Scripture taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. Copyright 2000; 2001, by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Matthew 26:6 Now when Jesus was at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper,
Simon is otherwise unknown to us. We know that Jesus has raised His friend Lazarus at Bethany, where Lazarus lived with Mary and Martha. Presumably Simon is one Jesus healed (otherwise he wouldn’t be giving a dinner party). Some have speculated that perhaps he was father of Lazarus, Mary, and Martha.
7 a woman came up to him with an alabaster flask of very expensive ointment, and she poured it on his head as he reclined at table.
Here is what gets called an impractical extravagant act. But it is one done selflessly and from a sincere heart. It is an expression of deep gratitude and love. Almost surely it is a matter of real financial sacrifice on her behalf. The spikenard was worth perhaps a whole year’s wages for a common person, as much as it would take to feed a crowd of 5,000 people, and she pours it on the head of Jesus, an anointing for the anointed One. It may very well be that it’s her way of saying that “this is Messiah.”
8 And when the disciples saw it, they were indignant, saying, “Why this waste?
It’s interesting that it’s not Jesus’ enemies that object, but rather the disciples.
9 For this could have been sold for a large sum and given to the poor.”
We know this impulse. It says that we’re more righteous than “they” are, because instead of having a fancy building “we” have used the money for “ministry.” But there are all sorts of things wrong with this impulse. At its heart, it is covetous. We really wish “their” resources were under “our” control. It’s not really our business at all what someone else does with what God has entrusted them with. We’re responsible for what we do with what He’s given us to manage. And we’re wrong if we think that a genuinely selfless display of devotion to Christ and expression of high esteem for Him is ever inappropriate.
The disciples’ word “waste” is an interesting indictment. It is a waste to devote to only the Creator some part of what He has given us to use? If it doesn’t “benefit” humans in some immediate and tangible way, it’s a waste? Really? That’s true only if we are the central beings in the universe.
10 But Jesus, aware of this, said to them, “Why do you trouble the woman? For she has done a beautiful thing to me.
This was a “beautiful” thing, a “noble” thing, an “admirable” thing.
11 For you always have the poor with you, but you will not always have me.
Our obligation to care for the poor is always present. That’s just taken as given. This doesn’t in any way cancel that obligation.
Deuteronomy 15:11 For there will never cease to be poor in the land. Therefore I command you, ‘You shall open wide your hand to your brother, to the needy and to the poor, in your land.’
But this is not ordinary day-to-day stuff here. This is the anointing of Jesus before the crucifixion.
12 In pouring this ointment on my body, she has done it to prepare me for burial.
This seems to assume that Jesus was saying that a criminal’s body is not given a proper burial, and that He fully expects to be executed like a criminal.
13 Truly, I say to you, wherever this gospel is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will also be told in memory of her.”
The fragrance of the lovely, beautiful, noble, admirable thing this woman did lasts on to you and me. Everywhere the teaching, and far more importantly, the sacrificial death and resurrection of our Lord are told, so also is this act of devotion.
14 Then one of the twelve, whose name was Judas Iscariot, went to the chief priests
“Then” immediately after the event in Bethany, we pick up again from the dilemma in verse 5. The one called Judas “Iscariot” went. The name may have designated his home town. Some have speculated that instead it indicated he belonged to a radical anti-Roman group.
He “went.” Why did he go? The truth is that we aren’t told and don’t really know. People have speculated about that for 2000 years. Maybe he was disenchanted, having decided that Jesus was acting more like a defeatist than a liberator, and that it was time to get out while the getting was good. Maybe he’s regretting 3 years spent on what looks now like a failing enterprise. There has been speculation that he was jealous of the places of trust held by other disciples. Maybe he was revolted by the scene of Mary anointing Jesus and appalled that Jesus had permitted it. And some have speculated that perhaps he was trying to force Jesus’ hand, thinking that somebody needed to do something to get Jesus to use His power to get on with the revolution. Maybe it was a mix of some or all of these. Maybe it was something else. But for some reason he went.
15 and said, “What will you give me if I deliver him over to you?” And they paid him thirty pieces of silver.
“What will you give me?” Those are words that should make our blood run cold. The man has access to all that one really needs, the presence of the Savior, and his question is “What else can I have?”
Thirty pieces of silver is not zero, but not very much either. It’s the price that the Old Testament prescribed for compensation if one’s ox gored and killed another person’s slave. Some commentators speculate that inflation by this time probably made it worth a 10th of that much. Barclay in the 1950’s made the calculation that the price was on the order of 5 British pounds. Hendriksen in 1973 made it about $20. In any case, it’s surely not much of a price for betraying the Author of the universe, not even the kind of price one would expect to receive as a ransom for a minor public figure. Its smallness indicates the low regard of the chief priests for Jesus and how little Judas thinks of the implications of what he’s doing. It surely also echoes the Messianic reference in Zechariah 11.
Zechariah 11:12 Then I said to them, “If it seems good to you, give me my wages; but if not, keep them.” And they weighed out as my wages thirty pieces of silver.
God’s chosen shepherd is rejected and paid little. Whatever the motivation for this betrayal, the low price of thirty pieces of silver stands in stark contrast to the great extravagance of the anointing.
16 And from that moment he sought an opportunity to betray him.
The matter is effectively settled at this point. The die is cast. Judas is going to betray Him. The leaders have their means of a “stealthy” arrest.
17 Now on the first day of Unleavened Bread the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Where will you have us prepare for you to eat the Passover?”
This is, obviously, the Passover festival (an eight day festival beginning with the Passover). It seems from the accounts of Matthew, Mark and Luke, that the meal is the Passover meal itself. John seems to indicate that others (the Jewish leaders) were going to celebrate the Passover the evening after the crucifixion and that Passover lambs were being slaughtered as Christ was crucified. There are various theories about how to bring these into harmony. We’re not going to explore them, but simply take this at face value, as an account of a Passover meal eaten on Thursday evening, before a Friday crucifixion.
18 He said, “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.'”
My appointed time is near. In all of the Gospel, we are reminded again and again that Jesus is not simply “going with the flow”/”rolling with the punches.” He is very aware of and in charge of what is going on. He lays down His life at the proper time and in the proper way. But before He does so, He is going to eat one last time with His disciples.
19 And the disciples did as Jesus had directed them, and they prepared the Passover.
Every pious Jew living in Palestine either ate the Passover inside the confines of Jerusalem or not at all. There must have been many many such arrangements made in that city for Passover meals. The best guess at the number of people in Jerusalem at Passover time is 2.5-3 million people.
20 When it was evening, he reclined at table with the twelve.
Originally, the Passover meal had been eaten standing up, with people symbolically ready to hit the road out of Egypt. By this time, they were eating it in the same posture as other meals.
The picture we should have here is one of a very intimate setting, with close friends, people that He should be able to trust, if any human being is to be trusted. And without warning the warmth of the occasion is broken by His announcement that one of them is a traitor.
21 And as they were eating, he said, “Truly, I say to you, one of you will betray me.”
Jesus has been telling them that He is going to suffer and die at the hands of the Jewish officials. That they had a hard time swallowing. But that was one thing and this is another. Not only is Jesus going to suffer and die, but one of the 12 is going to be involved.
The fact is that everyone in the room both there and here can be justly charged with the crime of betraying Jesus to one degree or another. And the responses of the 11 are those of true hearts. They know that they’re capable of the worst, that except for the grace of God, it could be them that Jesus is talking about.
22 And they were very sorrowful and began to say to him one after another, “Is it I, Lord?”
The “very sorrowful” is strong. They are heartsick. The honesty of these 11 good hearts is revealed in their questions. The ESV says “Is it I Lord?” It is a question that hopes for a negative answer but allows the possibility of a positive one. It’s “I am not the one Lord, am I?” There is humility in it, a recognition of human frailty, hope that I won’t fail the master, but recognition that left to my own devices I surely will. There is, I think, comfort in this sad story in the fact that frail though they were, the 11 didn’t betray Jesus. The 11 didn’t fail Him by accident or out of temporary weakness. The betrayal was something else, deliberate, premeditated and without a real heart for God and His honor. It was ultimately selfish.
This is truly a sad moment, as these men understand their potential for evil and have some inkling as to what it’s going to bring on Jesus, and they don’t deny that it could be them. Notice also for future reference how they address Jesus. They call Him “Lord.” He’s their friend, true. He’s a great teacher, true. But primarily, they here acknowledge Him as Lord. It’s a heart that will admit one’s guilt and potential for evil and that clings to Jesus as Lord that will find grace and forgiveness.
23 He answered, “He who has dipped his hand in the dish with me will betray me.
This description of Judas is a reminder of the intimacy that has been offered to him. To eat with a person of this culture is to declare friendship and effectively promise to do that person no harm. Judas had the same invitation to eternal life that the others had. But he chose otherwise.
What makes the betrayal so hideous is that it’s one who has been a close friend, one who would share such a Passover meal. It’s that kind of intimate associate that is going to hand Jesus over to the authorities. John indicates that Jesus pointed Judas out by handing him bread after dipping it. That may well have not been seen by the whole group. This statement to all is about the sadness in the betrayal of one close to Him.
24 The Son of Man goes as it is written of him, but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been better for that man if he had not been born.”
It is absolutely explicit here that it is simultaneously true that God is sovereign and that man is responsible for his actions. The fact that Judas’s actions will fulfill prophecy and work for God’s purposes does not cancel his guilt. The fact that in accord with the will of the Father, Jesus is going to suffer and die for the sins of the world does not absolve Judas of guilt for what he is doing. He bears responsibility for choosing to betray Jesus to the religious authorities. It is a terrible and awesome thing that Jesus says here “It would have been better for that man if he had not been born.” The only possible interpretation of this is that of eternal torment. Our choices matter for ever. Even at this late moment, he could have repented, trashed his awful plan and thrown himself on the mercy of Jesus. Instead listen to what he says.
25 Judas, who would betray him, answered, “Is it I, Rabbi?” He said to him, “You have said so.”
Judas puts up the pretense of not knowing if it might be him. This is cold-blooded and intentionally deceptive. He apparently still wants to be well thought of by the others. Or perhaps he’s just afraid of what they might do to him if they knew what he’s done and is planning. In any case, he’s still talking a fairly good game. But then, exactly what he says is revealing. The others say “Lord,” he says “Rabbi.” He uses the word that would be used to speak of any ordinary teacher (and that is not used by any of the other 11 in Matthew at all) while the others call Jesus master. Truly, at this point Judas doesn’t belong to Christ. Jesus is not his Lord. At most he is his teacher, and what he says confirms that. The others may not have even heard the difference. But to Judas, Jesus is only a good teacher, not his sovereign. And there are light years between Jesus a wise human being and Jesus the God of the Universe and rightful Lord of our lives.
“You have said so.” The emphasis is that it is coming from Judas’s mouth (and heart) not Christ’s. The KJV renders it “thou hast said.” The answer is clear to Judas, but ambiguous enough to the others that even if they hear, they probably will not understand Jesus’ reply.
Judas has been to see the officials and collected the 30 pieces of silver. Where the others may have general recognition of various ways they’ve fallen short, Judas knows exactly what Jesus is talking about, but he pretends ignorance. Jesus has put His finger on Judas’s sin and Judas plays dumb. Why? Presumably to not look bad before the other guys. If he comes clean here, they would find out about his plans. Judas still has the opportunity to choose life at this point. But instead, confronted with his sin, he chooses to stonewall the matter, and John tells us that he leaves, going out into the dark.
Jesus now says something else that has to be quite startling.
26 Now as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is my body.”
In the course of the Passover meal, the head of the house would certainly take bread, give thanks and break it. But to say “Take and eat; this is my body” is another matter. This is the unleavened bread baked to remind the Jews of their hurried departure from captivity in Egypt. Jesus seems to be saying that there’s a final Passover about to take place, and that henceforth believers will not see in the bread a reminder of the flight from Egypt, but a reminder of His broken body that provides the final sacrifice for sin.
27 And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, “Drink of it, all of you,
Again, Jesus as the head of the group would several times in the Passover meal give thanks for a cup and pass it to those present. That all in due course. But what He says here is again, completely unexpected by the disciples.
The “all of you” is vital in several ways. For one, it is an affirmation of the fact that even those such as the disciples who knew they might justly be charged with betraying Jesus were to partake. The requirement is humility and repentance, not perfection. For another, we are being told that this is not some kind of optional thing, to be taken lightly or to be neglected. We Protestants are much too lax in our determination to observe this ordinance. Luke’s account of these incidents is especially pointed in its insistence that this is not something optional.
Luke 22:19 And he took 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 for another thing, the “all of you” should remind us that the Lord’s supper is a corporate matter. It is to be shared, not only with Christ, but with each other. We’re not independent entities in this, but rather members of a body of Christians. Paul reminds us of this.
1 Corinthians 10:17 Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread.
28 for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.
There is blood associated with the Passover, the blood of the sacrificial lambs, painted with hyssop on the doorposts of the Israelites to mark their dwellings so that the death angel would pass over as he slew all first born males in Egypt. Jesus seems to be saying that now the real and final Passover, the final sacrifice for sin is about to take place, and that henceforth believers will hearken back to His shed blood, not the blood of the lambs shed year after year. The wine is to be a reminder of that shed blood.
It is “My blood of the ‘covenant.'” This is an important word. What’s going on here is, for example, the fulfillment of Jeremiah 31:31-34.
Jeremiah 31:31 “Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah,
32 not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the Lord.
33 But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people.
34 And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the Lord. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.”
The “for many” in verse 28 is a Semiticism for “for everyone.” That is, the “many” is not meant to limit, but rather to include. Christ’s sacrifice is sufficient for all. Its effectiveness is limited by our free will, but there is no limit to its sufficiency.
29 I tell you I will not drink again of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.”
Jesus is not looking back now on the Passover in Egypt, but looking forward, past His sacrificial death and resurrection to intimate times with us His redeemed people in the future Kingdom of God. Whether He is referring primarily to heavenly experiences that await us, or to post-resurrection fellowship with those in the room, or to the fellowship with Him that is now ours in the Lord’s supper is not completely clear. But the promise is one of intimate fellowship with Jesus.
Scripture taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. Copyright 2000; 2001, by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.