The Lord's Last Words

We invite you to consider the last words of our Lord to His disciples before He went forth to His agony in the garden and His death upon the cross. We take those that Luke was inspired by the Holy Ghost to give us, and we suggest that at least one hour should be given at the opening of this year to the consideration of them. They set before us our position in the world as the Lord's witnesses in it during His absence from it, and His tender solicitude for us; upon this we would lay the emphasis. They show us His intimate knowledge of our fickleness and frailty, and of the dangers and vicissitudes that beset us, but also of His unwearied and unwearying love for us, and His ability to make us more than conquerors until He comes again.

We will read the chapter (Luke 22). For nothing could be more moving, surely, than it; nothing more calculated to fill us with wonder than what is there recorded; and it will give us the setting, the surroundings, without which, as always in the case of the words of Jesus, the infinite and divine beauty of the words and acts will be partly lost.

The chief priest and the scribes sought to kill Him, so verse 2 tells us. That was because they hated Him with a bitter and incorrigible hatred, and that in spite of the fact that it was the Feast of unleavened bread, which spoke symbolically of all malice and hatred and evil being put out of the heart; but what cared they for that? To rid the world of Him whose very presence in it was a continual rebuke to their sin and hypocrisy and pride was their purpose, but how to do it was their problem. They were cowards, every one of them, base cowards, and they feared the people whom they despised. They had no need to have feared them, for those people could be swayed either this way or that like saplings in a gale; they were as foolish as they were sinful, and had no love for the Lord. All they cared about were the loaves and fishes with which He had fed them. They would defend Him if he fed them well, if not — "Let Him be crucified." But the perplexity of these rulers disappeared when there slunk into their council one of the Lord's own disciples. Here was the solution of their difficulty, here was the devil-possessed implement of their plot.

Judas had slipped away from the Lord's company under some pretence or other that must have deceived his fellow disciples but not the Lord. Do you not see him hastening furtively through the streets, hastening as only a guilty man bent upon a foul crime could hasten, to the place where he knew those enemies of the Lord were? There was no time to waste in haggling or bargaining, the deed must be done and done speedily; thirty pieces of silver was "the goodly price" that they offered him, and for that price he sold his Lord and agreed to bring about His capture while the people slept. Then this devil's dupe — oh, the horror of it! — returned to resume his place among the disciples, as though none were more devoted to the Lord than he, and the chief priests proceeded to plan the execution of their murderous design, and then went to their prayers and to their preparations to eat the Passover. Such is the world, such was the world on the night of the Lord's betrayal, and He knew it, He knew it thoroughly and completely.

It was not the rabble, untaught and knowing not the law, that planned this greatest crime that night or day has ever seen. It was the chief priests and the respected leaders of the people, religious men, men of education, who boasted in their culture and elevation above the common herd. They brought it about, but they could not have done it alone; one of the Lord's own disciples, His own familiar friend, was necessary, and he was ready when the devil entered into him. You could not find men in better circumstances than these were in. The chief priests had the law and Judas had the gospel, and all the grace of it in the Master whom he had followed for more than three years, but neither law nor gospel changed them, though both increased their responsibility and added to their guilt. But such is the heart of man, and such is the world, and seeing it we do not marvel as Nicodemus did when the Lord said to him, "Ye must be born again."

Now the Lord knew all this. If Elisha the prophet was enlightened by the Lord as to the journey that Gehazi took in order to gratify his covetous heart, the Lord of Elisha — for Jesus was that — knew all that had passed between the traitor and His foes. He knew, too, all that would follow this plotting; He knew that man's hour and the power of darkness had come, and knowing all, what does He do? Let us see.

Exercising His authority as Messiah for the last time, He sent Peter and John to demand a guest chamber, in which He could eat the Passover Feast with His disciples, and pour out His heart in a last farewell before He suffered; and at that supper He clearly showed them what their position in the world during His absence would be, and what the resources they would have. The storm was gathering outside, preparations for His arrest and condemnation and crucifixion were being rapidly completed, and Judas, who knew all about it, sat there at the table with Him with the price of his treachery in his bag. And Jesus knew all this. Never before had the powers of darkness been so stirred; this was the supreme hour, men were but the puppets on the stage, guilty puppets, playing their part with willing hearts; but behind them were the forces of evil determined to crush that one lowly Man, and to finish for ever at one blow their long fight with God, and Jesus knew this. But His disciples, and we, were His one thought. Behold Him look round upon them and say, "With desire have I desired to eat this passover with you before I suffer."

They loved Him, but He loved them more; and it was His desire, not theirs, that had brought them together for that sacred occasion. The Passover Feast commemorated the deliverance of Israel from Egypt; the lamb roast with fire upon which they fed year by year turned the eye of faith forward to His coming. And now He had come, and there He sat to share with them that meal which spoke so eloquently of what He would do ere once more the sun sank down over the western sea.

It was at the Passover Feast that He instituted the supper, which we know and love as THE LORD'S SUPPER (1 Cor. 11); and this He did entirely in view of His absence from them. It is this that we must specially consider because it is definitely for us, which the Passover was not. One of the chief features of this period in which we are called to witness for Him is, that He is absent from this world; His disciples were to serve, and we are to serve, an absent Lord.

An Absent Lord and a Supper of Remembrance

He was to be no more with them, and they would miss His blessed company; and the measure in which they would miss Him would show the measure of their love to Him. And so it is now; the Lord is not here, He has no place in the world; its politics, social circles, pleasures, and schemes of reconstruction have no room for Him. Are we conscious of His absence, and of this? If we love Him we shall miss Him and shall long for the time when He shall come to take us to His Father's house, that where He is we may be also. Nor shall we long with less desire for the day when He shall be glorified in this world that despised and rejected Him.

Christ is not here. What other than this is the meaning of those words we prize so highly, "Where two or three are gathered together in My name, there am I in the midst of them"? If He were here, why gather in His Name? But why is He not here? There are two reasons: The world hated Him and slew Him; and He loved us and died for us. These are the two sides of the Lord's exit from this world by death, as they are given to us in this Gospel by Luke.

The world is so seductive and can put on so fair an exterior that we soon forget that the Cross of Christ is the witness of its awful hatred of Him, and that whose will be a friend of the world is an enemy of God. It is well that we should learn that when all things are normal and right with us the cross of Christ is our only glory, and that by it the world is crucified to us, and we to it.

The Lord's Supper brings before us the fact that He is not here — we show the death of our Lord until He returns — and one reason why He is not here is the world cast Him out. This that was written had to be accomplished in Him: "And He was reckoned among the transgressors." His name was blotted out from David's royal line and inscribed on the criminal roll of Jerusalem. Yes, if the criminal roll of that proud city for that eventful year could be discovered the name of Jesus of Nazareth would be found along with the names of thieves and murderers. And we show the Lord's death until He comes again. As we eat His Supper, we announce the fact that we are identified with Him whom the world slew, we are identified with Him because we love Him.

But He died for us. He made us His own for ever by a love that gave Himself for us. How easily we forget this. If He stood in our midst and showed us His wounded hands and side, as He did to His disciples on the resurrection day, His love would without doubt be a great reality to us; but "out of sight" is so liable to be "out of mind," so fickle are we; and knowing this He instituted His Supper, which should be a constant and perpetual reminder to us of a love that is stronger than death.

And so, as we sit at His Supper, we follow Him in thought through the gates of David's city, that city that He loved so well and for which He wept, to Calvary. We see Him there for us, no light shining on Him from above, no friend ministering comfort below. We hear His broken cries, but men only mock them and heaven is dumb, and at last He dies. The Prince of Life hangs dead upon a cross for us; His body was there given for us and His blood shed for us. It is this that the broken bread and the poured-out wine speak of — Christ dead for us. And we need this Supper to keep Him in this great love ever fresh before our soul. If He were here we should not need it, because He is absent we do.

How necessary it is that we should have this eucharistic feast, this supper of love, which expresses so blessedly to us what our Lord is, and our fellowship together — the fellowship of the Lord's death — the one only true fellowship of the many members of one body! What a joy to recall Him whose love many waters could not quench! With the storm gathering thickly about Him His thoughts spanned the whole of the time of His absence, and He then and there gave us a supper of remembrance until He comes again. "And He took bread, and gave thanks, and brake it, and gave to them, saying, This is My body which is given for you: this do in remembrance of Me. Likewise also the cup after supper, saying, This cup is the new Testament in My blood, which is shed for you."

A Life of Witness and a Perfect Pattern

Those disciples were to witness for Him, and we are to witness for Him during His absence; we are to be His letter of commendation before the world; to shine as lights. But how unlike Him we are by nature, just like those disciples indeed, who, even at that supper table, with these farewell words of the Lord sounding in their ears, were quarrelling as to who should be the greatest among them. They needed, and we need, to have set before us a perfect pattern if we are to understand what our witnessing must be.

He set Himself before them; they were not to be like the Gentiles but like Him; they were not to exercise lordship over one another, but to follow His example and serve one another in love. It is in the world that men endeavour to be great, and jostle one another in their scramble for the chiefest places; but those disciples, and we like them, are not of the world, then the spirit of the world had not to show itself in them, nor must it in us. They belonged to Christ and so do we, and consequently it is His spirit that we have to bear and show.

Let us incline our ears to hear His words. He said to them, "I am among you as he that serveth." Are there any more affecting words in Scripture than these? Consider what they mean! When they awoke in the morning He had been awake before them and prepared their breakfast; they never needed a servant if He was near; His love made Him watch for opportunities to labour on their behalf, and if there was one task more menial than another that was the task He undertook. He, the Lord of glory, was the servant of those rude, unlettered fishermen; His love bound Him with unbreakable fetters to a life of service. He is our pattern, and our witnessing for Him must be after that pattern. He who loves most serves most, and He who would be most like his Lord must take the lowest place amongst his brethren that he might serve them all.

There is a Tireless Foe, but an All-Prevailing Intercessor

Now if we are to witness for Christ, there will be opposed to us a sleepless and subtle foe; and the greater our determination to witness faithfully for Him, the more we shall be challenged and attacked. "Simon, Simon," said the Lord, "behold, Satan has desired to have YOU that he may sift you [all the disciples] as wheat."

What could Simon do in the presence of Satan — poor, impetuous, self-confident Simon! And what can we do who are as foolish and weak as he? Satan's effort was and is to separate the souls of those whom Jesus loves from Him and to destroy them; and if he cannot destroy them, he will endeavour to destroy their testimony. What easy prey he would have if it were not for the blessed fact that we have an Intercessor, whose ceaseless and blessed activities on our behalf are all-prevailing. He has died to make us His own; He ever lives to maintain our faith in witness for Himself during His absence.

How cheering are the words, "I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not." He had anticipated that fierce trial through which Simon was to pass; Satan is always too late for the Lord's vigilance, the prayer arose before the temptation came and so it always does. He was ahead of Satan; Satan might catch Simon sleeping, and take you and me unawares, but he could not forestall the Lord. He had gauged the power of the foe and the weakness of His well-meaning disciple; and He had spoken to God, His Father, about it all, and secured for Simon all the grace that was needed. Simon failed; he was allowed to do so, for he had lessons to learn; but his faith did not fail, and he came out of the distress and the dishonour to strengthen his brethren, and to storm the devil's stronghold at Jerusalem, and take captive for Christ thousands who hitherto had been Satan's lawful captives.

The intercession of our Lord is not less effectual for us; He is even at the right hand of God for this purpose. There, amid the glory of the throne, He pleads for us so that we may be more than conquerors through Him that loves us (Rom. 8:34, 39).

A Life of Labour with a Blessed Recompense

But these disciples of the Lord had to learn also of what sort their lives would be as witnesses of Christ in the midst of a world that hated Him. Hitherto it had been an easy matter to serve Him, for He had exercised His authority as Messiah on their behalf, and they had gone forth without purse or scrip, or shoes, or staves, and they had lacked nothing. Their feet did not weary, and wherever they went their needs were most abundantly met; but now all was to be changed; He was to be rejected; to be cast out as a malefactor, and they were henceforward to be identified with that Name which was dishonoured by man though honoured of God in heaven. Theirs was to be a life of toil and conflict.

They had to sell their garments and buy swords. The garment spoke of ease and comfort, and the sword of hardship and conflict. They had to exchange the one for the other.

It has been thought that the Lord spoke here of an actual sword; indeed so thought these disciples, for they said, "Lord, behold, here are two swords." And He said to them, "It is enough." But if He had meant an actual sword, He would not have said, "It is enough." He would have said, "It is not enough, you will want one each." The fact is, they did not understand then the spiritual significance of His words. But Paul understood them afterwards when he described the Christian life, not in the language of the drawing-room, or couch of ease, but in the language of the battlefield. Mark well how he speaks of "the good fight," of "enduring hardness as a good soldier," of "wrestling not against flesh and blood, but against principalities and powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places." We are told by him "to watch and be sober," to "put on the whole armour of God"; to withstand and to stand.

How we shrink from this hardship and the sacrifice that witnessing for Christ involves! We labour to save our own lives often, for we so little appreciate the love of Christ that made Him die for us; and it is only as that love of His constrains us, that we shall do any other; but when that love takes full possession we sell the garment and buy the sword, and go forth to witness for our Lord regardless of the consequences to ourselves. In this there is compensation; the compensation of the Lord's approval in this present time, and in the future there is glory with Him, for if we suffer with Him we shall also reign with Him (2 Tim. 2). "I appoint to you a kingdom," said the Lord to these men, who afterwards sealed their testimony for Him with their blood, these true martyrs of our Lord. May we be like them through His grace.

Let us in our meditation put ourselves in thought among that company of men in that upper room, and listen to these wonderful sayings of our Lord, spoken with such quietness, such tenderness, until their full meaning fills our souls. Then let us follow Him as the Holy Spirit here shows Him to us, going forth to the Garden, then to the Cross, and down into the grave, then rising in the triumph of His victory over death, and ascending at last to His Father's throne; then like those disciples who saw Him go up, we shall worship Him, and be filled with great joy, and be continually praising and blessing God. Amen.