After the major discourses of chapters 21-25, the drama explodes in Matthew 26. In 75 verses, we find the plot to kill Jesus coming together, an anointing for His burial, the Last Supper, the prayer in Gethsemane, the betrayal, the arrest, the trial, and the desertion and denial of the disciples.
Several things stand out in this chapter, but there is a constant that seems to appear in almost every section. That constant is the faithfulness and determination of Jesus paralleled by the unfaithfulness and inconsistency of the disciples. These disciples represent all of us; fallible humans who tend to act out of self-preservation, weakness, and arrogance, instead of truth, loyalty, and integrity. They are on the wrong side of every inch of this narrative. It calls to mind Romans 5:6:
For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly.
A few examples:
The Anointing (vv. 6-13)
While this woman (John’s gospel reveals her as Mary) anoints Jesus, a beautiful picture emerges. Not only is she “preparing Him for burial,” but she is clearly identifying Him as the Messiah (“anointed one”). In this sacrificial act she is giving so much of herself to the One she knows is not only her Savior, but God’s Messiah, sent to earth to bring His kingdom. The disciples miss it. Fresh off the challenge in chapter 25 (about reaching “the least of these”), they seek to educate Jesus on the inappropriateness of this woman’s act. It’s amazing how arrogant we can be when we get a little knowledge. Even though Jesus declares to them that He is about to be crucified (vv. 1-2), they still don’t get it. Have you ever seen this in yourself or in others? We get challenged on something, like reaching the least, and our conviction quickly develops into self-righteousness. Instead of keeping track of ourselves, we tend to put on the striped shirt, as we start to referee others. This is exactly what the disciples were doing. “Jesus, do you see what this lady is doing! We could have sold this and given it to the hungry, thirsty, naked, or those in prison!” There is nothing uglier than self-righteous arrogance. These disciples slipped into Pharisee mode as they criticized this woman’s self-less act on the eve of the death of her Savior.
The Last Supper and Predication of Denials (vv. 17-35, 69-75)
Jesus is revealing to the disciples what is in their hearts, and the fact that they will all desert Him in His greatest hour of need. Peter pipes up: “Though all become deserters, I will never desert you!” The greater your self-righteousness, the greatest your fall. The lesson of Peter in this narrative is that the higher we esteem our personal virtue, the more devastating our face-plant will be. The chapter ends with him weeping bitterly as he deserts His Savior.
The Prayer in the Garden (vv. 36-46)
As Jesus agonizes over the weight He is about to carry to the cross, we see one of the clearest pictures of His humanity. Remember, He was fully God and fully man. He prays three times to the Father about the cup passing from Him, but ends every line of prayer with faithful obedience, “Not what I want, but what you want.” Even as He suffers in this final hour before He is arrested, His closest friends abandon Him. After a good Passover meal they are tired. Although Jesus pleads with them to stay awake as He prays, they drift off to sleep again and again. The Messiah has come to connect them to God, but the intensity of the hour is lost on these men. I just picture what it must have been like for them, dozing off and on, challenged by Jesus to stay awake, and finally He pulls them to their feet with the words “Get up, let us be going. See, my betrayer is at hand.” He came prepared to die, He willingly went to His death, while His disciples ran to preserve their lives (v. 56).
Even when we are faithless, He is faithful. His journey to the cross paved the way for each of us to take the same path. His faithfulness in the midst of our denial tore down the curtain that separated the Holy God from unholy humanity. His cross breaks our chains. His suffering gives us access to His Spirit. It is only by this Spirit within us that we are able to defeat our sin. By His grace, for His glory, thank you Jesus.