Feb 9 2013 - Matthew 26:14-46 – The blood of the covenant
The passage we have read this morning is one of contrasts. On the one hand we have the weakness of the disciples. Jesus tells them that that before the night is out they will all abandon him and flee. When Peter boasts that he will never abandon his Lord, Jesus tells him that he will disown him three times. The disciples are weak, fickle, easily discouraged and yet seem quite unaware of their weakness. Later Jesus goes to the garden of Gethsemane to pray. He takes Peter, James and John with him and asks them to keep watch with him as he faces the coming crisis with growing horror and grief. Perhaps he had hoped that they would pray for him as he poured out his heart to his heavenly Father; but they fall asleep. The disciples are weak; the flesh is weak; we are weak.
The second strand that runs through these passages this morning is Jesus' acceptance of the "cup" that he must drink. Even in the Garden, as he faces this prospect with agonised horror he prays "My Father ... not as I will, but as you will ... may your will be done" (Matthew 26:39, 42). Jesus' use of the word "cup" is significant; this picture is used in the Old Testament of the outpouring of God's wrath against sin (Psalm 11:6; Isaiah 51:17; Ezekiel 23:33). Jesus knows that he must take upon himself the role of the Suffering Servant, the one who bears the sin of his people and suffers the punishment that is their due. He knows that he must taste the cup of God's wrath.
His acceptance of this cup is played out in the Passover meal he eats with his disciples. There they remember how God saved his people from Egypt on that first Passover night. They remember how the judgment of God fell on Egypt and that the Israelites were kept safe only because they were protected by the shed blood of the Passover lamb; one died that night in every house in Egypt. And Jesus used this occasion to speak of his approaching death. The disciples, these weak and fickle disciples, are given bread from the hands of Jesus who tells them that he gives himself for them. These disciples are given a cup of wine from the hands of Jesus who tells them "This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins" (26:28). They are all to drink of it. They are all brought into an indissoluble relationship with the living God through the shed blood of this Passover lamb – the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world.
We also are weak disciples. Sometimes we are all too aware of our own weakness; sometimes we deceive ourselves and boast of our strength. But our hope and confidence does not lie in ourselves; it rests in our Saviour and his atoning sacrifice upon the cross. He bore our sin in his body on the tree, and in love he invites us to take and eat, take and drink – to come and find shelter in his shed blood. Through the blood of the covenant our sins are forgiven and we are reconciled to God, and owned by him.
And Jesus still speaks to us, his weak disciples, calling us to watch and pray that we might not fall into temptation. But he does not call us to do this alone; he, the mighty, powerful and victorious Saviour watches and prays with us – and he never dozes off.
Lord, I recognise my weakness. I am eternally grateful for the forgiveness and cleansing that come to me through your broken body and shed blood. Awaken me through your Spirit and strengthen me to face the challenges of this day in your name and in your power. Keep me from denying you by my words or conduct this day. Keep me closely following you.