There was a young man who planned on going to college and getting a degree that would earn him a six-figure income once he found a job. $100-300K/year is a lot of money. This young man felt God calling him to do something different with his life and to give up his dream. He did not want to, but reluctantly changed the direction of his life. He began doing something that he was not comfortable doing and serving people he would not have wanted to serve. He sacrificed being a home-owner. He sacrificed the income that he wanted. He sacrificed being close to family so that he could go to school. He took a job that requires more time and actually requires him to invest his own money. His work is exhausting and he has less time to spend on his own hobbies. He doesn’t have the money to get many of the nicer things that others have, but he is fulfilled.
We get so worried about what we have as individuals and as churches. In an article I read recently, there was a statement that stood out, and it went something like this: A church that has too many visible resources is probably not using those resources to serve God’s purposes. It is the idea that money belongs to God and should be used to do what God has called the church, and the individual, to do. If we save money only to store it, then we have taken ownership of that money. Instead of doing this, the article claimed that we are to be good stewards of God’s money. The question I want to ask in light of this idea is: Are we guilty of focusing on our possessions or do we look to God for what He wants us to do no matter the cost?
Matthew 27:38-44 (HCSB)
Then two criminals were crucified with Him, one on the right and one on the left. Those who passed by were yelling insults at Him, shaking their heads and saying, “The One who would demolish the sanctuary and rebuild it in three days, save Yourself! If You are the Son of God, come down from the cross!” In the same way the chief priests, with the scribes and elders, mocked Him and said, “He saved others, but He cannot save Himself! He is the King of Israel! Let Him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in Him. He has put His trust in God; let God rescue Him now — if He wants Him! For He said, ‘I am God’s Son.’” In the same way even the criminals who were crucified with Him kept taunting Him.
The sacrificial prophecies
Up to this point, we have looked at the infancy prophecies that Matthew presented in order to declare Jesus’ messiahship to his fellow Jews. We have looked into the kingly prophecies, and now we will look to the prophecies that Matthew brought up concerning the fact that the messiah would be a great sacrifice.
When discussing the shepherds of Israel, Zechariah (Zechariah 11:12-13), speaking as God’s representative, asks for the wages of the shepherd after declaring that he would no longer serve as the shepherd of Israel. They paid him 30 pieces of silver to get rid of him and he threw it to the potter. Zechariah, God’s mouthpiece and prophet, was betrayed by the people in favor of a foolish shepherd. In chapter Matthew 26:14-16 and 27:9-10, Matthew claimed that this was a prophecy that was fulfilled when Judas betrayed Jesus, Israel’s great shepherd, for 30 pieces of silver. As Judas’ guilt overwhelmed him, he threw the money back at the feet of the Pharisees (the foolish shepherds), and they used the 30 pieces of silver to buy the potter’s field.
Here we must deal with an apparent contradiction in the New Testament. This prophecy is obviously a prophecy given by Zechariah. In chapter 27, Matthew actually attributes it to the prophet Jeremiah. If God is perfect and He has inspired His own Word, it makes no sense that there would be a mistake like this in Scripture at all. In Matthew’s day, teachers would often call a collection of books by different authors by the name of the most prominent author. Jeremiah was a major prophet while Zechariah was a minor prophet. Matthew may have been quoting from a combination of both Jeremiah and Zechariah or simply quoting the name of a former major book in the collection as was common at the time. This is not a contradiction, but rather evidence that Matthew actually wrote this Gospel during a time shortly after Christ. It lends credence to the historical reliability of the Gospel because Matthew was doing something that was culturally acceptable at that time: classifying the texts under the name of the former book in a collection. The attribution was a popular way of classifying literature (particularly that of the Hebrew Bible). Jesus even does the same thing in Luke 24:44 when he uses “the psalms” to refer to Psalms and probably Proverbs.
Isaiah 53 states that the one who would restore God’s people would give himself over to death voluntarily and would die like a criminal or with criminals. Matthew 27:38, in the passage above, records Jesus giving his life with criminals in a manner that criminals were put to death: by crucifixion.
In Matthew 27:46, Jesus spends time, while He is on the cross, quoting from Psalm 22, which was written by King David. He says, “My God, my God. Why have you forsaken me?” Indicating, like the Psalm would suggest, that the suffering of Israel’s king (especially in David’s kingly line) would bring the entire world to kneel before God.
Isaiah 53:9 states that the Messiah would be buried with the rich, and we see this carried out in Matthew 27:57-60.
Misunderstanding of the Jews
As we look at our text above, I want to point out something very critical to our understanding of Jesus as the Messiah. According to these prophecies, the Messiah had to suffer and die as a criminal and as a guilt offering in order to restore God’s people. Yet, in Matthew, we see Jews ridiculing Jesus, telling Him to prove His messiahship by removing Himself from the cross. They were asking Jesus to contradict the very prophecies that had to be fulfilled by the messiah.
There are two possible reasons that they would do this. One: they did not understand or pay attention to the Scriptures and so did not understand that the Messiah had to give Himself as a sacrifice for the sins of His people. Two: they did understand and still rejected their Messiah outright. Still, everything that was happening had already been predicted hundreds of years prior to Christ’s death on a cross. I want to quote this part of Isaiah’s prophecy for you:
“Who has believed what we have heard? And who has the arm of the Lord been revealed to? He grew up before Him like a young plant and like a root out of dry ground. He didn’t have an impressive form or majesty that we should look at Him, no appearance that we should desire Him. He was despised and rejected by men, a man of suffering who knew what sickness was. He was like someone people turned away from; He was despised, and we didn’t value Him. Yet He Himself bore our sicknesses, and He carried our pains; but we in turn regarded Him stricken, struck down by God, and afflicted. But He was pierced because of our transgressions, crushed because of our iniquities; punishment for our peace was on Him, and we are healed by His wounds. We all went astray like sheep; we all have turned to our own way; and the Lord has punished Him for the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed and afflicted, yet He did not open His mouth. Like a lamb led to the slaughter and like a sheep silent before her shearers, He did not open His mouth. He was taken away because of oppression and judgment; and who considered His fate? For He was cut off from the land of the living; He was struck because of my people’s rebellion. They made His grave with the wicked and with a rich man at His death, although He had done no violence and had not spoken deceitfully. Yet the Lord was pleased to crush Him severely. When You make Him a restitution offering, He will see His seed, He will prolong His days, and by His hand, the Lord’s pleasure will be accomplished. He will see it out of His anguish, and He will be satisfied with His knowledge. My righteous Servant will justify many, and He will carry their iniquities. Therefore I will give Him the many as a portion, and He will receive the mighty as spoil, because He submitted Himself to death, and was counted among the rebels; yet He bore the sin of many and interceded for the rebels” (Isaiah 53 HCSB).
The prophecy clearly points out that the Messiah must suffer, be ridiculed by His own people, and receive the punishment for the sins of His people. Here, I have to offer this challenge: We ought to look to Christ for who He is, not who we want Him to be and certainly not for what we want Him to do. The Jews spat on Him; let us not be the same way. We trust in Christ not because He showed great forceful power, because He chose not to live that way. We trust in Him because all of Scripture points to Him and because He actually died to pay for my rebellion against God. Because of Christ, I can be restored to God. This is a love greater than any other and a love that I get to claim for myself. That Christ would die in my place as a guilt offering is an extraordinary display of God’s great love for all people. It is why we can only be restored to God by giving our lives to Christ: because He died in our place. There can be no other way.
The focus of the Jews
One of the ways they mocked Jesus was by ridiculing His promise to tear down the sanctuary and rebuild it in three days. John clarifies in His Gospel that Jesus was referring to His body (John 2:21). While Jesus was specifically talking about His own death, the focus of the Jews was on the Temple. According to 1 Kings 8:27-30, God’s dwelling place was never to be the Temple. The focus of the people was never to be the Temple. The Temple was to be a place for God’s name. When people turned to the Temple, they were to focus on God. These Jews were so focused on the Temple building and the ritual of the Jewish religion that they missed God and missed the coming of the Messiah.
It is no wonder that, in Matthew 27:51, the Gospel writer records that the veil in the Temple had been torn in two from top to bottom as Jesus gave up His own life. On the third day, Sunday, Jesus rose again! The purpose of Solomon’s Temple was fulfilled in Christ and He was truly the final sacrifice. It is by Him, now, that we see God. God is not contained in a church building and never was!
The Messiah whom the Old Testament prophets spoke concerning had to suffer and die and be ridiculed by God’s chosen nation. Jesus fulfilled these prophecies and more. Here is what this means for us:
- We must give our lives to Christ in order to be one of God’s children. There is no other way.
- We must be careful to keep our focus on Christ and not on earthly possessions or on religious buildings or even on our own routines or comfort.
- This means that church is not about meeting in a building. It is about meeting with our local church family and not forsaking one another for any reason.
- Christ may ask us to be uncomfortable in this life or even to go through hardship.
- We can endure it for Him, and He does promise to reward us for the sacrifices we make.
- We don’t need to store personal finances for ourselves, but we should give for the benefit of God’s kingdom and for the benefit of those in need.
- We don’t need to be concerned with how much we have or don’t have, for those pursuits are vain.
- Christ is our primary shepherd, not the foolish shepherds that Zechariah refers to.
- Christ sacrificed His own life for us: surely we could sacrifice a little for Him on this earth.