Mark 14:17-31, Matthew 26:20-30, II Samuel 12:1-7a
It was the evening of the Passover. Jesus and his 12 friends were gathering together in an upper room to eat the Passover meal together. It would be the last meal before his death.
They are seated around the table to share this meal all by themselves. It is a meal of celebration of God’s great redemption in the ancient Exodus.
Then during one of the lulls in conversation Jesus drops a thunderbolt. “I am telling you the truth, One of you will betray me!” Wow! What kind of an accusation is that! One of you will Betray me!
There had been many times when Jesus had rebuked and corrected them. He had rebuked them for their lack of faith, their failure to understand. He had gotten after them because of their attitude towards children and towards Samaritans. BUT, never before had he accused them of treachery, of treason. Never before had he accused them of disloyalty to Him. Yet here he is saying “One of you eating at this table with me will betray me.”
I want you to notice, however, the strange responses those men make.
They began to be sorrowful
Mark 14:19. They began to be sorrowful.
Matthew 26:22. They were exceedingly sorrowful.
What a strange response!
Indignation would have been a normal reaction
Anger would have been normal.
Protestation that He must be mistaken would have been normal.
Laughing it off might have been normal. “You’ve got to be kidding!?”
But they knew their master. Whenever he introduced his words with the phrase “verily, verily” which is really “Amen, Amen!” they knew that these were words that were of prime importance. This was no joke. When his accusation falls on their ears, they know it must be true, and sorrow is their first reaction.
They know what betrayal means. It is not what an enemy does to another enemy. Betrayal is a dastardly act of a friend against a friend. It is taking someone we have claimed to love, and turning him over to his enemies. And those disciples are grieved to hear the news.
But their second response is even more strange. They ask, “Is It I?”
After their initial shock, and they have recovered their ability to speak, they ask a question, “Is it I?” Again, the normal response would have been to turn to each other with pointed finger and begin to ask in anger, “Is it him?” Is it Peter? Is it James? Is it Matthew that old tax-collecting traitor of his people?
Or is it Simon the Zealot? Maybe he’s the one. No one asked those questions.
No one turned to Judas that night and asked, “Is it Judas?” Leonardo daVinci when painting His famous painting, The Last Supper, is reputed to have spent a year going through the slums of Milan looking for the most debauched face that he could find. Finally he found a man whose face looked like the epitome of evil. He painted that face, then added the evil he had seen in other men’s faces, and came up with his portrait of Judas Iscariot. But Judas did not look evil. He looked like any other disciple. That night, no one turned to look at him with accusation and anger.
When Jesus told of betrayal, those disciples did not draw away from each other in horror as though his neighbour were diseased. But they spoke and asked their question.
Mark says “and they said to him one by one, Is it I?”
Matthew says “They began to say to him one after another, Is it I?”
Self righteous Peter who would say “I will never deny you.” asked the question.
James & John who felt themselves qualified to be heads of state in the new kingdom asked that question.
Even John who a few moments before had laid his head on his Master in affection and loyalty found himself asking the same question. “Is it I?”
And round that white faced circle the question was the same. “Is it I?” The way the question is asked in our way of speaking is in the form of a question that expects “no” for an answer. They are asking, ”It’s not me, is it?”
Why this Question?
Why did the disciples ask that question? I think we can surmise the answer.
Those disciples had followed their Lord for months. They has surrendered to his leadership, but even so they knew that there was something within themselves that was not like their master.
There was a hatred of anything Samaritan, and that was unlike Jesus. There was a high impatience with children, with each other, with people who did not quite do it their way. And they knew that was not like Jesus.
They had come to the upper room that evening squabbling all the way. They had taken their seats in irritability and anger. So when the charge came from Jesus these men did not look around, but looked within, and I saw there the capacity for betrayal.
They knew of the fear that resided in their hearts, that might cause them at any time to flee and forsake their leader.
They knew of angry passions within that could surface so easily under the slightest provocation and erupt into angry words or curses. They were aware of dark things within that had never been conquered, that the slightest spark could conflagrate into a forest fire of reaction. And because they knew themselves so well, they asked the question. “It isn’t me, it I?”
But their response is one of sadness too. They did not want to betray their friend. They loved him and wanted to serve him. They wanted to be true, and sensing their capacity for unfaithfulness, abhorred it. And I presume that 11 of them asked the question because they wanted to know, so that such betrayal could be stopped.
And I recognize that this experience is not unique to 11 disciples. Because through the mists of time, I see the bony finger of Nathan the Prophet pointing right at me, and not just at King David, and I hear his declaration, “You are that man!” He is right. I too look within myself and see the ambivalence of my own heart. I love him, and yet always the capacity for defection is there. I follow him, but too often afar off. Wretched man that I am! And I am overcome with sadness too.
But there is something marvelous that takes place that same night that causes me to move through sadness to joy! Hear what happens next:
On The Night of the Betrayal He Took Bread!
Saint Paul tells us “On the night of the betrayal, he took bread!”
The Gospels tell us: right after the words of accusation,
“He took bread and blessed and broke it,
and gave it to his disciples and said take, eat; this is my body.
And he took a cup. and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying,
“drink of it. All of you, for this is the blood of the new covenant
which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.”
Did you notice the words “all of you”. Did that include Judas? Peter who would deny him? The others who would desert him? Yes. Does that include me? And us gathered in this sanctuary? Oh yes!
AND, On the night of our betrayal, he took bread
On the night of our denial, he took a cup
On the night of our cowardice. he took a towel
On the night of our petty squabbling, he took a basin
And the next day, he took my sins upon himself as he took up his cross, and in doing so, provided for us the forgiveness for all our sins.
The apostle Paul counsels us “Let a person examine himself, and then eat of the bread and drink of the cup.” It may well be that in these moments prior to the celebration of the Lord’s Supper you become aware of things within, that cause you great sadness. It might be so overwhelming that you might want to say, “I’d better not take communion.” Oh, no! Let us examine ourselves by all means. Let us become aware of our capacity for defection, and then we will understand why we need the grace offered to us all by Christ. And with that need in mind, in a few moments we shall come to a table spread before us where we can seek & find, and ask & receive.
But before that let us sing a hymn and affirm our faith.
The Hymn is #78. “Alas and did my saviour bleed”