Grace

I adapted this article from a sermon I preached this past Sunday.

When you read the Gospels, and you get past Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, and you read about the last week of His incarnation – how often do you wonder about how the absolute demoralization Jesus must be experiencing?

Then Judas Iscariot, who was one of the twelve, went to the chief priests in order to betray him to them. And when they heard it, they were glad and promised to give him money. And he sought an opportunity to betray him (Mk 14:10-11).

We often skip over Jesus’ feelings in our minds because we know He’s divine. We assume He’s just fine with treachery. We assume He can take betrayal. We assume He can deal with being double-crossed.

More than that, we can sometimes assume Jesus isn’t bothered by this; the worst kind of backstabbing imaginable. It’s almost as if we see Jesus as a stoic philosopher, a rock which can’t be moved. But, He was also human! In the incarnation, He added a human nature to His divine nature. He’s one divine Person, with two natures. And, because He’s a flesh and blood person, betrayal hurts; being stabbed in the back hurts; being forsaken by a guy you’ve trained for three years hurts.

Think about it.

Jesus left heaven to come here. He trained Judas for three years. He poured His heart and soul into him, all while knowing in advance Judas is going to betray Him to be killed. And, Jesus still sincerely trained this guy and all the others anyway. He didn’t go through the motions; He continued to preach, train and equip Judas and the others.

Jesus deliberately chose Judas, knowing what would happen (Mk 3:14; cf. Jn 2:24-25, 5:42, 6:64). Judas was one of the 12 who had divine power to heal the sick and conduct exorcisms – to have power over demons! Judas preached the Gospel with a partner throughout Galilee. Judas was one of the guys who came back from their mini-missionary tour in Galilee, excited, and telling Jesus everything that had happened (Mk 6:30)

Jesus has done so much for the 12. He picked each of these guys. He trained them. He taught them. He coached them. He corrected them. He rebuked them. He orchestrated the heavenly preview of the Kingdom at His transfiguration, complete with the Father speaking from heaven (Mk 9:1-9).

He let Lazarus die a terrible death on purpose, so He could go raise him from the dead (Jn 11:4, 11-14), so it could be another proof for the disciples that He was the divine Son of Man (Jn 11:41).

The disciples don’t even confess He’s the Messiah until Mk 8:27-30! Now, by the time Judas hatches his plot, it’s two days before the crucifixion and the disciples are still as clueless as can be, and one of the 12 has deliberately plotted to betray Him … and that has to hurt bad.

Jesus knew all this would happen, and He kept on keeping on. He even spoke about His struggles:

“Now is my soul troubled. And what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? But for this purpose I have come to this hour. Father, glorify your name.” Then a voice came from heaven: “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again,” (Jn 12:27-28).

The Father spoke to reassure the Son, and to testify to the crowd who listened – but more to reassure Jesus. This is why Jesus can sympathize with you, because He understands what it’s like to be discouraged, abandoned, forsaken, betrayed, stabbed in the back, and even killed.

He understands injustice. He understands unfairness. He’s been there – and unlike you, He won’t let it cripple Him from doing God’s will.

But why, in the face of all this, did Jesus even bother? Why didn’t He pack His bags and go home? Why didn’t He “sense God calling Him elsewhere?” Why did Jesus know this was how it was going to end, and still come here anyway? Why does Jesus bother with people like us?

He did it because of grace:

He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces, he was despised, and we esteemed him not (Isa 53:3).

Jesus knew this would happen. Isaiah wrote all about it 700 years before, and Jesus still came to live and die for His people. As we move forward, to the account of the last supper, think about the grace and love inherent in Jesus’ actions, even as He knew how this night would end.

Judas, like a hungry dog, is actively looking for an opportunity to betray Jesus (Mk 14:11). Wherever it happens, it has to be somewhere out of the way and quiet. The Sanhedrin doesn’t want a disturbance at Passover. Judas is one of the 12 who come to Him, eager to figure out where they’ll celebrate Passover (Mk 14:12). As Jesus gives the answer, Judas is likely figuring out if this is a suitable ambush site.

The disciples prepare Passover meal (Mk 14:16). The location isn’t secluded enough for Judas’ purposes. So, still plotting, Judas actualy helps to prepare the Passover; perhaps the supreme irony. Passover celebrates God rescuing His people from slavery and bringing them to the promised land. Jesus is the “new Moses” (cf. Deut 18:15-19) who rescues His people from spiritual slavery and leads them to the figurative promised land in eternity (Heb 3-4). But Judas helps prepares the Passover, all while plotting to kill the prophet who inaugurates the New Covenant!

As they prepare to observe the festival, Jesus explains, “I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. For I tell you I will not eat it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God,” (Lk 22:25-26). Jesus means this; it isn’t an act. Judas listens, perhaps even smiles and nods, and he’s probably already decided on Gethsemane as the ambush site.

Then, Jesus teaches a lesson on humility and service in the covenant community – and He washes Judas’ feet (Jn 13:10-11).

Jesus announces someone at the table is going to betray Him (Mk 14:18-19). They each (including Judas!) look at one another, astonished, and ask if they’re the culprit (cf. Mt 26:22; Jn 13:22)! Jesus explains He has to die, because Scripture prophesied His death. But, the man who betrays Him still bears personal responsibility.

Jesus then challenges Judas:

Jesus answered, “It is he to whom I will give this morsel of bread when I have dipped it.” So when he had dipped the morsel, he gave it to Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot. Then after he had taken the morsel, Satan entered into him. Jesus said to him, “What you are going to do, do quickly,” (Jn 13:26-27).

I can picture them locking eyes. Jesus’ words are a direct challenge (“are we gonna do this, or not?”). They look at each other, as Judas holds the piece of bread on his hand . Then, Judas makes his decision; “So, after receiving the morsel of bread, he immediately went out. And it was night,” (Jn 13:30).

Even though one his closest students, a guy He’s known for three years, has run out the door to betray Him – Jesus calmly continues the meal and explains why He came:

And he said to them, “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many. Truly, I say to you, I will not drink again of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God,” (Mk 14:24-25).

The Old Covenant was inaugurated by blood; an object lesson that taught penal, substitutionary atonement. The New Covenant is inaugurated the same way; with Jesus’ blood. It’s a covenant that’s infinitely better, built on better promises. It’s efficacious to anyone who repents and believes the Gospel. Jesus’ remark about a future Kingdom reunion signals His death isn’t the end.  

Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him; he has put him to grief; when his soul makes an offering for guilt, he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days; the will of the Lord shall prosper in his hand. Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied; by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant, make many to be accounted righteous, and he shall bear their iniquities (Isa 53:10-11).

I would have given up and walked out a long time ago, and so would you! Jesus stayed anyway, and He did it so that whoever believes in Him wouldn’t perish, but have everlasting life (Jn 3:16).

I’d be just as clueless as Peter, James and John, and so would you! Jesus knows all about your cluelessness and your sins. He even taught Judas, gave Him supernatural gifts, and commissioned him to preach the Gospel. He even washed Judas’ feet! He let Judas betray Him to be tortured and executed.

And He did all that, to rescue people from this present, evil age (Gal 1:4); people from every nation, culture and color. Jesus let Himself be abandoned, in order to save the people who betrayed Him. He didn’t simply die for “really bad” people like Nero, Hitler, Stalin or Caiaphas. He died for the sins of the very guys and gals who’ve followed Him around Galilee, Samaria and Judea for three years. He died to atone for my sins, and yours.

He died to atone for our sins; for Hitler, for Stalin, for Caiaphas, and for you. Let’s remember what Jesus endured for His people, and remember His grace that’s greater than all our sins.

Eager for Corruption

The prophet Zephaniah wrote his little book during King Josiah’s reign in the southern kingdom of Judah (ca. 640 – 609 B.C.). Josiah was a godly man (2 Chr 34:1-5) who implemented a whole host of religious reforms. The rot had spread far in his day. It was so bad, in fact, that a priest stumbled upon the law of Moses in the temple, and brought it forth in wonder – he’d never heard of it before (2 Chr 34:13-21)!

Not good! It makes you wonder what on earth the Israelite priests thought they were doing every day . . .

But, the reform appears to have been superficial and external, in many cases. Zephaniah tells us so. He doesn’t mince words (Zeph 3:1-8):

 Woe to her that is rebellious and defiled,
    the oppressing city!
She listens to no voice,
    she accepts no correction.
She does not trust in the Lord,
    she does not draw near to her God.

Her officials within her
    are roaring lions;
her judges are evening wolves
    that leave nothing till the morning.
Her prophets are wanton,
    faithless men;
her priests profane what is sacred,
    they do violence to the law.
The Lord within her is righteous,
    he does no wrong;
every morning he shows forth his justice,
    each dawn he does not fail;
    but the unjust knows no shame.

“I have cut off nations;
    their battlements are in ruins;
I have laid waste their streets
    so that none walks in them;
their cities have been made desolate,
    without a man, without an inhabitant.
I said, ‘Surely she will fear me,
    she will accept correction;
she will not lose sight
    of all that I have enjoined upon her.’
But all the more they were eager
    to make all their deeds corrupt.

The Jewish leaders are corrupt predators. Her judges, who ought to be upholding justice and righteousness (founded on God’s word), and instead “evening wolves.” Her priests are apostates who don’t know the Lord.

Nevertheless, God is still there, showing forth His justice. Yet, “the unjust knows no shame.” He has shown His favor to Israel. He has destroyed pagan nations, and utterly annihilated enemies. Surely, Israel will reverence, respect and obey Him! Right?

Wrong. Instead, the prophet concludes with this:

But all the more they were eager
    to make all their deeds corrupt.
How sad. And yet, in the rest of this chapter, Zephaniah explains how God intends to rescue and redeem His people from themselves. He will purge the hypocrites and idolaters from their midst, and create a pure people for His name from among the Israelites (Zeph 3:11):
On that day you shall not be put to shame
    because of the deeds by which you have rebelled against me;
for then I will remove from your midst
    your proudly exultant ones,
and you shall no longer be haughty
    in my holy mountain.
This is real mercy and grace. People deserve destruction and annihilation for their sins. God withholds it, just because He can. People don’t deserve favor and kindness from God, and cannot ever earn it. God extends it anyway, just because He wants to. This is the same mercy, grace, love and kindness every Christian has in union with Jesus Christ.
Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in our hope of sharing the glory of God (Rom 5:1-2).
You can have this peace, too. Read about the Good News of Jesus Christ here.