"A Sovereign Sacrifice"
(Delivered Sunday, February 15, 2009 at Bethany Bible Church. Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture references are taken from The Holy Bible, New King James Version; copyright 1982, Thomas Nelson, Inc.)
As we enter into these closing chapters of the Gospel of Matthew, we are step upon very holy ground. They deal with the most precious subject we could think of; that is, the atoning sacrifice of our loving Savior Jesus Christ on the cross for sinners. These closing chapters have much to teach us about our Lord's love for us; and we couldn't do anything better for our souls than to take our time in studying them—and to savor every word the Holy Spirit has preserved for us in them.
This morning, I ask you to turn with me to Matthew 26:17-25. This passage deals with our Lord's final hours with His disciples. The events it describes begin on the afternoon of the first day of the feast of Passover. And by the time twenty-four hours will have turned, our Lord would be on the cross.
As we look at this passage, I ask that we simply marvel over Jesus—particularly, that we marvel over His absolute sovereignty—His absolute control as the Son of God in human flesh—over everything that happened to Him in His going to the cross for us.
Matthew tells us;
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There's something that the Lord Jesus once said about Himself, in another portion of Scripture, that I believes sheds great light to this morning's passage.
In John 10, Jesus was confronted—as He often was—with the Pharisees who were opposing Him. In answering their challenges to Him, He identified Himself as "the Good Shepherd" who lays down His life for His sheep. And in John 10:17-18, He told them something startling about His own absolute control over the events that were about to happen to Him. He said,
He tells them here that His death on the cross would not be some tragic, unexpected event. It was something that had been given to Him to fulfill as a command from His Father in heaven. He tells them that in this act, the Father's love for Him is displayed—because He not only obeyed the Father's command in laying down His life, but laid it down with the power and authority from the Father to take it again.
And note carefully the affirmation of His own sovereign authority over this act. He affirms that no one would “take” His life from Him. He had told His disciples over and over during His walk in earth with them, that He would be going to Jerusalem with them; and that He would then be betrayed into the hands of the chief priests and scribes; and that they would condemn Him to death and deliver Him over to the Gentiles to mock and scourge and to crucify; and that He would then be raised on the third day (Matthew 16:21; 17:12b, 22-23; 20:18-19). But in no respect was His life "taken” from Him. Rather, as He Himself said, "I lay it down of Myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again."
In other words, our Lord was in absolute control over the events that surrounded His betrayal, arrest, trial and crucifixion. It all occurred under His sovereign authority, and in perfect accordance with His obedience to the Father's will.
In other words, we will not be thinking of Jesus' sacrifice on the cross rightly—and what's more, we'll never be moved to receive it for what it truly is—if we only think of Him as a mere man who was subject to the tragic circumstances around Him. Rather, the Bible demands that we see Him as the eternal Son of God—the King of heavenly glory—who willingly and authoritatively set that glory aside, took full human nature to Himself, and died on the cross as a willing atonement for our sins as one of us. As the apostle Paul writes of Him;
So; with all of that in mind, let's look closer at this morning's passage. I suggest to you that, in it, we see that sovereignty and authority on display. Jesus was absolutely sovereign in His act of offering Himself for us as an atoning sacrifice on the cross.
Le's behold that sovereignty in action—and marvel together at His condescending love!
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Note, first, how this passage shows Jesus' absolute, unfailing, divine control . . .
1. OVER THE MEANING OF HIS SACRIFICE (vv. 17-19).
His sacrifice on the cross doesn't mean what we choose to make it mean. It means exactly what He sovereignly exhibited it to mean. And He shows this by the fact that He made sure His sacrifice happened on the Feast of Passover—so that He is displayed to us as "Christ our Passover" (1 Corinthians 5:7).
Matthew tells us that these things happened "on the first day of the Feast of the Unleavened Bread" (v. 17)—that is, on the first day of that sacred feast of the Jewish people that commemorated their deliverance from bondage in Egypt through the leadership of Moses.
On the night that they were to depart from Egypt, God gave instruction as to what they were to do to commemorate that great deliverance. He said,
God goes on to explain;
In the years to come, the Jewish people were to celebrate this sacred event by continuing to eat only unleavened bread in their homes from the fourteenth to the twenty-first day of that month. And so, our Lord was celebrating the beginning of the Passover with His disciples on this first night of the feast.
They came to Him and asked, "Where do You want us to prepare for You to eat the Passover?" (v. 17). And yet, little did they really understand what they were asking. They were basically saying, "Where would you like for us to go and lay out those things—for Yourself and for us—that are symbolic of who You are; and that represent what You are about to give Yourself over for on this very night, as our atoning Sacrifice?" Because on this very evening, He was allowing Himself to be betrayed in order to offer Himself as the true “Passover Lamb".
And here's where our Lord's sovereignty is put on display before us. In answer to their question, Jesus then told them, “Go into the city to a certain man, and say to him, ‘The Teacher says, “My time is at hand; I will keep the Passover at your house with My disciples" (v. 18). The Gospel writer Luke gives us even more of the details of His amazing instruction to them. He lets us know that it was Peter and John that were sent (Luke 22:8); and tells us that the Lord said;
Just think of the display of our Lord's sovereignty over the preparation of this great event! He had already arranged that, when they walked into the city, a man would right then meet them carrying a pitcher on his head—not a basket, but a pitcher; and not filled with wine or milk, but with water! He had arranged that the man would right then walk into a house—and not just any house, but the very house that the Lord had already prepared for the celebration of the feast. They were to tell the man the words of the Lord: "The Teacher says, 'My time is at hand'"; and the man would instantly know what Teacher was meant, and the significance of the fact that it was His "time". They were to say that the Lord would be keeping the Passover at his house with His disciples that night. And He tells them that man would then lead them to a large upper room that was already furnished for them!
Matthew tells us, "So the disciples did as Jesus had directed them; and they prepared the Passover. But it was clear that the Lord had already made Passover preparations for them! Could you imagine what that must have been like for Peter and John to see all these things unfolding before them—just as the Lord had told them? And—if we may engage in just a little speculation here—can you imagine the joy of the owner of that home? We don't know his story in all this; but it appears that the Lord communed with him in some way to let him know the significance of the things that were about to happen. The Lord needed only to pass on the word that "My time is at hand"; and that's all the owner of the home needed to know.
Jesus' sovereignty over the preparation for the feast teaches us that He was sovereign over the meaning of what was about to happen on the cross. He was willingly giving Himself to us as the fulfillment of everything that the Passover was meant to represent. He Himself was the Lamb who was to be slain. It was His blood that was to provide the satisfaction of God's wrath for sin, and that would allow Him to 'pass-over' us in judgment.
Let's marvel at His sovereign authority over all these things! No one took His life from Him; but He laid it down for us willingly as Christ our Passover!
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We see that Jesus was sovereign over the meaning of His sacrifice on the cross for us. And now, let's consider His sovereignty . . .
2. OVER THE MEANS OF HIS DEATH (vv. 20-21).
Matthew tells us that, when evening had come, Jesus sat down with the twelve (v. 20).. All of them were present. And as they were eating and observing the solemn feast of Passover, Jesus revealed something shocking to them. He said, "Assuredly, I say to you, one of you will betray Me" (v. 21).
Now; they had already heard Him tell them that He would be betrayed in Jerusalem into the hands of those who would kill Him. And to what degree they listened to these warnings, or genuinely understood them, is something we can only guess at. But here, during this sacred sacrificial meal, He reveals to them something that He had not told them before—that it would, in actual fact, be one of them who would serve as the betrayer!
Jesus answered, "He who dipped his hand with Me in the dish will betray Me" (v. 23). Now; I wonder if, when Jesus said that, they all quickly withdrew their hands from the dish! After all, they all had dipped their hands into the same dish as He had sometime during that evening. But I suspect that the Lord was here letting them know that Scripture was about to be fulfilled. Psalm 41:9 says;
And so, here again, we see the sovereignty of our Lord on display—even over the means of His own death. He would not die by the hand of some assassin. He wouldn't simply "fall" into hostile hands. He wouldn't die of a plague. Rather, He would be "betrayed"—just as He had told them earlier (Matthew 20:18). And now, He lets them know that it would be by one of His own.
Just as the Passover Lamb was to be kept for three and a half days by the family that would then slay it, Jesus walked with His disciples for three and a half years—and it would be one of those very disciples who would betray Him to His death.
And in all of this, Jesus remained in total control of all that occurred. Nothing happened in any other way but in accordance with His sovereign will and in obedience to the Father.
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So; our Lord proved Himself to be sovereign over the meaning and significance of His sacrifice. And He proved Himself to be sovereign even over the means of His death.
And finally, notice His sovereignty . . .
3. OVER THE MAN BY WHOM HE WAS BETRAYED (vv. 22-25).
Matthew tells us that the disciples were "exceedingly sorrowful" at this news. And one by one, they each began to ask, "Lord, is it I?" It's interesting that they didn't point at each other and say, “Lord, it it him?” Each of them searched their own souls and wondered if they personally could do such a thing.
John, in his Gospel, tells us an additional part of the story. He tells us, "Now there was leaning on Jesus’ bosom one of His disciples, whom Jesus loved" [that was most likely the apostle John himself]. "Simon Peter therefore motioned to him to ask who it was of whom He spoke. Then, leaning back on Jesus’ breast, he said to Him, 'Lord, who is it?' Jesus answered, 'It is he to whom I shall give a piece of bread when I have dipped it'" (John 13:23-26a).
They were all reclining on couches; and in the center of the arrangement of food was a large bowl with sauce. Everyone occasionally took a piece of bread that was shaped like a cup, dipped it into the sauce, and ate. But John then tells us, "And having dipped the bread, He gave it to Judas Iscariot, the son of Simon" (John 13:26b)—one who, as Scripture said, "ate bread" with Him.
And here, we see a mysterious aspect of our Lord's sovereignty. He said, "The Son of Man indeed goes just as it is written of Him, but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been good for that man if he had not been born" (v. 24). The Lord remains sovereign. The Lord must be betrayed; because this is the promise of Scripture. But Judas, the one who did the betraying, remains utterly responsible for his vile action.
What a dreadful thing—for it to have been better that Judas never be born, than to have betrayed the Lord. And yet, it was for that very act that the sovereign God permitted him to be born. Let's not dare to call the Lord into question on this. Let's not try to solve the mystery of human responsibility under divine sovereignty. Let's just know that each of us is responsible for our actions, bow to His sovereignty over those, and praise Him that He gave us the faith to believe on His atoning sacrifice for our sins.
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Now; it would seem that sometime after Jesus had revealed to John who it was that would betray Him, Judas then asked, "Rabbi, is it I?" (Matthew 26:25). And isn't it interesting that Judas didn't say, as the disciples had said, "Lord, is it I?" Rather, he said, "Rabbi, is it I?" Judas didn't use a word that would demonstrated close affinity to the Lord's authority, but rather used a word that permitted a measure of distance from Him.
Judas had been one of the twelve. He had seen the Lord's miracles. He had heard the Lord's teaching. He had been with the eleven others. He was among those who had gone out preaching that people should repent because of Him. He was among those who had the greatest privilege imaginable—to be with the Word of God in human flesh for three and a half years. And yet, already, he had begun to draw himself away from the Lord that he was about to betray. Great spiritual privilege doesn't guarantee that someone will have great love for the Lord. Even our love to Him remains a matter of the Lord's sovereign will.
Do you notice how Judas pretended ignorance? "Rabbi," he asks, "is it I?" But Matthew tells us that it was this Judas "who was betraying Him" (v. 25, emph. added)—using the present tense of the verb. It was even then that the wheels of Jesus' betrayal had been set in motion by Judas. The betrayer had already gone to the chief priests; and they had already offered money to him. He had already been watching and waiting for the opportune moment (vv. 14-16).
But notice also that nothing was hidden from the Lord. Long before this time Jesus had spoken to the twelve and said, "Did I not choose you, the twelve, and one of you is a devil?" (John 6:70). We're told that, in saying this, "He spoke of Judas Iscariot, the son of Simon, for it was he who would betray Him, being one of the twelve" (v. 71). He was the sovereign Lord, who already knew His betrayer long before the betrayal had ever even begun.
And there's one more thing. John, in his Gospel, tells us that Jesus handed the piece of bread to Judas and said, "Now after the piece of bread, Satan entered him" (John 13:27a). I shudder whenever I read that! After the piece of bread went into Judas, then Satan went in afterwards. What a horrible thought! "Then Jesus said to him, 'What you do, do quickly'" (v. 27b). And it was then—and only then—that Judas was set free by the sovereign Lamb of God to leave from His presence, search out those who would kill Him, and bring them to Him in the garden.
Everything—absolutely everything—about even His betrayer was under the control of the sovereign Lord Jesus.
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And so, if we are paying attention to this passage of Scripture, we will see that all of the things that were about to happen to Him were under the sovereign control of the Lord Jesus. And if we can see that, we can better appreciate that it was a deliberate act of immeasurably great condescending love for you and me.
Take that affirmation that we considered at the beginning of our time together—that no one took our Lord's life from Him, but that He laid it down of Himself—and combine it with the words of Romans 5:8; where we read that "God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us". And as we do, may the Holy Spirit fill us wonder at the depth of love for us that has been revealed in our Lord's sovereign sacrifice!
What can we do toward Someone who would so lovingly give Himself in death for us but to lovingly and completely give ourselves to living for Him in return?
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