And the Lord was adding to their number day by day those who were being saved. For the fact that a noteworthy miracle has taken place through them is apparent to all who live in Jerusalem, and we cannot deny it. And after it was sold, was it not under your control?
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Why is it that you have conceived this deed in your heart? You have not lied to men but to God. Behold, the feet of those who have buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out as well. Now when the high priest and his associates came, they called the Council together, even all the Senate of the sons of Israel, and sent orders to the prison house for them to be brought.
But he was killed, and all who followed him were dispersed and came to nothing. The God of glory appeared to our father Abraham when he was in Mesopotamia, before he lived in Haran, 3 and said to him, 'Leave your country and your relatives, and come into the land that I will show you. From there, after his father died, God had him move to this country in which you are now living.
Yet God was with him, 10 and rescued him from all his afflictions, and granted him favor and wisdom in the sight of Pharaoh, king of Egypt, and he made him governor over Egypt and all his household. I also will remove you beyond Babylon. They killed those who had previously announced the coming of the Righteous One, whose betrayers and murderers you have now become; 53 you who received the law as ordained by angels, and yet did not keep it.
Book of Matthew
And on that day a great persecution began against the church in Jerusalem, and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles. For His life is removed from the earth. Of himself or of someone else? What prevents me from being baptized?
Now for several days he was with the disciples who were at Damascus, 20 and immediately he began to proclaim Jesus in the synagogues, saying, "He is the Son of God. They were also watching the gates day and night so that they might put him to death; 25 but his disciples took him by night and let him down through an opening in the wall, lowering him in a large basket.
When he arrived, they brought him into the upper room; and all the widows stood beside him, weeping and showing all the tunics and garments that Dorcas used to make while she was with them. And on the next day he got up and went away with them, and some of the brethren from Joppa accompanied him. Now Cornelius was waiting for them and had called together his relatives and close friends.
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So I ask for what reason you have sent for me. Now then, we are all here present before God to hear all that you have been commanded by the Lord. They also put Him to death by hanging Him on a cross. Then Peter answered, 47 "Surely no one can refuse the water for these to be baptized who have received the Holy Spirit just as we did, can he? Then they asked him to stay on for a few days. These six brethren also went with me and we entered the man's house.
And considerable numbers were brought to the Lord. And for an entire year they met with the church and taught considerable numbers; and the disciples were first called Christians in Antioch. And this took place in the reign of Claudius. Now it was during the days of Unleavened Bread.
And he said to him, "Wrap your cloak around you and follow me. They kept saying, "It is his angel. And he said, "Report these things to James and the brethren. Then he went down from Judea to Caesarea and was spending time there. This man summoned Barnabas and Saul and sought to hear the word of God. I am not He. But behold, one is coming after me the sandals of whose feet I am not worthy to untie. We are also men of the same nature as you, and preach the gospel to you that you should turn from these vain things to a living God, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and all that is in them.
The next day he went away with Barnabas to Derbe. And a disciple was there, named Timothy, the son of a Jewish woman who was a believer, but his father was a Greek, 2 and he was well spoken of by the brethren who were in Lystra and Iconium. But Paul was greatly annoyed, and turned and said to the spirit, "I command you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her! Therefore come out now and go in peace. No indeed! In the second century Papias, an early Father of the Church, reports that Judas died from pus and worms which flowed from every part of his body.
The differences in these accounts indicate that the early Church did not really know how Judas died. But popular interest in the fate of the man who betrayed Jesus spurred storytellers to create a variety of narratives to show that he died a terrible death.
Scenes 1 and 5 associate the Jewish leadership with the lowest motives of bribing Judas and covering up the resurrection. Even though the Second Vatican Council clearly repudiated this understanding Nostra Aetate, 4 , millions of Christians continue to believe it. What benefits can be drawn from this unique material in Matthew?
Two possibilities come to mind. The second benefit is connected with the theme of blood. Judas does not want it. Neither do the temple authorities or Pilate. The story can only proceed when the people accept it. Once we stop reading the story as an historical account of who killed Jesus, a moral lesson emerges.
Innocent blood cannot be shed without someone taking responsibility. Whenever innocent life is lost in our world because of poverty, greed, hatred, or indifference, we are not free to absolve ourselves from involvement. It might be violent, biased, and sensationalistic. But it can still offer Good News. It is a tremendous advantage when we understand that Matthew used the Gospel of Mark as one of the sources for his gospel.
Doctrine / Theology
The tombs also were opened, and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised. After his resurrection they came out of the tombs and entered the holy city and appeared to many.
Matthew has included an earthquake, the opening of tombs, and the raising of the dead who enter the holy city, Jerusalem. What was he trying to say through them, and how do they assist us in living the gospel in our own lives?
We must surmise what led him to insert them. Yet his purposes can be reasonably established when we examine the import of his imagery and the chronological pattern he chose. The imagery contained in these dramatic verses can only be properly understood when we appreciate the Hebrew scriptures. As we have seen elsewhere in our study of this gospel, Matthew knows the Jewish scriptures well and often draws upon them to tell the story of Jesus. In the Song of Deborah, God is described as fighting for Israel. These images from the Jewish scriptures argue that when God chooses to act in our history, the earth is not indifferent.
Matthew knows this imagery and uses it in a number of places in his gospel. However, why is God present?
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Again here the meaning of this imagery can be discovered in the Hebrew Bible. By joining the earthquake to the raising of the dead, Matthew not only insists that God was present at the death of Jesus but that God was present to give life and joy. Verse 52 is peculiar because its precise chronology can be debated.
If that is the case then a strange scenario emerges. If they were raised when Jesus died, then we must picture them patiently sitting in their tombs until Easter morning! Thus after Jesus was raised the tombs of others were opened, they came out of them and entered the holy city. Immediately after telling us of the earthquake, he chooses to relate an event which will happen in the future: the raising of the dead.
This is a well-used technique of storytelling. We are probably most accustomed to it cinematically. By drawing our attention to an earthquake, Matthew insists that the power of God was active as Jesus gave up his life. Even though he will tell the events at the empty tomb in their proper order, he cannot wait.
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In the first moments after Jesus dies Matthew is already proclaiming the good news that is to come. Every day brings its challenges. A spouse may disappoint us or we may encounter a serious disagreement with a friend. We may deal with the consequences of a poor decision by our children or face a situation at work which is unjust. Some days bring even greater troubles: a serious illness, the painful rupture of divorce, the loss of a loved one in death.
We believe that in time God will lead us out of the disappointment or disagreement, through the poor decision or unjust situation. We live in hope that illness, divorce, and death will not have the final word, that God has a plan to lead us to life. Yet the spiritual technique that Matthew offers us can take us farther. If Matthew broke the chronology of his narrative to proclaim the good news of resurrection even as Jesus died on the cross, we are invited to follow the same redirection of time. At the very moment that life challenges us, we can do more than wait for better days.
Like Matthew we can flash forward to the positive resolution which God has promised us. Even as we grapple with the problem, we can proclaim the solution. In our sickness we can claim our ultimate life. In our brokenness we can picture ourselves whole again.