Hello, everyone. A blessed Maundy Thursday to you. Welcome to EDiBS; let’s pray.
Father, please draw close to us today. Help us to meditate, to understand, and to embrace all that you will share with us in the Scriptures. This we pray in Jesus’ name, amen.
As we get started today, though we haven’t focused on Holy Week over the past several days, it has continually been on my mind, and I’m sure it has continually been on yours as well. Today and tomorrow, we will be focusing on Holy Week. Each day will be a special time for us as God’s people to stop and consider the culmination of our Lord’s earthly life and ministry as He prepares His disciples and prepares Himself for the events leading up to Calvary. Today, we’ll be looking at one of the traditional Maundy Thursday passages from the Scriptures. Though many of us will be familiar with the reading, our emphasis on the text will be a bit different than is typical. My prayer is that it will bless you. Our focus: uncomfortable words from the Host of the feast.
20 When it was evening, he reclined at table with the twelve. 21 And as they were eating, he said, “Truly, I say to you, one of you will betray me.” 22 And they were very sorrowful and began to say to him one after another, “Is it I, Lord?” 23 He answered, “He who has dipped his hand in the dish with me will betray me. 24 The Son of Man goes as it is written of him, but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been better for that man if he had not been born.” 25 Judas, who would betray him, answered, “Is it I, Rabbi?” He said to him, “You have said so.”
Have you ever gotten a phone call in the middle of the night? It’s the kind of call that catches you off guard, isn’t it. More than that, it’s the kind of call accompanied by a sense of dread, because it’s usually one that delivers bad news. No one likes to get those calls, but they come anyway — unexpected and unwelcome.
As we come to God’s Word today, Jesus and the disciples are gathering together to celebrate the Passover. It’s one of the great, annual highlights of Jewish life; always a spiritually moving, joyful occasion. There’s been a lot of anticipation among the twelve leading up to this particular celebration, and they’ve all been eagerly awaiting this night…though as we already know, not all for the same reason.
As Jesus and His friends recline at the table, the meal begins. First is the cup of red wine mixed with water. Next, the ceremonial washing of the hands, symbolic of moral and spiritual cleansing. After that, the bitter herbs, symbolic of Israel’s bondage to Pharaoh. Then comes the second cup of wine and the explanation of what Passover is all about. The fifth thing to happen is the singing of the Hallel, a portion of the book of Psalms; and finally, the lamb is brought out with the bread and distributed by the head of the feast. It’s in the middle of all this, while they’re eating, that Jesus drops a bomb. It’s like a phone call in the middle of the night: unexpected and promising bad news. One of you, He says, will betray me.
Eleven of the folks around the table are genuinely broken up about this. One of the folks around the table is doing a good job of pretending to be broken up. All of them, one after another, are asking Jesus if they’re the one He’s talking about. One of them is simply playing along. Imagine Judas, putting on the sad face, feigning shock and concern over what Jesus has said. Imagine Judas, a supposed friend, who has gone behind the back of the Savior of the world — trading eternal riches for a wealth that won’t last. It’s a despicable kind of display, and yet Judas goes through with it anyway, somehow thinking that he’ll escape detection and stay out of the fray by acting like everyone else. But Jesus, of course, knows.
“He who has dipped his hand in the dish with me will betray me,” Jesus says. The reference here is to the paste of fruit and nuts, which is dipped into with pieces of bread. There are several bowls of this around the meal area, and Judas is close enough to Jesus – probably in a place of honor at the table — to be using the same dipping bowl.
What happens at some point in the course of this exchange — and we know this from the information given to us in the other Gospel accounts — is that as Jesus says these words, He Himself takes a piece of bread, dips it, and hands it to Judas. This would typically be done by the host of the Passover as a gesture of honor and friendship to a special person at the meal. The rest of the disciples miss the significance of what Jesus does, but Judas does not — and after receiving the bread, a parting gesture of love to him on Jesus’ part, Judas mumbles his own “Is it I?”
The exact order of events here isn’t entirely clear, because the different Gospel writers share different details of the moment and there are likely several things going on at once. But what is entirely clear is that our Lord’s words regarding the one who would betray Him are truly terrifying. What we also know — very significantly, by the way — is that it will not be until Judas is gone that Jesus will institute a new meaning for the Passover – that it in fact will be transformed into a new meal altogether. The unleavened bread and the third cup of wine, known as the cup of blessing or the cup of redemption, will be raised, and with them, a new covenant will be born.
I want to ask you to do something that might be a bit uncomfortable for you. Can you see yourself as Judas? Do you have it in you to betray the living God, as well as the audacity to lie about it in His very presence? Do you have a heart wicked enough and foolish enough and blind enough to trade an eternal inheritance for things that moth and rust will ultimately destroy? I do. I’m guilty as charged. In fact, I have on many occasions in my life done that very thing. Maybe you can relate. And yet here’s the amazing thing: instead of being condemned for my betrayal…instead of paying for it with my own blood as would be fitting and right…Jesus, in an act of astounding, incomprehensible, selfless love, paid for it with His. Jesus, after I had kicked Him in the teeth, chose to become — willingly became — my Substitute. By His grace, I have been saved. By His grace, we have been saved.
What does all of this mean? It means that because of His great love for us, our seat at the table remains. Because of His great love for us, our presence in the room is still welcomed. Because of His great love for us, the meal before us, rich and infused with meaning, is not one from which we are banished, but one in which we joyfully share. And wonder of wonders, the Passover Lamb on which we feast and the Cup from which we drink is now Jesus Himself — the One sacrificed for us to make atonement for our sins.
Maundy Thursday is a day to remember many things about our Savior. One of the most profound things to remember is the power of His love…a love so complete that it could look a betrayer like me and you in the eyes and choose to give us life in the face of a death sentence…and then take our punishment upon Himself. Today is a day be in awe of that amazing forgiveness. Today is also a day to receive it. So confess your sins. Unburden your heart. Unpack your shame. Lay yourself bare. And as you do, be reverent, but don’t be afraid. Your Lord will not reject you. He will by no means cast you out. Enter in, and find your rest.
Take care, everyone; the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be and abide with you always, Amen.