“All roads lead somewhere.” That is a stupid saying, isn’t it? Not really. It is important that we recognize that our choices have consequences, and that any path we choose will inevitably bring us to the place toward which it was designed. In this lesson, I want to talk about two paths that lead to two very distinct places. You have been hearing about them all week – because the world sings loudly about one of them…but you may not have picked out the significance of each path, and you may have thought little about their destination. Let me set the scene for a moment…
The other day I sat across from a picture at the Accademia Art Museum in Venice, staring at a picture that captured the cruelty on the faces of Roman soldiers nailing Jesus to the cross. It was a profound picture, painted in the period of the Venetian Renaissance, and I wanted to take in all that was in the frame. As I sat, what caught my attention was not only the sad and gruesome picture, but the nonchalant way people viewed the horror of it. It was as though it were just a remembrance of yet another misguided man who was cared for by yet another government program. “Did they not know what the scene portrayed? Didn’t they care?” I thought. To be fair, it is a museum, and there are many wonderful pieces of art – so perhaps this one piece, and its message, was simply “drowned out” like a lone YouTube in the sea of the modern internet.
After a few moments, a tour group came through. The guide was obviously well versed in the paintings of the gallery and I thought this would be an opportunity to hear a different approach. She stopped before the painting, and though my view was blocked, her words were clear. She spoke of the brush strokes of the master painter. She gave the date and the time it was painted. As she began to explain the contents of the horrifying picture, she digressed into the story of the painter and his lascivious lifestyle and rampages of sin during the time he was commissioned to paint the scene. She noted that the women before the cross had the faces of prostitutes he knew. She noted the Roman soldiers had faces of men he lost to in gambling. What she never noted – not for a second – was the story that was being portrayed. It was as though the payment of man’s sin by Jesus was an incidental matter when compared to the scintillating details of the playboy lifestyle of the painter, because to her – it was. I felt robbed.
Ravi Zacharias told a story several years ago that illustrates this same phenomenon (I am paraphrasing by memory): “A musician in Scotland used to travel to churches on different special occasions to play his bagpipes. Since it has become in some ways a dying instrument (though recently seeing a bit of a revival), the man found himself in demand at weddings, funerals and other special moments. One day a priest of the Anglican church who knew the man phoned him up and asked him to come to play at a pauper’s funeral. He explained the man had no family or friends to speak of, and that he would no doubt be there alone with the priest at the grave site. The problem was that the graves for paupers were in remote places, and the man who was to play the pipes got lost on the way to the cemetery. Try as he may, he could not seem to find the place. By the time he came to the hill where he saw the hole, the priest was long gone, and there was nothing more he could do. He was broken and hurt. This poor man! No one came to his funeral. He looked about and spied only the men standing about with shovels. He looked into the hole and saw only a cement top, and knew he was too late. What came next was all he could think to do. He took out the bagpipes and began to play. He played and played. The trees shook and the man could almost feel the touch of angels as “Amazing Grace” bellowed from the pipes. The men dropped their shovels and began to weep. The musician wept. They all felt a profound tug on them on that lonely hillside that afternoon. Spent, the wet-eyed musician began to put away his instrument without a word to the men who gathered about. As he walked away, he heard one of the grimy workers utter, ”I have never seen anything like what I saw today, and I have been putting in septic tanks for twenty years now!”
There is nothing like being so completely stirred about something spiritually significant on the wrong occasion before the wrong crowd. You may feel God move in you and want to share it – but when you look about, you would surely be casting elegant pearls amid the milling hillside swine. Some of God’s greatest works not only go uncelebrated by men – they are scoffed at by them. Let me encourage you – that story happened to our Savior as well. Jesus was shoved forcibly to the ground as nails were driven through His flesh – and walking by were busy people with such ambivalence it defies imagination in such a human and painful scene. Add to that, there were those who had never cared for the sick, much less healed them – but they were ready and waiting to be found openly mocking the One Who came to give them hope and life.
I want to take you back to the Cross in this lesson in Matthew 27, for it is where our last lesson in the study of the journey with Jesus ended. I want to remind you that Matthew’s Gospel offered a gripping account in which, just as Jesus’ flesh was torn before the eyes of a crowd, many seemed unaware of the profound nature and power of the scene that was unfolding outside the city gate of Jerusalem that morning. A man was being killed between two others – but there was much more happening there. The very Creator of the universe had put on skin, and was – by an unparalleled act of self-denial – making full payment for the sin of mankind. For most passers-by, He might as well have been a common thief getting his just deserts.
Matthew set the scene to make the point people are walking on two dramatically different trails and these paths are leading to two very different places. Let me say it this way:
Key Principle: God sets men free to discover bankruptcy within and truth in HIM, while the enemy coaches men to find truth within that leaves them in bondage.
Before we talk around the Scripture, let’s first take some encouragement about those who follow the path of the Savior. We need to know something critical – not all believers look exactly the same. The path toward a transformed life appears different in different people. Let me show you what I mean from the Word: Stand at the foot of Calvary. You’ll hear the voices of mockers and the jeers of passers-by. Yet, if you take a moment, you will see people moved and changed by what they saw. They seem to be three different “types” of people.
First, God transformed an unlikely and hardened man to become immediately vocal: The Power of the Resurrection convinced a seasoned Roman field soldier to believe – and he became an immediate vocal witness.
Matthew 27:54 Now the centurion, and those who were with him keeping guard over Jesus, when they saw the earthquake and the things that were happening, became very frightened and said, “Truly this was the Son of God!”
This guy didn’t need a theology course or a Bible primer – he simply stood back and observed Jesus in action. He saw the darkness fall on the landscape. He listened as the scoffers attacked and as Jesus asked His Father to forgive them in the face of their hatred. He took it all in and simply saw the truth – Jesus was exactly Who He claimed to be.
Some people are caught in a dramatic moment in life and God gets their attention. He snags their heart in a profound way, and they cannot help but be shaken to their core. They may be broken because of a loss, or hurt because of a setback – and God shows tenderness and love to them. They come to Jesus, and they become immediately vocal about what God has done for them. They are a blessing to the church, and these conversions are often the most talked about – but they are only one kind of transformed person.
Next, if you scanned the scene at the foot of the Cross of Jesus, you would notice at least a trio of ladies who loved Jesus and were quietly practical. The gentle and loving touch of the Master caused some tender-hearted women to follow – even though their discipleship was quieter and more of a practical nature. Matthew wrote:
Matthew 27:55 Many women were there looking on from a distance, who had followed Jesus from Galilee while ministering to Him. 56 Among them was Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James and Joseph, and the mother of the sons of Zebedee.
These are the many who aren’t highlighted in the journals – they are the quiet followers of Jesus who just meet needs. They love Him deeply. They are wounded when they see the cruelty of people toward God and His Word. At the same time, they don’t talk as much… they DO to show love. Mary Magdalene was delivered of demons earlier in her life, and she was ever grateful to Jesus. Mrs. Zebedee saw her boys changed by the teachings of Jesus, and she couldn’t believe how even “sons of thunder” could learn to keep their mouths shut. These women followed Jesus faithfully, supported Him financially and materially, and cared for the practical needs of the group of disciples daily. You don’t think God would have left the practical needs of the movement in the hands of a group of men who aspired to be budding theologians, do you?
Some followers are quiet. They LIVE their witness. They show up, they do the work, and if asked they explain their love in verbal terms – but words aren’t their first approach. They live the Gospel, and preach it with their hands and feet. The church cannot ONLY have them, but we cannot live without them. Someone must keep the practical side working…
Third, if you keep looking at the cross, you will see a man Matthew carefully remembered…there was a man who didn’t respond out loud, as far as we know, about Jesus, until he suddenly became overtly courageous in front of his peers. The profound truths presented to a learned man caused him to believe in Jesus and become a brave disciple in the face of Jesus’ opponents. Matthew wrote:
Matthew 27:57 When it was evening, there came a rich man from Arimathea, named Joseph, who himself had also become a disciple of Jesus. 58 This man went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. Then Pilate ordered it to be given [to him]. 59 And Joseph took the body and wrapped it in a clean linen cloth, 60and laid it in his own new tomb, which he had hewn out in the rock; and he rolled a large stone against the entrance of the tomb and went away.
Joseph was well known in his community. Following Jesus cost him. It cost him friends. It cost him respect and stature. When the time came, Joe had enough of the religious farce, and he threw down the pretense and declared his allegiance to Jesus. Sometimes it takes an injustice or an intense event to bring the quiet believers out to the fore. Joe believed, and in the end it didn’t matter if people knew it or not.
Thank God for Joe. We need a few of them to step out right about now. We need some on the floor of the Congress, and in the Senate – a few on the court that will unashamedly say that faith is not a dirty word and the bullying of the people of faith must end. We need Joe to step up and stop hiding!
Matthew wasn’t finished his story. He made it clear…painfully clear.
All three stood alone against the flood of criticism – as believers are often called to do in hostile times.
Each person encountered Jesus and became what God gifted them to be. Each responded differently, because each was gifted differently. Each had different burdens, and so each responded according to what God laid on their heart.
It wasn’t easy to follow a Crucified Savior. Remember our last lesson when Jesus encountered mockers at the Cross (27:1-53)? They including soldiers, onlookers and even a fellow condemned man… each hurled insults and made the point that Jesus looked weak and broken. Yet, that wasn’t the whole story then. It isn’t the whole story now. Even today, there are men beheaded on beaches who had little physical strength, but their testimony is emboldening other believers.
There they were without Jesus. He left them. He died.
He promised He would, just as He promised us that in the last days difficult times would come. People, though, are sadly very selective hearers. The account closed with two stories – one in the garden of the burial, where a woman sat crushed before a closed stone tomb, and the other scene was a back room deal off stage where priests attempted to make sure this was the “end of the line” for this Jesus movement. Matthew weaves both stories together:
Matthew 27:61 And Mary Magdalene was there, and the other Mary, sitting opposite the grave. 62 Now on the next day, the day after the preparation, the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered together with Pilate, 63 and said, “Sir, we remember that when He was still alive that deceiver said, After three days I [am to] rise again.’ 64 “Therefore, give orders for the grave to be made secure until the third day, otherwise His disciples may come and steal Him away and say to the people, ‘He has risen from the dead,’ and the last deception will be worse than the first.” 65 Pilate said to them, “You have a guard; go, make it [as] secure as you know how.” 66 And they went and made the grave secure, and along with the guard they set a seal on the stone.
Wait! The story doesn’t end with a sealed tomb. The story doesn’t end with a Crucified Savior. The story ends in LIFE.
Last week my wife was in a Venetian glass blowing shop. She was trying to find a cross that could hang on the wall, but all she could find was a Crucifix, and no cross without Jesus’ lifeless body hanging on it. She asked the man if he had any like that, and he went to check. When he came back, he politely asked me if we “Didn’t believe in Jesus.” I made clear that we did, and that we know the He died on the Cross. Then I told Him that we choose to focus, not simply on His DEATH – which we know was essential to deal with our sin, but with His RESURRECTION – which is how the Bible ended the story. He smiled and said he understood. It was a matter of “focus”. He evidently hadn’t thought about it that way before.
Watch as the Gospel moved out in Matthew 28. Look specifically for how God worked in the people:
To the soldiers, the angel of God was a reason to quake in fear. To the women, the same angel was the messenger of love, hope and encouragement!
Matthew 28:1 Now after the Sabbath, as it began to dawn toward the first [day] of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary came to look at the grave. 2 And behold, a severe earthquake had occurred, for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven and came and rolled away the stone and sat upon it. 3 And his appearance was like lightning, and his clothing as white as snow. 4 The guards shook for fear of him and became like dead men. 5 The angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid; for I know that you are looking for Jesus who has been crucified. 6 “He is not here, for He has risen, just as He said. Come, see the place where He was lying. 7 “Go quickly and tell His disciples that He has risen from the dead; and behold, He is going ahead of you into Galilee, there you will see Him; behold, I have told you.” 8 And they left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy and ran to report it to His disciples.
Don’t miss this truth! The very same Scriptures that bring us HOPE seem like CONDEMNATION to those who do not know God. The coming of Jesus EXCITES us, but (if they truly believe it) would SCARE them. That is why Paul wrote that the fragrance of the Gospel is life to us but death to them.
Look at these two groups: a contingent of strong soldiers and a group of peasant women carrying spices…
• In verse one the women gathered early in the morning and brought the preparation spices to the grave.
• In verse two they saw the effects of great power and observed a now open tomb, with a messenger sitting on top of the stone. In verse three, he was obviously not a nearby hobo or stray wanderer – this was someone who knew how to make an entrance!
• Skip verse four for the moment, and look at verses five to eight. Listen as the angel gave instructions to the women. They were to put off fear. They were to believe Jesus’ prior promises. They were to confirm He was gone and tell the disciples.
Now stop and look at the fallen soldiers on the ground. A couple of peasant women encountered the angel, but were sent with a mission. A group of soldiers encounter God’s emissary and were paralyzed and struck down. God was at work in power – and it wasn’t dependent on the ability of the women, their station in life, or what they could accomplish without Him. God’s work NEVER is dependent on the raw material – it is always about what God can do with us – NOT WHO WE ARE WITHOUT HIM.
Notice the women OBEYED, and as a result, God gave them something MORE. Jesus came to them because they were already following what He sent ahead for them to DO. It is in obedience that we get a greater grasp of truth. It is in surrender that we see more and more of the Savior! Matthew continued the story:
Matthew 28:9 And behold, Jesus met them and greeted them. And they came up and took hold of His feet and worshiped Him. 10 Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid; go and take word to My brethren to leave for Galilee, and there they will see Me.”
Jesus took these surrendered women and started a “wave” of testimony that continues around the globe today! They didn’t look like much. Two peasant girls sticking their arms in the air hardly seemed like an auspicious beginning. Here is the thing: Don’t count out small things when God is involved. Don’t make the mistake of putting your money on the soldiers and betting against the peasant girls. With God, the whole equation changes! Jesus took the small and made it great, the powerful and made it a quivering mass.
Stop for a moment and look at the dark side of the story.
Matthew wanted you to see more than just Jesus’ side of the story…He wrote:
Matthew 28:11 Now while they were on their way, some of the guard came into the city and reported to the chief priests all that had happened. 12 And when they had assembled with the elders and consulted together, they gave a large sum of money to the soldiers, 13 and said, “You are to say, ‘His disciples came by night and stole Him away while we were asleep.’ 14 “And if this should come to the governor’s ears, we will win him over and keep you out of trouble.” 15 And they took the money and did as they had been instructed; and this story was widely spread among the Jews, [and is] to this day.
Here is the dark side. A shadowed room was filled with sullen faces making plots to stop the spread of something that could threaten their power plans. Men don’t want to kneel – we are stubborn and self-strong.
These men knew what they wanted, and truth wasn’t going to stand in their way. Over and over you will read a slick presentation of this same old tired philosophy that can all be summarized in a single sentence: “Do whatever makes you feel most comfortable, Live whatever way you think you will be happy.” That is our world. It isn’t rooted in truth – it is rooted in the lie that attempts to convince people that chasing after their desires is more important that recognizing the Truth. Our world rages against anyone or anything that dares to attempt to block their headlong race toward whatever carnal pleasure is the flavor of the month.
Look at verse eleven. It started with a report of what happened. By verse twelve it was time for a “pay off” and by verse thirteen a LIE was put in place of the truth. Verse fourteen cemented the back scratching “here is how we will cover for you” part of the lies. The scene closed in verse fifteen with heart-warming loyalty and fidelity among a lying bunch of creeps and scoundrels.
That is the picture of the enemy at work. That room. It isn’t IGNORANCE that is killing mankind. It is rebellion. It is self-will. It is denial of a Creator to get what is His – our worship, our praise, our service. It isn’t just happening in pagan places, strip joints and bars… it is happening in Christian homes and wayward churches. Jesus called us to follow – and many are following something else.
Let’s end the story on the HAPPY NOTE that Jesus gave us in the Word – the work He does in people who DO CHOOSE to follow Him!
The disciples slipped back up to the Galilee. Matthew omits some of the story because he was attempting to get to the “punch line” of the end – the instruction of the Savior to move out and advance into the darkness with His presence and power… Matthew recorded:
Matthew 28:16 But the eleven disciples proceeded to Galilee, to the mountain which Jesus had designated.
Again we see this truth – they heard from Jesus because they obeyed Him and went where He told them to be. How many believers spend their lives wondering why Jesus won’t tell them MORE, when they willfully deny the part He already told them? Matthew continued:
Matthew 18:17 When they saw Him, they worshiped [Him]; but some were doubtful.
Showing up is PART of what we are called to do. Listening to Jesus’ instruction makes a great BEGINNING. At the same time, we must come to the place where we BELIEVE what Jesus said. We must BELIEVE Who Jesus truly is. We must decide that we are willing to have Him direct our lives. He made it clear, as Matthew ended the account:
Matthew 28:18 And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. 19 “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”
Look at the words of Jesus closely. He said the Father placed ALL AUTHORITY in both the physical realm and spiritual realm into His hands. We must understand there is NOTHING that is beyond His grasp to accomplish.
He continued with a simple statement. The sentence is not well translated. There is but ONE VERB – one action only. The statement was “In your going” (mathetousete) – MAKE DISCIPLES. We must understand the task is not merely to offer the truth to the world, but to richly, intentionally and powerfully invest the truth in those who respond to God’s call.
He made clear that the discipleship process was to be world-wide, and include people once estranged from God after the post-Ark scattering. We must be investing in both local outreach and world mission.
He explained the process of discipleship as the careful and systematic teaching of all of His Word, based on those who make known their declaration of faith in the Lord Jesus. They are to recognize that God is One in essence, but multiple in personality – and publicly be willing to stand for that truth. We must be openly expecting people to practice what Jesus told us to do, and not to be wary of obedience to every part of His teaching.
We teach. We baptize. We explain His Word – and He promised that He would be here with us. We aren’t alone in what we do! We don’t have to rely on the sum of our abilities or wallets to get the message out. Jesus knows how to make powerful soldiers drop to their bellies and peasant women walk in power. He can feed a village from a boy’s lunch. He isn’t short on resources – only real servants.
Look at the contrast we have seen.
The enemy pulled men into self-protection, lies and protection of their chasing of their own lusts until they are driven by works of the flesh. They lied without guilt and covered up the truth – as if that was “best” for all concerned. Listen to the words of Paul to the Galatians, and you can see the connection…
Galatians 5:17 For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please. … 19 Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality, 20 idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, 21 envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you, just as I have forewarned you, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.
The problem is, the poison of these deeds is so pervasive, we get used to them everywhere. Darkness ends up looking normal, because our eyes adjust.
In ancient Pompeii, the water pipes that supplied the city were bonded with lead that slowly poisoned the population. The first symptom of the lead poisoning was that it took away their ability to truly taste things, so the profound spices were being dumped in to keep it tasting like anything at all. Life in our world is like that. People dump in things to try to bring back sensitivity to taste buds that have been crippled by poison.
Look at the other side of the coin.
God sets men free to discover the truth about love, sexuality, freedom, responsibility, family, community, tenderness, selflessness, true riches – He isn’t holding back! Galatians continued:
Galatians 5:22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.
God frees us to be who He created us to be. The grand message of the Bible can be summarized into one thought: ‘I am the Lord, and there is no place or person to turn to for true refuge beside Me.'” God has never been embarrassed about His role in the world, and has never felt He needed the affirmation of the masses to be Who He is. We don’t have the answers inside us – because we are broken until we have Him. Here is the truth…
God sets men free to discover bankruptcy within and truth in HIM, while the enemy coaches men to find truth within that leaves them in bondage. These are the two paths we can choose in life.
Every choice leads somewhere…