The Wednesday of Passover week would seem to have been spent by our Lord in deep seclusion at Bethany preparing Himself for the awfulness of the coming struggle, and is hidden by a veil of holy silence. That night He slept at Bethany for the last time on earth. On the Thursday morning He awakes never to sleep again.
We are now approaching the final hours before “Christ our passover is sacrificed for us”, 1 Cor. 5. 7. Note how Mark describes the time: “the first day of unleavened bread, when they killed the passover”. What hallowed memories that should bring to the heart of all true Israelites. Their history as a nation had really started with redemption; as sheltered by the sprinkled blood of a passover lamb they were delivered from the judgment which fell on Egypt. Meanwhile all leaven had been put away from contact with them, speaking of evil with its permeating, corrupting influence. A redeemed people was to be a sanctified people. Our spiritual history commenced with redemption, and there is demanded the practical walk of sanctification in response.
There are some practical points that confront us on the surface of this passage which we ought to consider. We must note, for the want of better words, the Lord’s efficiency of management. He did not leave things to the last moment; His preparations were well in hand. Then note the combination of divine foreknowledge with human prudence. He knew where the meal would be eaten, but that knowledge was not divulged to the disciples as a group, and two only were sent. There was a traitor in their midst, and the Lord’s plans for the evening must not be prevented by an earlier attempt at arrest engineered by the traitor. Then consider the singular blending, as in all His lowly life, of poverty and dignity - the lowliness of being obliged to ask for the room, and the royal style, “The Master saith”. He puts Himself in the position of absolute authority which He claims over us and ours.
When sent, the disciples were not bidden to ask for the “chief” or “upper” chamber, but for what we would have called “the hostelry”, the place where the beasts were unloaded. Except in this passage, the word only occurs in the designation of the hostelry at Bethlehem where Mary brought forth her firstborn Son and laid Him in a manger. He was born in a hostelry, and He would have been willing to have His last meal in a hostelry.
It would appear that the householder was a disciple. No mere stranger would, in answer to so mysterious a message, have given up without question his best room. It seems that he was holding himself in readiness for such a call. It was the last request of the Master about to die, and could he refuse it? The Master would only ask for the hostelry, but he would give Him the best and chiefest room, the upper chamber. Just as the wise men so early in the Lord’s earthly life had given their best gifts to Him, and Mary had poured upon Him her very best nard, so here the householder gives his best room. The true recognition of Christ and His infinite worth will always be accompanied by the spontaneous surrender to Him of our best.
Judas was to betray the Lord, and this betrayal is now definitely announced. It came as a great shock to them all, except one. Judas was “a thief, and had the bag”, John 12. 6. Why was he given the bag? Was it because of his capacity in business matters? The wickedness of Judas then would lie in the realm of his power. His capacity was the reason for his appointment to the treasurership of this little band, and right at the heart of his power or capacity lay his weakness. Temptation always lies in the realm of capacity. Judas stands confronting us, a man mastered emotionally by covetousness, the weakness of his own power and capacity.
As soon as the disciples recovered from their surprise, out of sorrow that such a thing could possibly happen they began to ask, “Is it I?”. The apostles were right to distrust themselves and not to distrust another. The power to betray implies a position of trust. Every time Christ is betrayed it is by one who professes to be His follower.
John asks, “Lord, who is it?”, John 13. 25. The disciple who leaned on Jesus’ bosom was bathed in such a consciousness of Christ’s love that treason against it was impossible. The consciousness of His love, accompanied by the effort to draw closer to Him, is our secret defence against every temptation to faithlessness or betrayal. The vagueness of the words, “One of you shall betray me”, was doubtless intended to suggest to all of them a great searching of heart. Coming just before the institution of the Lord’s Supper, the incident anticipated the command, “let a man so examine himself, and so let him eat”, 1 Cor. 11. 28.
The sign of who it was who should betray Him is given in Mark 14. 20. “To dip” in the same dish was a token of intimate friendship; cf. Ruth 2. 14. What intimacy is here! What infamy! The Son of man goes betrayed by a friend in fulfilment of the prophetic Scriptures, and yet His false follower is guilty of the act and cannot escape responsibility for what he does. The divine purpose does not palliate the traitor’s sin or relieve him of responsibility in any way. Besides the will of God which decreed the cross, and of which Judas had no knowledge, there was behind his betrayal the instigation of Satan. Yet Judas’ intention was deliberate and his responsibility therefore complete. The divine necessity for the cross was no excuse for the free agent who brought it about.
Christians celebrate the Lord’s Supper because He has commanded them to do so. The full version of His commands is given in 1 Corinthians 11. 23-26. In addition to the commands given here “Take, eat”, there is the command “drink” and, “this do in remembrance of me”. It is in remembrance of the Lord Himself, of the One who said, “If ye love me, keep my commandments”. Note particularly how He describes the cup, “the new testament (covenant) in my blood” or “this is my blood of the new testament (covenant)”. The basis of Judaism was that God had entered into a covenant with Israel entirely dependent on law-keepinq and obedience to the law. Read Exodus 24. 3-8. But they could never fulfil the law, and were forever in default. The Lord introduces a new covenant, not dependent on law, but on love and sealed in blood. The new covenant is a divine institution in which God lays down all the terms and meets all the requirements. God, as it were, frames His mercy in terms of a covenant and is pleased to confirm it by blood; “my blood”, says the Lord. It is not only blood poured out in an affectionate self-giving. It is not only the blood of Him who loved us. It is the blood of a covenant-sacrifice in which God commits Himself in the most solemn way possible. We have in the blood of Christ the ground of our assurance, a sure covenant and a ratified pledge to plead. This is what the Lord meant when He said, “in my blood”.
Singing a hymn, they leave the upper room. They sang the last part of the Great Hallel, that is, Psalms 115 to 118. Psalm 115 tells how the dead praise not the Lord, but His people praise Him from this time forth for ever. Psalm 116 proclaims that the Lord has “delivered my soul from death, mine eyes from tears, and my feet from falling”. Psalm 117 bids all nations praise the Lord, for His merciful kindness is great and His truth endureth for ever. Psalm 118 rejoices because, although “all nations compassed me about … I shall not die, but live, and declare the works of the Lord”, and because the Stone which the builders rejected has become the Head of the corner. His voice was strong to sing, “bind the sacrifice with cords, even unto the horns of the altar”, and it rose to the exultant close, “Thou art my God, and I will praise thee: thou art my God, and I will exalt thee. 0 give thanks unto the Lord; for he is good; for his mercy endureth for ever”. That hymn was no dying swan song on His lips - it was full of victory.
But now in Mark 14. 27 He quotes from the ancient prophecy, and significantly He changes the wording. (Compare verse 27 with Zechariah 13. 7). The prophet had called on the sword to smite the shepherd, but now the Lord makes the smiting the act of God; every detail of that week had been foreseen and arranged by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God. But though the sheep will be scattered for a brief period, they will be gathered again, for the Shepherd will return and go before them into Galilee.
Before that, however, there would come the denial by one who had foresworn himself to be faithful. How confident the apostle was. But self-confidence is sure to fail, and so it did. Good would it have been for Peter if instead of boasting he had prayed, “Lord, save me”.