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I.—The Evening (xxvi. 20-30).

The last day of our Lord's Passion begins at eventide on Thursday with the Passover feast,2727   We may not enter fully into the vexed question whether our Lord kept the Passover on the day appointed by law, or anticipated it by twenty-four hours, as some suppose to be the necessary inference from the narrative of St. John. It is a long and intricate subject; but much unnecessary difficulty has been imported into it by those who fail to realise two important facts: (1) The word "Passover" is frequently used for the entire Feast of Unleavened Bread (see Luke xxii. 1). This is the regular usage of St. John throughout his Gospel; yet many assume that in his story of the Passion "Passover" must mean Passover Day. (2) "The preparation of the Passover" (see John xix. 14) does not mean, as many suppose, the preparation for the paschal feast, but the preparation for the Sabbath. This is in fact proved, not only by Mark xv. 42, but by a subsequent reference in the same Gospel (John xix. 31). Suppose the paschal feast to have been eaten on Thursday night, Friday would still be the preparation day of the Passover, inasmuch as the next day (Saturday) was the Sabbath of the Passover. If these facts be borne in mind, little difficulty will remain in accepting as the order of events that our Lord kept the Passover at the proper time, on the evening of the 14th Nisan (Thursday), died on the afternoon of the 15th (Friday), lay in the grave over the Sabbath (Saturday, 16th Nisan), and rose on the morning of the 17th, the first day of the week. at which "He sat down with the Twelve."

The entire feast would be closely associated in His 387 mind with the dark event with which the day must close; for of all the types of the great sacrifice He was about to offer, the most significant was the paschal lamb. Most fitting, therefore, was it that towards the close of this feast, when its sacred importance was deepest in the disciples' minds, their Master should institute the holy ordinance which was to be a lasting memorial of "Christ our Passover sacrificed for us." Of this feast, then, with its solemn and affecting close, the passage before us is the record.

It falls naturally into two parts, corresponding to the two great burdens on the Saviour's heart as He looked forward to this feast—the Betrayal and the Crucifixion (see ver. 2). The former is the burden of vv. 21-25; the latter of vv. 26-30. There was indeed very much besides to tell—the strife which grieved the Master's heart as they took their places at the table, and His wise and kindly dealing with it (Luke xxii. 24, seq.); the washing of the disciples' feet; the farewell words of consolation; the prayer of intercession (John xiii.-xvii.),—but these are all omitted here, that thought may be concentrated on the two outstanding facts: the unmasking and dismissal of the traitor, and the committing to the faithful ones of the sacred charge, "This do in remembrance of Me."

388 1. It must have been sorrowful enough for the Master as He sat down with the Twelve to mark their unseemly strife, and sadder still to think that, though for the hour so closely gathered round Him, they would soon be scattered every man to his own and would leave Him alone; but He had the comfort of knowing that eleven were true at heart and foreseeing that after all wanderings and falls they would come back again. "He knoweth our frame, and remembereth that we are dust"; and therefore with the eye of divine compassion He could look beyond the temporary desertion, and find satisfaction in the fidelity that would triumph in the end over the weakness of the flesh. But there was one of them, for whom His heart was failing Him, in whose future He could see no gleam of light. All the guiding and counsel with which he had been favoured in common with the rest had been lost on him,—even the early word of special personal warning (John vi. 70), spoken that he might bethink himself ere it were too late, had failed to touch him. There is now only one opportunity left. It is the last night; and the last word must now be spoken. How tenderly and thoughtfully the difficult duty is done! "As they did eat, He said, Verily I say unto you, that one of you shall betray Me." Imagine in what tones these words were spoken, what love and sorrow must have thrilled in them!

The kind intention evidently was to reach the heart of the one without attracting the attention of the rest. For there must have been a studied avoidance of any look or gesture that would have marked the traitor. This is manifest from the way in which the sad announcement is received. It comes, in fact, to all the eleven as a summons to great searchings of heart, a 389 fitting preparation (1 Cor. xi. 28) for the new and sacred service to which they are soon to be invited; and truly there could have been no better sign than the passing from lip to lip, from heart to heart, of the anxious question, "Lord, is it I?" The remembrance of the strife at the beginning of the feast was too recent, the tone of the Master's voice too penetrating, the glance of His eye too searching, to make self-confidence possible to them at that particular moment. Even the heart of the confident Peter seems to have been searched and humbled under that scrutinising look. If only he had retained the same spirit, what humiliation would have been spared him!

There was one who did not take up the question; but the others were all so occupied with self-scrutiny that no one seems to have observed his silence, and Jesus forbears to call attention to it. He will give him another opportunity to confess and repent, for so we understand the pathetic words which follow: "He that dippeth his hand with Me in the dish, the same shall betray Me." This was no mere outward sign for the purpose of denoting the traitor. It was a wail of sorrow, an echo of the old lament of the Psalmist: "Yea, mine own familiar friend, in whom I trusted, which did eat of my bread, hath lifted up his heel against me." How could the heart even of Judas resist so tender an appeal?

We shall understand the situation better if we suppose what is more than probable,2828   See the interesting discussion on the arrangement of the table in Edersheim, "Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah," vol. ii., p. 494. that he was sitting very near to Jesus, perhaps next to Him on the one side, as John certainly was on the other. We cannot suppose, from what we know of the customs 390 of the East, that Judas was the only one dipping with Him in the dish; nor would he be the only one to whom "the sop" was given. But if his position was as we have supposed, there was something in the vague words our Saviour used which tended to the singling of him out, and, though not the only one, he would naturally be the first to whom the sop was given, which would be a sufficient sign to John, who alone was taken into confidence at the time (see John xiii. 25, 26), without attracting in any special way the attention of the rest. Both in the words and in the action, then, we recognise the Saviour's yearning over His lost disciple, as He makes a last attempt to melt his obdurate heart.

The same spirit is manifest in the words which follow. The thought of consequences to Himself gives Him no concern; "the Son of man goeth, even as it is written of Him;" it is the awful abyss into which His disciple is plunging that fills His soul with horror: "but woe unto that man by whom the Son of man is betrayed! it had been good for that man if he had not been born." O Judas! Thy treachery is indeed a link in the chain of events by which the divine purpose is fulfilled; but it was not necessary that so it should be. In some other way the counsel of the Lord would have been accomplished, if thou hadst yielded to that last appeal. It was necessary that the Son of man should suffer and die for the world's sin, but there was nothing to compel thee to have thy hand in it.

At last Judas speaks; but in no spirit of repentance. He takes up, it is true, the question of the rest, but not in sincerity—only driven to it as the last refuge of hypocrisy. Moreover, he asks it in so low a tone, that neither it nor the answer to it appears to have been 391 noticed by the general company (see John xiii. 29). And that there is no inclining of the heart to his Lord appears perhaps in the use of the formal title Rabbi, retained in the Revised Version: "Is it I, Rabbi?" Had he repented even at this late hour—had he thrown himself, humbled and contrite, at the Saviour's feet, with the question "Lord, is it I?" struggling to find utterance, or better still, the heart-broken confession "Lord, it is I"—it would not yet have been too late. He Who never turned a penitent away would have received even Judas back again and forgiven all his sin; and in lowliness of heart the repentant disciple might have received at his Master's hands the symbols of that infinite sacrifice which was sufficient even for such as he. But his conscience is seared as with a hot iron, his heart is hard as the nether millstone, and accordingly without a word of confession, actually taking "the sop" without a sign even of shame, he gave himself up finally to the spirit of evil, and went immediately out—"and it was night" (see John xiii. 30). There remain now around the Master none but true disciples.

2. The Passover meal is drawing to a close; but ere it is ended the Head of the little family has quite transfigured it. When the traitor left the company we may suppose that the look of unutterable sadness would gradually pass from the Saviour's countenance. Up to this time the darkness had been unrelieved. As he thought of the lost disciple's fate, there was nothing but woe in the prospect; but when from that dark future he turned to His own, He saw, not the horror of the Cross alone, but "the joy set before Him"; and in view of it He was able with a heart full of thanks and praise to appoint for remembrance of 392 the awful day a feast, to be kept like the Paschal feast by an ordinance for ever (see Ex. xii. 14).

The connection of the new feast with the old is closely maintained. It was "as they were eating" that the Saviour took bread, and from the way in which He is said to have taken "a cup" (R.V.) it is plain that it was one of the cups it was customary to take at the Paschal feast. With this in mind we can more readily see the naturalness of the words of institution. They had been feasting on the body of the lamb; it is time that they should look directly at the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world; so, taking the new symbol and handing it to them, He says, "Take, eat; this is My body."

How strange that into words so simple there should have been imported anything so mysterious and unnatural as some of the doctrines around which controversy in the Church has raged for weary centuries—doctrines sadly at variance with "the simplicity that is in Christ."2929   The high Sacramentarian view of the Lord's Supper is not only at variance with the simple and obvious meaning of the central words of institution, but seems to disregard in the most wanton manner the plainest statements of the very authority on which the ordinance is based. According to the Gospel it was "as they were eating" that Jesus took the bread and gave it to the disciples; according to the Ritualist it ought to be before anything else has touched the lips. For their mystical act of consecration on the part of the priest, all they can find either in gospel or epistle is the simple giving of thanks (that "blessed" of ver. 26 is the same act precisely is obvious by comparing the corresponding passages in the other Gospels and in the first Epistle to the Corinthians—xi. 24); while in opposition to the emphatic "Drink ye all of it" the cup has been refused by the Church of Rome to the great majority of her communicants! At the first institution of the Passover the directions for eating it close with these words, "It is the Lord's Passover." Does any one for 393 a single moment suppose that in so putting it Moses meant to assert any mysterious identity of two things so diverse in their nature as the literal flesh of the lamb and the historical event known as the Lord's Passover? Why, then, should any one for a moment suppose that when Jesus says, "This is My body," He had any thought of mysterious transference or confusion of identity? Moses meant that the one was the symbol of the other; and in the same way our Saviour meant that the bread was henceforth to be the symbol of His body. The same appropriateness, naturalness and simplicity, are apparent in the words with which He hands the cup: "This is My blood of the covenant" (R.V. omits new, which throws the emphasis more distinctly on My) "which is shed"—not, like the blood of the lamb, for a little family group, but—"for many," not as a mere sign (see Heb. x.), but "unto remission of sins."

The new symbols were evidently much more suitable to the ordinance which was to be of world-wide application. Besides, it was no longer necessary that there should be further sacrifice of life. Christ our Passover was sacrificed once for all; and therefore there must be no thought of repetition of the sacrifice; it must be represented only; and this is done both simply and impressively in the breaking of the bread and the pouring of the wine. Nothing could be more natural than the transition from the old to the new Passover feast.

Rising now above all matters of detail and questions of interpretation, let us try humbly and reverently to enter into the mind of Christ as He breaks the bread and pours the wine and institutes the feast of love. As in the earlier part of the evening we had in His 394 dealings with the traitor a touching unveiling of His human heart, so now, while there is the same human tenderness, there is with it a reach of thought and range of vision which manifestly transcend all mortal powers.

Consider first how extraordinary it was that at such a time He should take pains to concentrate the thoughts of His disciples in all time to come upon His death. Even the bravest of those who had been with Him in all His temptations could not look at it now; and to His own human soul it must have seemed in the very last degree repulsive. To the disciples, to the world, it must have seemed defeat; yet He calmly provides for its perpetual celebration as a victory!

Think of the form the celebration takes. It is no mournful solemnity, with dirges and elegies for one about to die; but a Feast—a strange way of celebrating a death. It may be said that the Passover feast itself was a precedent; but in this respect there is no parallel. The Passover feast was no memorial of a death. If Moses had died that night, would it ever have occurred to the children of Israel to institute a feast for the purpose of keeping in memory so unutterable a calamity? But a greater than Moses is here, and is soon to die a cruel and shameful death. Is not that a calamity as much more dreadful than the other as Christ was greater than Moses? Why, then, celebrate it by a feast? Because this death is no calamity. It is the means of life to a great multitude that no man can number, out of every kindred and tongue and people and nation. Therefore it is most fitly celebrated by a feast. It is a memorial; but it is far more. It is a feast, provided for the spiritual nourishment of the people of God through all their generations. Think what must 395 have been in the Saviour's mind when He said, "Take, eat"; how His soul must have been enlarged as He uttered the words "shed for many." Simple words, easily spoken; but before they came from these sacred lips there must have risen before His mind the vision of multitudes all through the ages, fed on the strangest food, refreshed by the strangest wine, that mortal man had ever heard of.

How marvellously the horizon widens round Him as the feast proceeds! At first He is wholly engaged with the little circle round the table. When He says, "One of you shall betray Me," when He takes the sop and hands it, when He pours out His last lament over the false disciple, He is the Man of Sorrows in the little upper chamber; but when He takes the bread and again the cup, the horizon widens, beyond the cross He sees the glory that shall follow, sees men of all nations and climes coming to the feast He is preparing for them, and before He closes He has reached the consummation in the heavenly kingdom: "I say unto you, I will not drink henceforth of this fruit of the vine, until that day when I drink it new with you in My Father's kingdom." "Truly this was the Son of God."

Then hear Him singing at the close. How bewildered the disciples, how rapt the Master, must have been! What a scene for the painter, what a study of divine calm and human agitation! The "hymn" they sang was in all probability the latter part of the Great Hallel, which closes with Psalm cxviii. It is most interesting as we read the psalm to think what depths of meaning, into which none of His disciples as yet could enter, there must have been to Him in almost every line.


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