March 26, 2012 David Balzer

Matthew 26: Courage in the face of Death

The movie “The King’s Speech” is about Prince Albert, played by Colin Firth, and his struggle to overcome a debilitating stammer. Geoffrey Rush plays Lionel Logue, a failed actor and self-taught speech doctor, who helps him.

It’s a movie about LOTS of things, but for me, it’s about COURAGE. The sub-title for the movie is “Let COURAGE reign”. Albert, the reluctant heir to the throne after his older brother Edward abdicates. As a PRINCE, he could AVOID the spotlight, and never have to give speeches. But now AS KING, it’s a NECESSITY.

For MOST people it would take NO COURAGE AT ALL to stand in front of thousands and deliver a speech. But for Albert, the thought reduces him to a twitching wreck, in capable of stringing two words together.

His father, King George V THOUGHT him a coward. His subjects think him a timid, nervous shell of a man. They either pity him or make fun of him.

But he’s no coward. Because courage isn’t about the ABSENCE of fear. Courage is acting DESPITE fear. It’s about facing fear, and overcoming it. That’s TRUE courage.

In a wonderful scene, as they rehearse for his coronation speech, Lionel is taunting Albert. Albert gets angrier and angrier

Bert: Listen to me. *Listen to me!*
Lionel Logue: Listen to you? By what right?
Bert: By divine right if you must, I am your king.
Lionel Logue: No you’re not, you told me so yourself. You didn’t want it. Why should I waste my time listening?
Bert: Because I have a right to be heard. I have a voice!
Bert: [pauses] Yes, you do.
[Longer pause]

The bravest man he knows. Not because he has NO FEAR. But because he’s able to act DESPITE fear. That’s TRUE courage.

The author Ambrose Redmoon builds on that definition. He wrote; “Courage is not the ABSENCE of fear. It’s THE JUDGMENT THAT SOMETHING ELSE IS MORE IMPORTANT THAN FEAR”.

Judging that something is MORE IMPORTANT than fear. Courage is recognising that something is WORTH facing fear full on, and then acting DESPITE the fear. In order to achieve the more important thing. That’s the TRUE behaviour of a hero.*

They show a very HUMAN hero. They show the COURAGE of Jesus. Courage according to Redmoon’s definition. Not the absence of fear. But they show Jesus determining that, despite fear, something was more IMPORTANT than fear. And that was OBEDIENCE TO HIS FATHER.

These accounts are FULL of the emotions of Jesus. At times, we feel uncomfortable, sticky-beaking. Like we’ve stumbled onto a particularly private moment.

We see his enjoyment at intimate moments with his closest friends as he makes the most of his final hours. But there’s a subdued, melancholy flavour to the tender scenes.

We see his fear, and doubt, and determination, and heart-rending distress. We see his loneliness and despair. As he struggles with the temptation to avoid the cup he was destined to drink. Knowing in excruciating detail the pain that lay ahead of him. But also knowing there was no other way. And that obeying his Father was the most important thing of all.

So we’re going to have a look at these familiar verses this morning with THAT task in mind. To focus on Jesus’ emotions. To see his steadfast COURAGE in the face of genuine fear. To see his sorrow and loneliness in the face of everyone abandoning him.

And then to learn the lessons from that. And learn to act despite OUR fear. To judge that something else is more important than fear.

And to learn from those who travelled with him. And learn to WORSHIP him. And to stand with him, and not to be ashamed of him.

Setting the Scene for Death (1-5)

The first five verses SET THE SCENE. Jesus knows what’s going to happen. Two days to Passover. And that’s when he’ll be handed over to be crucified. But he’s willing to see it through. And the REASON is because it’s part of his Father’s will.

He’s predicted it plenty of times before – getting the disciples used to the idea. But now we see the details actually STARTING TO BE WORKED OUT. V3. The chief priests and the elders have a private meeting at the High Priest’s home. And they plot how to kill Jesus. But they decide there’s too many people milling around to do it now.

Passover’s a bad time for assassinations. And yet, for Jesus, it’s the PERFECT time for a sacrifice.

Preparing for death and burial (6-15)

And the theme of death continues into v6. PREPARING for death and burial.

While the leaders are meeting in JERUSALEM. ANOTHER home meeting’s happening over the hill in BETHANY. Jesus, the disciples, Simon the Leper, and A WOMAN.

Matthew doesn’t name her. But John tells us it was MARY, the sister of Lazarus, who Jesus raised from the dead. The same Mary LUKE tells us sat at Jesus’ feet listening to him teach, while Martha was preparing the meal.

And while Jesus is seated on the floor at a low table, she’s there again. And she cracks open an alabaster jar of perfume, and pours it on his head (v7). A hugely EXTRAVAGANT gesture of love and adoration.

And while the DISCIPLES are indignant about the waste of money, Jesus LOVES the gesture.

Despite them only having DAYS LEFT with him, the disciples are more interested in saving a few dollars than they are in spending time with Jesus. Savouring their precious last hours together.

It’s a kick in the teeth for Jesus. Like the kids squabbling over the family jewellery while mum slowly dies in the hospital bed next to them. THINGS more important than PEOPLE.

But for Jesus, the gesture of love from the woman means so much. V10.

“Why are you bothering this woman? SHE HAS DONE A BEAUTIFUL THING TO ME.

And then he puts the cost of perfume in perspective.

11 The poor you will always have with you, but you will not always have ME.

Jesus will soon often the gift of HIMSELF. His LIFE offered for MANY. A gift of much greater worth than perfume.

12 When she poured this perfume on my body, she did it to prepare ME FOR BURIAL. 13 I tell you the truth, wherever this gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.”

We don’t really know how much the woman knew about the significance of what she was doing. But for Jesus, the imagery is real and raw.

In a few short hours, rather than his LIVING body reclined at a table, it will be his LIFELESS body flat on a cold stone slab. And rather than his LIVING body receiving perfume to smell sweet, it will be his LIFELESS body that needs the embalming perfumes of burial preparation to stop the stench of DEATH.

And, for Jesus, it’s this mental image that makes the woman’s love even more tender and appreciated.

And as we eavesdrop in on that tender moment, we almost want to look away in embarrassment. It’s not the sort of thing WE’D do. And yet, Jesus is saying it’s an act WORTH IMITATING. Down through the ages, he says. Men and women all over the world will follow her example. And give back EXTRAVAGANTLY from what they have. A TINY PORTION of the extravagance Jesus has given THEM when he gave his life.

Give up careers, and prospects. Give up comfort and free time. Give up money, and friendships. Give up security. Give THEIR LIVES.

And Jesus appreciates and loves their sacrifice JUST AS MUCH as he did this woman’s.

What are YOU giving EXTRAVAGANTLY to Jesus  in response to his extravagant gift to YOU?

Plotting for Death (14-16)

And while this scene PREPARES for death and burial. The NEXT is about PLOTTING for it. Judas Iscariot, one of the 12 – been with Jesus since the beginning – chooses to betray him.

The details are stark. Almost like Matthew can barely write the words v14. He goes to the priests. Asks what price they’d pay for him to betray Jesus. They count out 30 pieces of silver (about 4 months wages). And Judas heads out, to wait for the right moment.

Two costly actions. One of LOVE. Of money LOST. The OTHER of betrayal. Of many GAINED. One of broken perfume. The OTHER of broken TRUST.

Picturing Death (17-30)

Next scene. PICTURING death. ANOTHER meal for Jesus and the disciples.

It’s time for the Passover meal. The yearly feast that reminds the Jews of God’s rescue from Egypt. When the blood of a lamb was painted across the doorpost, so that God’s avenging angel would pass over the Jewish houses, and take, instead, the firstborn of Egyptian houses. One lamb DIES, so that MANY might live.

And as they EAT, they REMEMBER. Remember God’s rescue. And his provision of a meal, where one LOST his life, so many could LIVE.

And for Jesus, it’s the perfect opportunity for one more final TENDER moment to savour his friendship. In Luke’s Gospel, Jesus introduces the feast with these words.

15 And he said to them, “I have EAGERLY DESIRED to eat this Passover with you before I suffer.

Rich fellowship to strengthen him for the temptation and pain that lay ahead.

But at the same time, there’s an incredible sadness TOO. Because Judas the betrayer is there too. Biding his time. Looking for his opportunity. And Jesus KNOWS it. v21. “ I tell you the truth. One of you will betray me.”

The rest of the disciples have no idea who it could be. Round the table they go. “Surely not I, Lord?” they ask, one after the other.

The only thing that makes the dreadful betrayal BEARABLE for Jesus is that it’s all happening according to God’s plan.

24 The Son of Man will go JUST AS IT IS WRITTEN ABOUT HIM. But woe to that man who betrays the Son of Man!

Then it’s Judas’ turn (v25). He asks the same question, already knowing the answer. Jesus replies, “Yes, it’s YOU.” Who knows how Jesus said those words. What emotions were behind them. Hurt? Anger? Sadness? Resignation? Tears in his eyes?

The cold betrayal right alongside the warm intimacy of close friends.

The traditional, familiar meal continues. But Jesus takes it in a new direction. Because God’s saving actions will now be raised to a whole new level. In the broken body of Jesus.

V26. He lifts up bread, gives thanks, and then breaks it in half, handing it out to his disciples to eat. Take and eat, this is MY BODY. Just like the bread – offered in thanks to the Father, then lifted up and broken, and then distributed to his followers to bring them life.

Then he takes the cup. And passes it around to them all.

“Drink from it, all of you. 28 This is MY BLOOD OF THE COVENANT, which is POURED OUT FOR MANY FOR THE FORGIVENESS OF SINS.

In the Passover meal tradition, there are four cups of wine. They are drunk to remember the four PROMISES God made to Israel when they were slaves in Egypt. Now, Jesus gives the wine new significance. It’s a picture of the blood he will shed. Blood that signals a NEW covenant.

When the Jews made it out of Egypt (Exodus 24) God confirmed his COVENANT with the people. And Moses sprinkled blood from sacrificed bulls on the altar. It was called THE BLOOD OF THE COVENANT. A sign that God forgave the sin of the people as they offered the sacrifice for sin.

But now Jesus is saying that HIS blood will bring forgiveness – not the blood of BULLS. And it will confirm a NEW covenant. A LASTING covenant. “My blood of the covenant,” he says, “Poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.”

And it will bring in a completely different ORDER of things. A brand new kingdom. Where God’s rule – God’s KINGDOM – will be seen in a brand new way. And Jesus can’t WAIT. V29.

29 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.”

And it’s that picture of victory and celebration that STRENGTHENS him – that gives him COURAGE – for the events that are coming very soon. They sing a hymn, and head out into the night to the Mount of Olives.

Procession to death

And it must feel like a procession to DEATH for Jesus. Not only had Judas headed off the betray him, but he knew the REST of the disciples would do ALMOST AS MUCH. Abandon him in his hour of need. V31, he announces

“This very night you will all fall away on account of me

Peter pipes up, “Not me!” Jesus names the shame.

“I tell you the truth,” Jesus answered, “this very night, before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times.”

They make it to Gethsemane. He needs to pray. And he needs his closest friends there with him, showing some solidarity and loyalty. V36. “Sit here while I go over there and pray,” he says.

And he takes Peter, James and John with him. V38

38 Then he said to them, “MY SOUL IS OVERWHELMED WITH SORROW TO THE POINT OF DEATH. Stay here and keep watch with me.”

39 Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, MAY THIS CUP BE TAKEN FROM ME.

I don’t think we DWELL ON those words too often. We don’t LIKE to. Because they SOUND like Jesus is giving in to fear. That he’s SINNING. That he’s DOUBTING his Father.

But what they do is show that he’s HUMAN. That he’s COMPLETELY human – experiencing all the fears and temptations that normal humans do.

But here’s the clincher. What Jesus says NEXT. Because he’s willing to act DESPITE fear.


Whereas WE’RE tempted, and choose what WE want instead of what God wants. When we have the CHOICE, we choose to GIVE IN to fear, rather than determine something as more important than fear. But Jesus DOESN’T.

He determines that nothing is more important than his Father’s will.

His FRIENDS are no use. V40. They’re asleep. All Jesus wants is for them to watch and pray with him for an hour. He heads back to pray ALONE. V42.

My Father, if it is NOT possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, MAY YOUR WILL BE DONE.”

Slightly DIFFERENT this time. Not ASKING for God to find another way. But ACCEPTING that it’s not possible. And, once again, finishing with, “May YOUR will be done.”

His prayer is answered. And He receives the courage he needs to face the hour.

45 Then he returned to the disciples and said to them, “Are you still sleeping and resting? Look, the hour is near, and the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. 46 Rise, let us go! Here comes my betrayer!”

Judas and a crowd arrive. Judas KISSES him. Jesus says (v50), “FRIEND, do what you came for.”

It’s incredible that Jesus would call Judas a friend. There’s no anger, or hatred here. I wonder how YOU would have treated Judas. How would YOU have felt? What names would YOU have used?

The word for “Friend” isn’t a common one. In fact, in the New Testament, it’s only used by MATTHEW And he only uses it three times.

The FIRST is on Ch 20. The owner of the vineyard has come to pay wages to all his workers. The last ones to be paid are those who’ve been working all day. They expect to get paid more than those who only work for an hour. But the owner says to one of them, (Matt 20:13-16)

‘Friend, I am not being unfair to you. Didn’t you agree to work for a denarius? 14 Take your pay and go. I want to give the man who was hired last the same as I gave you. 15 Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?’ 16 “So the last will be first, and the first will be last.”

It’s the kind response of grace to the undeserving.

Next up, Ch 22. The parable of the wedding banquet. And the king’s just found a guest who’s not wearing the right wedding clothes. V12.

12’FRIEND,’ he asked, ‘how did you get in here without wedding clothes?’ The man was speechless.

Again. A KIND RESPONSE to the undeserving. However, THIS TIME, the time for mercy is past. Even though he’s called friend, the king declares.

‘Tie him hand and foot, and throw him outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ 14 “For many are invited, but few are chosen.”

And here, in Ch 26, Jesus calls JUDAS, “Friend.” A GRACIOUS word in the face of incredible betrayal and wickedness.

There’s GRACE, and GENTLENESS. There’s no ANGER or FEAR. Just COURAGE. Just acceptance of his Father’s will as the greatest priority. When his disciples pull out swords, he responds (v52)

52 “Put your sword back in its place,” Jesus said to him, “for all who draw the sword will die by the sword. 53 Do you think I cannot call on my Father, and he will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels? 54 BUT HOW THEN WOULD THE SCRIPTURES BE FULFILLED THAT SAY IT MUST HAPPEN IN THIS WAY?”

And so they lead him away. He submits to the crowd. He submits to the temple guards. He submits to the Sanhedrin. Not because he was DEFEATED, or powerless. He had OPTIONS. He could have called down twelve legions of angels. He submits because he knows what’s on the other side of the cross. He see the victory. The vindication. The affirmation from the his Father that he’s SUCCEEDED.

Just jump down, for a moment, to v64. The high priest’s asked him whether he’s the Christ. He answers,

64 “Yes, it is as you say,” Jesus replied. “But I say to all of you: In the future YOU WILL SEE THE SON OF MAN SITTING AT THE RIGHT HAND OF THE MIGHTY ONE AND COMING ON THE CLOUDS OF HEAVEN.”

That’s the Jesus we worship. The one who faced the unbearable cup of suffering. And yet he drank the last drop with COURAGE. And who counted obedience and glory and victory as more important than fear.

And he calls US to WORSHIP him. Like the woman with the expensive perfume. To give back EXTRAVAGANTLY. To live lives of gratitude and thankfulness. To FOLLOW him.

And to live with that same courage in the face of OUR fears.

Fears of rejection and ridicule. Fears of losing. Fears of missing out. Fears of discomfort or poverty. Fears of pain. Fears of death. Fears of not being in control. Or of making mistakes.

But we need NOT fear. We TOO can trust God’s faithfulness. Just like Jesus did.

And for us, Jesus is God’s DECLARATION that we NEED NOT FEAR. Because nothing can separate us from his love. And so there is nothing to fear.

Listen to the logic of Rom 8:32. The obedience and courage of Jesus, seeing his Father’s plan through to the end, is God’s assurance to US of his love and protection.

If God is for us, who can be against us? 32 He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all-how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? 33 Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. 34 Who is he that condemns? Christ Jesus, who died-more than that, who was raised to life-is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. 35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? 36 As it is written: “For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.” 

37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.


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