Lesson 12June 11-17
Jesus’ Last Days
Read for This Week’s Study: Matt. 26:1-16, Luke 12:48, Matt. 26:17-19, 1 Cor. 5:7, Matt. 26:36-46, Matt. 26:51-75.
Memory Text:“‘This very night you will all fall away on account of me … ’” (Matthew 26:31, NIV).
In this lesson, Jesus is now entering the final moments before the cross. The world, even the universe, begins to face the most crucial moment in the history of creation.
So many lessons can be derived from the events that we will look at this week, but as we read, let’s focus on one—and that is freedom and free will. Look at how the various characters used the great and costly gift of freedom. Look at the powerful and even eternal consequences that arose from the use, one way or another, of this gift.
Peter, Judas, and the woman with the alabaster box all had to make choices. But most important of all, Jesus, too, had to make choices, and the greatest one was to go to the cross, even though His human nature had cried out against it: “‘O My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as You will’” (Matt. 26:39, NKJV).
The irony is incredible: the gift of free will that we had abused brought Jesus to this very moment, where Jesus—using His own free will—had to choose whether or not to save us from the destruction that our abuse of free will would otherwise have brought us.
Study this week’s lesson to prepare for Sabbath, June 18.
A Beautiful Work
We are now entering the last days of Jesus’ life on earth. He has yet to go to the cross, has yet to be resurrected, and has yet to reveal Himself fully as the crucified and risen Savior of the world. However much those who followed Jesus loved Him and appreciated Him, they still had so much to learn about who He was and all that He would do for them. Looking back, with the writing of the whole Bible, and especially Paul’s powerful explanations of the atoning death of Jesus, we know so much more about what Jesus was going to do for us than His followers did at the time of this story.
With this background in mind, read Matthew 26:1-16. What is the significance of this expensive gift, and what should it teach us about how we should relate to Jesus?
Notice how Matthew places the story of Jesus’ head being anointed (which probably happened prior to the triumphal entry) within the growing plot to kill Him. While some of His own people were planning to do Him harm, this woman poured out unrestrained love and devotion upon Him, with her “alabaster flask of very costly fragrant oil” (vs. 7, NKJV).
While the disciples were lamenting the waste, Jesus called what she did “a beautiful” work. By this action, very extravagant outwardly, the woman was revealing the true depth of emotion in her heart toward Jesus. Though she surely didn’t know all that was to come or what it would mean, she understood enough to know that she owed so much to Jesus; and thus, she wanted to give back so much, as well. Perhaps she had heard His words, “‘For everyone to whom much is given, from him much will be required’” (Luke 12:48, NKJV). Meanwhile the disciples, who had surely seen more of what Jesus had done than had that woman, still missed the point entirely.
“That ointment was a symbol of the overflowing heart of the giver. It was an outward demonstration of a love fed by heavenly streams until it overflowed. And that ointment of Mary, which the disciples called waste, is repeating itself a thousand times in the susceptible hearts of others.”—Ellen G. White, The SDA Bible Commentary, vol. 5, p. 1101.
What should this story tell us about how we should be responding to what we have been given in Jesus? Using our free will, what “beautiful” work can we perform for Him in response to what we have been given in Him?
The New Covenant
Read Matthew 26:17-19. Why is it so significant that this was the time of the Passover? See also Exod. 12:1-17, 1 Cor. 5:7.
The story of the Exodus is, of course, a story of Redemption, of deliverance—a work that God does for those who could not do it for themselves. What an appropriate symbol for what Jesus was soon to do for us all!
Read Matthew 26:26-29. What is Jesus saying to His disciples? What do His words mean for us, now?
Jesus was pointing them to the deeper meaning of the Passover. Deliverance from Egypt was a wonderful manifestation of the Lordship and power of God, but in the end it wasn’t enough. It wasn’t the Redemption that the Hebrews, or any of us, really needed. We need the Redemption that is in Jesus: eternal life. “And for this reason He is the Mediator of the new covenant, by means of death, for the redemption of the transgressions under the first covenant, that those who are called may receive the promise of the eternal inheritance” (Heb. 9:15, NKJV). Jesus points them to the real meaning of the wine, the real meaning of the bread; they were all pointing to His death on the cross.
Thus, unlike the animal sacrifices that pointed forward to the death of Jesus, partaking in the Communion service points us back to it. In each case, the emblems point us to Jesus on the cross.
And yet, the Cross doesn’t end the story. When Jesus says to the disciples that He won’t drink of the fruit of the vine until that day “‘when I drink it new with you in My Father’s kingdom’” (Matt. 26:29, NKJV). He’s pointing them to the future, to the Second Coming and beyond.
Think about Jesus’ words that He won’t drink of the fruit of the vine until we are with Him in His Father’s kingdom. What does this say about the kind of intimacy He will have with us? How can we learn to experience that intimacy with Him now?
During Passover week, the priests sacrificed thousands and thousands of lambs at the temple just up the hill from the Kidron Valley. The blood from the lambs was poured onto the altar and then flowed down a channel to a brook that ran through the Kidron Valley. The brook may have actually turned red from the blood of the lambs. Jesus and His disciples would have crossed over the red waters of this brook on their way to the Garden of Gethsemane.
Read Matthew 26:36-46. Why was the Gethsemane experience so difficult for Jesus? What was really happening there?
It wasn’t physical death that Jesus was afraid of when He prayed that the cup would pass from Him. The cup Jesus dreaded was separation from God. Jesus knew that to become sin for us, to die in our stead, to bear in Himself the wrath of God against sin, He would have to be separated from His Father. Violation of God’s holy law was so serious that it demanded the death of the perpetrator. Jesus came precisely because He was going to take that death upon Himself in order to spare us from it. This is what was at stake for Jesus, and for us.
“With the issues of the conflict before Him, Christ’s soul was filled with dread of separation from God. Satan told Him that if He became the surety for a sinful world, the separation would be eternal. He would be identified with Satan’s kingdom, and would nevermore be one with God … The awful moment had come—that moment which was to decide the destiny of the world. The fate of humanity trembled in the balance. Christ might even now refuse to drink the cup apportioned to guilty man. It was not yet too late. He might wipe the bloody sweat from His brow, and leave man to perish in his iniquity. He might say, Let the transgressor receive the penalty of his sin, and I will go back to My Father. Will the Son of God drink the bitter cup of humiliation and agony? Will the innocent suffer the consequences of the curse of sin, to save the guilty?”—Ellen G. White, The Desire of Ages, pp. 687, 690.
How should Jesus’ willingness to do what He did for us impact every aspect of our lives, especially when it comes to helping others? How can we learn to model better the character of Jesus in our lives?
Judas Sells His Soul
How sad the story of Judas! Had he died before his last journey to Jerusalem, he might have been among sacred history’s most venerated heroes. Church buildings could have been named after him. Instead, his name is forever linked to betrayal and treachery.
Of course, blaming Satan for what Judas did is fine, but it begs the question. What was it about Judas that enabled the devil to lead him to such treachery? After all, it was even said that Satan wanted to get Peter, as well (see Luke 22:31). The difference, however, must be that Judas refused to give himself fully to the Lord; he must have hung onto some sin, some character defect that enabled Satan to come in and lead him to do what he did. Again, we see another powerful consequence of free choice.
In Matthew 26:47-50 we see Judas’ guiding a detachment of soldiers (about 600 soldiers), as well as chief priests and elders. What a tremendous moment of power for Judas! When you’ve got something that people really want, you possess tremendous power, as Judas does here. That’s fine, at least for as long as you have what they want. But if they care about you only because of what you have and then eventually they get from you what they want, they finally no longer need you. Within hours, Judas will be alone, and with nothing.
Another important lesson focuses on what Judas lost his soul over. Thirty pieces of silver? In today’s terms, the amount has been said to equal between one and four months’ wages, depending upon which silver coin is meant. Even if it were ten or a hundred times that amount, look at what it cost him! And as the story shows, he lost even that. He didn’t get to enjoy any of it; instead, he threw it all back at the feet of the ones who first gave it to him. What a powerful example of how, in the end, anything that causes us to turn away from Jesus, anything that causes us to lose our soul, is as useless as was that money to Judas. Judas was so close to eternal life; and yet, he chose to throw it away for nothing.
Jesus knew beforehand about Judas’s freewill decision to betray Him, one of many instances in the Bible showing that God’s foreknowledge of our free choices in no way infringes upon the freedom of those choices. And He knew not only of Judas’s betrayal, but also that Peter, despite all his bravado, would at the crucial moment flee and then deny Him.
Read Matthew 26:51-75. Why do you think Peter denied Jesus?
Often we have the idea that Peter denied Jesus simply because he was afraid. Yet, it was Peter (according to John 18:10) who had the courage to pull his sword against Roman soldiers! Peter was willing to go out in a blaze of glory—until Jesus stopped him.
So, what changed in Peter from the moment he’s brandishing a sword to just a little while later, when he’s denying he knows Jesus? Why did he say that he wasn’t a disciple? Why does Peter say, “‘I do not know the Man!’” (Matt. 26:72, NKJV)?
Maybe because Peter realized that he didn’t know the Man, didn’t know what His coming was for and didn’t know what His arrest meant. So, in a moment of panic, he denied he ever knew Him. Perhaps Peter denied Jesus when he realized that he didn’t understand what Jesus was doing. He gave up when he saw what he thought was Jesus giving up. Peter was still putting too much faith in his own understanding rather than putting his full faith in Jesus, even despite all the incredible signs he had seen and even despite his bold confession of faith in Jesus as the Christ (Matt. 16:16). Peter’s denial should tell us that all the miracles and signs in the world won’t keep us faithful to God until our hearts are fully surrendered to Him.
In Luke’s account, the third time Peter denied that he was a disciple of Jesus, Jesus Himself “turned and looked straight at Peter” (Luke 22:61, NIV). This is the word, emblepo, used to describe the way Jesus looked deep into Peter’s soul when they first met (see John 1:42). What hope can we draw from this for ourselves regarding God’s love for us even when we fail, as Peter did here?
Further Thought: In 1959, two hoodlums entered a home in Kansas and murdered two teenage children and their parents. Before the killers were found, the brother of the murdered father wrote this letter to the local paper. “‘There is much resentment in this community. I have even heard on more than one occasion that the man, when found, should be hanged from the nearest tree. Let us not feel this way. The deed is done and taking another life cannot change it. Instead, let us forgive as God would have us do. It is not right that we should hold a grudge in our hearts. The doer of this act is going to find it very difficult indeed to live with himself. His only peace of mind will be when he goes to God for forgiveness. Let us not stand in the way but instead give prayers that he may find his peace.’”—Truman Capote, In Cold Blood (New York: Modern Library, 2013) p. 124.
Putting aside questions about capital punishment, we can see here a powerful expression of the kind of grace that Christ offers to us all. Even after Peter’s inexcusable denial, Christ forgave him and entrusted him with the work of winning souls. “Peter had just declared that he knew not Jesus, but he now realized with bitter grief how well his Lord knew him, and how accurately He had read his heart, the falseness of which was unknown even to himself.”—Ellen G. White, The Desire of Ages, p. 713. He knew what was in Peter even before Peter knew; and He knew what Peter would do even before Peter knew. And yet, His love and grace remained constant, despite Peter’s having no one to blame but himself for his actions. As we deal with people who make similar mistakes, how crucial that we learn to extend grace to them just as we would wish it for ourselves.
- “Every story of conversion,” wrote C. S. Lewis, “is the story of a blessed defeat.” What does that mean? How have you experienced what this “defeat” is? What is defeated, and what wins?
- In the story of Jesus in Gethsemane, Jesus asks that the cup pass from Him but only if “it is possible.” What does this imply other than that if humanity were to be saved, Jesus would have to give up His life? Why? Why was the death of Jesus, the sin-bearer, absolutely essential? Why couldn’t there have been another way for God to solve the problem of sin in the light of the great controversy?
Try Jesus-Part 2
One Saturday afternoon a few weeks later, the family was busy running errands and cleaning the house when someone knocked at the door. I opened it to find a woman and two men whom I had never seen before. They were smiling and said that they had brought a Bible for Lauren Moore. "Are you Lauren?" they asked.
Soon I was smiling too as I explained that Lauren was my daughter. I called Lauren, and enjoyed the surprised looks on my guests' face when a 7-year-old girl bounded down the stairs and introduced herself as Lauren Moore. The strangers smiled warmly and gave Lauren her new Bible. Lauren was so excited that she jumped around, hugging the Bible to her.
A few weeks later the friendly woman who had given Lauren the Bible returned and introduced herself as Gayle. She asked whether Lauren had read her Bible yet and would she like some Bible study lessons to help her understand what she was reading. Lauren enthusiastically said yes to the lessons. When Gayle learned that our son, Dane, did not have a Bible, she promised to bring him one too.
The next Saturday afternoon Gayle arrived with Dane's Bible. The trio sat down at our kitchen table while Gayle patiently helped them take the first baby steps into God's Word, using Bible study lessons she had brought for them. The children enjoyed the lessons so much that Gayle promised to come back again every week to help them.
At first we were a little doubtful about what the Bible lessons might try to teach our children, but we decided that it would be good for the children to learn some Bible principles. I listened in on the Bible studies as I went about my housework. It was so interesting that Neal and I sometimes left our tasks and listened more carefully. After the lessons, as I walked Gayle to her car, I sometimes asked her to explain certain points more carefully. I had never met a Christian like Gayle before. She always seemed so happy and she listened very patiently to all of our questions. Her answers were simple yet deep, and she was so humble that my respect for her grew and grew.
To be continued.