Flashback Episode — A Death that Brings Life: Matthew 27:45-56

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For the past three episodes, we have focused in on Jesus’ final moments on the cross, using Mark, Luke, and John’s gospels. For this episode, let’s look at the moment Jesus takes His last breath from Matthew’s gospel, and discover an event that only Matthew includes and an event that would make this weekend stand out in history as completely unique.

Our passage is found in Matthew’s gospel, chapter 27, and we will be reading from the God’s Word translation. Starting in verse 45, Matthew tells us that:

45 At noon darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon. 46 About three o’clock Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” which means, “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?” 47 When some of the people standing there heard him say that, they said, “He’s calling Elijah.” 48 One of the men ran at once, took a sponge, and soaked it in some vinegar. Then he put it on a stick and offered Jesus a drink. 49 The others said, “Leave him alone! Let’s see if Elijah comes to save him.”

50 Then Jesus loudly cried out once again and gave up his life.

51 Suddenly, the curtain in the temple was split in two from top to bottom. The earth shook, and the rocks were split open. 52 The tombs were opened, and the bodies of many holy people who had died came back to life. 53 They came out of the tombs after he had come back to life, and they went into the holy city where they appeared to many people.

54 An army officer and those watching Jesus with him saw the earthquake and the other things happening. They were terrified and said, “Certainly, this was the Son of God!”

55 Many women were there watching from a distance. They had followed Jesus from Galilee and had always supported him. 56 Among them were Mary from Magdala, Mary (the mother of James and Joseph), and the mother of Zebedee’s sons.

Did you catch the crazy detail that Matthew includes? While other gospel writers include the detail that the temple curtain rips in two, from top to bottom, only Matthew includes the detail that there was an earthquake right at the moment of Jesus’ death and that this earthquake resulted in the resurrection of many holy people.

We can speculate that the holy people who were raised were many of the Old Testament prophets, but really the text doesn’t give us any clue. All we know is that those raised were holy, or righteous, people who had died.

All this brings to focus an amazing truth: Jesus’ death brings life. Jesus’ death on the cross opens the way for all those who have died believing in and trusting Jesus to be raised to life when He returns.

However, this isn’t the only thing we can see that is amazing during the moment Jesus died. Matthew describes how an army officer, along with others present, were terrified during the earthquake, and at the resurrection of these people, this officer proclaimed that, “Certainly, this was the Son of God!” (v. 54)

Luke’s gospel describes this officer praising God and declaring that Jesus was indeed innocent. This is also powerful, given that this officer would have been present for plenty of deaths, crucifixions included, and nothing like this had happened before.

It’s also interesting to think that both thieves were still alive when Jesus died, so they would have experienced the earthquake as well and perhaps even seen some of those who were resurrected.

In this passage, we discover that the temple curtain that separated the Holy Place from the Most Holy Place was split in two, specifically from top to bottom. While this would have occurred at the same time as the earthquake, I wonder if both were connected in any way beyond simply being two things that happened at the exact moment Jesus died.

We’ve already seen how the earthquake was connected with the holy people who were resurrected, but the temple curtain tearing is included in other gospels without the earthquake or the resurrections. Both Mark and Luke include the detail that the curtain was split in two and they do this without connecting this detail to an earthquake – which might mean that the curtain tearing from top to bottom was more significant than a group of dead people returning to life.

So then, what is so significant about this curtain split?

In the temple, there was a space where only one person, the High Priest, could go, and he could only go there one time a year. In this space, which is called the Most Holy Place, was the Ark of the Covenant, and formed into the lid of the ark was a special place called the mercy seat. The mercy seat represented God’s throne and the place where He sits in judgment. It’s worth noting that the place God sits in judgment is characterized and described with the term mercy.

A thick curtain separated the Most Holy Place and God’s presence from the rest of the temple because God’s Holiness consumes and destroys sin, and as sinners, we would be consumed because of our sins. The entire temple on earth shows us God’s desire to live among His people while also protecting them from His presence.

However, when Jesus died, the temple curtain tearing in two symbolized the end of the separation. The curtain now open symbolized that sinners can come before God and ask for forgiveness because Jesus’ sacrifice covers their sins. God’s justice and justness has not changed; God simply took the punishment we deserved and handed it to Jesus, who was able and willing to accept it.

The curtain ripping in the temple is one of the biggest literal and symbolic events that prove Jesus’ sacrifice was accepted by God. If the temple curtain had not split, Jesus’ sacrifice would not have been enough to end the separation between God and His people, and the hope we have in Jesus’ sacrifice allowing us to come before God would be in vain.

At the darkest point in history, while Jesus is dead, the curtain that split in two marks an accepted sacrifice and an accepted sacrifice is a hope and promise we can hold on to when we face dark places in our lives. Even if our faith is weak and people want to discount Jesus’ life, His death, and His resurrection, remember that God validated it all by ripping the temple curtain into two pieces, from top to bottom, which is something no human could do.

As we come to the end of another podcast episode, here are the challenges I will leave you with:

Always seek God first and place Him first in your life. If you stumble and feel as though you have failed God, remember that God accepted Jesus’ sacrifice on your behalf, and that He is more than willing to forgive you and accept you back when you come and ask. Because the temple curtain was torn in two, we know Jesus’ sacrifice was accepted, and because Jesus’ death caused holy people to live again, we can know that His death assures us of life – and it makes our promise of eternal life a reality we can count on!

Also, always pray and study the Bible for yourself to learn, grow, and be challenged by the Holy Spirit personally. While other people can give you ideas to think about, never let your relationship with God depend on someone else. Intentionally keep your connection with God strong through continual prayer and regular Bible study.

And as I end every set of challenges by saying in one way or another, never stop short of, chicken out of, or drift away from where God wants to lead you to in your life with Him!

Flashback Episode: Year of the Cross – Episode 47: At the moment Jesus died, Matthew records two amazing events occurred. Discover what these two events were, and what they mean for us living 2,000+ years later.

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Trial at Night: Matthew 26:57-68

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As we continue looking at Matthew’s gospel, we also continue looking at what happened when He was arrested and placed on trial. This passage also continues the theme that we have been looking at over the past couple of episodes that emphasized Jesus choosing the cross.

While Jesus was already arrested, and while the religious leaders had already judged Jesus as worthy of death in their minds, they still lacked a piece of concrete evidence that would justify Jesus being executed.

Because they needed this piece of evidence and a public judgment making Jesus worthy of death, the religious leaders hold a trial.

However, far from being a fair trial, they hold this trial in the middle of the night, and with a hastily gathered group of questionable individuals to bring Jesus to justice. We know this was all put together at the last minute because the religious leaders had previously decided to wait until after the festival to look for a way to arrest Jesus, and after Judas Iscariot came to them with an opportunity, they were waiting for Judas Iscariot to present them with the time for the arrest. While there could have been some preplanning the religious leaders could have done, they were rushed on the timing because they wanted this over with before pausing to celebrate Passover.

However, in this rushed, last-minute trial, when everything is about to fall apart, Someone steps in to help keep things progressing smoothly. Let’s read and discover what happened.

Our passage is found in Matthew’s gospel, chapter 26, and we will read it from the New Century Version. Starting in verse 57, Matthew tells us that:

57 Those people who arrested Jesus led him to the house of Caiaphas, the high priest, where the teachers of the law and the elders were gathered. 58 Peter followed far behind to the courtyard of the high priest’s house, and he sat down with the guards to see what would happen to Jesus.

59 The leading priests and the whole Jewish council tried to find something false against Jesus so they could kill him. 60 Many people came and told lies about him, but the council could find no real reason to kill him. Then two people came and said, 61 “This man said, ‘I can destroy the Temple of God and build it again in three days.’”

62 Then the high priest stood up and said to Jesus, “Aren’t you going to answer? Don’t you have something to say about their charges against you?” 63 But Jesus said nothing.

­­­­Let’s pause reading for a moment because at this point in this trial, things are beginning to fall apart. All the false witnesses were contradicting one another, and none of the lies added up to anything worthy of death – or anything that would even be remotely valid in a court setting.

While Jesus said nothing, the trial descended into chaos.

In an interesting parallel, when people reject God in their hearts, societies descend into chaos. Also, when people reject God, we shouldn’t be surprised if God chooses to stay silent.

However, divine providence determined for this to be the time Jesus would die, so in a desperate attempt to find something worthy of judgment, the high priest then turns his attention towards Jesus. Jumping back into the passage at this point, let’s look at what happened. Backtracking briefly and rereading from verse 62:

62 Then the high priest stood up and said to Jesus, “Aren’t you going to answer? Don’t you have something to say about their charges against you?” 63 But Jesus said nothing.

Again the high priest said to Jesus, “I command you by the power of the living God: Tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God.”

64 Jesus answered, “Those are your words. But I tell you, in the future you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of God, the Powerful One, and coming on clouds in the sky.”

Let’s pause briefly again, because what Jesus has said is too significant and easy to miss. The high priest knows that this fake trial to judge Jesus as guilty is falling apart. The case these leaders have against Jesus is falling apart. Nothing in this trial is turning up anything that would judge Jesus as worthy of death.

So the high priest commands Jesus by God’s power to answer one question: Is Jesus the Christ, or in other words God’s Messiah and God’s Son?

The religious leaders had already rejected Jesus, and while I think about the possible responses Jesus could have given, if Jesus had simply said yes to this question, there still would not have been a case against Him. Instead, a simple yes would simply implicate Jesus as being against Rome and the religious leaders would have had a political case against Him. With the religious leaders’ rejection of Jesus, they had firmly allied themselves with Rome and they tried to play both sides of this issue. By rejecting Jesus, they ultimately reject God in favor of Rome, while they subtly opposed Roman opposition wanting a Messiah to free them from Roman rule.

Jesus wasn’t against Rome any more than He was against Greece or any of the earlier empires. Instead, Jesus focused on the individual and on helping those who were hurting and those who needed to feel God’s love. A simple yes answer would have brought with it all the baggage and preconceived ideas these religious leaders had placed on the role of the Messiah.

If Jesus had stopped with the response, “Those are your words. [Period]” then the trial against Him would have fallen apart completely.

Instead, Jesus follows up with a response that says in essence, “I am God’s Son, but I am not the Messiah you think I came to be.”

How do the religious leaders respond?

Continuing in verse 65, Matthew tells us that:

65 When the high priest heard this, he tore his clothes and said, “This man has said things that are against God! We don’t need any more witnesses; you all heard him say these things against God. 66 What do you think?”

The people answered, “He should die.”

67 Then the people there spat in Jesus’ face and beat him with their fists. Others slapped him. 68 They said, “Prove to us that you are a prophet, you Christ! Tell us who hit you!”

In this trial, we discover that it would have fallen apart if Jesus hadn’t given these leaders something to clearly accuse Him of. And when we look at the details of what happened, nothing in Jesus’ testimony is worthy of death. In Jesus’ testimony, He shares that He is the One who had been prophesied about, and only those who were already closed-minded towards God missed seeing this huge truth. If God were to send His Son into the world, would we expect anyone less than Jesus?

Jesus came to show us God’s love, and while there are those who believe God is unloving or unlovable, Jesus came to challenge their belief by living out how much God loves us. Jesus chose the cross to show us God’s love, and through Jesus we can come to know the God who loves us so much that He gives Himself up to redeem us from the consequences of breaking His law!

As we come to the end of another podcast episode, here are the challenges I will leave you with:

As I always challenge you to do, intentionally seek God first in your life and place your faith, hope, trust, and belief in Jesus. Understand that Jesus chose the cross for you and for me not only to redeem us from sin and the penalty of death, but to show us how much God loves each of us. If death for our sins was Jesus’ only goal, there was no need to go to the cross. Jesus could have jumped off a boat in a storm or let the mob throw Him off a cliff like they wanted to at the beginning of His ministry. Instead, Jesus chose the cross to show us God’s love for us and how far God was willing to go to redeem us.

Also, as I always challenge you to do, continue praying and studying the Bible for yourself to learn and grow closer to God each and every day. Through the pages of the Bible, discover a God who loves you with all of His heart, and a God who wants to redeem you. While other people can tell you this, God’s truth only becomes personal when you personally learn it for yourself!

And as I end every set of challenges by saying in one way or another, never stop short of, back away from, chicken out of, or give up on where God wants to lead you to in your life with Him!

Year in Matthew – Episode 46: After Jesus is arrested, discover how the last-minute trial the religious leaders set up to condemn Jesus almost falls apart, if it weren’t for someone who steps up and into a key role to keep it proceeding smoothly.

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Flashback Episode — The Final Request: John 19:18-27

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For the past two episodes, we have focused in on Jesus’ time on the cross. First we looked at Mark’s gospel, which closely parallel’s Matthew’s gospel two episodes ago, and in our last episode, we spent some time looking at Luke’s gospel and what it shared. For this episode, let’s take the few minutes we have together and look at John’s gospel, and what we can learn from how it records this event.

Just as Luke’s gospel is similar while also different from both Matthew and Mark, John’s gospel is similar but unique from the other three gospels. Our passage for this episode is found in John’s gospel, chapter 19, and we will read it from the New International Version of the Bible. Starting in verse 18, John tells us that:

18 There they crucified him, and with him two others—one on each side and Jesus in the middle.

19 Pilate had a notice prepared and fastened to the cross. It read: jesus of nazareth, the king of the jews. 20 Many of the Jews read this sign, for the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city, and the sign was written in Aramaic, Latin and Greek. 21 The chief priests of the Jews protested to Pilate, “Do not write ‘The King of the Jews,’ but that this man claimed to be king of the Jews.”

22 Pilate answered, “What I have written, I have written.”

Let’s pause for a moment because I want to highlight something fascinating I see in these first five verses. First, I find it interesting that this sign was written in Aramaic, Latin, and Greek. This is interesting because these likely were the common languages of the Roman Empire. It is also interesting because Hebrew was not one of the languages in the mix. Perhaps the Jews primarily spoke Aramaic during the first century, or perhaps Pilate intended this to be a subtle message for those traveling into Jerusalem at that time.

However, it’s also interesting that the chief priests disapprove of Pilate’s wording on this sign. While Jesus never claimed kingship towards the Jews or even towards anything on this earth, Pilate concluded from his conversation with Jesus that Jesus was not ordinary, and that Jesus probably did deserve the title of king. Pilate gives Jesus the title of king, which is what the religious leaders said was the charge against Jesus when they brought Him to Pilate. But the religious leaders want to distance themselves as far away from Jesus as they can, and Pilate can see this, but I believe Pilate also realizes that Jesus likely was the Messiah that they had been waiting for.

Pilate stood firm with his message declaring Jesus to be the king of the Jews, and with this declaration, comes the subtle jab towards the religious leaders that they were the ones who rejected the King God had promised and sent them.

Not only does John describe the religious leaders bickering with Pilate over the wording of the sign, John takes a few verses describing how pagan Roman soldiers fulfilled a prophecy they likely didn’t have any idea existed. Continuing in verse 23, John tells us that:

23 When the soldiers crucified Jesus, they took his clothes, dividing them into four shares, one for each of them, with the undergarment remaining. This garment was seamless, woven in one piece from top to bottom.

24 “Let’s not tear it,” they said to one another. “Let’s decide by lot who will get it.”

This happened that the scripture might be fulfilled that said,

“They divided my clothes among them
    and cast lots for my garment.”

So this is what the soldiers did.

Pausing again, I am amazed that something like this could have been predicted centuries before Jesus walked the earth so amazingly accurately that it clearly is applicable for this event. Oddly enough, this scriptural prediction foreshadowed Jesus’ death more than a Jesus who would never die, because someone who is alive wouldn’t have their clothing divided or their undergarments gambled for. The first century Jews were looking for a Messiah who would last forever without tasting death; Jesus came as a Messiah who would face death, and ultimately defeat it.

But with all this emotional turmoil, John records a final request Jesus has before He takes His last breath. Picking back up in verse 25 and reading the rest of our passage, John concludes by telling us:

25 Near the cross of Jesus stood his mother, his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. 26 When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to her, “Woman, here is your son,” 27 and to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” From that time on, this disciple took her into his home.

While John’s gospel is one that names and identifies more disciples than not, there are several places where John intentionally avoids naming the disciple. The most notable times John does this are during the Last Supper, here at the cross, and again following Jesus’ resurrection. Tradition holds that this unnamed disciple is John himself, and I don’t have any reason to doubt this.

However, the last thing Jesus focuses on while He is hanging on the cross is the care of His mother. While bearing the weight of the sins of humanity, Jesus focuses on taking care of His mother. While I don’t know where any of the other siblings Jesus had were, or why none of them would have taken Mary in, John honors Jesus’ last request and takes Mary as his mother and cares for her like he would for his own mother. While Jesus wouldn’t stay dead, He also wasn’t staying present on earth either, so this request, while given during the darkest part of history, remained relevant through the triumph of the resurrection, ascension, and the expansion of the early church.

In John’s gospel, we discover that Pilate recognized Jesus in a way that the religious leaders were unwilling to see Jesus, we see an amazing prophecy predicted about the Messiah being fulfilled by a bunch of pagans who would have no idea the prophecy even existed, and we have Jesus remembering His mother during the darkest part of earth’s history. We can look at what John describes here and know that through the rejection, the darkness, and the pain, God has been there, and He will lead us through to the other side.

As we come to the end of another podcast episode, here are the challenges I will leave you with:

Be sure to always seek God first and put your faith in Him. Trust that God knows what will happen and that His goal is focused on saving you for eternity. While our world is filled with pain, trials, and rejection, we know that because Jesus triumphed over death, God will protect His people and save them for eternity.

Also, always pray and study the Bible for yourself to grow closer to God and to discover what God wants to teach you through His Word. While pastors, authors, speakers, or even podcasters can give you ideas to think about, filter everything you hear or read through the pages and truth in God’s Word.

And as I end every set of challenges by saying in one way or another, never stop short of, back away from, chicken out of, or fall away from where God wants to lead you to in your life with Him!

Flashback Episode: Year of the Cross – Episode 46: John’s gospel describes the religious leaders’ final request of Pilate, one of the last prophecies about Jesus’ ministry being fulfilled by a bunch of pagans, and Jesus’ last request to John regarding His mother. Discover how all these things summarize what God wants to help each of us with in our lives 2,000+ years later.

Join the discussion on the original episode's page: Click Here.

Defending Jesus’ Arrest: Matthew 26:47-56

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In our last episode, we looked at the details of Judas Iscariot deciding and agreeing to betray Jesus. For this episode, we’ll jump forward to the night Jesus was betrayed and arrested. While Matthew includes the stage being set for Jesus’ betrayal and the night Jesus was betrayed next to each other, it is likely that these two events were somewhere around a week apart.

Early on in the night Jesus was betrayed, Jesus shares the Passover meal with His disciples, and part way through this meal, Jesus identifies Judas Iscariot as the betrayer in front of everyone, and tells Judas that it is time for him to set out to do what he had been plotting. While the evening progresses from that point, Judas Iscariot is out collecting a mob of people loyal to the priests and religious leaders who will ultimately come to arrest Jesus.

The passage we will be focusing on in this episode is when Judas Iscariot arrives with the mob to arrest Jesus. Our passage is found in Matthew’s gospel, chapter 26, and we will read from the New Living Translation. Starting in verse 47, Matthew tells us:

47 And even as Jesus said this, Judas, one of the twelve disciples, arrived with a crowd of men armed with swords and clubs. They had been sent by the leading priests and elders of the people. 48 The traitor, Judas, had given them a prearranged signal: “You will know which one to arrest when I greet him with a kiss.” 49 So Judas came straight to Jesus. “Greetings, Rabbi!” he exclaimed and gave him the kiss.

50 Jesus said, “My friend, go ahead and do what you have come for.”

Then the others grabbed Jesus and arrested him. 51 But one of the men with Jesus pulled out his sword and struck the high priest’s slave, slashing off his ear.

52 “Put away your sword,” Jesus told him. “Those who use the sword will die by the sword. 53 Don’t you realize that I could ask my Father for thousands of angels to protect us, and he would send them instantly? 54 But if I did, how would the Scriptures be fulfilled that describe what must happen now?”

55 Then Jesus said to the crowd, “Am I some dangerous revolutionary, that you come with swords and clubs to arrest me? Why didn’t you arrest me in the Temple? I was there teaching every day. 56 But this is all happening to fulfill the words of the prophets as recorded in the Scriptures.” At that point, all the disciples deserted him and fled.

In this passage, we discover some amazing details that people who don’t understand what happened that night either ignore or simply don’t believe. While some people think that Jesus was surprised by this event, the only people who were surprised were the disciples who didn’t pay attention to Jesus’ words. If Jesus did not want to be arrested, He could have avoided this event in any number of ways.

Jesus didn’t have to go to a place where Judas would have easily known where to find Him. Jesus was perfectly aware of Judas being the betrayer, and the easiest way to avoid arrest would be to simply go somewhere where Judas would not have known where to find Him. But Jesus chose intentionally to go to a place where He could be found.

Also, when being confronted by the mob, one of the disciples, who other gospels identify as Peter, grabs a sword to defend their group. Jesus, steps in and stops the violence, saying that if He wanted to avoid or stop this arrest, He could simply ask and have thousands of angels immediately appear to defend them. It’s worth contrasting the detail that one angel appearing at the tomb to roll the stone away when Jesus is resurrected makes the hardened Roman soldiers tremble in fear and act like dead men. All Jesus would have needed to avoid being arrested is ask God for one angel to appear to defend them, and the mob would have fled in fear.

When reading the details of Jesus’ crucifixion, everything in each part of the event points us to the truth that Jesus chose the cross. The cross was not something that God the Father forced onto Jesus. The cross was not something Judas surprised Jesus with. Jesus knew the date and location of His death before Judas even knew He would be the betrayer.

Jesus chose the cross because that is what He had inspired the Old Testament writers to predict. Jesus chose the cross to show us God’s love for each of us as members of humanity. Jesus chose the cross to pay the debt we owed God for our sins when there was no way for us to pay this debt and stay alive.

There are those who don’t believe in God, in sin, or in their need for a Savior. Some of these people openly mock those who do believe this. However, one person’s belief or lack of belief doesn’t change reality. For those who believe in God, we see amazing evidence for His existence and we thank Him for what He has done for us. Those who reject a belief in God are left trying to connect the dots of how we are here with only human logic and human ideas. Without God, life has no ultimate purpose, no hope, and a doomed future.

I see more evidence in the world today supporting the existence of God. While evil seems to be growing in the world, and while people are becoming more polarized and hostile towards one another, God is not responsible for this.

Instead, God is giving His people a picture of what life without Him and His protection is like. If sin isn’t given the opportunity to show how truly evil it is, then there will be the chance it could return in God’s perfect new heaven and new earth. God loves us too much to give us eternity only to let it be tainted by sin, and He loves us too much to force us to obey Him.

God’s character is on trial in the world today. From our perspective, it might look to some as though God has abandoned us. However, God is willing to walk with us through the sin, through the challenges, and through all the evil in this world so we can be together with Him for eternity.

God’s character is on trial. God must punish sin in order to remain just. However, instead of punishing those who are guilty, Jesus volunteered to take our place and to take the punishment we deserved onto Himself. While there are plenty of details in this gift that we don’t understand at this point in earth’s history, the big thing to know and remember is that through Jesus, we are offered a free gift, and this gift is Jesus’ perfect life in exchange for our own.

Jesus chose the cross for you and me, and He willingly faced death knowing that through His death, the way would be opened for us to live with God for eternity.

As we come to the end of another podcast episode, here are the challenges I will leave you with:

As I always challenge you to do, intentionally seek God first in your life and decide to accept Jesus’ gift of His life in exchange for yours. Choose to live a life that is allied to God as a way of saying thank You to Jesus for a gift we could never repay. Thank Jesus for choosing the cross when there were countless ways He could have chosen to avoid it.

Also, pray and study the Bible for yourself to learn what God wants to teach you personally through His Word. While a pastor or podcaster can share ideas with you, only through praying, reading, and studying the Bible personally will you be able to discover God’s truth for yourself. Always choose God’s truth over man-made traditions.

And as I end every set of challenges by saying in one way or another, never stop short of, back away from, chicken out of, or abandon where God wants to lead you to in your life with Him!

Year in Matthew – Episode 45: When Judas Iscariot arrives with the mob to arrest Jesus, you may be surprised to discover who steps in to defend the arrest, and what this defense means for you and me living over 2,000 years later!

Join the discussion. Share your thoughts on this passage.