It can scarcely fail to strike the heart, 1 beloved friends, in reading this mournful chapter, that every thought is on death. The gloom of death overspreads everything here. We are met with the malignity and hatred of men in murderous opposition to Christ; with the treachery and vileness of Judas; and, beyond and above all that, with Christ's own precious thoughts as He was about to become the true Passover Lamb, the one adequate answer in death to all God's holy, righteous demands.
These are the great leading outlines of this twenty-second of Luke. I just glance at them now in a general way; but what I particularly desire to dwell upon for a little this evening is the part that speaks of, and sets before us, the Lord's intercourse in agony with His Father respecting the unprecedented sorrow that awaited Him. It is to this in a very special way that I wish to call your attention to-night.
I believe the chapter may be divided into three or four parts; that is to say, that the Lord's thoughts about His sorrow form one part; His thoughts about His disciples, and His instructions to them, form another part; the account of His agony in Gethsemane, and His intercourse with His Father, a third part; and the manner in which, at the end of all, He meets His enemies, the last part. But, as I have already intimated, it is only one part that I purpose dwelling upon this evening, and that is the third part, when, in the garden, the shadow of the cross is flung, as it were, over His holy soul; when He meets His Father about what was before Him; goes through the whole transaction in spirit with His Father; enters into, measures, weighs it with Him; manifesting His perfectness throughout it all.
But before we look at this great sight, it is important to observe that there are certain steps which lead up to it, and which bring out the perfection of the Lord Jesus Christ in the character in which the Gospel of Luke sets Him before us.
Our subject on previous occasions has been all the blessed perfectness of the Man Christ Jesus; and we have here, in this chapter, an additional instance furnished in certain circumstances which bring it out in a very blessed way. Look, for a moment, at this celebration of the Passover. In connection with it is mentioned a cup that was partaken of prior to the institution of the Lord's Supper. Two cups are spoken of in Luke; and when the Lord says, Take this, and divide it among yourselves: for I say unto you, I will not drink of the fruit of the vine, until the kingdom of God shall come" (vv. 17, 18), He refers, not to the cup of the Lord's Supper, but to the cup which went with the Passover, having its place in connection with that institution. That first cup was indicative of joys connected with the kingdom. Wine is a symbol of earthly joy; and that Passover cup is the token of the earthly joy of the kingdom, founded, of course, as it must always be, upon the blood of God's true Passover Lamb; for, whether earthly or heavenly joy, it must rest upon the atoning sacrifice of the Son of God. It is well just to notice that in passing.
Now, the Lord here manifestly takes the place that morally was always His. He was always the true Nazarite down here — separate from men, though dwelling among them in all the grace of His heart; but now He openly takes that character which was ever His morally in Himself. Hence He says, "I will not drink of the fruit of the vine, until the kingdom of God shall come." v. 18.
Afterwards the Lord institutes His own Supper, of which, I need not say, He did not Himself partake. He previously partook of the Passover, as a true, obedient Jew; but now He gives to His disciples the symbols of His own holy body and precious blood, the touching expression of His ineffable love in laying down His life for them; the memorial too of the accomplishment of redemption, and of the remission of sins.
Most remarkable and affecting details connect themselves with this last Passover that He celebrated with His beloved disciples. "Go," said the Lord to Peter and John, "and prepare us the Passover, that we may eat. And they said unto Him, Where wilt Thou that we prepare? And He said unto them, Behold, when ye are entered into the city, there shall a man meet you, bearing a pitcher of water; follow him into the house where he entereth in. And ye shall say unto the goodman of the house, The Master saith unto thee, Where is the guest-chamber, where I shall eat the Passover with My disciples? And he shall show you a large upper room furnished: there make ready. And they went, and found as He had said unto them; and they made ready the Passover. And when the hour was come, He sat down, and the twelve apostles with Him." vv. 9-14.
Oh, the perfect, divine dignity of Him who, whilst He was Man, was also God! How the perfection of His Godhead glory shines out here in all the majestic quietness, conscious power, and fulness of knowledge that characterized Him! And at the same time you see how distinctly everything is marked out — nothing left to what we might call a "perhaps," or "peradventure," or "chance." The whole proceeding is definitely arranged by One who is Master of every circumstance, and who has all under His own hand.
But observe another thing which is exceedingly blessed. He says, "With desire I have desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer." v. 15. Here you have the perfection of His feelings as Man, His human feelings. That is one thing that is so exceedingly blessed when we think of the Lord Jesus Christ: the combination of the human and the divine; the combination of all those wonderful, blessed feelings that marked Him as Man, with all the glory that belonged to Him as God. As a sweet hymn says —
"The union of both joined in one
Form the fountain of love in His heart."
His love is human and also divine. You get not merely one side, but both. See the two here put together by the Holy Ghost. At the very time when His divine glory comes out, when He shows that He has everything at His disposal, then it is that His precious human affection is displayed. As has been blessedly said, He is like the father of a family about to take a long journey, and seeks to have a parting interview with His loved ones. That is the beauty of it. "With desire I have desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer." Oh, the blessed perfection of the heart of our Lord Jesus Christ — the blessed, perfect Man! What tenderness, what consideration, what affection, breathes in every word! Put these two things together, and could there be found a more blessed study for our souls? I am lost in wonder and amazement! Perfect God and perfect Man; very God and very Man. Our souls bow to the blessed truth. It is this which promotes worship. When we have reached that blessed Person in the attraction and fulness of His own nature, then our whole moral being is commanded. The moment we reach His blessed Person we adore; we cannot help so doing. Worship cannot be got up; you cannot manufacture worship; but reach that presence, and you are on your face! And that is ever the effect, beloved friends, of the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Do we realize that in our souls? Do not for a moment think that I wish to turn your eye inwards. I hold that all realization is by faith; and I do not believe in any feelings, however religious, that are separated from faith. It must be all of faith. Take, for instance, that scene which comes before the mind as we are speaking. Think of the Lord's Supper as He here instituted it, even on this eventful night in which He was betrayed. Thank God for the Lord's Supper! And, blessed be His name, it is recovered to us in its simplicity! Oh, what a mercy in such days as these! He Himself has recovered it in all the primitive simplicity in which He gave it to His own. What scene on earth is like that of the Lord's Supper? When we are really there, when we sit down in His blessed company, and know we are in the presence of Himself, who gathers His own around Himself, how blessed! If Christ is in the midst, it is that which constitutes the meeting as according to His mind. If He is not there, it is no true meeting according to the Word of God. That narrows the question in a very simple way.
I do not for one moment mean to say that there are not numbers of God's beloved, believing people who do remember the Lord, according to their measure of light, in breaking bread and drinking wine, in other circumstances. I believe, because I know it, there are true saints of God, and true servants of God, who, according to their light, and the affection of their souls toward our Lord Jesus Christ, do remember Him. And I believe He takes account of it. That is one thing that stands by itself. I would not for worlds destroy the comfort of that to any one's soul. But remember this, it is only individual in their case. To have a collective remembrance, to have what His word implies — a communion together, it must be a remembrance together, and a remembrance together with Himself, in His own company; and for this there must be His own presence. Moreover, to have that presence there must be all the conditions of that presence, all the blessed accompaniments of that presence. All these things go together, and while it is well, and right also, to be clear and distinct about that, it is another thing entirely to take away from, and interfere with, the comfort that many a dear, though unintelligent child of God derives from the fact that he has remembered the Lord Jesus Christ. I ought to be very glad when any one has such a desire in his heart, because he has already the first element there. The great thing is to build upon that. Bring in Christ, but do not destroy the little bit that is of God. Cultivate it, add to it. Remember, we are not called upon to be breakers down of walls and hedges. The axe and the hatchet are cruel instruments. What we are called upon to do is, to "strengthen the things which remain, that are ready to die." Rev. 3:2. If we find ever so little of Christ, let us never fail to own it. Never let us fear acknowledging ever so little of the truth. Why should we be afraid to walk in the steps of the Master? Let us be well assured of this, that our ability to discover and own the little there may be of Him, flows from His being much before ourselves.
I have said all this simply in connection with Christians remembering the Lord Jesus individually, even though taking the Lord's Supper apart from the intelligent knowledge of it as set forth in Scripture; but how good it is to be according to His mind no one can easily exaggerate.
Now, when we come together where the Lord Jesus Christ gathers His saints to His name, it is His own presence that fills our hearts and thoughts. Christ is the Centre, and He is as well the Object. It is to Him the Holy Ghost gathers, and it is on Him the Spirit fixes the mind of the gathered company. Christ is there, and fills the soul. Suffer me very affectionately to press upon you that which is intended to characterize the first day of the week, and the Lord's Table. Is it so, beloved? Or do you go there merely to derive a certain kind of satisfaction to your heart that you have broken bread and drunk wine? Which is it? Do you not see how possible it is to proclaim loudly, on the one hand, that we have escaped from system, and yet, on the other, to turn the very Supper of the Lord into little better than an empty form, a cold ceremony? That is the danger to which we are exposed and if we practically divest it of the presence of Christ, of the fact that He is there; that we go there to remember Him, and be in His company, and under His leading; to sit before Him, and hear His voice; what a dreary void it all must be! Then indeed it might well be said, "They have taken away my Lord."
It has been remarked, and I believe rightly, that what characterizes the presence of Christ is this: that in His presence we forget our heaviest griefs and our greatest joys. Both alike are outside. Why? Because we have then reached His presence who is greater than all. Thus it is that there is no remembrance of them for the moment. I do not say we may not return to them; but while we are there we are both abstracted and absorbed by His company; as it is said, "Lost in wonder, love, and praise." In such a moment, strange as it may seem, silence is the most eloquent expression of the soul's adoration. And when that silence gives way to an outpouring of the heart, "O Lord, we adore Thee" is its utterance. If the presence of Christ commanded all the company; if every heart were riveted and enraptured; if every soul were entranced by the greatness of the One who takes His place in the midst; what a moment it would be!
It is well then to see how that the great central worship-meeting of Christianity is the Lord's Supper. There is a peculiarity, a speciality, about it that attaches to no other meeting.
Further, the interest is not only in all these circumstances connected with the Passover, the institution of the Supper, the combination of the human and divine, so blessedly seen in our Lord Jesus Christ; but there is another point to which I desire now to direct your attention, a word used in the instructions given to the disciples; namely, "Where is the guest-chamber, where I shall eat the Passover with My disciples?" v. 11. Observe how He particularly points to that one spot as that in which, according to His own mind, it was suitable for Him to eat the Passover with His disciples; and it was there He instituted the Supper. I cannot but feel that there is something deeply characteristic about this word "guest-chamber." What does it mean? When He thus designated it, what did He intend to convey to their hearts, and (shall I not say?) to your heart and mine? Is He not speaking to us through this scripture, just as He spoke to them? He means simply this: that He was a Stranger here, and that we must be strangers too. He is showing us, beloved, how His earthly circumstances must form and determine ours. How touching! The Creator of all, He who formed everything, by Whom as well all is upheld, had not a spot in His own creation!
"A Pilgrim through this lonely world
The blessed Saviour passed;
A mourner all His life was He,
A dying Lamb at last.
"That tender heart, that felt for all,
For all its life-blood gave;
It found on earth no resting-place,
Save only in the grave."
Oh, may God by His Spirit revive the sense of this strangership in all our souls! We need it sadly in these days. There is a serious danger of our settling down and becoming acclimatized, as it were. The "guest-chamber" is our true position in a world where Jesus is not! It is a place where a man puts up for the night. The place bespeaks the character of the one who occupies it. He does not belong to the established order of things. With the blessed Master there, we can say —
"Though far from home, fatigued, opprest,
Here we have found a place of rest;
As exiles still, yet not unblest,
Because we cling to Thee."
Verily, the truth that lies around this "guest-chamber" ought to speak to us as to our present place in this world, and be a distinct voice to us that we should manifest it more. Let Christendom have its costly buildings, its gorgeous temples; but the "guest-chamber" is the place that becomes the followers of Him who had not where to lay His head.
In the next place the Lord breaks every link with the old order of things. He says, "I will not any more eat thereof, until it be fulfilled in the kingdom of God." v. 16. In this verse, as has been truly said, it is not now a question of setting up the kingdom, of establishing it as things were. He is about to establish things on a wholly new basis through redemption, through the work He was going to accomplish before God. These are deeply important and interesting circumstances connected with the celebration of the Passover and the institution of the Lord's Supper.
There is another point here, which, though very sorrowful, it is still good and edifying for us to ponder. It is this: that where you find God most fully manifested, there you will always find man most fully exposed. This is a principle running through every part of Scripture; and what follows here is no exception to the rule: hence the Holy Spirit shows us the treachery of Judas, the wickedness of the priests, and also that which has a special voice to us; namely, the weakness of the disciples.
All would shrink from the treachery of Judas, and shudder at the evil hatred of the priests, the solemn witness to the intensity of religious animosity and malignancy, which know no bounds, and which exceed all else in the lengths to which they will go. This would be universally condemned by Christians, but many might pass over the sad witness here to how little reality there is even in the love of the Lord's own. And, beloved friends, how solemn it is to reflect on that which we are here told had obtained fast hold of them. What was it? A strife! v. 24. Can it be possible at such a moment? Ah! yes; such is man at best; a strife, for pre-eminence too, in the presence of the most perfect manifestation of all its contrast in Jesus.
Oh, friends, what a thought, what a word for us! How the Word of God exposes us! How the presence of Christ and the grace of Christ find us out! "There was also a strife," is the record. There were other things, but there was this. What a principle to intrude at such a moment! Does it not make one blush for very shame? Alas! what a picture of ourselves, what a witness of the material we are made of, friends. "There was also a strife among them, which of them should be accounted the greatest." Oh, the littleness of humanity, the littleness of even the best! How unblushing the impudence and insolence of the flesh! Oh, beloved friends, it is enough to break the heart, if we at all take in what we are capable of at a moment like this! For what have we here? The mighty God, who had emptied Himself, and become a Man, as a Man humbling Himself yet more. Thus, last week we had the mount of transfiguration before us, and looked at Him descending from Tabor to Calvary, from the heights of glory into the valley of the shadow of death. It is in the presence of such grace that there is strife, the selfish assertion of the miserable, contemptible littleness of man. That is what we have here.
Let us now see how the Blessed One meets them. What does He say? Ah! beloved, Jesus was not like us. We are too apt to correct the faults of others by severity, by the lash, by cutting scorn. You never find that in Christ, and yet there never was one more sensible of the faults of others, because He knew them in His own divine mind. But, oh, the tenderness of His rebuke! What does He say? How does He deal with them? He brings Himself before them; points to Himself as the lowly One. The possession of lowliness like His, that is true greatness. The way to be great is to be lowly. Mark well His words: "The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them; and they that exercise authority upon them are called benefactors. But ye shall not be so: but he that is greatest among you, let him be as the younger; and he that is chief, as he that doth serve. For whether is greater, he that sitteth at meat, or he that serveth? is not he that sitteth at meat? but I am among you as he that serveth." vv. 25-27. Observe how He brings Himself in: "I am among you as he that serveth." Oh, beloved friends, herein is the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ! Oh, that somewhat of the savour of that spotless, holy, blessed, precious Person, in these beautiful ways, might reach us at this time, that there might be more of this companionship with Him, the learning of Him who is meek and lowly in heart, and thus the finding of rest unto our souls!
But there is not only the tender and gracious gentleness of that rebuke; for He looks upon them, and says, "Ye are they which have continued with Me in My temptations." v. 28. How gracious! We know they would not have stood one hour with Him if His grace had not enabled them; and yet notice how He even gives them credit for what His own grace alone had wrought. Blessed Jesus! None like Jesus! Remember, too, they were about to forsake Him, and flee. How well He knew that! Judas sold Him, Peter denied Him, and all the rest ran away and left Him. Nevertheless, "Ye are they which have continued with Me in My temptations," are His gracious words. May God in His infinite mercy fill our hearts more with the moral perfections of His blessed Son. Oh, for more constancy of soul in the company of Christ, to walk in His company, to learn of Him, to mark His ways! He never passes over anything in us; He loves us too tenderly and deeply for that; but He does not come, as it were, with an axe, and fell us to the ground. Oh, what a blessed thing it is to have to do with the Lord Jesus Christ in the grace and tenderness of His heart!
Permit me now to call your attention to the way in which the scene of His agony in Gethsemane opens, because it is in exact correspondence with what we have seen in other parts of Luke's Gospel. I will just read the verses again, for there is nothing like having Scripture immediately before us. "And He came out, and went, as He was wont, to the mount of Olives; and His disciples also followed Him. And when He was at the place, He said unto them, Pray that ye enter not into temptation. And He was withdrawn from them about a stone's cast, and kneeled down, and prayed." vv. 39-41. Here again we have the great evidence of the Lord's entire dependence as the perfect Man; for the perfection of a man is in the absolute dependence that marks him as such. That is one side of the perfection of Jesus. No doubt you have both here; but what specially and peculiarly marks Gethsemane, the scene of His agony, was this: that whilst He went through all in spirit with His Father; carried, as it were, in His heart, passed through in His soul, all the shadows of the cross that were flung upon His blessed path here, it was in His perfect, absolute dependence. And I do not believe it is without reason that it is recorded how He "kneeled down, and prayed." I do feel, beloved friends, that there is great need to call attention to the attitude of prayer, the manner of prayer. They cannot be disconnected from one another. We do not, I believe, sufficiently take in its importance. Assuredly, as I have intimated, there is a distinct purpose of the Spirit of God in giving this record about our Lord Jesus Christ, the perfect Man; namely, that He kneeled down. I do not suppose that you will think I am overstraining the passage to say that the Holy Ghost calls special attention to the manner in which the Lord Jesus, in the perfection of His dependence as Man, approached His Father. For who, and what, is here set before us? A Man cast upon God, watching, weeping, praying; perfectly so. We see, too, that an angel strengthens Him. You know that did not go beyond His body. His body is strengthened to endure the excess of agony, to go through intense and inconceivable suffering. Thus He "kneeled down."
Now, I suppose, when we draw nigh to God in our closets, we do not, at least when in health, recline on couches, or sit cross-legged upon chairs. I cannot imagine for a moment any person privately in his or her own room drawing near to God in that manner. Why, then, should we do it in public? Why should there be such a sharp contrast between our mode of private prayer and our manner of public prayer. Do not, beloved friends, in your minds and hearts, resent my calling attention to this. It has been asserted that, having escaped from the meshes of superstition, we have fallen into irreverence. We ought to take to heart, and learn from, such a statement. There are many things said that are not true, but we ought to take into account, and draw instruction from, everything. Thank God, we have escaped from superstition; but it does not necessarily follow that we should therefore be irreverent. I am sure there is some ground for the charge alluded to; but if there is the realization of the presence of Christ and of God, of the soul's being in His presence, it is difficult to conceive how one can be lacking in reverence either of spirit or of posture. Even in this poor world, when a subject draws near to an earthly sovereign, who has only a fleeting life in his breast, there is every mark in the approach that betokens respect for the dignity of the royal presence. Oh! let what is here recorded rest upon the hearts of my brethren: He "kneeled down." Think of Jesus on His knees! Yes, the perfect, blessed Man kneels down, perfect in the spirit of dependence as well as in its attitude.
"And He was withdrawn from them" — alone with His Father in the isolation of that moment. Herein is the perfection of Gethsemane, and the agony of our Lord Jesus when, in company with His Father, He passed in spirit through the whole weight of His coming sorrow. It is all in His spirit, and His perfection comes out in this too. Man and Satan were the cause of bringing about His death; but He knew how to separate between that which was of man and Satan, and to take from the Father's hand the cup that was filled with the judgment of God. What marks the cross in contrast with Gethsemane is this: in Gethsemane He watches, and prays, and cries; as it is said, "Who in the days of His flesh, when He had offered up prayers and supplications with strong crying and tears unto Him that was able to save Him from death, and was heard for His piety." Help. v. 7. His piety was the right estimation of the circumstances in which He was found. Because He was perfect He shrank from that cup which in subjection He drank. He shrank from it in the perfection of His own nature. His request that the cup might pass from Him was perfection. When the cross is reached, what marks that is a perfect calmness in undergoing judgment which no heart of man can understand; an unbroken calmness in a darkness that no human eye could penetrate. There is no agonizing, no weeping there; all is fullest submission, perfect subjection, bowing beneath the awful load, bearing it in His own body on the tree. Put the two occasions together, and see how perfectly consistent and beautiful they are; the perfection of agony in Gethsemane, the perfection of sin-bearing at Calvary.
Well, beloved friends, what a scene it is to dwell upon! One feels a kind of diffidence in speaking of it. The subject is more suited for adoration than discourse; but a solemn voice reaches the soul from the scene presented in this chapter, and one could not put it aside without seeking from God that we might dwell on it with reverence, conscious that the place is holy ground; that we might have ears to hear the voice that comes from this Blessed One in the perfection of His dependence, in all that agony as He takes the cup from His Father's hand: "The cup which My Father hath given Me, shall I not drink it?"
May God by His Spirit, in His own infinite grace, apply it in all its deep significance to the heart of each of us here this evening. He can read to us the lessons that it teaches. I commend it to you affectionately and earnestly; and I would count upon your love in receiving any little word of exhortation or of warning that has passed from one's poor lips to-night; assured that He would have us learn from, and be exercised about, every little thing connected with Christ's glory and His truth.
May God bless His Word; may He bring home to us this wonderful scene, and fill our thoughts with it, that we may get a deeper impress in our souls of the Blessed One who is perfect Man as well as perfect God, for His precious name's sake.