Sermon for Holy Thursday, April 1, 2010

Matthew 26:47-57 (Holy Thursday)

Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield CT

April 1, 2010

 In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

 Our text is the account of Jesus’ betrayal recorded in Matthew 26:

While he was still speaking, Judas came, one of the twelve, and with him a great crowd with swords and clubs, from the chief priests and the elders of the people. Now the betrayer had given them a sign, saying, “The one I will kiss is the man; seize him.” And he came up to Jesus at once and said, “Greetings, Rabbi!” And he kissed him. Jesus said to him, “Friend, do what you came to do.” Then they came up and laid hands on Jesus and seized him. And behold, one of those who were with Jesus stretched out his hand and drew his sword and struck the servant of the high priest and cut off his ear. Then Jesus said to him, “Put your sword back into its place. For all who take the sword will perish by the sword. Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels? But how then should the Scriptures be fulfilled, that it must be so?” At that hour Jesus said to the crowds, “Have you come out as against a robber, with swords and clubs to capture me? Day after day I sat in the temple teaching, and you did not seize me. But all this has taken place that the Scriptures of the prophets might be fulfilled.” Then all the disciples left him and fled. Then those who had seized Jesus led him to Caiaphas the high priest, where the scribes and the elders had gathered.

           We never get away from this night—the night in which Jesus was betrayed.  Remembrance of this night is with us each time we celebrate the Lord’s Supper from Sunday to Sunday to Sunday.  The Lord’s Words of Institution always bring to remembrance that the Holy Communion Meal was set up on the very night in which Jesus Christ was handed over by a friend to those who sought to kill Him.  Holy Thursday will always be for us Christians “the night in which He was betrayed.”  We want to consider the significance of this event tonight and see again the fulfillment of God’s plan of salvation for us and for all people. 

            It’s probably one of the saddest moments in Jesus’ earthly life, the moment that He was betrayed by Judas Iscariot.  It causes us to wonder how a friend, who had been with Jesus, who had seen His miracles, and who had heard His teaching, could hand the Lord over to enemies.  It’s been said, and I think rightly so, that only a friend can betray a friend.  Only one’s friend can hand him over to enemies and so turn his back on the friendship.  That friend of Jesus’ was Judas.  Marveling over these events as we do tonight, the Early Church Father Chrysostom said, “O with what depravity had the traitor’s soul been inflamed!  With what kind of eyes did he then look at his Master?  With what mouth did he kiss him?  O accursed purpose!” 

            But I wonder if Chrysostom wasn’t entirely correct in his comment about the purpose.  True, Jesus’ betrayal was done with evil intent.  Satan had put it into the heard of Judas to betray and hand Jesus over to His enemies.  In that sense it was truly a cursed purpose.  But we must remember that the whole event of our Lord’s Passion was taking place according to God’s good purpose. 

About 700 years before this night of betrayal, God’s prophet Isaiah spoke of what God was going to do to save His sinful people.  We read in chapter 53 about the Suffering Servant, Jesus Christ, “He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not.  Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted.  But he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed.  All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.” (Isaiah 53:3-6)  The events of Holy Thursday evening were part of God’s divine plan of salvation.  Even our Lord’s betrayal itself by a friend was prophesied in Psalm 41:9, “Even my close friend in whom I trusted, who ate my bread, has lifted his heel against me.”  It was Judas who became that friend, the very one while at the Passover Table who dipped his hand in the dish with Jesus.  It was Judas, who for 30 pieces of silver would accomplish the good purposes of God through such a treacherous action.  In  amazing and astounding ways God works all things together for good for those who love Him, for those who are called according to His purpose. 

The Father allowed His only-begotten Son to be handed over to sinners, betrayed into their hands in order to “suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.” (Matt. 16:21b)  Could not the sinner’s salvation been accomplished in some other way?  Could not forgiveness of sins been won by a different act of God?  Did the Son have to go through such suffering and death, even death on a cross, where He shed His blood to cleanse the world God so loved?  In the Garden, mere hours before His betrayal, Jesus Himself was asking the same questions during His intense time of prayer and communion with His Father in heaven.  “My Father, it if be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will. . . My Father, if this cannot pass unless I drink it, your will be done.” (Matthew 26:39b, 42b) 

It was not possible for the cup of suffering to pass by Jesus.  It was not possible for the cup of God’s wrath not to be poured out upon Him.  It was not possible that forgiveness of sins be accomplished in any other way apart from the shedding of Jesus’ blood. (Heb. 9:22)  Jesus’ betrayal, suffering, and death on the cross were God’s will, as foretold in the Old Testament.  And Jesus willingly submitted to the holy plan to redeem and to forgive us sinners.  As Judas betrayed Jesus, our Savior refused to allow His disciples to use violence to defend Him.  Evil permeated the scene: there was treachery, cowardice, and false boldness.  But the sinless Son of God stood in the midst of these evils and allowed these things to take place so that He could redeem us.  Jesus would drink the cup of suffering, the cup of God’s wrath against our sins, as He would die on the cross and shed His blood to make us forever clean from sin. 

But before the cross, before the betrayal, our Lord Jesus Christ, on the night in which He was betrayed, took bread, and when He had given thanks, He broke it and gave to the disciples and said, “Take, eat; this is My body, which is given for you.  This do in remembrance of me.  In the same way also He took the cup after supper, and when He had given thanks, He gave it to them, saying: “Drink of it, all of you; this cup is the new testament in My blood, which is shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.  This do, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.”  This Holy Meal of our Lord’s true Body and Blood in, with, and under the bread and wine for us Christians to eat and to drink links us with the night of His betrayal and with His suffering and death on the cross where He gave up His body into death and shed His holy, precious blood.  This Sacrament also links us with the blessed resurrection of Jesus on Easter.  It is the presence of the Living Christ who comes to us with His Body and Blood in this Sacred Feast, giving us the forgiveness He won for us on the cross.  And where there is Christ’s forgiveness, there is also eternal life and salvation because death has been destroyed by Jesus’ death on the tree and our life is guaranteed because He lives triumphant from the grave. 

No, we never get away from the night in which our Lord was betrayed.  We never get away from Calvary’s cross.  We never get away from the open and empty tomb.  As often as we eat this bread and drink this cup, we proclaim the Lord’s betrayal, suffering, death, and resurrection until He comes again in glory.  We declare the accomplishment of God’s plan of forgiveness and eternal life for us and for the whole world.  The Scriptures have been fulfilled.  God has forgiven our sins and given us eternal life with our living Lord Jesus Christ.  So we come again on the night in which He was betrayed to the Table of the Lord, at His invitation, to eat His Body with the bread and to drink His Blood with the wine as our Living Lord Jesus comes to serve us at this foretaste of the feast to come.  Amen.

Let us pray:

Lord Jesus, You invite all who are burdened with sin to come to You for rest. We come at Your invitation to the heavenly feast, which You instituted for your children on earth on the night in which you were betrayed.  Preserve us from impenitence and unbelief, cleanse us from our unrighteousness, and clothe us with the righteousness purchased with Your blood.  Strengthen our faith, increase our love and hope, and assure us a place at Your heavenly table, where we will eat eternal manna and drink of the river of Your pleasure forever and ever.  Hear us, Jesus, for Your own sake.  Amen.