Category Archives: Predestination

Mark 4:1-20 The parable of the soils

Discussion question:

What is the biggest threat to your faith (or spiritual well-being)?

Read Mark 4:1-20


Mark’s gospel began quickly. Both John and Jesus’ preaching ministry was about repentance and belief that the kingdom of God has come near. Jesus has attracted attention from all around through his healing ministry but he has said that the reason he has come is to preach.

He has called a group of disciples to follow him and has already stirred up trouble with regard to understanding the Sabbath. One stand out event so far was the healing of a paralyzed man where Jesus declared himself able to forgive sins – like only God can!

He has declared the those who do God’s will are included in his family.



  • Ready to teach in parables (1-2)
  • The parable told (3-8)
  • The problem with parables (9-13)
  • The parable explained (14-20)

Ready to teach in parables (1-2)

“Again Jesus began to teach by the lake.” Lake Galilee is where he has preached before and has been referenced previously. Mk 1:45, 2:13, 3:7. The first reference doesn’t mention a lake but the second implies that he has preached by a lake before. He was not able to preach in the synagogues since Mark 1:45.

“The crowd that gathered around him was so large that he got into a boat…” This seems like a very practical way of creating a natural staged area where he faced the whole crowd and wasn’t engulfed. The point here is that it was a practical solution.

“He taught them many things by parables…” As stories go, they begin with setting a scene before they introduce the problem. Verse 2 can be seen as the problem of this narrative. Yes, he will tell a parable and then explain the parable and we will learn a great message from the parable…but the problem in this narrative is that he teaches in parables. This is made clear by verse 2 and verses 9-13. The parable is one layer of the story but the outer layer is that the kingdom is being revealed to those who God reveals it to.

The parable told (3-8)

“Listen!” This is not an incidental word. Verse 9 ends the parable with Jesus’ challenge to hear if you can! Can we listen?

“…some fell on…” Verses 3-8 are not challenging to listen to on a literal level. He speaks easy words to understand which you can draw on paper. Jesus explains the parable later, but for now, we just observe the four stages of his story. 1) a path 2) rocky places 3) thorns and 4) good soil. Drawing them out can be very helpful. How many of the four scenarios are commendable?

The problem with parables (9-13)

“Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear.” This is the challenge from Jesus. He began with “Listen!” and ends with “Did you listen?” 

“When he was alone… the others around him…” It seems odd to describe him as alone and yet accompanied by the 12 and others. Assuming that the writer is not an idot, this means that the large crowd of verse 1 was gone and now Jesus was alone – with those who were travelling with him.

“The secret of the kingdom of God…” Jesus’ first recorded words in Mark were “Repent for the kingdom of God has come near.” Now he talks about the secret of the kingdom of God. The key word here is secret. Paul will talk about the mystery of God which has now been revealed in Jesus (Eph 1:9; Col 1:26-27; 2:2). Jesus is the mystery of the kingdom revealed. He is the word of God. He will stand right before everybody and only those who will listen will see him.

“…has been given to you. But to those on the outside…” Jesus will speak plainly to his disciples but speak in parables elsewhere. These disciples will take the mysteries and give them to the world. Even then, only those who have ears will hear.

“They may be ever seeing but never perceiving…” Isaiah 6:9-10 are referenced here. There is not a word for word quote but idea for idea. Notably the original quote says healed rather than forgiven. When Jesus came, the big idea for God’s salvation was honed in toward forgiveness rather than prosperity. The idea is that the kingdom of God has come near – but who will enter? Once you understand grace and who Jesus is truly, and embrace him, the kingdom of God makes so much sense like you can’t understand why everybody else has a difficulty seeing it! It’s not rocket science. But people are kept from believing because of the deception of wickedness (2 Thess 2:10).

“Don’t you understand this parable?” The problem of the narrative of Mark 4:1-20 is about understanding and hearing. The good soils will be those who hear and embrace the truth – the word of God. What prevents producing crops in the kingdom is closed ears.

“How can you understand any parable?” I’ve come to notice that Jesus asks rhetorical questions from time to time (eg, Mk 10:18) but we actually need to answer the question! How will we understand any parable? What is the answer to that? Isn’t it that Jesus will tell us? That the word itself will explain it? How do can we have ears to hear? We must turn them on and turn to the bible and listen. The bible will explain what the bible means. There is more to it: The Spirit, who the Son and the Father sent, will lead us into all truth. There is an act of grace in having the secrets to the kingdom of God revealed. It takes the mercy of God. But on our par, it takes turning on our brain and opening our ears and listening to the bible. Jesus explained the parable to the disciples! That is how they would understand the parable.

The parable explained (14-20)

“…like seed along the path, where the word is sown.” The combination of the seed and the path are in focus. The seed is the word of God. God speaking. The bible. Sometimes when the word of God is shared, it falls on the path.

“…as soon as they hear it…” This is how the word is sown, by sharing it to those who can hear it.

“…Satan comes and takes away the word that was sown in them.” This is both sudden and criminal. Satan steals it away. The hearer treats it as junk. Message heard and ignored or ridiculed.

“…on rocky places…at once receive it with joy. But since they have no root, they last only a short time.” These hearers receive the word of God with joy. It pleases them. Like a lovely and comforting story. Not immediately discarded but heard with a smile on their face.

“…when trouble or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away.” Can Christians fall away? Not if they remain! But hearers with shallow roots quickly retreat when tested or challenged. Their understanding of the gospel is shallow. Any number of arguments or alternate options can knock them off their faith. Paul celebrated the church in Colossae because they had hear the true gospel and truly understood the grace of God (Col 1:3-8).

“…seed sown among the thorns…” The challenge to the third group is the struggles and worries of this life. If group 2 are easily challenged by their faith, group 3 are overwhelmed by the distractions of this world. Finances, ambition, entertainment, idolatry, everything else comes before Jesus. Colossians 1:15ff talks about the priority of Christ for life and salvation. 

“…worries of life, the deceitfulness of wealth and the desires for other things come in and choke the word…” Matthew 6:19-33 contains Jesus’ advice to stop worrying and seek first the kingdom of God.

“…making it unfruitful.” The first three scenarios are unacceptable outcomes. It is not good enough to be 2 because it is better than 1! All three end in the same result – the word of God produces no fruit in them.

“…hear…accept…produce a crop…” This is the lesson. Listen. Adopt. Do.

“…some thirty, some sixty, some a hundred times what was sown.” The word of God does not stop with this one person but produces more. Both good works and more seed sown by the farmer. The Twelve listening to Jesus will produce an international church that has not and will not end until Christ returns.

Suggested questions for running this study

Q1. Verses 1 and 2 set the scene for Jesus’ sermon. What stands out in the description of this scene?

Q2. Draw the parable as explained in Verses 3-8. Which of the four scenes are commendable?

Q3. What does Jesus reveal to be the real problem here according to verses 9-13?

Q4. Talk about each type of soil where the word is planted. What are the differences between all three? And which of the four soils are fruitful?


The kingdom of God is about hearing the gospel (Jesus the mystery of God revealed). To unlock the secret of the kingdom of God we need to listen, adopt and do what it says – like it is worth listening to (not to be stolen or discarded), like it is rich in knowledge and truth (deep roots), and like it is of highest priority (not strangled by the things of this world. Jesus is offering us the keys to the kingdom. What we need to do is stop and listen – have ears to hear and do what it says!


Challenge#1 – Sharing the word to those who don’t care.

There will be many who don’t know what to do with the message of the gospel. It will be either white noise to them or they will be repulsed and hate every word of it. Our task is not to only plant where there will be fruit, but to speak the word everywhere. There is nobody on the planet that doesn’t need to hear the gospel and have a chance to listen.

Challenge#2 – Hearing the depths of the gospel.

Simply knowing that God loves you and that Jesus is awesome is not enough to sustain you in your faith. Believing that church is lovely but not knowing your bible well is not a healthy place for anybody. The word of God is written for adults to dig deep and understand as well as for children to read and grasp. But we don’t want to remain children in the faith. The knowledge of God is vast and the bible is filled with robust theology. It can handle scrutiny and can stand the test of time. Only shallow readers and mockers think that it is not worth reading and knowing or that Jesus is only 2 dimensional. Set goals to continue to grow in your knowledge of God and his word.

Challenge#3 – Riches I heed not nor man’s empty praise

Knowing what the Kingdom of God is about ought to set our compass on eternal things and not the things of this earth. Read Matthew 6:19-34; or Luke 12:22-31; or Colossians 3:1-18 during the week to pray about seeking our eternal treasure and setting our minds on heavenly things and not on earthly things. Write a list of all the things that fill your mind regularly with worry and take them all to God in slow and concentrated prayer. Cast your anxiety on him and seek first the kingdom of God. Once you have ears to hear, it makes perfect sense.

Luke 22:24-38

The greatest serves

Discussion Question

What is the most responsibility that you have ever had to carry?


The Passover meal had been arranged and Jesus redefined this grand traditional meal as a remembrance of his death. Judas had consented to betraying Jesus and Jesus announced that his betrayer was seated at the table with them all. The disciples all questioned among themselves which of them was going to betray Jesus.

Read Luke 22:24-38

24 A dispute also arose among them as to which of them was considered to be greatest. 25 Jesus said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who exercise authority over them call themselves Benefactors. 26 But you are not to be like that. Instead, the greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like the one who serves. 27 For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one who is at the table? But I am among you as one who serves. 28 You are those who have stood by me in my trials. 29 And I confer on you a kingdom, just as my Father conferred one on me, 30 so that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom and sit on thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.

31 “Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift all of you as wheat. 32 But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.”

33 But he replied, “Lord, I am ready to go with you to prison and to death.”

34 Jesus answered, “I tell you, Peter, before the rooster crows today, you will deny three times that you know me.”

35 Then Jesus asked them, “When I sent you without purse, bag or sandals, did you lack anything?”

“Nothing,” they answered.

36 He said to them, “But now if you have a purse, take it, and also a bag; and if you don’t have a sword, sell your cloak and buy one. 37 It is written: ‘And he was numbered with the transgressors’; and I tell you that this must be fulfilled in me. Yes, what is written about me is reaching its fulfillment.”

38 The disciples said, “See, Lord, here are two swords.”

“That’s enough!” he replied.

What did you see?


  • Exercising authority in this world (24-25)
  • Exercising authority in the Kingdom of God (26-30)
  • The promise of trials ahead (31-38)

Exercising authority in this world (24-25)

“A dispute also arose among them…” Luke places this account in a different location to Mark and Matthew (Mark 10:42-45 and Matthew 20:25-28). It is difficult to know for sure why that is and the conclusion can often come down to what the interpreter would like to conclude! Two things can be said for sure: 1) that Jesus really seems to have said words about the nature of authority in this world compared to the kingdom of God and 2) that the gospel writers inserted this lesson from Jesus where they saw them fitting in the narrative. Perhaps Jesus said the same thing twice. But neither is it a new thing for accounts in the bible to care more about the message than they do about the exact chronology of the events. It seems reasonable to argue that there were two events in the account of Jesus’ ministry which suited the lesson from Jesus to be included at that point. Mark and Matthew quoted Jesus at one point but Luke placed those words in response to a different event.

Whatever the case, this dispute gives Jesus an occasion to explain how they are not behaving like children of the Kingdom of God.

“…as to which of them was considered to be greatest.” It doesn’t sound like an adult conversation. As Luke has placed this apparently at the table of the last supper, it just sounds so strikingly wrong! If this conversation flows directly out of Verse 23, however, it may have gone from a denial of betraying Jesus into something like, “I would never do that because I am most loyal to Jesus!” etc. What sounds like an immature and ridiculous conversation could well have flowed out of something smaller.

“…kings of the Gentiles…” Gentiles being non-Jews, ie, kings of the world.

“…call themselves Benefactors.” The simple stated nature of rulers in the world is that they hold authority and yet call themselves a giver of money to others. Even tyrant kings may wear a badge of honour as though they are benefiting the people. There may be a contrast beginning here between rulers who give themselves a good name and the leaders in the kingdom who will have the kingdom confered on them (Verse 29).

Exercising authority in the Kingdom of God (26-30)

“…greatest… like the youngest…” Jesus turns all hierarchies upside down. What seems to be the order of things in this world must not be the model for how we behave in the kingdom of God. See Mark 9:35

“…who is greater, the one who is at the table…? But I am among you as one who serves.” Jesus’ point is about humility, not reorganising who is in charge. His point is also directed at the kingdom of God and how that operates. That said, humility in the workforce and the home is a powerful and godly virtue. Jesus has placed his disciples at the table and is serving them. A greater illustration is found in John’s gospel Chapter 13 Verses 12-17 when he washed the disciples feet. That event took place on this same night.

“You are those who have stood by me in my trials.” Given that he has not been arrested yet, Jesus must be referring to the many confrontations that he has had with the teachers of the law. This sentence links to the last in that he has not been a king who lords it over people but one who undergoes trials inflicted on him by those who should be serving him. And although many chose not to follow him and many walked away, these men have stood by him. They have trusted him and persevered. Jesus is about to describe their place in the kingdom of God and it has come after his commendation that they have done well. They have been faithful with little and now they will be promised much.

“And I confer on you a kingdom, just as my Father conferred one on me…” The Father assigned the kingdom to Jesus and he is now assigning them a kingdom. The next verses will expand on what that means but here let us just acknowledge the doctrine of election. The apostles have not got lucky or paid their way to rule. Jesus has placed them in this place of authority in the kingdom. This promise must first and foremost be to the apostles specifically. Note also that this is a present tense declaration.

“…so that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom…” This is Jesus’ kingdom that he is describing – my table – my kingdom. But the disciples have been chosen and elected to sit and eat and drink at the king’s table. A place of honour. Jesus has reminded us that it is those who are great who sit at tables (Verse 27).

“…and sit on thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.” See also Matthew 19:28 and Revelation 3:21. Whilst the apostles are given a special place in the kingdom of God – certainly to bear witness of the One sent from heaven whom they saw with their own eyes and walked with him – whilst they do have a special place in the kingdom, it seems that this promise of judging the twelve tribes is not confined to them alone. The promise to eat with Christ and to reign with him is passed on to all who respond to Christ’s calling. 2 Timothy 2:12; Revelation 5:9-10. The twelve tribes of Israel is to be understood eschatologically (in context of the way things end up). All who put their hope in the Son of God are the true Israel. Romans 9-11 cover this concept that the kingdom of God is a kingdom of promise, not of descent or special treatment of a particular nation. James 1:1 describes the scattered church of Christ as the twelve tribes in the dispersion.

The promise of trials ahead (31-38)

“Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift all of you as wheat.” Verses 31 and 32 are amongst my favourites in all the bible. Not merely that it begins with my name repeated for emphasis and so seems quite directed to me! But more than that, this verse and the next describe two amazing truths of the scriptures (and more). Here we see the subordination of Satan to God. Satan is free but on a leash. We see in the book of Job how Satan needs to report back to God and is only allowed to do to Job what God permits. A day will come when Satan will be sent to eternal punishment. But in God’s wisdom he is permitted to tempt and sift people like wheat. The faith of the elect will be tested. Simon and the others, with God’s permission, will be put to the test. Those who stand firm to the end will be victorious. This is called the perseverance of the saints and this is the first truth that helps to put temptation and trials into perspective. James 1:2-4. God is not permitting Satan this job for his own sadistic joy. It is a means to maturity. Satan has asked permission and God has presumably permitted it. Christianity is not a life choice for the faint-hearted. But…

“…I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.” Such a beautiful word from Jesus to Simon. The Son of God, the King of kings has prayed for this fisherman. Note that Jesus prays to God. Remember the doctrine of the Trinity teaches us that although Jesus is God, he also prays to the Father who is God. The content of the prayer is that Simon’s faith may not fail. It is not that Simon will be excused from temptation or even that Simon will remain faultless but that his faith will not fail. Jesus knows that there will be a need for Simon to turn back. And that a repentant Simon is still equipped to strengthen others. Take heart at the comfort of these words. Those who have been elected for salvation (Verse 28), will have their faith tested which ultimately produces perseverance and maturity, and we have the Son of God praying for us (see also John 17) to ensure the preservation of the saints. It is the perseverance of the saints and the preservation of the saints which come out of these verses which I love.

“…I tell you Peter, before the rooster crows today…” I have often pondered why Jesus calls this man Simon at one point and Peter at the next. I can’t be sure but I have an inkling that Jesus talks to this man like he has two sides. Simon is the fisherman who is mortal and represents the person vulnerable to temptation. While Peter is the rock who is brave for the kingdom. Jesus tells this brave rock that he will fail before sunrise.

As Jesus knew the plans of Judas, He also sees how the night will unfold for Simon Peter.

“When I sent you without purse, bag or sandals, did you lack anything? “Nothing” they answered.” He refers to the time they were all sent out on mission to proclaim the kingdom of God (Luke 9:1-6; 10:4). Back then they were sent with nothing and lacked nothing. It was not a miracle but they were provided for when people from Jewish towns welcomed them in to hear about the kingdom of God. They received some rejection but they returned from the mission praising God for all that they were able to do in Jesus’ name. The season has changed now and working for the kingdom is going to get harder.

“But now if you have a purse, take it, and also a bag; and if you have a sword, sell your cloak and buy one.” People will be turning on the Son of Man and the nature of the mission is about to change. This is a warning passage. Satan has asked to shake them down and the people of their own villages can no longer be relied on for hospitality.

“It is written: ‘And he was numbered with the transgressors’, …this must be fulfilled in me. Yes, what is written about me is reaching its fulfillment.” Isaiah 53 was written about Jesus and Jesus knew that. The disciples wanted to know who was the greatest. Jesus teaches them that in the kingdom of God, there will be eating and judging but not in the next chapter. What will come next is persecution on the disciples and the King of the kingdom will be treated like a sinner. This must be fulfilled. Because it has been predetermined by God and He does not lie or change.

“See, Lord, here are two swords”…. “That’s enough!” he replied.” Later, the disciples will ask to use the sword and even strike the servant of the high priest but Jesus will rebuke them and heal the man. There are no accounts of sword wielding in the book of Acts.  The disciples have heard Jesus’ words and missed his point. They were being told a) that they will need to make provisions for themselves from now on and b) that he is about to be numbered with the transgressors! That is a big statement. In fulfilling scripture, Jesus will become the lowest. And their reply is “we have two swords boss!” Jesus reply to them seems to be a dismissal of the whole conversation or even a frustrated termination.

What did we learn?

Greatness in the kingdom of God is not fought for but bestowed on by election from the Son of God. As the King of the kingdom, he will demonstrate completely what the nature of the kingdom is: he will fulfill scripture and take on the position of a sinner. Being part of God’s kingdom is a road of trials and tests, as Jesus has demonstrated to his disciples and now they must walk the road of trials and tests. But Jesus preserves his people through prayer. Discipleship is a road hard to walk along, but we have every spiritual gift given to us and the hope of glory promised.

Now what?

Topic A: Humility as a mark of discipleship. Galatians 5:22-23 and James 3:17 list some of the fruit of the spirit which may well be summarised with the word ‘humility’. Philippians 2:3-11 describe the humility of Christ as the prime example of the humility that we ought to possess and cultivate. The nature of the kingdom of God is to put one another before ourselves. This is a true mark of godliness. How can you monitor your progress in this?

Topic B: Perseverance of the saints. All Christians are saints. When you have truly understood the grace of God in Christ and turned to Him in faith we can rest on the promises of God that a) he has called you into his kingdom and b) he promises to finish the work that he began in you (Ephesians 2:1-10). The journey is rough though. The world, the flesh and the devil will each do their darndest to knock you off the boat. James 1:5 says that if you lack wisdom on how to live in humility (James 3:13) then ask God for this wisdom that only he can give since it does not come from this world.

Topic C: Jesus is the fulfillment of Scripture. 2 Timothy 3:15-17 tells us that the Scriptures are all we need to find salvation in Christ and grow up mature in him. Jesus taught some disciples in Luke 24:25-27 that the Old Testament scriptures are filled with words concerning Jesus that had to be fulfilled. He is the missing piece that solves the great mystery of God. Ephesians 1:9-10 describe Jesus as the mystery of God finally revealed. We will never grow weary of learning more about him, to get to know him more, to understand him and even to participate in his sufferings so that somehow we shall be welcomed at his table in his kingdom to reign with him (Philippians 3:10-11). What grace that we do not deserve.

Luke 22:1-23

The betrayer revealed

Discussion Quote

“A man is like a novel: until the very last page you don’t know how it will end. Otherwise it wouldn’t be worth reading.” Yevgeny Zamyatin


We’ve said all along that Jesus had set his face toward Jerusalem back in Luke 9:50, then he walked to Jerusalem for the following 10 chapters. We can read the four gospels knowing that each of them ends with the death and resurrection of Jesus – as if that is obviously how it is all meant to end. But as the disciples lived that out and as Jesus headed toward Jerusalem and then toward the Passover meal, he has not lived that event before – and yet he knows exactly how it will be played out. We are reading a story that we’ve read many times before and yet at one time it had never been told before. This week we will explore the relationship between what God has planned from ages past and how He and the disciples participate in it by their own free will.

Read Luke 22:1-23

Now the Festival of Unleavened Bread, called the Passover, was approaching, 2 and the chief priests and the teachers of the law were looking for some way to get rid of Jesus, for they were afraid of the people. 3 Then Satan entered Judas, called Iscariot, one of the Twelve. 4 And Judas went to the chief priests and the officers of the temple guard and discussed with them how he might betray Jesus. 5 They were delighted and agreed to give him money. 6 He consented, and watched for an opportunity to hand Jesus over to them when no crowd was present.

7 Then came the day of Unleavened Bread on which the Passover lamb had to be sacrificed. 8 Jesus sent Peter and John, saying, “Go and make preparations for us to eat the Passover.”

9 “Where do you want us to prepare for it?” they asked.

10 He replied, “As you enter the city, a man carrying a jar of water will meet you. Follow him to the house that he enters, 11 and say to the owner of the house, ‘The Teacher asks: Where is the guest room, where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?’ 12 He will show you a large room upstairs, all furnished. Make preparations there.”

13 They left and found things just as Jesus had told them. So they prepared the Passover.

14 When the hour came, Jesus and his apostles reclined at the table. 15 And he said to them, “I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. 16 For I tell you, I will not eat it again until it finds fulfillment in the kingdom of God.”

17 After taking the cup, he gave thanks and said, “Take this and divide it among you. 18 For I tell you I will not drink again from the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.”

19 And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.”

20 In the same way, after the supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you. 21 But the hand of him who is going to betray me is with mine on the table. 22 The Son of Man will go as it has been decreed. But woe to that man who betrays him!” 23 They began to question among themselves which of them it might be who would do this.

What did you see?


  • A narrative on consenting to evil (1-6)
  • Preparing for the pre-prepared (7-13)
  • As it has been decreed (14-23)

A narrative on consenting to evil (1-6)

“…the Festival of Unleavened Bread, called the Passover, was approaching…” The Passover originates and is described in the book of Exodus and was to be a lasting festival for all generations. The unleavened bread was to remind the people how they were redeemed suddenly and had to exit Egypt quickly.

“…and the chief priests and the teachers of the law were looking for some way to get rid of Jesus…” John 11:55 describes this as a time when people would come to Jerusalem in order to prepare themselves for the festival – making themselves clean. The priests should have had better things on their minds rather than getting rid of Jesus.

“…for they were afraid of the people.” The method of removing Jesus was tricky because they feared the people. They should rather be fearing God!

“Then Satan entered Judas, called Iscariot, one of the Twelve.” The bible is consistent in teaching that evil is everywhere and there is no society exempt from corruption and lies. Even one of Jesus’ closest 12 were open to wickedness. Why does it seem so surprising when we hear of ‘good’ people doing bad things. NB there were two disciples named Judas and so his name is given more detail to distinguish him. The word Iscariot has no particular sinister meaning. Not then anyway! It is likely related to where he was from.

What is meant by Satan entered Judas? The answer to that can range from a spectacular hollywood possession sequence where he was once timid like Dr Jekyll but became hunched and sneering like Mr Hyde – or as subtle as described by CS Lewis in his famous book The Screwtape Letters where it only takes a silent whisper to make Judas, the ‘patient’, decide to do the worst. Luke has previously described demons entering a person (Luke 8:30) as well as Jesus having a conversation with Satan (Luke 4:1-13). So, Luke is not suggesting it is merely a metaphor. But he neither expresses how others perceived this to be happening. The least and perhaps most we can say is that the betrayal of Jesus had the attention of Satan. What follows is a perfectly boring description of what being possessed by Satan looks like.

“And Judas went…and discussed with them how he might betray Jesus. They were delighted and agreed to give him money. He consented, and watched for an opportunity…” Quite boring really. But when people discuss things in private that have the destructive effect on those not present, that is when evil is in action. The fact that this is really quite dull and normal highlights how frequent sin can be at work. Judas went, they discussed, an agreement was made and, most importantly, Judas consented. Perhaps that describable event is a little narrative about what it was like for Judas to listen to Satan. The Adversary entered Judas, there was, perhaps, a silent discussion and then Judas consented – and so he went and talked with the chief priests. We must not think of Satan as an omnipresent creature who is able to speak to all of us all of the time, but we should take the warning that he or his messengers may suggest things to any one of us. Judas was not being possessed by Satan to the extent that he was no longer himself. Judas had entertained the idea by Satan and had consented to going to talk to the priests. Full blown sin does not just happen. It begins with a temptation. A thought develops. A plan manifests. Consent. Wait for the opportunity. Take it. Although Satan is not included, James offers a pathway from temptation worth noting (James 1:14-15).

Ironically, while the chief priests should have been preparing for the Passover festival, they were focused on how to get rid of Jesus who, we now celebrate as the true Passover Lamb. They were neglecting their duties and at the same time doing exactly as God had prepared in order for The Passover to truly take place.

Preparing for the pre-prepared Passover(7-13)

“Then came the day of Unleavened Bread on which the Passover lamb had to be sacrificed…“Go and make preparations for us to eat the Passover.”” The Festival was a week long festival with one of the days dedicated for the killing of the Passover Lamb. On the very first Passover, a lamb was killed and its blood painted on the doorposts so that the angel of death would pass over that home and the firstborn child was saved. This event had two levels (as did roughly all the narratives of the Old Testament). Firstly, it describes God’s grace and mercy and saving power to rescue a people who were once slaves to become the very special and chosen people of God. It is a historical picture of how Israel came to be God’s redeemed people. Secondly, it setup Israel with a message to be repeated annually for them to one day see the death of Jesus as the ultimate fulfillment of that Exodus event. God had been preparing Israel and all future Bible readers to the idea of salvation from slavery, by means of a sacrificial lamb with only the call to believe and act out that faith.

“He will show you a large room upstairs, all furnished. Make preparations there.” The words that Jesus uses leading up to that sentence is like something from a secret spy movie or something. Whether Jesus had arranged this on a previous visit to Jerusalem, or by talking to someone during the day or whether he somehow used his powers of divine sovereignty to accomplish this – who knows? It adds more flavour to the narrative that Luke is giving us in this entire section of the pre-arranged ordained events that all the characters believe they are living out for the very first time. Judas is acting out on his own desires and yet God knew that this would happen. The Passover has been reenacted every year for centuries and yet it has been a strange recital of an event yet to take place at the cross. And here is a meal that needs to be prepared and yet Jesus already knows exactly where it is meant to happen. The disciples are to prepare something for the first time that has already been prepared by God.

“They left and found things just as Jesus had told them. So they prepared the Passover.” Everything was prepared just as Jesus had foretold it. So the Passover meal which is a foretelling of the death of the Son of God will be prepared by the disciples just as the Son of God had described. Good. Is it like living out a story that has already been written?

As it has been decreed (14-23)

“When the hour came…” Luke keeps using these time indicators to move the story along like the clock is ticking. Like the time is counting down to an end.

“For I tell you, I will not eat it again until it finds fulfillment in the kingdom of God.” Jesus states plainly here that the Passover is not a meal that looks back to an old historical event but one that looks forward to the death of God’s firstborn Son. And that death is not something that points forward to another thing but is the fulfillment. The Exodus of Israel under Moses was a shadow of the true exodus in Christ.

“This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.” This Passover meal was a pointer to the real fulfilling event and the meal is to become, after that event, a reminder of Jesus and his body given for “you”. So, neither is the bread ever actually his body, nor is the meal without meaning. It is a helpful gift from God to help us focus our minds on the act of salvation that has come at the cost of Jesus’ body.

“This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you.” See Exodus 24:8; Jer 31:31-34; Hebrews 9:15. Jesus’ blood was necessary for the forgiveness of sins. The Old Testament sacrificial system taught us of the purpose of this but only Christ could truly provide for the wrath of God to be averted from us forever.

“But the hand of him who is going to betray me is with mine on the table.” Both the hands of the lamb (Jesus) and of the sinner (Judas) and of the true High Priest (Jesus) are present at the table. Note that when the sacrifice was made at the altar, the sinner would bring the animal to the tabernacle, kill the animal himself and bring the dead lamb to the priest for the sprinkling of the blood. At this ceremonial Passover, in preparation for the actual death of Christ, all parties are present with their hands at the table. Leviticus 3:2 for example. This is not to suggest, however, that Judas is forgiven for this betrayal as Jesus indicates next.

“The Son of Man will go as it has been decreed. But woe to that man who betrays him!” This whole narrative has been demonstrating the dance between influence, sovereignty and free will. Judas consented to betray Jesus. He is to blame. Both Satan and God were aware of who would betray Jesus. The room for the Passover had been prepared somehow and yet the disciples were asked to go and make final preparations for the meal. The death of Christ was forecast from the beginning of the Bible and yet is being played out right in front of the disciples and they are all participating in the event. Satan and the evil suggestion of others provide the influences in this story. So does the signal from Jesus to make preparations for the Passover. These are all examples of how we are influenced. God is fully aware and able to interact with the events, all the while remaining innocent of evil. Judas and the disciples are all able to make decisions at any time to do good or evil. Mind=Blown.

“They began to question among themselves which of them it might be who would do this.” Even after this discussion at the table of how bad it would be for the betrayal to happen, Judas will still go and do it. Sin has a tight grip on the human will. It is a difficult thing to be tempted, to entertain the idea, consider how it could be carried out in secret and then to repent of the thoughts and choose to say no. That takes great will power. But by the grace of God, we are able to do it! Only because of the blood of Christ and the power of the Spirit living in us, we are able to participate with Him and say no to all ungodliness. It remains difficult. Even Jesus is described in Hebrews 5 as being obedient to the Father with cries for help!

What did we learn?

Jesus is the fulfillment of the Passover story who stepped through the sequence of events with his eyes wide open. The God of righteousness will act in order to pour out righteousness on all who believe. Judas acted in fulfillment of what was required and stepped through the sequence of events in full control and awareness of what he was doing. He most likely did not understand Jesus to be the Passover lamb, but he did know that he was about to betray an innocent person. The Sovereignty of God is on display here as His plans unfold despite the evil actions of others. Romans 8:28 does come to mind.

Now what?

Topic A: Grasping the will of God and participating in it. Free will is a tricky topic. Did Judas choose to betray Jesus? Did the disciples really prepare the Passover meal? Yes and yes. Was God surprised by these events? Not at all. God has created us with the freedom to choose minute by minute what we will do, say and think. And yet He is in complete command of the events of history. Perhaps He knows how every decision will play out in this complex universe of relationships. Perhaps He has orchestrated all things for His own glory even despite allowing sin. Perhaps both. We can trust that God has the whole world in His hands even when we feel like it is in the hands of others. We can trust that today we are to make every free decision choosing to obey the King rather than listen to our own evil desires and consenting to sin. Whether we buy free range eggs or not is a matter of free choice within a universe Sovereignly overseen by an all powerful and all caring God.

Topic B: Understand the progression of temptation through to sin and of temptation through to repentance. I think it was JC Ryle who said that you cannot stop a bird from landing on your head, but you can stop it from building a nest! We live in a world of temptation. If it isn’t the devil or the world then it’s our own evil desires that spark with ideas of sin. Temptations come but it’s what we do with them that matter. Because of repentance that leads to salvation through Christ and the gift of the Holy Spirit, we are now invited to put on the armour of God and fight. It is not a battle of nations. It is a battle between the flesh and the Spirit. There is a description of Jesus, in Hebrews 5:7-10, fighting hard to resist temptation and to keep on choosing righteousness. Another person once said that it is impossible to both pray and sin at the same time. I take it that means that when we are communing with God, we are actively turning from the temptations of this world. It’s not a scriptural promise, but it does work as good medicine when temptation comes knocking. Get that bird out of here!

Topic C: Jesus is the Passover Lamb – do you understand that? Understanding what that means on a technical level is one thing. The Old Testament comes to us Christians as a template preparing us for and explaining the language of sacrifice. He dies in our place. We are rescued because he lay down his life. And so, understanding the deep implications of this will influence how we think about our own godliness and holiness. We can sit at the table of God in heaven only because Jesus laid down his life for us. I did not get noticed by God because of my goodness or talents but because I was a sinner that needed saving. Because Jesus gave himself, by his own free will, in accordance with the will of the Father, I am able to be forgiven. The Lord’s Supper is a time of remembering and embracing and thanking God that He provided the sacrifice for me.