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Sermon for Maundy Thursday 13 April 2017

FIRST READING Exodus 24:3-11

3Moses came and told the people all the words of the Lord and all the rules. And all the people answered with one voice and said, “All the words that the Lord has spoken we will do.” 4And Moses wrote down all the words of the Lord. He rose early in the morning and built an altar at the foot of the mountain, and twelve pillars, according to the twelve tribes of Israel. 5And he sent young men of the people of Israel, who offered burnt offerings and sacrificed peace offerings of oxen to the Lord. 6And Moses took half of the blood and put it in basins, and half of the blood he threw against the altar. 7Then he took the Book of the Covenant and read it in the hearing of the people. And they said, “All that the Lord has spoken we will do, and we will be obedient.” 8And Moses took the blood and threw it on the people and said, “Behold the blood of the covenant that the Lord has made with you in accordance with all these words.”9Then Moses and Aaron, Nadab, and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel went up, 10and they saw the God of Israel. There was under his feet as it were a pavement of sapphire stone, like the very heaven for clearness. 11And he did not lay his hand on the chief men of the people of Israel; they beheld God, and ate and drank.


PSALM Psalm 116:12-19

12I will fulfill my vows to the Lord in the presence of all his people.  13Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his servants.  14O Lord, I am your servant; I am your servant and the child of your handmaid; you have freed me from my bonds.  15I will offer you the sacrifice of thanksgiving and call upon the name of the Lord.  16I will fulfill my vows to the Lord in the presence of all his people, 17In the courts of the Lord’s house, in the midst of you, O Jerusalem. Hallelujah!  18I will pay my vows to the Lord in the presence of all his people, 19In the courts of the house of the Lord in your midst, O Jerusalem. Praise the Lord!


SECOND READING Hebrews 10:11-22

11But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things that have come, then through the greater and more perfect tent (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation) 12he entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption. 13For if the blood of goats and bulls, and the sprinkling of defiled persons with the ashes of a heifer, sanctify for the purification of the flesh, 14how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God. 15Therefore he is the mediator of a new covenant, so that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance, since a death has occurred that redeems them from the transgressions committed under the first covenant. 16For where a will is involved, the death of the one who made it must be established. 17For a will takes effect only at death, since it is not in force as long as the one who made it is alive. 18Therefore not even the first covenant was inaugurated without blood. 19For when every commandment of the law had been declared by Moses to all the people, he took the blood of calves and goats, with water and scarlet wool and hyssop, and sprinkled both the book itself and all the people, 20saying, “This is the blood of the covenant that God commanded for you.” 21And in the same way he sprinkled with the blood both the tent and all the vessels used in worship. 22Indeed, under the law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins.


GOSPEL Matthew 26:17-30

17Now on the first day of Unleavened Bread the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Where will you have us prepare for you to eat the Passover?” 18He said, “Go into the city to a certain man and say to him, ‘The Teacher says, My time is at hand. I will keep the Passover at your house with my disciples.’” 19And the disciples did as Jesus had directed them, and they prepared the Passover. 20When it was evening, he reclined at table with the twelve. 21And as they were eating, he said, “Truly, I say to you, one of you will betray me.” 22And they were very sorrowful and began to say to him one after another, “Is it I, Lord?” 23He answered, “He who has dipped his hand in the dish with me will betray me. 24The Son of Man goes as it is written of him, but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been better for that man if he had not been born.” 25Judas, who would betray him, answered, “Is it I, Rabbi?” He said to him, “You have said so.” 26Now as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is my body.” 27And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, “Drink of it, all of you, 28for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. 29I tell you I will not drink again of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.” 30And when they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.



In a CBS 60 Minutes interview, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor was asked why she had resigned as an Assistant District Attorney for the Bronx. She replied, “Because for the first time in my life I saw evil first hand and I felt that if I stayed that close to it, it just might rub off on me.” Evil is an age-old human affliction that has impacted the life of every person ever born including the two people who were not born but created in the Garden of Eden. Justice Sotomayor recognized the dangers of evil and therefore feared that it might rub off on her. So, let me ask you this: Have you ever encountered evil?
In his book, People of the Lie, the late American psychiatrist Scott Peck discusses evil. According to Dr. Peck, evil people are consistently self-deceiving with the intent of avoiding guilt and maintaining a self-image of perfection and are characterized not so much by the magnitude of their sins, but by their consistently destructive practices. This syndrome results in a projection of evil onto selected innocent people, who are seen only as play things or tools to be manipulated. This is the paradoxical mechanism by which evil people, Peck’s “people of the lie,” commit their despicable deeds.
Psychiatrist Peck further writes that such people are rarely seen by psychiatrists. He goes on to assert that psychiatry has no successful treatment plans for evil people. If Dr. Peck is correct, I then submit to you that only the gospel of Jesus Christ can overcome evil as we see, in fact, that happened repeatedly while Jesus walked among us. Scott Peck used to tell the story of how he, a highly regarded scholar and writer, was struggling to find a succinct definition of evil for his People of the Lie book. His then eight-year-old son, noticing the expression on his father’s face, asked his daddy what was troubling him. “I’m trying to define evil.” “That’s easy,” the son replied, “evil is LIVE spelled backward!”
This evening we’re here to consider LIFE lived in reverse gear; perverted goodness that does the right things for the wrong reasons. Evil is demonstrated in misplaced self-focused passion, negativity, critical spirituality, love running in the wrong direction, a phenomenon that hurts our humanity and defaces our divinity. Have you ever experienced evil? Have you seen it in your own life? Or in the life of someone else? Do you know anything about personal iniquity? Have you ever been victimized by systemic sin? Evil is live spelled backward. But from what perverted place did evil emanate?
Where evil originated is an age-old question that has plagued humankind for millennia. According to the Bible, evil or sin presented itself in serpentine form to Eve. There, in that garden, the perfect relationship between the Creator and the creature was ruptured. But is that garden really the only locus of evil’s genesis? I’m afraid not.
If we really want to look at evil’s nefarious beginnings, we must look up. Up past where the eagles play; up beyond the sun, the moon, and the stars; all the way up to a throne room in glory where cherubim chant and seraphim sing; where elders cry out, “Holy! Holy! Holy! Lord God of hosts.” Isaiah tells us that’s where evil began. Lucifer, one of heaven’s angels, desired to usurp the established divine authority and had the audacity to say, “I will ascend to heaven; I will raise my throne above the stars of God… I will ascend to the tops of the clouds, I will make myself like the Most High” (Isaiah 14:13-14). After that, God expelled Lucifer from the heavenly habitat and Lucifer, whose name means “light,” fell into dark ways.
Lucifer plummeted downward from the home of grace. Yet, when he fell, he didn’t fall all the way. His fall was halted somewhere between high enough from earth and low enough from heaven for him to receive the title “Prince of the power of the air” (Ephesians 2:2 ESV). He descended from heaven and fell just high enough to set up shop where he could deputize emissaries for the purpose of reaping havoc among us, our forbears, and generations not yet born. That, according to the Bible, is where evil found its origins and where its roots are found today. So, we can say that it’s no surprise that psychiatry has yet to find a cure for it.
One notable human example of this diabolical thing called evil, is a certain man named Judas Iscariot. An old preacher said, “Don’t ever preach about Judas for to do that only gives him free advertising.” We must look at Judas because he incarnates evil. Moreover, we must look briefly in the direction of the evil Judas to catch a deeper understanding of how far unrequited evil can carry a person. But the fact that he was called by Jesus as one of the 12, raises questions.
Have you ever wondered why Jesus Christ, Son of the living God, would choose a man like Judas to be a disciple in the first place? Why would He choose a man in whom, He surely knew, the devil would eventually control? Jesus knew what He was doing. In John 6:70 we read, “Have I not chosen twelve and one of you is a devil?” So why would our Lord and Savior bring into His ranks such a grand rascal as Judas Iscariot? I believe He did this for several reasons.
First, Jesus allowed Judas to be part of the 12 to demonstrate evil’s omnipresence. Evil can, and will be, found everywhere; we can’t escape it. Now to speak about evil’s omnipresence isn’t to include heaven in that definition of omnipresence for the moment. What I’m saying is that there’s no place south of heaven where evil isn’t to be found. You may remember, for example, the experience recorded in Job’s life where the sons of God come to present themselves before God himself. Do you remember who also came as well? Satan.
Scripture says, God interrogated him: “Satan, where have you come from?” “Well, God, I’ve just been going to and fro throughout the earth.” “For what purpose, Satan?” “Well, seeking whom I may devour” (cf. Job 1:7ff). Then a little later the sons of God come again to present themselves. God looks and Satan is still there. Again, God asks, “Satan, where are you coming from?” “Same place, going to and fro throughout the earth seeking whom I may devour. God, you really don’t have to worry about me. I’m not like these mortals created in your image. I am, if nothing else, consistent.”
Evil is everywhere, all the time. He was “among the sons of God.” He’s even within the confines of the church. But, we know this already, didn’t we? Sometimes we Christians make the mistake of thinking satan is working hardest in places he long ago left. He doesn’t need to hang out in the so-called “worldly” places. His weeds of evil are well planted there and now are producing their godless harvest. They are “back-to-nature” gardens that no longer need tending. He’s already taken possession of them and left them on a kind of autopilot. His primary place of action today is within the church.
In The Screwtape Letters, C.S. Lewis has the devil, Screwtape, instruct his nephew, Wormwood, the apprentice demon, that if he really wants to disrupt God’s work on earth, the best place to do that is from inside the church. Wormwood is told to become involved in the inner workings of the church with the express intent of ingratiating himself, so that he might begin his destructive work from the inside. Satan comes wherever God’s people gather. Satan comes on time. He even comes early. He likes a good seat. He gets himself on church boards and committees. He becomes an usher so he can greet well-intentioned worshipers with his sour and surly spirit. He even sings in the choir.
Martin Luther once said, “When the devil fell, he fell into the choir loft.” Luther understood the power of music. He wrote hymns in order to teach the gospel with song. The choir sings in order to point us to Jesus. Lucifer was in the heavenly choir when he was expelled. If allowed, he’ll even climb up the steps into the pulpit and stand up in sacred space if we’re not careful. The question we must ask, even of ourselves is, “What motivates us to become involved in the things we do?”
There’s an interesting line in the book of Revelation about “the synagogue of Satan” (3:9). It makes us wonder if there are some churches where Satan has particular control. We must recognize that evil is everywhere. I think God wants us to understand the truth of that assertion. What better way to demonstrate that truth than to pick someone like Judas. But there’s a second reason why Jesus picked Judas Iscariot to be one of the 12.
Jesus wanted to demonstrate that even when given a chance, not everyone would follow good leadership. Jesus chose Judas Iscariot to show us, that even the best leaders won’t be universally accepted. After he led the British people to victory from almost certain defeat in World War II, Winston Churchill was rejected by the very people whose lives and livelihood he saved. So it shouldn’t surprise us when somebody the church has helped breaks ranks. Not everyone will fall in line and march straight.
Jesus selected Judas Iscariot to demonstrate that not everyone will follow sound leadership. Judas was with the Son of God for three years. It was three years of exposure to perfect goodness and unfeigned love; three years with the light of the world; three years with the finest example of humanity who ever set foot on this planet. Three years and every day of it counted for naught with Judas!
Perhaps Jesus chose Judas to show us that mere physical proximity is no proof of spiritual similarity. One can be close to the fire and be as spiritually cold as a winter day. Sometimes those who have been in the church for a long time don’t seem to have the foggiest notion of what the church, God’s kingdom, is about. Close proximity is no sign of spiritual nearness, and Jesus wants us to understand that not everyone will necessarily follow good leadership. And there’s more. I believe that our Lord selected Judas Iscariot for a third reason: namely, to encourage His church with the truth that good is more potent than evil.
Most of us tend to agree with Mark Anthony who declared that “the good that men do is often interred with their bones, while the evil that men do lives after them.” That, however, is not necessarily so. Paul instructs us, “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:21). In God’s kingdom, good is far stronger than evil. Do you realize that in three years Judas didn’t succeed in winning a single convert to his way of thinking? Not one! Knowing how the devil operates, we can be sure that it wasn’t for want of trying.
Imagine, if you will, Judas on some evenings when Jesus and His men are exhausted from the intensity of a long day, trying to catch some sleep. Here comes Judas, the human embodiment of Satan who never sleeps, easing up, saying to Thomas, and shaking him out of his sleep. “Wake up, Thomas,” he whispers, “I want to talk with you.
Thomas you have a sharp mind. You’re a thinker. Have you considered the possibility that Jesus has got this thing all wrong? I remember, that day out in the hills when Jesus spoke about feeding that multitude. You thought that was an ill-conceived idea. I’m sure he tried to sway Thomas, a man given to doubts and fears. I’d like to think that Thomas said, “I’ve thought that on occasion, but every time I decide that it’s a foolish pursuit following Him, He does something new that astounds me and I want to follow Him anew.” Don’t you know Judas must have tried to win over Peter.
“Peter, you’re the man! Don’t you think Jesus is headed for failure? It’s only a matter of time. Now He’s talking about taking on Caiaphas and that temple crowd in Jerusalem. He’s about to get us sandwiched between the religion of Jerusalem and the politics of Rome. Peter, isn’t it possible that Jesus is crazy?” Can you hear Peter saying to Judas, “I’ve been on the verge of that thought from time to time. Then when I start thinking like that Jesus does something to demonstrate He’s more than a conqueror.” Yes, Jesus chose Judas to demonstrate that good is ultimately more potent than evil. And I can imagine that Jesus selected Judas for at least one other reason. He wanted to teach us how to deal with evil.
It’s the last Thursday Jesus will be the Son of Man. Already the shades of evening are beginning to fall and Jesus stands there in the company of His disciples and looks across Kidron Valley to Jerusalem. He looks the twelve in the eye and says, “It’s time to go.” They enter a house and go upstairs to the second story. It was an Upper Room.
An Upper Room: This is important to remember. The late Dr. William Jones, told a story out of his native Kentucky. He said that up in the mountains there’s an interesting thing called the “snake line.” Experienced hunters know the elevation of the snake line and when they go on a hunt, they always pitch their tents above that snake line. They do this because rattlesnakes and other poisonous creatures won’t come around to inflict harm and possibly death. Snakes cannot survive above the snake line.
It was the Upper Room. Jesus led the disciples up above the snake line. There sitting around the table they celebrated the Passover meal and Jesus announced, “One of you will betray me.” Judas, the snake, couldn’t last in that environment. He stayed for the feast then left in a hurry. He fled to some other snakes and strategized as to how he would inflict his poison. And in the end Judas “hanged himself!” (Matthew 27:5). Given time, evil always hangs itself.
Evil is always around us. Peter tells us in his epistle to, “Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.” (1 Peter 5:8) The point is, don’t live your life in reverse. Don’t take up residence where the snakes abide. We need to stay away from the places where we can be tempted and go above the snake line. But just because we get above the snake line, we still need to be in prayer for those around us. On this Maundy Thursday, we need to remember why Jesus came. He came to “take away the sin of the world” and to reconcile humankind to the Father. He took on our sin so that we may have life and have it abundantly. (John 10:10)

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