The Heights of Humility

Likewise, you who are younger, be subject to the elders. Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.”

Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you. 1 Peter 5:5-7 ESV

The church needs godly leadership. So, Peter called on the elders of the local congregations in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia to step up and do their God-appointed duty well.

Care for the flock that God has entrusted to you. Watch over it willingly, not grudgingly—not for what you will get out of it, but because you are eager to serve God. – 1 Peter 5:2 NLT

But Peter knew it was almost impossible to lead those who refused to follow. That’s why he turned his attention to the members of those local congregations and urged them to live lives of humble submission and obedience, graciously and willingly submitting themselves to their elders and to one another. And he began by addressing the young men who, in every generation, sometimes find submission to authority to be a difficult and distasteful proposition. Naturally headstrong and strongly independent, young men inherently desire to come out from under the authority of their elders. They want to sow their oats, captain their own ship, and operate as the masters of their own fates. But Peter challenged them to “accept the authority of the elders” (1 Peter 5:5 NLT).

Peter knew that the health of the church was dependent upon the willingness of its members to lovingly submit to one another. There was no place for competition within the body of Christ. While the church requires a God-ordained hierarchy of leadership, there is no excuse for attitudes of superiority or favoritism. Paul addressed the unique nature of the body of Christ in his first letter to believers living  in the city of Corinth.

The human body has many parts, but the many parts make up one whole body. So it is with the body of Christ. – 1 Corinthians 12:12 NLT

He went on to use the human body as an apt illustration of the spiritual body of Christ – the church.

Yes, the body has many different parts, not just one part. If the foot says, “I am not a part of the body because I am not a hand,” that does not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear says, “I am not part of the body because I am not an eye,” would that make it any less a part of the body? If the whole body were an eye, how would you hear? Or if your whole body were an ear, how would you smell anything? – 1 Corinthians 12:14-17 NLT

Each part of the body is necessary and serves its own unique purpose. It is only as they function in harmony that they all enjoy the mutual benefits inherent in their relationship. And the same is true of the church. That is why Paul insisted, “our bodies have many parts, and God has put each part just where he wants it” (1 Corinthians 12:18 NLT). Yes, there are those who are designated as elder and teachers, but that does not mean they have greater value or worth. It is as each member of the body of Christ learns to utilize its unique attributes for the benefit of the whole, that the church grows and thrives. And Paul insisted that it was all of God’s divine plan.

So God has put the body together such that extra honor and care are given to those parts that have less dignity. This makes for harmony among the members, so that all the members care for each other. – 1 Corinthians 12:24-25 NLT

Having addressed the younger generation within the church, Peter expanded the circumference of his message by including every “part” of the body.

…all of you, dress yourselves in humility as you relate to one another, for

“God opposes the proud
    but gives grace to the humble.” – 1 Peter 5:5 NLT

According to Peter, every member of a local congregation had the responsibility to adorn themselves with an attitude of humility. No one was to view themselves as irreplaceable or indispensable. An elder, while holding a leadership position within the body of Christ, was expected to be a servant of all. Every individual within a local fellowship was to maintain a humble evaluation of themselves. The apostle Paul put it a bit more bluntly.

I give each of you this warning: Don’t think you are better than you really are. Be honest in your evaluation of yourselves, measuring yourselves by the faith God has given us. Just as our bodies have many parts and each part has a special function, so it is with Christ’s body. We are many parts of one body, and we all belong to each other. – Romans 12:3-5 NLT

Peter was paraphrasing Proverbs 3:34 when he wrote “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” And James did the same thing in the letter that bears his name.

As the Scriptures say,

“God opposes the proud
    but gives grace to the humble.”

So humble yourselves before God. – James 4:6-7 NLT

Humility is a non-negotiable characteristic of a Christ-follower. That’s why Paul told the believers in Philippi:

Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves. Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too.

You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had. – Philippians 2:3-5 NLT

And Paul went on to describe exactly what kind of attitude Jesus had.

…he gave up his divine privileges;
    he took the humble position of a slave
    and was born as a human being.
When he appeared in human form,
    he humbled himself in obedience to God
    and died a criminal’s death on a cross. – Philippians 2:7-8 NLT

Jesus was the Son of God and, yet, He did not think of Himself as too good to take on human flesh and live among sinful humanity. The co-creator of the entire universe willingly left His Father’s side and entered this world as the servant of all. He was the suffering servant and the good shepherd, who laid down His life for the sheep. And we are to follow His example. we are to share His mindset of humility and selfless service.

And with Jesus as the prime example, Peter urges his readers: “So humble yourselves under the mighty power of God, and at the right time he will lift you up in honor” (1 Peter 5:6 NLT). Slaves who submitted to their masters, wives who lived in loving submission to their husbands, husbands who submissively and sacrificially served their wives, and individual Christians who willingly submitted to one another would each be submitting to God. And He would eventually reward them just as He had rewarded His Son. Which is exactly what Paul had written about our humble and selfless Savior.

Therefore, God elevated him to the place of highest honor
    and gave him the name above all other names,
that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
    in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue declare that Jesus Christ is Lord,
    to the glory of God the Father. – Philippians 2:9-11 NLT

As Peter states earlier, God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble. His grace is our reward. The grace of the gospel, made possible by the selfless sacrifice of Jesus rewards us with salvation, forgiveness, sanctification, and, ultimately, our future glorification. We can look forward to a future reward that will include eternal life in His unshakeable Kingdom.

Since we are receiving a Kingdom that is unshakable, let us be thankful and please God by worshiping him with holy fear and awe. – Hebrews 12:28 NLT

Peter wanted his readers to live humbly, sacrificially, selflessly, and expectantly. Yes, they would suffer in this life. And yes, they were expected to live submissively in this life. And yet, one day, their humility will be richly rewarded.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

New English Translation (NET)NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2017 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. http://netbible.com All rights reserved.

 

The Inexplicable Ways of God

50 Now there was a man named Joseph, from the Jewish town of Arimathea. He was a member of the council, a good and righteous man, 51 who had not consented to their decision and action; and he was looking for the kingdom of God. 52 This man went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. 53 Then he took it down and wrapped it in a linen shroud and laid him in a tomb cut in stone, where no one had ever yet been laid. 54 It was the day of Preparation, and the Sabbath was beginning. 55 The women who had come with him from Galilee followed and saw the tomb and how his body was laid. 56 Then they returned and prepared spices and ointments.

On the Sabbath they rested according to the commandment.  Luke 23:50-56 ESV

The death of Jesus was a devastating and demoralizing blow to His followers. He had repeatedly told them that His trip to Jerusalem would end in His death, but they had refused to believe Him because His words did not comport with their understanding of the Messiah. Peter had even rebuked Jesus for making such illogical and unacceptable statements. These men had no place for a dying Savior in their Messianic vision. They had been longing for Jesus to curtail His preaching ministry and begin His campaign to destroy the Romans and set up His kingdom in Jerusalem.

Earlier in the week, as the disciples sat with Jesus on the Mount of Olives, they asked Him, “Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?” (Matthew 24:3 ESV). They were distraught because Jesus had delivered some devastating news to them. On their way to the Mount of Olives, they had passed through the eastern gate of the city near the temple mount. When the disciples mentioned the beauty of the temple complex, Jesus surprised them by stating, “You see all these, do you not? Truly, I say to you, there will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down.”

Now, as they sat on the Mount of Olives, with the temple mount in view just across the Kidron Valley, they wanted to know if the destruction of the temple was the sign they should be looking for. They were desperate to know what would be the sign or evidence of His coming as the Messiah. Up to this point, Jesus had done nothing king-like. He had healed, preached, and taught, but none of that was what they expected the Messiah to do. They were looking for some kind of tangible proof that His kingdom was about to begin. But Jesus went on to tell them that things were going to get dramatically worse before they got better. The “sign” they longed for would come, but not when during their lifetimes and not before they would face difficult days.

“Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and put you to death, and you will be hated by all nations for my name’s sake.  And then many will fall away and betray one another and hate one another. And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray. And because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold. But the one who endures to the end will be saved. And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.” – Matthew 23:9-14 ESV

Everything about the death of Jesus was unexpected and unacceptable to the disciples. They had envisioned a far different ending to the story. In their minds, Jesus should have been seated on the throne of David and not hanging on a cross like a criminal.  And yet, it was all according to the will of God. As dark as the moment may have appeared to Jesus’ followers, the invisible, yet sovereign hand of God was evident throughout the narrative. Everything was taking place according to His divine plan – down to the last detail. Every facet of the story was unfolding just as the prophet Isaiah had written centuries earlier.

…he was pierced for our rebellion, crushed for our sins… – Isaiah 53:5 NLT

…He was beaten so we could be whole. – Isaiah 53:5 NLT

…He was whipped so we could be healed. – Isaiah 53:5 NLT

…He was oppressed and treated harshly. – Isaiah 53:7 NLT

…He was led like a lamb to the slaughter. – Isaiah 53:7 NLT

…Unjustly condemned, he was led away. – Isaiah 53:8 NLT

his life was cut short in midstream… – Isaiah 53:8 NLT

…he was struck down for the rebellion of my people. – Isaiah 53:8 NLT

he was buried like a criminal; he was put in a rich man’s grave. – Isaiah 53:9 NLT

And, as Luke points out, the rich man Isaiah prophesied about was none other than Joseph of Arimathea, “a member of the council, a good and righteous man” (Luke 23:50 ESV). Everything about the death of Jesus was unexpected and counterintuitive. It made no sense. And, as further proof, here was a well-respected member of the Sanhedrin, unknowingly fulfilling the preordained will of God. Matthew describes Joseph as “a disciple of Jesus” (Matthew 27:57 ESV). Luke states that “he was looking for the kingdom of God” (Luke 23:51 ESV). Somewhere along the way, this high-ranking member of Israel’s religious elite had determined that Jesus was the Messiah. He had broken ranks with the rest of his brothers on the high council and begun to believe that Jesus was who He claimed to be: The long-awaited Messiah of Israel. In fact, Joseph had risked his reputation by refusing to give his consent to the council’s decision to have Jesus arrested and crucified (Luke 23:51).

And now, he was further jeopardizing his livelihood and life by asking Pilate for permission to remove the body of Jesus from the cross. Luke provides no insight into the motivation behind Joseph’s actions, other than the fact that he was a follower of Jesus. And it’s interesting to note that the Gospels provide the name of only one other individual who assisted in the burial of Jesus, and he too was a member of the Sanhedrin.

Nicodemus also, who earlier had come to Jesus by night, came bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about seventy-five pounds in weight. – John 19:39 ESV

This was the same man whose curiosity had compelled him to schedule a late-night, clandestine meeting with Jesus.

Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. This man came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him.” – John 3:1-2 ESV

Jesus had gone on to tell this highly educated Pharisee about the key to seeing and experiencing the Kingdom of God. And it was not what Nicodemus had expected. In fact, Jesus’ words confused him. When Jesus had stated, “unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.,” Nicodemus responded, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?” (John 3:3-4 ESV). None of this made sense to Nicodemus. As a Jew and a highly-respected member of the Sanhedrin, Nicodemus believed himself to have a permanent place reserved for himself in the kingdom. He truly believed he had earned his rightful place in the coming kingdom of the Messiah. But Jesus revealed that entrance into the kingdom would require far more than good deeds and the right genes.

“…unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.” – John 3:5 ESV

And then He added the one vital element that was missing from Nicodemus’ understanding of the coming kingdom.

“…as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.” – John 3:14-15 ESV

The Messiah would have to die. Jesus would have to be “lifted up” on the cross. And He would later restate this unexpected requirement for the coming kingdom.

“And when I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw everyone to myself.” – John 12:32 ESV

Nicodemus had left that night confused and concerned by all that he had heard. But evidently, he had come to the conclusion that the words of Jesus were true and that He was the long-awaited Messiah of Israel. He showed up at the cross of Jesus, carrying 75-pounds of spices in order to properly prepare the body of Jesus for burial, and he had gone to great expense and was taking a great risk to do so.

There at the cross of Jesus, these two members of the Sanhedrin carefully removed the lifeless body of Jesus and prepared it for burial. They “took it down and wrapped it in a linen shroud and laid him in a tomb cut in stone, where no one had ever yet been laid” (Luke 23:53 ESV). And then they “rolled a great stone to the entrance of the tomb and went away” (Matthew 27:60 ESV).

What a remarkable and totally unexpected scene. It’s fascinating to consider that, over the centuries, countless paintings have been created that attempt to depict this event. But most of them portray images that are figments of the artist’s imagination. They show a dejected Mary cradling her dead Son in her arms, surrounded by compassionate and equally mournful disciples. But that is not what happened. Matthew reports that “Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were there, sitting opposite the tomb” (Matthew 27:61 ESV). Luke indicates that the women watched as Joseph and Nicodemus prepared and buried the body of Jesus. They took note of where the tomb was located and made plans to return with spices so that they too might anoint His body. But the 11 disciples of Jesus are strangely absent from this scene. It appears that only John was near enough to know the details surrounding Jesus’ burial place, and he reports that “in the place where he was crucified there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb in which no one had yet been laid” (John 19:41 ESV).

In the place of death, there was a garden, and in the garden, there was a tomb. And as the lifeless body of Jesus was placed in the ground, a remarkable and unexpected reality was about to take place, just as Jesus had predicted.

“The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. If anyone serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there will my servant be also. If anyone serves me, the Father will honor him.” – John 12:23-26 ESV

Don’t overlook the fact that it was two Pharisees who buried “the grain of wheat” in the ground. This unlikely pair was given the privilege of sowing the seed that would produce a harvest of righteousness. They served the Savior by placing His body in the tomb. They risked their reputations and their lives so that the Son of God might be given a proper burial. But what they didn’t realize was that they were planting the seed that would produce fruit for generations to come.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

All According to Plan

47 While he was still speaking, there came a crowd, and the man called Judas, one of the twelve, was leading them. He drew near to Jesus to kiss him, 48 but Jesus said to him, “Judas, would you betray the Son of Man with a kiss?” 49 And when those who were around him saw what would follow, they said, “Lord, shall we strike with the sword?” 50 And one of them struck the servant of the high priest and cut off his right ear. 51 But Jesus said, “No more of this!” And he touched his ear and healed him. 52 Then Jesus said to the chief priests and officers of the temple and elders, who had come out against him, “Have you come out as against a robber, with swords and clubs? 53 When I was with you day after day in the temple, you did not lay hands on me. But this is your hour, and the power of darkness.” Luke 22:47-53 ESV

Upon completion of His prayer time with the Father, Jesus found Peter, James, and John sound asleep yet again. According to Matthew and Mark’s gospel accounts, Jesus sympathetically stated, “Go ahead and sleep. Have your rest.” (Mark 14:41 NLT). But then, sensing the arrival of His arrest party, He immediately announced, “But no—the time has come. The Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. Up, let’s be going. Look, my betrayer is here!” (Luke 14:41-42 NLT).

At that moment a company of armed guards, accompanied by members of the Sanhedrin, noisily shattered the serenity of the garden and pierced the darkness of the night with their torches. Leading them was Judas. It seems likely that their less-than-stealthy approach had awakened the other disciples, who immediately sought out Jesus. They arrived just in time to see “a crowd of men armed with swords and clubs” (Mark 14:43 NLT) enter the garden with their fellow disciple, Judas leading them. And Mark adds that these men “had been sent by the leading priests, the teachers of religious law, and the elders” (Mark 14:43 NLT). 

One can only imagine the range of emotions that flooded the minds of the disciples as they witnessed this unexpected scene. Having just woken up, they would have been confused and disoriented by the sudden realization that they were surrounded by what appeared to be a group of well-armed vigilantes. And the surprising sight of Judas standing alongside these men would have left them shocked and resentful. But before they had time to process all that was going on, Judas stepped forward and said, “Greetings, Rabbi!” (Matthew 26:49 NLT). Then he proceeded to kiss Jesus, a prearranged sign designed to clearly identify the one for whom the men were looking. In the darkness of the garden, it would have been difficult to distinguish Jesus from His 12 disciples, so Judas had come up with this simple signal to ensure they arrested the right man.

Once again, the other 11 disciples would have watched all this take place with a sense of bewilderment and growing apprehension. What was happening? Why were these men here and what was Judas doing with them? It’s important to recognize that, even when Judas had left the upper room after Jesus announced that one of them would betray Him, the rest of the disciples didn’t immediately assume Judas was the guilty party. And as this surreal scene unfolded before them, they remained stupefied and unable to comprehend the gravity of the moment.

Luke seems to indicate that Jesus responded to Judas’ hypocritical display of affection by whispering into his ear, “Judas, would you betray the Son of Man with a kiss?” (Luke 22:48 ESV). He wanted Judas to consider the gravity of the moment and the sobering significance of His decision. He was betraying the Messiah, the anointed one of God. Jesus’ use of the term, “ Son of Man” was direct reference to the prophecy found in Daniel 7.

“I saw in the night visions,

and behold, with the clouds of heaven
    there came one like a son of man,
and he came to the Ancient of Days
    and was presented before him.
And to him was given dominion
    and glory and a kingdom,
that all peoples, nations, and languages
    should serve him;
his dominion is an everlasting dominion,
    which shall not pass away,
and his kingdom one
    that shall not be destroyed.” – Daniel 7:13-14 ESV

Jesus was the “Son of Man,” the one to whom the Ancient of Days had given dominion, glory, and a kingdom. And here was Judas betraying the long-awaited Messiah of Israel in such a disrespectful and shameful manner.

Sensing Judas’ sudden guilt and apprehension, Jesus quietly added, “My friend, go ahead and do what you have come for” (Matthew 26:50 ESV). Since Judas had already identified Jesus so that He could be arrested, what more was there for him to do? What did Jesus mean when He said, “do what you have come for?” According to Matthew 26:15, Judas had already received his blood money from the Sanhedrin as payment for his betrayal of Jesus. So, what more was there for him to do?

It seems that Jesus was letting Judas know that the kiss was only the beginning of his betrayal. That simple act was going to lead to a series of actions on the part of the guards, the Sanhedrin, and the Romans that would eventually end with Jesus’ death. Judas had no concept of all that his self-centered decision had set in motion. And, in a sense, all that transpired in the hours ahead would be Judas’ doing. He would be forever responsible for the death of the Messiah of Israel. That’s why, when Jesus had announced in the upper room that one of the disciples would betray Him, He added this foreboding warning.

“For the Son of Man must die, as the Scriptures declared long ago. But how terrible it will be for the one who betrays him. It would be far better for that man if he had never been born!” – Matthew 26:24 NLT

And as Judas stepped back, he had done what he came to do, but he would soon realize the true gravity of what he had done. His sin was going to have long-term and devastating consequences that he had not anticipated.

It was at this point that the rest of the disciples snapped out of their stupor and realized what has about to transpire. So, one of them shouted, “Lord, shall we strike with the sword?” (Luke 49 ESV). The scene grew suddenly chaotic as the armed guards grabbed Jesus and the disciples began to panic. Matthew indicates that one of them decided to take matters into his own hands and “pulled out his sword and struck the high priest’s slave, slashing off his ear” (Matthew 26:51 NLT). In a matter of seconds, the serene setting of the garden had turned into an armed conflict, and Jesus was forced to intervene. “No more of this!” He shouted. Then turning to His disciples, He reprimanded them for their impulsive and inappropriate behavior.

“Put away your sword,” Jesus told him. “Those who use the sword will die by the sword. Don’t you realize that I could ask my Father for thousands of angels to protect us, and he would send them instantly?” – Matthew 26:52-53 NLT

They were operating outside the will of God the Father, and their actions were actually in conflict with the pre-ordained plan of God. They were guilty of the very same thing for which Jesus had condemned Peter on an earlier occasion. When Jesus had announced to His disciples that His arrival in Jerusalem would result in His arrest, trial, and execution, Peter had rebuked Him. And Jesus had responded to Peter with a rebuke of His own.

“You are a dangerous trap to me. You are seeing things merely from a human point of view, not from God’s.” – Matthew 16:23 NLT

Now, here were the disciples repeating the same mistake. And it isn’t hard to imagine that the one wielding the sword that night was Peter himself. He remained just as impulsive and self-willed as ever.

But Jesus stood between the two opposing groups, calmly quieting the storm of anger that threatened to turn the garden into a killing field. And, true to form, He stooped down, picked up the severed ear, and miraculously restored the wounded man to health. Even with His own death just hours away, Jesus continued to show unrivaled compassion and care for others.

It’s at this point in his narrative that Luke reveals the presence of the chief priests, the officers of the temple, and the elders. These men had been there all along, lurking in the shadows. They would not have missed this moment for anything in the world. It was the culmination of much planning and the solution to what they believed to be a pressing problem. Caiaphas, the high priest, had earlier told his fellow members of the Sanhedrin, “You don’t realize that it’s better for you that one man should die for the people than for the whole nation to be destroyed” (John 11:50 NLT). He had concluded that Jesus posed a threat to the nation’s well-being because He was inciting the people and encouraging revolution. That would eventually bring that the wrath of the Romans and result in unnecessary pain and suffering. So, it was better for Jesus to die than for Israel to be destroyed.

Fully aware of the rationale behind their conduct, Jesus clearly refuted their claim that He was some kind of radical, political activist who posed a threat to society.

“Am I some dangerous revolutionary,” he asked, “that you come with swords and clubs to arrest me? Why didn’t you arrest me in the Temple? I was there every day. But this is your moment, the time when the power of darkness reigns.” – Luke 22:52-53 NLT

There was no need for the armed guards and all the cloak-and-dagger histrionics. There had been plenty of opportunities for them to arrest Jesus along the way, but they had chosen to do it under cover of darkness. But as Jesus made clear, this was their moment. They were in their element. The darkness of the evening was symbolic of their spiritual state. Their actions bore evidence that they preferred the darkness of sin over the light, just as the apostle John had claimed.

…the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. – John 3:19-20 ESV

And Jesus let them know that their cleverly orchestrated and clandestine plans were actually the will of God.

“But this is all happening to fulfill the words of the prophets as recorded in the Scriptures.” – Matthew 26:56 NLT

They were not the ones in control of the situation. They were simply instruments in the hands of God Almighty, fulfilling His predetermined plan for the redemption of the world. And even the fearful response of the disciples after Jesus was arrested was all part of the preordained will of God. Matthew indicates that “the disciples deserted him and fled” into the night (Matthew 26:53 NLT). Jesus had warned them that this would happen.

“All of you will desert me. For the Scriptures say, ‘God will strike the Shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered.’” – Mark 14:27 NLT

Jesus had quoted Zechariah 13:7, revealing to the disciples that even their eventual abandonment of Him would be in fulfillment of the predetermined will of God the Father. Everything taking place on this fateful night was being orchestrated from above. It was all part of the plan and a necessary part of the plan that had been put in place before the foundation of the world.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

In the Service of the King

24 A dispute also arose among them, as to which of them was to be regarded as the greatest. 25 And he said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them, and those in authority over them are called benefactors. 26 But not so with you. Rather, let the greatest among you become as the youngest, and the leader as one who serves. 27 For who is the greater, one who reclines at table or one who serves? Is it not the one who reclines at table? But I am among you as the one who serves.

28 “You are those who have stayed with me in my trials, 29 and I assign to you, as my Father assigned to me, a kingdom, 30 that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom and sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel. Luke 22:24-30 ESV

This passage leaves most people a bit stunned at the audacity of the disciples. How in the world could these men be so insensitive after all that Jesus had just said to them? He had just used elements from the Passover meal to describe His coming death on their behalf. Then He had followed that up with a disclosure that one of them was going to betray Him. But the gravity of His words didn’t seem to sink in. Oh, they spent some time discussing who the possible identity of the betrayer, but that quickly devolved into a pride-filled comparison. Upon close inspection, it becomes painfully evident that these men were debating about which of them mighty be capable doing such a thing. It conjures up images of the 11 remaining disciples (because Judas had already left the room) pointing fingers at one another in a perverse version of the blame-game.

In Matthew’s account of that fateful night, he indicates that each of the disciples had asked Jesus, “Is it I, Lord?” (Luke 22:23 ESV). And while Jesus seems to have made the identity of His betrayer quite clear, them disciples missed it and continued to argue over who the culprit might be. This suggests that they had no suspicions about Judas. While he had left the room, they did not jump to conclusions and immediately assume he was the guilty party. 

And Luke seems to suggest that their debate soon turned into an argument about superiority. They went from distancing themselves from possible culpability for Jesus’ betrayal to bragging about their personal qualifications to to lay claim to the coveted title of “Greatest of all Disciples.”

It’s absolutely mind-boggling to think of these men having such an arrogant discussion in the very room where Jesus had just informed them, “This is my body, which is given for you” and “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood” (Luke 22:19, 20 NLT). Even if we assume they didn’t quite comprehend the meaning behind His words, there is no way they could have missed what He meant when He said, “…here at this table, sitting among us as a friend, is the man who will betray me. For it has been determined that the Son of Man must die. But what sorrow awaits the one who betrays him” (Luke 22:21-22 NLT).

But rather than console Jesus and offer their commitment to stand by His side to the bitter end, they made the focus of the entire evening all about themselves.

Then they began to argue among themselves about who would be the greatest among them. – Luke 22:24 NLT

What makes their self-centered obsession so egregious is that the Messiah, the Anointed One of God was standing right in front of them. And to make matters worse, John reports that Jesus, the Son of God, had prefaced the Passover meal by washing the feet of His disciples.

Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going back to God, rose from supper. He laid aside his outer garments, and taking a towel, tied it around his waist. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was wrapped around him. – John 13:3-5 ESV

And John indicates that immediately after Jesus had performed this lowly, selfless act of servanthood, He went out of His way to ensure that they understood the meaning behind His actions.

“Do you understand what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you. Truly, truly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them.” – John 13:12-17 ESV

Their Lord and teacher had just washed their feet, providing them with a vivid illustration of the ministry they would soon be commissioned to carry on in His absence. And yet, they seemed to have missed His point altogether. Jesus was not calling them to become washers of feet, but to become the servants of all. In other words, Jesus was asking them to carry on His ministry.

Amazingly, this was not the only time Jesus had to have this discussion with His disciples. Matthew records another occasion when the mother of James and John approached Jesus and asked, “In your Kingdom, please let my two sons sit in places of honor next to you, one on your right and the other on your left” (Matthew 20:21 NLT). This rather presumptuous request was met with jealousy-fueled anger by the other disciples. They were convinced that James and John were behind this gratuitous act of self-promotion. But Jesus responded to their frustration with the same basic message about selflessness and service.

“You know that the rulers in this world lord it over their people, and officials flaunt their authority over those under them. But among you it will be different. Whoever wants to be a leader among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first among you must become your slave. ” – Matthew 20:25-27 NLT

Then, to make sure they understand His meaning, Jesus used His own life as an example .

For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many.” – Mathew 28:28 NLT

The disciples had a worldly based perspective on leadership that promoted power, prominence, and position. The goal was to work your way to the top and then enjoy all the benefits your hard work afforded. But Jesus gave them a completely counter-cultural model to follow.

“…let the greatest among you become as the youngest, and the leader as one who serves.” – Luke 22:26 NLT

And, once again, Jesus reminded of them act of service He had just performed a few minutes earlier.

“For who is the greater, one who reclines at table or one who serves? Is it not the one who reclines at table? But I am among you as the one who serves.” – Luke 22:27 ESV

There is no indication that the disciples answered Jesus’ question because it required none. He had just demonstrated that He, the greater one, had served those who were His inferiors in so many respects. He was their Lord and teacher. Not only that, He was the Son of God and yet, He “did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:6-8 ESV).

Jesus declared, “I am among you as the one who serves” (Luke 22:27 ESV). That was the whole reason He had come to earth. And now, He was preparing them for the role they would play after He had given up His life in the ultimate act of selfless service.

Jesus wraps up this little lesson on leadership with a fascinating promise concerning the kingdom. It’s important to recognize that the kingdom is exactly what the disciples had been longing for ever since they began following Jesus. They had been hoping that He was their long-awaited Messiah and would set up the Kingdom of God on earth. But Jesus tells them something quite different.

“I assign to you, as my Father assigned to me, a kingdom…“ – Luke 22:29 ESV

In a sense, Jesus was giving them a mandate to have dominion over the world He had created. He was putting them in charge of His realm in His absence. But the kingdom to which He was assigning them authority would not be the final kingdom to come. It would not feature Jesus sitting on the throne of David in the city of Jerusalem. It would not feature James and John sitting on Jesus’ right and left in the royal palace. No, for the time being, it would consist of the disciples continuing His carrying the good news of the Kingdom of God to the ends of the earth. But then Jesus promised them that their longing for an earthly kingdom would one day be fulfilled. He assured them that one day they would “eat and drink at my table in my kingdom and sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel” (Luke 22:30 ESV). 

Now was not the time to argue about greatness. The days ahead would not be filled with power and prominence but with serving, suffering, and selfless obedience to the King and His mission.

“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” – Matthew 28:18-20 ESV

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

The Lamb for Sinners Slain

14 And when the hour came, he reclined at table, and the apostles with him. 15 And he said to them, “I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. 16 For I tell you I will not eat it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.” 17 And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he said, “Take this, and divide it among yourselves. 18 For I tell you that from now on I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.” 19 And he took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” 20 And likewise the cup after they had eaten, saying, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood. 21 But behold, the hand of him who betrays me is with me on the table. 22 For the Son of Man goes as it has been determined, but woe to that man by whom he is betrayed!” 23 And they began to question one another, which of them it could be who was going to do this. Luke 22:14-23 ESV

As Jesus and the disciples gathered in the second-floor room of a borrowed home, all the familiar sights and smells associated with the Passover meal would have greeted them. Peter and John had been busy making preparations for this commemorative celebration, preparing the room, and making sure they had all the food required for this annual event.

For the disciples, this meal would have had a certain sense of nostalgia associated with it. They would have celebrated this annual festival every year at the same time over the course of their lives. It was a high holy day and, in a sense, a holiday for the Jews. On this day they celebrated God’s deliverance of their ancestors from their captivity in Egypt. The book of Exodus records the words Moses spoke to the people of Israel when he shared with them God’s plans for the first Passover meal.

“This is a day to remember. Each year, from generation to generation, you must celebrate it as a special festival to the Lord. This is a law for all time. – Exodus 12:14 NLT

Moses went on to explain to them the meaning and the mandatory nature of the two festivals of Passover and Unleavened Bread.

“Celebrate this Festival of Unleavened Bread, for it will remind you that I brought your forces out of the land of Egypt on this very day. This festival will be a permanent law for you; celebrate this day from generation to generation. – Exodus 12:17 NLT

Then Moses reminded the Israelites that this celebration was to celebrated annually throughout all their generations.

“Remember, these instructions are a permanent law that you and your descendants must observe forever. When you enter the land the Lord has promised to give you, you will continue to observe this ceremony. Then your children will ask, ‘What does this ceremony mean?’ And you will reply, ‘It is the Passover sacrifice to the Lord, for he passed over the houses of the Israelites in Egypt. And though he struck the Egyptians, he spared our families.’” – Exodus 12:24-27 NLT

On this night, the disciples would have gathered around a table that held all the elements of a typical Passover meal, including the carefully prepared sacrificial lamb. And Peter and John would have faithfully followed the instructions given by Moses centuries earlier.

“The animal you select must be a one-year-old male, either a sheep or a goat, with no defects. Take special care of this chosen animal until the evening of the fourteenth day of this first month. Then the whole assembly of the community of Israel must slaughter their lamb or young goat at twilight. They are to take some of the blood and smear it on the sides and top of the doorframes of the houses where they eat the animal. That same night they must roast the meat over a fire and eat it along with bitter salad greens and bread made without yeast.” – Exodus 12:6-8 NLT

All over Jerusalem that night, families had gathered together to share this sacred meal. And in that borrowed upper room, Jesus reclined around a table with His little family of 12 disciples as they prepared to celebrate Passover together for what would be the last time. And Luke indicates that the first words out of Jesus’ mouth were both an expression of joy and sorrow.

“I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. For I tell you I will not eat it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.” – Luke 22:15-16 ESV

His mention of suffering must have caused a pall to fall over the normally festive proceedings. This was not the first time Jesus had talked of the suffering awaiting Him in Jerusalem, and His disciples would have reacted to it much like they had before: With shock and sorrow. Yet, strangely, Jesus expressed how much He had been anticipating this moment. He told His disciples that He had been looking forward to it. And yet, He knew that, at that meal, one of them was going to betray Him. He was also fully aware that, by the end of the evening, all of them would end up abandoning Him. And the ever-faithful Peter, out of fear for his life, would close out the night by denying he even knew Jesus.

But Jesus knew the significance of this occasion. It would be His last chance to instruct His disciples and prepare them for all that was about to happen in the hours ahead. It was no coincidence that Jesus used this highly symbolic meal to illustrate the nature of His pending suffering and death. After all, He was the ultimate pascal lamb and was about to offer up His body and blood on their behalf. But His death would not release them from physical bondage to the Romans. It would provide them with freedom from the bonds of sin and the penalty of death that hung over their heads.

There was so much that the disciples didn’t know and even what they did know, they failed to understand. When Jesus mentioned not eating the Passover meal again until it was fulfilled in the kingdom of God, they had no idea what He was talking about. It’s most likely that they understood Him to mean that He was about to set up His earthly kingdom. After all, that was what they had been longing for Him to do for three years.

But what they failed to understand was that Jesus was about to lay down His life as the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world (John 1:20). He was going to offer Himself as the sinless substitute, selflessly enduring the sentence of death that God, the righteous judge, had decreed as the just and holy punishment for mankind’s rebellion against Him. Not long after they completed the Passover meal, Jesus would go to the cross, where He would take on man’s sin debt and satisfy the just demands of His Holy Father. And, in doing so, God would graciously “pass over” the sins of all those who placed their faith in the selfless sacrifice of His Son. All that Jesus was about to do would be in fulfillment of the prophecy found in the book of Isaiah.

But he was pierced for our rebellion,
    crushed for our sins.
He was beaten so we could be whole.
    He was whipped so we could be healed.
All of us, like sheep, have strayed away.
    We have left God’s paths to follow our own.
Yet the Lord laid on him
    the sins of us all. – Isaiah 53:5-6 NLT

And the book of Revelation reveals that, for His efforts, Jesus would be recognized for His inestimable worthiness.

“Worthy is the Lamb who was slain,
to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might
and honor and glory and blessing!” – Revelation 5:12 ESV

But as the disciples shared the Passover meal with Jesus, they remained oblivious to all these things. So, when Jesus took the cup and told them to divide it among them, they would have thought nothing about it. To them, it was just another part of the Passover ceremony. And when Jesus stated, “For I tell you that from now on I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes” (Luke 22:18 ESV), their hopes must have risen. Once again, they would have likely understood that Jesus was about to set up His earthly kingdom. 

But then, Jesus took bread and broke, telling His disciples, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me” (Luke 22:19 ESV). Their minds would have raced back to that day when Jesus had declared, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry again. Whoever believes in me will never be thirsty” (John 6:35 NLT).  They would have remembered the two different occasions when Jesus had broken bread before and miraculously fed thousands of hungry people. But there was no way for them to understand His statement, “This is my body, which is given for you.” And when He took the cup and said, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood” (Luke 22:20 ESV), they had no way of grasping the significance of His words. Perhaps their minds went back to the words of Moses when he had ratified the covenant between God and the people of Israel.

Moses took the blood and threw it on the people and said, “Behold the blood of the covenant that the Lord has made with you in accordance with all these words.” – Exodus 24:8 ESV

Or it could be that they recalled the words of God recorded by the prophet Jeremiah.

“Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the Lord. For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the Lord. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.” – Jeremiah 31:31-34 ESV

But even as their minds reeled with confusion, Jesus interrupted their thoughts by announcing, “But here at this table, sitting among us as a friend, is the man who will betray me. For it has been determined that the Son of Man must die. But what sorrow awaits the one who betrays him” (Luke 22:21-22 NLT).

Yet, rather than seek clarity from Jesus about what He meant about dying, they began to debate amongst themselves, questioning which of them would be responsible for His betrayal. They remained clueless about the fate that awaited Jesus. And they had no way of understanding what the cup and the bread had been meant to signify. Jesus was on the way to the cross, but they were still hoping He would soon be sitting on the throne of David.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

All According to Plan

Then came the day of Unleavened Bread, on which the Passover lamb had to be sacrificed. So Jesus sent Peter and John, saying, “Go and prepare the Passover for us, that we may eat it.” They said to him, “Where will you have us prepare it?” 10 He said to them, “Behold, when you have entered the city, a man carrying a jar of water will meet you. Follow him into the house that he enters 11 and tell the master of the house, ‘The Teacher says to you, Where is the guest room, where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?’ 12 And he will show you a large upper room furnished; prepare it there.” 13 And they went and found it just as he had told them, and they prepared the Passover.  Luke 22:7-13 ESV

The Jewish leaders were plotting Jesus’ death and had hired Judas, one of Jesus’ own disciples, to help them make it happen. This member of Jesus’ inner circle of followers would play a crucial role in making the arrest of Jesus a non-public affair, causing as little fanfare as possible. The religious leaders knew their plan to kill Jesus would be unpopular with the people, so stealth and secrecy would be essential. Their frustration and concern with Jesus were at a fever pitch. Just a few days earlier, the Sanhedrin had held a meeting to discuss what to do with Jesus.

“What are we going to do?” they asked each other. “This man certainly performs many miraculous signs. If we allow him to go on like this, soon everyone will believe in him. Then the Roman army will come and destroy both our Temple and our nation.” – John 11:47-48 NLT

Caiaphas, as high priest and head of the council, decided to take matters into his own hands and give his fellow council members a stern rebuke and a lesson in leadership.

“You don’t know what you’re talking about! You don’t realize that it’s better for you that one man should die for the people than for the whole nation to be destroyed.” – John 11:49-50 NLT

Little did Caiaphas know that his words were prophetic. His anger-filled words were actually a clear and concise statement of truth regarding the efficacy of Jesus’ death. In his gospel account, John added a parenthetical statement that revealed the divine inspiration behind Caiaphas’ words.

He did not say this on his own; as high priest at that time he was led to prophesy that Jesus would die for the entire nation. And not only for that nation, but to bring together and unite all the children of God scattered around the world.– John 11:51-52 NLT

God had a plan in place, and He was divinely orchestrating every aspect of it with unseen precision and according to a very strict timeline. And Jesus, in perfect alignment with His Father’s will, was keeping to the preordained schedule. Jesus completed His Olivet Discourse on Wednesday and then, on Thursday, He ordered Peter and John to go into Jerusalem and prepare the Passover meal. The timing is critical because, as Luke indicates, this was the day “on which the Passover lamb had to be sacrificed” (Luke 22:7 ESV). The symbolism of this particular day is profound. Jesus, as “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29 ESV), was preparing to offer His life as a ransom for many (Matthew 20:28). In just a matter of hours, His blood would be spilled and His body broken so that sinful men and women might have the righteous wrath of God “pass over” their lives. He would become the ultimate pascal lamb, providing deliverance from death and the promise of eternal life.

In his description of this event, Luke provides details the other gospel authors leave out. He reveals that Jesus gave Peter and John very specific instructions regarding the location for their meal. Nothing was left to chance. The city of Jerusalem would have been overwhelmed by the number of pilgrims who had made their way there to celebrate Passover. Accommodations would have been in short supply. But somehow, Jesus had prearranged to have a room reserved for their use. In all the chaos and confusion of Jerusalem, Peter and John would find a man carrying a pitcher of water. This unidentified man, most likely a servant, would lead them to a house, where Peter and John would meet the homeowner. At that point, they were to deliver a message from Jesus.

“The Teacher says to you, Where is the guest room, where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?” – Luke 22:11 ESV

It is important to note that none of the disciples were aware of this location. That means that Jesus had not disclosed His plans to any of them. Which begs the question: How did Jesus manage to prearrange all the details surrounding the choice of this house and negotiate the arrangements with its owner? Had He made an unrecorded trip into Jerusalem and secured a room for their upcoming Passover meal? Or had He assigned the job to Mary of Martha, the sisters of Lazarus? None of the gospels provide answers to these questions. Which leads to a final possibility. Perhaps all the details surrounding the man with the pitcher and the home with the strangely available room was all a divinely orchestrated miracle. God had ordained it all.

Whatever the case, Peter and John did as Jesus said and they “found it just as he had told them, and they prepared the Passover” (Luke 22:13 ESV). Despite the crowded streets of Jerusalem, they were able to find the man with the pitcher of water. And seemingly, without words exchanged, they followed the man to the house. There they found a large upper room completely furnished and with everything they needed to celebrate the Passover meal with their Master.

Then Peter and John set about making preparations for the evening meal. Luke opened this section of his gospel with the words, “Then came the day of Unleavened Bread” (Luke 22:7 ESV). According to the book of Exodus, as part of the celebration of Passover, the Jews were to spend seven consecutive days eating unleavened bread. This bread, made without yeast, was to represent the removal of sin from their midst.

“This is a day to remember forever—the day you left Egypt, the place of your slavery. Today the Lord has brought you out by the power of his mighty hand. (Remember, eat no food containing yeast.). – Exodus 13:3 NLT

On the day of the first Passover, Moses had told the people of Israel:

“For seven days the bread you eat must be made without yeast. Then on the seventh day, celebrate a feast to the Lord. Eat bread without yeast during those seven days. In fact, there must be no yeast bread or any yeast at all found within the borders of your land during this time.” – Exodus 13:6-7 NLT

As Peter and John made the preparations for the meal, they would have followed the detailed prescriptions provided in the book of Exodus, being careful to leave nothing out.

“Take special care of this chosen animal until the evening of the fourteenth day of this first month. Then the whole assembly of the community of Israel must slaughter their lamb or young goat at twilight. They are to take some of the blood and smear it on the sides and top of the doorframes of the houses where they eat the animal. That same night they must roast the meat over a fire and eat it along with bitter salad greens and bread made without yeast. Do not eat any of the meat raw or boiled in water. The whole animal—including the head, legs, and internal organs—must be roasted over a fire. Do not leave any of it until the next morning. Burn whatever is not eaten before morning.” – Exodus 12:6-10 NLT

It’s sobering to consider that they may very well have sprinkled the blood of the lamb on the door frame of the house in which they were preparing the meal. So, as Jesus arrived that evening with the rest of the disciples, He would have crossed over the threshold of the home, passing by the blood of the lamb on His way to eat His final Passover meal. And Peter and John would have diligently removed all leaven from the home, even enacting a symbolic ritual of cleansing as part of the Passover celebration. And yet, that evening, Judas would be present around the table as Jesus served the cup and the bread to His disciples. The one who had been filled by Satan and had conspired to sell out His Messiah and Master would recline at the same table. His heart leavened by sin, Judas would have his feet washed by Jesus and his stomach filled with the meat of the Passover lamb.

The actions of Judas would illustrate the words of John recorded in his gospel account.

He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. – John 1:11 ESV

Judas had spent three years of his life in fellowship with the Son of God. He would celebrate the Passover meal with the Lamb of God. But he would end up betraying the Anointed One of God.

Peter and John did as they were told and prepared the meal. But, more importantly, Jesus was doing just as He had been commanded, fulfilling every part of His Father’s preordained plan – down to the last detail. And in doing so, He would be “the Lamb who was slaughtered before the world was made” (Revelation 13:8 NLT).

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

You Can’t Hide the Truth

1 Now the Feast of Unleavened Bread drew near, which is called the Passover. And the chief priests and the scribes were seeking how to put him to death, for they feared the people.

Then Satan entered into Judas called Iscariot, who was of the number of the twelve. He went away and conferred with the chief priests and officers how he might betray him to them. And they were glad, and agreed to give him money. So he consented and sought an opportunity to betray him to them in the absence of a crowd. Luke 22:1-6 ESV

Having finished recording Jesus’ lengthy discourse concerning future events, Luke abruptly brings the reader back to the present. All along he has been tracking Jesus’ slow but deliberate journey from Galilee to Jerusalem. At this point in his narrative, Luke has been describing Jesus’ activities in and around the city of Jerusalem as the Messiah awaits the final phase of His Kingdom mission. Now, the timeline will begin to speed up as the day of Jesus’ death draws closer. The celebration of Passover is at hand. Luke refers to it as the Feast of Unleavened Bread, which was actually the week-long celebration that followed the day of Passover. But it was not uncommon for both names to be used when referring to the same annual event when the Israelites celebrated and commemorated their miraculous deliverance from Egypt by the hand of God.

Luke seems to purposefully juxtapose this sacred holy day with the evil intentions of the religious leaders. At the time when the people of Israel should be expressing their gratitude to God for His gracious and undeserved deliverance of their ancestors from slavery in Egypt, the chief priests and their cronies were plotting to kill God’s Son and their Savior.

the chief priests and the scribes were seeking how to arrest him by stealth and kill him, for they said, “Not during the feast, lest there be an uproar from the people.” – Mark 14:1-2 ESV

According to Matthew, these men had been planning and scheming how to eradicate Jesus, whom they saw as a threat to their power and control.

…the chief priests and the elders of the people gathered in the palace of the high priest, whose name was Caiaphas, and plotted together… – Matthew 26:3-4 ESV

But there is far more here than meets the eye. Their intentions to kill Jesus were motivated by something far more formidable and foreboding than their own overinflated egos. Earlier in His ministry, Jesus had bluntly assessed the true cause of their unbridled animosity toward Him.

“…you are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies. But because I tell the truth, you do not believe me. Which one of you convicts me of sin? If I tell the truth, why do you not believe me?  Whoever is of God hears the words of God. The reason why you do not hear them is that you are not of God.” – John 8:44-47 ESV

Jesus pulled no punches when revealing the true cause of their hatred for Him. They were the sons of Satan and not God. Their rejection of Him was based on their refusal to accept the truth of His words and the validity of His mission as the Messiah, the anointed one of Israel. Contrary to their warped opinion, it was not Him who was guilty and sin and worthy of death, but it was them. And they were turning their backs on “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29 ESV). It is painfully ironic that they were plotting to put to death the sinless Lamb of God just days before each of them would sacrifice an unblemished lamb as part of their celebration of Passover. But their eyes were blind to the truth and their hearts were hardened to the reality of Jesus’ identity. Yet what they failed to understand was that their Satan-inspired scheme to arrest Jesus and have Him put to death was all part of God’s redemptive plan. What they thought would bring about the end of Jesus would actually make possible the divine strategy for mankind’s redemption and creation’s eventual restoration.

The religious leaders secretly plotted Jesus’ demise, hiding their intentions for fear that His popularity among the people would cause an uproar. But Jesus was painfully transparent with His disciples, telling them exactly what was going to happen to Him in the days ahead.

“You know that after two days the Passover is coming, and the Son of Man will be delivered up to be crucified.” – Matthew 26:2 ESV

Jesus was fully aware of all that was about to transpire. He knew what the chief priests were planning and He was fully confident that it was all part of His Father’s plan. At no point in the story does Jesus view Himself as a helpless victim or do the gospel authors portray Him as an unwilling participant in some grand cosmic scheme over which He has no say or control. No, He was completely committed to the mission assigned to Him by His Heavenly Father. He had already clarified that point to His disciples.

“The Father loves me because I sacrifice my life so I may take it back again. No one can take my life from me. I sacrifice it voluntarily. For I have the authority to lay it down when I want to and also to take it up again. For this is what my Father has commanded.” – John 10:17-18 NLT

But for Jesus’ death to take place, there was a range of individuals who would be required to play crucial roles in God’s sovereign plan of salvation. One of those would be Judas. And it’s interesting to note that, of all the gospel authors, only Luke and John indicate that Judas’ actions were motivated by Satan.

Then Satan entered into Judas called Iscariot, who was of the number of the twelve. – Luke 22:3 ESV

…the devil had already put it into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, to betray him… – John 13:2 ESV

Under the influence of Satan, Judas concocted plan to betray Jesus to the religious authorities. We are not told the thinking behind his plot to turn Jesus over to the Sanhedrin, but it is clear that money played a role. Luke clearly indicates that Judas offered to betray Jesus in return for a payment.

He went away and conferred with the chief priests and officers how he might betray him to them. And they were glad, and agreed to give him money. – Luke 22:4-5 ESV

Matthew points out that Judas didn’t have a sum in mind when he offered his deal to the high priest. He simply asked, “What will you give me if I deliver him over to you?” (Matthew 26:15 ESV). And the Sanhedrin put the price on Jesus’ head at 30 pieces of silver, an insignificant sum that was the equivalent of a month’s wages. This exact amount was in keeping with the prophesy found in Zechariah 11:12 ESV.

Then I said to them, “If it seems good to you, give me my wages; but if not, keep them.” And they weighed out as my wages thirty pieces of silver.

And Matthew would later record that this sum was in fulfillment of the words of Jeremiah the prophet.

Then was fulfilled what had been spoken by the prophet Jeremiah, saying, “And they took the thirty pieces of silver, the price of him on whom a price had been set by some of the sons of Israel…” – Matthew 27:9 ESV

The price for his betrayal established, Judas “began looking for an opportunity to betray Jesus so they could arrest him when the crowds weren’t around” (Luke 22:6 NLT). The religious leaders were intent on keeping their plans hidden. The last they wanted was an ugly scene that might stir up the people and raise cause a riot in the streets. Anything that even remotely looked like rebellion would cause the Romans to react swiftly and harshly. The Roman authorities were already on edge because of the crowded conditions in Jerusalem. The city was filled with pilgrims and the nationalistic fervor of this particular holiday was a recipe for trouble. So, the chief priests and their peers were looking for a way to rid themselves of Jesus with as little fanfare as possible.

But despite their careful planning, this entire scenario was going to explode into a public display of epic proportions. Their efforts to keep the death of Jesus hidden from view would fail miserably. This brings to mind a teaching of Jesus recorded by Luke.

“No one lights a lamp and then covers it with a bowl or hides it under a bed. A lamp is placed on a stand, where its light can be seen by all who enter the house. 1For all that is secret will eventually be brought into the open, and everything that is concealed will be brought to light and made known to all.” – Luke 8:16-17 NLT

Just a few verses earlier, Luke had recorded Jesus’ declaration, “I am the light of the world. If you follow me, you won’t have to walk in darkness, because you will have the light that leads to life” (Luke 8:12 NLT). And later on, in the same discussion, Jesus would clearly state, “When you have lifted up the Son of Man on the cross, then you will understand that I Am he” (Luke 8:28 NLT). The apostle John would add the clarifying words that Jesus spoke concerning the public nature of His death.

“And when I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw everyone to myself.” He said this to indicate how he was going to die. – John 12:32 NLT

God’s plan for the salvation of mankind could not be thwarted and it would not be kept a secret. The “true light, which gives light to everyone” (John 1:9 ESV) would not be hidden. It would be just as Jesus had told the Pharisee, Nicodemus.

“…as Moses lifted up the bronze snake on a pole in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, so that everyone who believes in him will have eternal life.” – John 3:14 NLT

And then Jesus informed Nicodemus that the day was coming when the Light would be lifted up for all to see. He would be nailed to a cross and openly displayed as the unblemished sacrifice for the sins of mankind.

“God’s light came into the world, but people loved the darkness more than the light, for their actions were evil. All who do evil hate the light and refuse to go near it for fear their sins will be exposed. But those who do what is right come to the light so others can see that they are doing what God wants.” – John 3:19-21 NLT

The Messiah would be lifted up, not on a dais with scepter and royal robes, but on a cruel Roman cross. All so the divine plan for redemption can be clearly seen by all.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

True Greatness

1 Jesus looked up and saw the rich putting their gifts into the offering box, and he saw a poor widow put in two small copper coins. And he said, “Truly, I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all of them. For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on.”

And while some were speaking of the temple, how it was adorned with noble stones and offerings, he said, “As for these things that you see, the days will come when there will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down.” Luke 21:1–6 ESV

Jesus and His disciples remain in the temple courtyard, where He underwent a series of confrontations with the religious leaders who had been attempting to entrap Him. In a bold affront to their arrogant sense of superiority, Jesus had labeled their displays of self-righteousness as nothing more than hypocrisy.

Beware of these teachers of religious law! For they like to parade around in flowing robes and love to receive respectful greetings as they walk in the marketplaces. And how they love the seats of honor in the synagogues and the head table at banquets.” – Luke 20:46 NLT

These men were addicted to fine clothes and flattery. They craved recognition and demanded the respect of all those whom they considered their inferiors. And almost as if to provide a glaring contrast to their style of behavior, Jesus directs the attention of His disciples to a poor widow. He has positioned Himself opposite the temple treasury where He is silently observing the various people bringing their offerings and placing them in one of the 13 trumpet-shaped receptacles arranged around the perimeter of the Courtyard of the Women.

As Jesus looks on, a variety of people drop their freewill offerings into the boxes, many of whom are wealthy and can be seen donating large sums of money. Luke’s inference seems to be that their actions were intended to attract attention. The size of their contributions was intended to be noticed. Since all currency was in the form of coins, their gift would have made a great deal of noise as it clanged on the metal trumpet that topped the offering box. All heads would have turned to see who was giving such a generous amount.

But Jesus takes note of “a poor widow put in two small copper coins” (Luke 21:2 ESV). This woman’s small gift would have garnered little attention from the people who crowded the temple courtyard, but she caught the eye of Jesus. She was exactly the kind of person He had mentioned in His diatribe against the scribes.

“…they shamelessly cheat widows out of their property and then pretend to be pious by making long prayers in public. – Luke 20:47 NLT

This widow was someone the scribes and other religious leaders would have taken advantage of in order to line their own pockets. Yet, to Jesus, she represented the truly righteous. Her two small coins would have made little noise as they descended into the offering box, but to Jesus, her actions spoke volumes. So, He pointed her out to His disciples and said, “Truly, I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all of them” (Luke 21:3 ESV).

It was not the size of her gift that mattered, but it was the state of her heart. She had not given to be noticed. Her gift had not been meant to impress. But Jesus knew that her gift had been a great sacrifice because she had “given everything” she had to live on (Luke 12:4 NLT). This entire scene is a visual demonstration of Jesus’ lesson from His sermon on the mount.

“Watch out! Don’t do your good deeds publicly, to be admired by others, for you will lose the reward from your Father in heaven. When you give to someone in need, don’t do as the hypocrites do—blowing trumpets in the synagogues and streets to call attention to their acts of charity! I tell you the truth, they have received all the reward they will ever get.” – Matthew 6:1-2 NLT

This woman, though poor, had sacrificed everything in order to give her freewill offering to God. But the others had given “out of their abundance” (Luke 21:4 ESV). It had cost them nothing. Their gifts, while impressive in size, had required no sacrifice on their part. They had actually profited from their efforts, having garnered the praise and admiration of others for their obviously generous contributions.

By pointing out this widow to His disciples, Jesus had been trying to continue His lesson on greatness in the Kingdom of God. But it seems that His disciples remained stubbornly oblivious to all that He was trying to teach them. In fact, as they made their way out of the temple courtyard, none of the disciples mention the widow and her sacrificial gift. But one of them takes note of the grandeur and opulence of the temple.

“Look, Teacher, what wonderful stones and what wonderful buildings!” – Mark 13:1 ESV

The temple was a magnificent complex that made an impressive sight from its prominent location atop Mount Zion. The Jews took great pride in this grand structure and the disciples were rightfully proud of and impressed by its sheer size and beauty. After all, it was the dwelling place of God.

The image of the poor widow had faded from their collective memories. Now, as they made their way out of the temple and back to the Mount of Olives, their attention was fixated on the structure that Herod the Great had helped expand and improve. The original temple, built by King Solomon, had been destroyed by the Babylonians in 587 B.C. Seventy years later, God had allowed a remnant of the people who had been exiled to Babylon to return and rebuild the temple. But, when completed, the new temple was just a shadow of its former glory. Herod the Great, in an attempt to win over the people, had decreed a massive rebuilding program that resulted in the grand structure that now dominated the landscape and captivated the attention of the disciples.

But Jesus, always ready to turn every moment into a teaching opportunity, told His disciples, “The time is coming when all these things will be completely demolished. Not one stone will be left on top of another!” (Luke 21:6 ESV). This news will shock the disciples. They couldn’t believe what they were hearing. How could God allow His beautiful house to be destroyed? But as hard as it was to fathom, everything Jesus said eventually came true. In A.D. 70, the Roman army, under the leadership of Titus, besieged Jerusalem in an effort to put an end to a long-standing Jewish revolt against Roman rule. After a three-month standoff, the Romans invaded the city, destroying and eventually burning the temple to the ground. They left no stone upon another.

The disciples had been unimpressed with the generous widow, but they couldn’t help but notice the grandeur of the temple. But Jesus ended up commending the woman and condemning the temple. She was elevated as an icon of righteousness and virtue, while the temple was declared to be the symbol of all that was wrong with Israel. As Jesus had declared earlier, the temple of God had become a “den of robbers” (Mark 11:17 ESV). The dwelling place of God had been desecrated by the very ones who were responsible for its care and protection.

Jesus was reminding His disciples of the words of God, spoken centuries earlier through Isaiah the prophet and directed at the rebellious people of Israel.

“‘Don’t be fooled into thinking that you will never suffer because the Temple is here. It’s a lie! Do you really think you can steal, murder, commit adultery, lie, and burn incense to Baal and all those other new gods of yours, and then come here and stand before me in my Temple and chant, “We are safe!”—only to go right back to all those evils again? Don’t you yourselves admit that this Temple, which bears my name, has become a den of thieves? Surely I see all the evil going on there. I, the LORD, have spoken!” – Jeremiah 7;8-11 NLT

Nothing had changed. Just as the original temple had been destroyed by God, so would this remarkable structure come under His judgment. Because the people of God failed to live in obedience to the will of God.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Giving God What Is Rightfully His

19 The scribes and the chief priests sought to lay hands on him at that very hour, for they perceived that he had told this parable against them, but they feared the people. 20 So they watched him and sent spies, who pretended to be sincere, that they might catch him in something he said, so as to deliver him up to the authority and jurisdiction of the governor. 21 So they asked him, “Teacher, we know that you speak and teach rightly, and show no partiality, but truly teach the way of God. 22 Is it lawful for us to give tribute to Caesar, or not?” 23 But he perceived their craftiness, and said to them, 24 “Show me a denarius. Whose likeness and inscription does it have?” They said, “Caesar’s.” 25 He said to them, “Then render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” 26 And they were not able in the presence of the people to catch him in what he said, but marveling at his answer they became silent. Luke 20:19-26 ESV

While some of Jesus’ parables left the crowds scratching their heads in confusion, this was not one of them. Its meaning was far from hidden or obscured. And Luke indicates that the scribes and the chief priests understood that they had been portrayed as the villains in His story. The only thing that kept them from arresting Jesus right on the spot was their fear of the people. They knew they would have a riot on their hands if they so much as touched Jesus. So, they decided to bide their time, waiting for a better opportunity to catch Jesus saying or doing something that would justify His arrest.

As they had done on so many other occasions, the religious leaders sent some of their own to spy on Jesus. These men were instructed to blend in with the crowds by pretending to be sincere followers of Jesus. Luke doesn’t reveal whether they ditched their clerical robes in order to disguise their identities, but it seems likely that they did what they could to fit in with the rest of the people who flocked around Jesus. Of course, it could be that they hired individuals to act as spies. The Greek word for “spies” is egkathetos and it means “one who is bribed by others to entrap a man by crafty words” (“G1455 – egkathetosStrong’s Greek Lexicon (kjv).” Blue Letter Bible. Web. 2 Oct, 2021.).

But whoever these people were, their mission was simple: “get Jesus to say something that could be reported to the Roman governor so he would arrest Jesus” (Luke 20:20 NLT). They were tasked with shadowing Jesus and looking for some kind of proof that He was a threat to the Roman government. By this time, the religious leaders had already decided that Jesus needed to die (Luke 19:47), but the Romans prohibited the Jews from carrying out capital punishment. So, it was important that they find evidence that would incriminate Jesus and force the Roman authorities to put Him to death. In chapter 23, where Luke records Jesus trial before Pilate, the Roman governor of Judea, the Sanhedrin level a charge against Jesus that they knew would seal His fate:.

“This man has been leading our people astray by telling them not to pay their taxes to the Roman government and by claiming he is the Messiah, a king.” – Luke 23:2 NLT

This accusation had not come out of thin air, but it was a blatant misrepresentation of Jesus’ answer to a question the spies had directed to Him. Not long after telling His parable about the wicked tenants, the spies sent by the Sanhedrin asked Jesus one of their cleverly worded questions.

“Teacher,” they said, “we know that you speak and teach what is right and are not influenced by what others think. You teach the way of God truthfully. Now tell us—is it right for us to pay taxes to Caesar or not?” – Luke 20:21-22

This question had been carefully crafted and was designed to put Jesus in an awkward and untenable predicament. It was a simple question, but because it involved the Roman government and the hot-button topic of taxation, it was politically charged and a potential landmine.

In keeping with their charge to feign sincerity, these men prefaced their question with statements of false flattery designed to disguise their real intent. But Jesus saw through their little charade and knew exactly what they were attempting to do. So, He asked someone in the crowd for a denarius, a Roman coin that bore the image of the emperor. Holding up the coin for all to see, Jesus asked, “Whose picture and title are stamped on it?,” and the crowd answered, “Caesar’s” (Luke 20:24 NLT).

Jesus had not been stumped by their trick question. The spies had thought it would put Jesus in a no-win situation. If He declared that the Mosaic law required the Jews to pay taxes or tribute, the people would turn on Him because they despised the oppressive and excessive burden place on them by the Romans. But if Jesus stated that the Jews owed no taxes to Rome because it was a godless and immoral government, He could be accused of undermining the authority of Caesar. This would give the Sanhedrin what they were looking for – evidence that Jesus was fomenting political unrest.

But Jesus avoided controversy by stating, “Well then, give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar, and give to God what belongs to God” (Luke 20:25 NLT). In other words, if the coin bears Caesar’s image and name, then it is rightfully his and must be returned. But the spies took this very clear statement from Jesus and twisted it into a declaration of rebellion and anarchy. They misrepresented Jesus’ words and told the Sanhedrin that Jesus had promoted tax evasion, and that is exactly what the religious leaders later reported to Pilate.

“This man has been leading our people astray by telling them not to pay their taxes to the Roman government and by claiming he is the Messiah, a king.” – Luke 23:2 NLT

These men were willing to do anything to get rid of Jesus, including lie. And Jesus had already confronted them about their propensity for falsehood.

“For you are the children of your father the devil, and you love to do the evil things he does. He was a murderer from the beginning. He has always hated the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, it is consistent with his character; for he is a liar and the father of lies.” – John 8:44 NLT

Because they were unable to trick or trap Jesus, they resorted to lies. They fabricated their own version of the truth, propagating a false narrative that would protect and preserve their domain.

But Jesus had not promoted social unrest or some kind of affirmative action. He had clearly told them to give Caesar what rightfully belonged to him. But He had also stated that the Jews were obligated to do the same with God.

“…give to God what belongs to God.” – Luke 20:25 NLT

The denarius bore the image of Caesar, but mankind bears the image of God. Genesis 1:27 records that God made the first man and woman in His own image.

God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.

Just as the Roman coin was stamped with the image of Caesar, every man and woman is stamped with the image of their Creator. And even in their fallen state, they still reflect the ownership of the one who made them. So, in effect, Jesus was encouraging His audience to honor Caesar by returning his property to him. But at the same time, Jesus was insisting that they honor God by returning to God what was rightfully His: Their lives. The apostle Paul would later expand on this idea in his letter to the Romans. In chapter13 of that letter, he gave a series of admonitions to honor and submit to governing authorities because “all authority comes from God, and those in positions of authority have been placed there by God” (Romans 13:1 NLT).

Paul went on to address the topic of paying taxes.

So you must submit to them, not only to avoid punishment, but also to keep a clear conscience. Pay your taxes, too, for these same reasons. For government workers need to be paid. They are serving God in what they do. – Romans 13:5-6 NLT

The same Roman government was in charge during Paul’s day. Nothing had really changed. Rome was no less authoritarian and abusive, yet Paul continued to promote the very same mindset that Jesus had recommended.

Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed. – Romans 13:7 ESV

The last part of this verse reflects what Jesus had been trying to convey. If Caesar wanted his coins back, then return them to him. But it is God alone who deserves man’s respect and honor. Because we bear His image, we belong to Him. And Jesus was demanding that the people of Israel give God what was rightfully His: Their lives and their unwavering devotion.

At the heart of this entire exchange is man’s love affair with money and materialism. All the way back in His sermon on the mount, Jesus had warned about the dangers of a divided love.

“Don’t store up treasures here on earth, where moths eat them and rust destroys them, and where thieves break in and steal. Store your treasures in heaven, where moths and rust cannot destroy, and thieves do not break in and steal. Wherever your treasure is, there the desires of your heart will also be. – Matthew 6:19-21 NLT

He knew that the people were inordinately tied to the treasures of this world and, as a result, they had a divided allegiance. So, He warned them:

“No one can serve two masters. For you will hate one and love the other; you will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and be enslaved to money. – Matthew 6:24 NLT

The religious leaders of Israel were enslaved to money, materialism, power, and prestige. They may have faithfully worshiped at the altar of Yahweh but the real focus of their devotion and desire was earthly treasures. And while they had no love for the Roman government, they were willing to do business with the enemy because they benefited greatly from the relationship. Their greatest fear was that Jesus would disrupt their symbiotic and self-serving relationship with the Romans. They had a bird’s nest on the ground and this upstart Rabbi from Nazareth was threatening to destroy it all. That’s why Caiaphas the high priest would later tell his fellow members of the Sanhedrin that Jesus’ death was preferable to the nation’s demise at the hands of the Romans.

“You don’t realize that it’s better for you that one man should die for the people than for the whole nation to be destroyed.” – John 11:50 NLT

Caiaphas was out to preserve the status quo, and if it required the death of one man, then it would be well worth it. But what Caiaphas failed to realize was that his words were really prophetic.

He did not say this on his own; as high priest at that time he was led to prophesy that Jesus would die for the entire nation. And not only for that nation, but to bring together and unite all the children of God scattered around the world. – John 11:51-52 NLT

Jesus, as “the image of the invisible God” (Colossians 1:15), would eventually give back to God what was rightfully His. He would sacrifice His own life on behalf of sinful mankind and satisfy the just demands of a holy God by offering His body as the ultimate tribute. Through the willing sacrifice of His life, Jesus would render unto God what was rightfully His.

For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross. – Colossians 1:19-20 NLT

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Righteous Indignation Against Unrighteous Indifference

45 And he entered the temple and began to drive out those who sold, 46 saying to them, “It is written, ‘My house shall be a house of prayer,’ but you have made it a den of robbers.”

47 And he was teaching daily in the temple. The chief priests and the scribes and the principal men of the people were seeking to destroy him, 48 but they did not find anything they could do, for all the people were hanging on his words. Luke 19:45-48 ESV

Jesus clearing the templeThere are few scenes related to the life of Jesus that are more recognizable than the one of Him cleansing the temple. But the image of the Savior of the world wielding a whip in His hands and angrily clearing the temple courtyard is difficult for most of us to reconcile. It seems so out of character. Just a few verses earlier, Matthew described Jesus riding serenely on the colt of a donkey, basking in the adulation and praise of the crowd. People were shouting His praises, declaring Him to be “the prophet Jesus, from Nazareth of Galilee” (Matthew 21:16 ESV).

But here we see the prophet doing what prophets were prone to do: Calling the people of God to account. He walked into the temple, His Father’s house, witnessed the unacceptable, carnival-like atmosphere, and was appalled.

It’s important to remember what the people had said about Jesus as He made His way into Jerusalem. “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!” (Luke 19:38 ESV). In his gospel account, Matthew adds that the enthusiastic crowd shouted,  “Hosanna to the Son of David!” (Matthew 21:9 ESV). They were acknowledging Jesus to be a descendant of David and the legal heir to his throne. And as such, He would have the God-given responsibility to protect the integrity of God’s house and name.

When Solomon, King David’s son and heir to the throne, had dedicated the newly constructed temple, God said to him:

“I have heard your prayer and your plea, which you have made before me. I have consecrated this house that you have built, by putting my name there forever. My eyes and my heart will be there for all time. And as for you, if you will walk before me, as David your father walked, with integrity of heart and uprightness, doing according to all that I have commanded you, and keeping my statutes and my rules, then I will establish your royal throne over Israel forever, as I promised David your father, saying, ‘You shall not lack a man on the throne of Israel.’ But if you turn aside from following me, you or your children, and do not keep my commandments and my statutes that I have set before you, but go and serve other gods and worship them, then I will cut off Israel from the land that I have given them, and the house that I have consecrated for my name I will cast out of my sight, and Israel will become a proverb and a byword among all peoples. And this house will become a heap of ruins.” – 1 Kings 9:3-8 ESV

Solomon was responsible for the protection of the temple but, more importantly, he was charged with protecting the integrity of his own walk. He was to be a model son of God and a faithful king to the people of God. But he failed. And, as a result, God eventually brought about the destruction of the structure that bore His name. The book of 2 Kings tells us exactly how it happened.

In the fifth month, on the seventh day of the month—that was the nineteenth year of King Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon—Nebuzaradan, the captain of the bodyguard, a servant of the king of Babylon, came to Jerusalem. And he burned the house of the Lord and the king’s house and all the houses of Jerusalem; every great house he burned down. – 2 Kings 25:8-9 ESV

And here, in Luke’s gospel, we find Jesus walking into Herod’s temple, a far-less-luxurious version of the original temple, and seeing signs of Israel’s sordid spiritual condition yet again.

second_temple1.jpgThis scene most likely took place in the Court of the Gentiles. This was the only place on the temple grounds where non-Jews were allowed to gather. The religious leaders had turned this area into a marketplace filled with money-changing booths, as well as vendors selling doves and other sacrificial animals. You would have heard the bleating of goats and lambs, the bellowing of oxen, and been confronted with all the smells that come with large herds of domesticated animals. And to top it all off, there was graft and corruption taking place. The priests were responsible for approving the animals brought for sacrifice. And if someone brought an unacceptable animal, they would be sold a replacement, at a healthy profit. Then the priests would take the original “blemished” animal and recycle it for sale to another pilgrim.

It was this atmosphere of blatant sin and corruption that angered Jesus. Quoting from Isaiah 56:7, Jesus emphasized the glaring difference between God’s view of His temple and that of the religious leaders of Israel.

“…these I will bring to my holy mountain,
    and make them joyful in my house of prayer;
their burnt offerings and their sacrifices
    will be accepted on my altar;
for my house shall be called a house of prayer
    for all peoples.” – Isaiah 56:7 ESV

God had been relegated to the background. The Feast of Passover, intended to commemorate and celebrate God’s deliverance of the people of Israel from Egypt, had been desecrated by the greed and avarice of men. And the sacred sacrificial system that God had ordained to provide atonement for the sins of men had become a man-made spectacle that had little or no bearing on its original intent. God had designed the temple as a place for the people to receive cleansing for their sins. Now, they were committing sins within the very gates where sacrifice and forgiveness for sins were to be found.

Hundreds of years earlier, the prophet Isaiah had recorded God’s anger against Israel for their blatant disregard for His holiness and their own unrighteousness.

“Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Amend your ways and your deeds, and I will let you dwell in this place. Do not trust in these deceptive words: ‘This is the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord.’” – Jeremiah 7:3-4 ESV

The people of Israel were guilty of viewing the temple as a kind of security blanket, providing them with comfort and a sense of God’s approval, regardless of how they actually lived their lives. But God had bad news for them.

“Behold, you trust in deceptive words to no avail. Will you steal, murder, commit adultery, swear falsely, make offerings to Baal, and go after other gods that you have not known, and then come and stand before me in this house, which is called by my name, and say, ‘We are delivered!’—only to go on doing all these abominations? Has this house, which is called by my name, become a den of robbers in your eyes? Behold, I myself have seen it, declares the Lord.” – Jeremiah 7:8-11 ESV

God accused them of exploiting foreigners, orphans, and widows. He described them as murderers and idolaters. And yet, they continued to come to the temple to offer their sacrifices to God, as if nothing was wrong. They were unrepentant and unapologetic, stubbornly clinging to their sinful behavior.

And, over the centuries, nothing had changed. There was a new temple, but they suffered from the same old problem. They were putting all their hope in a building. In their minds, it was the temple that assured them of God’s presence. Like their ancestors, they stood before God in the temple courtyard and said, “We are delivered.” But they were wrong. The temple’s existence was not a guarantee of God’s presence. And it certainly was not a sign of God’s approval of their lifestyle.

It is important to remember that Jesus had come to Jerusalem with a single objective in mind. He was on His way to the cross, to give His life as a ransom for the sins of mankind. He was to be the sacrificial lamb who, as John the Baptist had stated, “takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29 ESV). We can only imagine the anger Jesus must have felt at the spectacle He witnessed. The priests, scribes, Pharisees, and Sadducees had turned the sacrificial system of God into a farce. It had become nothing more than a ritualistic, holiday-like scene where the grace and mercy of God had been crowded out and long forgotten.

But Jesus had come to change all that. He came to give His life as a payment for man’s sins. And unlike the sacrifices that took place in the temple, His death would be a one-time, and once for-all-time sacrifice.

He has no need, like those high priests, to offer sacrifices daily, first for his own sins and then for those of the people, since he did this once for all when he offered up himself. – Hebrews 7:27 ESV

…so also Christ died once for all time as a sacrifice to take away the sins of many people. – Hebrews 9:28 NLT

What an amazing contrast. Here was the sinless Lamb of God having to cleanse the house of God, because the people of God had defiled it once again with their very presence. The place where atonement was to be found had become a spēlaion or hiding place for thieves, idolaters, liars, the immoral, and the ungodly. They felt no conviction for their sins. Instead, they viewed themselves as right with God. But they were sorely mistaken.

Earlier in this same chapter, Luke recorded how Jesus was impacted when He saw the city of Jerusalem as He made His way from the Mount of Olives.

“How I wish today that you of all people would understand the way to peace. But now it is too late, and peace is hidden from your eyes. Before long your enemies will build ramparts against your walls and encircle you and close in on you from every side. They will crush you into the ground, and your children with you. Your enemies will not leave a single stone in place, because you did not recognize it when God visited you.” – Luke 19:42-44 NLT

Jesus was prophesying the future destruction of Jerusalem, when on August 10, 70 A.D., the Romans would quell a Jewish revolt by putting the city to the torch and destroying the temple. Jesus would later predict the devastating nature of this event, letting His disciples know that the destruction of the temple would be complete.

“Do you see all these buildings? I tell you the truth, they will be completely demolished. Not one stone will be left on top of another!” – Matthew 24:2 NLT

The people of Israel were not interested in a Savior. They viewed themselves as the chosen people of God and, therefore, protected by His hand. As long as they had the temple and the sacrificial system, they were safe. Or so they thought. They had long ago forgotten that the temple was to be a place of prayer, but a specific kind of prayer. Solomon, in his prayer of dedication of the temple, had been very specific about the kind of prayer that was to be prayed.

“…if they pray toward this place and acknowledge your name and turn from their sin, when you afflict them, then hear in heaven and forgive the sin of your servants, your people Israel…” – 1 Kings 8:35-36 ESV

But the people of Israel remained unrepentant. Even now, with the Messiah standing in their midst, they would refuse to accept Him as their Savior. Yet, Jesus would go through with His God-ordained mission to provide a permanent solution for man’s sin problem. He would die. Not in spite of their sin, but because of it. And His death would do what no other sacrifice could: Provide sinful men with a means by which they could be restored to a right relationship with God.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson