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The Peril and Promise of Proximity

The Peril and Promise of Proximity

Preached by Ben Bechtel

Over the Christmas season my wife and I made our usual trip down to Georgia to visit my in-laws. And as often happens on these 12-hour trips, we get a little bored. As we were looking for podcasts that we could binge in order to pass the time we found one that sounded incredibly interesting. The premise of the podcast went something like this: scientists conducted a real-life survey on what it would look like for a small group of people to live in an enclosed environment on Mars. They recruited 6 participants to live in a space dwelling, similar to what astronauts would use on Mars in a remote, volcanic part of Hawaii. The 6 participants could not leave the habitat at any time unless they had a spacesuit for a whole year. It was fascinating to see the evolution of the group from day 1 to day 365. They entered the habitat optimistic about their relationships with one another, one man even saying he thought they’d all be best friends by the end. However, to no one’s surprise they each left with one close friend, a few people they didn’t care for, and a few people they hated.

This experiment teaches us one thing: as far as sinful human beings are concerned, proximity to other people means that problems will arise. In this passage, we are presented with three groups of people, the chief priests, the scribes, and Judas who all lived in close proximity to Jesus. Their close interactions with Jesus throughout his ministry, and particularly over the past week that Jesus has been in Jerusalem, due to no one’s fault but their own, result in their desire to put Jesus to death. And this is where we are going to pick up this morning.

Luke 22:1-6

22 Now the Feast of Unleavened Bread drew near, which is called the Passover.And the chief priests and the scribes were seeking how to put him to death, for they feared the people.

Then Satan entered into Judas called Iscariot, who was of the number of the twelve. He went away and conferred with the chief priests and officers how he might betray him to them. And they were glad, and agreed to give him money.So he consented and sought an opportunity to betray him to them in the absence of a crowd.

1. The Plans of the Enemies

As we have been studying the gospel of Luke together, we have noted many times since we preached the passage, that Jesus, since Luke 9:52, has been journeying toward Jerusalem to his death. It has seemed to take forever for him to get there. I don’t know how many of you enjoy hiking or backpacking but one of the most disheartening things while hiking is a false summit. You think you are almost to the top and you crest what looks like the final hill only to find out there’s still another mile left. As Luke tells the story he builds tension and brings events to what seems like a climax only to have the story continue building towards the summit. This narrative tension has continued to build since chapter 20 when Jesus entered into Jerusalem. The beginning of Luke 22 is where we begin to see the ominous, dark clouds of Jesus’ death coming into view. We are just a few steps from the summit.

In verse 1 we read that the Feast of Unleavened Bread is drawing near. This feast is equated with Passover. The day of Passover, with the Passover meal, began the weeklong Feast of Unleavened Bread. Now, Passover was one of the major Jewish festivals and it was a pilgrim festival, meaning that Jewish people scattered all across the known world would come to Jerusalem for this celebration. The Passover was a celebration that both looked back in remembrance and looked forward with expectancy.[1] The Passover looked back to God’s mighty salvation of his people Israel from slavery to Pharaoh and the Egyptians. But the Passover also looked forward in hope to the future day when Israel’s Messiah would come on behalf of God, destroy the enemies of Israel, and rescue her once again, bringing God’s justice and new creation. It looked back to the original Exodus from Egypt and looked forward to a new Exodus when God would set his people free.

This setting of Passover has enormous implications for what Luke tells us in verse 2:

And the chief priests and the scribes were seeking how to put him to death, for they feared the people.

These religious leaders are desperate to get Jesus off of their hands. This is the third time since chapter 19 that Luke mentions that the religious leaders are trying to find a way in which they could kill Jesus. They were actively seeking for a way that they could dispose of him like you might actively search for your car keys in the morning when you’re running late for work. Their action is urgent, frantic, hurried, and desperate. And the text says this is all because they were afraid of the people. Why were they so afraid of the people? They are the most powerful men in Israel! What do they have to be afraid of?

Well, again, let’s return to the setting of Passover. The hopes of the Jewish people evoked by Passover were for deliverance from an empire to whom they were subject and the establishment of God’s kingdom by a Savior/Messiah. Now think about this hope during this particular Passover season, with the Jewish people under the thumb of the Roman empire and a person saying and doing Messiah-like things. This is why Luke records just before our passage in 21:37-38:

37And every day [Jesus] was teaching in the temple…38And early in the morning all the people came to him in the temple to hear him.

Crowds are beginning to gather around Jesus. The people are beginning to whisper to one another, “Could this be the one? Could he be the one to bring in God’s kingdom?” And it is for precisely this reason that the religious leaders have their guards up and are actively seeking a time when they can remove Jesus without the crowd present. They want to remove Jesus because he is a direct threat to their power but they want to make sure their action doesn’t ignite the powder keg of Messianic fervor gathering around him.

            Luke continues in verses 3-6 to discuss the other parties present in this plot:

Then Satan entered into Judas called Iscariot, who was of the number of the twelve. He went away and conferred with the chief priests and officers how he might betray him to them. And they were glad, and agreed to give him money.So he consented and sought an opportunity to betray him to them in the absence of a crowd.

This is where you cue the sinister music. When Judas shows up on the page, we all shudder. We think of Brutus, either from history opf Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar. Or, for the less literary and historical minds out there like myself, we think of Lando Calrissian delivering Han Solo over to Boba Fett in The Empire Strikes Back. Luke portrays Judas in his gospel like this; he is one dimensional character. We are to view him as the betrayer. In fact the only other time Luke has mentioned Judas up to this point in his gospel is in 6:16 where, in listing the disciples of Jesus, he records that Judas “became a traitor.” This is why he has to remind the reader here that Judas was one of the twelve. One of Jesus’ closest ministry partners and followers is selling him out.

            While Luke doesn’t tell us much about Judas, the other gospels help us to fill out the portrait. We know from John’s gospel that Judas was in charge of handling the money for Jesus and his disciples (12:4-6). We also learn here that Judas, while he claims to care about the poor, is enamored with money, stealing for himself out of the disciples’ treasury. Matthew highlights this same trait of Judas in his telling of the betrayal (Matt. 26:14-15):

14Then one of the twelve, whose name was Judas Iscariot, went to the chief priests 15and said, “What will you give me if I deliver him over to you?” And they paid him thirty pieces of silver.

Notice the detail that Matthew adds: Judas doesn’t just come to betray Jesus, he comes bargaining for a price! His motivation for betrayal is as simple as cold, hard cash.

            While Judas is responsible for his desires and actions against Jesus, there is an even more menacing actor involved here. Satan, the accuser, the enemy of God and his purposes of love and blessing from the beginning, sees an opportunity. This is his best chance to take out Jesus and derail the plan of God for salvation. As he is prowling around, he sees in the actions of the religious leaders of Israel and Judas his chance to crush Jesus, God’s anointed.

            Now, let’s stop and think about this for a second. Those who are most aligned with the plan of Satan, who most conform to his desires to destroy God’s plan of salvation, are members of God’s very own people! They are the ones who have seen Jesus up close and personal! If there are any people who should have heeded the message and miracles of Jesus it should have been these guys! The leaders of God’s chosen people are aligned with Satan in a plot to oppose the very God who made them his people!

Not only that, but notice in verse 5 it says, “they were glad” when Judas offered to betray Jesus. That word communicates an even stronger feeling of gladness. It could be translated “they rejoiced” or “they exclaimed.” Without being too provocative I hope, the leaders of God’s people here are involved in a Satanic worship service, praising him for his wise plan to oppose the God of Israel. This is why in the opening to his gospel, the apostle John writes “[Jesus] came to his own, but his own people did not receive him” (John 1:11). Not only did they not receive him, they are plotting with the enemy of God to kill their Savior and only hope.

For Judas and the religious leaders their proximity to Jesus hardened them towards God. Judas would have been viewed by the watching world as one of Jesus’ closest followers. He lived and travelled with Jesus for 3 years. And yet his love of money choked out his love for Jesus. The religious leaders would have been perceived as the closest people to God in all of the Jewish faith. They have had the extensive exposure to both the Hebrew Bible and the Christ who was fulfilling that Bible right before their eyes! However, their love for power caused them to seek to kill the Giver of Life. You see, both Judas and the religious leaders, despite being close to Jesus, did not love Jesus. Their nearness to Christ only caused them to become hardened to him and his message and to cling to their money and power.

Friends, proximity to the things of God does not mean that we are actually close to God. This passage shows us that you can be as close to God as religiously possible and yet be under the sway of Satan. (FCF) In fact, we often let our proximity to the things of God to push us away from rather than draw us to Jesus. Some who appear the most religious on the outside, who hold the highest positions in church, who know Christian teaching backwards and forwards, who have good Christian friends, who homeschool or have their kids in Christian school, who post the most pictures of them reading their Bibles on Instagram, can actually be the farthest from God if they are not careful, if we are not careful. All of this exposure to God can cause us to become overly familiarized with and as a result hardened to Jesus. It can cause us to be puffed up with pride. It can cause us to cling to our idols more fiercely, ourselves becoming as hard to Jesus in our hearts as idols themselves (Is. 6:1-9).

2. The Plan of God

So, how do we protect ourselves from this? How do we not allow our proximity to Jesus to harden us but rather, to soften us to him? To answer this question, we are going to turn over to an account in the gospel of John from the night before Jesus’ death, right before the Last Supper. In John 13:1-5 we read:

Now before the Feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father, having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. During supper, when the devil had already put it into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, to betray him, Jesus…rose from supper…he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet…

Jesus here, exhibits an act of selfless service that it is hard for us to grasp. Foot washing was a dirty job in the ancient world, reserved exclusively for servants in a house. And yet Jesus, God in the flesh, chooses to get down and serve his disciples.

            Now, there are two crucial details we need to grasp here. First, Judas is at this meal! And not just Judas. John makes it a point to emphasize before the foot washing that Judas is present and that he is currently under the influence of Satan! While he is doing the bidding of Satan, Jesus pours out his love on Judas. This would be like Martin Luther King Jr. or John F. Kennedy having dinner with their assassin the night before they were to be assassinated, knowing full well the plot. And not just dinner, a four-course meal. And they would personally serve their assassin and wash the dishes. That is what Jesus is doing here. Even though Jesus knew how Judas would respond, he drew near to him in love anyway.

            What Jesus does for Judas illustrates the reality of what he does for all of us. Verse 1 makes this clear when it says that Jesus, having loved his own through his life, determined to finish his mission of love. You see, amidst Satan’s plan of deception and death God is working an even greater plan. In the death of Jesus, this horrible event orchestrated by Satan, God’s plan of love and salvation was realized. What man and the devil intended for evil, God intended for good (Gen. 50:20). While Satan frantically sought an opportunity to kill Jesus and snuff out God’s plan, Jesus marched calmly to the cross, like a lamb is led to the slaughter. He knew God’s plan was for him to demonstrate the immeasurable love of the triune God to humanity in dying for his betrayers, like Judas and like you and me. As he hung on the cross, Satan thought he had won all the while God’s love pierced through the darkness of betrayal, sin, and death. God drew near to us in Jesus to show forth and pour out his love.

            The next portion of the story in John 13 brings this home for us when you observe Peter in contrast to Judas (vv. 8-9):

Peter said to him, “You shall never wash my feet.” Jesus answered him, “If I do not wash you, you have no share with me.”Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!” 

Peter’s response to Jesus comes in two waves. The first is denial. Peter understands that Jesus is his Lord and teacher. Picture yourself with a leader you greatly respect getting down and offering to wash your feet. We all would do what Peter does! But then Jesus tells Peter that if he doesn’t allow him to wash his feet, he can’t have any part of him. Peter then blurts out, “Lord dunk me!” While his understanding is immature and his responses are impulsive, they tell us something crucial about what being in close proximity to Jesus should do to us.

Both disciples lived with Jesus for three years: one ended up committing suicide because of the guilt involved with betraying Jesus and the other died a martyr proclaiming the good news of Jesus’ love. What is the difference? Faith. Peter saw Jesus bodily for three years, and while his life is marked with failure, including his own denial of Jesus in the hour of his death, his life was also marked with a growing faith and trust in Jesus. And in this moment, when Jesus offers himself to Peter, he responds in joy and says, “Jesus I want all of you!” That is faith.

For those of us with the eyes of faith, when we see the way in which Jesus has drawn near to those of us who have turned our backs on God in betrayal and denial from the beginning and how he died to rescue us from that betrayal and denial we ought to exclaim with Peter, “give me Jesus!” I can’t not have him! You see, faith doesn’t value other things, like money or power higher than Jesus. Faith says like the apostle Paul in Phil. 3:8, “I count it all as loss for the sake of knowing Jesus Christ my Lord.” You see, unbelief and idolatry rejoices when Satan promises to fulfill all of our desires but faith rejoices in Christ! Faith rejoices in knowing him, in loving him, and in enjoying him, the one who committed himself to you in love to the very end, to the point of his own death, forever.

Before us this morning are two trajectories. One life is characterized by a turning from God, resulting in hardening and destruction. The other is characterized by a turning to God as he has drawn near in Christ to die for us, resulting in blessing and life. May the love of God humble us not harden us. I pray that God would grant you the gift of faith this morning to see our beautiful Savior and his plan of love. If you have never believed in him, if your life is characterized by betrayal and turning your back on God, know that he is near to you. See him this morning and believe! And for those of you who do know him, place faith in him anew today. Maybe you have been hardened by being close to religious things but haven’t had a real, vibrant relationship of love with Jesus. This morning, may you cry out again for the Lord to dunk you in his love and grace and may this morning mark one more step of faith in a life that is bound to behold the beauty of Jesus forever.

[1] See David W. Pao and Eckhard J. Schnabel, “Luke” in Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament, ed. G.K. Beale and D.A. Carson (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2007), 380.

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