Following His Footsteps: “A Child of Two Worlds” – Matthew 26

spiritual worldOne of our local high school teachers posted a question the other day on their Facebook page that was perfect for an introduction to this lesson. He wrote: “Christians are often asked how there can be a God with so much evil in the world. How does the atheist explain all the evil in the world?” An university student who claims to be an atheist responded with the classic language of a modern thinker:

First, he wrote: “Define evil.” He went on to explain: “Did you know that there is a parasite that burrows into the eyes of children in developing countries? Is the parasite evil? No, of course not! It’s trying to survive. Murder, rape, and other atrocities are a part of human nature, just as they are a part of other animals’ nature. Being advanced, social primates, we can identify that these atrocities cause great harm to the receiving individual, and we would not want that to happen to us, so most people would not want to hurt others. Hitler was not an evil person. He was a mentally ill psychopath who had an awful childhood. Understanding the causes for horrid behavior can help us provide care and medicine for those who might be more inclined to commit such acts. Saying that there is some kind of supernatural evil behind it won’t get us anywhere. If I killed someone tomorrow just for the fun of it, and it was only because a tumor was altering my thought process, would I be evil? No. Good and evil is a man-made concept.”

He sounded intelligent, but he is completely clueless. He was unable to distinguish between animals and man – those led by instinct and those with an implanted conscience. He was unable to see anything beyond the material world, so by simply eliminating the existence of evil, he can dispense with any of the worthless and meaningless attempts to thwart evil! The grand theological wrestlings of Thomas Aquinas have now been uncovered as a complete waste of time. Immanuel Kant – you were a mere lightweight thinker, you should have taken more science in school! You see, with the ultimate clarity of science, we can now see our error – we thought evil existed. Hitler was simply misunderstood! Lest you think his explanation an anomaly, hear a professor from Yale published this week:

As intelligent agents we are compelled to believe certain things, most importantly that our will is free, that we are selves that persist through time, that there are moral truths that can be universalized, beliefs which as individuals committed to science we yet know to be false.“–Karsten Harries, Yale University philosophy professor

Are you still asking doubtfully how another holocaust like that of a “Great Tribulation” could be again embraced by a culture? Here is your answer.

We as a culture will explain away evil and see morality as a mere social construct that can be bought by a media outlet to change votes. The explanation fits a naturalist narrative – that there is only ONE world, and that is the one that can be measured in man’s vaunted sense of science. Biblically speaking, that isn’t just naïve, it is foolish and quite dangerous – but it passes as scientific education in the elite schools that shape our future Presidents and Senators.

It occurs to me that the Deceiver’s work is best done when his deception is hidden in plain view and not acknowledged as even existing. Both of the quotes I shared express beautifully the prophetic words of the Apostle Paul recorded in 2 Timothy 3:

2 Timothy 3:1 But realize this, that in the last days difficult times will come. 2 For men will be lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful, arrogant, revilers, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unholy, … 7 always learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth. 8 Just as Jannes and Jambres opposed Moses, so these [men] also oppose the truth, men of depraved mind, rejected in regard to the faith…”

Here is the truth: The Bible made clear that there are TWO stories running in the background of your life – one physical, and one spiritual. Your life is bigger than you may have believed. You play a role in things eternal – even from your backyard in your little town.

Long ago, when a simple shepherd named Jacob didn’t make that connection, God made it clear in the dream of a stairway that connected Heaven and earth – so that he could be clear on this truth. For many of us, when we met Jesus on life’s journey, we became aware that the spiritual world not only existed, but it had a tremendous influence on the physical world. Today’s lesson emphasizes this truth. We live in a split screen of two worlds – the spiritual (permanent and real) and the physical (temporal and ephemeral). Knowing that helps us make sense of much of what happens in life. Here is the truth…

Key Principle: We are children of two worlds. We have an enemy that is hiding and working to thwart God’s transformation of us – but God is greater!

As we continue to walk with Jesus through His earth ministry, we find the narrative of Matthew 26 reveals this truth of the two worlds in a “split screen” presentation. On the one hand, we have what Jesus was doing – and on the other, the work of evil behind the scene. Consider that as you view the “back and forth” nature of the two scenes in Matthew 26. There are four stories:

• The first is a simple story that illustrates two understandings of the world – either the physical world is all there is, or there is a spiritual world behind the actions of the physical world.

• The second is a record of two meetings – one with people who recognize God and His work among them, and the other with people unaware they are carrying out commands from the world of spiritual darkness.

• The third is a record of two interactions in prayer meetings in the Garden of Gethsemane. One record regarded Jesus’ prayer time with the Father, the other recalled the disciples unable to remain awake during a time of prayer.

• The final story was of two testimonies – one presented by Jesus before the Elders of the Congregation of Israel, and the other by Peter at the fireside in the court of the house.

Let’s begin with the first story…

The Story of the Two Understandings

The story begins on “stage right” with…

Jesus and Disciples

Matthew 26:1 When Jesus had finished all these words, He said to His disciples, 2 “You know that after two days the Passover is coming, and the Son of Man is [to be] handed over for crucifixion.”

Jesus was completely aware of the two agendas – He was at work preparing the men for Jesus’ departure while the enemy was at work to blunt their grasp of what was going to happen. This is one of the enemy’s main works – to hide the urgency of the hour of our listening and learning.

Next on “stage left”, running simultaneously was another part of the scene…

Chief priests and elders

Matthew 26:3 Then the chief priests and the elders of the people were gathered together in the court of the high priest, named Caiaphas; 4 and they plotted together to seize Jesus by stealth and kill Him. 5 But they were saying, “Not during the festival, otherwise a riot might occur among the people.”

Jesus made His men aware of both worlds, while the enemy was stirring the pot with men who were unaware of his presence. They, no doubt, thought they were doing something good and they were protecting the nation. Yet, note the verbs: they “gathered”, they “plotted” and even they “considered” the problems of the reaction of the people. The writer used words like “stealth” and “seize” to give you a sense of the kind of individuals they were and the nature of their work. The work of the enemy is often done behind closed doors – secret from the rest of society. On the surface, these were polite men. They were “helpful” and “publicly gentle” men. Behind closed doors they desperately wanted control and plotted to do what they wanted – but in the dark and in secrecy. The enemy uses men that are often polite, kind and community minded on the surface, but they have a different agenda if you could follow them into the meetings in the shadows. We don’t want to believe they are evil. We want to believe they are what they present to us. The clear fact of Scripture is that some are not what they appear – they are working for evil purposes. Our inability to see them clearly is part of the rouse of the deception at work. We must be harmless, but not naïve.

Step back and look at the two agendas: God wanted to prepare His people for the troubles ahead. The enemy wanted to find a way to trap the unsuspecting – that is a perfect reminder of how the evil one is at work, and what God is doing in you. God wanted His people to be ready in a way that would help them deal with trouble – so they could be unafraid. The enemy wanted to stir trouble and push the leaders by their fear of the crowds.

The second story is that of…

This second story tells of the “Two Evening Meetings”…

A woman pouring “thanksgiving” at Bethany

Just after (according to Matthew) Jesus’ warnings to the men of His impending death, the group stopped at Bethany for a time of preparation for the days ahead. Jesus was still exposing the coming work of darkness to the men, and a woman began to do something that was probably a bit awkward. She took an expensive alabaster container and broke it open, so that she could expend its aromatic oil on Jesus, beginning at his head.

Matthew 26:6 Now when Jesus was in Bethany, at the home of Simon the leper, 7 a woman came to Him with an alabaster vial of very costly perfume, and she poured it on His head as He reclined [at the table]. 8 But the disciples were indignant when they saw [this], and said, “Why this waste? 9 “For this [perfume] might have been sold for a high price and [the money] given to the poor.” 10 But Jesus, aware of this, said to them, “Why do you bother the woman? For she has done a good deed to Me. 11 “For you always have the poor with you; but you do not always have Me. 12 “For when she poured this perfume on My body, she did it to prepare Me for burial. 13 “Truly I say to you, wherever this gospel is preached in the whole world, what this woman has done will also be spoken of in memory of her.”

There are several details about the story that help us understand the importance of this simple event in the life of Jesus.

• First, the woman was an invited part of the dinner, probably well known to all of the disciples. Her direct access to Jesus denoted the men were comfortable with her presence in the setting.

• Second, she approached Jesus with the small “alabastros” – a delicate stone-cut vessel of porous material in which very expensive contents are stored on a very temporary basis. She brought it to use the essence oils it contained on Jesus.

• Third, such expensive anointing oil was generally used for the dead as an extravagant gift – a show of the deep emotion of the loss of the loved one.

Note that she began to anoint Jesus’ head – as you would a dead person. Since Jesus was reclining at the table, this was not a spa treatment – but the private act of preparation for a great time about to be revealed – His coming death. This was the kind of practice performed for a prince before donning a royal robe and being presented to the crowd at a banquet. Don’t miss the significance here: Jesus was just quoted as preparing the men for His death in no uncertain terms. This woman was anointing His head, as one would a dead man. Did the disciples understand the action? No! The disciples saw this as a WASTE. Here is the lesson: Jesus saw the events ahead and saw the value in the woman’s response of worship, thanksgiving and honesty. The disciples saw only the temporal value of the oil and couldn’t understand why the woman was pouring out this expensive oil. When disciples don’t see beyond the physical world, they respond the wrong way to God’s work in people.

Judas spewing betrayal with elders

Split away from that setting, but on the same night, Matthew tells of another meeting…

Matthew 26:14 Then one of the twelve, named Judas Iscariot, went to the chief priests 15 and said, “What are you willing to give me to betray Him to you?” And they weighed out thirty pieces of silver to him. 16 From then on he [began] looking for a good opportunity to betray Jesus. 17 Now on the first [day] of Unleavened Bread the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Where do You want us to prepare for You to eat the Passover?” 18 And He said, “Go into the city to a certain man, and say to him, ‘The Teacher says, “My time is near; I [am to] keep the Passover at your house with My disciples.”‘” 19 The disciples did as Jesus had directed them; and they prepared the Passover.

The enemy moved into Judas and had his way in his heart. Perhaps it was the waste they just witnessed – for John noted that Judas specifically complained “because he kept the purse”. Perhaps the rebuke of Jesus was the last straw! What we know for sure is that Judas was SELF-INTERESTED. He was willing to auction off his loyalty to the highest bidder. That is the fingerprint of the enemy – one who chooses SELF over OTHERS. The scene ended with both sides in the same place…and Jesus showed a knowledge of both worlds… physical and spiritual…

All together: “Remember I know both worlds!”

With all the men in the room – Jesus took the time to let the men know exactly what would happen in the coming hours.

First, He announced the PLAN of His death would come by betrayal:

Matthew 26:20 Now when evening came, Jesus was reclining [at the table] with the twelve disciples. 21 As they were eating, He said, “Truly I say to you that one of you will betray Me.” 22 Being deeply grieved, they each one began to say to Him, “Surely not I, Lord?” 23 And He answered, “He who dipped his hand with Me in the bowl is the one who will betray Me. 24 “The Son of Man [is to] go, just as it is written of Him; but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been good for that man if he had not been born.”

Second, Jesus made clear to the PERSON who would become the betrayer that He was not ignorant of the plot:

Matthew 26:25 And Judas, who was betraying Him, said, “Surely it is not I, Rabbi?” Jesus said to him, “You have said [it] yourself.”

Third, Jesus made clear the PURPOSE of His coming death:

Matthew 26:26 While they were eating, Jesus took [some] bread, and after a blessing, He broke [it] and gave [it] to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is My body.” 27 And when He had taken a cup and given thanks, He gave [it] to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you; 28 for this is My blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for forgiveness of sins.

Here we must not pass too quickly. The enemy would have Judas believe that this was a mere human dispute between theologians. He wanted to switch sides, but it was little more than the singer’s words: “there ain’t no good guys, there ain’t no bad guys, there’s only you and me and we just disagree!” The devil wanted morality to be hidden. He wanted Judas to be fine with betrayal – because he does his best work when people think they are HELPING solve a problem, when in fact they are executing a DARK COMMAND.

Jesus spoke out on the purpose of God “signing off” on this evil plot’s seeming victory – because God was establishing the means of reconciliation long promised by the prophets. His body would be broken and His blood spilled. It would not be so much the enemy’s plot and the Father’s secret fulfillment of a promise. The enemy cannot see the future, and he doesn’t believe the Word of God as truth. As a result, he keeps making the same mistake: He underestimates God’s ability to make something right that he bends.

Fourth, Jesus offered a PROMISE of a future celebration:

Matthew 26:29 “But I say to you, I will not drink of this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it new with you in My Father’s kingdom.”

Jesus told the men His kingdom would not die with Him at the cross. It would be born there- and it was!

Finally, Jesus offered insight into the PROBLEM of the next few hours:

Matthew 26:30 After singing a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives. 31 Then Jesus said to them, “You will all fall away because of Me this night, for it is written, I WILL STRIKE DOWN THE SHEPHERD, AND THE SHEEP OF THE FLOCK SHALL BE SCATTERED.’ 32 “But after I have been raised, I will go ahead of you to Galilee.” 33 But Peter said to Him, “[Even] though all may fall away because of You, I will never fall away.” 34 Jesus said to him, “Truly I say to you that this [very] night, before a rooster crows, you will deny Me three times.” 35 Peter said to Him, “Even if I have to die with You, I will not deny You.” All the disciples said the same thing too.

One of the great problems with disciples that can see only vague glimpses of the darkness is this: we believe ourselves to be too strong! We think we can overcome our old nature, beat into submission the enemy’s work within, and get the world to see the truth by our sheer force of will. We cannot! A spiritual battle exists at a level beyond our ability to fight without the resources of the Holy One.

Think about it for a moment…From “Two Understandings” and “Two Meetings” we saw that there are two ways to look at life – and that the object of the enemy is to operate unseen in the physical world when he is at work. God’s object is to make people aware that the two worlds DO exist, and that one is at work behind the other.

Now the narrative moves quickly on with the interaction between our physical world and the spiritual one in an intimate portrait of two kinds of people – Jesus and His followers.

This third story tells of the “Two Interactions”:

Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane in prayer

Matthew 26:36 Then Jesus came with them to a place called Gethsemane, and said to His disciples, “Sit here while I go over there and pray.” 37 And He took with Him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and began to be grieved and distressed. 38 Then He said to them, “My soul is deeply grieved, to the point of death; remain here and keep watch with Me.” 39 And He went a little beyond [them], and fell on His face and prayed, saying, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; yet not as I will, but as You will.”

How well Jesus understood that things physical were dependent on things spiritual! He told the Father what He wanted to happen – but then quickly noted that in the flesh His desires may not serve the highest eternal purposes. He wanted what the Father wanted. He wanted to serve the true spiritual purposes of the Heavens. Yet, as Jesus prayed, He wasn’t actually alone. A short distance away in the tiny olive grove there were others…

Disciples asleep in Gethsemane

The sound of Jesus’ prayer to the Father, agonizing before Him, was drowned out by the snores of spiritually insensitive and physically tired men.

Matthew 26:40 And He came to the disciples and found them sleeping, and said to Peter, “So, you [men] could not keep watch with Me for one hour? 41 “Keep watching and praying that you may not enter into temptation; the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.”

If you take a moment, you can see Jesus prayed a second time in Matthew 26:42 He went away again a second time and prayed, saying, “My Father, if this cannot pass away unless I drink it, Your will be done.” And the Disciples slept a second time: Matthew 26:43 Again He came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were heavy.

Jesus prayed yet a third time in Matthew 26:44 And He left them again, and went away and prayed a third time, saying the same thing once more. The Disciples slept a third time: Matthew 26:45 Then He came to the disciples and said to them, “Are you still sleeping and resting? Behold, the hour is at hand and the Son of Man is being betrayed into the hands of sinners. 46 “Get up, let us be going; behold, the one who betrays Me is at hand!

Here is the truth: When the spiritual world is hidden from the followers of Jesus – they become more moved by physical desires than sensitive to Spirit moves. Some will sit in church this Sunday worried about the economic stress of Monday – and miss the gentle voice of God. Some will be distracted by a beautiful person they want to date in the next row, and miss God’s major statement of direction for their life. It is a fact: Christians that focus on the physical world become desensitized to God’s work in the spiritual realm. We don’t want to be “spooky”, but nor do we want to become utterly insensitive to God’s work in our lives and community.

All Together: Jesus’ Betrayal and Arrest

In flooded the men to arrest Jesus in Matthew 26:47-58. Don’t miss the scene!

On the one hand, there is a faking follower, Judas, who uses a “kiss of peace” to initiate a betrayal in Matthew 26:47-50. Don’t forget that Satan often uses someone who poses as a follower to do his greatest damage!

Next, there are the ego-filled followers who have decided to protect the work of God with the metal sword in Matthew 26:51-54. They raise the protest and fight in the courts. They wrestle with powers without prayer nor with the Savior’s urging. They come to defend God. Note that Jesus rebuked His own followers for the defense, not the world for its offense. Why? Because He needed to remind them of His own power in Matthew 26:53 “Or do you think that I cannot appeal to My Father, and He will at once put at My disposal more than twelve legions of angels? 54 “How then will the Scriptures be fulfilled, [which say] that it must happen this way?”

Let’s be honest about this. Prayer-less protesting believers make good Americans, but often progress without any understanding of the power of God to move the story. Jesus doesn’t need me to save people – He has the power and the army behind Him already. If He allows a loss, it is not because He was beaten – but because it plays into His plan.

Drop quickly down a few verses to the next short story…

This fourth story tells of the “Two Testimonies”:

If you took the time to read all of Matthew 26, you would see the end contains the scene of “Jesus Questioned”:

Matthew 26:59 Now the chief priests and the whole Council kept trying to obtain false testimony against Jesus, so that they might put Him to death. … 63 But Jesus kept silent. And the high priest said to Him, “I adjure You by the living God, that You tell us whether You are the Christ, the Son of God.” 64 Jesus said to him, “You have said it [yourself]; nevertheless I tell you, hereafter you will see THE SON OF MAN SITTING AT THE RIGHT HAND OF POWER, and COMING ON THE CLOUDS OF HEAVEN.” … Then the striking began! They were incensed by Jesus’ claim that He was EXACTLY Who they charged Him with being!

Move out in the corridor of the same house, and a completely different questioning was ongoing…

Contrast the questions to Jesus with that of “Peter Questioned”. Look at a word that keeps popping up in the narrative…

Matthew 26:69 Now Peter was sitting outside in the courtyard, and a servant-girl came to him and said, “You too were with Jesus the Galilean.” 70 But he denied [it] before them all, … 72 And again he denied [it] with an oath, “I do not know the man.” … 74 Then he began to curse and swear, “I do not know the man!” And immediately a rooster crowed.

Here is the truth: If we do not recognize the fundamental truth that we are in a spiritual battle – and not simply a physical struggle surrounded by “interesting coincidences,” we will never represent God well when trouble comes. We need to recognize that…

We are children of two worlds. We have an enemy working to thwart God’s transformation of us – but God is greater!

A colleague offered this true account from their recent travels: One of our men, an incredible Christian leader among men — we’ll call him Steve –was traveling recently by plane. He noticed a two seats from him thumbing through some little cards and moving his lips. The man appeared to be a professorial with a goatee and graying brown hair, and Steve thought him to be about “fifty-something”. Guessing the man was a fellow-follower of Jesus, Steve leaned over to engage him in conversation. He said: “It looks to me like you’re memorizing something”. “No, actually I was praying,” the man replied in a “matter of fact” voice. Steve leaned over to introduce himself and said: “I believe in prayer too!” “Well, I have a specific assignment,” said the man with the goatee. “What’s that?” Steve asked. “I’m praying for the downfall of this list of Christian pastors.” Though taken back, Steve didn’t miss a beat. He replied: “I would certainly fit into that category, Is my name on the list?” The man looked at him and said: “Not on my list.” That is when it struck him – I may well be on SOMEBODY’S LIST today.

Let’s not get spooky, but let’s not be naïve about the enemy’s work, either. I have been set up in situations designed to put my name in doubt. Thankfully, the Lord provided a way of escape each time. We must be ready – the battle is real. I leave you with one story that may offer an encouragement to engage now…

Recently National Geographic ran an article about the Alaskan bull moose. The males of the species battle for dominance during the fall breeding season, literally going head-to-head with antlers crunching together as they collide. Often the antlers, their only weapon are broken. That ensures defeat. The heftiest moose, with the largest and strongest antlers, triumphs. Therefore, the battle fought in the fall is really won during the summer, when the moose eat continually. The one that consumes the best diet for growing antlers and gaining weight will be the heavyweight in the fight. Those that eat inadequately sport weaker antlers and less bulk. There is a lesson here for us. Spiritual battles await. Satan will choose a season to attack. Will we be victorious, or will we fall? Much depends on what we do now–before the wars begin. The bull-moose principle: Enduring faith, strength, and wisdom for trials are best developed before they’re needed. From: “Common Ground”, Vol. 10 No. 7.

Don’t be deceived into lax living in this hour…We are children of two worlds.