Reading Time: 8 Minutes
As in previous articles, an imaginary narrator will tell the events of Jesus’ last day with his disciples.
The narrator begins: The tension that we all felt was evident all the way back from Bethany to the Mount of Olives. I heard a considerable amount of tossing and turning throughout the night, as people struggled with a sense of impending doom.
The next morning the disciples seemed determined to carry on with the customary Passover meal. They said to Jesus, “Where do you want us to make the preparations for you to eat the Passover?”
He said, “Go into the city to a certain man, and say to him, ‘The Teacher says, My time is near; I will keep the Passover at your house with my disciples'” (Matthew 26.17-18).
As the disciples headed toward Jerusalem, those of us who heard the conversation became deeply concerned about Jesus’ words, “My time is near.” It really seemed that all of Jesus’ predictions about his death were about to take place. However, none of us were ready. It seemed totally inconceivable that someone so wise and loving and kind would be destroyed by evil men.
The Dinner in Jerusalem
Later in the day, the same crowd that went to Bethany began the walk to Jerusalem. Even though I wasn’t part of the close followers of Jesus, no one told me that I couldn’t go.
It was evening when the disciples reclined with Jesus for a meal among his closest friends and followers. I wasn’t one of those who helped serve Jesus and the others, and I was somewhat separate from the main group. However, I was still able to hear their conversation.
For the last couple of days, Jesus had upset everyone. He enraged the religious leaders at the Temple with what he said and did. Then, he kept talking about being arrested and even executed. After one unsettling event after another, I still was not ready for how Jesus began the meal.
He had a more pained expression on his face than I had ever seen when he said, “Truly I tell you, one of you will betray me” (Matthew 26.21).
I wasn’t surprised when all of the disciples begin to say, “Surely not I, Lord?” (Matthew 26.22). They were really upset and quite outspoken in claiming their innocence. From the very beginning these men had walked with Jesus. They had been his constant companion, friend and student. I agreed with them. Surely, none of them would turn Jesus over to the authorities.
However, Jesus insisted and said, “The one who has dipped his hand into the bowl with me will betray me. The Son of Man goes as it is written of him, but woe to that one by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been better for that one not to have been born” (Matthew 26.23-24).
To say that I was taken aback by Jesus’ words is an understatement. When Jesus referred to himself as the Son of Man, I believed that he was equating himself with the Messiah who would come to establish God’s kingdom. I wasn’t aware of any passages in our Scriptures where the Messiah was betrayed by one of his followers to be executed.
Judas was the last to speak and seemed a little agitated when he said, “Surely not I, Rabbi?”
I really didn’t know how to take what Jesus said to him. He said, “You have said so” (Matthew 26.25).
The Lord’s Supper
After the shock of hearing about betrayal, things seemed to settle down a little in the room. When Jesus took some bread, I was expecting him to give the traditional blessing, “Blessed are you, Lord our God, King of the world, who brings forth bread from the earth.”
Instead, as Jesus was breaking the unleavened bread, he said, “Take, eat; this is my body” (Matthew 26.26).
If there was any doubt that he was intending to die soon, it vanished the moment he ripped that flat piece of bread in two.
I didn’t know if Jesus would give the traditional blessing over the cup, “Blessed are you, Lord our God, King of the world, who created the fruit of the vine.” After what he had done with the bread I wasn’t too surprised by his next words.
He prayed a prayer that moved me to tears, held up the cup and said, “Drink from it, all of you; for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. I tell you, I will never again drink of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom” (Matthew 26.27-29).
Between tearing the bread in two and what Jesus said about the cup, I was convinced that his death was imminent. What I didn’t understand then, I learned later on. Jesus was the Messiah. He came to rule, but his rule was not like the earthly kingdoms that I knew so well. Rather, his rule was to begin in the hearts of people.
I realized in this supper the truth of his words, “The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many” (Matthew 20.28).
I later realized that this was God’s way of establishing a new covenant with people. Our hearts would be transformed and we would then live like Jesus taught us to live.
When the meal was finished, we sang one of the Psalms together and walked back to the Mount of Olives (Matthew 26.30).
Jesus began his ministry with these words, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near” (Matthew 4.17). Throughout out our study of Matthew, we have used Dallas Willard’s definition of the kingdom of God as “the effective reach of God’s power.”
In our world the effective reach of a kingdom’s power is measured by strength their army or their economy.
The effective reach of God’s power was and is measured by self-giving love. Jesus is the most profound example of the fact that self-giving love is both practical and powerful.
Every time the church observes what is called the Lord’s Supper or Communion, we remember how God determines to rule his universe. He does so through his Son’s broken body and shed blood. The effective reach of his power touches our hearts through the sacrifice of his Son. Enemies are conquered by making us his friends.
In 1970 I met a man whose life was changed by the self-giving love of God. He was a small time criminal who was married to a night club singer in Chicago. When his marriage and life spiraled down, his wife began riding a bus on Sundays to church. Their two disabled children pleaded with him to join them in church.
He finally relented and attended a Sunday morning service to pacify his kids. After their Sunday meal, he announced to the family, “We’re going back to church tonight.” That night, he met Jesus as his personal Savior and friend.
When I met this couple, they had left Chicago, the night clubs, and a life of crime. They were active in a church in Southern Illinois and were joyfully married and vibrant Christians. This is a picture of the power of Jesus’ self-giving love in action.
Dear Jesus, we praise you for your self-giving love. We honor you that you decide to extend your power and rule your universe by changing hearts and making us your friends. We glorify you today and thank you for the great God you are.