As we gather this evening, the stench of betrayal is wafting in the air. Just before our text, Matthew records for us Judas’ betrayal: “Then one of the twelve, whose name was Judas Iscariot, went to the chief priests and said, “What will you give me if I deliver him over to you?” And they paid him thirty pieces of silver. And from that moment he sought an opportunity to betray him.”
An act such as this can be expected from the chief priests, the scribes, and the Pharisees, but to see it come from someone within Jesus’ circle of twelve is inconceivable. These were the men whom Jesus had hand-picked to be His disciples, to go with Him and spread His Gospel of what He was going to do in order to save creation. To be fair to the disciples, they had no theological training except that which they learned on the job for three years. However, they knew enough to know that you don’t betray your Master. Peter goes beyond calling Jesus Master and says that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God. That’s an even bolder confession of who Jesus is and yet tonight the stench of betrayal is overwhelming.
Tonight, we reflect on the Passover celebration that our Lord and His disciples engaged in, just as they had done in previous years. Everything about this meal was like any other Passover meal. The Passover was done yearly in remembrance of what God had done for His people Israel all those years ago when the angel of death passed over the house of Israel. In order to celebrate the Passover feast, Jesus needs a room to do so and the disciples ask Jesus, “Where will You have us prepare for You to eat the Passover?”
On this night, our Lord has come to accomplish something. He’s in complete control. He had already arranged for the Upper Room to be ready. As He said, it was His time. Plans were already set in motion for the Passover meal to be celebrated. He celebrates the Passover as in years past, except this time, it’s different. “When it was evening, he reclined at table with the twelve. And as they were eating, he said, “Truly, I say to you, one of you will betray me.”” As simple as that, the Passover meal has been turned to betrayal. The stench of betrayal is overwhelming. Immediately, they all start asking, “Is it I, Lord?”
Lest we forget, this is Jesus’ time. While Judas sets out to betray, our Lord sets out to redeem. Judas is reclining at table with Jesus and the other disciples. Jesus could have easily had Judas removed from the Passover guestlist, but instead He has His betrayer at table with Him, and for a reason: in order to redeem.
I can’t imagine that you or I would willingly permit our betrayer to dine with us as did Jesus. We would more than likely do what we could to repay evil with evil, do what we could to exact vengeance for such an act. But thanks be to God that Jesus is not like us sinners. He doesn’t choose to seek vengeance but rather extends mercy and forgiveness beyond our wildest measures.
“Now as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is my body.” And he took a cup, and when had given he gave it to them, saying, “Drink of it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.””
God doesn’t go after sinners like Judas or you or me. In a plot twist that man could have never thought up, God the Father goes after His own Son, the Messiah, God’s Anointed, the King. He goes after Him until He has the blood that makes payment for your sin. Jesus is not only a good guy, but the perfect guy. He was nothing like evil Pharaoh. His heart was never calloused against God’s Word. He loved the Father’s will and cherished it. But the Father’s will was to save sinners through the blood of His Son. That is what our Lord gave to His disciples that night He was betrayed. He didn’t enact vengeance but gave forgiveness. He gave what Judas didn’t deserve. He gave what none of the disciples deserved. And tonight, our Lord gives to you that which you do not deserve. You do not deserve to be forgiven of your sins for you smell of betrayal, as did Judas and as do I. It is man’s betrayal of God that caused all of this to be necessary. Had Adam and Eve kept a single, simple rule that God gave them, we would all be enjoying life in the Garden. But because of man’s betrayal, the great act of Judas’ betrayal occurs, and Jesus responds in a way that is shock to all who hear it.
For our betrayal, He grants forgiveness. For your sake, God the Father imputed your sin and the sin of the world to this King and plunged Him into a sea of wrath. For your sake, He went after the blood of His innocent Son that you might be spared and that the story of your life might have a happy ending. Take great comfort in this story. For that is what God’s King is all about. That is why He came into the world. That after instituting the royal feast of His Holy Supper, He might shed the blood that causes death to pass over you.
Our Lord leaves that final Passover to offer His body to be struck down, that you might receive His very body and in this Sacrament and be exalted. The words from His lips were never deceitful, never self-serving, but always in the best interest of sinners. Yet those lips are the ones that drink from the cup of God’s wrath, that your lips might sip the cup of blessing, the blood of the covenant, which gives you forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation.
The power of death passes over you because it didn’t pass over Jesus. Death passes over you because the gift of Baptism has marked your bodies with His blood. Damnation passes over you because Jesus is your Crucified King, whose blood makes this meal a royal feast of feasts.
Betrayal was on the lips of Judas that Passover evening. Tonight, betrayal is no longer the only thing on your lips. Tonight, as you feast upon the very body and blood of our Lord, there is something new on your lips and that is the forgiveness that comes through the shed blood of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. In Jesus’ name amen.