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.” 27 And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, “Drink of it, all of you, 28 for this is my blood of thecovenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. 29 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.” 30 And when they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives. 31 Then Jesus said to them, “You will all fall away because of me this night. For it is written, ‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.’ 32 But after I am raised up, I will go before you to Galilee.”
On what basis should we believe that Jesus was raised from the dead and is alive today, reigning as Son of God? That’s not mainly what my message is about today. But I begin with this question to make sure you know it is foundational; and to stress the fact that Christianity is based on historical events and facts, not just spiritual ideas and experiences. (By “spiritual ideas and experiences” I mean things like: the idea that there is a God; or that humans have souls; or that faith in a higher power has good psychological effects; or the experience of peace in the midst danger; or a spiritual premonition that helps you avoid trouble; or the assurance that you will go to heaven or be reincarnated. These are all spiritual ideas and experiences.) True or false, spiritual ideas and experiences are not the foundation or the sum of Christianity. Christianity is based on historical facts, or it is nothing. If Jesus Christ did not live and die and rise from the dead as a historical person at a point in time and in a particular place, then Christianity is a sham.
Christianity is built out of these truths: that God created the world; that he guides and sustains the world; that in his divine Son, Jesus Christ, he entered the world; that this Jesus Christ lived a perfect life and that he died for our sins on a particular day about 2,000 years ago, in a particular place just outside Jerusalem; and that God raised him from the dead the third day; and that he sent his followers throughout the world to make disciples of every nation; and that he ascended to heaven where he reigns at God’s right hand, and from which he will come again to establish his kingdom on the earth.
These are all objective, historical events, not just spiritual ideas or experiences. And if these events are false—if they did not happen or will not happen—then Christianity is false and no one should believe it.
So I pose the question at the outset: On what basis should we believe that Jesus Christ was raised from the dead, and is alive today reigning as the Son of God? Before going to our text in Matthew, I just want to point you toward five lines of evidence that you would want to follow in answering that question.
Five Lines of Evidence That Jesus Rose From the Dead
- The testimony of the apostle Paul. We have 13 letters from his pen. He was a contemporary of Jesus. He claimed to see the risen Christ. He spoke of others that he knew who saw him alive after his crucifixion, even 500 at once, many of whom were still alive when Paul was writing (1 Corinthians 15:5). This gives to Paul’s writings what is called “historical control,” which means that there is good reason to take seriously what he says because there were so many people around who could easily falsify his claims if they were not true.
- The empty tomb in Jerusalem where Jesus had been buried. This is relevant because the claim that Jesus was raised from the dead spread in a city that was hostile to that claim and would have done anything it could to squelch it if they could. The one thing they could have done was to produce the dead body of Jesus, but they could not (Acts 5:30-33).
- The courage of the disciples of Jesus and their willingness to lay down their lives to preach that Jesus was raised from the dead just weeks after they abandoned him out of fear and thought that they had been badly mistaken about his Messiahship (Luke 24:21). What had changed them from fearful to courageous so suddenly? And do men really risk their lives for what they know to be a fraud?
- The diverse testimony of Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Peter, James, and the writer to the Hebrews. Here you need to get to know these men as witnesses, and see if they are credible. Give them a hearing and see if they do not win you over, and prove themselves to be more worthy of your confidence than the skeptics of our day.
- The ring of truth in the biblical vision of the world. Does not this whole story of God and creation and sin and Christ and salvation help make more sense out of more things in this world from beginning to end than any other vision of reality?
Five lines of evidence. I hope that you will pursue them. Your eternal life hangs on what you conclude from these.
Christ Is Sovereign, Christ Is Merciful
But the point of my message today is not merely the historical fact that Christ died or that he was raised from the dead, but rather that Jesus Christ is sovereign over us because he was raised from the dead, and he is merciful to us because he died for our sins. Sovereign over us, merciful to us. Sovereignty secured by his death-defeating resurrection. Mercy secured by his wrath-removing death for sins.
Or to put in a rhyme:
Sovereign mercy reigns today
In the God-Man, Jesus Christ.
Sovereign? See where once he lay!
Mercy? See him sacrificed.
The reason I focus on these two things—that Christ is sovereign and that Christ is merciful—is, first, that I saw them in this text in a fresh new way, and, second, that these are the two things we need in a world like ours more than we need anything else.
We Need a Merciful Savior
We need mercy because everyone of us has a guilty conscience. We know that we have failed to live up to our own standards, let alone God’s. We are sinners, and our own hearts condemn us. In our most honest times, we know that the law written on our hearts is an echo of God’s law, and therefore we are in more trouble with God than with ourselves. We need mercy. If God is sovereign, but merciless, we are done for. There is no hope, and we may as well eat, drink, and be merry, because we are all damned anyway. We desperately need a merciful Savior. Our hearts tell us this. And more clearly the Bible tells us this.
We Need a Sovereign Lord
But just as much as we need a merciful Savior, we need a sovereign Lord. If Christ is merciful to us, but doesn’t have the sovereignty to rule the forces that threaten us, what good will his mercy be? Our lives are fragile and vulnerable in hundreds of ways. What will happen in Iraq—another Viet Nam, or worse? What will happen between Israel and the Palestinians and the global tension that situation creates? What will happen with North Korea and its nuclear threat? When will the next big 9-11 to come on American soil? What will happen to my health? Or the health of my children? My spouse? My parents? (Little children ask: What if mommy and daddy die?) What natural disasters will befall me or my family? What car accident or sniper or kidnapper may turn my world upside down? We are fragile and vulnerable—all of us.
If you are honest, you know that you cannot protect yourself from these things. And if you devote your life to trying, you will become a pitiful old man or woman barricaded and lonely behind the illusion of self-made security.
In other words, we need a sovereign Lord over the world. We need one who rules over Iraq and Israel and Korea and terrorists and disease and disaster and accidents—right down to the details of our lives. Not that he would always spare us calamity—the Bible doesn’t teach that he will—but if he is merciful, he will not let any calamity happen to us that he did not design for our ultimate good.
My point this morning is that Jesus Christ is both merciful and sovereign. Because he both died for our sins (so he is merciful) and rose from the dead (so he is sovereign).
So let’s look at the text in the Bible to see this in the words and actions of Jesus.
In Matthew 26:26 it is Thursday night before the Friday when Jesus was crucified. It is the last supper. First let’s look at the evidence for Christ’s sovereignty and then secondly the evidence for his mercy.
Evidence of Jesus’ Sovereignty
The evidence for his sovereignty is seen in his predicting the behavior of all his disciples and in his predicting his own resurrection. Notice verse 31, “Then Jesus said to them, ‘You will all fall away because of me this night.’” So he authoritatively predicts what every one of them will do. Then notice verse 32: “But after I am raised up, I will go before you to Galilee.” He predicts with authority his own resurrection from the dead.
But you should ask me this question: Why do you think that prediction implies sovereignty? Maybe Jesus simply has penetrating insight into these fellows after three years with them, and knows they are the kind of men who will wimp out when the crisis comes in a few hours. That wouldn’t prove sovereignty. And maybe his confidence that he will be raised from the dead is because he believes God will help an innocent prophet, no more. That wouldn’t prove sovereignty.
But there is more to it than that. Notice the last part of verse 31 that I didn’t read: “Then Jesus said to them, ‘You will all fall away because of me this night. For it is written, “I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.”’” Jesus’ prediction is not owing to his penetrating knowledge of human character; it is owing to God’s written plan for this night. “It is written” (Zechariah 13:7). That is the ultimate reason why the disciples fall away. There is an invisible hand at work in these hours. Everything is going according to plan. This is the sovereignty of God, accomplishing our salvation through the orchestrated death of his Son.
But you say: All right, there is sovereignty there, but is it Jesus’ sovereignty? Does his foreknowledge of what others will do this night—and who will do it—point to his sovereignty? It does. We see it most clearly in John 13:19. Jesus not only predicts the behavior of all his disciples before it happens, he knows perfectly the specific behavior of Judas before it happens (the betrayal, Matthew 26:25), and he knows perfectly the specific behavior of Peter before it happens (the three-fold denial, Matthew 26:34). And when it will happen: before the rooster crows.
And Jesus interprets this amazing foreknowledge with these words in John 13:19, “I am telling you this now, before it takes place, that when it does take place you may believe that I am.” And the words “I am” refers to his deity. “I am” is the great Old Testament name for God in Exodus 3:14. Therefore, the significance of these detailed predictions—not just general statements about groups, but specific behavior of specific people down to the details of specific times (before the cock crows) are Jesus’ way of saying: I am not a mere man. I am God-incarnate, and therefore I am sovereign.
And with regard to the prediction of his own resurrection in verse 32 (“But after I am raised up, I will go before you to Galilee”), this is not mere conviction about what God might do for an innocent prophet. Listen to his explanation in John 10:17-18: “I lay down my life that I may take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again.” When Jesus predicted his own resurrection, he was not saying what God would do for an innocent prophet, he was saying what he would do with his own divine sovereignty.
Therefore, I conclude that Jesus Christ, the God-Man, is sovereign. He is what we need in a world like ours. He said, after his resurrection, just before he returned to heaven, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.” Easter means that Jesus is risen. And the resurrection of Jesus means that Jesus is sovereign. He has all authority over Iraq and Israel and North Korea and terrorists and natural disasters and disease and accidents. This is what we need, a sovereign Lord.
If he is also merciful!
Evidence of Jesus’ Mercy
Otherwise maybe he would use his sovereignty not for us but against us. So we turn finally to the mercy of Christ. Where is this seen in our text? It is seen in a very pointed and precious way by comparing the first part of verse 31 and the last part of verse 32. Jesus says in verse 31, “You will all fall away because of me this night.” And in the last part of verse 32 he says, “I will go before you to Galilee.”
Have you ever let someone down? Or worse, have you ever treated someone far, far worse than they deserved, and later felt horrible about what you’ve done? And then, to your amazement, you find that they haven’t spoken to anyone about it, they haven’t bad-mouthed you, they haven’t plotted any revenge, and they go out of their way to be kind to you and help you and treat you as though you had never done anything wrong? What do you call this? You call it mercy. And it is one of the sweetest things in the world.
And that is what Jesus did. They all deserted him in his greatest hour of need. And he said, “After I am raised up, I will go before you to Galilee.” I will be your friend and your leader and your God—after you have deserted me.
It is as though you and a friend were walking down a road together speaking of your friendship, and two thugs attack you and grab your friend, and you just run away to save your skin. And the next day, you see your friend coming toward on the road, with stitches and bruises on his face, and before you can say anything, he hugs you and says, “Oh, it is so good to see you, friend, I am so glad you’re OK.”
Would it not break your heart? Does not mercy break our hearts?
Well, that’s what Jesus did for them. And that is what he does for everyone who comes to him for forgiveness and acceptance. You may have spent a lifetime deserting him or betraying him or denying him. But if you will come to him he says to you this morning, “I will be your sovereign, merciful Savior and Lord. I will be everything you need.”
Sovereign and Merciful. This is the risen Christ. Trust him today. By his mercy he will forgive your sins forever. And by his sovereignty he will guide you and protect you so that nothing befalls you but what is ultimately good for you.
He is a great Savior and a great Sovereign.