Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Luke 22:1-23 Commentary

Judas Agrees to Betray Jesus
1Now the Feast of Unleavened Bread, called the Passover, was approaching, 2and the chief priests and the teachers of the law were looking for some way to get rid of Jesus, for they were afraid of the people. 3Then Satan entered Judas, called Iscariot, one of the Twelve. 4And Judas went to the chief priests and the officers of the temple guard and discussed with them how he might betray Jesus. 5They were delighted and agreed to give him money. 6He consented, and watched for an opportunity to hand Jesus over to them when no crowd was present.

The Last Supper
7Then came the day of Unleavened Bread on which the Passover lamb had to be sacrificed. 8Jesus sent Peter and John, saying, "Go and make preparations for us to eat the Passover."

9"Where do you want us to prepare for it?" they asked.
10He replied, "As you enter the city, a man carrying a jar of water will meet you. Follow him to the house that he enters, 11and say to the owner of the house, 'The Teacher asks: Where is the guest room, where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?' 12He will show you a large upper room, all furnished. Make preparations there."

13They left and found things just as Jesus had told them. So they prepared the Passover.

14When the hour came, Jesus and his apostles reclined at the table. 15And he said to them, "I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. 16For I tell you, I will not eat it again until it finds fulfillment in the kingdom of God."

17After taking the cup, he gave thanks and said, "Take this and divide it among you. 18For I tell you I will not drink again of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes."

19And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, "This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me."

20In the same way, after the supper he took the cup, saying, "This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you. 21But the hand of him who is going to betray me is with mine on the table. 22The Son of Man will go as it has been decreed, but woe to that man who betrays him." 23They began to question among themselves which of them it might be who would do this.

Dig Deeper
One of my favorite childhood memories, although I do have many, is going to my aunt and uncle’s house each year for Christmas Eve for a big party. Every year the entire family on my mother’s side would gather together and go there to celebrate Christmas Eve together with a lot of food and fun. One of the great traditions of that evening would be when my Uncle Joe would gather all of us kids around him later on into the evening. He would sit on a chair and all of us kids would sit on the floor around his feet and he would read us “The Night Before Christmas.” It was a wonderful tradition that me and my sister and all of our cousins still cherish. My Uncle Joe died many years ago now and somehow the tradition of reading that story has passed on to me and it’s something that I’ve been doing for 19 Christmases now. There were a few years right after he died where the gatherings were a little sparse but in the last ten or fifteen years the tradition has picked up steam again and there is a whole new crop of young cousins and kids running around everywhere. We still gather together ever year and we eat, we laugh, we catch up, and we have our traditions like the reading of “The Night Before Christmas” and the fact that my sister and my cousin Denny will always be twenty minutes late for the party. What is quite interesting, though, is to consider why we do this every year. It’s not because it is the best party in town. I’m sure there are better parties going on that people could scatter and go to. It’s not because we are all best friends. That’s evidenced by the fact that many of us only see each other that one time a year. So why do we have that meal with all of it’s traditions? It’s because we are family. If nothing else, getting together each year and eating together and sharing in those traditions declare and remind us all that we are family. It’s an important connection.

Meals and traditions bring people together like nothing else really. Special meals and special traditions can become among the most cherished and important things that people ever do and they certainly can create some of the very best memories. The ancient Jewish people were second to none when it came to placing a primary importance on family and no one had more important festivals, meals, celebrations, and traditions than they did. Chief among those traditions and festivals was that of Passover. Passover was a powerful declaration to one another and to the world that the Jewish people were one family and that nothing was more important than their identity as that family. That is why this meal that Luke describes for us here was and continues to be so indescribably powerful. Jesus intentionally took the strongest and deepest tradition that the Jewish people had and he quite intentionally re-cast it to be the family-forming and identifying event of his new family, the new people of God. This would be the tradition and meal that would constantly remind his people that they were, above all else, a family.

But all families have their problems. Many people are shocked and almost don’t know what to do with the fact that one of Jesus’ closest followers could betray and him turn him over to those who wanted to get rid of Jesus. We simply don’t know all of Judas’ motives, though many have tried to speculate, but in the end speculation is all it is. It played right into the hands of chief priests because now they could quietly arrest Jesus away from the crowds and get him before the end of Passover, before he might leave Jerusalem again. But that still leaves us with the uncomfortable truth that someone who knew Jesus intimately and followed him for years, betrayed him and fooled all of Jesus’ other disciples. He didn’t fool Jesus, of course. And it is always deeply convicting to consider that even though Jesus knew that Judas would betray him, he continued to love Judas, even washing his feet on his final night (Jn. 13), to the extent that Jesus never treated Judas differently than the others. Judas’ motivation seemed so confusing for Luke that all he could comprehend was that this was one of the more opportune times that Satan had been waiting for since 4:13. The only thing Luke could attribute Judas’ behavior to was satanic inspiration. Whatever Judas’ motivations might have been, he was a perfect opportunity for Satan to try to take Jesus down. If nothing else, though, Judas is a great reminder in the midst of this powerful, family-creating meal that was taking place, that families are not always perfect. Even Jesus’ family had those who were not loyal to the cause, unbeknownst to everyone else except the Master. Yet, the family survived and even prospered. As much as Satan might take the advantage to use those who don’t remain loyal to the Messiah and his people, God will use that very opposition to make his people even stronger and more equipped to carry on.

With the details of the betrayal out of the way, Luke can return to this very Passover-inspired meal. The Passover meal itself was Israel’s great celebration of the Exodus, the time when God brought them out of slavery and created them as his people, his family, through the sacrifice of the blood of the spotless lamb that was spread on the top and sides of their doorframes in a cross-type pattern. Passions ran high during Passover as it stirred up Messianic and nationalistic hopes, but more than anything else, Passover was a family meal that was eaten together in families.

Jesus sent his disciples off to make preparations for the meal, and just as when he sent them to find a young colt for him to ride into Jerusalem on, Luke is not clear whether Jesus had made preparations ahead of time and just not told his guys until they needed to know or whether this was a case of his miraculous foreknowledge. Whatever the case, they went upstairs to have a Passover meal together as a family. Jesus had declared to them throughout his ministry that they were being formed into a family group, the fulfillment of the promises that God had given Abraham to bless the whole world through one family. Now they would engage in this most of family-forming and identifying meal.

Luke, as is his custom, gives us some details of this meal but certainly not all of the details that we might like to fulfill our curiosity. With the details that he has given us, though, we can learn that Jesus clearly followed many of the elements of a traditional Passover meal while changing others. As they came together for this family meal, Jesus took the role of father while they all reclined in the customary Passover fashion, laying on their stomachs while propping themselves up on their left arms. There were four specific cups that were taken during the Passover meal and it appears that Luke has described the second and third cups of this new Passover that Jesus administered. The bread that he offered up would have come from the third course of the meal which was eaten along with the lamb and the bitter herbs.

As Jesus gave them this new Passover meal, he infused it with the meaning of his new meal. Like Passover it would be a meal of remembering. The remembering aspect of Passover was vitally important because it solidified them as a larger community and a people but also reinforced the family groups in which they took the meal. It took them back to their roots, back to the events that formed them as a community and called them to affirm, as one people, their common heritage. It both reinforced the family bonds while continuing to forge them at the same time. This was precisely what Jesus was doing with this new meal of the new covenant. The cups would not just remind them of Passover events any longer, but would be infused with the new meaning of the blood that Jesus was about to shed to create them as a family. This cup would be a remembrance and not something that they would do with Jesus again until the kingdom of God came. (We are not told whether Jesus was referring to the aspect of the kingdom that would come at Pentecost in Acts 2 or the fullness of the kingdom coming in the resurrection age. A case can be made for either option but either way it doesn’t effect the meaning of this passage.) The bread would be a reminder not only of Jesus’ body and sacrifice but of the body in Christ that he was creating in his upcoming actions on the cross.

This would be the family-forming and roots-reminding meal of the new covenant community. It would be the central aspect of them coming together. They would proclaim the Lord’s death and all that it meant to create them as the body of Christ and the family of God (1 Cor. 11:23-26). This was the new covenant that Jeremiah promised (Jer. 31:31) and which would become a common theme in the New Testament (see Matt. 26:28; 2 Cor. 3-4; Heb. 8-10).

Luke told us all the way back in 9:51 that Jesus’ march towards Jerusalem was, above all else, an exodus. It was the new exodus and it was now coming towards an end with a new Passover meal. Jesus was coming to do for all nations of the world what God had done for Israel so long ago. He was giving them the opportunity for freedom from the slavery that entangled them and form them into a new people, God’s family. He would be the Passover lamb, whose death would allow his people to escape into freedom. Just as Pharaoh tried to defy God’s purposes and hardened his heart, only to see God use that hardening to bring about his plan, so Satan and those who aligned themselves against Jesus would give their best effort to derail Jesus and his new exodus, but God would use that very opposition to bring about his purposes.

When we come together, then, to celebrate this meal that Jesus gave us, we should take the time to not just remember what he did for us in the actions on the cross, but that at the heart of this meal is to remember that it forms us into a family. It has it’s food. It has it’s traditions. It is a family meal. And that’s an important connection.

Devotional Thought
In the 21st century we often think of “salvation” as a private and individual event but that’s not the picture that the Bible presents. Biblical salvation is the act of leaving our own autonomous “you-niverse” and becoming members of God’s family. The communion meal of the early church was a weekly family reunion of sorts. Have you become part of a true and genuine church family that lives and interacts together as God’s family? Does your Christian community really show the rest of the world an example of God’s people living together in your hearts as family?

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