St. Matthew 26:20-21, 25, 31, 33-35, When evening had come, He sat down with the twelve. Now as they were eating, He said, “Assuredly, I say to you, one of you will betray Me.” …Then Judas, who was betraying Him, answered and said, “Rabbi, is it I?” …Then Jesus said to them, “All of you will be made to stumble because of Me this night.” … Peter answered and said to Him, “Even if all are made to stumble because of You, I will never be made to stumble.” Jesus said to him, “Assuredly, I say to you that this night, before the rooster crows, you will deny Me three times.” Peter said to Him, “Even if I have to die with You, I will not deny You!” And so said all the disciples.
Dear fellow redeemed in Christ our Lord… Imagine for a moment that you were taken off in a car by two men who said they were going to take you to a room full of people in which they will blindfold you, hit you, spit on you, and kill you. But on the way to this room, the car is involved in an accident. You look around and realize that you are fine, but the two men have been seriously injured and are barely alive. What would you do?
Wouldn’t you be tempted to get away from there as fast as you could, leaving those men to suffer and die in the same way they had wanted you to suffer and die? It would take an amazing amount of love to show mercy to those people who had threatened you and to remain at the scene and care for them and pray for them and get them help.
Perhaps that is somewhat of an extreme example, but it can help us better understand our Savior’s wondrous love in the upper room on the night He was betrayed and denied by two men who were part of His group of disciples – a betrayal and denial that were all part of an evening in which Jesus was blindfolded, hit, spat upon, and the next day put to death. Yet on this somber night, Jesus took charge and showed wondrous love to that betrayer and denier as He ministered to them with his Word of law and Gospel.
The very fact that Jesus was in this upper room in the first place proves how wondrous His love is. He had sent some of His disciples to this room to prepare the Passover meal. Every year for the Passover festival the Jews sacrificed an unblemished, year-old male lamb and offered it as a sacrifice to their Savior-God. Some 1,400 years before, the Lord had rescued the nation of Israel from slavery in the land of Egypt by “passing over” those homes of the Israelites that had the blood of a lamb sprinkled on their doorposts. The resulting exodus from the land of Egypt led to the crossing of the Red Sea and the beginning of the 40-year wandering in the wilderness before entering the Promised Land, where the promised Savior would come to do His saving work.
That work was about to be completed. The promised Savior had come. He had taught the people about the kingdom of God. He had performed many miracles. He had pointed to Himself as the one who has the living water, which people could drink from and never be thirsty again. In addition, He had pointed to Himself as the Resurrection and the Life. Yet to carry out that work, Jesus would die, and contributing significantly to His death would be two of the Twelve: Judas Iscariot, who turned out to be a thief, and Simon Peter, whose boldness needed to be corralled and pointed in the right direction.
Put yourself in Jesus’ shoes as He was sharing this very serious and important Passover meal, this last meal with His disciples, when He would institute His New Testament Supper. He knew that the very next day He would be giving His body and pouring out His blood on the cross for the sins of the world. And He also knew that the one to get the ball rolling that night would be Judas, who for 30 pieces of silver (today, we might say in approximate terms $10,000 to $15,000) had agreed to betray Jesus into the hands of the religious leaders of the day.
Of course, Jesus had every right and ability to stop this. But instead Jesus said: “The Son of Man will go just as it is written about him. But woe to that man who betrays the Son of Man! It would be better for him if he had not been born” (Matthew 26:24). This is one of those statements that simply baffles our minds. Jesus was going to His death. And the Scriptures had predicted that one of His own would betray Him for 30 pieces of silver. Yet God holds responsible those who go against him like this, even though in His foreknowledge He knows exactly what they are going to do.
One thing this warning is meant to do for each and every one of us is to bring us to our knees in humility before God who loves us so much that He gives us such a warning. In this warning the Lord makes it abundantly clear that we always need to be on guard so that we never try to find an excuse to go against Him, no matter how much silver, money, popularity, or enjoyment might be held out to entice us.
Resisting such temptation is difficult. We know that. It truly is enticing to follow the cries of those we want to please, who want us to do things that will displease our Lord and, in effect, betray His name. We may be tempted to lie for someone or to cheat for someone or to misuse our bodies sexually with someone. Giving in to those temptations means betraying the name of Jesus, who, by enduring the betrayal of Judas, made us part of His dear family.
Or we may be more specifically tempted to betray Jesus when the voices in our heads say thing like, “Why follow a Savior who lets all these bad things happen in your life?” “Why follow a Savior who has made it clear that He doesn’t love you and has no power to help you? Why else would all these bad things be happening in the world around you?” These temptations seek to have us betray Jesus by handing Him over to the feeble judgments and opinions of human beings who are all part of the world that He came to seek and to save.
What wondrous love Jesus continues to hold out to us, and what wondrous love Jesus showed Judas that night when he said to his betrayer, “Yes, it is you.” In effect, Jesus was saying: “Don’t do it, Judas. I came to live for you and to die for you. I came to show My love for you.” What wondrous love in the upper room where Jesus predicted His betrayal. And what wondrous love we see in the upper room where Jesus predicted His denial.
Jesus was actually now out of the upper room and on His way toward the Garden of Gethsemane when He turned His attention to Peter. Just a few hours later Jesus would turn his face toward Peter in pure love, right after Peter had done three times the very thing he had boldly told his Lord he would never do.
Jesus started by giving the ominous news that this very night all the disciples would desert Him and flee, something that happened once the temple soldiers captured Jesus after Judas betrayed Him with a kiss. But that was only a part of the agony of soul that Jesus endured, because after Peter made his way back to the group that had taken Jesus, he entered the courtyard of the high priest, where the so-called “trial” of Jesus was beginning to take place.
During those hours in the courtyard, it seems that Peter completely forgot what Jesus had warned him about such a short time before when He said, “Before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times” (v.34). Peter wasn’t content to say he wouldn’t disown Jesus. He stated emphatically that he was willing to die with Jesus, something the other disciples also claimed.
What wondrous love that Jesus didn’t draw the sword, the way Peter did later on, and use it in righteous anger against Peter for his arrogance and foolish boasting. As it turned out, Peter couldn’t even stand up to a young servant girl, let alone suffer a martyr’s death for his Lord. Peter, of course, did exactly what Jesus said he would do, something that led Peter to bitter tears of sorrow, so much different from the despairing cries of Judas, who killed himself and went to hell, which the Bible tells us is where he belongs for betraying the sinless Son of God.
It truly is amazing that Jesus did not lose His temper but instead kept total control of the situation, which to human eyes seemed so out of control due to the betrayal of Judas and the denial of Peter. But it is precisely that point which can help us make a very direct application of Jesus’ wondrous love in the upper room to our daily walk with God.
It is true that Jesus knows every single thing we’re going to do in the future, just as he knows every single thing we have ever done in the past. And when Jesus looks into the future, what does He see? Probably things we don’t even want to think about. Certainly they are things that are comparable to our past experience of constantly displeasing God and causing us to, in effect, deny the name of our Lord: things like using language that is similar to the language Peter must have used when swearing by the name of God and calling down curses upon himself; things like caving in to the fear of being too closely identified with being a follower of Jesus, just as Peter did when he tried to avoid being pointed out as a disciple of Jesus; things like acting too confident in the midst of spiritually difficult circumstances in the way that Peter acted in being among those who were warming themselves by the campfire in the first place. By committing such actions, we, like Peter, become guilty of denying our Lord. We say with Peter, “I don’t know the man” (Matthew 26:72).
But it is also true that our Lord Jesus displays the same kind of wondrous love to us as He did to Peter and to Judas, by calling Judas to repent of his betrayal and by trying to prepare Peter for facing his temptation to deny him. Saint Paul said to the Romans: “God demonstrates his love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (5:8). The apostle John, who saw so much of this night unfold, wrote in his first letter, “This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins” (1 John 4:10).
This is another one of those incomprehensible things: God knows what you are like as a weak and sinful human being. God knows what you will continue to be like and what you will continue to do. And yet God loves you, and in love He calls you to repentance, and He forgives you. In Christ God died for you and rose for you, and is waiting for you in heaven.
Dear friends, no matter what other people might do to you or think of you or say about you, you have a Savior who doesn’t hate you for the things you have done, thought, and said against Him. On the contrary, you have a Savior who has loved you to death – the death on the cross for your sins, to pay for them all and give you His righteousness.
And that Savior, Jesus Christ, comes to you this night in the flesh in the Sacrament of the Altar. Here at this altar in just a few minutes Jesus Himself will willingly place His holy, sinless body and blood into your sinful, imperfect and dying body. And by His holy presence within you, He makes you whole, forgives your sins, and gives you the strength and courage to go on.
What wondrous love our Lord has for you. He knows you, He knows what you do, and He loves you all the same – to death and back to life again. Receive Him tonight as He comes to you in deepest love.
In the name of Jesus.