“You Meant It for Evil, But God Meant It for Good” (Luke 22:1-13)

Ash Wednesday
March 2, 2022

“You Meant It for Evil, But God Meant It for Good” (Luke 22:1-13)

In the beautiful rhythm of the church year, here we are again. It’s Lent, a time to reflect and repent, to pray and praise, to remember and rejoice in our Lord Jesus Christ, as he moves humbly toward the cross and then powerfully in victory from the grave. Lent leads us to Easter. This year, we’ll be following Jesus’ story in the Gospel according to Luke. Today, on Ash Wednesday, we begin our Lenten journey toward Easter under the theme, “You Meant It for Evil, But God Meant It for Good.”

“You meant it for evil, but God meant it for good”: Where have we heard these words before? Well, do you recall the story of Joseph from the book of Genesis? Here’s a quick summary. Joseph was the favorite son of his father, Jacob. His older brothers resented him. And his brothers’ hatred grew–so much so that they threw him into a pit, sold him as a slave to traders going to Egypt, and told their father that Joseph had been killed by wild beasts. All that was evil! Then in Egypt, Joseph faced more evil, but God was with him. And so Joseph rose to prominence in Egypt, second only to Pharaoh. And God used Joseph’s planning and wisdom to save many people from starving to death during a famine, including his own father and even those brothers who had done such evil things to him.

Then Jacob, the father, dies. Joseph’s brothers are afraid that now Joseph will take his revenge on them. But he doesn’t. Instead, he tells them, “You meant evil against me, but God meant it for good.” Now don’t misunderstand Joseph’s words. What his brothers did was evil. They meant evil, and they did it. God didn’t change that part, not at all. But God used this evil for a larger purpose, even when no one knew what God was up to. Everyone was clueless as to what God was doing. But God was not clueless. He never is.

“You meant it for evil, but God meant it for good”: It’s the same with the story of Jesus. This Lent we’re going to ponder the Passion of Our Lord in Luke 22 and 23 and then the resurrection in Luke 24. We begin with the reading you just heard from Luke 22, and we will see three important truths here. The first truth is this: It’s time for a new and greater Passover. In our text, Luke mentions several times that the Passover festival was about to happen. Passover was a time when Israel remembered. They remembered that they had lived in bondage, under the power of evil, when they were slaves in Egypt. Evil had come against them; evil was done to them. That Pharaoh, and the gods of Egypt, resisted God’s will to set Israel free. God sent plague after plague, but Pharaoh’s heart was hard. Then, even when Pharaoh allowed Israel to leave, he changed his mind and hunted them down and chased them into the middle of the Red Sea. He tried to enslave them. He meant to destroy them. He wanted to put Israel to death. Pharaoh meant evil, but God meant it for good, to save Israel. But Pharaoh’s horsemen, he drowned in the sea. God’s people were rescued. They stepped out onto dry land; they passed through death and out into life with the Lord God. Their enemies meant it for evil, but God meant it for good.

What God did at Passover long before, in the exodus from Egypt, God is going to do again, in a greater way, in Jesus his Son. That’s the first truth that emerges from our reading. It’s Passover, and it’s time for a greater salvation, a greater deliverance than ever before, a greater movement into death and out again into life.

So here’s the second truth: Evil is going to come against Jesus. From evil men of every sort, and from the evil one himself, Satan, the driving force behind the plan to destroy Jesus. Just look at the line-up of evil in our text.

Here at Passover time, “the chief priests and the scribes were seeking how to put [Jesus] to death.” The priests, the scribes–those who were supposed to guide the people and prepare them to receive the Messiah–these men now are looking for a way to put him to death.

But it’s not just the Jewish religious leaders. Luke rushes on and says: “Then Satan entered into Judas called Iscariot.” Satan! He is the evil one, who hates God and his ways, who makes people his captives. Earlier in Luke, Jesus healed a woman whom Satan had bound with a disability for eighteen years. Before that, Jesus had sent out his disciples, and they cast out demons. Jesus said that he saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. Satan is the strong man, but Jesus is the stronger man, who has come to bind Satan. And now the evil one engages in the battle to destroy Jesus.

And Satan uses . . . Judas! We may be so accustomed to the story that we don’t even feel the shock and tragedy of that. Judas was one of the twelve! But Judas approaches the chief priests, and together they make a plan. They think they need to avoid a crowd, but the crowd also will turn on Jesus and cry out for him to be crucified. Evil is coming, and it’s coming against Jesus.

That evil is like the darkness that grows all around you when thunderstorms are building and rushing toward you. Here it’s a gathering of enemies: The chief priests and the scribes. The traitor, Judas, one of the twelve. And Satan, the evil one. These all are aligned, joined together whether they know it or not, against Jesus. And their plan is going to work, even better than they hoped. They will get their goal, the death of Jesus.

But now a beautiful third truth emerges from this reading. And it’s made all the more beautiful because of the contrast with the evil we just highlighted. Luke tells us five times that everything is ready, ready for the Passover: “Prepare the Passover. . . . Where shall we prepare? . . . A large upper room furnished. . . . Prepare there. . . . And they prepared the Passover.” So things are prepared. Jesus had told his disciples what to expect when he sent them out to get things ready: “A man will meet you; follow him; the master of the house will show you,” and so on. Now we can’t be sure that Jesus here was exercising his divine power as the Son of God to predict what would happen. It could also be very ordinary, in a way. Jesus simply could have made prior arrangements. But the point is, Jesus has made sure that things are ready. He’s made sure that everything is prepared.

And that’s because Jesus himself is ready. Jesus is prepared. He knows about the evil; he knows what’s coming. He knows that all he will have left is to trust that the Father’s plan will come true. That’s why Jesus will say from the cross, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” Evil is coming, and God’s plan–God’s plan!–is for evil to do its worst. God’s plan is for sin and Satan to rule. Jesus says as much when he’s arrested: “This is your hour, and the power of darkness.”

But Jesus is ready. He knows that in this rescue greater than what Joseph managed, in this exodus greater than that of Moses–Jesus knows that while his enemies mean evil against him, his Father means it for good. The greatest salvation of all will come out of this.

Jesus is ready. Oh, Peter will think that he is ready, to die with Jesus, but he’s not. The women will not be ready for Jesus’ resurrection, so they’ll take spices to anoint the dead body of Jesus. They were wrong. But Jesus is ready, to face the evil and to take it into himself. And he knows that the Father will raise him from the dead and give him victory over sin and evil, a victory that will never pass away. Everything is now ready.

“You meant it for evil, but God meant it for good”: Dear friends, what part are you and I tempted to play in the evil that comes against Jesus? We’ll explore that this Lenten season, and, by God’s grace, we will repent and turn away from that evil, in whatever form it takes in our lives.

What doubts plague you, as you see the power of evil at work in our world? How often does fear deceive us into thinking that maybe God isn’t ready for the evil this time? Well, this Lenten season we will open up our fears and our doubts, and we’ll give them to Jesus. Because he has undone the evil, and he lives forever. And because he lives, nothing–not death or life or Satan or struggle, not the threat of war or rising inflation–nothing will be able to separate us from God’s love in his crucified, risen, ascended, and returning Son, Jesus Christ, the one who was ready.

Brothers and sisters, when this Lenten journey is done, how will our faith be different? Well, in the most important sense, Christian faith is never different. It’s always the same, holding on to God’s promises and relying utterly on Jesus. But this Lent we pray that our faith will grow, that our grip will become stronger as we hold on to Jesus. And we pray that we’ll be able to say to Satan and to every enemy of our soul: “You cannot take God by surprise. Jesus is ready, always ready to save and redeem. You meant it for evil, but God meant it for good.”

Published in: on March 2, 2022 at 1:08 pm  Leave a Comment  
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