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Sunday, May 01, 2016

That Night

Photo: John Snyder
“For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus in the night in which He was betrayed took bread …”
(1 Cor. 11:23)

Well, let me take you back to that night.

Around the table were all the disciples of the Lord, and in the midst of them, the Lord himself. It was a dinner party of sorts, a Passover seder, actually. Solemn in the Jewish calendar, but also a time of thankfulness.

He Knew

John 13 tells us the Lord knew exactly what was going to happen. Moreover, he knew full well that the machinations of the Devil were already in play, and that the inevitable result would be his savage separation from his beloved ones.

So first he showed them his love by washing their feet; then he told them the truth.

He told them that one of them was certain to betray him.

The disciples cast about in stunned disbelief: who is he talking about? Peter nudges John, who is reclining next to Jesus, and says, “Ask the Lord whom he means”.

John leans back and says, “Lord, who is it?”

The Lord takes a piece of bread. He says, “The one for whom I dip this morsel and give it to him”.

He gives it to Judas Iscariot and says, “What you do, do quickly”. Judas exits.

But the disciples don’t get it. As usual, they’re missing the point that is so clear to us in retrospect. So he says to them, in effect, “I am glorified … but I am going … You will seek me, but where I am going you cannot come. So here’s my commandment: love one another as much as I have loved you”.

Troubled Hearts

Confusion reigns. Peter speaks up: “Lord, where are you going?” Jesus responds, “You cannot follow me now, but you will later”.

Peter’s not happy. “Lord, why not now? Hey, I’m not disloyal, like whichever one of us it is who is going to betray you. You know me: I’ll give my life for you”.

A pause. The Lord speaks calmly: “Will you do that? I’m going to tell you something. You are not going to hear a rooster crow tomorrow morning until you’ve denied me … three times”.

Shock and Awe

Horror. What? Peter, one of the Lord’s favourites, and a true disciple … HE’S the betrayer? What hope is there for any of us?

Stunned silence.

So profoundly shocking is this moment that the translators thought there ought to have been some sort of chapter break. So they put one in.

Bad move. It leaves us hanging in that awful moment. It hides from us the fact that chapter 14 isn’t a change of topic. It’s the Lord’s natural response to the shock of chapter 13, and the horrified silence that followed.

You’ll see.

Breaking the Silence

Then Jesus speaks. Gently. Calmly.

And he says the most astonishing words: “Let not your heart be troubled”.

“What???” the disciples might respond. “Not troubled???? You mean not troubled that you’re going away? Not troubled that you are going to suffer? Not troubled that you are being betrayed? Not troubled that we can’t even go where you are going? Not troubled even though the strongest and most confident of your disciples is going to fail you in your moment of greatest need?”

“Not troubled??? How not?”

The Lord doesn’t hesitate. He continues:
“Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are MANY dwelling places. If it were not so, I would not have told you.”
And what are all these dwelling places for?
“I go to prepare a place for you. [Yes, you.] And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to myself, that where I am, there you may be also.”

That Night

Have you ever seen that moment in that light? Did you ever consider the context of those famous words of comfort, so often quoted to remind Christians that they have the love of the Father, the certainty of a heavenly home and a destiny to be with Christ forever, as his beloved ones?

Did you ever see that it was all said on the same night in which mankind was failing so completely? Even the best of his followers were total moral wrecks that night. They weren’t worth the least of his attention, to tell the truth. They were all a complete disgrace. We should be embarrassed to be associated with them at all.

But he was not.

All this happened that same night.

In the very night in which the Lord Jesus knew all that was before him, in that same night when Judas would sell him out, in that same night in which his disciples would not understand, would get arguing over which one of them was the greatest, and that same night in which Peter would bluster and be found wanting.

That same night when he would make his lonely way to the garden. And in his hour of sorrow, he would find his disciples sleeping, not watching with him. In that same night when the friend whose soul he had tried to save at the last minute would sell him out with a kiss, and even the most committed of his followers would deny him outright or forsake him and flee.

That Night, That Same Night

He took bread. He broke it. He said:
“ ‘This is my body, given for you.’ And again, taking the cup, ‘This cup, which is poured out for you, is the new covenant in my blood.’ ”
We gave him the backs of our hands. He gave us his flesh and blood. We turned away. He remained faithful. We were his betrayers. He gave himself up to be torn apart so we could live.

He only asked that we remember him, and that we do it often.

So Worship

So this Sunday, find a congregation of the Lord’s people who are willing to honour him in the way he asked us on that night when we all failed, and he did not. Search out a group of people who know the truth about that night, and whose hearts are ready to dissolve in gratitude. Put yourself among those who love the Lord and believe his word, that he has gone before us and done all that was needed to bring us to the Father.

Then look around. Recognize these humble people as your fellow travellers on the road to glory.  However flawed they may be, they are the ones who, like you, are dedicated to his memory and obedient to his voice. See that they, like you, have come to know how unspeakably great this love is, and want to gather to speak of it to each other. Love them for that: love them as he loved them.

Join with them. And take a little bread and the cup; and then express the love, loyalty and gratitude so richly due to the One who went and prepared a place for us.

And who did it all in the very same night in which he was betrayed.

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