If you have your Bibles, I’d invite you turn with me to Matthew, chapter 26, as we continue through the gospel. We said in Matthew 26, the full chapter served as a prelude of the death of the Lord Jesus Christ. In Matthew 26, verse 2, on Tuesday of the last week of the Lord Jesus’ life before His crucifixion, He had told His disciples that in two days He would be betrayed. It is now in Matthew 26:20, it is now Thursday night of that week, the 14th of Nisan, the day of the Passover celebration, and Jesus and His disciples have gathered in the upper room. Immediately prior to this section, in Matthew, chapter 26, verse 20, we have seen two totally contrasting events take place. In verses 6 through 13, we have seen this amazing display of devotion and love and loyalty from Mary to Jesus. It took place in Bethany before they came to the city of Jerusalem. It’s a picture of the kind of devotion of a heart which had been touched and redeemed by the Lord Jesus, showed to Him, pouring out this expensive perfume from this alabaster vial on Him, and anointing him as it were, as both king and sacrifice. And then immediately after that in verses 14 through 19, you have this base picture of one of Jesus’ own disciples, Judas, trading with the Chief Priest and the Scribes and the Pharisees preparing to betray the Lord Jesus Christ. And these two pictures are contrast, are they not? Between the allegiance of Christ to Mary, and the disloyalty to Christ by Judas. But you have to remember that none of the disciples as yet had any suspicion whatsoever about Judas. And so what Matthew has told you in verses 14 and 19 serves as background for you. The disciples themselves haven’t a clue until Jesus speaks to them as He does in this passage in the upper room. So let’s hear God’s holy and inspired word here in Matthew 26, beginning in verse 20.
“Now when the evening had come, He was reclining at the table with the twelve disciples. And as they were eating, He said, ‘Truly, I say to you that one of you will betray Me.’ And being deeply grieved, they each one began to say to Him, ‘Surely, not I Lord.’ And He answered and said, ‘He who dipped his hand with Me in the bowl is the one who will betray me.’ The Son of Man is to go just as it is written of him, but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed. It would have been good for that man if he had never been born. And Judas, who was betraying Him, answered and said, “Surely, it is not I, Rabbi.” He said to him, ‘You have said it yourself.’
Thus ends this reading of God’s holy and inspired Word. May He add His blessing to it.
Let us pray.
Our Lord and our God, this day as we bow before Your word, we ask that by the Holy Spirit, you would show us our sin, show us our need of grace, and by the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ enable us to trust in Him alone for salvation. We ask, oh Lord, that You would pierce our hearts in our own situations, and our own circumstances with the truth of this Word, and that You would make us live as we eat the Word, and as we trust in the Lord Jesus Christ alone. We ask it in His name, Amen.
There are certain events in life that cause us to take stock of ourselves. Sometimes those events are traumatic, and other times those events are just passing incidents, but they have a great impact upon us. Sometimes it’s when a friend calls us and says, “I’ve been diagnosed with cancer, and the doctors say there’s nothing they can do but control the pain. I’ve got weeks or months.” And you know sometimes an occurrence like that causes us to do some soul searching asking ourselves questions what are we doing with our lives? Are we wasting our lives? Are we really caring about the things that are the greatest priorities? Have I shown that friend the kind of care and love and support that I ought to respond to the man kindnesses that he has done for me? Things like that oftentimes force us to take stock of our own heart.
Sometimes those experiences can happen in what are seemingly passing incidents. It was somewhere around 1970, my dad had been trying to quit smoking for a number of years; just utterly unsuccessfully. My little brother, John, just looked up at him one day, he was about five years old. He said, “Dad, I don’t want you to die.” And just that thought lodged in dad’s head and heart by a little five-year old. That thought lodged in dad’s head and heart by a little five-year old, who had not a clue what he was saying, was instrumental in him being, for him, a fundamental shift in the way he was living. That may be a trite illustration, but you know what I’m talking about.
Sometimes there are events that cause us to take stock, and ask questions about ourselves. The event that is recorded in this passage is such a life-changing, stock-taking kind of event. It forced the disciples themselves to ask some questions about their hearts and about their lives, which they had apparently not asked before. And I’d like to look at this passage with you today. This is one of those events for the disciples, and it was implanted in their hearts. Two sections in the passage before us, in verses 20 through 22, you see Jesus announcement of this horrendous news to the disciples, and you see their response to Him. And then in verses 23 through 25 He reiterates what He’s just told them, and we see Judas’ response to it. Look at these two sections together.
I. Jesus announces His departure.
In verses 20 through 22, Jesus announces the unthinkable. He announces that one of His own disciples, not one of the five hundred, not one of the seventy, but one of the twelve would betray Him. And the disciples respond to this with astonished unbelief and with self-distrust. I mean they begin to question their own hearts in response to what the Lord has said. And we learn in this passage that Jesus knew fully that He was going to be betrayed. And He knew that He was going to be betrayed by one of His own disciples, and He knew which disciple that was going to betray Him. And yet, He willingly embraced that betrayer. He willingly underwent the betrayal, because of His love for His people. That is vital for you to understand. He knows that He is going to be betrayed. He knows He is going to be betrayed by one of His own disciples. He knows who that disciple is, He has the capacity to prevent what this disciple was about to do. And He willingly embraces that for you because of His love for you. Look at the passage with me. Jesus and His disciples are in the upper room, and He has already washed their feet. John in John 13, verses 1 through 20 tells that before they sat down to take the Passover meal together the Lord Himself had clothed Himself in the manner of an oriental slave and washed their feet. And now they are eating the Passover. And the disciples probably have some sense of the significance of the momentous of this occasion. It’s, of course, a Passover celebration. That in and of itself is significant. They would have been talking around the table about God’s deliverance from Egypt of the people of Israel, and His bringing them out across the Red Sea into the land of Canaan. They would have been rehearsing all the blessings from the past, and perhaps already by that time, Jesus was talking to them about the greater deliverance. We know at least after this moment, John tells us that He spent a lot of time talking with the disciples about what He was going to do for them, and the significance of His exodus, the significance that He was accomplishing. He’s already shown them a powerful illustration of His love by washing their feet, and now while the Passover Lamb is in their mouths, He makes to them a startling announcement. It is an announcement which goes beyond anything He has said to them before. He tells them that one of them is going to be His betrayer.
Now, you already know how this story turns out. And you were expecting Jesus to renounce Judas as His betrayer, because you’ve already heard the end of this story. You’ve heard the end of this story since the time you were children. And there is absolutely nothing surprising to you about what Jesus has just said. But, my friends, it is very clear that this is surprising and grieving to the disciples. We’re told right there in verse 22 that they were deeply grieved by what the Lord Jesus said. This hits them like a bolt out of the blue. And you remember what they do now? Jesus, as far back as Matthew, chapter 12, verse 40, has begun to prepare them for His death. He has told them, for instance in Matthew 16:21, that He was going to suffer and die at the hands of the Jewish leaders. That was hard enough for them to take in. It was so hard for them to take in, that Peter said, “God forbid. I’ll never allow this.” And the Lord Jesus has had to rebuke Peter.
And then in Matthew 17, verses 22 and 23, he reiterated that He would be betrayed, and He would be killed. And then in Matthew 20, verses 18 through 19, more specifically than ever before He said that He would be betrayed, He would be condemned, He would be scourged, and He would be crucified. And so for the first time in Matthew, chapter 20, He’s told them He’s going to be crucified. And we’ve talked before about how horrifying that thought would have been to the disciples. They finally understood that this Man is Jesus the Messiah, and now He’s telling them that He’s not only going to die, but He’s going to be crucified. The most horrendous, the most ignoble, the most shameful death that could possibly have been imagined, He is saying to them that this was going to be His.
And then in Matthew 26, verse 2, the passage we just looked at a few weeks ago, He tells them explicitly that in two days He is going to experience that betrayal. But now, for the first time, Jesus says, “My dear friends, My friends who have been with Me through thick and thin in the last few years, My friends whom I have poured My life into yours, not only to prepare you for gospel ministry, but to prepare you for eternal fellowship with My heavenly Father whom I have taught you to address as Abba Father, My friends, one of you is going to be the one who betrays Me. And that thought absolutely overwhelms the disciples. Matthew doesn’t tell us what they are thinking, but you can imagine they are deeply grieved. They are sitting there saying, “Surely not, surely not. We’ve been with Him. When everyone was against Him, we’ve were for Him.” When the Pharisees and the villages and the Chief Priests and the Elders in Jerusalem were all against Him, we stayed by Him, we stuck by Him. We walked with Him, we’ve protected Him from crowds that wanted to kill Him. Surely not one of us.
But of course Matthew is more explicit than that. Eleven of those disciples began to ask the Lord Jesus, one by one, surely it’s not me, Lord. Surely I’m not going to be the one who betrays You. When the disciples respond with a wholesome self-distrust, they question their own hearts. I want you to understand that what is happening here is playing out in time at the Passover celebration as Jesus tells the disciples that He is going to be betrayed, not only was prophesied of in Psalm 41 verse 9, was not only told through the mouth of the Psalmist who said, “My own familiar friend with whom I broke bread, he lifted up his heel against Me.”
This was not only prophesied of hundreds of years before, but before time, in the councils of eternity, in the covenant of redemption, where God the Father, if I can speak reverently of this, God the Father came to the Lord Jesus Christ, His beloved Son, the Son of His love, and He said, “My Son, if We are to redeem this fallen and rebellious humanity, You must die the death of the cross, and furthermore, You must be betrayed by Your own friend. As I have been betrayed by Adam, so also You must be betrayed by Your own friend.” And the Lord Jesus says to the Father, “I willingly embrace that because of My love for My people.”
It’s just possible today that there’s someone here who has been betrayed by a professing Christian. I don’t just mean disappointed, I mean betrayed, and it has broken your heart. And you don’t know quite what to do, and you don’t know where to turn. And I want to tell you my friends, your Savior knows what that is like. But you say, “He knew this was coming.” Do you think that made it easier? I rather think it made it harder, infinitely harder. Have you ever had to deal with that announcement? A family member or a friend, or a friend of the heart is facing some incurable disease, and they have been given months to live. Does that help you to face the day that you would no longer have them to walk with in this life? Did it make it easier for you to know that the date had been set and appointed that they would be departing from you? No. The Lord Jesus, throughout His conscious experience, all His life walked through life knowing that He would be betrayed. And He will not simply be betrayed by the chief priests who hate Him. He will be betrayed by one of His own disciples.
There’s a lesson in this for us my friends. We shouldn’t be surprised by our own betrayals. And we certainly shouldn’t be cynical about them. Hendricksen says, “In the person of Judas, the Lord wished His people in all ages to be warned not to be shattered or made lifeless by traitors in the household, for what He who is the common head of the Church experienced must also happen to His members.” When you experience that kind of betrayal, you not only turn to a Savior who can sympathize with you, you turn to a Savior who understands your experience better than you understand it; and who has experienced the betrayal that you will never understand.
But I also want you to notice here the humble, and the repentance and self-examining response of Jesus’ disciples to this announcement. Do you notice that the disciples are not indignant at what Jesus has just said. Their response is not, “How dare you say this about me! I’ve walked with you through thick and thin. I’ve stuck by Your side when everybody fled. How could You say that about one of us, that we were going to be Your betrayer?” Every single disciple, except one, responds by saying, “Lord, I’m a sinner. I know my heart. Surely, surely though, surely it’s not going to be me. Tell me, tell me, Lord, tell me that it’s not going to be me who betrays You in the end.”
That self-distrust, that humility in Jesus’ warning is a sign of grace, my friends. You know, sometimes we feel burdened to confront someone we love, someone who is a Christian friend, about a sin. And our greatest fear in those circumstances is they won’t receive our rebuke as the wounds of a friend, but they will draw up, they will be defensive, and they will hate us for it. They will reject our well-meaning proof and rebuke. And instead of receiving it, as something that we have intended to help build them up, they will see it as an attack upon themselves, and they’ll steel themselves against that friendly rebuke, and they will reject us.
You know, we see this very often. My friends, sometimes it’s a mark of a graceless heart, for when we stand up against God for rebuke and we say, “I will not accept – how dare you call me a sinner. How dare you call me a person in need of grace. How dare you call me someone who needs to repent.”
When that’s our response to the overtures of God’s word, that’s a sign that we have never experienced grace. Because those who experience grace, know that they need grace. And they never take offense at someone reminding them that they do need grace, and that they do need to repent precisely because they have experienced grace. And I think it is a great mark of these disciples that when Jesus says, “Look, one of you is going to betray Me.” Their response is to immediately examine their own hearts, because they know in the blackness of their hearts, that it is possible that they could do it. So instead of rebuking the Lord Jesus, they just say, “Lord, surely, surely, after all this, not me, not me.”
My friends, this word of the Lord Jesus also gives us confidence in God’s providence even in dark providences. Calvin says, “We should see the aim of Christ’s words that the disciples should know that whatever happens is guided by God’s providence, and they should not reckon that chance played any part in His life or in His death.” In just a few hours the betrayal about which Jesus had spoken on Tuesday, and of which He is now speaking at the Last Supper in the Passover meal in the upper room, that betrayal is going to be accomplished, and when it is accomplished not one of His disciples can say, “Well, you know, that really took the Lord by surprise. He just didn’t see that coming.”
In fact, what’s going to come to their mind is why did He let that happen? He could have stopped this from happening. The Lord Jesus wants them to know this. The Lord Jesus wants them to know this because it’s so vital for them to understand that He has willingly embraced His suffering.
II. The betrayer announced.
But that’s not all as we look at verses 23 through 25. After the disciples respond to Jesus, He responds again, and He reiterates His announcement. In fact, He makes it a little more painful this time, identifying the betrayer, pronouncing the doom of the betrayer, and even in light of that, we will see Judas respond as a hypocrite. In verses 23 through 25, we not only see that Jesus knew that He was going to be betrayed by one of His disciples for the sake of His people; but in these verses, Jesus with brutal clarity confirms God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility in His death. Jesus’ response in verse 23 to the disciples does several things.
First, in verse 23, we see that it serves as a warning for Judas. Jesus, by reiterating this warning, is calling Judas to repentance. Notice His words. “He who dipped his hand with Me in the bowl is the one who will betray Me. Have you noticed that Jesus responds in such a way so as not to draw attention to Judas. We know from John that none of the disciples caught on at the Lord’s Supper. John, in fact, leans over to Jesus, and he says, “Lord, tell me who it is.” The disciples didn’t catch on. The Lord Jesus has identified Judas to himself, but not to the other disciples, and He has left open the gate of repentance. But Judas will not respond to this kind offer of the Lord.
Secondly, Jesus warns them in verse 23 in order to focus their attention of the treachery of His betrayal. Think of it. Jesus is not only being betrayed by a disciple. He is being betrayed by someone who has just jointly dipped the bread with Him in the Passover meal. Think of it. This man Judas has just dipped his bread with the Messiah in the Passover meal, and he’s going to go out and betray Him in just a few moments. He’s already planned the betrayal, and he has dipped his bread with the Messiah. It would be like sitting next to a professing believer at the Lord’s Supper here at First Presbyterian Church, and you take the supper together, and you go out to the parking lot, and a person pulls a gun out and shoots you dead. It was worse. This person has dipped bread with the Messiah already with a plan to betray Him.
Jesus’ warning in verse 23 also shows God’s control of the situation, and His own clear knowledge and embrace of it. His death occurs not nearly because of the betrayer; it happens because of God’s plan, because of God’s decree, and because He has willingly embraced it. And finally, He tells them this in verse 23 in order to move the disciples to self-examination. He leaves them in suspense. He leaves them in anxiety that they might take stock of this crime and take stock of their own hearts.
It’s interesting, isn’t it, that Jesus with this word in verse 23 calls the disciples to examine their hearts because in verse 26, they are going to begin taking the Lord’s Supper together. Isn’t that interesting? In I Corinthians 11, the apostle will tell us, before we come to the Lord’s Supper, we are to examine ourselves to see if we have discerned the body. And the Lord Jesus right here is calling on His disciples to examine their hearts. They are going to be taking the Lord’s Supper in a few moments. And so the Lord Jesus in verse 24 sets forth very clearly God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility. By prophesy He is going to die. He is going to be betrayed by His friend, by God’s predestining decree. He is going to be betrayed by His friend, but woe to that man. It would have been better if he had never been born.
Do you see Jesus here beautifully set forth God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility. It has been prophesied in the Scriptures that He would die by the hand of His own disciple. It has been predestined according to the decree of God that He would die, betrayed by His own disciple and at the same time that disciple is responsible for his action. The Lord Jesus puts that out there with brutal clarity, with no apology and no explanation.
I want to say that that is the clearest presentation of God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility found in the gospel of Matthew.
It’s even clearer than the end of Matthew, chapter 11. You can’t come to that passage and say, “Well, God is either sovereign or man is responsible but not both.” Jesus says both things are true. God decreed this. Judas is responsible for it. You may come back to me and you may say, “Well, how can that be?” The first answer that I give you is it doesn’t matter how it is, it is. That’s the first truth you have to learn. That’s what the Scripture says. It doesn’t matter how it can be. It is. That is the way it is. The Lord Jesus has made it clear.
But I want you to see something even more shocking than that. After Jesus has made it clear that one of the disciples will betray Him, after He has made it clear to Judas that Judas will betray Him, and after Jesus has warned Judas of the doom which awaits Him, if he betrays Him, then Judas says, “Surely it is not I, Teacher.” I don’t know whether there is any significance in the fact that the other disciples said, surely, it is not I, Lord. And Judas said, “Surely it is not I, teacher.” I don’t know whether there is any significance in that or not. But I do know this. Judas has certainly denied and betrayed Jesus’ Lordship over him. He was not a good steward.
And I want you to remember, my friend, that no man in the history of the world had ever had the gospel more continuously, or more clearly presented to him than Judas, and he rejected it. If that does not remind you that God must be do a sovereign work of the Holy Spirit in our hearts before we can respond to the gospel, then nothing will ever convince you of that. Judas had seen the Christ, and he had seen the gospel, and he had seen the works in the person of our Lord, and he turned his back on His Lord, and he went on with his betrayal and his evil doing.
Oh, my friends, this is why we need a sovereign work of the Holy Spirit. If we’re going to be saved, we will not be able to save ourselves, because we are dead in our sins. And we are blind in our grace, and we are blind to our need, and we are blind to the provisions of our need in Christ. We need an awakening work of the Holy Spirit if we’re going to embrace Him by faith. And you know you can take absolutely no credit and no pride in that. The thing that distinguishes the Lord Jesus Christ from those who have and those who have not, is not their faith; their faith itself is a product, it is a result of the grace of God at work in their heart.
And so we can never say, “Well, what makes me different is my faith. My faith doesn’t even belong to me, it’s given to me as a gift.” I can take absolutely no credit for my belief for my salvation. It is a gift of God. And that keeps us humble and that’s exactly where the Lord wants us to be – to be humble before Him realizing that we’ve been given a gift that we don’t deserve. And we’ve received that gift by a gift which is the product of the work of the Holy Spirit in us. God is totally sovereign in our salvation.
But you know this passage also reminds us of how those who do not love the Jesus Christ and do not have grace in their hearts, receive rebukes and those rebukes fall on deaf ears. You know in the Old Testament, so often the prophets would go to the kings and the people of Israel with a warning, a rebuke of repentance. And what was the response? “Is that you, O troubler of Israel. Why are you saying these mean things about me?”
And Judas responds in the same way to the Lord Jesus. He attempts to bluff Him after all that Judas has told Him, Jesus’ heart has not moved by Jesus’ truth or His other truths. And so He goes out into the night with a heart as black as night to betray the Lord Jesus Christ.
And my friends when we see this today, we need to be reminded that the dead in sin are blind to their sin, and so they are blind to the spiritual warnings they are given, and they are blind to the remedies which they need. And we must pray, God in His grace will open our eyes so that we might receive the rebuke and also receive the remedy. Let us pray.
Our Lord and our God, we bless you for the solemnity of this passage and for it’s warning, and we ask that by Your grace we would see our need for grace, and we would see the only One who can offer us grace. Even the Lord Jesus Christ, We as this in His name. Amen.