Wednesday, September 21, 2016

"The end ... and the beginning ..."

Day #266

Scripture Reading:  Matthew 26 - 28 …

We come today to the end of Matthew's Gospel.  Matthew began with Jesus' birth and ends with His resurrection.  So much has happened in between, and we will review the events of Jesus' ministry in the Gospels of Mark, Luke and John in the coming weeks.  Reading the Gospel accounts of Jesus' birth, ministry, death and resurrection is like reading the plot line of a larger book.  All that comes before in the Old Testament pointed to Jesus, and all that comes after points to His return.  That's why the end of Matthew's Gospel, in fact, the end of all the Gospel accounts, is really the beginning of what comes next:  the proclamation of the Gospel until Jesus returns:  "The Gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and THEN the end will come" (Matthew 24:14).  And even the end of this world will be the beginning of life in God's eternal kingdom, in the new heaven and the new earth, for those who know Jesus as the one whom He said He was and is:  "The Christ, the Son of God!"
As you read these familiar chapters the first thing that is so clear is Jesus' awareness of His upcoming death and its place in God's plan to save those who believe.  As the chief priests and the elders plotted against Jesus, they had no idea that their wicked scheme would be used of God to fulfill all that must be done to bring salvation to His chosen ones.  Peter would explain to the crowd on the day of Pentecost, "This man was handed over to you by God's set purpose and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross" (Acts 2:23).  As was the case with Joseph and his brothers, they "meant it for evil, but God meant it for good" (Genesis 50:20).

Jesus said to the disciples before the Passover, "My appointed time is near" (26:18).  He knew what was to come.  He knew who would betray Him and that He would be crucified.  But He also knew that He would rise again on the third day!  All this was the fulfillment of God's plan from before the world even began!!  Step by step, Jesus fulfilled God's covenant.  God had promised Abraham, when He spared HIS son, Isaac, that HE would provide the sacrifice.  All the sacrifices that had been offered on the Day of Atonement for hundreds of years had pointed to this moment in history.

So Jesus explained, "This is MY blood of the covenant that is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins" (26:28).  And He added, "I tell you, I will not drink of this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it anew with you in my Father's kingdom" (26:29).  We must always keep in view that Jesus is coming again to establish the kingdom of God on a new earth.  Few today seem to believe that all that God has promised regarding Israel, the Jews, and the rapture of the Church and the coming day of God's wrath will really happen.  Why?  Isn’t God's Word clear?

It is because most are bound in the same spiritual darkness in which the people in Jesus' day found themselves.  The King of Glory stood in front of them, and their eyes were too blind to see!  At any point Jesus could have revealed His glory … in the Garden of Gethsemane, before the chief priests and teachers of the law, in front of Pilate, when the soldiers were mocking Him, on the cross … but He didn't.  He could have called twelve legions of angels and they would have made quick work of those who opposed Him, but He came to do the Father's will.  "Not as I will, but as You will," He said (26:39, 42).

And finally, the time came.  There is no way to explain what happened as Jesus hung on the cross during those hours of darkness except to marvel at His words, "My God, my God, why have You forsaken Me?" (27:46).  At that moment, as He bore in body and soul the wrath of God against sin, as He became sin for us, the Father turned away from His Son and laid the guilt of all who believe upon Him.  In what some have called "the great exchange,” … "God made Him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God" (II Corinthians 5:21).  As Isaiah, inspired by the Spirit of God, wrote of this event hundreds of years earlier, "He was pierced for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon Him and by His wounds we are healed" (Isaiah 53:5).

Praise God that was not the end of His plan!  As He had predicted, Jesus rose again on the third day and appeared to His disciples and gave to them "the Great Commission:"  "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Me.  Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.  And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age" (28:18-20).

What began then, continues today.  As we proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ, we await His return.  In His name we offer forgiveness and life to all who believe, for there is power in the blood of Christ!  All of this happened almost 2,000 years ago, and the signs God has given us are pointing to Jesus' soon return.  As His birth, death, resurrection and ascension were planned to the smallest detail, so is the timing of His return.  To use the words of Jesus that we read just yesterday, "Who then is the faithful and wise servant, whom the master has put in charge of the servants in his household to give them their food at the proper time?  It will be good for that servant whose master finds him doing so when he returns!" (24:45-46).
May you and I be about our Father's business as we engage in fulfilling the Great Commission … making disciples and teaching them everything that He has commanded us … for He IS with us … until the very end of the age … and then, FOREVER!!
"Heavenly Father, it is with great sadness, yet with humble thanksgiving, that I read again the story of Jesus' suffering and crucifixion.  What anguish, what torment He bore for me, on the cross and before.  May my life reflect my deep sorrow for sin as I place my trust in Jesus for forgiveness, and may Your Spirit empower me to live as His faithful disciple until my life's end, declaring the good news and calling others to join me in following Him.  In Jesus' name, Amen"

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