context of the Bible. Jesus said in John’s account, “It is finished.” Many pastors and preachers, theologians and teachers teach that the transliterated Greek term, tetelestai, is an accounting term that means “paid in full.” They are correct. Nevertheless, they then, quite frankly, talk out of the other side of their face and claim that may land promises to Israel remain unfulfilled along with a seven year tribulation after the rapture of the church. Problem; Joshua said, “Now behold, today I am going the way of all the earth, and you know in all your hearts and in all your souls that not one word of all the good words which the LORD your God spoke concerning you has failed; all have been fulfilled for you, not one of them has failed.”

We desperately desire for prophecy to point to and pertain to us. Yet it isn’t prophecy with which we must concern ourselves. “Paid in Full,” claimed Jesus from the cross. How quickly the modern mind forgets that God doesn’t owe anyone anything, conversely, we were the ones who owed a debt of which we were unable to pay. There we, as the law and the prophets, should focus, on the Lord Jesus and what he accomplish in our stead, not on some scarcely possible prophecy professor’s promise. The prophecies were fulfilled in Jesus so that we may believe, and then to the early church. We are awaiting the New Heavens and Earth, but while we wait we work, so that we may help those who have need. I always remind myself to keep it simple stupid. The Bible was not written in chapter and verse, by scholars to scholars but by deeply depressed dudes and funky smelling fisherman and tax-gatherers to their contemporaries. Therefore, as we await death and/or the Lord’s return, we focus on Jesus, eating bread and wine, working with our hands so that when we see Jesus hungry, we can give him something to eat, figuratively speaking.

Appendix: To tie into the contemporary, American Dream, the soldiers mocking Jesus, saying, “hail, King of the Jews,” and the irony of American mega-church pastors and preachers, theologians and teachers; it is the Independence day weekend in the United States of America. Almost every pastor and preacher, theologian and teacher on TV and radio are preaching about how the United States of America were, not was, founded on christian principles. “We are a Christian Nation!” they exclaim. “God loves good government.” Yet these same pastors and preachers, theologians and teachers teach that, “this is the Antichrist,” every time that the beast is mentioned in Revelation. Problems; if the “beast” is the “Antichrist,” why doesn’t John, even once, say that? Secondly; the beast actually represents bad government. Why don’t they notice that, you would think that they would grasp on to that opportunity. But they don’t understand, like the Roman soldiers mocking Jesus saying, “hail King of the Jews,” and “He trusts in God let him deliver him now, for He said, ‘I am the Son of God.’” Oh the patience of Jesus, who was the King and is now the King, who has set up every other king on earth, so that men from every nation will be saved. Name a good government; Jesus. America, we’re going down, get used to it, it’s not the end of the world, nor is it prophecy but history repeating itself. Most pastors and preachers, theologians and teachers laud Thomas Jefferson during these days of the year. The slave-owning, servant-impregnating, Bible rewriting agnostic, Thomas Jefferson. But before any progressives stand up and cheer, his contributions to the Constitution are incredibly impressive. The Constitution, if followed, would have eradicated slavery, but democracy got in the way. Every man and every government is flawed; except one. And people from every tribe, tongue and nation are called to partake in this Kingdom if we would only make Jesus our King. 243 years– I’m a bicentennial baby born in early July, it easy for me to remember how old America is. Evil, apostate Israel lasted much longer than this. Egypt is still a nation, consider that. China, Vietnam, Cuba, Iran and Korea, would we call these good governments? Then why is the church exploding in these regions compared to the deepening decline in the United States? Have you ever heard of the North Korean dream? We are not patiently waiting for rescue, we are to be actively involved in the winning of the world. We work with our own hands, making disciples as we go. Oops, we’re not quite there yet. Prophecy is fulfilled in Jesus, and the early church, don’t distort it by looking in your backyard and outside your window. That is not prophecy, that is history repeating itself, so that you will believe. How did I come up with this? By keeping it simple and considering the context. Yet I have to move beyond belief and work with my hands so that if a brother or sister is in need, I have something to give, just in case the rapture doesn’t happen in the generation that saw the rebirth of Israel.

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