“When Jesus had finished all these sayings” – that is, His account of the Day of Judgment – He next reminded His disciples that the Passover was near at hand; and He told them that He Himself would be betrayed to be crucified. He was, as Paul declares, “our Passover” (1 Cor. 6:7). He was “the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world” (Rev. 13:8); through Whose blood alone, we may escape the wrath to come. Christ’s death upon the cross reminds us that no acts of charity, no diligence in the improvement of our talents, and no watchfulness will avail, except through the atonement of His blood!
While our Lord was foreshowing His death to the disciples; His enemies were at the palace of the high priest, consulting how to best accomplish it. For fear of the people, they resolved not to do it during the Feast-time. Yet Providence had so ordained that on the very day that they did not want to put the Lord Jesus to death, He was, through their means, led forth to die – on the very day when the Passover-lamb was slain.
As Jesus was dining in Simon the leper’s house in Bethany, “there came unto him a woman having an alabaster box of very precious ointment, and poured it on his head, as he sat at meat.” How lively was her faith in Christ, Whom she apparently knew would soon be dead and buried! How great was her zeal, for she counted all things that were most precious to her as loss for His sake! But the disciples did not understand her intent – particularly Judas, who was a thief. When they saw what this woman had done, they indignantly said, “To what purpose is this waste? For this ointment might have been sold for much, and given to the poor.” Yet our Lord bade them to not trouble the woman, and He told them that it was a good work that she had done. Her anointing was in preparation for His burial, which would so soon take place.
Preparations were now to be made by the disciples for celebrating the Passover, and Christ instructed them at what house they should make it ready. But in the midst of the supper that night, He tells them the strange announcement that one of them would betray Him. “Lord, is it I?” Such was the question in which they naturally expressed their surprise and concern. In this question, even Judas joined – probably willing to cover his evil scheme with a profession of zeal that would make him look innocent. And in the sign that the Savior gave – “He that dippeth his hand with me in the dish, the same shall betray me” – we have a fulfillment of the prophecy of Psalm 41: “Yea, even mine own familiar friend whom I trusted, who did also eat of my bread, hath laid great wait for me!”
It was while they were eating the Passover that our Lord appointed the Sacrament of His body and blood (verses 26-29). He solemnly took some of the bread on the table; and He “blessed it, and brake it, and gave it to the disciples, and said, Take, eat; this is my body.” The Passover was kept in memory of the Israelites being spared, when the Lord smote all the firstborn of the Egyptians. The lamb that was appointed to be slain on that day was a representation of Christ, Who came to be slain for the sins of men. Here, however, our Lord ordained a new picture; He appointed that we are to eat bread as His Body; and in doing so, we shall be partakers of the benefit of His death.
In the same manner, Jesus “took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, Drink ye all of it; for this is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins.” We should here note that the whole Sacrament ought to be regularly received by all Christians who desire to obtain the “remission of sins” here spoken of. We are in the habit of partaking of the Sacrament regularly; let us take heed how we receive it, and also how we behave afterwards. Nothing would so much win others to Communion, as the manifest growth in Christian grace which is portrayed in those whom the world knows to be communicant members of the Church. Alas! If they see our lives as careless as before, or our conduct still being influenced by the love of the world, or our thoughts and conversations still vain and light – can we wonder that they still stay away?
After the supper, when our Savior led His disciples to the Mount of Olives, He warned them that on that very night, they would be offended – that is, made to fall – because of Him. Because of His being betrayed, they would desert Him. Hereupon, Peter answers most positively for himself – as did also the other disciples. “Though I should die with thee, yet will I not deny thee!” he exclaimed. Of course, he utterly failed to make good on this boast. To be proud in our own strength is the worst of weakness. To boast that we can stand is the most sure way to stumble. Therefore, seeing how easy it is for us to fall, let us acknowledge our weakness; and let us have recourse to that strength of God, which alone can enable us to stand!
It was Peter and the two sons of Zebedee who were permitted to witness the glorious Transfiguration (Matt. 17:1). Having been admitted to this glimpse of Christ’s glory, they were more fit to sustain the sad sight of His distress in the Garden of Gethsemane. He bade them, therefore, to watch near Him while He prayed. He bade them to watch with Him – that is, to join with Him in prayer for strength to help Him in His time of need. Yet they could not even do this for one hour. “He cometh unto his disciples, and findeth them asleep.” Alas! So easily is the human heart inclined to indulge in sloth and indifference, even while beholding scenes which draw tears of anguish from the Savior of mankind!
Do we wish to know the best way to bear our own griefs? Let us learn from this pattern in the Garden of Gethsemane. There we see One Who was both God and Man, and One Who was without any spot of sin, visited by the most severe sorrow! Was His soul insensible to the burden of woe? Did the Divine nature so uphold the human spirit, that He could bear the dreadful load without feeling it? Far from it! His words and outward agony expressed the anguish of His soul. Three times, He asked with earnest prayer that the cup which He had to drink might pass from Him. Yet three times also, He resigned Himself to His Father’s will. And thus we have plain proof of how much He suffered, and how patiently He submitted to suffer. Therefore, let us not merely try to not feel our afflictions; but rather, let us try to feel them in such a way that we may bear them with patience – and not only with patience, but also with thanksgiving. Let us also learn here how to pray when we are in trouble: “Father, if it be possible!” Let us bring our petitions to God our Father, Who is the One Who knows what is possible, and what is good for us.
When Christ’s enemies arrived in Gethsemane, Judas betrayed his Master to them with a hypocritical kiss – something that was regarded as a token of the closest and most loyal friendship. But alas! Judas’ treacherous conduct is no different from those who make profession of their love for Christ, but who greatly injure the Christian cause by their unholy lives. With their lips, they boast of being Christians. In their lives, however, they deceive, defraud, slander, swear, and are proud and irritable and selfish. With their lips, they pray daily to be delivered from evil; and all the while, in their hearts, they are planning some evil scheme of impurity. With their lips, they proclaim that they believe in Christ, that they love Him, and that they give up their lives to His service. But all the while, they live with no thought of Him at all – much less with any lively faith in Him, or with any devout love of Him or His Word. Let us beware that we may not be found to be one who says, “Hail, Master”; but whose lives and actions betray our Lord.
As Christ told His disciples, He could have assumed at any moment the full majesty of His Divine nature. By legions of angels, He might have been protected from the enemies who were about to murder Him. “But how then,” says He, “shall the Scriptures be fulfilled, that thus it must be?” The very method of His being taken – namely, by subtilty – was itself a fulfillment of prophecy. “All this was done, that the Scriptures of the prophets might be fulfilled.”
It was the intention of the chief priests and elders to find some charge against Jesus which they might bring before the Roman governor; for at this time, the Romans had taken away from the Jews the authority to put criminals to death. But they were unable to get any suitable and consistent “proof” from their false witnesses. So then they tried to ensnare Him by crafty questions, so that they might have Him condemned out of His own mouth. “But Jesus held his peace.” When He was very solemnly put upon His oath by the high priest to say whether or not He were indeed the Son of God, Jesus plainly answered, “Thou hast said” – that is, “Thou hast said the truth.” Here, therefore, we have Christ’s own Word for it: He was truly the very Messiah whom the Jews, in their Scriptures, had been taught to expect. He was the promised “Seed of the woman,” the son of Abraham, and the son of David; and at the same time, He was most truly the Son of God. To this, He added, “Hereafter shall ye see the Son of man sitting on the right hand of power, and coming in the clouds of heaven.” The high priest immediately pronounced this to be blasphemy – meaning that Jesus took to Himself the honor due to God alone. The rest agreed, saying, “He is guilty of death.” And then they “spit in his face, and buffeted him.”
In the concluding verses of this chapter, we see the sorry end of the imprudent boasting of Peter. Three times before the rooster crowed, his promise of loyalty to Christ was broken. Three times, he denied his Lord. Here we see the danger of a presumptuous trust in our own strength. How surely shall we fall, if we do not rely upon the strength of God! But notice how bitterly Peter wept, at the very moment when he became aware of his sin. The very moment that the rooster crowed, his conscience struck him for denying his Master; and “he went out and wept bitterly.”
Seldom or never are we tempted to deny Christ exactly in the same way as Peter did. For many in our Western culture, it is still a credit to be called Christians, despite the increasing secularization of our society. Yet Peter’s outright denial is no different from the sin of those who, in any sense, are ashamed of Christ or His Words in the midst of this wicked generation. Let us resolve – by His grace – to put our whole trust in Him, and to confess to all people that we do so. And if we ever fail to do so, let us go out with Peter and weep bitterly. Let our repentance cost us tears. Let it give us a distaste for the supposed delights of sin. Let us entirely renounce those bitter pleasures; and in secret, before God, let us weep those tears of heartfelt sorrow which He will wipe away! (Rev. 21:4)
O dear Lord Jesus, we praise You for Your boundless love in the tender institution of Your Holy Supper! We thank You that the pictures and foreshadows of the Jewish Passover have now ceased forever, for You – the true Christian Passover, which that sacrificial lamb represented – have been sacrificed for us, once and for all! Amen.
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