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Second Quarter 2016 (April–June)
COMMENTARY ON THE BOOK OF MATTHEW
Week 12: June 11–17
COMMENTARY ON JESUS' LAST DAYS
Following is a combined commentary on the material included in the Bible Study Guide with references as necessary to the supplemental passages included in the E. G. White Notes for the Sabbath School Lessons.
Note: Unless otherwise stated, all biblical quotes are from the English Standard Version (ESV).
This week’s lesson looks at Jesus’ last days before the crucifixion and emphasizes Jesus’ “free will” and His example to us as well as drawing moral lessons from highlighted events.
Today’s lesson looks at Jesus’ agony in Gethsemane and concludes that He used “His own free will” to chose whether or not to save us from the destruction our abuse of free will would otherwise have brought.
This lesson misses the tension of the mystery of the cross. Hebrews 2:10 tells us that, “in bringing many sons to glory,” it was necessary “to perfect the author of their salvation through sufferings.” Jesus had been explicit that He said nothing and did nothing that His Father didn’t say and do, but when He came to Gethsemane, we see the first time that Jesus had disagreed with His Father.
Scripture tells us that God sent His Son to die. In fact, Isaiah 53:10 says “it was the will of the LORD to crush Him.” Concurrently, Jesus pleaded with His Father in Gethsemane to let the cup pass from Him if there were any possible way. That garden anguish, in fact, was the first time the Son had a desire different from His Father. He submitted to Him in obedience, but He had to decide to go forward with the cross.
In other words, there was this same tension between God’s own sovereign foreknowledge and plan, and the man Jesus’s human decision to obey the Father. He was a willing, not a programmed, sacrifice for our sin. The mystery here is beyond definition—Jesus is part of the triune God who ordained the cross, yet Jesus incarnate had to decide to obey His Father when he faced the ultimate moment.
Ultimately we have to live with the tension of believing that all of the statements of God’s sovereign foreknowledge are true, and all of the commands to believe and trust Him are equally true. We do not have to understand it, and we dare not attempt to reconcile them into a manageable theological equation. Our proper response is to obey Him when we read His commands and to believe that He cannot lie and that He always keeps His word.
We see in Gethsemane the tension between God’s total predestination and foreknowledge and the human will of Jesus. Jesus, however, trusted His Father and submitted to His will. If either God’s sovereign predestination or Jesus’ decision to trust Him were removed, we would lose the cross.
The Garden is not an example of “free will”. It is a demonstration of the Trinity’s united plan, even in the human heart of the Son, to save humanity.
Today’s lesson is the story of Jesus being invited to Simon the leper’s house for dinner, and a woman came and anointed his head with very costly ointment. The disciples were angry at “the waste”, but Jesus said that she had done a beautiful thing to Him, and wherever the gospel was preached, this woman and her sacrificial act would also be told.
The lesson uses this story to moralize to the reader, asking what this woman’s sacrifice tells us about responding to Jesus. “Using our free will what ‘beautiful’ work can we perform for Him in response to what we have ben given in Him?”
This application completely misses the point. This woman’s gratitude to Jesus did not come from a vacuum. Although the story does not tell us the details, we can be certain that she did not spend her small fortune on perfume for Jesus in an effort to make a statement. She had been forgiven much. Her gratitude came from her knowing what Jesus had done for her and from feeling an overwhelming debt of gratitude to Him. She knew He was the Messiah. Her response to Him was not merely that of human gratitude. She knew Jesus had rescued her from something she could not escape on her own.
Moreover, we are never asked to use our free will to decide what beautiful work we can do for Jesus. On the contrary, we are asked to believe in Him, in the finished atonement in His blood. We are asked to repent of our sin and accept His sacrifice as payment for our sin. We are asked to believe that He has done (past tense) everything necessary for our salvation.
Biblical faith is comprised of three things. First, we have to have an understanding of the gospel, that Jesus died for our sins according to Scripture, that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to Scripture (1 Cor. 15:3-4). Second, we have to believe that this declaration is true. We must intellectually acknowledge that these facts are true. Third, we must entrust ourselves to this reality. It’s not enough to mentally know these things; we must entrust our lives to their reality. We have to place our entire past, present, and future in Jesus’ hands and trust His blood on our account. We have to act on His call to believe Him and to rest in His finished work.
When we have believed, the Holy Spirit indwells us (Eph. 1:13-14), and we become new creations made by God (Eph. 2:8-10). Then He brings to us the work He prepared in advance for us to do. We don’t go out and look for beautiful work to do for Him; rather, we do what He brings to us, trusting Him at every step of the way to provide all that we need.
This lesson makes the woman and her gift an object lesson for worshipful behavior. This effort is a wrong understanding of the story. This story shows us a worshiping heart of a grateful woman, but it is not an example of HOW to be a worshipful person.
We cannot appreciate who Jesus actually is until we believe, placing our entire faith and trust in Him and His finished work. Only then can we pour ourselves into the work He gives us to do.
Today’s lesson is entitled “The New Covenant” and addresses the fact that the Last Supper occurred in relationship to Passover, the memorial of the Israelites’ exodus from Egypt. The lesson asks the reader to read Mathew 26:26-29, and then it asks what Jesus is saying to His disciples and what His words mean to us now.
Here is Matthew 26:26-29:
Now as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is my body.” And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, “Drink of it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. I tell you I will not drink again of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father's kingdom.”
Interestingly, the lesson does not deal at all with the words Jesus says, introducing the new covenant in His blood. Instead it circles around Jesus’ death on the cross and shifts the subject from Jesus’ words at the Lord’s Supper to the fact that people needed the death of Jesus. It makes the point that communion points back to the cross, while Passover pointed forward to it.
Jesus announced in this passage, as He served His disciples the Lord’s Supper which was the traditional Passover meal, that the bread was His body, and the cup was his blood of the covenant. He explicitly says His blood was poured out for the forgiveness of sins, and he identifies His blood as the source of the covenant He was making with them.
Jesus took the Passover meal and changed it from a shadow reminding Israel of the blood over the doorpost the night they left Egypt, the blood which protected the firstborn from being killed by God’s destroying angel—and fulfilled those shadows by identifying the bread and wine of the Passover meal not as the blood of the lamb over the doors of the ancient Israelites but as His own body and shed blood—blood which would inaugurate a new covenant and would effect the forgiveness of sins.
Moreover, His shed blood would bring life to the disciples who took it in remembrance of Him. Jesus was about to die, and His death would fulfill all the Old Testament shadows and would introduce a new covenant which was different from the Mosaic covenant—the law. Jesus was introducing a living, eternal covenant that was both inaugurated by His shed blood and effective as the source of forgiveness and reconciliation with God.
The lesson’s final questions about how we can learn to experience that intimacy with Jesus that He implied when He said He would not drink the fruit of the vine anymore until He drinks it new with us in the kingdom again misses the point.
We cannot find or achieve intimacy with Jesus. Instead, we have to submit to Him, receiving His blood as the only answer for our sins and allowing His blood to pay the price God requires for our sin. We have to be washed by His blood and receive His broken body as the sacrifice for our sins. Only then can we find intimacy with Him—and that intimacy is not something we pursue and attain. It is something He gives us Himself when we trust Him alone.
Today’s lesson covers Gethsemane and Jesus dread of being separated from the Father. The lesson ends with a quote from The Desire of Ages where Ellen White states that Jesus could have refused to go through with the cross, leaving “man to perish in his iniquity.”
While it is true that Jesus had to decide to obey His Father and allow Himself to be made perfect in suffering, it is not true that He might not have gone through with His sacrifice. Jesus, although in some mysterious way God does not explain, was a man who, in His flesh had to decide to obey the Father, He was also the eternal second person of the Trinity. The Trinity had decided send the Son as a sacrifice for sin long before the world was created.
There is mystery here that we cannot explain and must not abandon.
The lesson asks how Jesus’ willingness to impact our lives should teach us better to model the “character of Jesus in our lives”.
Jesus’ experience in the garden is not an example for us. He was functioning as the Lamb of God, as our Substitute. We are never asked to sacrifice ourselves in the way Jesus was. We are not asked to model the character of Jesus, either. We are asked to believe in Him, and when we do and are born again, God Himself teaches us how to love one another for Him.
This lesson is about Judas. The lesson asks what lessons we should take from the story of Judas, and it ends with this sentence, “Judas was so close to eternal life; and yet, he chose to throw it away for nothing.”
Scripture foretold that Judas would be lost. Jesus did not choose him because He knew he would be lost (Jn. 13:10-11; 13:18). Judas was 100% responsible for his own sin, and yet He was foretold and foreordained to betray the Lord Jesus. To ignore the statements of the Bible that Judas’ fate was foreordained and to focus on his free will to do what he did is to ignore, again the tension in Scripture. Judas, not God, is to blame for Judas’s defection and betrayal. At the same time, his evil deeds were known beforehand.
Judas refused to believe. The lesson focuses on his choice to be angry and to betray Jesus, but in reality, Judas is a tragic character that did what he did because his heart was hard.
Today’s lesson looks at Peter’s denial of Jesus, and the lesson turns this story into a moralizing lesson leading to the final question: “What hope can we draw from this for ourselves regarding God’s love for us even when we fail, as Peter did here?”
The lesson also leads with the statement that Jesus knew beforehand about “judas’s free will decision to betray Him.”
The lesson attempts to analyze Peter’s motives and his heart condition, but these things are mere speculation. In reality, Peter was afraid and betrayed knowing Jesus. When Jesus looked at him and he heard the rooster crow, he was undone and wept bitterly.
Peter was very human. He did something any one of us could have done. The fact is, however, that Peter was not yet baptized with the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost. He still had many blinders on in his understanding, and he gave in to a moment of weakness.
This story cannot be seen as an application for how God loves us when we fail. Before we can thing of God loving us when we fail, we have to trust Him. We have to believe in His finished work and entrust our lives to Him completely for our forgiveness, righteousness, and salvation.
Peter isn’t an example to encourage us to think differently about God or to pay closer attention to ourselves. Rather, this story reveals the natural reality that we all can betray our Lord, and that Jesus will redeem whatever we submit to Him.
This lesson camps on questions of conversion and why the death of Jesus was essential. Once again, the speculation and philosophical reasoning eclipses the reality of what happened. God was pleased to send His Son as a sacrifice for sin. He crushed His son, as Isaiah 53:10 says, and Jesus was willing to obey His Father and to become sin for us so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him (2 Cor. 5:21).
A human had to pay the price for human sin, but the human sacrifice has to be absolutely perfect and sufficient for the whole world. Only the Creator could offer Himself as an eternal, limitless sacrifice sufficient for the world to believe. And only a true human could she the human blood required for human sin.
The incarnation is a mystery that occurs only once, and that one mystery opened the door our of our communal grave in the domain of darkness (Col. 1:13) into the kingdom of the Beloved Son. When we see the cross, the blood of Jesus shed there for all eternity, and place ourselves under it in repentance and trust, we pass from death to life and from the domain of darkness into the kingdom of the Son.
Jesus’ ordeal before the cross was not an example. It was part of His suffering once for all to forgive sins and to give us life in Him.