Listen to this portion of a first century letter where the Apostle Paul reviewed his teaching on a rite we call communion:
For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, “This is my body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes. 1 Corinthians 11:23-26 (ESV)1
A couple of words leap out at me. Let’s start with “betrayed.” The Greek2 word behind it means “handed over” which has a wider range of meaning than the English “betrayed.” For example when the same verb occurs earlier in the sentence it has the meaning of “delivered.” It’s also used to refer to passing on key teaching or tradition because in Greek these things are literally things that are “handed over.” This leads me to consider that the English word “betrayed” may not capture all God intended to say here.
I suppose as scholars pondered what English word to use for “handed over” in the phrase we are considering, their minds must have been first drawn to the actions of Judas on that night before the crucifixion.
There had been several prior occasions when the crowds, or the Jewish authorities, attempted to assassinate or arrest Jesus but He had simply walked away leaving them in confusion, temporarily unable to see Him. Perhaps those who persistently sought His life reasoned that the disciples had shielded Him, or rigged a secret escape, or that people had been confused in their identification of the man. To succeed next time, they could have certainly used someone from his inner circle of disciples who would know exactly where Jesus would be, and to physically touch, perhaps even hold Jesus so no tricks could be played and so the guards could keep their eye on him as they moved in3. They must have been thrilled when Judas agreed to do the job.
Jesus loved Judas no less than the other disciples. Judas was one of a few men Jesus chose to receive authority to perform miracles. Over several years that group formed a bond few people have the privileged of sharing. He saw and heard things that many of us would dearly love to have experienced. It is so sad that despite all this Judas could not humble himself and submit to Jesus as his creator and Lord. The path he followed may have looked right to him, but it not only deeply wounded the one who had loved him, but also tragically led them both to unbearable personal agony.
So I understand the scholar’s choice of the word “betrayed.” However, if we broaden our inquiry, we will find that this Greek verb “handed over” refers to more than betrayal.
Jesus said several times that He did nothing on His own initiative. Consider these words:
So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, that the Son does likewise. John 5:19 (ESV)
Therefore all those times Jesus miraculously walked away unnoticed from attempted arrests and assassinations, it was at the Father’s command. But in that final night, the Father’s command was that Jesus should not be protected nor escape. So who can we say really handed Him over? Judas? Judas was the agent, but it was clearly the Father who handed His son over.
The Father handed Him over to people willfully committed to following Satan, the one called the deceiver, the enemy of mankind. Jesus said he has been a liar and murderer, from the beginning.4 Satan thought if he could just kill Jesus he would be free to subjugate the human race under his rule – whatever the cost to us.
Why did the Father hand Jesus over to this power of darkness? We get a pretty solid clue when we read in John 16:27 that Jesus impressed upon His disciples that the Father Himself loved them.5 The death of Christ is the greatest expression of the Father’s love for human beings. The Father commanded that one of the Godhead, one whom the He had loved and glorified for all eternity past should give up the prerogatives of acting as the God He is, become the only God-human, temporarily lower than the angels, suffer at the hands of Satan’s human agents and finally release even that human body in total trust and dependence upon the Father. Why? So that humans may be freely reconciled to the Father. Why? Because the Father Himself loves us.
Another word that stands out in that text is “proclaim.” When you think of describing love what comes to mind? How do you explain and proclaim the love of the Father? God has told us how He wants it proclaimed.
You see, the most perfect example and symbol of the Father’s love for you and I is the death of Jesus Christ. Doesn’t it seem odd to proclaim love by talking about death? But that’s the best way. We proclaim the Father’s love when we proclaim Jesus’ death. One way we proclaim Jesus’ death to one another and to the world is to gather together and take the bread and the juice/wine which represent Jesus’ body and shed blood. If we do it without hypocrisy and as an expression of our gratitude, obedience and trust in God, as well as our love for one another, then we attest that magnificence of the Father’s love for all humans was demonstrated in the death of Christ.
My friends rather than letting the pride of life and the lust for material things deceive you into being like Judas who lived entirely by his own wits and plans, choose to accept the Father’s love. If you find this difficult or even impossible, even if you are already a Christian, I’d like to suggest a very effective remedy. Take time, whatever time it takes, to consider the death of Christ.
There was a time in my life when I was struggling with trusting God. I had been a missionary and went to seminary. I faced some difficulties that left me dazed, confused about my relationship with God. I eventually committed myself to this one thing, I would spend twenty minutes each day, just before going to bed, meditating on the death of Christ – just that one thing. I knew lots of Scripture, so I could just lie there and mull them over and think about the death of Christ, what God accomplished and why, and what it might mean to me personally. After a month the Spirit led me to reread these words which I had memorized years before, but this time my heart reacted in a fresh way:
Galatians 2:20 (ESV) I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.
I don’t know how, but I just felt and knew in that moment, that each and every day, for all eternity, I would feel just as grateful to God for Christ’s death and the Father’s love as if I had just discovered it anew that day – it would never grow stale – and it never has.Footnotes
- ESV stands for English Standard Version [↩]
- The New Testament was written in Greek. [↩]
- In a recent movie I saw, the actor playing Judas came up to Jesus, bent over a bit and pecked him on the cheek without making any other body contact. I laughed. I had a French grandfather who, until I was much taller than he was, used to grab me in a hug and kiss me on both cheeks whenever the family got together. I don’t know for sure, but from evidence in the New Testament, I think that in Jesus’ day Judas’ kiss would have included a friendly embrace rather than a peck on the cheek. Judas may have been thinking he was doing the right thing and so would have no embarrassment at this point in the events. In fact, his self-deception may help us understand the intensity of his later remorse. [↩]
- “You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and has nothing to do with the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies.” John 8:44 (ESV) [↩]
- “I have said these things to you in figures of speech. The hour is coming when I will no longer speak to you in figures of speech but will tell you plainly about the Father. In that day you will ask in my name, and I do not say to you that I will ask the Father on your behalf; for the Father himself loves you, because you have loved me and have believed that I came from God. John 16:25-27 (ESV) [↩]