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Journey to the Cross
Reflecting on 24 Hours that Changed the World
By Adam Hamilton
Abingdon PressCopyright © 2014 Abingdon Press
All rights reserved.
Preparing for the Meal
Then came the day of Unleavened Bread, on which the Passover lamb had to be sacrificed. So Jesus sent Peter and John, saying, "Go and prepare the Passover meal for us that we may eat it." They asked him, "Where do you want us to make preparations for it?" "Listen," he said to them, "when you have entered the city, a man carrying a jar of water will meet you; follow him into the house he enters and say to the owner of the house, 'The teacher asks you, "Where is the guest room, where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?"' He will show you a large room upstairs, already furnished. Make preparations for us there." So they went and found everything as he had told them; and they prepared the Passover meal. (Luke 22:7-13)
Our journey with Jesus during his final twenty-four hours begins with a meal, or more precisely, with the preparations for a meal.
Jesus sent John and Peter into Jerusalem to prepare the Passover Seder for the disciples. This entailed grocery shopping, making a sacrifice in the Temple, cooking, and setting the table. In their day this was the work of women or of servants.
I wonder how Peter and John felt about being asked to do this mundane work while Mary, Martha, and the other disciples remained with Jesus for the day.
I once met an executive who wanted to be used by God for a great purpose. He was a bit put out when the pastor suggested he begin by working anonymously in the kitchen of the homeless shelter preparing sandwiches on Saturdays. He felt he had far more potential than that—after all, he ran a large company and had leadership gifts. Realizing it was bad form to say no to the pastor's request, he began to prepare meals in the shelter. But an interesting thing happened to him as he served each week: The act of serving began to change him—to diminish the pride that had crept into his heart and to cultivate compassion and humility. He began to have a vision of the needs of homeless people. Over time he invited friends and families to support the mission. He got his employees involved. Years later he was pivotal in developing a new facility that would better meet the needs of the homeless population. But all of this started with a request that he perform a task that, at first glance, he felt was beneath him.
Why did Jesus choose Peter and John for this task? What role would they play in the church after Jesus' death?
There is an unnamed disciple in this story. He owned a house large enough to have a second-floor guest room that could accommodate at least thirteen for supper. He was a man of some means; nevertheless he gladly played the part of a servant and freely gave of what he had, simply because Jesus asked. His guest room was likely the place the disciples hid following the Crucifixion and was perhaps even the place the 120 gathered on the Day of Pentecost, when the Spirit was poured out on the believers. If this is so, the man not only gave freely to the work of Jesus without ever being named, he did so at some personal cost. In what ways would you wish to be like this unnamed disciple?
Only in hindsight would Peter and John see the importance of the meal they prepared.
Lord, I offer myself to you. Use me to do whatever is needed, no matter how small. Like the unnamed disciple in the story, help me to serve without recognition. Amen.CHAPTER 2
Supper With Jesus
When the hour came, he took his place at the table, and the apostles with him. He said to them, "I have eagerly 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." Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he said, "Take this and divide it among yourselves; for I tell you that from now on I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes." Then he took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, "This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me." And he did the same with the cup after supper, saying, "This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood." (Luke 22:14-20)
It is surprising how many of the Gospel stories of Jesus' ministry take place around a supper table. Luke's Gospel alone records eight such meals. At some of those meals we find Jesus eating with sinners and tax collectors. He ate in the homes of Pharisees. He was anointed by a prostitute at a meal and by a woman grateful to receive her brother back from the dead. He fed the multitudes with a few loaves and fish. After his resurrection he broke bread with two disciples in Emmaus and later ate fish with his disciples on the shore of Galilee.
But no meal is of more importance in the story of Jesus, or for Christians today, than the meal he ate after sunset the evening before he died. John's Gospel devotes five chapters to describing what Jesus said and did at that meal. Each of the Gospels tells this story, as does Paul in his first epistle to the Corinthians.
Jesus commanded his disciples to eat that meal and, as they did, to remember him. They were to see their eating of the bread and wine as a kind of participation in his sacrifice and as a tangible way of inviting him into their lives. (In 1 Corinthians 10, Paul calls it a koinonia—a sharing or fellowship with the body and blood of Jesus.)
A man in his early forties died after a long bout with cancer, leaving behind a wife and two children. There was a particular casserole that was his favorite meal. Once a week his wife would continue to prepare this meal. As she and the children ate, she would tell her children stories of their father; and they would recall their own memories of him. His chair sat empty at the table, and they remembered him in a way that made them feel close to him and that continued to shape their lives.
I wonder if this is not what Jesus had in mind when he said, "As often as you do this, remember me." We should remember him not only in a morsel of bread and sip of wine during worship, but every time we sit down to break bread. Here I am reminded of the old tradition, now nearly forgotten, of setting an extra place at the supper table as a way of inviting the Lord to "be present at our table." How might you remember him at each supper you eat? Consider reading a passage from the Gospels at every supper, and spend time talking about the passage.
Lord, help me to remember you every time I break bread. Be present at my table, Lord. Help me never to forget that you are the bread of life who alone satisfies the deepest longings of my soul. Amen.CHAPTER 3
The Measure of Greatness
A dispute also arose among them as to which one of them was to be regarded as the greatest. But he said to them, "The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those in authority over them are called benefactors. But not so with you; rather the greatest among you must become like the youngest, and the leader like one who serves. (Luke 22:24-26)
During supper Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God, got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples' feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him. (John 13:2b-5)
I find studying the disciples in the Gospels to be a hopeful exercise for struggling Christians like me. About the time I feel that I am hopelessly lost, I read a passage such as Luke's account of the Last Supper where, as Jesus was preparing for his crucifixion, the disciples were sitting at the Passover meal secretly arguing over "which one of them was to be regarded as the greatest" (Luke 22:24). After three years with Jesus, this is what they were arguing about?
It was sometime around the sixth grade that I encountered the idea of popularity. At my school there were certain kids who were considered to be "cool"—defined by some combination of their appearance, their parents' wealth, their self-confidence, and their sporting prowess. By high school the characteristics of greatness were expanded to include those students nearly universally recognized by the student body for their talents. At the same time there was a second tier of greatness, defined within particular groups. In the band it was the "first chair" kids. In sports it was the "starters." Among the anti-social kids it was the kid who could be the most anti-social.
We do not stop disputing which of us is considered the greatest when we reach adulthood. How does society generally define greatness today?
Jesus, knowing that the disciples were arguing about which of them was greatest, did something most surprising. He got up from the table; went to the door; and picked up the pitcher of water, towel, and basin that had been left there so the disciples could wash their feet as they entered the room. None of them, apparently, had washed their own feet; and certainly none had thought about offering to wash the feet of their fellow disciples, or even the feet of Jesus. Performing such a task, like the meal preparations Jesus had sent Peter and John to make earlier that day, was the responsibility of a servant; and they were not servants—they were disciples. To their great discomfort, Jesus sank to his knees and one by one washed their feet. To make sure they understood the meaning of his gesture, he said in essence, "This is what true greatness looks like."
By washing his disciples' feet, the Son of God assumed the most humble of roles. Then he called all who would follow him to strive for that kind of greatness: to live their lives as humble servants. Long before the business world discovered the concept of "servant leadership," Jesus was calling his followers to adopt that lifestyle. Would those who know you describe you as one who in humility seeks to serve others?
Lord, like the disciples, I yearn to be considered great by others. Grant me a servant's heart so that I may discover that true greatness is found in humility and service. Amen.CHAPTER 4
One of You Will Betray Me
And when they had taken their places and were eating, Jesus said, "Truly I tell you, one of you will betray me, one who is eating with me." (Mark 14:18)
All four Gospels record Jesus' words at the Last Supper predicting his betrayal at the hands of a disciple. (We will consider the reasons for that betrayal in a subsequent devotional reading.) They also record Jesus' prediction that before the night was out, Peter would deny knowing him. On his way to the garden of Gethsemane, Jesus went on to predict that the remaining disciples would abandon him.
Have you ever been betrayed, abandoned, or disappointed by a friend? Years ago one of my daughters came home in tears because a friend had "stabbed her in the back." My daughter announced that she would never be the girl's friend again. I understood how she felt. We all have felt betrayed by a friend at some point in our lives. Sometimes the person is not a friend but a family member or a professional we trusted.
There are forms of betrayal that are so severe and so psychologically damaging that breaking off the relationship is appropriate and necessary for emotional healing to occur. But most often what is required is grace.
Some years ago I was disappointed in a friend who had shared with another person something I had told him in confidence. My initial reaction was to decide he could not be trusted and to put some distance between us. But, prompted I believe by the Spirit, I called to mind moments when I had broken confidence or otherwise disappointed friends. It was hard to be angry with my friend when I had been guilty of doing similar things in the past. So I spoke to him, sharing my concern and disappointment; and he apologized. Our friendship was restored, and we continue to be good friends to this day.
Jesus knew his disciples would betray him, and yet he displayed extraordinary grace toward them at the meal. Knowing that Judas had already agreed to hand him over to the priests, Jesus still included him in the meal. Some scholars believe Jesus placed him to his left in the position of honor at the supper table. Knowing that Peter would deny knowing him, Jesus washed Peter's feet. Knowing that all would abandon him, he called them his friends; prayed for them; and said to them, "This is my blood of the new covenant poured out for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins."
Have you ever played the part of Judas or Peter or the other ten disciples by betraying, denying, or abandoning Jesus through what you have done or failed to do?
As you journey with Jesus in the closing hours of his life, is there anyone who has betrayed, abandoned, or disappointed you that he may be calling you to forgive?
Lord, forgive me for the ways I have played the part of Judas or Peter through what I have done or failed to do. As you have shown me mercy, help me to be merciful toward those who have betrayed or disappointed me. Amen.CHAPTER 5
What Is Your Price?
Then one of the twelve, who was called Judas Iscariot, went to the chief priests and said, "What will you give me if I betray him to you?" They paid him thirty pieces of silver. And from that moment he began to look for an opportunity to betray him. (Matthew 26:14-16)
Before arriving at the Last Supper, Judas had already agreed to betray Jesus. Jesus predicted his betrayal at the supper; and following the meal, he sent Judas away, saying, "Do quickly what you are going to do" (John 13:27). Within a few hours Judas would arrive leading guards dispatched by the priests to arrest Jesus.
Why did Judas betray Jesus? This is a question that believers have debated for nearly two thousand years. Some have speculated that Judas was a Zealot who began following Jesus anticipating that he would lead an uprising against the Romans. When it became clear that this was not Jesus' plan, Judas, in disappointment, betrayed Jesus. Some have suggested that Judas, by his actions, hoped to force Jesus to rise up against the religious authorities and the Romans. Perhaps Judas, who already felt a bit at odds with the disciples, was offended when Jesus chastised him at a supper in Bethany during the last week of Jesus' life. In these scenarios, Judas' politics may have come before his faith, or perhaps Judas' disappointment or hurt led him to succumb to evil.
We likely will not know the full motives of Judas' heart, but the Gospels do tell us that among his motives was a desire for money. John reports that Judas, as keeper of the money used in the ministry of Jesus, would occasionally steal from those funds (John 12:4-6). Matthew tells us that Judas approached the chief priests asking, "What will you give me if I betray him to you?" (Matthew 26:15). They paid him thirty pieces of silver—about five weeks' wages for an average worker.
Money has a strange way of affecting us. Paul writes that "the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil" (1 Timothy 6:10). Jesus was tempted with riches by the devil and regularly preached about the struggle human beings have with a desire for wealth. That struggle is still with us today, as shown by the human greed behind the economic crisis that began in 2008.
On several occasions Jesus spoke to people struggling with greed. He told the man we call "the rich young ruler" that the only way he could break free of his love of possessions was to part with them all by giving everything away to the poor. On another occasion he told a man struggling with greed, "One's life does not consist in the abundance of possessions" (Luke 12:15). I have committed these words to memory and frequently repeat them, as I am regularly tempted to focus on acquisition.
Eventually, the love of money can and will come into conflict with our love of God. In Judas' case, the love of money won out. Slowly and by degrees, he came to rationalize his taking from the common purse and ultimately his betrayal of Jesus. Do you ever find your faith in conflict with your finances? Are you willing to give as God calls you to? Are you completely honest in your business dealings? on your tax return? Do you ever compromise your values in order to make the sale, close the deal, or get the raise?
Lord, forgive me for the times I have compromised my faith for the sake of having more. Help me to remember that my life "does not consist in the abundance of [my] possessions" and to desire to serve you with all that I am and all that I have. Amen.CHAPTER 6
I Go to Prepare a Place for You
Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father's house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also. (John 14:1-3)
In the last twenty years as a pastor, I have sat with many people as they approached their own deaths—at home, in the hospital, in nursing homes, at the local hospice house. I remember sitting with one such man on his back porch on a beautiful fall day. He was a man my age nearing the end of his battle with ALS (often referred to as Lou Gehrig's Disease). We spoke about his young boys and how he had recorded video messages for them to watch when they grew up. He described what he wanted for his funeral. And we discussed what Christians believe about the afterlife. Then we prayed, entrusting his life to God's care.
On the evening of the Last Supper, Jesus spoke with his disciples as a man preparing for his own death. He had much to say. The future of his mission would rest in their hands, and he sought to prepare them for what lay ahead. They would see his death and would face hardship and persecution of their own.
Excerpted from Journey to the Cross by Adam Hamilton. Copyright © 2014 Abingdon Press. Excerpted by permission of Abingdon Press.
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