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The Unfolding Scenes

Published: 2 months ago- 28 March 2024
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    [There is no audio or video for this sermon.]

    Toward the end of last year, the opportunity came my way to attend the world premiere of a dance-theatre show at the Brisbane Festival. Now to be honest with you, me, dance and theatre are not usually words that appear in the same sentence but at the very least this promised to be an experience. And that’s exactly what it was designed to be. See this particular show was a little different because you didn’t sit in an auditorium and watch as they did their thing on stage, instead they had transformed this massive warehouse into a fully immersive set. It was like its own little world which was inhabited only by performance. And so, as you entered the warehouse you were transported from one world to another. You stood inside, and it was dark, and you watched as this drama unfolded around you. And it was told in two halves and there were two sets and two parallel stories being told. And we quite literally walked from one scene to the next it was only by experiencing them both together that it started to become clearer what the message weaving its way throughout actually was.

    And that is sort of what’s happening in our text tonight. Luke invites us to come and stand inside the dark world of the final days before Jesus’ death and watch as each scene unfolds around us. And no matter whether you’ve been a Christian for years, or whether you’re a new Christian still trying to figure things out, or whether you’re here tonight and you know you don’t believe any of it, Luke is revealing to all of us why it’s so crucial that we grasp why Jesus’ final days had to go the way they did. And so to this end, we’re going to focus on four different scenes in Luke’s account tonight. And the first of these is the betrayal.


    He begins in chapter 21 verse 37,

    Each day Jesus was teaching at the temple, and each evening he went out to spend the night on the hill called the Mount of Olives, 38 and all the people came early in the morning to hear him at the temple. Now the Festival of Unleavened Bread, called the Passover, was approaching, 2 and the chief priests and the teachers of the law were looking for some way to get rid of Jesus, for they were afraid of the people.

    The events of Jesus final days unfold within the context of the Passover. This was one of the most important times in an Israelite’s calendar. I dare say it would’ve been slightly more exciting than the Brisbane Festival – in fact we don’t really have anything that compares to the scale of what would’ve be going on. Jews would flock by the hundreds of thousands into Jerusalem for a week-long party celebrating God’s mighty rescue from Egypt all those years ago. Jerusalem was packed. National fervour ran high. It was a time of joy, a celebration of liberation and life. And at the centre of it all was Jesus, in the temple day after day, captivating the people with his teaching. Which makes it all the more disconcerting that at this very point the leaders of God’s people, who above all should have been celebrating, were cowering in secret, scheming of ways to kill Jesus. The only barrier between them and this clandestine plan was that it was too risky with so many people around and they had no idea where he was staying. Until verse 3.

    Then Satan entered Judas, called Iscariot, one of the Twelve. 4 And Judas went to the chief priests and the officers of the temple guard and discussed with them how he might betray Jesus. 5 They were delighted and agreed to give him money. 6 He consented, and watched for an opportunity to hand Jesus over to them when no crowd was present.”.

    Can you imagine this? You’re sitting there with the other scribes and chief priests. You’ve reached an impasse about how to get rid of this annoying preacher. You’ve given up, there’s nothing you can do and then all of a sudden, a figure emerges out of the shadows. It’s one of the 12. One of Jesus’ hand-picked disciples. One who had been at his side constantly for 3 years. Who preached with him. Who performed miracles with him. One his closest friends. What would you be thinking? Surely the last thing on your mind would be “here is the solution to all our problems”. But that’s exactly what he says – “I’m here to betray my master” “just give me some money.”

    Luke is remarkably brief isn’t he? He doesn’t give us any insight into what was going through Judas’ mind. He just tells the facts. And this makes what he does say all the more staggering. Satan entered into Judas. Judas made his decision and carried it out. But acting in and through him was an even more insidious evil. What happened in these last days were the final move of Satan’s much larger, cosmic treachery, but it was carried out on the ground through the willingness of ordinary people. This is dark. It’s bleak. It’s depressing. Do you feel it? This is Luke’s design in this first scene.

    But if it isn’t bad enough that one of the 12 hand-picked by Jesus turns out to be a traitor, it is hardly less confronting how the other 11 disciples act when they’re told. And that’s where Luke takes us to next in scene two: the dispute.


    In verse 7-20, Luke tells us about Jesus’ final meal with his disciples but we’re going to come back to in a little bit. For now look with me at what happens at the dinner table. In verse 21 and 22, Jesus abruptly announces, “But the hand of him who is going to betray me is with mine on the table. 22 The Son of Man will go as it has been decreed. But woe to that man who betrays him!” Here he makes public what we’ve known from the beginning, there is a traitor in their midst. But he doesn’t tell them who it is so the commotion that starts in verse 23 is at the very least understandable, “They began to question among themselves which of them it might be who would do this. But it didn’t take for this questioning and interrogating to betray the disciples’ true concerns. Verse 24.

    24 A dispute also arose among them as to which of them was considered to be greatest.” It’s almost unbelievable. Honestly, can you think of a more insensitive time in all of history to have this debate? For three years they have had been with Jesus. For three years he has not only taught them time and time again but modelled flawlessly what humility looks like. But still on this night of all nights when Jesus needed his friends the most, all they can think about is themselves. But Jesus corrects them again, ever so patiently, verse 25,

    The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who exercise authority over them call themselves Benefactors. 26 But you are not to be like that. Instead, the greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like the one who serves. 27 For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one who is at the table? But I am among you as one who serves.”

    There’s a lot that could be said about this but don’t miss this central point. At this crucial moment even the disciples reflect the world around them more than they do Jesus. The darkness isn’t just out there. It isn’t just Judas; it’s even shrouding the rest of them and though he’s with them, Jesus is really on his own. Do you see that? Can you feel the emptiness?

    But Luke just does not relent. And in fact it really does just go from bad to worse for the disciples. Because in the midst of the disciple’s ignorance Jesus turns directly to Simon Peter and addresses him. Which brings us to scene 3: the denial.


    We read these frightening words, starting at verse 31, Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift all of you as wheat. 32 But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.” Now it’s true that, Simon, who was earlier renamed Peter is often lovingly singled out as being terminally ignorant. There are so many times where it seems like he really has no idea what he’s doing. But I think that we can tend to be a bit harsh on him. After all, he was the first disciple to confess that Jesus was the Messiah. He was the first out of the boat to walk on water. He was the first disciple to be called. There is no doubt that among the disciples he was a Rock. The strongest of them. The first among equals. Which makes it even more serious that here Jesus reminds him that’s he’s not unshakable. And like when a parent will call you by your full name to make sure you’re paying attention, Jesus addresses him as “Simon, Simon.” “Satan has his sights set on the you all, he wants to tear you to pieces, and you you’ve been singled are at the top of his list. But I’ve prayed for you, this won’t be the end.” But Peter is fearless, verse 33 “he replied, “Lord, I am ready to go with you to prison and to death.” This might seem commendable, courageous even, but when the Lord Jesus tells your own weakness, only a fool puts forward his own strength as his confidence. It’s like he said, “thanks for the heads-up Jesus, but I just want you to know, I got this”. So Jesus answers him, verse 34, “I tell you, Peter, before the rooster crows today, you will deny three times that you know me.” It only took a few hours for Peter’s confidence to prove misguided. In verses 54-60, as Jesus arrested and led to the high priest’s house, Peter following at a distance. He sits down in the high priest’s courtyard in the cover of night, and for a moment is exposed by the firelight. And when a servant girl takes notice of him and confronts him for being with Jesus, he utters those three dreadful sentences, “I do not know him!”, “I am not one of them!”, “I do not know what you are saying!”. Weeping bitter tears as he walks away into the night.

    The final night of Jesus’ earthly life is dominated by betrayal, by pride, by vain self-confidence. Luke systematically shows that at every point, it’s not Jesus who’s the problem. It’s the religious leaders, its Judas, it’s the disciples, its Peter and standing behind it all is Satan. As we move through all these scenes, Luke gives us slightly different portraits but all throughout, it’s the darkness of the human heart that is on full display. And if we’re honest for just a moment, nothing here is really too surprising, because it savours of something altogether familiar. How easy is it for us to be so bent inward, completely unaware, uncaring to the hardships of those around us? How easy it for us to think that we’re a class above other Christians, we know more, because we do more. I wonder if we can confess, “Christ alone is our hope” but at the end of the day what we really bank on is our strength and ability. This is who we are. Its’ no wonder Jesus says as he as he is arrested in verse 53, “this is your hour-when darkness reigns.”

    But it would be a mistake if we stopped here. These first three scenes cast a horribly dark shadow over all of us. Because it is only against this backdrop, that the significance of what Jesus is doing comes into full view. Perhaps you noticed it even as we’ve read through so far, this isn’t quite a tragedy. We’ve known from the beginning that Judas is a traitor, waiting to deliver Jesus over to be executed, but so did he. We knew that Peter’s self-confidence would ultimately prove futile but so did Jesus. At no point is Jesus ever a helpless victim. But over and against all the evil conspiracy going on around him, he’s been carrying out a counter-conspiracy of his own. And Luke draws our attention to this as we come to the fourth scene tonight, at the very heart of our passage, when Jesus sits down and for one final meal with his disciples.


    Read with me, going back to verse 7,

    Then came the day of Unleavened Bread on which the Passover lamb had to be sacrificed. Jesus sent Peter and John, saying, “Go and make preparations for us to eat the Passover.” “Where do you want us to prepare for it?” they asked. He replied, “As you enter the city, a man carrying a jar of water will meet you. Follow him to the house that he enters, and say to the owner of the house, ‘The Teacher asks: Where is the guest room, where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?’ 12 He will show you a large room upstairs, all furnished. Make preparations there.” They left and found things just as Jesus had told them. So they prepared the Passover.”

    Does this strike you as a little odd? We get seven verses explaining how Jesus intricately planned this night. More than we get about Judas, more than we get about Peter. Don’t miss Luke’s emphasis. Jesus was in control of this whole evening this and he made sure at just this time, he’d get to sit down with his disciples and share a final meal.

    So here he is in verse 14, a dinner host, reclining at the table in the upper room, knowing that his hour to die is looming and knowing exactly who his dinner guests are. He knows a traitor is in his midst. He knows the argument his disciples are about to have. He knows that before the night is over, Peter will have denied him three times. And it’s precisely to these people, at this time, that he speaks the words of verse 15 “I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. 16 For I tell you, I will not eat it again until it finds fulfillment in the kingdom of God.” I don’t know if there are any more surprising words in the whole bible. This is the heart of our Saviour. In the midst of his suffering. In the midst of all the darkness, Jesus is not itching to get away, no, he says, “I have been longing for this moment!”, “I have been eagerly looking forward to this moment.”

    But why? Why is he so eager to share this meal?

    For centuries it was customary for the head of the family to explain the significance of the Passover meal. To recount what we read in Exodus 12. That when Israel was imprisoned in Egypt, God visited his final plague on the land, striking down every first-born son. But Israel was spared, because God had prepared a sacrifice for them. A spotless lamb, whose blood smeared on the doorposts of their houses meant the judgment passed over their houses. The life of the lamb given, protected them and they were delivered from bondage in Egypt, the land of darkness, under the harsh rule of the devil-like Pharaoh and brought into the land of promise.

    So Jesus in verse 19, the head of the family, begins to explain the significance of this meal to his disciples. And he says something that no person had ever said in all of history, verse 19 and 20 “And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me. In the same way, after the supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you.” Jesus doesn’t look backward to the Exodus and the Passover lamb. He looks forward to what he’s about to go and do. Jesus has been longing for this moment because this is exactly why he came. Everything that the Passover pointed to, everything in history has been driving to this moment when it was to be fulfilled by his suffering and death. So just like that bread, his body had to be broken. Just like that wine, his blood had to be poured out. As the true Passover lamb, his life had to be spent. And it was all done for us. It was necessary for him to do this for us, so that we would be delivered from our darkness, spared from judgement and death.


    It was precisely because our treacherous hearts are so quick to betray Jesus, to abandon him, to deny anything to do with him that this night had to go the way it did. This was exactly what God had planned. It was precisely why Jesus came. It was why he had to go to his death alone. Because he alone could suffer in our place and on our behalf, facing the consequence of our darkness, so that we can be rescued, forgiven, and brought into the light of a new day. You might be here tonight having waged war against God with all your heart. You might be here tonight, weak and weary – feeling inconsistent, like you just don’t quite get it. You might be here tonight knowing your pride, but how easily and spectacularly you fall at the slightest temptation. Yes, all of us here are represented tonight as those who fall short of our Lord. Embrace your Saviour. Here is one who is faithful. Who knows our darkness, and yet will never abandon. Here is one whose body was broken for you. Whose blood was poured out for you. Here is one whose innermost delight is to love the unlovable and who welcomes sinners to his table. This is one who can be trusted.