“Five Hopeful Words”
Preached by Dr. Robert F. Browning
Calvary Baptist Church
February 2, 2020
There is something interesting in Matthew’s account of the Last Supper that would be easy for us to overlook. If we do, we’ll miss one of the most hopeful messages Matthew left his readers.
What is it we could overlook with a casual reading of this text? It is five simple, yet profound words Matthew attached to the end of one of the sentences Jesus spoke. Let me show you where it is.
Jesus and the disciples have gathered in a room somewhere in Jerusalem to eat the Seder meal at the beginning of Passover. At some point near the end of this dinner that evoked memories of their ancestors’ release from bondage in Egypt in search of a better life and new homeland, Jesus took the unleavened bread, blessed it, broke it and passed it around the table. After the disciples had been served, Jesus said, “Take and eat; this is my body.” (26:26)
Jesus then took the cup, gave thanks and passed it around the table as he had the bread. While this occurred, Jesus said, “Drink from it, all of you. This is my blood of the (new) covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. I tell you, I will not drink of this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it anew with you in my Father’s kingdom.” (26:27b-29)
The five words I don’t want us to miss are in this part of our text. I’ll quote the sentence again and emphasize the five words.
“This is my blood of the (new) covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.”
We have five sources to help us piece together what occurred the evening Jesus gathered in the Upper Room with his disciples to eat the Passover meal. All four gospels mention their time together that historic evening, some to a greater degree than others. In addition, Paul passes on what he had been told about that event in his letter to the believers in Corinth. (1 Corinthians 11:23-34)
Out of the five sources, Matthew is the only one that has the expanded version of Jesus’ words to the disciples as he passed the cup around the table. Let me read it again emphasizing the five words unique to Matthew.
“This is my blood of the (new) covenant, which is poured out for many…for the forgiveness of sins.”
Why did Matthew include this descriptive prepositional phrase? What was his purpose?
We must look at the conversation that preceded this portion of our text to discover the reason Matthew included these words. It holds the key that unlocks this mystery.
“When evening came, Jesus was reclining at the table with the Twelve, and while they were eating, Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, one of you will betray me.” (26:20-21)
What follows is a description of the disciples’ shock and dismay. One by one, the disturbed disciples quizzed Jesus. “Surely not I, Lord?” they asked. (26:22)
Judas was the last to speak up. When he spoke the same words his colleagues did, Jesus said to him, “Yes, it is you.” (26:25)
This is where Matthew’s account of the proceedings differs from some of the other sources. According to Matthew, Judas does not abruptly leave the table. He is still in the room when Jesus begins what we refer to as the Lord’s Supper, passing the bread and cup. Why?
Matthew wanted Judas to be present when Jesus talked about forgiveness. He wanted to connect Judas’ betrayal with Jesus’ grace and mercy.
Matthew wanted his readers to know if Jesus was willing to forgive Judas for betraying him, how much more he would forgive them of anything they had done wrong. Nothing they could do would hurt Jesus as much as Judas did.
The disappointment Jesus felt when Judas led the religious authorities and Roman soldiers to him in the Garden of Gethsemane later that evening was immeasurable. The pain Jesus experienced when one of his closest friends turned against him was inexpressible.
Judas was not, however, beyond redemption, and Jesus wanted Judas to know that night around that sacred table that this unspeakable deed did not have to have the final word in his life. Forgiveness could pave the way for healing and restoration.
This was not just true for the first century readers of this gospel. It is also true for us.
Forgiveness is as real, powerful and accessible now as it was in the Upper Room or around the cross where Jesus prayed, “Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing.” (Luke 23:34)
You know what this means for us in this room today?
At this table, sins are forgiven.
At this table, all sins are forgiven.
At this table, there are no exceptions and no sin is excluded.
At this table, hope is made visible.
At this table, broken relationships are repaired.
At this table, reconciliation is possible.
At this table, sins are confessed.
At this table, making excuses is replaced by taking responsibility for one’s choices.
At this table, apologies are voiced.
At this table, wounds are healed.
At this table, changes are made.
At this table, lives are transformed.
At this table, vindictive feelings of resentment and retribution are overcome.
At this table, violence is replaced with peace.
At this table, walls of suspicion and hatred are replaced with bridges of goodwill and understanding.
At this table, we are empowered to forgive as well as be forgiven.
At this table, the path forward to a new and better future for the perpetrator and victim is paved.
Would you begin that hopeful journey of faith this morning by asking for forgiveness and receiving God’s grace and mercy?
Would you make it possible for others to begin this journey by granting forgiveness to those who have disappointed you as Jesus was willing to do for Judas?
If you do, I am confident you will leave this table changed for the better, and those around you will know it this week.