Lesson 186: The Arrest: In the Courtyard of Caiaphas

Matthew 26:55-75 ; Mark 14:48-72 ; Luke 22:52-71 ; John 18:12-27


It was the night of Jesus’ arrest. After being accused in the home of Annas, He was lead to the home of Caiaphas. Peter continued to follow along behind. As Jesus was brought before the members of the Sanhedrin that had skulked their way to Caiaphas’ home that night, Peter made his way into the courtyard. He sat with the officers by the fire, waiting to hear what the outcome of the trail would be, looking for his opportunity to stand by his Lord.

After Jesus was led before them, the Sanhedrin brought up one witness after another to testify against Him.

Their stories were false, and their words did not agree with each other. They were so inconsistent that they kept cancelling each other out. According to the Law of God, a person could only be condemned if two witnesses came forward with the same accusation. It wasn’t happening, so they brought up more witnesses.

Nobody could provide anything worthy of putting Jesus to death, and the rulers of Israel would settle for nothing less. Jesus had to die. Finally, a witness came forward and told how Jesus declared that He would destroy the Temple of God . The Lord said He would rebuild it without human hands in three days. We know of course, that Jesus was talking about His own body. It was about to be destroyed because He offered Himself up. But Jesus would be raised to perfection in three days by the hands of the Living God! In the malice of their false testimony against Jesus, they had declared the truth of that very night, but their eyes were too blind to see!

In truth, none of these charges really mattered. These rulers were out to kill Him, and if this charge didn’t stick, they would simply find another. So Jesus said nothing in His own defense. Imagine His quiet, confident resolve in the face of the hysteria around Him.

The high priest was infuriated. He stood up and walked over to Jesus. “‘Do you make no answer? What is it that these men are testifying against you?’”

Again, Jesus remained silent. The high priest began to fume, “‘I adjure you by the living God, that You tell us whether You are the Christ, the Son of God.’” Once again, the enemies of Jesus proclaimed the truth about Him in the very proceedings meant to condemn Him. This time, Jesus responded:

“‘‘You have said it yourself; nevertheless, I tell you, hereafter you shall see THE SON OF MAN SITTING AT THE RIGHT HAND OF POWER, and COMING ON THE CLOUDS OF HEAVEN.’”

Wow. Jesus declared that he was not only the Messiah. He was the Son of Man! This was a term from the Old Testament. It meant He was claiming to be divine in power and glory. He was claiming to be one with God.

When the high priest heard this, he knew that he had what he wanted. He grabbed his priestly robe in his hands and tore it apart. It was a declaration of his extreme offense and absolute condemnation of everything Jesus said. The holy garments that God had ordained for his high priest through Moses were never meant to be torn. But the high priest who had such little regard for the will of God could hardly be troubled by that now.

In truth, what did that matter? The holiness that the Law could not fulfill through these sinful priests was about to be fulfilled completely in Jesus. In his rebellion, Caiaphas was acting as God’s tool to bring about the end of the Law, the Temple worship, and the covenant that gave this man his power. In his grasping fury to hold onto his life, he was losing it.

“‘He has blasphemed!’” he declared hysterically. “‘What further need do we have of witnesses? Behold, you have now heard the blasphemy; what do you think?’” The rest of the Sanhedrin pronounced, “‘He is deserving of death!’”

Then in their vicious rage they descended on the Lord, spitting on His face, beating Him with their fists, and slapping Him to bring Him disgrace. And all the while, the Lord stood there in the power of His dignified strength, bearing the cup His Father had given Him.

In the midst of this pathetic injustice, Peter was sitting out in the courtyard, warming his hands by the fire. Then he got up and walked over to the porch by the gateway. Was he looking for an escape route? Things were not looking good for his Master. Another servant girl came up to Peter and said, “‘You are one of them, too!’”

Peter said, “‘I do not know the man!’” Imagine the pressure he must have felt.

Another hour went by, and the trial of Christ continued to get worse. How Peter’s heart must have ached to see these terrible men physically pummeling his Lord. What could he do? How was he meant to solve it? How could he show his loyalty now? A thousand thoughts must have run through his head, but he was too paralyzed to act. One of the slaves looked at Peter and said, “‘Surely you are one of them, for you are a Galilean, too.’” This slave had been in the garden when Jesus was arrested. The man whose ear Peter cut off was his own cousin, and he was sure that this man was the one who did it!

Peter began to swear and curse with the false rage of someone caught in a lie, “‘I don’t know this Man you are talking about!’” Immediately, a cock crowed. The Lord heard it as well, and in the midst of His chaotic trial, He looked over at Peter. Peter remembered what Jesus had said just hours before in the Upper Room. “‘Before the cock crows, you will deny me three times.’” The worst failure had come true. Peter rose and went out, weeping bitterly.

The religious rulers carried on in their fury. Someone tied a blindfold around Jesus’ eyes. Then they pounded on Him and slapped Him, saying,. “‘Prophecy to us, you Christ; who is it that hit You?’”

Imagine their vicious, gnashing hated and petty pleasure. They finally had the power to act out their years of resentment towards this popular young Teacher, and they were so united in their hatred that no one felt ashamed. As they blasphemed the God that they were accusing of blasphemy, the Lord bore it all, knowing that there was a joy set before Him that none of these men could imagine.

Lesson 185: The Arrest: In the House of Annas

Matthew 26:55-75; Mark 14:48-72 ; Luke 22:52-71 ; John 18:12-27


In the quiet of night, as His disciples fell into weary sleep, Jesus went to His Father in prayer. Three times He asked that the burden would be removed. Could the Father take away this task? Could Jesus somehow avoid the coming torment? Did He have to drink the cup of God’s wrath? Was it truly the only way to bring salvation to man? Imagine the breathtaking love of the Father as He held the redemption of humankind before His Son and said, “You are the only way.” Imagine the wholehearted, absolute love and surrender of the Son as He accepted the punishment that all of us should bear.

When the chief priests and soldiers came to arrest Jesus, the battle had already been won. The Son of God had already humbled Himself and made Himself as nothing before God. He would serve the Father through the darkness, totally assured of the glory on the other side. God would exalt Him to the highest place, the very throne of Heaven.   The name of Jesus would be above every name, and every knee in Heaven and on earth and under the earth would bow before Him, and every tongue would confess that Jesus Christ is Lord of all. And the lavish honor bestowed upon the Son would give honor and glory to the Father of His Great Love (see Phil. 2).

As Jesus faced the cross, He knew that all of these things lay on the other side…and it gave Him power to scorn it’s shame (see Hebrews 12:1-3). The men in the Garden that came to arrest Him were entirely mistaken in their belief that they were asserting any kind of real power in the events that were about to unfold. Even as Jesus gave Himself over to their venomous attacks and the agonies of physical abuse, He remained Lord of all.

Simon Peter and the disciples were growing in their faith, but they did not have the vision to see beyond the events of the moment. As Simon Peter surged forward with his sword, he invited the horrors of violence into a moment that was meant for surrender. Jesus commanded an end to strife and healed the ear of the man that Peter attacked.

Then he turned to the men who had come to seize Him and said, “‘Have you come out with swords and clubs to arrest Me as if I were a robber? Every day I was with you in the Temple teaching, and you did not seize Me; but this has happened that Scripture might be fulfilled. This hour and the power of darkness are yours.’”

When the disciples heard Jesus and realized that He was giving Himself up, they panicked and fled the scene. Imagine how the religious rulers sneered as the soldiers put shackles on Jesus’ hands and feet. As they led Him away, a young man came along behind. He had no clothes on except a sheet that was wrapped around him. When the soldiers realized he was a friend of Jesus, they tried to seize him, too, but he ran, leaving the sheet behind. Off he went, naked into the cold night, devastated by the seeming fate of his Lord.

The mob moved through the dark to the house of Annas, the former high priest over Israel. He was the father-in-law of Caiaphas, the current high priest. It was Caiaphas who declared that it was better for Christ to die in order to save the nation. He declared that if the Romans grew weary of all the excitement Jesus seemed to raise, they might clamp down on all of their freedoms.

This, of course, was ridiculous. The Romans had shown no concern over the travels of Christ or the message He preached. But it was a good excuse. Little did the high priest know that his venomous declaration was actually a prophecy from God (see John 11:45-53).

The true reason of Caiaphas’ malice toward Christ was more personal. He was jealous, greedy, and had a problem with a lust for power. He was from a family of longstanding prestige and influence. This family was used to wielding power and controlling the direction of the nation. This young preacher was a threat to their agenda, and He had to be eliminated. No longer would Jesus be allowed to sneak around the valleys and cracks of the nation, catering to the ignorant crowds. He was finally going to have to face the men whose leadership He had dared to defy on their terms. How viciously Caiaphas and his fellow rulers savored the anticipation of humiliating Him. Caiaphas was no innocent, spiritual man who was getting the story wrong. He was a calloused abuser of power who could care less about the things of God. God would use the sin of this man who lead His chosen nation to bring about His perfect purposes through His righteous Son.

As Jesus moved towards the House of Annas, Simon Peter had recovered from his initial panic. He followed the crowd, threading his way along to keep watch on the unfolding events. John had come along, too. He was known in the household of Annas, so as Jesus was led in for questioning, he was allowed onto the estate. Peter had to wait outside, but John went to the doorkeeper for him. While Peter waited for him, a little slave girl who worked at the door came up to him and said, “‘You are not also one of this Man’s disciples, are you?’” In a split second reaction, Peter declared, “‘I am not.’” Before he even had time to think, he had denied his Lord the first time.

John was able to get Peter inside the door, so Peter walked into the courtyard and stood by a charcoal fire where slaves and soldiers were standing to warm themselves.

Meanwhile, Annas started to question Jesus, grilling Him about His disciples and the messages He taught. Jesus looked back at him and stated the facts, “‘I have spoken openly to the world; I always taught in the synagogues, and in the Temple, where all the Jews come together; and I spoke nothing in secret. Why do you question Me? Question those who have heard what I spoke to them; behold, these know what I said.’”

At this, an officer struck Jesus and scowled, “‘Is this the way you answer the high priest?’”

Jesus boldly replied, “‘If I have spoken wrongly, bear witness of the wrong; bit if rightly, why do you strike Me?’” Jesus answered with a reminder of the Old Testament Law. In Exodus 22:28, God told the nation of Israel that it is righteous to speak in self-defense if it is the truth. Clearly, the officer was more concerned about protecting the former high priest than honoring righteous decrees of the Word of God.

Jesus stood before Annas with the superior power of moral authority. Annas had nothing to say. Perhaps he was a bit rattled. It was obvious he had no ability to intimidate Jesus.   He dismissed Him and sent Him along to the home of his son-in-law where men from the Sanhedrin, Israel’s highest court, had already gathered.

This had all been plotted out ahead of time. In the deep, dark of night, they had come to preside over the questioning and condemnation of the One who preached such infuriating messages in the courts of their Temple.

Story 184: The Arrest: When Everyone Falls Away

Matthew 26:46-56; Mark 14:43-52; Luke 22:47-65; John 18:2-11

JERUSALEM, ISRAEL - MARCH 3, 2015: The mosaic of the arresting of Jesus in Gethsemane garden in The Church of All Nations (Basilica of the Agony) by Pietro D'Achiardi (1922 - 1924).

Jesus knelt in prayer in the darkness of the Garden of Gethsemane. In an agony of prayer, He asked His Father to remove the terrible trial before Him. The Father’s answer was no, and so He surrendered to His Father’s will. Then Jesus rose up to His feet and went over to His disciples. He found them sleeping once again.   “‘Sleep and take your rest later on,’” He said. “‘See, the hour is at hand, and the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. Rise, let us be going.’”

Jesus hadn’t even finished speaking when they came. The jangles of armor and thudding of feet could be heard and the flame from torches flickered against the dark cloak of the garden trees. Judas was leading the way with a host of men behind him. The chief priests and elders and Pharisees had come with their lanterns and weapons, eager to be a part of the night’s events. They had brought a company of Roman soldiers with them. There was at least two hundred men, each carrying his own weapon as if prepared for battle.

“‘Whom do you seek?’” Jesus asked, knowing full well they were coming after Him.

“‘Jesus the Nazarene’” they answered.

“‘I am He,’” The Lord said. At His words, the mob drew back and fell to the ground. Imagine it. Did the men fall back because God had declared Himself before them, or were they blown away with the sheer boldness of His announcement?   Whatever the cause, it must have been disorienting to rise up again and realize it was their job to arrest the One who had spoken.

Again Jesus asked, “‘Whom do you seek?’” There was no fear in Jesus, and there was no attempt to hide. He was already set on the course of obeying His Father, and these were the events that He ordained. When they recovered, they said, “‘Jesus the Nazarene.’”

The Lord said, “‘I told you that I am He; if therefore you seek Me, let these others go their way.’” Jesus was talking about His disciples. He had stepped forward to identify Himself clearly and to protect His men. Just the night before He said He would not lose one of the disciples God had given Him. Only one among the twelve was lost, but his actions showed that he had never belonged to Christ in the first place.

As Judas plotted and planned with the Jews, he told them about the Garden where Jesus went with His disciples every night to sleep. It would be the perfect place to arrest Him. The crowds who were loyal to Jesus would be far away and fast asleep. They wouldn’t be able to defend Him. They could seize Jesus without having to deal with His impossible questions in front of the people.

But there was a problem. In the darkness of night, it would be difficult to figure out which of the men in the garden was actually Jesus. Only Judas knew Jesus and the ways of His disciples well enough to identify the Lord immediately. So they made a plan. When they arrived in the Garden, Judas would go to Jesus and kiss Him on the cheek. That was the sign that would tell the soldiers who they should arrest.

Judas went up to the Lord and said, “‘Greetings Rabbi!’” and kissed Him.

“‘Judas,’” the Lord said, “‘Are you betraying the Son of Man with a kiss?’” Then He said, “‘My friend, do what you have come for.’” How gently He treated His betrayer.

All of these things had taken place in the space of a few moments. Imagine the chaos and confusion for the disciples as they emerged from their bleary, sorrow-sodden sleep. Suddenly, Roman soldiers and the faces of their poisonous Jewish leaders were standing there in the light of torches and lanterns. And there was Judas. What was happening? Was this it?

Fear and tension and panic took over. Their fierce determination to stand loyal to Jesus arose in their hearts. “‘Lord, shall we strike with the sword?’” they asked. Surely it would have been a hopeless battle in any other circumstance, but they were on the side of the Messiah! They meant it when they said they would die for Him.

Before waiting for an answer, Simon Peter drew his sword and struck out against the men who advanced to seize Jesus. His blade grazed the head of a man named Malchus, a slave of the high priest. Peter’s blow sliced off his right ear! Imagine Malchus’ cry. Imagine the massacre that would have come next if the soldiers had raised their swords in defense of the Jewish leaders.

But Jesus declared, “‘Stop! No more of this!’” Everyone froze. As Jesus reached out and healed Malchus, He told Peter to put his sword away. “‘All who take up the sword will perish by the sword,’” He said. “‘Or do you think I cannot appeal to My Father, and He will at once put at My disposal more than twelve legions of angels? How, then, shall the Scripture be fulfilled. It must happen this way. The cup my Father has given to Me, shall I not drink it?’”

Wow. Peter did not understand. Jesus was not at the mercy of the men who came to arrest him. His Father had orchestrated the events of that night. The religious leaders didn’t understand, either. They thought they were coming to destroy a defiant young preacher.

But Jesus knew who He was. He understood His authority in Heaven. He knew that there were thousands upon thousands of magnificent, powerful angels standing at the ready, fully prepared to obey His every command.

Can you imagine them there in the heavenlies? Straining in their obedience to God as they watched their Lord under attack? His angelic warriors could have laid every man in that Garden to waste in the blink of an eye. They could have decimated the entire city of Jerusalem in a moment. They could have wiped out all of the Lord’s Jewish enemies and the entire Roman Empire in a day and made Him King.

But they didn’t.

It was not the plan of the Father. He had a far greater and deeper victory in mind. When the Lord came to conquer the world, it was not by brute force. The greatest exhibition of power in the universe does not come in the form of violence. It comes in the form of surrender to the Most High God.

The Father and the Son had planned this salvation before the world began. They gave hints and images of it to the world through the nation of Israel and their sacred Word. Now that the time had finally come for the Son of God to bring redemption, nothing would stop Him from accomplishing it.


Story 183: The Garden of Gethsemane: The Agony of Surrender

Matthew 26:30-46; Mark 14:26-42; Luke 22:39-46; John 18:1

detail of the mosaic of the passion at the Basilica of the Rosary, Lourdes

As Jesus and His disciples celebrated the Passover, the Lord revealed the mysteries of God’s plan to them in a much fuller way than they had ever understood before. Yet there were many more revelations to come. At the end of the glorious, sweeping lessons of the Upper Room, Jesus prayed to His Father for Himself, His disciples, and all the followers who would come to believe through them. All of them were bound up together in the unity and love of Almighty God. It would take the disciples the rest of their lives to grasp the deep things Jesus taught them on that sacred night. But now it was time to move. The final victory still lay ahead for Jesus, and He stepped out to accomplish it.

Jesus and the disciples sang a final hymn together to close the Passover meal. Then they got up and made their way, as usual, to the Mount of Olives for the night. Little did the disciples understand what was coming next. Jesus tried to warn them as they walked. He quoted the prophet Zechariah 13:7, saying:

“‘This very night you will all fall away on account of Me, for it is written:

“I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.’”

But after I have risen, I will go ahead of you to Galilee.’”

Jesus knew there would be trouble, but do you see how utterly confident He was of His victory? Even though He would be put to death, there was no doubt that He would rise again. Even though all of His men would scatter, He knew He would see them again in Galilee. But all Peter could hear from that quote was that Jesus said he would abandon his Lord. He protested, “‘Even if all fall away on account of You, I never will.’”

How proud Peter was of his own courage, even as the Son of God told him otherwise! Jesus said to Peter once again, “‘I tell you the truth, this very night, before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times.’”

Jesus understood what was in man. He understood the weaknesses of His disciples. In His lavish grace, He had already forgiven them for what they were about to do. His only concern was to warn them. The next few days would be filled with shock and horror, but in the midst of it, they would be able to call to mind that Jesus had foreseen it all. If they chose faith, they would understand that everything that happened was God’s plan underway.

As Peter listened to his Master, he could not accept it. “‘Even if I have to die with You, I will never disown You,’” he declared. The other disciples all agreed as well.

When they arrived in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus said, “‘Sit here while I go over there and pray.’” Jesus summoned Peter, John, and James to come with Him, and they moved away from the group. Then Jesus turned to the three and said, “‘Pray that you might not enter into temptation.’”

Imagine the agony in His voice as He confessed to them, “‘My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch over Me.’” As the Son of God, He was utterly confident of His Father’s plan. But as a human who loved deeply, He longed for the support of His friends.

Jesus moved about a stone’s throw away and fell down on His face in prayer. “‘My Father,’” He cried out, “‘if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as You will.’”

At that time, an angel came to the Lord from Heaven and gave Him strength. The Lord was facing the agony of the wrath of God against the sins of the world as a solitary human being. He did not lean His power as God to carry our sins to the cross. He accomplished it as a man in perfect obedience to God the Father. It was an obedience that no other human could bear. They would crumple under the weight because of their impurity and sin. Only One who was perfectly worthy and absolutely holy was mighty enough to defeat sin and death. No human could ever bear that strength unless God showed up Himself in human form to do it. And because of His magnificent love, He did.

Yet even for Jesus, as He faced the trail, the strain was so intense that His body began to show the pressure. As He prayed in the utter, torturous dread of what He was about to endure, He began to sweat great drops of blood. They fell to the ground as He called out to His Father.

After a time, the Lord Jesus rose and went to His disciples. He found them fast asleep on the ground, exhausted from their sorrow. He woke Peter and said, “‘So, could you not watch with Me one hour? Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.’”

How tenderly Jesus showed compassion and understanding to His men, even in their great weakness, even as He bore the agony of their sin. The Lord went back to His place of prayer and cried out, “‘My Father, if this cannot pass away unless I drink it, Your will be done.’” But the cup of God’s wrath could only be satisfied with a perfect sacrifice, and Christ was the only One who qualified.

When Jesus went to His disciples again, they were once again asleep, for their eyes weighed heavy in need of rest. They did not know what to say to Jesus about this second failure.

Jesus went by Himself to pray once again, appealing to His Father to free Him from the task ahead. But there was no other way. His death was the only solution to the horrible problem of the Curse. If He didn’t offer Himself up as a sacrifice, then no one else could. All would be lost. He alone could set the captives free. And so He accepted the will of His Father.

It is impossible for us to comprehend what Jesus said “yes” to in that moment. His body would go through the most excruciating form of torture that humanity has ever conceived. He would bear the full mental and spiritual agony of sin and death as the wrath of God bore down on Him in wave after wave of intense fury. For hour after excruciating hour on the cross, Jesus would bear our punishment until it was paid in full. What should have been waged against each of us for all eternity would be exhausted against Jesus in the space of a few hours. We will spend all eternity worshipping Him for paying the price for our ransom (See Revelation 5 for a glimpse of the heavenly side of this story).


Story 182: The Last Supper: The Prayers of God’s Son

John 17

VIENNA - JULY 27: Holy Trinity. Detail from fresco of scene from apocalypse from 19. cent. in main apse of Altlerchenfelder church on July 27, 2013 Vienna.

A fresco of the Trinity from Vienna                          With Christ in glory.

On His last night with His disciples, Jesus finally made it clear. The Kingdom they were going to proclaim would be far different from what they had imagined, but it was also far greater and more wonderful. As Jesus looked ahead to the days and years to come, He lifted up His eyes to His Father in Heaven and prayed. Let’s listen in on how God the Son talked to His Father:

“‘Father, the time has come. Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify You. For You granted Him authority over all people that He might give eternal life to all those You have given Him. Now this is eternal life: that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom You have sent. I have brought You glory on earth by completing the work You gave Me to do. And now, Father, glorify Me in Your presence with the glory I had with You before the world began.’”

John 17:1b-5

Wow. Did you get that? Those who have put their faith in Jesus are a gift from God the Father to His Son. Not only that, but the love between the Father and the Son was such that they were working to bring glory to one another. If humans worked to bring glory to each other, it could become ridiculous. It is nice to encourage friends and compliment them, but because every person is a sinner, there is a limit to what we can say to each other or about each other and still speak truthfully. You cannot bring true glory to someone if they don’t deserve it. But God does deserve it, and so does His Son. The only right thing is for them to be magnificently glorified. The only right thing for us to do is fall down and worship them in all their radiant glory. That is why the rejection of Christ is such a deep and terrible sin. It is the ultimate wrong. The Son of God and the Father are Truth, and they bring glory to each other.

Jesus knew that He had completed the work the Father had for Him on earth. All that was left was the cross. And so He prayed that once He died, His Father would restore Him to the glory He had with the Father for all eternity past. Then He went on:

“‘I have revealed You to those whom You gave Me out the world. They were Yours; You gave them to Me and they have obeyed Your Word. Now they know that everything You have given Me comes from You. For I gave them the words You gave Me and they accepted them. They knew with certainty that I came from You, and they believed that You sent Me.’”

John 17:6-8

Do you see how important belief is to Jesus? Consider the wondrous humility of Christ that it matters to Him whether we trust Him. That He cares so much about our faith that everything else that matters depends on it!

Listen to how Jesus prayed for the people of faith of His time and throughout all time:

“‘I pray for them. I am not praying for the world, but for those You have given Me, for they are Yours. All I have is Yours, and all You have is Mine. And glory has come to Me through them. I will remain in the world no longer, but they are still in the world, and I am coming to You. Holy Father, protect them by the power of Your name–the name You gave Me-so that they may be one as We are One. While I was with them, I protected them and kept them safe by that Name You gave Me. None has been lost except the one doomed to destruction so that Scripture would be fulfilled.’”

John 17:9-12

Wow. It is impossible for us to imagine the grandeur of these words…or the magnificent goodness of what it means to us. Belonging to God…to have the God of the universe say, “You are Mine.” Wow. Consider the potential for you and I and all who believe…we are meant to be one as God the Father is One with His Son. And while Jesus was with His followers on earth, He was protecting them. From what? He seems to be saying that none of those that God the Father had given to Him was lost to unbelief. Jesus went on:

“‘I am coming to You now, but I say these things while I am still in the world, so that they may have the full measure of My joy within them. I have given them Your word and the world has hated them, for they are not of the world any more than I am of the world. My prayer is not that You take them out of the world but that You would protect them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of it. Sanctify them by the truth: your word is truth. As you sent Me into the world, I have sent them into the world. For them I sanctify Myself, that they too may be truly sanctified.’”

John 17:13-19

There is so much in these words from Christ to think about. He was explaining God’s plan so that His disciples could share in His joy. He was about to pay the price for the sin and death of the world by hanging naked in a torturous death on a cross…and yet His own profound belief in His Father’s plan allowed Him to speak of joy. Just as His goal was not to avoid the suffering before Him, He was honoring His disciples with the privilege of their acting as heralds of His Kingdom. He would not stop them from having to live with the problems of this world, but He gave them an amazing purpose to live for as long as they were in it.

“‘My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in Me through their message, that all of them may be one.   Father, just as You are in Me and I am in You. may they also be in You so that the world may believe that You have sent Me. I have given them the glory that You gave Me, that they may be one as We are one. I in them and You in Me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that You sent Me and have loved them even as You have loved Me.’”

John 17:20-23

Wow. Now Jesus was praying for all of us who have put our faith in Him. In fact, our life in God is meant to show the world that the story of Christ is true. And somehow, we have been given Christ’s glory, and the purpose is so that we can live in unity together. We are meant to be all bound up in the love of the Trinity together.

“‘Father, I want those You have given Me to be with Me where I am, and to see My glory, the glory You have given Me because You loved Me before the creation of the world.’”

“‘Righteous Father, though the world does not know You, I know You, and they know that You have sent Me. I have made You known to them, and will continue to make You known in order that the love You have for Me may be in them and that I Myself may be in them.’”

John 17:24-26

What an amazing love story! The whole story of the universe is the love story of God. How the Father has loved the Son!  How greatly the Son glorified the Father with His perfect obedience. There is no deeper display of devotion than His willingness to suffer the ultimate agony on the cross. And the glory of God for those who love Him is eternal bliss. Jesus wants to draw His faithful ones into that glory to share it with Him forever.

Story 181: The Last Supper: Counselor of Hope

John 16

shining dove with rays on a dark golden background

As Jesus spent His last evening before His arrest with His disciples, He promised that He would send a Counselor to them once He was gone. The Spirit of Christ would come into their hearts and give them guidance and power to continue on the work of the Kingdom. This is what Jesus said:

“When the Counselor comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father, He will testify about Me. And you also must testify, for you have been with Me from the beginning.’’

John 15:26

If we stop and think about it, this is a pretty amazing gift. The Spirit of God Himself will empower those who put their faith in Jesus to proclaim the Good News of Christ’s salvation. It is an honor beyond imagination.


And yet…the gift of being the bearers of the Spirit in the world of the Curse would have consequences. The people of darkness and the demonic forces that entrapped them would be hostile to the people of Light. Jesus wanted His disciples to be ready, so that when it happened, they would understand what was going on when the tensions rose high and they were being persecuted. He said:

“‘All of this I have told you so that you will not go astray. They will put you out of the synagogue; in fact, a time is coming when anyone who kills you will think he is offering service to God. They will do such things because they have not known the Father or Me. I have told you this so that when the time comes you will remember that I warned you. I did not tell you this at first because I was with you.’”

John 16:1-4

Imagine the disciples as they listened to Jesus. The things He was telling them were very different from how they had imagined their future. Just an hour or so before, they were arguing about which one of them would be the greatest. Now they were learning that the future held no immediate glory for them. Their role as the proclaimers of Jesus Christ was going to mean a life of challenge, opposition, and suffering. Through the power and guidance of the Spirit, the disciples would give bold testimony in the face of beatings, imprisonment, and death.

As the disciples learned the cost of following their Master, they were also beginning to realize that they would have to follow Him through all of it, even when they could not see Him. Jesus said:

“‘Now I am going to Him who sent Me, yet none of you asks Me, “Where are you going?” Because I have said these things, you are filled with grief. But I tell you the truth; It is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Counselor will not come to you; but if I go, I will send Him to you. When He comes, He will convict the world of guilt in regard to sin and righteousness and judgment: in regard to sin, because men do not believe in Me; in regard to righteousness, because I am going to the Father, where you can see Me no longer; and in regard to judgment, because the prince of this world now stands condemned.’” 

“‘I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear. But when He, the Spirit of Truth, comes, He will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on His own; He will speak only what He hears, and He will tell you what its yet to come. He will bring glory to Me by taking from what is Mine and making it known to you. All that belongs to the Father is Mine. That is why I said the Spirit will take from what is Mine and make it known to you.’”

“‘In a little while you will see Me no more, and then after a little while you will see Me.’”

John 16:5-16

This must have been confusing for the disciples. There are many things packed into these paragraphs: Jesus would go away, He would send the Spirit, the Spirit that would convict nonbelievers and believers of their sin, yet somehow, after going, a little while later, Jesus was going to come back…and soon. What did it all mean?

The disciples didn’t understand Jesus, so they began to whisper back and forth. Then Jesus said:

“‘Are you asking one another what I meant when I said, “In a little while you will see Me no more, and then after a little while you will see Me?” I tell you the truth, you will weep and mourn while the world rejoices. You will grieve, but your grief will be turned to joy. A woman giving birth to a child has pain because her time has come; but when her baby is born she forgets the anguish because of her joy that a child is born into the world. So with you: now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy. In that day you will no longer ask Me anything. I tell you the truth, My Father will give you whatever you ask in My name. Until now you have not asked for anything in My name. Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete.’”

John 16:19b-24

We can see here that Jesus was talking about His death and resurrection. How compassionate He was for the pain His men would feel at His death. He knew how greatly they would mourn Him…but here He gave them hope if they could grasp it. After that terrible day when He would give up His life, a day of everlasting joy would come. It would bring a whole new era for the human race, where the disciples of Jesus would have an entirely new kind of relationship with God. Jesus went on:

“‘Though I have been speaking figuratively, a time is coming when I will no longer use this kind of language but will tell you plainly about My Father. In that day you will ask in My name. I am not saying that I will ask My Father on your behalf. No, the Father Himself loves you because you have loved Me and have believed that I came from the Father. I came from the Father and entered the world; now I am leaving the world and will return to the Father.’”

John 16:25-28

These words finally did the trick. Something clicked in the minds of His disciples. They said:

“‘Now you are speaking clearly and without figures of speech. Now we can see that You know all things and that You do not even need to have anyone ask You questions. This makes us believe that you are from God.’”

Finally! They got it! But notice, what they “got” was not a list of rules or position of power. They did not “get” to their own moral perfection or a perfect knowledge. What was most important was for them to “get” Jesus…to really, truly believe in Him. And we know that they really got it because Jesus agreed. This is what the Lord said:

“‘You believe at last! But a time is coming, and has come, when you will be scattered, each to his own home. You will leave Me all alone. Yet I am not alone, for my Father is with Me.

“‘I have told you these things, so that in Me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.’”

John 16:31-33

In that moment, in the Upper Room with Jesus, those words were probably very comforting. What did those words sound like when they remembered them as He was being arrested…beaten…and hung on a cross? Did they help them hold on to hope? Did they feel empty or even deceptive? In the devastating hours to come, the disciples would have their faith tested on extreme levels. Would they believe their Master when He Himself seemed to suffer the ultimate defeat?

Story 180: The Last Supper: Remaining in the Love of the Trinity

John 15

JERUSALEM, ISRAEL - MARCH 3, 2015: The mosaic on the portal of The Church of All Nations (Basilica of the Agony) by Professor Giulio Bargellini (1922 - 1924). Jesus and God the Father.

As Jesus sat with His disciples in the Upper Room, He continued to give them His last lessons before His journey to the cross. Over and over again, He showed the deep interconnectedness that they would have with Christ and His Father through the Holy Spirit. This time, He used a picture where He was a grapevine and His followers were the branches that stem off from it. This is what He said:

“‘I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in Me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit He prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in Me, and I will remain in You. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in Me.’”

John 15:1-4

Jesus was trying to show just how close they would be with Him, even after He was gone. A branch finds its whole life from what it receives from the vine. His followers are meant to live in complete dependence on Him. The branch that does not honor Christ does not truly belong to Him, and God the Father will cut it off and cast it away. That was the very thing that was happening in the nation of Israel. The religious leaders were like bad branches. They weren’t loyal to the plans of God and they were betraying His Son with their every rejection. God was going to cut them off from the New Covenant blessings.

For those who did have faith, God would prune the same way a good farmer will cut back His vineyard. The vines look stark and empty as God does His work, but the branches will be freed from giving nourishment to leaves and branches that are not going to bear fruit. They will have energy to have new growth so they can bear new fruit.

The job of the followers of Jesus is to act like the branch. We are to stay in connection and utter dependence on the Person of Jesus Christ. As His followers draw their strength and hope from Him, Jesus will bear fruit through them! This is how Jesus described it:

“‘I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in Me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from Me you can do nothing. If anyone does not remain in Me, he is like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up and thrown into the fire, and burned. If you remain in Me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be My disciples.’”

John 15:5-8

When Jesus says that His disciples can do nothing apart from Him, He does not mean that they will become blobs on the ground that can’t move. God gives all human beings their ability to get up and move and breathe and have their being every day, whether they believe in Jesus or not. By His lavish, common grace, He keeps the whole universe going at all times. Jesus sustains it all by His powerful Word. But when those who are called to be Jesus’ disciples begin to live for the Kingdom, they are joining the work of the Spirit. It simply cannot be done apart from the Lord! They must make nearness to Jesus their highest goal. They must be so closely connected to Jesus that it is like the physical connection between a vine and its branches. From that deep connection and that transformed life, the Spirit will flow into the lives of others. And the rewards are pretty amazing. Listen to what Jesus said next:

“‘As the Father has loved Me, so have I loved you. Now remain in My love. If you obey My commands, you will remain in My love, just as I have obeyed my Father’s commands and remain in His love. I have told you this so that My joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.’”

Wow. Do you see how love the love of God expands? First, Jesus and the Holy Spirit respond to God the Father with devoted obedience. The Father sent the Son to earth. He was going to send the Spirit next. In the richness of their divine love, they work in perfect harmony and unity. Each follower of Christ is drawn into that powerful love and that beautiful work. It is a place of infinite joy! And the outpouring of that nearness to God flows to the people around them. We are to love one another with the love of God Himself. This is how Jesus described it:

“Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command. I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from My Father I have made known to you. You did not choose Me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit–fruit that will last. Then the Father will give you whatever you ask in My name. This is My command: Love one another.’”

John 15:9-17

 Wow. That is the second time Jesus issued that command on the night of His arrest. This was something He wanted His disciples to pay special attention to. Their love for each other had to be so extreme that they would be willing to die for one another. It was the same love Jesus gave. He had every right to demand it from us. The children of God’s Kingdom are called to radically love one another. But that was not what they could expect from the rest of the world. Jesus also said:

“‘If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated Me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you.   Remember the words I spoke to you: ‘No servant is greater than His master.’ If they persecuted Me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed My teaching, they will obey yours also. They will treat you this way because of My name, for they do not know the One who sent Me. If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not be guilty of sin. Now, however, they have no excuse for their sin. He who hates Me hates my Father as well. If I had not done among them what no one else did, they would not be guilty of sin. But now they have seen these miracles, and yet they have hated both Me and my Father. But this is to fulfill what is written in their Law, “They have hated Me without reason.”’”

John 15:18-25

As Jesus prepared to return to His Father, He knew He was leaving a situation on the ground that His disciples were going to have to live with. The disciples could expect the same kind of terrible treatment from the very same men that were about to put Jesus to death.

What terrible guilt hung over the religious leaders and those who followed them! They had been given chance after exhaustive chance to see the beauty of the miracles. They knew the Old Testament law, they understood the prophets. As Jesus taught the true interpretation of the Word of God from God’s point of view, they could have let it light their way to an even deeper, purer understanding! These priests and scribes and Pharisees of Israel had been given the unimaginably great honor of leading God’s holy nation, but when God came to serve them, they killed Him.   When they showed hatred for the Words of Jesus, they showed that they hated God the Father as well. If they were so grounded in their hatred of God, so deeply steeped in rebellion and sin, why would they listen to Jesus’ disciples as they carried on with His message?

The followers of Christ throughout time have continued to face the same hostile opposition from the people of their own generations. Jesus was leading an invasion of the Kingdom of Light into the Kingdom of Darkness, and those loyal to the enemy of God would fight against the work of God no matter which century they belong to. This message was meant for the disciples, but it was also meant for you and me.


Story 179: The Last Supper: The Father and the Spirit

John 14

Conceptual graphic illustration of glowing Christian cross with three white doves, symbolizing Jesus Christ's sacrificial work of salvation. Digital artwork composed against abstract gold colored oil painted background with texture.

Jesus shared the first Communion with His disciples at the Passover Feast. He knew that the time had come for Him to give up His life as a sacrifice, and so He gave them a ritual the symbolized His great offering. It was a command that would be followed by every generation of His Church up to today. Did the disciples understand the significance of that moment? Did they have any idea of its power?

Then Jesus began to share with them the mysteries of what was coming in the days ahead. He had to prepare them for His coming death. What He was about to say was His farewell to His dearest friends. There was much to tell these men that He had spent the last three years with. Yet in truth, this wasn’t really an ending, it was just a different type of beginning. His life with His followers was going to come in a far more powerful, intimate way, and it was going to carry them right into eternity. Jesus would no longer walk beside His disciples in His earthly body, but His Spirit would live inside them. And one day, after they finished their service for Christ on earth, they would go to be with Him for all eternity.

How could He explain all of these things to His men with the eve of His death looming so large upon them? How would they ever comprehend the glory on the other side? How could He explain the wonder and life of the coming of the Spirit before they experienced it for themselves?

This is what Jesus said:

“‘Do not be let you hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in Me. In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with Me, that you also may be where I am. You know the way to the place where I am going.’”

Jesus was speaking of Heaven, of course. He knew He was going to die, but the much bigger picture was that He was going to be raised up. He was heading back to Heaven where He would sit on the royal throne at the right hand of His Father! They could have absolute confidence that even though the next few days were going to look like a desperate tragedy, in truth, they were the ultimate, cataclysmically greatest victory in the history of victories! Jesus was completely able, absolutely competent, and unrelentingly sure.

The amazing, quieting thing about it was that as Jesus moved forward to do the work that would transform the entire universe, He looked at these twelve simple, confused men with love and said, “I am doing this for you. You matter infinitely to me. You are a valuable part of this epic rescue mission because you are valuable to me. As I work to destroy death and sin itself, you are on my mind. And we will be together again.” They were the words of a Greater Love than the world had ever imagined.

But the disciples didn’t get it. His plans were too great and their vision was too small. Thomas asked Him, “‘Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?’”

Jesus said, “‘I am the way the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you really knew Me, you would know My Father as well. From now on, you do know Him and have seen Him.’”

The disciples still didn’t understand. Philip asked, “‘Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us.’”

Philip wanted assurance. He wanted something more concrete to believe in than the Words of this Man sitting before Him. He wanted proof. But Jesus was the proof. Philip had seen the miracles, he saw the bold confidence of Christ as He confronted the lies of the corrupt leaders, and He heard the powerful lessons of gleaming wisdom. For three years, He had watched day after day as the Truth of Christ untwisted and fixed what was broken. Philip wanted a moment of glory to convince him by what he could see. But true life comes through faith in believing in what is not seen. He had to trust the Words of His Master.

At the same time, there was good reason for Jesus’ disciples to be confused. The disciples understood that when Jesus spoke of His Father, He was talking about the Living God who created the universe. In the Jewish faith, the idea that there is only One True God was very, very important. One of the most treasured verses of the Old Testament read, “Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength” (Deut. 6:4-5). They also knew that Jesus described himself as the Son of God, which meant he was declaring himself to be equal with God. But He also called himself the Son of Man. How did it all work together? It was a mystery, and in many ways, Jesus Himself seemed to keep His identity shrouded.

The disciples believed Jesus was the Messiah. They knew He was a prophet, and they looked forward to Him becoming a King. All of these were honorable titles, but there was a far greater, more awesome truth that they had yet to understand. Jesus was God. And Jesus is God. The Oneness of God is the Oneness of the Father and the Son in perfect unity. The time had come for Jesus to make it absolutely clear:

“‘Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen Me has seen the Father. How can you say, “Show us the Father”? Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in Me? The words I say to you are not just My own. Rather, it is the Father, living in Me, who is doing His work. Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in Me; or at least believe on the evidence of the miracles themselves.’”

The veil was being lifted. Jesus was explaining to His disciples the great mystery of the inner workings of God Himself.

But that wasn’t all. The Lord of all had come to make a way. He left Heaven and entered the world as a human being so that He could give humanity back the relationship that they had with God in the Garden. He came to reverse the separation from God that sin had brought human race. Through His own death, He would pay the price for their sin and purchase their lives back for God. The Great Separation was over. All who put their faith in Christ would be transformed into New Creatures. They would be transferred from the Kingdom of Darkness to the Kingdom of Light. And His life as a human was the perfect model for all of those He rescued. Now their lives could be lived in the power of God, and they would continue the work that Jesus began. Jesus said:

“‘I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing. He will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. And I will do whatever you ask in My name, so that the Son may bring glory to the Father. You may ask Me for anything in my name, and I will do it.’”

John 14:9-14

Wow, those are some pretty amazing promises. Then Jesus said:

“‘If you love me, you will obey what I command. And I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Counselor to be with you forever-the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept Him, because it neither sees Him nor knows Him. But you know Him for He lives with you and will be with you. I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.

Now Jesus was telling his disciples about a third mystery. Jesus is the Son, and He is One with the Father. But there is a third Person in this perfect unity of God. He is the Holy Spirit, and together with the Father and the Son they make the Holy Trinity. As Jesus prepared to leave earth and return back to Heaven, His Father was preparing to send out His Spirit. The Spirit would come into the hearts of all who put their faith in Jesus. He would give them power and guidance and comfort from the Father.

Jesus wanted His disciples to know that He was not leaving them alone. He had a plan for how He would be near them even as He sat on the Throne of God. Jesus and the Spirit are One, and anyone who has the Spirit is One with Christ. But only those who have faith in Christ will have the Spirit or know that He is real.   Christians should not be surprised when those who don’t believe cannot understand what it means to have the Spirit. He is the special treasure of the children of God. Jesus went on:

Before long, the world will not see Me anymore, but you will see Me. Because I live, you also will live. On that day you will realize that I am in the Father, and you are in Me, and I am in you. Whoever has My commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves Me. He who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I too will love him and show Myself to him.’”

John 14:15-22

Wow!  Imagine how intimately the followers of Jesus are going to be bound up in Christ and the love of the Trinity! Because He lives, we live. He is in the Father, and we are in Him, so we are in the Father! Christ was going to resurrect, ascend into Heaven, and live in everlasting victory. All who follow Him and obey Him will join Him there for all eternity! It is such a breathtaking, magnificent hope that it is difficult to see or understanding. It is greater than anything the human mind can grasp.

No wonder the disciples were confused. Their hope was still set on what might happen on earth. Why was Jesus going to keep Himself a secret from the nation of Israel? Didn’t He plan to bring the Kingdom of God soon? Wouldn’t everyone on earth know about it? One of the disciples asked, “‘Lord, why do You intend to show us to Yourself but not the world?’” Jesus answered:

“‘If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. He who does not love me will not obey my teaching. These words you hear are not My own; they belong to the Father who sent me.

 Once again, Jesus did not give his disciples a direct answer. They kept asking the wrong questions. They weren’t listening. Their own hopes and ambitions were clogging their ears. They wanted Jesus to tell them about how He would overcome the Jewish leadership, defeat the Roman Empire, and establish a mighty Kingdom in their own lifetime. They wanted Him to start laying out His grand master plan, and they wanted to know what their positions of honor would be in His Kingdom once He had taken His throne.

The disciples had good reason to believe Jesus was going to reign as King in Jerusalem. Their hopes came from reading the Bible. One day, all of their hopes are going to come true, but not in the time and way they expected. We are still waiting for God to bring that time when Christ will reign in fullness of power over all the earth. (See Isaiah 60-66).

Jesus kept coming back to the disciples with their mistaken questions by telling them their true hope in this life. It was not to be found in earthly power or wealth or prestige. Their life was to be found in the hope of the spiritual realm: Nearness to an invisible God in this life, and eternal life for the next. Jesus said:

 “‘All this I have spoken while still with you. But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.’”

Even though Jesus was leaving His men, God the Father and God the Son would continue to reveal themselves through the Spirit. As followers of Christ cooperate with His Spirit and depend on Him, we bring the victories of the Kingdom of God.

The Kingdom of Darkness will not be happy about those victories, and there will be many battles and trials for God’s children. In the end, it will all be worth it. Even the best things of this world are shabby next to the radiance of what we will receive in Heaven. But Jesus knew that severe challenges still lay ahead for His disciples. The greatest of these would be His own death, so He said:

“‘Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give it as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.’”

“‘You have heard me say, “I am going away and I am coming back to you.” If you loved Me, you would be glad that I am going to the Father, for the Father is greater than I. I have told you now before it happens, so that when it does happen you will believe. I will not speak with you much longer, for the prince of this world is coming. He has no hold on Me, but the world must learn that I love the Father and that I do exactly what my Father has commanded me.’”

John 14:27-31b

Wow. Jesus knew that Satan was on the move, and that His hour of sacrifice was on the way. The Father had orchestrated history so that even Satan was helping to bring about the Great Victory. Jesus was not submitting to God’s enemy by going to the cross, He was suffering because of His responsive, obedient love for His Father. When the world of rebellion, the followers of Satan, saw the absolute obedience of the Son of God, they would not be able to deny the power of His love.   Where every other human had failed, where Satan and his evil demonic forces failed, Jesus was going to succeed, and He was going to bring everyone who had faith in Him along with Him in His victory!





Story 178: The Last Supper: The Bread and the Cup

Matthew 28:26-29; Mark 14:22-25; Luke 22:17-20; 1 Corinthians 11:23-26

Last supper

The Passover Feast was a high and holy event for the Jewish people. It celebrated the memory of the great day of salvation in Jewish history. Fifteen hundred years before Jesus came to earth, God set His people free from the horrible oppression of the Egyptian Pharaoh.  He made Israel into a mighty nation under the leadership of Moses by establishing a covenant with them that honored His covenant with Abraham (See Genesis 12:1-4; Genesis 15).

By the time of Moses, Abraham’s descendants had grown to a multitude that was like the stars in the sky.  The time had come for them to introduce God’s high and holy Law to the world so that it would be blessed with a new understanding of God’s ways (See Exodus 19:1-9). The Lord gave them these Laws to show them how to live in a way that honored Him. He ordered a beautiful sacrificial system so that when they failed, they could bring their repentance to their Lord and cleanse themselves and their nation from sin. He ordered their society in a way that taught them to treat each other with dignity, compassion, and respect, and protected them from the shameful degradation and horrors of the nations around them. The abuses of power, the murderous sacrifice of children to idols, the rampant practices that spread diseases and disloyalty among marriages…these were to be cut off. The people of God were to bring the bright, ringing beauty of God’s goodness into the Land of Promise and live as a people set apart for holiness…an example and blessing to a cursed world…showing the way for another way to live.

As they honored the holy ways of the Most High God, they were meant to create a sacred space for God’s holy, intense presence to rest on earth in a special way. According to the Lord’s specific instructions, they built the golden ark of the covenant whose lid was the Mercy Seat, the footstool of God’s earthly throne. Their tabernacle in the desert and then their Temple in Jerusalem functioned as the great halls for God’s throne room. A massive, thick curtain of deepest blue was hung between the presence of God in the Holy of Holies and His people to protect them from the intensity of His holiness. While they were truly His treasured possession, but they were still marked and tainted by the filth of the Fall. The toxic power of sin utterly weakened their ability to bear the Presence of God, and God provided a gracious protection so that He could come near them.

As the people faced their sin, they brought sacrificial offerings to the priest in repentance. The priests of Israel took the animal sacrifices to the altar of God. God had ordained that the blood would be the cleansing agent that purified His sacred space from the toxic pollution of the people’s sin. The cost of sin is death…it is an inherent rejection of the life that God gives. This blood represented the true price for the failures of humanity. Day after day, week after week, the people brought their sacrifices to the priests as they constantly checked themselves against God’s high and holy Law. For every failure, for every transgression, there was a public declaration and confession through the sacrificial system. As the people learned to take an honest assessment of their great weakness and selfishness, they were learning how deep their sin truly was. As God’s Law taught them to hold up their bent souls against His straight, whole, righteousness and love, they eyes became able to see how to become more like Him in their day-to-day lives. They also saw how impossible it is for human beings to honor the beautiful goodness and perfection of the Most High God. As they followed God’s Law, the seriousness of their sin became more clear, the high holiness of God was revealed, and the tremendous goodness and grace in His desire to purify them became more apparent. The realities of eternity were being revealed in the life of the nation on earth.

The nation of Israel was called by God to purify itself so that it could act as a priestly nation to the world. Yet through all of the nation’s centuries, they proved to be a massive failure. They sinned against the Lord, they rejected His ways, and they waged ungodly wars. Their kings set up idols in rebellion against the One who put them on the throne and trusted in the power of other nations more than the power of God. They fell into horrific moral sin, offered their own children up as sacrifices to false gods, and forgot the ways of God’s compassion and justice. Ultimately, the nation split in two, and these were finally crushed and sent into exile.

This story is no mere myth…it is grounded in the reality of human history. The ten tribes of the North were attacked and decimated by the Assyrian Army. The two tribes of Israel in the South were taken into captivity by Babylon. They were the only ones who would ever return to the Promised Land, and it was their descendants who lived in the nation of Israel at the time of Jesus.

In the midst of the cataclysmic flaws of God’s holy nation, there were always a few among them that were faithful. There were always those who continued to offer themselves to God and seek His holy ways, coming to Him with their sacrifices and honoring him with their devotion and obedience. They were called the remnant, and their response of love to God was the same love that Jesus was requiring of His own disciples. The heart of God’s remnant has always been the same. Through the long years of Israel’s history, their sincere sacrifices of repentance pointed to the sacred, glorious, devastating sacrifice that Jesus was about to make. In their obedience to what God had revealed to them in their own time, they were looking forward to the hope of God’s mercy that would be fulfilled completely in Jesus. The salvation that belongs to us belonged to them as well.

It was no mistake that Jesus’ life would be offered up at the Passover Feast. His life was the outgrowth and the highest purpose of the nation that the Passover had established. The nation of Israel was created so that there would be a people on earth that was set aside to await the Messiah. There had to be some group that would be ready for when God Almighty sent the Cure in the form of His own Son.

Now Jesus had come, and He was making a New Covenant for a new era. His own blood would be the final sacrifice, the true sacrifice that all the other sacrifices pointed to as a symbol for the epic moment when the Son of God would break the power of sin and death. His victory was based on the power of His indestructible life, smashing all the requirements of the Law for everyone who believes in Him.

The rituals of the Passover celebration had been kept by the Jewish nation for 1500 years. The memory of God’s saving work was fresh on the minds of the entire nation as they gathered in Jerusalem. Every part of the Passover feast was a symbol of God’s faithfulness. Now, as Jesus and His disciples honored that tradition, Jesus gave them a new ritual. It was a new command from God. It was given to remember and worship Christ in the new era that He would bring through His sacrifice.

The old Law would no longer be in force. A new Law was coming in the power of the Holy Spirit, and it would be written on the hearts of everyone who had faith in Jesus. There were whispers of this in the Old Testament.

The prophet Jeremiah spoke of it:


“‘Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the Lord. But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the LORD: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. And no longer will shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the Lord. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.’”

Jeremiah 31:31-33

Ezekiel declared it as well:

“For I will take you out of the nations; I will gather you from all the countries and bring you back into your own land. I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities and all your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws. Then you will live in the land I gave your ancestors; you will be my people, and I will be your God.”

Ezekiel 36:24-28

The Spirit of Christ would be the seal of salvation for everyone who believed. The intensified presence of God on earth that hovered over the golden ark would now be found in every heart that had been purified by the blood of Jesus, the spotless Lamb of God. The Spirit would make every believing heart His home.

These were the grand and epic things that were going on in human history through the life of Jesus. And now He sat in the Upper Room with His remnant, the eleven faithful disciples who would carry on the message of this Good News in the decades after His ascension into Heaven.

As they sat around the table, Jesus took some bread, thanked His Father, and broke it. He passed it to His disciples and said, “‘This is My body which is given for you; do this in remembrance of Me.’”

Then the Lord took a cup of wine and gave thanks to God. He passed it to His disciples, saying, “‘This is My blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. Drink from it, all of you. Do this in remembrance of Me.’”

What a solemn, beautiful moment. What an elegant, quiet ritual for Jesus to give His followers to join in together as they remembered the work of their Savior.   Jesus was a King like no other. He was about to give His blood and His body for the salvation of everyone who belongs to His Kingdom. He was going to become the True Passover Lamb. This new ritual was to become a powerful symbol for the people of God’s Kingdom to remember His breathtaking, beautiful sacrifice for thousands of years.

The men who reclined with Jesus in the room that evening would be His heralds, declaring the victory He was about to win on the cross to the world. As they built His Church, they would remember this night. They would take these commands of Jesus and teach it to each new believer. Two thousand years later, the chain of their teaching has reached down to us. We still remember the sacrifice of our Savior together by sharing the bread and the wine. His presence is still with His Church in a special way as they honor his commands. Our sacred communion threads all the way back to the night before He died for us.



Story 177: The Last Supper: Betrayals and Denials

Matthew 26:21-24; Mark 14:18-21; Luke 22:21-34; John 13:18-38

Ultima cena

Jesus and the disciples were sharing their Passover dinner. Jesus knew that this would be His last meal with the men who had journeyed with him all over the nation of Israel. They labored with Him among the crowds on hot days, walked the many miles from town to town, leaving all the comforts of home and family life to devote themselves to this Lord and the proclamation of His Kingdom. They had offered to lay down their very lives in order to stand by His side. Yet Jesus also knew that one among them had already betrayed Him, and would betray Him further still. So as He told the disciples about the blessings they would receive if they washed each other’s feet, He also told of the one who would receive a curse:

“‘I know those I have chosen. But this is to fulfill the scripture:

“He who shares my bread has lifted up his heel against me.”

“‘I am telling you now before it happens, so that when it does happen you will believe that I am He.’”

As Jesus said these things, He became deeply grieved in His spirit. Then He said, “‘I tell you the truth, one of you is going to betray me.’”

Did Judas quiver as Jesus spoke?   The other disciples looked around at each other in shock. Which one of them could possibly be guilty of treachery? It was so hard to imagine that each one began to question themselves. “‘Surely, not I, Lord!’” they said. They were innocent, yet they were filled with fear and dread at the sin they might commit. They longed to be loyal.

How that must have touched the Lord at that moment.

Outside the doors of the Upper Room there were powerful men craving His death. But these men inside with Jesus, however flawed and weak, were true. Their love was real, and so was their faith.

Jesus said, “‘The one who has dipped his hand into the bowl with me will betray Me. 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.’

As they reclined at the table, John was leaning up against Jesus’ chest. This was the disciple who described himself as “the one who Jesus loved.” Peter leaned over and motioned to John, “‘Ask him which one He means.’” John leaned back against the Savior and said, “‘Lord, who is it?’”

Jesus said, “‘It is the one to whom I will give this piece of bread when I have dipped it in the dish.’” The he dipped his bread into the dish and handed it to Judas Iscariot. As Judas took the bread, Satan entered him.

The Lord commanded, “‘What you are about to do, do quickly.’” The minute Judas took hold of the bread, he was rising to leave. By that time it was night, when his evil deeds would be carried out unnoticed. The other disciples didn’t think twice about his leaving. He watched over the money, so they figured Jesus had sent him out to buy food or to give to the poor. They had no idea that as they shared their evening with Jesus, he was making his way to the chief priests. The clock was set in motion.

As the meal went on, some of the disciples began to argue about which one of them would be the most honored.

As Jesus spoke of washing each other’s feet in God’s Kingdom, all they seemed to hear was that there was going to be a Kingdom! They hungered to know who would be the most influential and powerful among them.   They were still seeking status for themselves. They were acting like the Pharisees and scribes! In a way, they were betraying the message of Christ. They weren’t listening. They had no idea what lay before them in the days ahead. Listen to the Lord’s patient response:

“‘The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who exercise authority over them call themselves Benefactors. But you are not to be like that. Instead, the greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like the one who serves. For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one who is at the table? But I am among you as one who serves. You are those who have stood by Me in my trials. And I confer on you a kingdom, just as my Father conferred on Me so that you may eat and drink at My table in My kingdom and sit on thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.’”

Luke 22:25b-32

Wow. WOW. The disciples will not only each have honored roles in the Kingdom of Christ, they will be given positions of authority to judge God’s holy nation. Jesus will give them a portion of His royal power. Jesus was establishing a new kind of Kingdom in the place of Israel, and these men would be the leaders. But they would have to wait to receive those positions. They would not come to them while they lived on earth. They would have to look to Christ’s everlasting Kingdom to imagine that day. That required faith about a world and a time they could not see.

Jesus began to prepare His men for what was about to unfold to make that day possible:

“‘Now is the Son of Man glorified and God is glorified in Him. God will glorify the Son in Himself, and will glorify Him at once.

“‘My children, I will be with you only a little longer. You will look for Me, and just as I told the Jews, so I tell you know: where I am going, you cannot come.

“‘A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you love one another.’”

John 13:31-38

Now it was the disciples’ turn to be troubled. Why was He leaving them? Simon Peter asked Him where He was going. Imagine the sorrow in the question.

Jesus didn’t answer. He simply said, “‘Where I am going, you cannot follow now, but you will follow later.’”

Then Jesus said words that must have filled Simon Peter with even more dismay:

“‘Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.’”

All Peter wanted to do was follow his Lord. How could Jesus be saying these things? “‘Lord,’” he said, “‘I am ready to go with You to prison and to death.’” And surely, it was true. Peter had many months and even years to think about this. As the hatred of the religious leaders grew, it had become more and more dangerous to be Jesus’ friend. The best in Peter was ready to die for the Lord. But Jesus was telling Peter things that he didn’t know about himself.

Much of Peter’s bravado and action was more about himself than from pure devotion to Christ. Now Satan was after him, longing to destroy this disciple whose dedication made him such a dangerous enemy to the Evil One. But God was going to use the sifting of Satan to purify Peter. Jesus said, “‘I tell you Peter, before the cock crows today, you will deny three times that you know me.’”

When push came to shove, Peter was not going to give up his life for Jesus. He was going to save his own life by denying the Lord at His most devastating hour. Jesus understood exactly what Peter was about to do…and loved him still. For you see, the Lord knew that Peter’s denials were not about Christ Himself. They were about Peter and the work that God was doing to prepare this disciple who would become the rock of the church.

Peter was full of his own ideas about how to serve Jesus. He was convinced of his own ability to remain loyal and strong. God was going to strip him of all that misplaced bravado and false confidence. Peter was about to have his pride and presumption stripped away. But once Peter went through this terrible time, he would come out of it with a deep inner strength. Through this humiliation and sorrow, Peter would learn to depend on God.

Jesus knew that Peter was going to deny Him, but He also knew that in the end, Peter was going to follow through on his promise. He would spend the rest of  his life proclaiming the Good News of God’s Kingdom, and hHe would suffer persecution and prison for his Lord. And one day, he would die for the name of Jesus.

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