At any kind of “last meal,” there is normally a sense of sobriety—and maybe a few tears—as you say goodbye to a good friend. I remember when my best friend, Nathan, moved away my freshmen year of high school. His family had a big party at the VFW where we sang and danced. A bunch of us sang “Lean on Me” to Nathan, because, no matter what, we could count on each other. It was bittersweet for me, because Nathan and I had gone to school together since we were three years old. It felt like part of me was going away. In a similar way, Jesus’ last meal is intense and full of love.
Jesus calls Judas Iscariot out on his crap–excuse my language. He tells him, “Judas, you’re going to betray me,” even as Judas denies it. Jesus can see the future: he knows he will be betrayed, deserted, killed, and resurrected. Jesus knows the pain he will go through. But yet how could Jesus not have been calm? He is Jesus Christ, the Son of God. It is difficult to imagine an angry, bitter Jesus since we always see Jesus as calm, collected, and loving, except when Jesus knocked over the tables in the synagogue. You can hear Jesus’ frustration toward Judas Iscariot when he says, “It would have been better if he was never born” (Matthew 26:24).
Still, Jesus loves us, and he knows and understands what is going to take place in the next few days. And he is willing to do it.
As always, Jesus acts out of love by taking bread and saying, “This is my body …” (Matthew 26:26). In the same way, he takes the wine and says, “This is my blood, shed for you … which is poured out for many for forgiveness of sins” (Matthew 26:27-28). Jesus pours out his blood for our many sins, and he does it willingly.
After dinner, Jesus and his disciples go out to Mount of Olives where he tells them they will all desert him before the night is over. Jesus equates himself to a shepherd and the disciples to sheep. When the shepherd is taken away, the sheep scatter (Matthew 26:31).
For the disciples, the news is difficult to swallow. How could they desert their Lord? After all they have been through? The disciples love Jesus. They would never desert him. Peter is adamant that he would never desert Jesus, even if the others do. Still, Jesus maintains his claim and adds that Peter will deny knowing him three times before the cock crows (Matthew 26:34). I would have been adamant like Peter that I would never abandon or deny knowing Jesus. I have a difficult time imagining my life without my family and close friends. Jesus may have been frustrated, but he also understood the tension was building and being associated with Jesus would be difficult to admit. I can only guess Jesus does not want his disciples to go through the same pain as he was, even though he is willing to.
Jesus and his disciples go to Gethsemane to pray. After telling them not to fall asleep, Jesus goes away from the disciples and throws himself to the ground. He cries out, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet not what I want but what you want” (Matthew 26:39). For the first time, we get a glimpse of the emotional roller coaster Jesus is going through. His disciples will desert him in a few moments. The chief priests will arrest him, put him on trial, and crucify him. If Jesus saw a sociologist today, he would probably be diagnosed with PTSD. The stress of the world is coming down on Jesus. Who else could bear that much stress without going insane? When I went through my divorce, I built a wall around me with a few chosen friends. I became numb from the emotional pain of ending a relationship. I can only imagine what Jesus is feeling.
Then Jesus goes back to check on the disciples who are sleeping. “Wake up, guys. Can’t you stay awake?” Jesus says (Matthew 26:40). Jesus asked them to pray, and yet they fell asleep. Jesus emphasizes to the disciples that the spirit is stronger than the flesh. The Holy Spirit will conquer all.
Jesus goes away two more times to pray. Both times, when he comes back the disciples have fallen asleep. Here Jesus stressing (probably having a panic attack) about the next few days, and the disciples cannot stay awake.
The third time, Jesus comes back he simply says, “Get up, let us be going. See, my betrayer is at hand” (Matthew 26:46). Things are about to be set in motion, and there is no time for goodbyes.
Judas Iscariot leads a large crowd to where Jesus and the other disciples sre. The crowd against Jesus has come with Judas with clubs; these individuals are angry for how the crowd with Jesus has taken over their city on Palm Sunday. And for what? To worship the Son of David? This would have been viewed as worshipping a mere man. The crowd against Jesus would not stand for any of it. The time has come to take a stand for Jerusalem–the Holy City.
Judas Iscariot approaches Jesus and says, “Greetings, Rabbi!” and kisses him (Matthew 26:49), which is the sign to the chief priests as to which man is Jesus. As if Jesus has accepted his fate, Jesus says, “Friend, do what you need to do.” And then they arrest him (Matthew 26:50). Judas, one of the twelve most intimate followers of Jesus, betrays him by handing him over to the Pharisees.
One disciple takes his sword and cuts off the ear of the chief priest’s slave (Matthew 26:51). It seems like an honorable thing to do since they are arresting Jesus. However, Jesus gets irritated with his disciple and tells him to put away his sword (Matthew 26:52). He asks his disciple if he has forgotten that Jesus request God the Father’s deliverance at any point, but that this must happen to fulfill the scriptures (Matthew 25:53-54).
Then Jesus turns to the crowd arresting him. Jesus was in the temple teaching several days, yet they did not arrest him then. Now they come with swords and clubs to arrest Jesus like a bandit (Matthew 26:55). The crowd acts like Jesus is a dangerous felon who is a threat to society. The crowd wants Jesus to pay for his transgressions, but they fail to realize that he is actually at work to pay for their sins–self-pity, greediness, lies, murder, stealing, affairs, blasphemy, or [whatever “it” is] humans do against God’s commands. How could he take it?
Jesus is arrested, and all of his disciples desert him (Matthew 26:56). The sheep scatter as the shepherd is taken away (Matthew 26:31). His twelve disciples abandon Jesus out of fear and selfish reasons. He is alone to face his trial, with no witnesses to speak on his behalf. He is alone.
Dear Heavenly Father, Thank you for Jesus and his willingness to die for our sins. Help us to accept Jesus’ fate. Thank you for taking on our pain and suffering. Amen.
Please feel free to answer the reflective questions through comments. Please agree to disagree and be respectable to each other. Please take a moment, if you have not already, to sign the covenant. You can answer all or just one of the questions.
- When have you felt abandoned?
- What keeps you from following Jesus to the cross?
- Jesus is willing to die for our sins. What does that mean to you?