The Night Before – May 23, 2021
Today we are continuing our sermon series called The Finale, where we are finishing up the book of Luke. We have been journeying with Jesus for the past year, reading the entire gospel book of Luke chapter by chapter, and we are all the way up to chapter 22. The problem is that we are getting into the famous stories. The stories we have heard at every holiday since we were knee high to a grasshopper. And so the challenge – as we begin – for the next couple of weeks, the challenge is to let these stories tell us something new. Chapter 22 is everything that happens on the last day before Jesus dies. The Lord’s Supper, Praying in the garden at Gethsemane, getting arrested and brought before the council. And because a lot of us have heard these stories before – the temptation is tune it out. “Oh, I already know everything this text has to say.” But if we approach the text with an open mind and a heart for learning, I promise you there are deeper levels that we have not seen before. Today I want to tell you the tale of two betrayals.
Verse 1, [read v.1-6]. To set the stage a little bit, Jesus is in Jerusalem – and everybody’s getting ready for the big festival – The Passover. Chief Priests, who are not his biggest fans, are looking for a way to get rid of Jesus – and Judas gives them that way. He comes to them with an offer, they’re pretty excited about it, so they pay him and he begins to look for a opportunity to betray Jesus. This is premeditated betrayal, this has been planned out. Another thing you’ll notice throughout this chapter is there’s a lot of preparation. Preparing to betray, preparing for the Passover, preparing to die through prayer – there’s an enormous amount of getting things ready, for good or for bad. And so the next bit is Jesus sending his disciples in to get everything ready for the Passover celebration.
So they sit down to the Passover meal, [read v.14-15]. Sort of a weird way to start the meal. I’m really excited to hang out with you guys one last time before I go die. But it’s also sort of beautiful. Clearly he knew suffering was coming, he knew he was going to die – and in his final moments he wanted to share a meal with his closest friends. And then he gives us the tradition, the thing we call Communion when it says, [read v.19-20]. The thing about suffering, the thing about pain – is that it is incredibly distracting. When we are in it, we don’t really think about anything else. There is just us and our suffering. And I think it’s significant, that one of the last things Jesus did was give us a tradition designed to remind us of God’s presence. Every time we take the bread and cup we remember what he did for us, we remember that he is still with us. Even in the midst of suffering, even in the midst of betrayal.
And then Jesus ends the party, with the ultimate buzzkill conversation starter, [read v.21-23]. I love you guys so much, take this bread and this cup – make sure you remember me and what I’m doing for you, also – little sidenote, one of you is a jerk. But look at where it leads them… okay, at first they start with “which one of us will betray Jesus” and then somehow it morphs into “which one of us is the best” [read v.24-26]. Jesus looks at his disciples and says, “look, maybe among the gentiles – they have kings who lord it over their subjects, but with you guys it’s going to be different. The greatest among you will be as children and the leaders will be those who serve.” And then he points at himself as an example. [read v.27]. In the midst of his last full day on this earth, Jesus pauses in the middle to teach us a lesson on leadership and humility. He says, the greatest among you will be the one who serves, just like I have come to this earth to serve. If you want to grow in humility and good leadership, look for opportunities to serve other people.
And then we get to Betrayal number 2 – Peter. Jesus says, [read v.31-34]. I love Peter’s heart on this. I will never betray you Jesus, I am ready to go to prison and even die for you. I mean, think about it – he just had this incredible experience of communion with Jesus at the last supper. He’s on an emotional high right now and he’s so super committed to Jesus. But Jesus says, no. By tomorrow morning you will deny me over and over. And I think that shows us something important! When we think we are bullet proof, that is when we are most vulnerable to fall. For those of us who are married, we think, “I would NEVER cheat on my wife or husband” – but that posture keeps us away from being vigilant and actually makes it easier for us to fall. It is the man or woman who admits, you know what, I might make a mistake, I’m not perfect so I need to be careful, it is that person who remains vigilant, it is that man or woman that succeeds. And this applies to every area of life. I would never steal, I would never go back to drugs, I would never be racist – it is those who assume they can not fall or are in the most danger of falling. If you believe you are above betrayal, you are most likely to fall into it.
So after the dinner, Jesus goes to the mount of olives to pray – and before he gets there he prepares by doing two things. First, he takes a second to make sure his disciples have swords. And they find a couple of swords and Jesus says, alright – we’re all set. Then, when the get to the garden, Jesus turns to his disciples and says, in verse 40, [read v.40]. He asks the disciples to pray, so that they won’t come into the time of trial. Jesus asks them to pray, in order to prepare themselves for what’s coming. And then he himself goes to pray, in order to prepare himself for what’s coming. [read v.41-44]. I cannot fathom stressing out about something so much that it causes my sweat to turn to blood. It seems pretty clear to me that Jesus knows he faces death, and he does not want to go through it. But on the other side of this prayer, after putting it all in front of God…what we will see is that from this moment on – Jesus does not waiver. This prayer in the garden, even though it does not give him the answer he wants, this prayer steadies him. Enables him to handle what is coming. Prayer has a tremendous capacity to prepare you for the things you need to do in life. [read v.45-46]. The disciples did not pray, and I want you to notice – they are not ready for what is coming.
[read v.47-51]. Judas shows up, with an armed mob. They are ready to put those swords to good use. One of them, a lot of people think it was probably Peter, cuts a guy’s ear off. But Jesus shuts it down. No, he says, no more of this. Even though, Jesus wanted the swords to be there – after his time of prayer, he did not want to use them. He responds to betrayal with peace. [read v.52-53]. I don’t want you to miss this. A little bit, Jesus is hitting them with his words. I’ve been at the temple, every day this week. You could have easily come and got me there, but no – you do it in the dark of night, with nobody around, because you know this is wrong. Underneath all their posturing, Jesus knows they are convicted, because of the method they use. The first betrayal, the betrayal of Judas, is complete.
There are two pieces left in the story, and I’m not sure which one is more heartbreaking. First, betrayal number two – Peter’s Denial. [read v.54-62]. The Lord turned and look at Peter. And Peter remembered what Jesus had said, and he went out and he wept bitterly. A few hours ago, Peter was boldly declaring – I would never leave Jesus. But then he didn’t prepare himself, he was not vigilant, he did not pray – and so he betrayed Jesus by denying that he even knew him. And here’s the hard part of this story. Somewhere in this story, somewhere hidden in the tale of the two betrayals, somewhere in there is a mirror for each and every one of us. We have all, at some point and in some way – betrayed God. For some of us, it was premeditated like Judas. We might look at our life and say, “well I’ve made some mistakes.” But if we’re being honest with ourselves, some of those mistakes we made on purpose. Some of those things we did, we thought about them ahead of time, maybe even planned them. In life we love to look back and call the things in our past mistakes, as if the stuff we did happened by accident, but they’re not really mistakes. As Andy Stanley puts it – we are not “mistakers”, we’re sinners. Even if we are well intentioned, like Peter, and our hearts in the right place and we want to do good and we never intended to betray – still we find ourselves in situations where we do the wrong thing. We do what God has asked us not to. It’s hard to think about, but the story of the two betrayals is actually autobiographical. For me personally, I have had moments when I have been Judas – when I knew what I was doing was wrong, but I planned it, and then I acted on it. And I have had moments when I have been Peter, where I was on fire for Jesus- but I thought I was bullet proof, and so I didn’t prepare and before I knew it, I had walked away from the path God put in front of me. And when I think about that, and the sins of my life – like Peter, my heart weeps bitterly.
The chapter finishes up with Jesus before the council, which is really just sort of a teaser trailer for next week. [read v.63-68]. So they grab him, and they mock him, and they beat him all night long. And then in the morning, they drag him in front of those who hate him for “questioning.” This is not exactly a trial by a jury of your peers, this is not due process. These are people who already know exactly what they’re going to do. And Jesus calls it out, “If I tell you, you will not believe. If I question you, you will not answer.” But they push, and the chapter finishes [read v. 70-71]. So, we’ll get to Friday next week – but suffice it to say that Jesus is enduring incredibly difficult events, and he weathers the storm because he has prepared for it. He put it in front of God in prayer.
You see, the good news this morning is that God prepares us. When we realize that in our lives we ARE Judas and Peter, the best news I could possibly give you is that God prepares us. God prepares us for restoration. Think about who Jesus is and what he did. The almighty son of God put down the swords, and went willingly to be mocked, beaten and tried unjustly. Jesus didn’t go through all this, he didn’t humble himself for nothing. He did all of this, for your restoration. This chapter is all full of preparation and rituals of remembering, and then there’s all this betrayal mixed in there and I think that’s the message for us this morning. We have all betrayed God at some point, but the reason Jesus dealt with everything was for you. The reason Jesus came as a servant in humility was to prepare us for restoration. Jesus cried out and said, “God I don’t want to go through this.” But the silence of God indicates that there was a plan in motion. God was telling Jesus, I need you to go through with this, so that you can heal what is broken when betrayal comes. When our betrayal comes, when things fall apart – God is already working to put things bad together. The God of all things wants to restore you. He went through all of this, on the night before, in order to offer you forgiveness. God prepares us for restoration.
Now when we look back at this story, and we see the two betrayals of Judas and Peter, and we find the same betrayal in each of our hearts – there are two choices. There are two ways we can respond. Real quick, let me give you the epilogue of what happened to these two men. In the gospel of Matthew, they give us the end of Judas’ story. [read Matthew 27:1-5]. When Judas realized what he had done, he tried to take it back. He turned back, which is good – but he never accepted any sort of forgiveness. The sin in his life led him to despair. In the same way, in our lives when we are confronted with the reality of our sin – if we do not believe in a God who loves us, if we do not believe that there is forgiveness offered through Jesus’ sacrifice – that sin will lead us to despair. And despair leads to death. But on the other hand, the story of Peter – we get the end of his story in the book of John. After Jesus rises from the dead, oh I’m sorry – spoiler alert. After Jesus rises from the dead, he meets with his disciples on the beach, and they have breakfast together. And he sits down with Peter. Just listen to this, [read John 21:15-17]. How many times did Peter deny Jesus? (3), And how many times did Jesus get Peter to say “I love you”? (3). It’s almost like Jesus gave Peter a do over. When Peter denied Jesus, when he betrayed Jesus, and he realized what he had done – he wept bitterly. But Jesus didn’t go through all this stuff to leave us in despair. Through every piece of the story, God was preparing for restoration. He comes to Peter as a friend, and asks him again. Do you love me? Peter never denied Jesus again for the rest of his life, Peter went on to lead the early church and eventually it led to his death – but he never denied Jesus again.
When you think about the “mistakes” of your life, especially the ones you did on purpose, you have two choices in front of you. Judas or Peter. Despair or a second chance. So my challenge for you this morning is to repent of your sins, accept the grace of God and leave that life behind. It’s not even really a challenge, this is just me as your pastor begging you. Repent of your sins, accept the grace of God, and leave that life behind. Turn around like Peter did, and come home to Jesus. If you have lied, or lusted, or stolen or hurt the heart of God in ANY way – we need to repent. And as you grow as a Christian, you might find out some of the stuff you’re doing hurts the heart of God – oh crap, God wants us to wait until we’re married to have sex? Oh no, God wants us to love our enemies, and to take care of the poor and hungry? To put others before myself? I haven’t been doing that – and every time we see God calling us away from something we have two choices. Despair or a second chance. When we discover betrayal, when we are convicted in our heart and we realize there is sin in our life – it might make us weep bitterly, like Peter. But God didn’t do all this to leave us in despair. This whole story was designed for our restoration. God is setting all the pieces in place, restoration is coming. So repent of your sin, accept the grace of God and leave that life behind.
Peter. Judas. JJ. And all of you. There is betrayal written all over this chapter, written all over our lives. Each and every one of us – we’re not better than Judas, we’re not better than Peter – with the things we have done, with the choices we have made – we have each betrayed God. But all this time, all along throughout this story, God has been laying the foundation, preparing for restoration. And so I’ll leave you with this. Betrayal is never the end of the story. Grace is coming. Repent and believe. Amen.