6th July 2023
Read (Matthew 26v1-30)
Message (Scott Woodburn)
We can never repeat enough that the events of Christ's death and resurrection were no accident. Some have foolishly asked "What would have happened if Jesus had lived? Would we have heaven on earth?" No and no. It was decreed that Christ must suffer and die and without His victory then you and I would be without hope. Christ was under no illusions and after teaching His disciples about the end times, He told them “You know that after two days the Passover is coming, and the Son of Man will be delivered up to be crucified.” (v2) With that verse Matthew moves his Gospel into an account of the final days of Christ's walk to the cross. The die was cast, the Rubicon was crossed and the Lamb made His way to the place of sacrifice.
Everything started to fall into place. The chief priests and elders conspired against Jesus and sought to kill Him (v3-5). A woman came to Jesus and anointed Him with expensive ointment (v7). The disciples were angered by such a "waste" only to be rebuked by the Lord who told them "In pouring this ointment on my body, she has done it to prepare me for burial." (v12). We still tell this story and the woman is remembered to this very day as predicted by the Lord (v13).
Judas Iscariot brought no ointment but he instead made a deal with the chief priests to betray Jesus for thirty pieces of silver (v14-16). Despite this betrayal Judas was brazen enough to take his place around the table at the event we call "the last supper". It is remarkable that not even the location of the supper was an accident. Jesus said “Go into the city to a certain man and say to him, ‘The Teacher says, My time is at hand. I will keep the Passover at your house with my disciples.’” (v18) and so the Lord and the disciples ate their appointed meal in the appointed place.
It was around the table that the Lord again displayed His foreknowledge of the events soon to take place. He told the disciples “Truly, I say to you, one of you will betray me.” (v21). The disciples were filled with sorrow at Christ's words and they began to ask Jesus "Is it I, Lord?" (v22). Christ was clear that His betrayer had "dipped his hand in the dish" with Jesus (v24). In other words, the betrayer was someone known to Christ and ate with Christ - Jesus would be betrayed by a friend. Yet the Lord was clear that the betrayer's actions were so heinous that it would have been better for that man never to have been born (v24).
In the person of Judas we see God's sovereignty and man's responsibility. We must hold both together despite the difficulty they pose to our finite minds. What do I mean? God is sovereign and He decreed that Judas would be the one to betray Christ. Nevertheless, Judas has no room to blame God, he willingly betrayed Jesus and is responsible for his own actions.
To remain silent would raise suspicion and so Judas asked "Is it I, Rabbi?" which was met with the Lord's reply "You have said so." (v25). Jesus' words did not immediately uncover Judas to his fellow disciples nor did they let him off the hook. Jesus knew the identity of his betrayer and Judas was under no illusion otherwise. The betrayer looked into the eyes of the betrayed and both knew the truth of the situation.
As the talk of betrayal subsided, Jesus took bread and gave it to His disciples saying “Take, eat; this is my body.” (v26). In the same way He took a cup of wine and gave it to them and said “Drink of it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins." (v27-28). It is in these verses that we find the institution of the Lord's supper. The church of Christ is commanded to eat and drink in remembrance of our Lord. It is a special meal which strengthens our faith and underlines our assurance. We eat, drink, remember and proclaim the Lord's death until He comes. Although the Supper is incredibly significant, we are forced to admit that we do not eat and drink with Jesus physically. Nevertheless, a day is coming when Jesus will return and He will feast with His church in person once again (v29).
As the night grew dark Jesus led His disciples in singing a hymn (v30). This was almost certainly part of the "Hallel" which is made up of Psalm 113-118. Can you imagine? Christ knows what lies in front of Him and still He leads His disciples in a song of praise. I'm humbled at the thought of the singing in that room "The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone. This is the Lord's doing; it is marvelous in our eyes. This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it." (Psalm 118v22-24)
Brothers and sisters, meditate upon the opening verses of Matthew 26. Read the familiar story again and learn once more of the sights, sounds and smells of that night long ago. It is a story of fragrant anointing, bitter plotting and sinful betrayal. Yet in the midst of it all there is Jesus who takes a meal and shows His followers what He is about to do for them. Thank God for the Gospel, it is the Lord's doing and it is marvellous in our eyes.
Q91 How do the Sacraments become effectual means of salvation? The Sacraments become effectual means of salvation, not from any virtue in them, or in him that doth administer them; but only by the blessing of Christ, and the working of his Spirit in them that by faith receive them.