“Do You Believe in Prayer or Not?”
King Herod, of Herod fame, inflicts harm on the early church to please the Jews. But, God is at work both in and behind the scenes as we read this chapter and see the fulfillment of the words of Jesus “Upon this rock I will build “MY” church and the gates of hell shall not prevail.” [Matt 16] Satan may seek to bring the church into disfavor but he fails to realize that what he seeks to disarm God will use to bring about good. [Rom 8:28]
But, just as then, we are often befuddled at God’s working. Why did God allow James to be executed but released Peter? This is one of those “secret things” that belongs to God alone and will be revealed in eternity. [Deut 29:29]
Dr. Luke refreshingly gives us some comedic relief of the persecution of the early church with his account of Peter’s release from jail. While Peter sleeps, King Herod gleefully waits for daybreak of the day after a solemn religious holiday to murder him. Sound familiar? We remember that was the plan for Jesus as well. Into this mix we find the church persistently praying for Peter. But after an angel miraculously releases him and he arrives in the middle of their prayer meeting they tell Rhoda “she has lost her mind.” Again, like the account of Jesus’ resurrection, it is called nonsense.
Dr. Luke gives us this chapter to show us that God not only hears the prayers of the church but opens the windows of heaven.
As we read this last chapter in Luke we wonder why he did not focus on just the beauty of the resurrection. Dr. Luke is drawing us into these real life scenes that we might relate as to why there are those today who also cannot understand the resurrection and see how God is at work amongst us. We are brought front and center that we might learn from these encounters as a means to share the gospel message.
First are the women who needed an angel to walk them back spiritually to the words of Jesus: “Remember how he told you?” The two on the road to Emmaus needed the presence of the risen Christ to jog their memory of the passages he had taught them. And just as with the women, we too need our physical and spiritual eyes opened that we might recognize the risen Christ. Is this not the work of the Holy Spirit? We remember John’s words: For God so loved and we begin to put the puzzle pieces together.
It took an angel to open the understanding of the women. It took the “stranger” to begin questioning the Emmaus walkers as to what they already knew. But, it was not until the angel asked the key question and it was not until Jesus broke the bread at the table of fellowship that their eyes were opened and they recognized and put 2 and 2 together.
So what is the lesson? God loves us and He will provide what we need to have our eyes opened and our understanding illuminated. Where are you? God will provide what we need to see and understand the risen Christ.
A journey with the Apostle Matthew has taken us on a circuitous route, or sinuous if you like. It has been fraught with danger, and filled with expectation of what lay beyond the next bend. We have journeyed in and out of Israel, found those who are faithful and those who are not. It is as we say journey of highs and lows but with the Messiah always in charge. Today in Matthew 28 will be no different. Today we will see that what men contrived for evil God will turn to fulfill His ultimate plan that all nations would hear, all men would decide for or against, all believers would have the promise of “I will never leave you nor forsake you.”
Matthew tells us that it is in that the semi-darkness women have left their beds to walk to a cemetery to “look” at a tomb. Matthew leaves us wondering, yet wants us to focus in on the miracle unfolding. He points to the earthquakes, both as Jesus uttered “It is finished,” to the timing of the resurrection. Just as God dispelled darkness and ushered in light so too here God dispels the darkness with a stroke of light along with an earthquake and the moving of a tombstone as if it were a pebble. The messengers of the Lord who announced the coming Messiah come now to announce His resurrection. He is no longer wrapped in the cloak of death but is risen “just as he said.” Matthew Henry wrote: “On the first day of the first week God commanded the light to shine out of darkness. On this day did He who is the Light of the world, shine out of the darkness of the grave.”
In this same time frame there are guards who see the miraculous of the tomb opening, an angel whose appearance was like lightning and faint as dead men. Upon awakening from this faint, they rush to the side of the religious leaders to share the news only to be given large sums of hush money with the promise of “we will protect you.” Instead of the truth just say the disciples came while you slept and stole the body. It reeks with the breaking of yet another commandment: “do not bear false witness.” The religious leaders had asked Jesus for a sign from heaven, yet when given, they add insult to injury and deny themselves and others the right to eternity. Truly Jesus was right when he said: Mat 23:13 “But woe to you, experts in the law and you Pharisees, hypocrites! You keep locking people out of the kingdom of heaven! For you neither enter nor permit those trying to enter to go in. The plainest evidence will not affect the hardest hearts of men without the illumination of the Spirit of the living God.
Thus the guards’ fear along with the religious leaders denial and total rejection of God’s sign will be to encapsulate them like the grave shroud that Jesus shed. It will encase their minds and physical being and will remain with them until they face eternity where they will hear God’s voice utter: “I never knew you.”
In contrast the fear that the women face is quickly discarded with a stroke of light as it illuminates not just an angelic being but an empty grave. Their fear turns to joy when they hear two times “do not be afraid,” first from the angel and then from the lips of our risen Lord. Their immediate fear is banished by God’s messenger and His Beloved Son in whom He is well pleased. That is what happens to us when we accept the Risen Savior as the Resurrected Christ, our fear turns to joy and unlike the guards who cowered in fear we shout and praise God: “Hallelujah.”
As you ponder all of this closing segment of Matthew, may you also search your heart. There is a principle we would gather here: When we come with pure hearts, we are given great and mighty blessings. When our hearts are defiled those blessings are withheld not only now but for all eternity.
The Apostle Matthew introduced us to the genealogical record of our Messiah in chapter 1. At the end of that chapter we know that two times the angel of the Lord came to righteous Joseph to lead and protect the divine conceived Messiah in Mary’s womb. In chapter 2 we see once again his immediate obedience. Joseph is a role model for all of us who seek to be obedient to Messiah.
Matthew wants us to focus in on one thing: the OT prophecies were inspired, true, and fulfilled “right on schedule.” First note the timing—King Herod is the ruler of Palestine from 37BC to when he died 4BC. Also, it was at this time that the census was ordered according to Dr. Luke in chapter 2. Secondly, note the geographical location, Bethlehem of Judea or Judah. Thus Christ, as we noted in chapter 1, had not only the legal right of inheritance to the throne of David but he was born in that province to therefore claim it. Thirdly Matthew as a master researcher listed three sets of people and their reactions.
The Magi. Coming to Jerusalem from the east, which would thus give us the clue as to their ethnicity: Gentiles. Gentiles were “dogs” to the Jews, if we remember from our study of Jewish history. Thus the populace were alarmed.
“King” Herod, thus noted here but after this never noted as “king.” He ruled by fear and brutality. He was a half-Jew, Idumean or Edomite by birth. His ancestry line was from Esau who hated Jacob. Just as Pharaoh sought to eradicate the Jews through infanticide, so did Herod. Our newspapers and blogs are filled with the numbers of abortions. Infanticide has been the enemy’s tool and is even today.
The religious leaders were apathetic even with the scriptures before them. They knew the scriptures to the last detail about the birth of the Christ but beyond this did nothing. Matthew is showing us that to just know the scriptures is not enough, we must act upon them.
What are the lessons Matthew wants us to glean?
- God’s ways are not man’s ways. [Is 55:8] He orders and brings about His plan for His glory. Both in 2Kings and Isaiah we read: In ancient times I planned it; and now I am bringing it to pass.
- Jesus is the King of the Jews no matter the response made by men. He was so noted by the Magi who worshiped him. He was ironically noted the same by the ones who crucified him and the title over His cross was God’s testimony.
- Jesus’ kingdom includes all men regardless of their lineage. Jesus told the disciples to go and make disciples of all nations thus fulfilling the blessing given to Abraham.
- Men are held accountable for the knowledge they are given. The Magi had the stars and perhaps the writings of Daniel and pursued it. The religious leaders had the OT with the revelation of prophecy and rejected it. [Job 21:14 21:14 “So they say to God, ‘Turn away from us! We do not want to know your ways.’”
- The OT prophets sought to understand and put the puzzle together. In the end they noted: 1Pet They were shown that they were serving not themselves but you… Even though we sometimes find ourselves in the same frame of reference we can be certain of this: 1 Cor 13:12 “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then we will see face to face.”
Today the question is before us: how have you responded to the evidence before you? Is Jesus the Messiah and if yes, are you following Him?