Jun 2013

Jesus’ Table

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Sermon audio:

Act 4 | The Coming of the King

This sermon on “Jesus’ Table” from The Drama of Redemption was preached by Ryan Burns at Redemption Hill Church on Sunday, June 16, 2013.

Sermon Text:

Matthew 26:1-35

Sermon Note:

Please open your Bibles to Chapter 26 of Matthew.

God, let your weightiness, the weight of your glory, rest here in the preaching of the gospel of Jesus Christ this morning. As we see and savor the work of your son Jesus for us, ruin us. Ruin us for the taste of anything else we think may satisfy.

Over the last several months we have been in a series titled, “The Drama of Redemption.” Beginning in with the very first words of the Bible, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth”, we have attempted to walk through history, telling the great unfolding story of God. At times we have had to cover very large portions of time and history, watching as mankind goes from bad to worse, ignoring, despising, and rejecting the God who made him. Then, several weeks ago the story began to focus in on what, or should I say who, all the pervious stories had been pointing towards. Jesus. We’ve looked briefly at his life, the escalating conflict with religious leaders, and then spent several weeks looking at why Jesus came.

Now over the next three weeks, the Drama of Redemption is going to come to a climax. And like any good story, this is where things get really intense. As it does, we’re going to zoom in close. We’re going to meet a cast of characters, many that we’ve already met along the way. We’ll here their questions, their protests, their plots, and their cries. We’ll sense their anticipation, taste their fear, be swept up in their panic, and be crushed by their betrayal. The Drama of Redemption, God’s great work to deal with sin is intensely personal.

My encouragement to you… lean into it. Like a climactic moment of a movie, where everything around you goes quite, when for a moment you forget where you are and what you’re doing, when you’re so caught up that forget to even breathe… Allow the drama of God’s redemptive story envelope you. Over the next three weeks, I implore you with the words of NT Wright, to “(look) squarely at the death of Jesus in all its stark horror, and (let) its beauty and terror captivate (you) for ever.”

Matthew 26 verse 1

When Jesus had finished all these sayings, he said to his disciples, “You know that after two days the Passover is coming, and the Son of Man will be delivered up to be crucified.” Then the chief priests and the elders of the people gathered in the palace of the high priest, whose name was Caiaphas, and plotted together in order to arrest Jesus by stealth and kill him. But they said, “Not during the feast, lest there be an uproar among the people.” 

Matthew does some amazing writing here. In 3 brief sentences he takes us into 2 different meetings. Two very different meetings with two very different groups of people. But the topic of discussion for both gatherings is the same–Jesus must die.

We see Jesus and the disciples, gathered together and he bluntly states that the clock is ticking. In 2 days I am going to be delivered up to be crucified. Jesus has elsewhere told his disciples that this was coming, but here there is no ambiguity. Jesus tells his disciples exactly what lies ahead. Imagine the shock of hearing that news? Is he speaking in parable again? What does he mean? Imagine the perplexed looks on their faces as they walk away from that conversation. But as you walk away, be clear on this: Jesus knows what’s coming. His pending arrest and crucifixion are no surprise.

Across town another meeting is taking place and the chief priests and elders have come together. The topic is the same. We have to find a way to kill this Jesus. He’s causing an uproar. People are more and more clamoring to see him. Not a day goes by that someone isn’t asking me if he is the Messiah… this man who heals on the sabbath! Have you seen the crowds, how they flock to him! If this chaos continues, surely Rome will take notice that we no longer have control and our whole nation will be taken from us. Surely, says Caiaphas in John 11:50 “it is better for you that one man should die for the people, not that the whole nation should perish.”

Already, the tension is rising. Fear, confusion, anger, jealousy, disappointment, hatred… hope?

Now when Jesus was at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, a woman came up to him with an alabaster flask of very expensive ointment, and she poured it on his head as he reclined at table. And when the disciples saw it, they were indignant, saying, “Why this waste? For this could have been sold for a large sum and given to the poor.” 10 But Jesus, aware of this, said to them, “Why do you trouble the woman? For she has done a beautiful thing to me. 11 For you always have the poor with you, but you will not always have me. 12 In pouring this ointment on my body, she has done it to prepare me for burial. 13 Truly, I say to you, wherever this gospel is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will also be told in memory of her.” 

Many of Jesus’ disciples were women and they were pretty amazing. They still are. Having announced what lies ahead, Jesus gathers for a meal in Simon’s the leper’s house. The woman who has entered the story is most likely Mary, though some scholars may disagree, and I’m fine with that. But we’ve encountered Mary a couple other times in this drama. You may remember the story of Mary and her sister Martha, hosting Jesus at their house. Martha was busy doing all the hard work, the cooking and preparing of the house, while Mary just sat at Jesus’ feet. Listening to him teach, growing in her love and adoration of God’s kingdom coming in Jesus. Jesus reminding Martha that Mary has chosen the better of the two options. Later we see Mary encounter Jesus after her brother, Lazarus, has died. Again, we find her at his feet. This time weeping, declaring Jesus to have the power even over death itself.

Could it be that Mary, this disciple of Jesus, actually understood what he had said earlier. Had this women who so loved and treasured the Kingdom of God that Jesus was bringing to bear actually understood what the others had not. Jesus was really, truly, going to physically die in 2 short day. Jesus, who had raised her brother from the dead was now on his way to taste death.

In an act of worship and devotion, whether she knew what she was doing or not, she smashes open her alabaster jar, there’s no turning back, the smell of the perfume fills every crack and crevice of the room. And Mary anoints Jesus for his burial.

She has heard his word and responded with faith, with worship, with sacrifice, and with a deep, deep love.

And the poor disciples. These guys can’t ever seem to catch a break. What seems so natural to them as they have learned more and more what it means to love and serve others, comes out in indignation for this “waste.” But, as is often the case, they missed it. The still don’t fully grasp what is going on.

But there is one who has missed it more than any of the others. One who isn’t just confused, he is conflicted.

14 Then one of the twelve, whose name was Judas Iscariot, went to the chief priests 15 and said, “What will you give me if I deliver him over to you?” And they paid him thirty pieces of silver. 16 And from that moment he sought an opportunity to betray him. 

The Bible never tells us what Judas’ motivation was. Many scholars have taken very educated guesses, and many of them sound quite possible. But for Judas’ motive, the Bible is silent. What we do know is that the plan of the chief priests and elders to not arrest him during the feast is suddenly changed, as an accomplice has presented himself. But not just any accomplice… it was Judas.

And I want you to really get this. Anyone remotely familiar with the story of Jesus knows that it is Judas who betrays Jesus. When we read the Bible and hear about the disciples and the events going on, we always have our eye on Judas. We already know what he’s going to do. But here’s the thing. The other disciples didn’t know. Judas was one of the 12! The Bible talks about all kinds of different groups that followed Jesus. Sometimes when it say “the disciples” it is talking about the 12, but other times it is a generalization of all those who followed Jesus. But what we do know is that there was a very special group from all the disciples that Jesus specifically chose to follow him. These guys were brothers. They spent days, weeks, months, years together. Judas and the others walked with Jesus together. Judas was there with the others when Lazarus was raised. Judas sat down and heard the sermon on the mount. Judas passed out the loafs and fish to the thousands and then helped clean up. Judas was in the boat when Jesus calmed the raging storm with his words. Judas was a disciple! He was one of the 12! This is betrayal.

17 Now on the first day of Unleavened Bread the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Where will you have us prepare for you to eat the Passover?” 18 He said, “Go into the city to a certain man and say to him, ‘The Teacher says, My time is at hand. I will keep the Passover at your house with my disciples.’ ” 19 And the disciples did as Jesus had directed them, and they prepared the Passover. 

For the disciples, and all Israel, Passover was a very big deal. For those who remember the story, hundreds of years earlier all Israel was enslaved in Egypt. God raised up a deliverer for the people and Moses went before the pharaoh demanding their release. Pharaoh opposed the command of God and brought on Egypt 10 plagues, each one worse than the last. But Pharaoh hardened his heart against God and would not release God’s people from slavery. The final plague was coming, the firstborn of every household was going to die. But, God offered a way out. By faith, Israel was to follow God’s instructions to take a spotless, perfect, lamb. They were to kill it and take lentils and use them to spread the blood of this perfect lamb over their doorposts. When the judgement of God came upon Egypt, those with the blood over the doorpost were “passed over”. The lamb died instead of them.

The passover meal then became a permanent fixture of religious life. Every year, at the same time, families would gather together to share this special meal, following very precise protocol, where they would not only remember how God had saved them from slavery in Egypt, but they would look forward to the day when he again would deliver them from their oppression.

The meal was a family meal. It was a celebration. It was special. And Jesus longed to share this meal, one last time, with his disciples. So, it is pretty clear that he has made arrangements before hand. He made sure they had a place to celebrate, and he send Peter and John off to prepare the room. The room where they would have their last supper.

And I want you to get this before we move on. I love eating. And while, yes, I love good food and wine, there is something so special that takes place around a table. It is a place where people relax, unwind, and open their hearts and lives to one another. To this day, there are meal that stand out as some of the best times in my life. On the night of my 30th birthday I went to dinner with my wife, Robert & Erin, Raymond and Heather, and Chris and Rebekah, and for 6 hours we sat at a corner table in a little restaurant in just outside of Carytown. We shared a meal and we talked, we laughed, we probably cried, and it was truly one of the most special meals I’ve ever had. That can be the power of a meal.

Now I have my favorite meal in mind, but what is yours. What is that special meal that comes to mind? Who are the faces you see?  What are the sounds, the smells, the tastes?

This is the scene we enter.

20 When it was evening, he reclined at table with the twelve. 

This is Jesus sharing this most sacred meal, the passover meal celebrating God’s deliverance of his people from slavery, with the people closest to him. At the table there is “Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother; James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother; Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James the son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus; Simon the Zealot, and Judas”

21 And as they were eating, he said, “Truly, I say to you, one of you will betray me.” 

Perhaps the weight of that didn’t hit you. Have you ever been hanging out with someone, having a relatively normal time. Telling stories, having a laugh or two. Then there is an oddly pregnant pause. The person takes a breath which seems to draw your attention like no other breath would. The persons eyes drift downward, looking for courage, and then up again, unsure if they found it. “Um, I have something to tell you.” and like that, your stomach drops and a weight enters your chest as you wait to hear the news that comes next. This is that news.

Can you imagine? Again, we mentioned this earlier. These guys were like brothers. They had been through thick and thin. Now, one of them, a betrayer?

22 And they were very sorrowful and began to say to him one after another, “Is it I, Lord?” 23 He answered, “He who has dipped his hand in the dish with me will betray me. 

Of course, all our eyes immediately dart to Judas. But not the disciples. They don’t suspect a thing. But sorrow has filled their hearts. Imagine the thought, “wait, did I dip my hand in the dish? I think I did. That dish right there. Yes, just a second ago we both reached into that dish… oh no… Is it I, Lord?”

24 The Son of Man goes as it is written of him, but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been better for that man if he had not been born.” 25 Judas, who would betray him, answered, “Is it I, Rabbi?” He said to him, “You have said so.” 

Notice one small thing there. All the other disciples call Jesus “Lord” but what does Judas say, “Rabbi.” Is it I, Rabbi?

Judas already knows what he’s going to do. Not only that, but he’s made up his mind about who Jesus is. Surely he isn’t the Lord who will establish the Kingdom of God. He’s just another teacher.

Amidst this shocking news, the sorrow mounting in their hearts, the difficulty and confusion, the passover meal continues.

The meal, as we’ve said, is one these men would have had every year since their childhood. They would have tasted the bitter herbs, passed the unleavened bread, enjoyed the roasted lamb. Along the meal, the story of the exodus and crossing the sea on dry land would be retold. It would all be so familiar that any of them could have lead the meal. They knew it by heart. But Jesus was leading the meal. And so he followed the script that every Jew was following that evening… Until

Jesus took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is my body.”

WHAT! That’s not in the script? What is Jesus doing? This was a radical departure for the disciples from what was the normal passover meal. This is Jesus’ body, broken? What does this mean?

 27 And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, “Drink of it, all of you, 28 for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. 29 I tell you I will not drink again of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.” 

But the lambs blood was what was spread over the doorpost that dreadful night of Israel’s deliverance. What did Jesus mean that his blood was the blood of the covenant? This was not the passover script they knew. Something radically different was happening.

Jesus was saying that the passover, God’s deliverance of his people, is all about him. It is about God delivering his people from their true slave master, sin! Jesus is telling his disciples the gospel, the good news, that the sin that separated them from God, which could only be dealt with by a legal payment of death was going to be fully and finally paid by none other than the spotless, perfect lamb of God, Jesus Christ.

And so in the Lord’s Supper, the bread broken to represent Jesus’ body broken, and the wine representing his blood poured our for the forgiveness of sins, the gospel is proclaimed that those who place their faith, not in the objects of the supper themselves, but to the person of Jesus to whom they point, for those people the wrath and judgement of God will indeed pass over because as we will see next week, it falls squarely on the shoulders of Jesus.

But an important part of the story remains.

30 And when they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives. 31 Then Jesus said to them, “You will all fall away because of me this night. For it is written, ‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.’ 32 But after I am raised up, I will go before you to Galilee.” 33 Peter answered him, “Though they all fall away because of you, I will never fall away.” 34 Jesus said to him, “Truly, I tell you, this very night, before the rooster crows, you will deny me three times.” 35 Peter said to him, “Even if I must die with you, I will not deny you!” And all the disciples said the same. 

I love the intimacy of verse 30. Look at how far we’ve come. The emotions we’ve faced. From the announcement that the clock was ticking to Jesus’ crucifixion to the end of this radically redefined passover meal. And the end their dinner together… with a song. Most likely singing from the Psalms 113-118 (write it down and go read them later). Can you imagine the sound of those voices as they sing of God’s power, his plan, his deliverance. Confused? probably. Anxious? probably. Scared? probably. But, they lift their voices to and sing verses like 115:11-13 where they would sing, “You who fear the Lord, trust in the Lord! He is their help and their shield. The Lord has remembered us; he will bless us; … he will bless those who fear the Lord, both the small and the great.

But after singing the song and departing, and I’m sure it was a strangely quiet walk, they arrive at the Mount of Olives and Jesus lets them know that, tonight, you will all abandon me. They protest, Peter being the most brash, saying that though they all abandon Jesus, he will follow him to whatever end, even death. And the others agree. They are all in. Come hell or high water, they will not leave their captain and Lord.

And I point this out because the fact of the matter is, Jesus was right. The mob arrives shortly after this and the 11 disappear, running for their lives. Peter, the brashest and most confident of them all, when confronted by a young girl denies Jesus in the most vehement of terms.

But why is this important? Because Jesus opened his table to each and every one of them. He knew them deeper than they knew themselves. He knew of Judas’ betrayal. He knew that one angry mob and they would run. He knew his brave and brash, water walking Peter would say the words, “I never knew this man.”  crushing.

Each and every one he invited to his table.

So what? So what does all this mean? Why does all this matter?

Because this morning we’ve seen a lot of faces. We’ve met a lot of people. And if we look closely, you’ll see that you’re in this drama.

Which meeting were you at? Were you one of the disciples that has followed Jesus around for a while and are now confronted with his death? Or are you at the other meeting, plotting and planning to get rid of this annoyance?

At Simon’s house, were you upset that this woman was wasting something in an act of devotion to Jesus? Or are you Mary, willing to sacrifice the greatest of your treasures because Jesus really is your greatest joy and delight?

At the meeting with the Chief Priests, are you the one who will betray? Is there something, anything, that you would say is of greater value to you than Jesus? Is it a career, your family, money, health,…

At the Last Supper, was your hand dipped in the dish with Jesus? Is it me, Lord?

Or on the Mount of Olives, did you scatter with the rest? Have you somehow failed to follow Jesus as you think you should? Is there sin that so easily ensnares you?

Where are you in the story? Because here is the thing, Jesus invites you to his table.

The gospel is this. God has created all things, including you. None of us, even on our best day, have loved God in a manner worthy of who he is. We have plotted against him and we have certainly sold him for far less than 30 pieces of silver. We have rejected him in a million different way. And from beginning to end, God has made clear that the penalty for sin is death. Justice will be served. But Jesus came and lived that life of perfect love and obedience to the father. He was the only man in history NOT worthy of death. But as he declared that night, at that table, he was going let his body be broken and his blood shed, so that for those who place their faith in him, God’s just wrath would be satisfied and he would pass over them.

That’s communion is all about. Each week, after we hear the good news of what God has done for us in Jesus, we are invited to this very table. You are invited to receive and believe the gospel. You, the one who hated God. You, the one who yelled at your kids this morning. You, the one who looked at porn. You, the one who treasured the joys of this world more than the joys of our God. You, the one who had one too many. You the one who has lied and cheated your way to the top. You, the one who has cared for no one but yourself. You, the one who fled when opposition to Jesus appear. You… this meal is for you. The gospel is for you. The moment you know you’re unworthy is the precise moment when you are!

So, this is the point. The gospel is for you. Do you really believe it? Do you really believe God’s love in Christ is so great, that it covers your sin. It really is too good. Now, believe it by faith and come to him, Come to the table.

I’ll close with NT Wright, “Jesus was going to his death wounded by the wounds common to humanity. Greed, lust, ambition: all kinds of natural drives and desires turned in on themselves rather than doing the outward-looking work the creator intended them to. When we say that Jesus died ‘because of our sins’, we don’t just mean that in some high-flown, abstract sense. We mean that what put him on the cross was precisely the sins that we all not only commit but wallow in. ‘It isn’t me, is it, Master?’ Only when you’ve said that, knowing that it might well be you, can you begin to appreciate what it meant for Jesus to sit at that table and share that Passover meal with them, with Judas too. Or what it means that he has promised to share his feast with us as well.”

Tom Wright, Matthew for Everyone, Part 2: Chapters 16-28 (London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 2004)