"A Story Worth Repeating"
(Delivered Sunday, August 2, 2007 at Bethany Bible Church. Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture references are taken from The Holy Bible, New King James Version; copyright 1982, Thomas Nelson, Inc.)
This morning, we come to a story in our study of Matthew's Gospel that, at first glance, might seem to be unnecessary. It's a passage in which Jesus says something to His disciples that He'd already told them. It would be very easy to pass by.
But there are passages in the Bible that are significant strictly because of what they say; and there are other passages that are additionally significant because of the fact that they say what has already been said again.
Such is our passage this morning. In it, Matthew writes;
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There's a sense in which we learn nothing particularly “new” from this passage. We may even wonder why it's here.
Look back to Matthew 16. Do you remember that remarkable passage in which Jesus stopped His disciples along the way, and asked, “Who do men say that I, the Son of Man, am” (16:13)? He commended them when they responded rightly; “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (v. 16). And it's then that we read, “From that time Jesus began to show to His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem, and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and then be raised the third day” (v. 21).
Matthew makes sure we understand that it was “from that time” that Jesus only “began” to show them the things that were going to happen to Him. It had not been the right time prior to that point to tell them these things; but now that they were drawing closer to the cross, it had become the right time. And now that the right time had come, He would begin to tell disclose these things to them.
And so, as we read along, we find Jesus increasingly revealing bits and pieces of information to His disciples about the things that would happen to Him in Jerusalem. We read for example that, as Jesus and the disciples descended from the mount of transfiguration—where a vision of His majestic glory had been given to His close disciples Peter, James and John—He commanded them, “Tell the vision to no one until the Son of Man is risen from the dead” (17:9).
And then, we read that, as they descended from the mountain, Jesus explains to them that John the Baptist was the fulfillment of the long-awaited promise of the coming of “Elijah” the prophet. He said, “But I say to you that Elijah has come already, and they did not know him but did to him whatsoever they wished.” They understood this, of course, to be a reference to how John the Baptist had been arrested by Herod, and was eventually put to death. And then, Jesus says, “Likewise the Son of Man is also about to suffer at their hands.”
And even as we read on past our passage this morning—we see Him repeating this piece of news to them in even clearer ways. In 20:17-19, we read, “Now Jesus, going up to Jerusalem, took the twelve disciples aside on the road and said to them, 'Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be betrayed to the chief priests and to the scribes, and they will condemn Him to death, and deliver Him to the Gentiles to mock and to scourge and to crucify. And on the third day He will rise again.'” And in Matthew 26:2, just before the end of His earthly ministry, He we find that He tells them, "You know that after two days is the Passover, and the Son of Man will be delivered up to be crucified" (26:2).
So what Jesus says in this passage is not really new information. He has said these things before. He will say them again. From that standpoint—if I may say this with the utmost reverence—what He says to His disciples is not remarkable. But what is remarkable is that—as we can plainly see—He sees it necessary to say these things to them again, and again, and again!
Our Lord stressed the same basic details that we find in this morning's passage over and over to His disciples during the final portion of His earthly ministry—that He was going to be delivered into the hands of men, that they would kill Him, and that He would then be raised from the dead.
And I'm suggesting, dear brothers and sisters, that there is tremendous significance to the repetition. Jesus clearly shows us that this was a story that is worth repeating over and over.
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This is an appropriate day for us to consider this passage. This is the day in which we celebrate the Lord's supper together; and it's through that observance that we “remember” repeatedly the sacrifice that Jesus made for us.
As we come to His table of remembrance today, let's consider how this morning's passage repeats the story for us; and let's consider why it is a story so very much worth repeating.
First, it's worth repeating because . . .
1. IT'S A STORY THAT IS FOUNDATIONAL TO SAVING FAITH.
There are many things that Jesus could have emphasized as worthy of repetition—but didn't. We might wish that He would have placed greater emphasis on how to solve our money problems, for example. But He didn't. It's true that He taught us some things about money; but that's clearly not what He emphasized. Or, we might wish that He would have placed more emphasis on dealing with difficulties in marriage. And again, He does teach us some things about marriage; but that's clearly not what He emphasized either. When we look at the condition of the world today, we certainly may have thought that He could have said more than He did about how to bring about world peace. And again, He does say some things that touch on that. But as important as even that may seem to us today, not even that was what He gave the greatest emphasis in His teaching.
Instead, what He gives the greatest emphasis to—that thing which He spoke of repeatedly and most solemnly—was what it was that He was about to do in Jerusalem on our behalf. When Luke tells his version of this story, he said that Jesus spoke in a way that we rarely hear of Him speaking to His disciples: “Let these words sink down into your ears,” He said, “for the Son of Man is about to be betrayed into the hands of men” (Luke 9:44). He was very serious about making sure that the disciples took in what He was repeating to them.
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And I believe there's a very good reason for why Jesus placed emphasis on the things that were about to happen to Him. These things are to be the basic content of our faith; and they are to constitute the fundamental, soul-saving message of the good news that we are to proclaim to this world.
You see this in the message that the apostle Paul preached—the message he called “the gospel”. In 1 Corinthians 15, he writes,
You see this in throughout the Book of Acts, as the message of the gospel is spread throughout the world. You see it in Peter's bold sermon in Acts 2:22-24;
You see this in his next great sermon in the temple, where he told his Jewish kinsmen,
You see this when Peter and John were called to task by the leaders of Israel, and required to account for how they healed a crippled man in the temple; when they said,
When Peter and the apostles were arrested and commanded not to speak about Jesus anymore, they said,
When Peter presented the gospel to the household of Cornelius—the devout Roman centurion—he spoke of
You also see it regularly in Paul's preaching in the Book of Acts. He told the Jewish men of Antioch that
You even see it in Paul's defense of his ministry before King Herod Agrippa;
Now, look again at what Jesus says in our passage this morning. Look again at the message He seems to emphasize by repetition: “The Son of Man is about to be betrayed into the hands of men, and they will kill Him, and the third day He will be raised up.” Can you see? He was repeating the message of the gospel to His disciples—the very message that they then went out and repeated all over the world!
There's lots of things we can say to the people of this world that may be useful—and even, to some degree, needful. But there's only one story we can tell that will lead to the salvation of the human soul; and it's the story that the world most needs to hear from us. It's the story that Jesus Himself emphasized by repeating over and over. It's the story that the disciples proclaimed over and over. It's the story of who Jesus is and what He did. It is not just another solution to another of our problems that He proclaimed. It is the solution to the great problem from which all our problems come—sin.
What we need above all else is the forgiveness of our sins and a restoration of fellowship with the holy God who made us for Himself. The meeting of that need is what is proclaimed in the story of the gospel. And that's a story that's worth repeating. It's a story that is basic to the saving of our souls and the solving of all our problems.
Let's be sure that that's our story to the world.
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We also see from Jesus' words that the story of what He was going to do in Jerusalem was also a story worth repeating because . . .
2. IT'S A STORY THAT REVEALS THE DEPTHS OF DIVINE LOVE.
You can see something of this in the way that Jesus refers to Himself. He calls Himself "the Son of Man". And in the context of His words, that is a remarkable name to use—a name that every Jewish person would have understood as greatly significant.
"The Son of Man" is an Old Testament name for the Messiah—the Anointed One—the Christ. It expresses His rule over mankind as the new 'Adam'—the Head of the human race. It's a name that has its origin in Daniel 7:13; where we read of Daniel's vision of the program of God for the future. That vision gives us a picture of the Messiah as He assumes His glorious reign over the kingdoms of the world:
Just think of it! It was Jesus—this same "Son of Man", who assumes the dominion over all the kingdoms of this world—who is here being said to be "delivered" into the hands of men"; and it is the hands of those men who would kill Him. He knew this in advance; and yet, He went to Jerusalem to be delivered to their hands.
What condescending love! This is Jesus' promise—in miniature—of that which Paul later spoke described in greater detail in Philippians 2:5-11;
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And you can also see the expression of divine love in this story in the fact that Jesus was "delivered" by Another.
The very best Greek manuscripts use a word that is translated "delivered" or "given over", rather than the word translated "betrayed". And the construction of Jesus' wording is such that, in the original language, it speaks of "an action that necessarily follows a divine decree"1. It can be translated, "It is destined that the Son of Man be delivered into the hands of men."
The fact that Jesus was delivered into the hands of men was a product of the actions of Judas; and then of the Jews, who then handed Jesus over to Pilate and to the Romans for crucifixion. But ultimately, it was because it was the sovereign will of God the Father that the Son of Man be given into the hands of men, so that He could die for the sin of mankind. Do you remember what He prayed in the garden? "My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as You will" (Matthew 26:39).
Not only was it the Son of Man who willingly permitted Himself to be taken into the hands of men to be crucified; but it was also the very decree of His Father that it be so. For it was God Himself who so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son.
And that's yet another reason why this story is so worth repeating—as Jesus Himself exemplifies for us! It is the greatest expression of divine love we could ever share. It's the best news the world could ever hear—that God loves sinners and has taken initiative to forgive their sins and to restore them to Himself!
Oh how much this world need to hear it over and over!
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Another reason why the gospel story bears repeating is because . . .
3. IT'S A STORY THAT AFFIRMS HOPE IN THE FACE OF LOSS.
Jesus gives us a clue to the hope that is in it—although it seems that the disciples missed it. Jesus speaks of the grim realities of His death; saying that the Son of Man must be delivered over to the hands of men to be killed. But then, He adds, "[A]nd the third day He will be raised up".
Now; I have wondered if Peter, James and John might have been a little more inclined to grasp this hope than the other nine disciples. After all, it was they who had just been given a vision of Jesus' glory on the mountain. But they had been commanded, "Tell the vision to no one until the Son of Man is risen from the dead" (17:9); so, they couldn't pass what they had seen on to the others. Even so, it seems clear that they struggled to believe it.
And yet, all of them had seen Jesus restore life to a young girl (Matthew 9:18-25). And they would all very soon see Him call His friend Lazarus out of the grave (John 11). And all of them hear now the promise that He had already made to them before—that even though He would die, He would be raised. He announced that He would die; but He promised that He would not stay in death. Death would only have hold of Him for three short days.
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The story of Jesus' death is a story that is to be repeated. But we mustn't repeat it without also telling the story of His resurrection from the dead. The cross, all by itself, is not "good news". It's the fact that the cross was followed by the empty tomb that's gives us the content of hope in third dark and fallen world.
Jesus told His disciples, before He went to the cross, "A little while longer and the world will see Me no more, but you will see Me. Because I live, you will live also" (John 14:19). He spoke to them of the sorrow they would feel when He was taken from them; and told them,
The resurrection of Jesus from the dead—and the promise that we will be raised with Him—means that death is conquered. We have hope in the face of the loss that came into this world through the sin of Adam. We need to repeat the message of this hope over, and over, and over again!
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And finally, as a very practical matter, this is a story that bears repeating; because . . .
4. IT'S A STORY THAT MUST BE PERSONALIZED TO BE GRASPED.
Note the disciples' reaction to the things Jesus said. He told them that He would be handed over and killed; but that He would then be raised. And yet, their response to it all was to be "exceedingly sorrowful". They didn't understand it. In fact, Mark tells us, "But they did not understand this saying, and were afraid to ask Him" (Mark 9:32). Luke, in fact, tells us that they couldn't understand this saying because "it was hidden from them so that they could not perceive it" (Luke 9:45). Even when they looked into the empty tomb, they still didn't fully understand. As John says, "For as yet they did not know [or "understand"] the Scripture, that He must rise again from the dead" (John 20:9).
But they eventually did understand! They understood it fully when they spoke with Him after He was raised! After the resurrection, when He had met with them and ate with them, Luke writes,
They could only finally grasp this story when it had been fulfilled before them; and even then, they needed grace to understand. They needed Jesus to personally open their understanding.
I suggest that this is yet another reason why this story is so much worth repeating. The story of who Jesus is and what He has done—the very story He expressed in our passage this morning—is a story that must be personalized to us before it can be grasped by us and declared by us. It must first be known by us 'experientially'—through a personal relationship with the resurrected Jesus Christ by faith—before it can be the story that leads to our salvation.
In fact, He went to Jerusalem and died on the cross in order that you and I may enter into the fullness of that personal relationship with Him. No wonder we could never grasp it until we experience it personally.
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Hear the words of our Savior one more time. “The Son of Man is about to be betrayed into the hands of men, and they will kill Him, and the third day He will be raised up.”
Let's take those words to heart as we come to His table this morning—and as we, once again, remember what He has done for us. By His own example, He shows us that this is a story very much worth repeating.
1BAGD, 3rd. Ed., p. 628, 2.a. This describes the use of the word mellei with a present infinitive.
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