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Don Carson on Matthew 27:27-50

March 15, 2007

I’ve been a great admirer of Don Carson as a biblical scholar and theologian for some time now (for a recent tribute by Mark Dever, click here). But only a few years ago did I realise that Don is also a great preacher.

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We actually had the great priviledge of welcoming Dr Carson to our fellowship for a church anniversary in October 2005 (best of all, then enjoying lunch with him!). That day, Don spoke powerfully on “The Ironies of the Cross”, a sermon I’ve revisited for this week’s Workman Watch. Few of us will ever preach with the eloquence of Carson, but its good to hear ‘how its done’!

How long was the sermon?
52 minutes 13 seconds

What was the opening sentence?
“Three thousand years ago there was a very remarkable king; he was an excellent administrator -he imposed justice on the land.”

What was the introduction about?
The use of irony in Scripture, using Nathan’s confrontation of King David as an example. “At its best, it [irony] enables readers to see what’s going beyond text, behind the text, when people in the text don’t see themselves what’s going on. In that sense, irony enables you to see most clearly the significance of events as they unfold.”

Carson goes on to explain that along with John, Matthew is amongst the writers in the NT most given to irony. Now we are going to see the significance of Jesus’ crucifixion through the various ironies in the story.

What will you remember in a week’s time?
The way Carson read the passage; few people read in such a way that they invite you into the story. Perhaps also some lines from the closing poem.

What aspects of the preacher’s style did you find helpful?
Carson’s use of repitition was quite powerful: “But Nathan knows, and the writer knows, and God knows, and the reader knows, that David’s words are steeped in irony.” Then at the end of each point he reiterated the formula: “But Matthew knows, and the readers know, and God knows, that Jesus is king.” It was especially striking when Carson added “…and do you know it?”

What was the structure of the sermon?
Four profound ironies
1. The man who was mocked as king, is king. (27-31)
2. The man who is utterly powerless, is powerful. (v 32-40)
3. The man who can’t save himself, saves others (41-42)
4. The man who cries out in despair, trusts God (43-50)

What was the application?
Most of the application came at the end. We should believe these four truths, bow the knee to Jesus and worship. Carson drew this together in a beautiful poem at the end, which I’ll quote at length. Presumably Carson wrote this himself.

i) “On that wretched day the soldiers mocked him,
raucous laughter in a barracks room,
‘Hail the King’ they sneered while spitting on him,
brutal beatings on this day of doom,

Though his crown was thorn, he was born a King
holy brilliance bathed in bleeding loss,
All the soldiers blind to this stunning theme:
Jesus reigning from a bloody cross.”

ii) “Awful weakness marks the battered God-man,
far too broken now to hoist the beam,
Soldiers strip him bare and pound the nails in,
watch him hanging on a cruel tree

God’s own temple’s down,
he has been destroyed,
Death’s remains are laid in rot and sod,
but the temple rises in God’s wise ploy,
Our great temple is the Son of God.”

iii) “Here’s the one who says he cares for others,
one who said he came to save the lost,
How can we believe he’ll save another,
when he can’t get off that blood stained cross.

“‘Let him save himself, let him come down now!’,
savage jeering at the king’s disgrace,
But by hanging there is precisely how Christ saves others –
that’s the king of grace.”

iv) “Great in darkness, utterly rejected,
crying ‘why have you forsaken me?’
Jesus bears God’s wrath alone, dejected
weeps the bitterest tears instead of me

All the mockers cry “he has lost his trust”
“he’s defeated by hypocrisy!”
But with faith’s resolve
Jesus knows he must do God’s will
and swallow death for me.”

What one aspect of Don’s preaching will you attempt to adopt into your own?
Don’s use of vivid, concrete language (which I posted about earlier this week) kept me gripped all the way through. Without use of illustrations, Don’s word choice grabbed hold of my attention from start to finish. This is certainly something I need to work on. “Words are our weapons.”

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