Matthew 26:47-56; Betrayal and Arrest

After his time of prayer, Jesus is set on doing God’s will. His own will and God’s will are in alignment. He is going to allow this scheme of the chief priests and elders to play out. The disciples are not on board.

This is a typical snatch-and-grab operation, complete with secret sign. The schemers have sent out a posse to effect the removal of Jesus to bring him to the high priest. They have come armed. The disciples are also armed, it seems.

The secret sign is a kiss. The Judas kiss is now shorthand for the type of betrayal we see here. Now the thugs know who Jesus is.

One of the disciples uses a sword to minor effect. If it had been the high priest himself who had lost an ear, it would have disqualified him for office. Jesus admonishes the disciples and reminds them of the truth that violence may be exciting, but in the end it leads to death.

If Jesus had wanted to fight back, he had more than 72,000 angels at his disposal. I expect this little knot of thugs would have been overpowered by them, if that had been the plan. But Jesus was sticking to God’s plan. The plan of death rather than the plan of a conquering king. In the end, the disciples can’t take it and they abandon Jesus. The thugs don’t seem to be interested in the disciples, hence the secret sign. Without Jesus, they think, the rest will just dissipate.

Although Jesus is not fighting his arrest, he does chide the arrestors about the necessity of all this subterfuge. He had been in the Temple teaching all week. They could have easily arrested him at any time. But as we know, the priests were concerned about popular reaction. So Jesus was treated as if he were a common robber.

Jesus talks about scripture being fulfilled. What all scriptures he is referring to I would love to know. But I do know that he was totally convinced he was doing the will of his Father.

God help us when we flee and abandon Jesus.

Matthew 26:36-46; Jesus Struggles in Gethsemane

I approach this passage with awe. I am almost afraid to talk about it. I cannot read it without shedding tears.

In the garden Jesus battled with his own desires. In the end, he submitted to the will of God.

The Gethsemane narrative makes a significant contribution to a sound Christology by reminding us that Jesus was a genuine human being. As Nicene Christians we affirm both the divinity and the humanity of Jesus, but our reverence tends to cloud the distinction and we “divinize” the human nature. There are Christians who refuse to believe that Jesus could be anxious or fearful, “because he was God.” This docetic tendency is theologically dangerous because it deprives Jesus’ death of its saving significance. If Jesus was not fully human, the cross was an empty pantomime.

Douglas R. A. Hare, Matthew, Interpretation, a Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching (Louisville, KY: John Knox Press, 1993), 300.

Jesus could have rebelled against God’s plan. He could have fled to the hills. As he prayed, he knew the power of God. Wasn’t there another way this could be done? Did he really have to die the death of a despised criminal? It is chilling to imagine how things might have gone if Jesus had decided to bug out.

This is a replay of the temptations in the wilderness. This is a replay of the temptation in the garden of Eden.

The words for how Jesus felt are strong, strong words. He was truly miserable. It took three periods of intense prayer for him to come to grips with the will of God.

I guess I give up too easily. And I am too much like the disciples.

Peter, James, and John were not able to stay awake even though Jesus implored them to be watchful and to pray.

Jesus knows that it is one thing to talk about what you are going to do and quite another to actually do it. Peter, James, and John exemplify that truth. The sons of Zebedee wanted to be at Jesus’ right and left hand when he came into his kingdom. Here is their chance. But Jesus was crucified between two common criminals instead.

Jesus is resolved to please God, his Father. He goes to face his betrayer and those who will cause his death.

Jesus is our model, once again. From him we learn to stand the test by frequent, earnest prayer. In a very real sense, we learn that the battle of the wills is an important thing. Jesus’ blood and sacrifice are the results of his obedience.

Obedience is all God wants from us.

Matthew 26-31-35; Prediction of Stumbling

After the supper, Jesus and the disciples went out to the Mount of Olives. This is where Jesus told them, just before his agonizing prayer in Gethsemane, that they would all stumble over him this very night.

The key to understanding this passage is the word the ESV translates as “fall away”. The word is skandalizo, and it is easy to see that we get some English words from this Greek word as well.

Well, skandalizo is a pretty strong word. Jesus is not saying that the disciples will get scared and run away. He is not saying that they will fear for their lives and go into hiding. They will do these things, but that is not what Jesus is talking about.

Matthew used the same word in the parable of the soils. As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy, yet he has no root in himself, but endures for a while, and when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately he falls away. (Matthew 13:20–21, ESV)

Sometimes I think the parable of the soils is key to understanding both the gospel of Matthew and the Christian mission in general.

Some of the translations are bold enough to use stronger language.

Then Jesus said to them, “You will all become deserters because of me this night; for it is written, ‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.’ (Matthew 26:31, NRSV)

Then Jesus said to them, ‘Tonight you will all lose faith because of me; for it is written: “I will strike the shepherd and the sheep of his flock will be scattered.” (Matthew 26:31, REB)

My point is that Jesus is saying that the disciples—all of them—will actually renounce their relationship with him on this night. They will no longer believe he is the messiah. They will deny him, not themselves.

Now, in this sad picture there is a measure of hope. Jesus says he will go before them to Galilee after he is raised. After saying his sheep will be scattered (from Zechariah), he seems to be saying he will resume being their shepherd after the resurrection. Thus, they will be restored. The story in Zechariah also ends with restoration.

Peter says, of course, “Not me.” Jesus responds with, “Especially you.” Not just Peter, but all the others said the same thing.

It should make us weep. Don’t we put ourselves in the place of the disciples when we read the gospel? We would probably like to think that it would have been different if we had been there. That’s what Peter said.

They all fell away.

But there was restoration for eleven out of twelve.

Matthew 26:17-30; The Lord’s Supper

Jesus gathered with the Twelve in a home in Jerusalem to share the Passover meal. Even the preparation for the meal was introduced with a reminder that Jesus’ time was at hand, and that mood will pervade the meal.

The thirteen mean reclined for the meal in the Greek fashion. There is no mention of a table in the Greek, nor is there any indication that all thirteen men reclined on one side of a table.

One must presume that the meal progressed as a normal Passover seder, although we must humbly say that we don’t know what all the customs were at the time Jesus and his disciples shared this meal.

An unusual item of business was introduced when Jesus announced that one of the Twelve would betray him. This announcement caused great consternation and self-examination. Perhaps eleven of the disciples were concerned that they might give Jesus away inadvertently. But one knew it was him. Jesus associated the dipping of bitter herbs in sauce with this betrayal.

When Jesus broke the bread, the disciples would have expected a reminder of how the children of Israel had to leave Egypt in a hurry and only had time to make flat bread. Instead, Jesus tells them they are eating of his body. This should not be taken literally, since Jesus was sitting with them, very much alive at the time. But in time, the church would understand this better. I imagine the disciples were confused.

When it was time for wine, the disciples would have expected to drink from their own cups, accompanied by another remembrance of the Exodus. Instead, Jesus tells them they are drinking his blood. He mentions the covenant. And he mentions forgiveness of sins.

The children of Israel had never really lived up to their requirement to keep the covenant. Eventually it led t the Exile. In a very tangible way, the Exile was still in place at the time these men were sharing the Passover meal. Jesus is instituting a new covent. One might call it the kingdom of God.

Jesus shed his blood—which is a euphemism for dying; there is nothing magical about the substance itself—for the forgiveness of sins. I have no idea how that transaction works, but I’m thankful for it.

I’ve heard preachers like the death of Jesus to the Temple sacrifices for sin. I get that, but the Passover lambs were not sacrificed for sins. They were sacrificed so their blood could be painted on the doorways and so they could be eaten before an arduous journey. Let’s not twist the Bible to say things it doesn’t say just because it makes a good story.

Jesus died for our sins. Forgiveness of sins is also the beginning of an arduous journey. Matthew makes no bones about it. To walk with Jesus is hard. It is an uphill climb and it is dangerous. If we soft sell that, we are not being true to the gospel.

One sidetone: those of us who are teetotalers will need to put aside our scruples when Jesus passes the cup around when he comes in glory.

The first Passover looked forward to God’s redemption of his people. Subsequent Passover celebrations remembered what God did.

The first Lord’s Supper looked forward to the death of Jesus at the hands of the Romans. He was establishing the kingdom. He was enabling the forgiveness of sins. Subsequent Lord’s Suppers look back at what God did in Jesus. Our hearts are filled with thanksgiving. Until he comes.

Matthew 26:1-16; The Plot to Kill Jesus

No more teaching from Jesus. From here on in it is action. Jesus is the obedient son of God as he prepares to go to his death. For us.

The chief priests, consisting of the high priest Caiaphas and other leaders among the priests, decide they need to get rid of Jesus. They know this could prove to be unpopular, so they see the necessity of doing so by treachery. Tensions are high at Passover due to a popular belief that the messiah will manifest himself during the festival. The Romans have extra soldiers at hand and the priests are watchful.

These are supposed to be the leaders of God’s people. Yet they are misleading. This still happens today. People who are supposed to be leading God’s people sometimes have their own agendas. Keep an eye out for that.

That evening, which is probably Wednesday evening by our calendar, Jesus is at the home of a Simon the leper. While he is there, a woman comes in and anoints him with a costly oil. This is upsetting to the disciples because the poor are a special project at Passover, and they see that this oil could have gone a long way to hep the poor.

But burial of the dead is a great “good work” than even almsgiving, and Jesus knows—even if the woman does not—that she is anointing him for burial. This is the only burial preparation he will get.

The people expect the messiah (the anointed) to be anointed as king. This messiah is anointed for death instead. For us.

At this point, Judas decides to collude with the chief priests and offers his services. They are happy to have his help so they will be able to grab Jesus when he is with his disciples and not among the people. They pay him a nice sum, but not a fortune, for his troubles. Some resources say that the price is about that one would expect to pay for a run of the mill slave.

Matthew doesn’t talk about Judas’ motivation. There are many theories, but they remain unproven. I guess we can say for sure that Judas wasn’t happy with how Jesus’ kingdom was progressing. Maybe he was following Jesus for what he thought would be his own benefit.

People still do that today, don’t they? They follow Jesus only for the benefit they see themselves receiving. Maybe it’s the promise of eternal life. But they aren’t committed to following their Lord even unto death. That’s what you call bad soil.