Thursday, July 15, 2010

A script written in eternity

This is my entry for Friday 16th July at the M'Cheyne Daily Readings Blog over at Reformation 21

Matthew 26 is a chapter full of drama.

It contains the dark betrayal of Christ by Judas Iscariot, the insidious evil plotting of the chief priests and elders, and the agonising act of denial committed by the loyalty swearing Peter.

These dramatic moments are far from haphazard intrusions that divert the course of the narrative from its otherwise intended outcome. Each event, the plot, the betrayal, the denial, is woven indelibly into the very fabric of the gospel by the hand and counsel of God (26:24). Jesus himself knows that this is his Father's will (24:42).

Far from being at the mercy of the actions of others the chapter is filled with references by Jesus to his coming death. He says that he “after two days the Passover is coming” and that he, the Son of Man, will be “delivered up to be crucified” (26:2). What is astonishing about these words is not merely their Old Testament background, Daniel's vision of the heavenly Son of Man approaching the Ancient of Days, and coming with the clouds of heaven – the very insignia of deity – but also the fact that vision of the Son of Man seated as King and Judge on the last day has just been impressed on the minds of the Twelve (25:31).

The anointing of the Lord with the expensive jar of perfume has been done, says Jesus, to “prepare him for burial” (26:12). We already know that this will be an imminent event, but the words are accompanied by this symbolic act, the sweet perfume intended to mask the smell of death.

The meal that Jesus celebrates with his disciples marks out the death of Jesus as the covenant in his blood, poured out for the forgiveness of sins (26:27-28). The effective application of the benefits of his death to his people, providing for them free and full forgiveness and cleansing, has come at the terrible cost of his own violent death. Indeed the death he will die will be an accursed one, for he will stand in the place of sinners and drink down the cup of wrath that they should drink (26:39; Psalm 75:8; Isa. 51:17; Jer. 25:15-16).

In addition to the words of Jesus about the certainty of his death, the certainty of Judas' betrayal, and the certainty of Peter's denial, we are confronted with the decree of God that these things must take place. Indeed, there are several occasions in the chapter where, breaking through the surface of the text, is the underlying bedrock of Old Testament predictive prophecy.

Jesus is the good shepherd of Zechariah's prophecy sold for thirty pieces of silver. In Zechariah 11 the good shepherd has not only been opposed by worthless shepherds, he has also been despised and rejected by the flock (Zech. 11:7-13).

There is worse to come. The very falling away of the disciples will be in direct fulfilment of the decree of God in Zechariah 13:7. “It is written” that God will strike the shepherd and the sheep will be scattered. We are confronted here not only with the certainty of the crucifixion, but also with the stark reality of its origin. God will strike the shepherd. The one spoken of by God in Zechariah 13:7 as “my shepherd” and “the man who stands next to me.” Why will God do this? How can it be right? Why is it necessary? The only cogent answer is that Jesus the sinless one will become the penalty bearing substitute, and although he is loved as a Son, he will be condemned as a sin-bearer.

Quite simply, the script for the betrayal, arrest, trial, sentencing, flogging, crucifixion and death of Jesus has not been penned by a renegade disciple, an acquiescent Roman governor and sin-hardened high priests, it has been written by the Triune God in the counsels of eternity.

In a chapter full of drama, rich with Old Testament quotations and allusions, and where the note of events unfolding according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God is sounded again and again, we should not miss the reference to the Passover in verse two. The only fitting response now is to cry “Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth...Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!” (Rev. 5:9-10, 12), as it will be world without end.

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