Matthew 26:17-30 (Holy Thursday—The Crucified King)
“The King’s Feast”
Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield CT
April 17, 2014
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
Our text is the Gospel lesson recorded in Matthew 26:
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?” 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.’ ” And the disciples did as Jesus had directed them, and they prepared the Passover. When it was evening, He reclined at table with the twelve. And as they were eating, He said, “Truly, I say to you, one of you will betray Me.” And they were very sorrowful and began to say to Him one after another, “Is it I, Lord?” He answered, “He who has dipped his hand in the dish with Me will betray Me. 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.” Judas, who would betray Him, answered Him, “Is it I, Rabbi?” He said to him, “you have said so.” Now as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is My body.” And He took a cup, and when He had given thanks He gave it to them, saying, “Drink of it, all of you, for this is My blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. I tell you I will not drink again of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in My Father’s kingdom.”
God is the Great Storyteller. God loves to tell stories, and one of His favorites is the account of the Passover. More than that, He loves His people to hear it. He even set up the annual Passover ritual as a storytelling session. The youngest child present was to ask, “What makes this night different from all other nights?” And then came the story. It was so good that no child ever said, “Get to the good part,” because it was all good.
There was the part about the bread. The children of Israel had to eat unleavened bread, because they didn’t have time to wait around for it to rise. There was the part about the dish with bitter herbs, reminding the Israelites that God was delivering them from the bitterness and misery of being slaves in Egypt. There was the part of them eating the meal in a hurry, with their belts tightened and sandals on their feet and a staff in their hand. They had to be ready to go and to follow their Shepherd Moses.
But the story got even better.There was the part about selecting the lamb. It had to be a perfect lamb, a lamb a year old without blemish. The Israelites were not to eat it raw or boil it; they were to eat it roasted. And there were to be no leftovers. But the best part was what they did with the lamb’s blood. They took a leafy hyssop branch and painted the blood on the top of the door and on the doorposts. God would see that blood and save their firstborns from death. God would see the blood of the lamb and pass over them.
And the story got even better. Soon the children of Israel would hear about what happened to the bad guy in the story, the evil king, the king of Egypt, the Pharaoh. He was the enemy of God who hardened his heart and opposed God. Pharaoh had made life miserable for God’s people by enslaving them, drowning their baby boys, and using God’s people for His own glory. But God fought for His oppressed people and struck down the firstborn of that evil king, and all the Egyptians.
Then there came the really good part. The Israelites, laden with silver and gold jewelry and clothing from the Egyptians, made their getaway. “I’ll catch them; I’ll pursue them; I’ll overtake them,” that evil king thought. But he was going down. God blew open a path in the Red Sea for His people, and they went through on dry ground. But God brought back the water and plunged the evil king and His army into the sea so that he sunk in those waters like a stone. All that was left for God’s people was to sing to the Lord and dance, for God had brought them triumph.
Now the story gets even better, if you can believe it, because this is not where the story ends. How sad if that were the end of the story. However, there was an even bigger enemy to fight, one crueler, more hateful, and more evil than Pharaoh: it was that enemy named Satan. And what about death, the final enemy of mankind? And who was going to deal with the threatening perils of the sin that plagued people?
Fear not. In the fullness of time, the Great Storyteller took on flesh, and on this Holy Thursday began to bring the story of the Passover to its ultimate fulfillment. If you thought the first Passover was the night of nights, this night in our text is even better. For on this Passover, Jesus, the Great Storyteller, God-made-flesh, will go forth to fight for sinners. And the Holy Spirit has gathered you to hear what Jesus did to ensure a happy ending to your story.
In an upper room in Jerusalem Jesus celebrated the Passover with the Twelve in complete control of the situation. He was not caught by surprise. He was not making this up as He went along. He was in complete control, and so Jesus said as they were eating, “Truly, I say to you, one of you will betray Me.” And like the old story, the bitter herbs were there and Judas, who would indeed betray Jesus into the hands of sinners, dipped his hand in right along with the rest. We know the unleavened bread was there, and the cup of blessing was there. The lamb was there. But where was the bad guy in this story? Where’s the king who’s going to be brought down? If anyone deserves to be struck down in this account, it’s Judas, that greedy, hardened betrayer, that tool of the devil, right? But Jesus loves Judas. He warned him, but also speaks tenderly and kindly to him, calling him “friend.” So, if God strikes him down, He should strike us down too. Haven’t you, also, been money hungry? Consider how often you’ve let greed have dominion in your heart. Consider your own deceit, your own lies, your own calloused heart. Imagine if your friends knew what you said about them behind their back. You, too, have betrayed friends, betrayed confidences, even been a traitor to the Lord. Consider how often your own sinful flesh has gotten the upper hand, and how God would be perfectly just to go after you and demand your blood.
But now we get to the really good part of this story. God doesn’t go after sinners like Judas or you or me. In a plot twist that we could have never thought up, God the Father goes after His own Son, the Messiah, God’s Anointed, the King. God goes after Jesus so the He, on behalf of sinners, would shed the blood that makes full payment for your sin and mine. Remember, Jesus is not only a good guy, but the perfect guy. He was nothing like evil Pharaoh. His heart was never calloused against God’s Word. He loved the Father’s will and cherished it. But the Father’s will was to save sinners through the blood of His Son.
So for your sake, God the Father charged your sin and the sin of the world to this King and plunged Jesus into the sea of His divine wrath and judgment. For your sake, God the Father went after the blood of His innocent Son that you might be spared and that the story of your life might have a happy ending. Take great comfort in this story. For that is what God’s King is all about. That is why He came into the world, that after instituting the royal feast of His Holy Supper, He might shed His blood on the cross that causes death to pass over you.
Jesus Christ is the King of love. And so He leaves that final Passover eaten with His disciples in order to offer His body to be struck down so that you might receive His very body in the Sacrament of Holy Communion and be exalted. On the cross Christ drank from the cup of God’s wrath and punishment against sin so that you might drink the cup of blessing, the covenant in Jesus’ blood shed for you. For in this royal feast of Jesus’ Body and Blood with the bread and wine, your King gives you what His death purchased and won for you—forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation.
Now that’s a great story. There’s a happy ending we could have never thought up. The power of death passes over you and me because it didn’t pass over Jesus. Death passes over you and me because the gift of Baptism has marked our bodies with His blood. Damnation passes over us because Jesus is our Crucified King. His blood makes this meal the royal feast of feasts, indeed a foretaste of the great feast to come when our King returns again in glory at the Last Day. Then, you and I, and all the people of God who lived and died with faith in Jesus, will eat together at the royal feast of Jesus, the perfect Lamb of God, in His eternal kingdom which has no end.
What is it that makes the Passover night different from all other nights? Not only do we get to hear the story of how Jesus instituted a new and better Passover in His holy Supper, but we also get to participate in it. For, “the cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ?” (1 Corinthians 10:16). Yes, it is! Now prepare your hearts and minds in repentance and faith and come. Eat at the King’s royal banquet spread out here for you in bread and wine, in His Body and Blood, given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins. Amen.