AS WE COMMENCE to read this chapter, we reach the closing scenes of our Lord's life. The Passover was not only a standing witness to Israel's deliverance from Egypt but also a type of the great Sacrifice which was yet to come. Now at last the climax approached, and "Christ our Passover" was to be sacrificed for us precisely at the Passover season. The religious leaders were scheming how they might kill Him in spite of the fact that many of the people viewed Him with favour. Satan inspired their hatred, and Satan it was who presented them with a tool wherewith to carry out their wishes.
John, in his Gospel, unmasks Judas for us before the end is reached. In his twelfth chapter he tells us that, consumed with covetousness, he had become a thief. He also tells us in his thirteenth chapter the exact moment at which Satan entered into him. Luke relates that dreadful fact in a more general way; and it shows that the prince of the powers of darkness considered that to encompass the death of Christ was a task of such importance that it should be delegated to no lesser power: he would take charge of the business himself. Yet he undertook the work to his own overthrow. The compact between Judas and the religious leaders was easily settled. They were consumed with envy, and Judas with the love of money.
For many centuries the Passover had been observed with more or less faithfulness, it was now, in its full significance, to be observed for the last time. Within twenty-four hours its light grew pale in the shining of its Antitype, when the true Lamb of God died on the cross. It is a remarkable fact that the last time it was celebrated in its full significance, there was present to partake of it the One who instituted it-the perfect, holy Man, who was Jehovah's Fellow. He ordered the Passover to be prepared, and He decided the very place where they should eat it. The time, the manner, the place, were all His appointment. The choice lay not with the disciples but with Him, as verse 9 shows.
The Lord's foreknowledge is strikingly displayed in verse 10. Carrying the water was the task of the women; a man bearing a pitcher of water was a very uncommon sight. Yet He knew that there would be a man performing this unusual act, and that Peter and John would meet him as they entered the city. He knew also that the "goodman of the house" would respond to the message delivered by the disciples in the name of "the Master." Doubtless he recognized the Master as being his Master; in other words, he was one of the godly in Jerusalem who acknowledged His claims, and the Lord knew how to lay His hand upon him. This man had the privilege of furnishing a guest-chamber for the use of the One who had no chamber of His own, and when the hour was come He sat down with His disciples.
In the account which Luke gives, the distinction between the Passover Supper and the Supper which He instituted is very clear: verses 15-18 give the one, and verses 19, 20 the other. The Lord's words as to the Passover indicate the closing up of that old order of things. His sufferings would mean its fulfilment, and when a spared remnant of Israel enters at last into the blessedness of the millennium, it will be as sheltered by the blood of Christ. As to the cup (verse 17), this does not appear to have been any part of the Passover as instituted through Moses, and the Lord apparently did not drink of it. Instead, He indicated that His day of joy, which the fruit of the vine symbolized, would only be reached in the coming kingdom.
Then He instituted His own Supper in remembrance of His death; the bread symbolizing His body, the cup, His shed blood. The account is very brief, and, for the full significance of it all, we have to go to 1 Corinthians 10 and 11. Remembrance, was what the Lord emphasized at the moment, and in view of His long absence we can see the importance of this. Through the centuries the memorial of His death has been with us, and the abiding witness of His love.
The verses which follow (21-27) witness to the folly and the feebleness which was found amongst the disciples. The hand of the betrayer was on the table, and He knew it, though the rest of the disciples were quite unaware of it. There was also strife amongst them, each wishing for the foremost place, and this just as their great Master was about to take the lowest place. Such, alas! is the heart of man, even of saints. It served however to bring out very clearly the fundamental difference between the disciple and the world. Worldly greatness is expressed and maintained by taking a lordly place: Christian greatness is found in taking a servant's place. In that greatness Jesus Himself was pre-eminent. Few words are more touching than this-"I am among you as he that serveth." Such had been His life of perfect grace; and such, in supreme measure, His death was about to be.
It is also most touching to observe how He spoke to the disciples in verses 28-30. They were indeed foolish, and their spirit far astray from His, yet with what graciousness He brought into the light the good feature that had characterized them. They were firmly attached to Him. In spite of His temptations, culminating in His rejection, they had continued with Him. This He would never forget, and there would be an abundant recompense in the kingdom. In the coming day He will take up the kingdom for His Father, and take it up by His saints, and these disciples of His will have a very special place of prominence. In the light of this gracious pronouncement they must surely have felt how mean and sordid had been their previous strife for a great place. And, may we feel the same.
Next, verses 31-34, comes the Lord's special warning to Peter. At this moment he was thinking and acting in the flesh, so Jesus used his name according to the flesh, and His repetition of it conveyed the urgency of His warning. Self-confidence marked him as well as desire for pre-eminence, and this laid him open to Satan: yet the Lord's intercession would prevail, and there was wheat there and not chaff only. This wheat would remain when the winnowing was passed.
The four verses which follow, 35-38, were addressed to all the disciples. They had to bear witness that they had possessed an absolute sufficiency as the fruit of His power, though sent without any human resources; and He intimated that with His death and departure another order of things would supervene. Men would reckon Him among the transgressors in this world, but the things concerning Him had an end in another world. He would be exalted to glory, and His disciples left as His witnesses, having to resume the ordinary circumstances of this world. Their response to these words showed that they were likely to miss the spirit of what He said, by seizing upon one literal detail; so for the moment He left it.
Thus far it has been the dealings of His love with His own; now we see the perfection of His Manhood displayed in Gethsemane. He faced, as before the Father, the full bitterness of that cup of judgment which He had to drink; and His full perfection is seen in that, while shrinking from it, He devoted Himself to the accomplishing of the Father's will, whatever it might cost Him. Luke, alone of the Evangelists, tells us of the appearance of the angel to strengthen Him. This emphasizes the reality of His Manhood, in keeping with the special character of this Gospel. So also His sweat being as great drops of blood is only mentioned in this Gospel. The horror of that which was before Him was entered into in communion with the Father.
With verse 47 the last scenes begin; and now all is calmness and grace with the Lord: all is confusion and agitation with His friends, His adversaries, and even with His judges. The communion in the garden led to the calmness in the great hour of trial. Judas reached the heights of hypocrisy in betraying his Master with a kiss. Peter used one of those two swords they had just alluded to, in ill-conceived and ill-directed violence. What he did in his violence the Lord promptly undid in His grace. The violence was to be left to the multitude with the swords and staves. It was their hour, and the hour in which the power of darkness was to be displayed. Against that dark background the Lord displayed His grace.
The account of Peter's fall follows. The way for it had been prepared by his previous desire for the first place, his self-confidence, and his violent action. Now he followed afar off, and soon got amongst the enemies of his Master. Satan set the trap with consummate skill. First the maid and then the other two servants pressed home their identification of him, leading him to denials increasing in emphasis; though Luke does not tell us how he broke into curses and swearing. That after all was incidental; the essential thing was that he denied his Lord.
Precisely at that moment, just as Jesus had predicted, the cock crew; and then the Lord turned and looked upon him. Just what that look conveyed we may not know, but it spoke such volumes to the fallen disciple that he went out from the enemies of his Master with bitter tears. Judas was filled with remorse, but we do not read that he wept. Peter's bitter weeping was a witness that after all he did love his Lord, and that his faith was not going to fail. The prayer and the look were beginning to prove their efficacy.
This Gospel makes it clear that the trial of Jesus was divided into four parts. First, there was the examination before the chief priests and scribes, as they sought for some plausible pretext for condemning Him to death. The account of this fills the closing verses of the chapter, and it is given with brevity. It is made very plain however that they condemned Him on His own plain confession of who He was. They challenged Him as to being the Christ, and the Lord's answer showed that He knew they were fixed in their unbelief and in their determination to condemn Him. Still, He claimed to be the Son of Man, who should presently wield the very power of God, and this they interpreted as meaning that He must also claim to be the Son of God. This indeed He was, and His reply, "Ye say that I am," was an emphatic, "Yes." As claiming to be the Christ, the Son of Man, the Son of God, they condemned Him to death,
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