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The Hinge of History: From the Old Covenant to the New (Matthew Sermon 138 of 151)

The Hinge of History: From the Old Covenant to the New (Matthew Sermon 138 of 151)

March 17, 2013 | Andrew Davis
Matthew 26:17-30

sermon transcript

 

Introduction

 What an awesome scripture this is.  Back in 1950, Winston Churchill wrote a history of World War II called The Hinge of Fate. He was one of the major players as the Prime Minister of England.  Doesn't that just draw you in? Don't you want to read a book like that, especially by Churchill?   I'm not a believer in fate, another word for that would be luck. I don't believe in a universe that's out of control, that no one has any idea where it's going, and that there's no great pilot to it. I believe in a history that has a meaning, it has an alpha, and it has an omega, and every letter in between has a purpose. We're at the hinge of history as we come to Matthew 26:17-30. What do I mean by that? For centuries before this night that we're studying, God had drawn His people, His chosen people, the Jews, into a pattern of life that was under the heading of the Old Covenant. The Laws of Moses and the Old Covenant, and all of their celebrations and their religious festivals were commanded by the Old Covenant.

And I say to you, that as Jesus gathered there that night with His disciples to celebrate one more time the Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread, that was the last time in history that God was pleased to accept that Passover lamb, that physical lamb and its bloodshed. No more, for the rest of history, would God accept animal blood. You've been with me on the journey through the Book of Hebrews, you know what I'm talking about, I'll go back into some of those scriptures again to remind you. But that was it, that night, when that lamb was killed, and its blood was shed, and Jesus drew together to celebrate in the old pattern and with the Old Covenant stipulations one last time. He stood at the hinge of history. He spoke words that just bring chills to me as I contemplate it.  He points to a New Covenant in his blood, his blood poured out for the forgiveness of sins, and in that I stand and proclaim the Word of God to you today, in the forgiveness of the New Covenant and the shed blood of Jesus.

The Hinge of History: Jesus the Sacrificial Lamb

We're at the hinge of history as we look at the transition from the Old Covenant to the New. For centuries, the Jews used the Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread, the twin festivals, to look back at the Exodus of the Jews from bondage, from slavery in Egypt, under Moses. They look back at that great exodus, and they remember the mighty things that God had done. But I believe that that Exodus itself, in space and time, that actual event in history, and the religious observances that followed in the Law of Moses, the Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread, were all just types and symbols of a far greater exodus, a far greater salvation and deliverance that Jesus would work eventually. They were looking back, but those by faith perhaps understood they were looking ahead to a Savior yet to come.

For us, we look back at both events. We look back at the first Exodus and all that was celebrated at that time, how God led the Jews out of bondage, out of slavery through Moses, passing through the Red Sea. How before in the tenth plague, the angel of death passed over all of the houses where that unblemished lamb, its blood had been shed and hyssop branches were dipped into the bowl and the blood was painted and applied on the door posts and the lintels of the Jewish homes. The Angel of Death saw that blood and passed over. The clear implication is that any first born in that house, if there had been no blood, would have died and died justly under the wrath of God. Instead, the Jewish first born were delivered, but yet there was not a home among the Egyptians that there was not wailing.  From Pharaoh who sat on the throne down to the lowest handmaid, everyone lost someone. There was grief and there was wailing that night. The Jews then passed through the Red Sea, and they were delivered. We can look back on those events, but we look back to a far greater exodus, a far greater deliverance, and that is the one worked by Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the one who is greater than Moses. Moses was a servant in all God's house, but Jesus is a son over God's house, He is our Savior, He is our deliverer. We look back at that, and we do it every time we celebrate the Lord's supper, and so we stand at the hinge of history.

We're going to go through this passage and not make a lot of comments.  We're just going to try to understand the text and what it says. Then for the second half of the sermon, I'm going to draw out lessons and applications from these rich verses.  Let's begin in verses 17-19, looking at the preparations for the Passover. The text says, "On the first day of the feast of unleavened bread, the disciples came to Jesus and asked, 'Where do you want us to make preparations for you to eat the Passover?'" He replied, "Go into the city to a certain man and tell him, 'The teacher says, my appointed time is near, I'm going to celebrate the Passover with my disciples at your house.'" So, the disciples did as Jesus had directed them and prepared the Passover.

Now we come to the Feast of Unleavened Bread again, and the celebration of Passover. How did they relate to one another? Really, they were two festivals in one, both pointing back, as I said, to the same time in redemptive history. The Feast of Unleavened Bread involved the eating of bread made without yeast.  It represented bread eaten in haste, not the kind of bread you eat for pleasure or comfort. Yeast makes pastries rise, makes fluffy bread rise. Unleavened bread isn't for pleasure, just for nourishment, and it was eaten in haste because they had a journey to travel. They were leaving where they'd been living for centuries, and they were moving on to a promised land. It’s a bread symbolic of our status in this world as aliens and strangers, this bread eaten in haste. Not bread eaten for pleasure or for taste, but rather bread eaten to sustain us on our journey as we make our pilgrimage to heaven. This feast would last eight days.

On the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread was the sacrifice of the Passover lamb. The lamb would be slaughtered, according to the law of Moses, a lamb without blemish or defect. At that time, Jerusalem would have been filled with people. Josephus gives us an indication that perhaps there were as many as two million people, pilgrims that had come from all over the Roman world to celebrate these twin festivals of Unleavened Bread and the Passover. The feast that they were celebrating had elaborate rituals which involved many elements, all of which needed preparation. After sunset on the first day of the feast, the household would gather together in a home to eat the Passover lamb, which by then would have been sacrificed and roasted with bitter herbs. The head of the household would begin the meal with a prayer of thanksgiving for the feast and for the wine, praying over the first of four cups of wine.  A preliminary course of greens and bitter herbs was generally followed by a young boy in the house who would ask the questions of that night, laid out in the book of Deuteronomy, questions about the meaning of all of this. "What is the meaning of all this?" Then the head of the household would explain the symbolism and recount the history of the exodus. Then the people would sing the first part of the Hallel, perhaps Psalm 113, and then the second cup of wine would introduce the main course, the Passover lamb, followed by third cup, the cup of blessing, accompanied by another prayer of thanksgiving, and then all the participants would sing the rest of the Hallel, probably Psalm 114, and probably drank the fourth cup of wine at that point. Thus, you can see the preparations for all of this would have been extensive. There would have been a lot of details that they would have to look after to be sure everything was ready. 

Therefore, Jesus gives directions for the disciples to make preparations. He explained to them very plainly in Luke 22, how much he desired to have this meal with them.  That moves me, and it melts me. Luke 22:15-16, "I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer, for I tell you that I will not eat it again until it finds fulfillment in the kingdom of God." He wanted to sit at table with them, they were his friends, and He yearned to have that time together with them. In John 17:24 it pointed to a far greater desire that Jesus has, of which that is just merely the symbol, and how He prays in John 17, "Father, I yearn, I desire that those whom you have given me be with me where I am, and see my glory, the glory because you love me from the foundation of the Earth.” That's the deeper desire. Jesus yearns to be with us forever. He yearns to not just sit at the table with us once on one particular evening, but forever and to have fellowship. The disciples initiate the question, "Where should we go to make preparations?" But Jesus, He's already way ahead of them, you will never get ahead of God and your service to God.  He's already ahead of you, we're going to talk more about that at the end of the sermon, but He's way ahead of the disciples on preparations for the Passover. He is the God who goes ahead of us, as He says in John 14, "Do not let your hearts be troubled, Trust in God, trust also in me. In my father's house are many rooms. If it were not so I would have told you, for I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with Me so that you also may be where I am." He is the God who goes ahead and prepares things, so Jesus replied in verse 18, "Go into the city to a certain man and tell him the teacher says, 'My appointed time is near, I'm going to celebrate the Passover with my disciples at your house.'"  A particular man has been selected as the host for the Last Supper. What an awesome responsibility that is, what an incredible role to play in redemptive history. A certain man, that's all we're told here in Matthew. We're also told Jesus' poignant statement, "My appointed time is near.” there's a time that was set out, it was appointed, it was part of God's eternal timetable, and that time has come. Eternity steps into time with Jesus, and that moment has come. Four times in John's Gospel He says, "My time has not yet come." Four different times, He says, "My time has not yet come." Well, now the time has come, He says here in the text, "My appointed time is near," and so the hour has come.  Luke gives us more details about this. Now, you may be fretting, you may be practically minded, you say, "A certain man? There's two million people in the city. How are we going to know where to go? Many, many pilgrims are renting rooms and preparing and getting ready." He's got it covered. Be anxious for nothing.  The Lord knows exactly what he's doing. 

You get more details in Luke 22, 7-13, “Then came the day of unleavened bread in which the Passover lamb had to be sacrificed." That first day of the feast, 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?' He will show you a large upper room, all furnished. Make preparations there." They left and found things just as Jesus had told them, so they prepared the Passover. Now this, friends, is just weird.  I want to try to make it come alive to you. Suppose someone told you, "Drive to Raleigh, and as you're driving around the inner Beltline, as you come to exit 10B, you'll take that ramp. As you go down, you'll see a blue pick-up truck driving by, follow it." That would scare me actually, if I saw that happening, wouldn't it? "Just drive and follow him, he'll lead you right where you need to go." Is history really that choreographed? Is it really that orchestrated, friends? It's more choreographed and more orchestrated than that. This is the God who holds atoms together by the power of His sovereign will. He has tremendous attention to detail. He is meticulous. He knew that there would be several million people and they needed to know where to go, "Follow the guy with the jar of water." More on that later. The Passover lamb was sacrificed at that point. It is the perfect picture of Christ now reaching its fulfillment, by the shed blood of the Passover lamb. The firstborn of Israel was delivered from death by the angel of the Lord, and for centuries the Jews had commemorated that deliverance by slaughtering one lamb after another. One lamb after another, a river of blood.

The annual repetition of those sacrifices taught a very poignant lesson. Hebrews makes it very plain what that lesson is. In Hebrews 10:1-4, "The law is only a shadow of the good things that are coming, not the realities themselves." For this reason, it can never, by the same sacrifices repeated endlessly year after year, make perfect those who draw near to worship. If it could, would they not have stopped being offered? For then the worshiper would have felt cleansed for his sins and would no longer have felt guilty for sin. But those sacrifices are an annual reminder of sins, because it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins, so the endless repetition taught this final lesson of the animal sacrificial system. Remember, all sin deserves a death penalty. The death penalty can be paid by a substitute, but the substitute never has been and never will be an animal. It's all symbolic. It points toward those beautiful words John the Baptist said, when he pointed to Jesus as he began his public ministry to Israel, "Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world." Hebrews 10:14 says, "By one sacrifice, Christ has made perfect forever those who are being made holy."

We see the obedience of the disciples, but far greater the obedience of Christ. The disciples did everything that the Lord told them to do, praise God for that.  But more importantly, Jesus did everything the Father told him to do.  It is by his obedience I find my salvation, His perfect submission to the law of Moses, how He was born of a woman, born in the fullness of time, born under the law, to redeem those under the law. You see? He stepped into time under the law of Moses, and He stayed in that right to the end of His life. He perfectly obeyed the laws of God, and that perfect righteousness to God's holy law is now my righteousness, and yours too, if you believe in Christ. It is in that obedience I stand now, and none other. Jesus is obedient. It says in Philippians 2, "Even to death on a cross", that's how obedient He was, right to the end. Do you not see the courage in Jesus in even going to Jerusalem, the courage in going to be the Passover Lamb? He knew full well what it meant, "Until it finds its fulfillment in my Father's Kingdom." He knew that none of his sheep would make it into his father's kingdom if He didn't shed his blood for them. 

Now, in verses 20-25 we come to the prediction of the betrayer. When evening came, Jesus was reclining at the table with the twelve, and while they were eating, He said, "I tell you the truth, one of you will betray me." They were very sad and began to say to Him, one after the other, "Surely, not I Lord." Jesus replied, "The one who has dipped his hand into the bowl with me will betray me. The Son of Man will go just as it is written about him, but woe to the man who betrays the Son of Man. It would be better for him if he had not been born." Then Judas, the one who would betray him, said, "Surely not I, Rabbi." Jesus answered, "Yes, it is you." The Passover Feast is going on, this intimate fellowship Jesus is having with those he loved the most, this last time he's having with them that He said He yearned for. Jewish law said that Passover could not begin until the lamb was sacrificed, and that at twilight. So now it's evening and they're reclining at table, a scene of peace, a scene of fellowship, a scene of togetherness before the storm of anguish and wrath and blood and death is going to come the next day.

They are together having this time, and Jesus unfolds his mind and his heart now to His disciples, and He pours it out and lets them know what He's feeling.  Jesus has deep sorrow over this betrayal, it's not recorded here in Matthew, but it's very real. It is recorded for us in John 13:21, "After He said this, Jesus was troubled in spirit and said, 'I tell you the truth, one of you is going to betray me.'" This betrayal bothers Jesus, He is filled with grief over betrayal by Judas. Jesus was called “a man of sorrows and familiar with suffering,” and here He was deeply distressed, troubled in spirit over the betrayal by Judas. Verse 23, I think, focuses on the intimacy of the fellowship, "The one who has dipped his hand into the bowl with me will betray me."  The issue here in Matthew, I think, is not so much of identifying who it is as it is with the sop, that piece of bread that's handed in John's Gospel to Judas. When he took it, Satan entered into him.  But here I don't think it's a matter of identification at that point, I think He's saying, “The one I shared this kind of intimacy with, the one I shared this kind of friendship with is going to turn me over to my death. He's going to sell me, so that I would die. Someone here sitting at this meal with me is going to betray me.” The sharing of a meal shows intimacy, a kind of friendship together. Psalm 41:9 predicted this pain of Jesus, "Even my close friend whom I trusted, he who shared my bread has lifted up his heel against me." 

Betrayal can only be done by a close friend. Betrayal can't be done in the absence of an existing relationship, but please understand, there is no surprise here now. Don't misunderstand. Jesus isn't surprised by this betrayal. He's known all along it was going to happen. He knew it before the foundation of the world. He certainly knew it much earlier in the Gospel accounts. In John chapter 6, He talks about eating my flesh and drinking my blood and saying that many of Jesus' followers went away and no longer followed him. Jesus turns to the twelve and said, "What about you? You don't want to go away, too, do you?" Peter says, "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life." Jesus answers with the doctrine of election, "Have I not chosen you, the twelve? And one of you is a devil." This a very important statement. It is not one of you will become a devil later, one of you is a devil now. Judas never believed in Jesus. He never loved him. It wasn't a transformation that came over him. Jesus knew who he was. As a matter of fact, in all the Gospel accounts, whenever Judas is introduced, he is immediately tagged the one who would betray him, and that, I think just is a symbol of how it was never a surprise to Jesus from the very beginning.

Judas has astonishing wickedness here, and the disciples all respond with humility and deep concern. They're very sad and begin to say to him, one after the other, "Surely not I, Lord?" Deeply moved, deeply troubled about it, Judas doesn't join at that moment, but he waits a moment later and asks about himself. Then Judas, the one who would betray him, "Surely not I, Rabbi," he says. Jesus answered, "Yes, it is you." None of the other eleven had marked him out as the betrayer. After Judas did take that sop, that piece of bread, and Satan entered into him, Jesus then gives them a sovereign command. "What you are about to do, do quickly." So, Judas goes out. At that moment, the other eleven thought he was going to buy more supplies for the feast. The depth of the hypocrisy, how much the actor can act, how much they can look good on the outside, but inside full of dead men's bones and everything unclean. In verse 24, we come to the mystery of all mysteries, really in Scripture, the mystery of divine sovereignty and human responsibility, especially as it comes down to the reprobate, the one who will, in the end, be lost, the one who, in the end, will be condemned. Verse 24, "The Son of Man will go just as it is written about him. But woe to the man who betrays the Son of Man, it would be better for him if he had not been born."

We'll get into that more fully later. In verses 26-30, we have The Last Supper, the blood of the covenant, focused on while they were eating. “Jesus took bread, gave thanks, broke it, gave it to his disciples saying, ‘Take and eat, this is my body,’ then He took the cup, gave thanks and offered it to them, saying, ‘Drink from it, all of you. This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. I tell you; I will not drink of this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it anew with you in my Father's Kingdom.’” In verse 30, “When they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.” Here we have at last the Old Covenant in its final act, its final moment. Why do I say that? Because I say that the moment Jesus said it is finished, and when the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom, the Old Covenant was done forever. It has been supplanted by a better covenant, a superior covenant by which we stand in God's sight.

They are fulfilling the ritual, the Passover Lamb has been slaughtered, the symbolism looks back, but now Jesus supplants it. He takes it over. He takes the bread, He gives thanks, He breaks it and gives it to them with these amazing words, "Take and eat, this is my body." Now, the feast, the Passover, the Feast of Unleavened Bread, was instituted for symbolic and spiritual reasons, Jesus takes those symbolic and spiritual reasons over and points to a new covenant, a new reality, the lessons of our Exodus now. The lessons of our salvation are going to be fulfilled in his physical body, very physical here. You could touch it, you could break it, you could hear it broken, you can maybe smell a little more once it was broken, you could chew it, you could swallow, it's very physical here. 

Then he does the same thing with the cup. He took the cup, gave thanks and offered it to them saying, "Drink from it, all of you. This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins." With these words, Jesus inaugurates the symbolism of the New Covenant, which we have celebrated ever since in the Lord's supper. This New Covenant is about to be fulfilled in his blood, the blood of the covenant here, symbolic language they would have understood from the sacrificial system, which across this hinge of history is now rendered obsolete, obsolete forever. They would have understood the symbolism, but now he's identified a new blood, and therefore, a new covenant. That's the logic that the author of Hebrews gives us. Because of this, we must have a new covenant, because the old covenant could not have sustained these truths, so He identifies it very powerful here in Matthew, “my blood of the covenant.”  It's focused on him, “this is my blood of the covenant.”

The Centerpiece of the New Covenant: The Forgiveness of Sins

The centerpiece of the New Covenant, and this is the great good news of the Gospel, is the forgiveness of sins, that our sins may be forgiven, that we may stand before God forgiven, holy, and blameless in his sight. It is for that that the blood was shed. "This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out," He says, “for many, for the forgiveness of sins." It's not focused anymore on just the Jews. The barrier, the dividing wall of hostility between Jew and Gentile has been removed forever, and there is now one new man, and that one new man is a Christian or a believer in Jesus, not Jew or Gentile any longer now, but follower of Christ, from both the Jews and the Gentiles.  Jesus' blood is shed not just for the Jews, but for many, for people from every tribe and language and people and nation all over the world.

He shed his blood for all of the Elect, and God knew who they were, knew them by name, each of them from the tribes of the world. This is the significance of the body and blood of Jesus. This is precisely why the son of God became man. This is why He took on a body that we celebrate at Christmas time. This is the purpose, the end result of the incarnation, his body and his blood, given for us for the forgiveness of sins. Then He speaks of a future fulfillment in verse 29, "I tell you; I will not drink of this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it anew with you in my Father's kingdom." Oh, the sweet word here is that word “anew.” There's a new reality coming, a new heaven, a new earth, a New Jerusalem, a New Covenant, we ourselves made new. If anyone is in Christ, he's a new creation.  Jesus is going to feast with us, He's actually going to sit down and eat with us. Isn't that mysterious? He's going to have a body, a resurrection body after his death, after his blood is shed, He's going to have a body, and so will we. We will sit at the table, and we will feast with him forever in his father's kingdom.  Many will come from the East and the West and will take their places at that feast with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven. We don't have these words in Matthew, but we have it in Luke, how this was established as a timeless memorial until He should come back. Luke 22:19, "He took bread and gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, "This is my body given for you. Do this in remembrance of me." It was a clear command given. The apostle Paul picks up on it in 1 Corinthians 11, so we have the ordinance of the Last Supper, and we do it consistently in healthy church life as a memorial to him, a Spirit-saturated reality-filled memorial. We don't believe in transubstantiation, we don't believe the actual body and blood of Jesus are there, but the physicality of it reminds us of his actual death on the cross, needfulness for our forgiveness, and that someday we will live with him forever in heaven.

Application of the Establishment of the New Covenant

That's the text. Now, let's look at some applications. Can there be any better application from this text or any text than this: Come to Christ, repent and believe, for the forgiveness of your sins. It was for this that He came, it was for this that He died, that sinners like you and me should find forgiveness. I'm not speaking in the abstract now; I'm speaking very practically. Why are you here right now? How did you get here? Did someone invite you? Did you just walk in? Are you a member? Do you know for certain that your sins are forgiven? Do you know that you are a sinner? Do you know that the law stands against you, that you will not be able to survive judgment day? The same meticulous God I spoke about a moment ago, in brief and I'll speak more in a moment, He sees everything you've ever done, every careless word you've ever spoken. Are you ready to face the one who has eyes of blazing fire? Are you ready to face him? Do you know that your sins are forgiven? If you don't, then I would urge you, while there's time, flee to Christ, trust in him. You just have to believe in him, you don't have to do anything, you don't even have to make a physical pilgrimage anymore, you just have to believe. Trust in him for the forgiveness of your sins and understand the lesson of the physicality of this, of Christ's physical body. Colossians 1:22 says, "But now God has reconciled you by Christ's physical body through death to present you holy in a sight without blemish and free from accusation." By Christ's physical body. You are reconciled to God and made friends with him. Understand then the lesson of the blood. The wages of sin is death. Our sin deserved death penalty. Hebrews 9:22, "Without the shedding of blood, there can be no forgiveness." Hebrews 10:4, it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins. Romans 3:25, "God presented him as a propitiation, a sacrifice of atonement, turning away his wrath through faith in his blood."   Ephesians 1:7, "In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins." Blood, blood, blood, and blood. Four blood verses. It is by the blood of Jesus that we are forgiven.  Trust in that, and in that alone. This is the Gospel, this is Jesus, the Son of God nailed to the cross for sinners like you. This is the essence of the statement, "This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins." Flee to Christ.

Secondly, worship Christ as He is revealed here in this text. Worship him. I believe that God crafted the whole Gospel for one central overriding reason, and that is the praise of his glory. That we should be for the praise of his glory. What does that mean? It means study his attributes as He reveals them and give him honor and praise for them. I want you to see that the Son is the radiance of God's glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After He had provided purification for sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven. How is the Son the radiance of God's glory? Do you not see the love of God shining forth in Jesus here? Do you not see the courage of Jesus, do you not see his compassion for us and his mercy? Do you not see the justice of God and that the cross cannot be averted, He can't avoid it? Do you not see the sovereign wisdom of God in the old covenant, the new covenant and redemptive history, and the hinge, the hinge of history here and the turning of it, and the fact that the blood of bulls and goats had to roll the play, but not the role of actual forgiveness, and now it's been fulfilled in Jesus and how now we can understand all this?  Worship him, worship him like they do in heaven. Worthy is the lamb who was slain to receive power and wealth and wisdom, and strength, and glory and honor and praise. They stand around the throne, it says in Revelation 5, four living creatures and twenty-four elders. They have a harp and golden bowls full of incense and they are singing a new song, “You're worthy to take the scroll and open its seals because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased men for God from every tribe and language and people and nation.” Worship him. 

Thirdly, stand in awe of God's preparations and do your part. What do I mean by that? This text shows the extensive preparations made for the Passover. Passover itself was extensive preparations made for Jesus' death. God is a preparing God. As I was thinking about this application, I was thinking about those little work projects that children do, like at Lowe's or Home Depot or whatever, where they lay out everything needed, the little hammer and the little pegs and the little... And you get to make a... I don't know bird feeder or something like that, you know what I'm saying, it's all there.  You got a little dollop, Elmer's glue, a little packet of glue and everything. It's all laid out for you to do your work. I'm not minimizing, I'm not, not at all. It says in Ephesians 2:10, "For we are his workmanship created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to walk in them.” He's going ahead of you getting your work projects ready. He's already there, the room is all set up, you have a job to do, do it and by you doing whatever good works God has ordained for you to do, the kingdom advances. People are saved. Other Christians are strengthened in their faith. You use your spiritual gifts. Do you have a ministry? Are you using your spiritual gifts? This church needs every member to have a ministry. This church needs you to use your spiritual gifts, do your part, but as you do your part know that Christ has already gone ahead of you. He's prepared you for the works and the work is for you.

Fourthly, stand in awe of God's exhaustive foreknowledge.  Recent theologians, like Clark Pinnock and Greg Byrd have questioned God's exhaustive foreknowledge. What do I mean by that? Does God really know everything that's going to happen down to the detail ahead of time? Answer, yes, he does. Absolutely, he does. They question this, I think, because of their overwhelming commitment to their perspective on human free will. They say that if a human being is truly to have free will, God cannot know ahead of time what that person will do. He can guess, he knows your habits, but he's just a guesser still in the end.  According to them then nothing is foreordained, or else people cannot have free will and cannot be held responsible for their decisions. The extreme version of this view is called Open Theism. They're leading proponents of it. Pinnock says God just simply limits himself and thus cannot know the future. If he didn't limit himself, he could, but he chooses to limit himself and not know the future. Greg Boyd says that God knows aspects of the future that can be known, including some apparently free will decisions. His is more nuanced, more complex, but he's still saying God ultimately cannot know those many decisions. There are many parts of the future he does not know. That's what “open” means. It's open, it hasn't been written yet. We'll get to that in a moment.  Life is free flowing but good things will come. Really, really good things. I think of this view as the ultimate, you know how if life hands you lemons, you make lemonade, God is the ultimate of that. Life is constantly handing God lemons and he's just excellent at making lemonade. That's their view. And God is able to take all of the bad lemons we hand him and he's able to navigate through and get good things done.  Is that the God of the Bible?  It's beyond me to wrangle in detail with these two men and all that. The Bible does teach the exhaustive foreknowledge of God over human free will decisions. How in the world did Jesus know there would be a specific guy carrying a jug of water at that particular moment? There are millions of people in the city, but Jesus made identification so that the two disciples going to make preparations would know who to follow. He's not just showing off, but He's helping them. But suppose the guy decides to carry a basket of figs or instead a jar of wine, or suppose he trips and falls, and it breaks or something like that, then the identification is gone, they won't know who to... If this was a woman picking up and carrying it, they won't follow her because he said a man with a jar of water. The open theist would say that's the kind of thing God can't know, but Jesus apparently knew it, and He knew it certain enough to give directions based on it.

This becomes even more telling in the case of Judas' betrayal, as a vital spiritual decision that must be free on Judas' part. “Jesus didn't really know whether Judas would betray him,” but clearly Jesus did know ahead of time that Judas would betray him and said that it had been written in Scripture in the Book of God's sovereign plan, Psalm 139:16, "All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be."  Jesus said plainly, while they're eating, "I tell you the truth, one of you will betray me," not some of you might betray me, or three of you will betray me, or any of that. He knew very well, not only that it would happen, but who would do it. In verse 24, "Then the Son of Man will go just as it is written about him." What does that mean, “written”? I think there are two books here, two books, there's God's book in heaven, and that's exhaustive down to the atomic level, and then there's Scripture's book of prophecy, which just gives us hints about the heavenly book.  Psalm 139 says, "All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be." What book is that? The heavenly book. There's a book of eternal life in which the disciples are told, "Do not rejoice that the demons are subject to you and your name. But I'll tell you rejoice in this, that your names are written in heaven." That heavenly book is God's exhaustive detailed plan. So, in the small things such as the carrying of a water jar and in large things, the betrayal of the Son of God for 30 pieces of silver, everything is exhaustively known ahead of time. Jesus tells it to them ahead of time, so that [John 14], "When it does happen, you will believe and not be disturbed, but you know I predicted it plainly." 

Fifth, we come to the hardest piece of meat that I've ever preached from this pulpit and probably ever will preach. Scripture divides roughly into milk and meat. Milk is easy, simple concepts to understand doctrinally, and meat are those things that are harder. I don't doubt for a moment that not all of you will be able to follow me where I'm about to go, maybe you'll be able to follow later.  But I'm willing to ask some questions here about Judas that bring us to uncomfortable places, and I think it is to the glory of God to go there. My fifth emphasis has to do with the mystery of divine sovereignty and human responsibility. Let's talk about Judas, and let's do the best we can to understand the mystery of the relationship between divine sovereignty and human responsibility. At the root of the debate between those who focus primarily on human free will, commonly called Arminians, and those who generally emphasize God's sovereignty in human salvation, commonly called Calvinists, is the problem of evil. How do we understand the problem of evil? If God is so good and all powerful, why then is there evil in the universe? 

The classic Arminian answer to this question runs like this, “God created the world good and only desires good things. Secondly, because God allows people free will and God never interferes with free will, to some degree, God's hands are bound by our free will decisions. Evil happens in God's universe, but it's not his fault because people are just using their free will and God will not interfere with those decisions.”  Why not? Because if God ordains something and brings it to pass by his sovereign power, they argue that man is not responsible, that's how they argue. There is no way they say that a human decision can be ordained by God, and then for God to hold a human responsible for that decision. If God decrees that man do something and a man does that thing that God decreed, then the man is off the hook, so they argue. Not so much “the devil made me do it”, but really, you're saying God made me do it, so how can you hold me responsible for that? Since that would make God in their view the direct author of evil, this cannot be.  God cannot hold people responsible for decisions that He has decreed. Therefore, God didn't decree them ahead of time. That's how the argument works. Now, look at verse 24. What do you do with verse 24? Talk about a monkey wrench thrown right into the gears of all of that. Jesus said, in verse 23, "The one who dipped his hand into the bowl with me will betray me, the Son of Man will go just as it is written about him, but woe to that man who betrays the Son of Man. It would be better for him if he had not been born." So, both are taught here, the Son of Man will go, as it is written about him. So, it's written, and it is done. It's not just God predicting, it's God decreeing, you see. It's not just predicting; the writing is God's. The Son of Man will go according to the plan, the sovereign will of God, but woe to the man by whom He goes. How do you put those two together in this scheme I just laid out? They don't fit. “It would be better for him if he had not been born.”

Let me ask one question. If it would have been better for Judas not to have been born, then why was he born? Think about it. You may say I'd rather not think about it, but I'm asking you to think about it. In Psalm 139 and verse 13, it says, "For you created my inmost being, you knit me together in my mother's womb." Did God knit Judas together in his mother's womb? Would we want to go so weird theologically, it's amazing the lengths people will go to avoid this, that say, "Oh, God knits the good people together, but he doesn't knit the bad people together." There's no scriptural evidence of that at all. God knits people together. He's the knitter. He knit you together, He created you, He created your inmost being. Let's go back then to Judas. What was God thinking when he was knitting Judas together?  Open theists will say he was hoping for the best. “I sure hope you don't do what I think you're probably going to do. It doesn't make any sense to me.” While He was giving Judas a brain and hands and fingernails and a liver and a circulatory system and all that, while He was doing that, was He not mindful of Matthew 26:24, which hadn't even been spoken or written yet, but He knew was coming?  “Woe to this one that I'm knitting together, woe to this one that I'm knitting together.” It's hard to figure this out, but we don't find refuge in false doctrines, that's not where we find the refuge. God knew exactly what Judas would do, and He knit him together.  Romans 9:22-23 says that God knits together in the wombs of their mothers, not just the one person, Judas, but all the people that end up in hell, He knits them together in their mother's wombs, knowing full well what's going to happen with them. He knows exactly what's going to happen. Paul goes even beyond where I've gone up to this point. It says, "What if God choosing to show his wrath and make his power known, bore with great patience the objects of wrath prepared for destruction? What if He did this to make the riches of his glory known to the objects of mercy, whom He prepared in advance for glory, even us, whom He also called, not only from the Jews, but also from the Gentiles?”

 So, God gives them for the benefit of the objects of his mercy. That's the logic here. The answer is, God knit him together in his mother's womb, not because it would be better for Judas—it wasn't better for Judas— but it was better for God and his glory, and it was better for us, the Elect, that He did it. I know it's hard, but this is what the scripture teaches. God did it to teach us what we deserved, we, the Elect, we who have been chosen contrary to what we deserve. We, who are sinners, every bit as much as Judas and Hitler and all the others. You say, "Well, I wouldn't do something like that." Are you so sure you wouldn't do those things? We know the evil in our hearts. We didn't deserve to be chosen, we didn't deserve to be saved, it's by grace alone that we're going to get in heaven.  His will is thoroughly perfected on that doctrine and to God alone will be the glory for our salvation, “from Alpha to Omega, to God alone be the glory.”

We're not settling for bad theology here. We're going to say that when it comes to Judas and Herod and Pontius Pilate and Annas and Caiaphas, and all of them, not just Judas, as Peter said, "Jesus was handed over to you by God's set purpose and foreknowledge." God's set purpose and foreknowledge, and “You, with the help of wicked men, put him to death.” They're wicked and they'll be judged for their wickedness. Judas was wicked and he was judged for his wickedness, but it was ordained by God, that's as far as I can go. I don't know how to put it any closer, anything beyond that. He is not the author of evil, because God doesn't tempt anyone to do sin ever, but each one is tempted when by his own desire, he is dragged away and enticed.

Sixthly, we should hate the hypocrisy of betrayal. Do you see the sadness and the weeping in Jesus concerning Judas, not in Matthew, but in Luke or in John? He's troubled in spirit by this. This perhaps is the greatest mystery of all of this issue. Jesus weeps over Jerusalem, He weeps over these vessels of wrath. It's difficult for me to understand that He's the one that ordained it, and yet He weeps over the decisions they've made, and we should hate it and weep it, too, and not betray as Judas did. 

Finally, embrace the Lord's Supper in spirit and truth, though I’ve not the time now to preach a whole sermon on the Lord's Supper. As a congregation, let's come into the Lord's Supper expectantly. Let's embrace that when we obey his command, “Do this in remembrance of me,” that we will be richly fully blessed, not by transubstantiation and thinking we're actually eating the body and drinking the blood of Jesus, but by recognizing that in space and time, 2000 years ago, his body was broken and his blood shed for us, so that we might have forgiveness. Then as you actually hold that bread and drink that cup, you understand that your physical body will someday, if we're not the last generation to die, the Lord will raise you up physically and someday you will drink and eat anew with Jesus and the father's kingdom.

Close with me in prayer. Father, we thank you for the richness of your word, for the power of it. Lord, I pray that these meditations on your sovereignty and our responsibility would heighten our sense of humility at how much you work contrary to our nature to save us and would give us a tremendous boldness in witnessing and evangelism to know that you have power to take this Gospel to the elect and they will hear. God take these words and press them now into our hearts, we pray in Jesus' name.

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