Betrayers and the Lord’s Table
Of all the words in human language, there is one that is amongst the most cutting.
It attacks the heart and the mind. It wrenches apart relationships. It is the word that accosts us more, shirt-fronts us even, every time we say it.
We say it when we participate in the Lord’s Supper – ‘On the night when He was betrayed.’
Betrayal is terrible word.
It brings disarray to marriages, friendships, even countries. It shatters security and severs the arteries through which once flowed trust.
It describes an intruder in a sacred space, whether in a home or a country. I have never read anything good about a traitor – Benedict Arnold, Quisling, or the Vichy Regime. The crop of British spies who betrayed vital information to the Russians during the Cold war, or the American Aldred Ames, whose betrayal led to the deaths of many American agents.
And then there is Judas. He is lurking in the shadows when we read, ‘On the night when He was betrayed.’
The Jewish leaders needed someone to betray Jesus because He was not well known in Jerusalem, and his movements were unpredictable.
They needed an inside man. And what an inside man Judas was, betraying Jesus in a moment of apparent sincerity, with an affectionate kiss, as he led the soldiers to Him.
Jesus nurtured Judas for some three years, and then suddenly He is abandoned by him.
Had he understood nothing? Did he not grasp what Jesus was doing and how God was using Him to redeem humanity?
Did Judas decided to force Jesus’ hand, and hope He would act in power and mow down all the ‘bad guys’ with battalions of avenging angels?
Judas had seem miracles; he had helped feed the 5000, seen Lazarus rise from the dead and saw the Sermon on the Mount. He saw blindness disappear, deafness eliminated, sick limbs healed, cripples walk, and yet the stains on his spiritual retina block out the light of Jesus.
In all this Judas made choices. His actions were not pre-determined, and God was not guiding him. The authorities would have crucified Jesus one way or another, but Judas is how history occurred.
Judas was the conduit through which the venom was poured. He was the guide who led Jesus’ murderers to the Saviour, a kind of evangelist in reverse.
Amazingly Jesus knew who his betrayer was but veiled it from his followers. Perhaps He was giving Judas a chance to change. Yet even when He knew his betrayer, Jesus still proceeded with the Lord’s Supper.
He took the Passover and made it something new. Instead of the ‘blood of the lamb’ Jesus spoke of himself as ‘the Lamb of God’. Instead of the Egyptian Passover death, it would be the death of God’s son.
Instead of the unleavened bread broken, it becomes Jesus’ body broken. Instead of the Israelites being delivered solely, it becomes an international event. Instead of an outward event, it becomes a private event, one of the human heart.
And then out of it all comes not only new life, but new community, a new Israel, baptised in grace and anointed with water.
Instead of a commemoration it becomes communion. 1 Corinthians 10:16 tells us that, ‘Is not the cup of blessing which we bless a sharing in the blood of Christ?’ Salvation is appropriate in that action. This sacrament or means of grace is so powerful that, according to Paul to receive it inappropriately has resulted in sickness and death amongst some.
Communion is an act of remembrance, but it is so much more. In John 6:51-54, it is clear that much more than remembrance is meant when Jesus said, ‘I am the living bread that came down from heaven; if anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever; and the bread also which I will give for the life of the world is My flesh… Jesus said to them, ‘I tell you the truth, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have not life in you.’ Whoever eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.’
Through the Lord’s Supper and its link with the cross, Christ adopts the betrayers as His own. He treats all His betrayers then and now as though they are perfectly loyal and with perfect faith and love.
In response, we the betrayers become loyal and obedient.
The German Reformer Philipp Melanchton said, ‘This is to know Christ, not to contemplate or believe the two natures in one person, not the modes of incarnation, but to realise the benefits of His death in our soul’s experience.’
His body and blood represent the totality of His personhood, His mind, His will, His obedience embodying them all.
So our participation in the sacrament is the offering up of our total being.
As the elements affect every part of our being, so does the grace behind them. Our whole being, our body and blood we offer in gratitude for the atoning death of Jesus.
The loyal one rejects our betrayal and bids us come home from the far country of our unbelief and self-imposed exile.
Let us meet Jesus afresh in the holy meal. Let us receive from his generosity and become that way ourselves.