If you have your Bibles, I’d invite you turn with me to Matthew chapter 26. We’re now entering a new section of the gospel of Matthew as we continue our study through this glorious gospel. This chapter contains of course the prelude to the death of Christ. A few individuals leap out of the pages of history with more profound irony attached to them than the Lord Jesus Christ. Think of it. Matthew knows it, and he records it frequently. He noted that Jesus experienced hunger, but He fed others. Jesus grew weary, but He gave rest to others. He was a king, the Messiah, but He paid tribute. He was called a devil by some, but cast out demons. He died the death of a sinner, but He came to save His people from their sin. He was sold for thirty pieces of silver, and He gave His life, a ransom, for many. He would not turn stones to break for Himself, but He gave His own body as bread for His people. But nowhere is this irony more pervasive than in the death of Christ itself. His enemies thought that they were destroying Him. But little did they understand that His destruction was God’s means for achieving a fallen world. The Messiah’s enemies thought that they were going to inflict the ultimate defeat upon Him. But in God’s wise providence, their defeat was the Messiah’s triumph.
As we look at these passages, and as we enter into these final chapters of the gospel of Matthew, I want you to be on the lookout for several great themes that will repeat themselves. First, look for the theme of God’s sovereignty. His sovereign control of the events even related to Jesus death as well as His resurrection. Look for the scene of God’s voluntary sacrifice. The theme of His nature as Son of God and royal Messiah, and at the same time humiliated and suffering Savior. Look at the theme of the guilt of the Jewish leaders and of the victory of Christ over all His opponents. All these things will resurface over and over again as we study these final chapters. So let’s turn to Matthew 36, verses 1 through 5 and listen to God authoritative word:
“It came about that when Jesus had finished all these words, He said to His disciples. ‘You know that after two days the Passover is coming, and the Son of man is to be delivered up for crucifixion.’ Then the chief priest and the elders of the people were gathered together in the court of the High Priest named Caiaphas, and they plotted together to deceive Jesus by stealth, and kill Him. But they were saying, ‘not during the festival, lest a riot occur among the people.”
This concludes this reading of God’s reading of God holy and inspired word. May He add His blessings to it. Let’s pray.
Our Father, every word of Your scripture is given by inspiration, and it is profitable not only for teaching and instruction, but for reproof and corruption. Teach us the truth and change our minds where they need to be changed, so that we may vow our needs to the truth of Your word and to embrace the Lord Jesus as Savior even as we hear His word as proclaimed this day. We ask it through Jesus Christ, our Lord, Amen.
This brief passage serves as an introduction to everything which is going to follow in Matthew 26, 27 and 28. It’s almost like the opening ceremony of the Olympic games ceremony. Let the games begin. For thousands of years the Lord had been planning and predicting through his prophets of the day when the Messiah would arise, and not only when the Messiah would arrive, but when the Messiah would give himself for the sins of his people. Daniel, the prophet, had spoken of this. Jesus’ words now when He speaks to His disciples, He says, “Yet two days hence and the Son of man will be delivered over, or as it were in word and instruction, ‘Now My friends the three or four years of ministry which I have been involved in, My days of training you, my days of preaching and proclamation. Those days have come to an end. And now the time has come where I will lay down My life for the sins of the world. And so our feet are on holy ground as we come to the final chapters of the gospel of Matthew.
And I’d like you to see two or three things, even in this introductory section of Matthew, chapter 26, because this passage beautifully sets forth the willingness of the Lord Jesus Christ to be a sacrifice for our sins. This passage sets forth very clearly the sovereignty of God in our salvation, and it sets forth our responsibility our guilt and our responsibilities, are accountable to God for our sin and for our rejection of the Messiah. Let’s look at the passage in three parts today.
I. Jesus predicts His eminent death.
First in verses 1 and 2 you’ll see Jesus again predict his eminent death, and you’ll see another example here of Jesus foreknowledge as He tells His disciples for the eighth time in the gospel of Matthew implicitly or explicitly that He is going to die for their sins. And we need to understand as we come to these verses that Jesus was the knowing and willing sacrifice for our sins. Jesus was the knowing and willing sacrifice for our sins. Jesus knew what was going to happen to us, and He chose to embrace that. He willingly went the way of the cross that He might be an offering for sin. Here again, Jesus informs the disciples ahead of time of His impending faith. And He does so emphatically and definitely. The first time He had done this was way back in Matthew, chapter 12, verse 40, when He said, “The Son of man is going to be buried in the ground for three days just like Jonah was in the belly of the whale for three days.” And He gives us an implicit hint that He is going to die for the sins of His people. And then specifically in the context of that confession of Peter at Caesura Phillipi and Matthew, chapter 16, verse 21, immediately after Peter confesses Him to be the Christ, the Son of the living God, He says that He must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes and be killed. And then this is reiterated several times in Matthew, chapter 17 and verse 9 and verse 12 and in verses 22 and 23. Over and over Jesus asserts to His disciples that the Son of man is not only going to suffer, He’s not only going to be delivered over to the religious leaders of Israel, but He is going to be killed. In fact He goes on to tell them explicitly that He is going to be crucified in Matthew, chapter 20, verses 18 and 19. He says He’s going to be handed over by the religious leaders of Israel into the hands of the Gentiles who were going to mock and scourge and crucify Him. You can imagine the horror on the disciple's hearts when they heard these words. And then again in Matthew 20, verse 28 He goes on to say that the Son of man did not come to be served but to serve and to give His life as a ransom for many.
Now understand that Jesus is doing some beautiful things when He predicts His coming death. First of all, He’s telling His disciples over and over, “I know what’s coming. What is going to happen is not an accident.” Secondly, He is preparing them for the day when that comes, so that they will not say, “Jesus didn’t tell us that this was going to happen. We’re totally unprepared for this unexpected event which has occurred.” He is preparing them to be able to persevere in this tremendous event which is going to occur. But at the same time He is also explaining to them what His death means. Why it is that He has to die. Even in the process of predicting to them. And now when you get to Matthew, chapter 26, verse 2, He is more explicit than ever. Now, He not only tells them that He’s going to be handed over to the leaders of His people to die, He tells them it’s going to happen in two days. This is Tuesday of Passover week. He’s saying on Thursday night I’m going to be handed over to my enemies. And on the next day I’m going to die for the sins of the world.
The connection between Jesus’ death and the Passover is not only significant for Jewish history, but is also significant for explaining the meaning of the death of the Lord Jesus Christ. Why did Jesus die? Most of us who have grown up in the evangelical tradition, know instinctively the answer is that He died for our sins. But what does that mean? What does it mean that He died for our sins. And the gospel is helping us in these words of prediction understand what it means that He died for our sins. When we say that He was the Passover lamb, the Lamb of God who came to take away the sins of the world, we are saying something which is at the very heart of the Scripture teaching about the death of Christ. Because understanding Jesus’ death as the fulfillment of the Passover lamb, is at the very core of the Christian understanding of the death of Christ: The atoning work of Christ. Think of the shock. Think of the impact on the disciples. They just heard Jesus describing His glory as He comes in clouds to judge the world, and before those words have left their ears, He’s now telling them that in two days he is going to be killed. J.C. Ryle puts it this way: “The connection of these words with the proceeding chapter is exceedingly striking. Our Lord has just been dwelling on His second coming, and He has been describing the last judgment and all it’s awful accompaniments. He has been speaking of Himself as the Judge before whom all the nations will be gathered and then at once without a pause, without an interval, He tells them once and again of His coming sufferings. He reminds them that He must die as a sin offering before He reigned as a king. That He must make atonement on the cross before He took the crown. The gospel over and over emphasized this aspect of the Lord’s ministry.”
The gospel set forth for us the facts of the atonement, the Old Testament and the epistles give us an explicit explanation of the meaning of that atonement, but what we see here in Matthew, verses 1 and 2, is Jesus’ specific testimony to the disciples that He knows what is coming, and that He is willingly embracing it. He knows that in two days He’s going to be betrayed. He doesn’t flee to Galilee. He marches right on into Jerusalem. Right on to Gethsemane, right on to the upper room, right on to Golgotha. The Lord Jesus willingly embraces what He was about to go through for you. It’s so vital for you to understand both aspects of this. It’s not only that Jesus knows the horror of what He’s going to face, let me say that the horror does end with the physical suffering that He’s going to experience. In fact, in a sense that’s the least of it. The horror which the Lord Jesus is going to experience is the loss of comfortable presence of the Father, with whom He has dwelt from eternity.
And I want you to understand my friend, Jesus willingly embraces that for you. And He embraces that for you knowing just how fickle your friendship is with Him. He knows the disciples are all going to abandon Him in the next few hours. And yet He says to them, I have earnestly desired to sit down and eat this meal for you, for My blood is poured out for you for the forgiveness of sin. You know in just a few moments, He’s going to be saying those words. Let the impact of that come home to you. If you’re a Christian today, there’s a time believing Christ’s love for you, well then you remember these two things. He went to the cross willingly, knowing what He was going to say for you. And He went to that cross knowing just how fickle you are, just how weak you are, just how sinful you are, just how disappointing you are.
You know a lot of times we say, “You know I want somebody to love me for me.” Well I don’t want anybody to know me, because if they knew me, I wouldn’t have two friends in Mississippi. The Lord Jesus Christ knows me, and yet He willingly died for me. That is mind boggling. And that’s exactly what Jesus is saying in this passage. We need to know that Jesus was the knowing and willing sacrifice for our sins.
II. The plan of God and the plan of man contrasted.
Then if you’d look at verses 2 and 5, look at them at the same time and see the juxtaposition. We learn a second thing in this passage because in those verses we see a glorious expression of the sovereignty of God. We see contrasted in verse 2 the plan of God and in verse 5 the plan of man. And so in these two verses we see contrasted the plans of God and the plan of men. Matthew is clearly highlighting the sovereignty of God in this passage.
We need to know that God’s plan was sovereignly accomplished in Christ’s death despite the plans of men. Don’t miss what’s going on here. Jesus says in verse 2, “Two days, the Passover is coming, and the Son of man is to be handed over for crucifixion. While simultaneously, Matthew tells us that the chief priest and the Sadducees were meeting in a secret meeting, and do you know what they were saying? We can’t do this at the Passover festival. There will be rioting if we do this. So you have Jesus saying, “In two days, I’m going to handed over.” And you have the people who are going to ones who arrest Him illegally, who capture Him, and who were involved in His execution. And they say, “You know, we can’t do this at this time. The plan won’t work.”
The contrast is striking. Jesus says, “I will be delivered up at the festival.” The men who were going to deliver him up at the festival say, “We can’t deliver Him up at the festival.” God is sovereign. Man is not. He was right. The very people who are planning the plan against the Lord Jesus are saying they can’t pull it off, while Jesus is saying, “They will because it is in accordance of the decree of God, My Father.” And let me say, Peter never forgot. He never forgot the sovereignty of God in the death of His Lord. And He emphasizes it repeatedly in his writing, but we see it in his preaching and his prayers as well. If you look at Acts, chapter 2, verse 23 when Peter is preaching to the gathered people of Jerusalem at the time of Pentecost, do you remember what He says to them there? This man, He says, speaking of the Lord Jesus Christ, this man delivered over by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you nailed to the cross by godless men and put Him to death. The Lord Jesus, Peter is saying went to the cross according to the predetermined plan of God. That was God’s plan. That wasn’t an accident. That wasn’t an example of men getting out of control and God just not being able to handle it. That was God’s plan.
And Peter prays about this two chapters later. If you turn over to Acts, chapter 4, verses 27 and 28, in the context of Peter’s testimony before the ruling leaders of Israel, before the priests and the scribes and the Pharisees, and the elders of Israel. Peter prays this prayer to God in verses 27 and 28. “For truly in this city there were gathered together against you, against your holy servant, Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilot along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel to do whatever your hand and your purpose predestine to occur. Peter is saying, just as we see here in Matthew 26, that God was sovereign in the death of our Lord Jesus Christ.
There’s something more to say. Look back to what Jesus says in Matthew, chapter 26, verse 2. There He says, “I will be delivered up.” Matthew 26:2, “I will be delivered up.” In a passage in Matthew, chapter 10, verse 4, in just in aside, Matthew has told us who will deliver up Jesus. Judas. He’s listing to disciples in Matthew chapter 10. In Matthew chapter 10, verse 4, he says, “Judas will deliver up Jesus.” Now it’s the same word used here. Jesus says I will be delivered up. Already in a passage in Matthew, chapter 10, verse 4, says Judas will deliver Him up. Matthew has told us who will deliver up Jesus. Judas. He’s lifting the disciples in Matthew, chapter 10. In Matthew 10, verse 4, and he says, “Judas will deliver up Jesus.” Now it’s the same words used there. Jesus says, I will be delivered up. Matthew chapter 10, verse 4 says, “Judas will deliver Him up. In Matthew, chapter 7, verse 46, does Jesus say, “Judas, Judas, why would have you forsaken me? Judas, Judas, why have you delivered me up? Why have you betrayed me?” No, He says, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken me?” Turn to Romans, chapter 8, verse 32. The apostle Paul says there that, “Though it is true that Judas delivered up Jesus;” he did betray Jesus to the hands of the authorities. He’s responsible for it. We’ll see that in just a few moments. Paul makes it very clear that in those final analysis, that ultimately it is God the Father who delivers up His Son. “He who spared not His own Son, but delivered Him up.” You see Jesus’ willingness. I will be delivered up. Man’s responsibility. Judas delivers him up. God’s sovereignty. The Father delivers Him up. All are true at the same time. We don’t pick one and leave out the others. It’s vital to understand this because it’s vital to our proper understanding of what the cross was. The cross was the provision of the Father’s love. Jesus Christ was the perfect sacrifice of obedience willingly bearing our sins because the Father loved us. If we don’t understand that, we don’t understand the cross. If we think that the cross is about Jesus trying to get the Father to love us, we don’t understand the cross. The cross was ordained by God the Father because He loved us. And it was the only way where we could experience salvation and eternal fellowship with Him. So God is sovereign even in the cross.
My friends God was sovereign in the greatest trials of Jesus life. He was sovereign in the greatest trials of Jesus’ life, and He’s sovereign in our trials, too. We must never, ever forget that. Octavious Winslow puts this in such a striking way: “Who delivered up Jesus to die? Not Judas for the money. Not Pilot for fear, not the Jews for envy. But the Father for love.” Don’t ever forget that. God the Father, in His sovereign love instigates the emulation, the crucifixion of His Son because He loves you. And then there’s the last thing to learn in this passage.
III. The plot of the religious leaders.
In verses 3 through 5, we see this cowardly plot of the religious leaders of Israel. We see a picture here of man’s wickedness and weakness. And once again we need to know that our wickedness, though it’s overruled by God, it’s culpable. We’ll give an account one day for our wickedness, as these men would. The evil of the Sanhedrin's actions here is apparent. They’re doing this behind closed doors, in secret. They are planning the execution of a man who has not been tried and convicted. There’s no court in any land in the world that would not recognize that as the appropriate judicial procedure, and it’s very interesting, isn’t it? If you have your NASB or your NIV in front of you, if you look at verse 3. We’re told here that the chief priest and the elders were gathered together. Well, it doesn’t mention the scribes. The scribes were the teachers of the law. I wonder if this is sort of backhanded jab on Matthew’s part. He doesn’t mention the scribes. There wasn’t a whole lot of biblical exposition going on at that meeting. What would the Scriptures have us do right now? There are no references to the Scriptures at all. Matthew doesn’t even mention the presence of the scribes, though they were a part of the leaders of these people. The Jewish leaders had long ago decided to kill Jesus. Here they were concerned with the time and place of their plan. Roman security was tight during the Passover. Many of Jesus’ supporters would have been present during the Passover festival, and so at first they postpone to postpone their plot until the is over. But Judas comes along to facilitate their plan. 'I’ll get Him right into your hands. We’ll do it under the cover of darkness, and no one will ever know.' God is sovereign, and so Judas according to God’s sovereign design, facilitates the implementation of the plan. We’ll study that when we get to verse 14 of this chapter.
But notice how the New Testament holds both Jews and the Jewish leaders responsible for this deed which was part of the sovereign plan of God to redeem His people. Matthew, chapter 26, verse 21, Jesus tells His disciples that one of them is going to betray Him. And then when you move forward to verses to 25, He goes on explicitly to say, “The Son of man is going to go just as it is written of Him, but woe to that man by whom the Son of man is betrayed. It would have been good for that man if he had not been born.” Judas is responsible for his deeds. He did exactly what he wanted to do, and he will be held accountable for his deeds. This is stressed in Acts, chapter 1, verses 16-20, when Peter addresses the congregation in Jerusalem about replacing Judas as an apostle. And the guilt of the Jewish leaders is apparent. Look at verse Matthew 26, verse 14. Where does Judas go? He goes to the chief priest to hatch his plot. Then you turn forward to verse 57 of Matthew, chapter 26. Where does he go? To Caiaphas, the high priest, together with whom? The scribes and the elders. Then you turn to Matthew 27, verse 1. When morning had come, all the chief priests and the elders of the people took counsel against Jesus to put Him to death. It is stressed over and over that the Jewish leaders were responsible for their actions against Jesus. Peter again makes this crystal clear in Acts, chapter 4, verses 5 and 7, he’s addressing the elders and the chief priests of Israel, and he says to them, “This man, you crucified and God raised Him from the dead.” Judas and the Jewish leaders are responsible for what they have done. And though they were wicked and greedy men, though they had their own unsavory motive for doing what they were doing, no doubt these men were so deluded as to think what they were thinking was the right thing.
You know sometimes we do things which at first seem right that seem to be seriously wrong. And I have no question in my mind that these men were deluded enough to think that what they were doing was right. You know we can point out fingers at the chief priest and the scribes and elders of the Lord’s people. And we ask, “Tsk, tsk, how could you have done that?” But if we are indifferent to the Lord Jesus Christ, we are in no different position than they are. I was sitting at a deli one Saturday morning having a cup of coffee, and sitting next to me were two teenagers that were probably a boyfriend and girlfriend. And they talked about an amazing variety of things. You have to watch out what you talk about in public restaurants, people are always listening. They talked about an amazing variety of things. But eventually the topic came around to religion. I immediately was interested in hearing this conversation about religion between these two youths. The young woman to say to her boyfriend, “You know, the only reason I go to church is because mom makes me go.” I’m not really sure what I think about God, and this really is not very important in my life. And the minute that I get the chance to be on my own, I’m going to stop going. And the conversation went on from there. And it struck me what a serious mistake she was making. It may have seemed right for her, but she didn’t need God, that she didn’t need the cleansing blood of the Lord Jesus Christ, but in the end if she does not turn, if the Lord does not change her heart, she will be up for the same judgment that the chief priest and scribes and elders and Judas will be up for one day. The Lord Jesus cannot be trifled with. The heavenly Father does not allow us to sit on the fence about Him. We must either embrace Him or reject Him. Those are the only options. You say, “Well, I’m not against him.” God doesn’t care. He wants to know are you for Him? Have you trusted in Him? Have you rested in Him? Because if you’re not for Him, you are against Him. We will be held accountable one day. May God enable us to embrace Him as Savior. Let’s pray
Our Lord and our God, we bow before you in awe and wonder at the glory of Your word. And we ask that You would make us restless this day, if our hearts have not found rest in Christ alone. I pray for all those who have rested and trusted in Him; that you will assure them by the promises of Your word to the praise and glory of the Lord Jesus Christ, in whose name we pray, Amen.