Turning the Tables

And they began to accuse Him, saying, “We found this man misleading our nation and forbidding to pay taxes to Caesar, and saying that He Himself is Christ, a King.” Luke 23:2 [Luke 23:1-7]

Just days before, Jesus had turned over the tables of merchandisers in the temple (Luke 19:45-48). He then set out to teach them truth in that temple daily. With every question the scoffers asked the teacher, he was able to turn the tables on them, exposing the fallacies of their ways and their hypocrisy.

Frustrated, the leaders attempted to ring him up on false charges before Pilate. He mislead our whole nation! He forbids us to pay our taxes to Caesar! He says he is our King! These claims were obviously designed to pose a threat to the procurator’s control over his jurisdiction.

So Pilate cut to the chase. He asked Jesus if he was the King of the Jews, and he in so many words said, “I am.”

Unexpectedly, Pilate pronounced he found “no guilt in this man.” Doggedly, the leaders persisted, but made a tactical error in mentioning Galilee. Then Pilate kicked the can down the road to Herod, who happened to be in town.

The tables had been turned yet again. It is important to note the leaders did not enter the Praetorium (Pilate’s quarters) for fear of defiling themselves and missing out on the Passover meal (John 18:28), yet they wanted their Savior dead!

Trying to find a practical application for this account, I thought of times my hardheadedness led me on righteous pursuits, only to be surprised that to whom I appealed saw no problem with the issue. There’s always the chance that the tables will be turned on you. It normally happens when you’re blindly driven by wrong motives or objectives to the point that you position yourselves squarely in thin air. What I’ve learned is the necessity of applying much time, prayer, and intense reflection on God’s word to whatever wrong I think needs to be righted, so that I might see the forest, not just the trees. This personal lesson seems obscure in this passage, but that’s just how the Lord speaks to us in his word, from the actions of people we might scoff at and condemn. Do I not also possess the same characteristics? Let him without sin cast the first stone.

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Answering the Question

66 When it was day, the Council of elders of the people assembled, both chief priests and scribes, and they led Him away to their council chamber, saying, 67 “If You are the Christ, tell us.” But He said to them, “If I tell you, you will not believe; 68 and if I ask a question, you will not answer. 69 “But from now on the Son of Man will be seated at the right hand of the power of God.” 70 And they all said, “Are You the Son of God, then?” And He said to them, “Yes, I am.” 71 Then they said, “What further need do we have of testimony? For we have heard it ourselves from His own mouth.” Luke 22:66-71

Jesus had been led from the house of Annas to Caiaphas and the Sanhedrin, to their chambers. Much has been written about the illegalities of the legal process applied to Jesus, and it’s worth noting that if it could happen to him, it could happen to us.

In many a courtroom drama you’ll hear the interrogator demand, “Answer the question!”

Similarly here, the Lord is put upon by members of the Sanhedrin to tell them if he was the Messiah. At first, he predicted that if he did, they wouldn’t believe him. He was correct. But Luke records he answered their follow-up question directly, “Yes, I am.”

“No further questions, your honor.” They heard all they needed to hear. But what they let go in one ear and out the other was this statement, “But from now on the Son of Man will be seated at the right hand of the power of God.” This is a reference to Psalm 110:1, that doesn’t seem to include “Son of Man.”

I delved into the Lord’s frequent use of the term, “Son of Man,” for curiosity’s sake, which first turns up in reference to Jesus in Daniel 7:13. I found this interesting explanation in a trusted commentary.

This title especially suited Jesus’ total mission. It was free of political connotations, thus preventing false expectations. Yet it was sufficiently ambiguous (like a parable) to preserve the balance between concealment and disclosure in Jesus’ life and mission. It combined the elements of suffering and glory in a way no other designation could. It served to define His unique role as Messiah.

Just as he taught disbelieving audiences in parables, even now he resorted to a thinly veiled linguistic disguise. He was convinced that even with his definitive answer, they couldn’t handle the truth, and they proved him right.

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Comeback of the Centuries

54 Having arrested Him, they led Him away and brought Him to the house of the high priest; but Peter was following at a distance. 55 After they had kindled a fire in the middle of the courtyard and had sat down together, Peter was sitting among them. Luke 22:54–55

This is a familiar story. Peter’s denials of Jesus in the courtyard. It’s normally preached and taught as a subplot to the Lord’s trials before the Sanhedrin, Herod, and Pilate, which it is. Meanwhile back in the courtyard.

It all depends on your particular temperament how you react to Peter’s responses to the three indictments. He’s either a coward or courageous. Either when given the chance to testify as to his loyalties to Jesus he buckled under pressure, or he “denied” Christ while covertly putting himself in the courtyard of the man he just tried to kill, to somehow come to Jesus’ aid, or to backup John who was allowed into the court. {John 18:15)

The fact that Jesus stared him down when the cock crowed the third time (Acts 22:61) and Peter went out and “wept bitterly,”(Acts 22:62) and had to be restored by the risen Lord later (Luke 24:34), pretty clearly indicates he had acted cowardly and shamefully. Before we cluck our tongues at him as Chuck Swindoll is fond of saying, perhaps we’re all guilty of this?

But there’s hope. The same man who said he didn’t know the man three times, for heaven’s sake, in the presence of thousands on the day of Pentecost, took his stand and declared to them:

22 “Men of Israel, listen to these words: Jesus the Nazarene, a man attested to you by God with miracles and wonders and signs which God performed through Him in your midst, just as you yourselves know, 23 this Man, delivered over by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you nailed to a cross by the hands of godless men and put Him to death. 24 But God raised Him up again, putting an end to the agony of death, since it was impossible for Him to be held in its power.” Acts 2:22-24

Comeback of the centuries.

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It All Begins

47 While He was still speaking, behold, a crowd came, and the one called Judas, one of the twelve, was preceding them; and he approached Jesus to kiss Him. 48 But Jesus said to him, “Judas, are you betraying the Son of Man with a kiss?”Luke 22:47–48

This intense scene, coming right on the heels of Jesus’ final words to his men in the garden, is described in all four gospels (Matthew 26:47-56, Mark 14:43-50, Luke 22:47-53, John 18:3-11). The accounts therefore must be composited to fully understand what went down that night.

The arrival of the “crowd” with “swords and clubs” was certainly not by stealth. There were too many men coming (perhaps hundreds) and the light from the lanterns and torches danced against the charcoal backdrop as blinking warning lights. Since the disciples could see Jesus a stone’s throw away, there’s a good chance that the moon also illumined the garden.

The arresting officers were the temple guards backed by a Roman cohort for good measure. They were there to accompany the chief priests and elders, along with Malchus, the slave of the high priest, and of course Judas, who led out.

Judas was to identify Jesus with a kiss. This kiss symbolically sealed his fate. But unexpectedly, Jesus made the first move, calling out, “Whom do you seek?” They replied “Jesus the Nazarene,” and he announced, “I am He.” Now the the words “I am” carried the force of a thousand bricks, for they were a pronouncement of his diety. The response was not laughter but the involuntary collapse backward of the arresting party to the ground (John 18:6). As one commentator put it, if Jesus could send them to the ground, he could have just as easily sent them to their graves.

In all the unfolding drama and confusion, it might be easy to lose track of the tragic figure of Judas, delusional in his thinking that what he was doing was in some way beneficial, filled to the brim with Satan’s false bravado, he was stripped naked with these words, “Judas, are you betraying the Son of Man with a kiss?” There he stood all alone, with the deafening howls of the hounds of hell in his ears. What he had done could not be undone.

The disciples immediately called out to Jesus, perhaps as the mass of men returned to their feet, “Lord, shall we strike with the sword?” (Luke 22:49) This was indeed comical with them possessing only two daggers, compared to the weapons and armor of the Romans. Before Jesus could convince them otherwise, Peter lunged forward, perhaps wildly missing the flinching chief priest, striking the right ear of his slave. Immediately, all eyes focused on the gushing blood, as Peter looked on in horror. Seeing it all Jesus shouted, “Stop! No more of this! The cup which the Father has given Me, shall I not drink it?” (Luke 22:51, John 18:11), He then reached up, pressed his hand over Malchus’ ear, and healed it on the spot. I can’t help to think that when all was said and done over the course of the next few days, this man began to serve a new Master. Then knowing that his men were now willing accomplices, especially Peter, Jesus had the presence of mind to compel whoever was in charge to let them go free, that he’d lose “not one.” (John 18:9)

So, it all began. Jesus, Son of Man, Son of God, gave himself into the custody of the men he created, those he could have struck dead that night with a word, on behalf of all of us, saying, “This hour and the power of darkness are yours.” (Luke 22:53) “All this has taken place to fulfill the Scriptures of the prophets.” (Matthew 26:56)

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Successful People

39 And He came out and proceeded as was His custom to the Mount of Olives; and the disciples also followed Him. 40 When He arrived at the place, He said to them, “Pray that you may not enter into temptation.” 41 And He withdrew from them about a stone’s throw, and He knelt down and began to pray, 42 saying, “Father, if You are willing, remove this cup from Me; yet not My will, but Yours be done.” Luke 22:39–42

I’ve observed that successful people have installed routines in their lives to assure continued success. Perhaps it’s regular exercise, book reading, or even eating breakfast at the same place (“the place”) every day where everyone knows their name. For Jesus, his main discipline was prayer, and his place was in the garden. So predictable was he that Judas knew exactly “the place” where he could be found.

Successful people also involve their disciples so they may catch that which might not be easily taught. On this occasion the lesson was to “pray that you might not fall into temptation,” or into a “trial.” They could not do so asleep, or witness their Master’s agony only a stone’s throw away.

44 And being in agony He was praying very fervently; and His sweat became like drops of blood, falling down upon the ground. 45 When He rose from prayer, He came to the disciples and found them sleeping from sorrow, 46 and said to them, “Why are you sleeping? Get up and pray that you may not enter into temptation.” Luke 22:44–46

Successful people may think that it’s important to never let them see you sweat, but here there was much to learn and gain from how fervently Jesus prayed to God in a time of severe trial. The salvation of all people rode on his willingness to obey his Heavenly Father’s will. Here is the proper formula for all prayer to God, “Not my will, but yours be done.”

But it’s important to note that Jesus did float the possibility of his father “removing the cup” from him, perhaps with some unforeseen alternate plan. He knew full well though what the answer would be. There are foreboding things in life that we know we’ll have to endure, but it doesn’t hurt to ask in acknowledgment of God’s sovereignty.

Well, the disciples did fall asleep from grief and exhaustion that night. In their shoes, I would suspect their heads were spinning. Talk of betrayal, arguments around the dinner table, lectures on servanthood, talks of sword wielding, now a dangerous midnight stroll through the garden. They were about to witness why it’s so important to pray that they might avoid temptation.

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Packing Light

35 And He said to them, “When I sent you out without money belt and bag and sandals, you did not lack anything, did you?” They said, “No, nothing.” 36 And He said to them, “But now, whoever has a money belt is to take it along, likewise also a bag, and whoever has no sword is to sell his coat and buy one. 37 For I tell you that this which is written must be fulfilled in Me, ‘And He was numbered with transgressors’; for that which refers to Me has its fulfillment.” 38 They said, “Lord, look, here are two swords.” And He said to them, “It is enough.” Luke 22:35-38

This passage is difficult to interpret according to numerous commentators. Since it is so, I don’t want to get too far afield either. There’s probably a simple message here reading the plain text, and that’s what I’ve set out to receive. We know that Jesus sent out the disciples previously with nothing and they “lacked nothing” (Luke 9:3). Their interactions were divinely arranged and they were armed with instructions in the event they encountered rejection. Jesus was on the ground at the time and there seemed to be no threat of physical danger due to violence.

Here Jesus contrasts those early gospel missions with those to come when he’s absent. Then “the Way” as it was to be called would be met with derision. Its “members” would go underground with shibboleths and signs for entry into hiding places and would need to live on the run. Jesus describes here three essentials in addition to the cloak on their backs to survive; money kept in a belt, a traveling bag, and a dagger. These items to me are nothing unusual and perfectly understandable. The dagger was not the sword of a soldier, but a useful tool also capable of providing self defense in dire situations. He says having one would be a worthy investment.

It should not be lost on us that if Jesus was counted among the transgressors (verse 37), they too would be treated like criminals. As Luke records in his second work, Acts of the Apostles, they were hunted down by the likes of Paul preceding his dramatic conversion (Acts 22:5).

As usual, the disciples, as we typically are, were on a different plane than Jesus, announcing they had identified two “swords” amongst them. Here’s where there is the most disagreement, in the Lord’s response “It is enough.” It is safe to say in this instance, knowing that Jesus would call out Peter hours later for striking the servant with a sword during his arrest, and Paul would warn Christians to obey those who carry the real swords (Romans 13:4), that they would not fight their way out of anything. “It is enough” can be taken in our vernacular as “enough of this.”

In this age, we’re immediately on Amazon trying to find the very best leather bag to take and identifying the credit card to use on the road, and perhaps contemplating the need for personal protection. Enough of this!

Gospel readiness is instructed by the Word, illumined by the Spirit, instilled by faith, and instituted by prayer. It’s an “in season, out of season,” kind of thing. (2 Timothy 4:2) And if we need armor—and we most certainly do—it’s described in detail in Ephesians 6:10-18.

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Brotherly Love

24 And there arose also a dispute among them as to which one of them was regarded to be greatest. 25 And He said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who have authority over them are called ‘Benefactors.’ 26 But it is not this way with you, but the one who is the greatest among you must become like the youngest, and the leader like the servant. 27 For who is greater, the one who reclines at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one who reclines at the table? But I am among you as the one who serves. 28 You are those who have stood by Me in My trials; 29 and just as My Father has granted Me a kingdom, I grant you 30that you may eat and drink at My table in My kingdom, and you will sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel. Luke 22:24-30

Out of a discussion of who might be the traitor among the disciples arose a dispute as to who was the greatest. You find this kind of contention amongst brothers all the time. It goes from needling to being at each other’s throats. The word chosen to describe this interaction is phileoneikia, used once and only here in the New Testament, meaning the love of strife. There are other sharper words that could have been used, so when I see “phileo” in a word, having a younger brother, and me having three sons in a row, and him having three sons in a row, and my son having three sons in a row, and his son having three sons in a row, I couldn’t help but recall all the “normal” contentiousness among brothers as they grow up.

Since the disciples reclined around Jesus, no doubt in a pecking order, the stage was set for interaction with such a provocative prospect of betraying their master on the table. Jesus uses the occasion to teach humility and service. He never let the honest expression of human nature go to waste. Since our “word” suggests kind of a brotherly squabble, Jesus teaches that in his realm one must be like the youngest in the family, and the one who by rank must serve rather than be served. Yet Jesus was the greatest servant of all, who most likely washed their feet that night (John 13:5). It’s almost as if he is dispatching the childish disputes among them for good at this moment. He says, look, where you’re going as my representatives you’ll be stepping into my shoes, and ultimately you’ll end up serving as judges in my kingdom. They would all be growing up quickly in the tragic days to come.

11When I was a child, I used to speak like a child, think like a child, reason like a child; when I became a man, I did away with childish things. 1 Corinthians 13:11

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Prone to Wander

“But behold, the hand of the one betraying Me is with Mine on the table. For indeed, the Son of Man is going as it has been determined; but woe to that man by whom He is betrayed!” And they began to discuss among themselves which one of them it might be who was going to do this thing. Luke 23:21-23

I think it’s healthy to consider myself capable of doing any kind of evil, that I might not become overconfident and smug. It’s a good sign to wonder if the “traitor in our midst” just might be me and I missed something I did or said. Here’s the principle that should always be policing our minds,

Search me, O God, and know my heart; try me and know my anxious thoughts; and see if there be any hurtful way in me, and lead me in the everlasting way. Psalm 139:23-24

Peter was certainly not thinking along those lines (Luke 23:33) and found such a possibility—that he might be disloyal to Jesus—preposterous. What happened to him, not so much what Judas did, is a clear and present danger for all of us. His story—that he denied Jesus three times—is there to remind us of our fragility without the help of the Holy Spirit. How desperately wicked we are and prone to wander!

Prone to wander, Lord I feel it
Prone to leave the God I love
Here’s my heart, oh take and seal it
Seal it for Thy courts above.

Robert Robinson

We must always conclude and be thankful that “there but for the grace of God go I,” for “the heart is more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick; who can understand it? I, the Lord, search the heart, I test the mind, even to give to each man according to his ways, according to the results of his deeds.” Jeremiah 17:9-10

The Lord was capable of saying, “Get behind me, Satan!” (Matthew 16:23), but in our own strength we can’t. In the case of Judas and Peter, Satan was personally at work, to contort the former’s thinking, and to drain the latter of his main asset, his courage. But in Peter’s case, the Lord foresaw his plight and had prayed for him, that he would be restored. Matthew 22:32

Our prayer is for the Lord to keep us from stumbling (Jude 24) and to keep us from the evil one (2 Thessalonians 3:3).

Thank God, like he did for his disciple Peter, Jesus has also prayed for us.

I do not ask You to take them out of the world, but to keep them from the evil one. John 17:15

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Something to Look Forward To

14 When the hour had come, He reclined at the table, and the apostles with Him. 15 And He said to them, “I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer; 16 for I say to you, I shall never again eat it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.” Luke 22:14–16

We all have events in our lives we look forward to, or dread. As kids, Christmas, as young adults, marriage, any of us, surgery, or the day of parting, when we will leave loved ones to go to college, live in another city, or go off to war. When the day and hour finally comes, we tend to want to make a speech, such as, “I’ve been looking forward to this day all my life,” or “I’ve been dreading this day would come.” A little (or a lot) of these two human emotions were engaged when Jesus finally arrived in the Upper Room to share his final Passover meal with his men. If the disciples had understood the gravity and extent of what was about to occur, they would have lost their appetite.

Those of us who have been in the faith for years, or grown up in church, or who have come out of the Catholic faith, have multiple times partaken (this is an archaic word almost always used on the occasion of the Lord’s Supper) of the ordinance of communion. From tiny wafers to fragments of crackers to bread extracted by the minister from a loaf of bread, all have been utilized to represent Jesus’ body. Same goes for reasonable or unreasonable facsimiles of the wine as substitute for his blood, from grape juice to California’s finest, delivered in tiny plastic cups to gold chalices.

Being easily distracted, it’s difficult for me to transcend my setting into a mindset worthy to partake. I imagine, however, in that Upper Room, the apprehension—sense of dread—was palpable. It’s in times like these the most spiritual must preside, and who more qualified then the Passover Lamb himself. An unblemished lamb was closen for the meal. If it knew the fate awaiting him he’d be petrified. In this case, Jesus knew what was about to happen, but looked forward again to enjoying the same meal and drinking of the seder’s “fourth cup” (still pending we’re taught) with the same men, less Judas Iscariot who betrayed him, in his Kingdom.

When we take communion we look back to his sacrifice, but perhaps we should fold in a measure of forward thinking as Jesus did, to the day of reunion.

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Walking by Faith

7 Then came the first day of Unleavened Bread on which the Passover lamb had to be sacrificed.8 And Jesus sent Peter and John, saying, “Go and prepare the Passover for us, so that we may eat it.”9 They said to Him, “Where do You want us to prepare it?”10 And He said to them, “When you have entered the city, a man will meet you carrying a pitcher of water; follow him into the house that he enters.11 “And you shall say to the owner of the house, ‘The Teacher says to you, “Where is the guest room in which I may eat the Passover with My disciples?” ’12 “And he will show you a large, furnished upper room; prepare it there.”13 And they left and found everything just as He had told them; and they prepared the Passover. Luke 22:7–13

In a few instances, Jesus laid out specific instructions to his disciples to assure that his will was done, just as he wanted it done (e.g., Luke 19:31-32). We want to do his will, even in the little things, but we often have to shoot in the dark. We’d love to have explicit instructions, but we’re required to walk by faith.

What’s better, to be sent forth with step-by-step instructions, or to embark clueless? In the first case, you simply confirm the “prophet status” of the sender, as we have here. Like your dog who quickly picks up on patterns, the very next time you’re back wanting concrete instructions. In the common vernacular, to be “spoon fed.” In the second case, you just go, expecting God to reveal the way, yet again. This is walking by faith, which grows every time your foot hits the pavement trusting him to lead the way. Like Fido, you’ll get use to the pattern of the Lord leading and the Lord providing.

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