Matthew 17: 22 - 23
The Cross Reiterated
If you have your Bibles I’d invite you to turn with me to Matthew chapter 17. We'll be looking verses 22 and 23 today. In this passage we come to the second great announcement of Jesus' impending suffering and death and resurrection. In our studies of Matthew 17, so far we've seen in the first 13 verses that account of His transfiguration; the glory of Christ shone forth for a moment, the veil temporarily pulled back, so that we might see the glory and the might and the beauty and the power of our Lord Jesus Christ. And then immediately, in contrast to that in verses 14 through 21, as Jesus and the disciples descend from the mountain into the plains meeting up with the other disciples, they are met by a crowd in tumult. The crowd is wondering, the scribes and the Pharisees are mocking. The disciples are bewildered, they've been unable, because of their unbelief, to aid a young boy who is demon-possessed and cruelly afflicted with various maladies and Matthew highlights the unbelief of the disciples and puts it in stark contrast to that glorious revelation of Christ as if to say to us, how could you possibly lack faith in one so glorious?
And yet, that's precisely the picture that we're confronted with in verses 14 through 21 because Matthew wants to highlight the danger of unbelief. If it's dangerous for the disciples themselves, surely that unbelief is dangerous for us.
And then we come to Matthew 17 verses 22 and 23. Here Jesus repeats and elaborates on His clear statement to the disciples about His impending doom, His trials, His sufferings, His death, His burial, and His resurrection. He had already spoken to them of this truth in Matthew 16. He will speak to them of it again in Matthew 20.
But here He repeats and accentuates this announcement to the disciples about what was awaiting him in Jerusalem. So let's hear God's holy word here in Matthew 17.
Our Lord and our God, we thank You for the truth of Your word and we ask that You would inscribe it on our hearts. We would drink from the wells of Your grace for as You've revealed Yourself, You have revealed our way into fellowship with You. May we by Your Spirit have our hearts illumined that we might understand and obey the truth of Your word. We ask it in Jesus' name. Amen.
Three times during this phase of Jesus' ministry He spoke clearly, directly, explicitly, painfully about the details of His upcoming sufferings and death. By doing this He focuses His disciples' attention and our attention on the meaning and significance of His saving work. He wanted His disciples to know how central the things that He was going to undergo were going to be for His work of salvation. Treasured in these few words are three great matters on which we ought to meditate every time we come to the Lord's table. And so as we prepare to come to the table of the Lord, the table that sets forth the meaning and the benefits of Christ’s suffering death and resurrection. Let's think with the words of the inspired apostle on the truths set forth in this passage.
I. We ought to remember Christ's humiliation for us.
The first one I’d like you to see here in verse 22. In verse 22 the Lord Jesus Christ predicts to His disciples that He will be delivered into the hands of men. And so in verse 22 we see Christ pictured as delivered under the control of wicked men. And we learn a lesson there. Every time we come to the Lord's table we ought to remember Christ’s humiliation for us. It is not simply that Christ was humiliated, it is that He was humiliated for us. And when we come to this table the very picture of the bread and of the cup points to the ultimate humiliation which He underwent for our sakes that we might fellowship with Him forever. Jesus and His disciples had been moving through Galilee. They were moving through Galilee not ministering publicly, but privately, and Mark tells us that. Jesus’ ministry in Galilee was done, and He now is focusing His emphasis on the disciples themselves. He's trying to prepare them not only for the events that are going to come about immediately, but for their future ministry. He is now pouring His life exclusively into their lives teaching them and equipping them for the work which He has given to them.
Christ has already explained to them once in the very context of Peter’s confession that He was the Messiah, the Son of the Living God. Christ has already explained to the disciples that it was necessary that He go to Jerusalem, suffer many things at the hands of the scribes and the chief priests, and be put to death and be raised on the third day. Now, He comes again with that same message but with an elaboration.
Why? Why does He keep repeating this particular message to the disciples? Other than the fact that they were hard-headed like we are, there are many good answers to that question. One of them is offered to us by Calvin who says, “The nearer the time of His death, the more often Christ warned His disciples, lest that particular sorrow should undermine their faith.” In other words, Jesus knew that the greatest testing, the greatest trial of faith that His disciples would go through during the time of His earthly ministry, would in fact come at the end of His earthly ministry in His suffering, His death, His burial, and His resurrection. In those hours and in those days, His disciples would almost despair of the hope that He had implanted in them.
And so, everything that He does from this point on in His ministry, in addition to being designed to equip them for their future ministry of the gospel, was designed to enable them to endure the trial that they were going through. Is it not precious that at a time when the Lord would have been perfectly justified to concentrate on preparing Himself for the most awesome task ever undertaken in the history of this universe, yet He turned His attention to ministering to His disciples so that they could endure a trial not half so great as the trial that He would endure, but a trial greater than they had ever been called upon to face? And so, the expectations of the disciples about this kingdom that they were going to enter into in triumph, in victory and reign with Christ on earth had led them to be unprepared for the kind of trial that they were going to face in the coming days. And Jesus knew that that kind of triumphalism needed to be corrected. They needed to be faced with the stark realities of what it meant to follow the humiliated and exalted Lord. And so He continues, over and over, to prepare them.
Not only in Matthew 16 and 17, but we'll see later as we continue to study in this book, the Lord willing, in Matthew 20 He will repeat this message again. Now when Christ first spoke to the disciples about His death and His burial and His resurrection, He emphasized the necessity of that death. But now here in Matthew 17 He emphasizes the certainty of that death. Would you look with me at Matthew 16:21, and you can see very easily the contrast. In Matthew 16:21, we read, “From that time Jesus began to show His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem, and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised up on the third day.” Notice the words there, ...He must go to Jerusalem. The necessity of this is at the forefront of His exhortation. He wants them to understand that this is a necessary aspect of the bringing in of the kingdom. It's not something that can be bypassed. It is absolutely essential, it's necessary, it's not peripheral, it's central to God's plan. It's not something that can be skipped over, it is a cena quinon. It is something without which not the plan of God does not go on.
And so, we see again in contrast in verse 22 of Matthew chapter 17 another emphasis: “And while they were gathering together in Galilee, Jesus said to them, ‘the Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men; and they will kill him, and He will be raised on the third day.’” The first time the emphasis is on the necessity, He must go to Jerusalem and do this. Now, it is on the certainty, this will happen. Lest any of the disciples think that there was some possibility that these events would not come about, the Lord Jesus stresses they are absolutely certain. Why? Because they are part of the sovereign plan of God. This is the sovereign plan of God in redemption. It is certain that these events will come about.
And furthermore, in Matthew 17 verses 22 and 23 not only does Jesus stress the certainty of His death He stresses the humiliation which will attend that death. Notice the phrase in verse 22, He will be ‘delivered into the hands of men.’ What does that phrase mean? Well, it means that He who is the glorious Son of God, He who is the Exalted One, will be handed over from one to another in the hands of wicked men as a toy, as a mere thing. He will be taken advantage of. He will be under their power and under their jurisdiction, to do with as they will. It is the lowest form of indignity that He will suffer. He will be humiliated in an unrighteous and an unjust way at the hands of those who are supposed to represent the highest laws of God and man, He will be mistreated. And we need to think a little bit about what this means when verse 22 says He will be delivered into the hands of men.
In the first place, it means that He will be placed under the power of wicked men. Do you remember an event in the life of David when He prayed for the Lord not to place him in the power of wicked men? In II Samuel 24, David had taken a census of Israel because he wanted to know how many fighting men he had. Now apparently David’s sin was expressive of a national pride problem. Israel, in the might of David’s reign, had begun to trust in the numbers of fighting men and the numbers of horses and chariots that they had for their defense and not to trust in the name of the Lord alone to protect them. And so God tells us in II Samuel 24, that He intended to bring punishment against all Israel for that sin of pride. And He sends the prophet Gad to David and He basically says to Gad, ‘David needs to know that he has three options.’
And in II Samuel 24 verses 12 through 14 you'll see exactly what the Lord said through Gad: “Go and speak to David, ‘Thus says the Lord, I am offering you three things; choose for yourself one of them, which I will do to you.’” So Gad came to David and told him, and said to him, “Shall seven years of famine come to you in your land. Or will you flee three months before your foes while they pursue you. Or shall there be three days' pestilence in your land? Now consider and see what answer I shall return to Him who sent me. And then David said to Gad, ‘I am in great distress. Let us now fall into the hand of the Lord for His mercies are great, but do not let me fall into the hand of man.’” David would rather face the punishment of the Almighty Himself because He knows that the Almighty’s just punishment is tempered with mercy because of the covenant of grace. He would rather fall into the hands of the Almighty Himself than fall into the hands of wicked men. But our Lord Jesus, we are told here, by His own mouth, will fall into the hands of wicked men. David's prayer will not be answered for the Lord Jesus. This is the humiliation He will undergo for you.
Judas will deliver Him into the hands of wicked men. The scribes, the chief priests, the Pharisees, and the Sadducees will deliver Him into the hands of wicked men. The civil leaders of Israel will deliver Him into the hands of wicked men. The Roman rulers will finally hand Him into the custody of armed soldiers who will then inflict the final punishment. Jesus delivered under the control and jurisdiction of wicked men.
But you see, that's not the deepest part of the humiliation is it. For in the final analysis, Jesus is delivered into the hands of His enemies by the heavenly Father. Do you remember the words of Romans 8:32: “He who spared not His own Son but delivered Him over freely for us all. How will He not with Him freely give us all things?” It is the heavenly Father, who for the sake of our salvation, delivers over His Son into the hands of men. And the Apostle Peter never, ever, forgot this and in the very first sermon he preached in the book of Acts, he drew attention to the fact that it was the plan of God the Father to deliver the Son for the sake of your salvation. If you turn with me to Acts, chapter 2:22-23, I’ll show you. Peter proclaims to his brethren in the assembly on the day of Pentecost, these words: “Men of Israel, listen to these words: Jesus the Nazarene, a man attested to you by God, with miracles and wonders and signs which God performed through Him in your midst, just as you yourselves know - this man, delivered over by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you nailed to a cross by the hands of godless men and put Him to death.”
You see, Matthew wants you to see not only the necessity of Jesus' suffering and the certainty of Jesus' suffering, but he wants you to see that that suffering was the very plan of God for your sake. It was not merely an accident or a tragedy. It was not merely an affront to justice put into place by the hands of wicked men. It was the Father's plan to redeem you from your sins. And so, when you come to the Lord's Table you remember that that humiliation was the plan, the loving plan of the Father for you. And that humiliation was willingly taken up by the Lord Jesus Christ, and that that humiliation was not endured because Jesus deserved it, but because you deserved it and He endured it in your place.
Do we understand the necessity of this humiliation? What does that humiliation say about what our sin deserves? About what my sin deserves? About what your sin deserves? There are many hymns in our hymnal which sing just that point. I can think of none better than number 257. Would you turn with me there and cast your eyes on the third stanza of that hymn? We have sung that hymn before as a hymn of the month. The hymn is entitled, “Stricken, Smitten and Afflicted.” You hear the words of Isaiah in the background of that hymn, don't you? And in the third stanza of that hymn, the author points us to this truth: “Ye who think of sin but lightly, nor suppose it's evil great, here may view it's nature rightly, here it's guilt may estimate. Mark the sacrifice appointed, see who bears the awful load; 'tis the word, the Lord's anointed, Son of Man and Son of God.’” You see what the author of the hymn is saying? If you want to see what your sin deserves, look Who's hanging on the tree. Look who is humiliated. It's God's Son. That tells you what your sin deserves. If that is what it took to save you, to sanctify you, to glorify you, how awful must sin be in God's eyes.
Do we sense the magnitude of Jesus' humiliation? Do we realize just how far God has gone to redeem us to Himself? Do we see god's hand in this? Do we realize that this was not merely an accident or a tragedy but it was the very design of God? That's what Jesus wants His disciples to learn. And that's what Jesus wants you to learn.
II. We ought to reflect on His death, its meaning and significance.
And then we see, if you continue to look in verse 23, a second thing. A second matter for reflection. As we've seen the Son of Man delivered in verse 22, in verse 23 we see the son of man killed. And here again, we learn that when we come to the table we ought to reflect on His death, its meaning and significance. Jesus indicates that these wicked men into whose hands He would be delivered would have their way with Him. They would inflict the punishment that they had so long desired to inflict upon Him. The Son of Man would be murdered by men. He would be killed at the hands of His enemies. And yet, that is God's plan.
The atoning death of the Son was necessary and certain and it was the plan of God. And when we come to the Lord's Table, we need to reflect upon the meaning of that death and the significance of that death. That death was designed to pay the penalty for our sins. That death was designed to constitute us convenantaly again as the people of God. That death was invested with the saving power communicated by the Holy Spirit in the work of sanctification so that one day you will be stood before the throne of God righteous in a righteousness now your own. And yet transformed from the inside out, sanctified and glorified by the Holy Spirit, so that when Satan brings an accusation against you, the Son of God is going to say, ‘What sin is there in that one? That's My child. There is no sin in that child.’ And Satan is going to look down at a blank record book. That is the power of this saving death.
Do you realize the significance of that death? Every time we come to this table, we need to meditate on the power of that saving death. It was a perfect, divine substitutionary sacrifice. Nothing less than the blood atonement of Jesus Christ was necessary to satisfy the wrath and the justice of God. Do you remember those solemn words of Hebrews 9:22: “Without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.” The author of Hebrews has already told us that the blood of bulls and goats will not avail, only the blood of the Son of Man and Son of God will avail to stand us before God in righteousness. Do we see the Savior's love in this? Do we realize that Jesus perfectly knew what He had been born into the world to do, and yet He willingly chose it for you? Do you see the Savior's love in that? Do you realize that His knowledge all His life, all His life, that He was born to die for you, was like living a life experiencing the passion of the cross before it ever came? Can you imagine living your life knowing that your job was, at the age of 33, to die for all your people? And more than that, to lose the experience of the Father's presence on behalf of your people. And He chose that for you. How much must your Savior love you? John Owens said so many years ago, “There is no death of sin without the death of Christ. But because of Christ’s death, death has died for god's people.” Do we realize the significance of His death when we come to the table?
We ought to strengthen our hope in His resurrection.
And one last thing, you'll see in verse 23 that Jesus doesn't stop there. He goes on to speak of His resurrection; not only the Son of Man delivered, not only the Son of Man killed, but the Son of Man is resurrected, as pictured here in this word of Christ to His disciples. And when we come to the Lord's Table we ought to strengthen our hope in His resurrection. We ought not only to remember that He has been humiliated for us, we are not only to meditate upon the significance of His saving death for us, but we are to firmly see our hope displayed thinking of His resurrected power and glory.
The disciples' response to Jesus' words this time is entirely different than it was the first time. Remember in Matthew 16:26, how all the disciples responded, and Peter was their spokesman? They were indignant at Jesus' words that He was going to Jerusalem to die. They said, ‘Lord, may God forbid that this happen. Never, never will this happen as long as we're with You.’ That's not the response this time, is it? This is the response of grieving friends who sense the bereavement that they are about to undergo. They see this personal loss that they are going to have and their love is clearly displayed for Christ. There's no mistake about it, when they grieve at Jesus' words.
Though it may reflect a misunderstanding of the power of the truth that He's stated, it clearly reflects that those disciples have real love for Christ. And yet, they misunderstand His message. Being plunged into grief at the prospect of their own forthcoming personal bereavement, the disciples derive no comfort from Jesus' words that He will be raised on the third day. Why? Again, there are many reasons for that. But William Hendriksen says this, “Since they did not know what was meant by being raised up, this part of the prediction was not able to turn their sorrow into joy.”
Now that's a question for us too, isn't it? If we don't know what it means to be raised up, then there is nothing to turn our sorrow to joy. It is our business to know the resurrection. It is our business to believe and embrace the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ and it is our business to know that we are raised up in Him, says the Apostle Paul. That is our hope. It's at the bedrock, the very foundation of our hope for future glory.
So what's our response to the resurrection of Christ? It's to be able to face all the trials of this life in light of the hope of the resurrection. Are we able to face those trials firmly because of the resurrection, those inexplicable anomalies of fallen human life? As I was coming to church today, I was listening to a PCA minister in another congregation of ours preach the word. And he was sharing the story, that just before he had come to the meeting to preach, he had heard from one of the dear families of his church that a 14 year old boy, a fine Christian man who had professed faith in Christ and was walking with Him, had been diagnosed with inoperable brain cancer. Three months, the doctors said, and he would be gone. And the minister, after he had finished preaching the message, was going to go to be with that family. Now, there are many who have come today who have their own inexplicable tragedies and trials and sorrows to bear. Do you bear them in the light of the resurrection?
Calvin says of the disciples: “The overwhelming horror of the cross suddenly seized them and shut the door on the comfort that they could have derived from the hope of the resurrection.” Isn't that what happens to us when we are faced by those anomalies of life? When we are overwhelmed by the trial that we have been called to undergo? We forget the power of the resurrection. We forget the hope of the resurrection because of the power of the moment overwhelms us as we see the trial that we are facing. Yet, Jesus Christ in these words intends to say to the disciples, ‘The glory of My resurrection will transcend any trial that you will ever experience.’
Now do we believe that? And do we embrace that and believe that with our hearts so much that we live it through the trials that the Lord calls us? Whether those trials be in our family, or in our community or in our vocation. Wherever those trials are, do we live in light of the hope of the resurrection? Do we hope for our own resurrection because of His? Have we trusted in Him for our salvation? Do you see this hope of the resurrection is only for those who have believed on the Lord Jesus Christ. They have placed their confidence, their hope, on him alone.
Have you done that today? If you have not, I plead with you right now to pray and call upon the Lord to have mercy on you. Trust in Christ alone for your salvation. And if you are a believer coming this day, seeking comfort, as you come to the table you remember that you are assured of all the benefits and blessing and the power of eternal life because of the humiliation of Christ for you, because of His death for you, and because you have been raised to newness of life in Him. Your resurrection is as good as done because you have been raised in newness of life in His resurrection and that resurrection is already been accomplished. It is a pledge of the resurrection that you and I will experience.
You know this Christian faith, it is an amazing thing. I believe that your poor flesh and my poor flesh will be raised and reconstituted from the grave and we will live eternally with God and all His children singing His praises. There's nothing like it, is there? May God enable us to believe and to come believing to the table. Let us pray.
Our Lord and our God, give us the grace to believe for Your glory and our good. We ask it in Jesus' name. Amen.
Grace, mercy and peace to you from God the father and our Lord Jesus Christ, both now and forevermore. Amen.
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