“He Was Numbered among the Transgressors” (Luke 22:14, 24-38)

Midweek Lenten Service
Wednesday, March 9, 2022

“He Was Numbered among the Transgressors” (Luke 22:14, 24-38)

This reading from Luke 22 is like watching a car wreck as it’s starting to happen. You can see the danger signs that could lead up to a crash, and if it keeps going like that, something bad is about to happen. The apostles, Jesus’ handpicked inner circle, are there with him in the upper room. And there’s sort of a back-and-forth between Jesus and these disciples. But it’s painful to watch; it’s even frightening. Evil is at work in the events leading up to Jesus’ suffering and death, and, in a way, the disciples are participating in it. They are engaged in folly. And they are arrogant. But they should have known better. And we can see the spiritual wreck as it unfolds before our eyes.

In a word, the disciples here can be described as “stupid.” A more biblical-sounding word would be “folly.” They are caught up in utter folly, foolish thinking. There in the upper room, after Jesus has instituted the Lord’s Supper and predicted his betrayal, they get into an argument about which one of them is the greatest. How foolish is that?

Now, did they mean it for evil? In one sense, no. But they really should have known better. They’re arguing about who’s the greatest, while in the upper room with the one who actually is the greatest. And Jesus had taught them, he had shown them, what true greatness really is. So now, Jesus has to teach them again. He tells them that they’re acting like pagans, like Gentiles, like worldly power-brokers and big shots. That’s the evil way of thinking about “greatness.” So Jesus has to tell them, “But not so with you.” In the unexpected kingdom of God that Jesus has been bringing, status and importance are turned upside-down–or, I should say, right-side-up. Jesus, their master, is right there, reclining with them at table, and he tells them that he is among them as the one who serves. But their hearts have gotten caught up and twisted on folly, the world’s foolish way of thinking about greatness. And they should have known better.

Still in the upper room, we keep watching the car wreck as it unfolds before our eyes. In the rest of our text, Jesus first comforts and then he warns his disciples–Simon Peter, and all of the others. But they reject his warning; they shrug off the master’s words. This is arrogance. This is pride, boastfulness. Let’s take a look.

Jesus begins with comfort. The apostles are Jesus’ chosen, inner circle. They’ve been with him and are still with him, for a few more hours at least. And Jesus makes a remarkable promise about their future. He promises them a share in his kingdom, in his reign. And on the last day the holy apostles will in some mysterious way participate in the final judgment. The twelve apostles will sit on thrones as they judge the twelve tribes of Israel. That’s what Jesus says. How exactly that will play out is a mystery, to be sure. But what a promise! It will strengthen the apostles for what is to come.

After the promise, Jesus warns them about what is coming. To Simon Peter, he speaks very directly. “Satan is present, Satan is active, Satan is powerful, and he is after not only you Simon, but all of the apostles”: “Simon, Simon, Satan has desired to have you (“you” plural), to sift you like wheat.” It’s going to be a hard test. “But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail.” Jesus’ prayer for Simon Peter is that after the time of trouble, he will turn again in faith, and then he must strengthen the others.

But Simon rejects the warning. “I’m ready,” he says, “to go to prison, and even to die with you!” What? Jesus has just told him that Satan will sift him like wheat. But Peter says, “No, that won’t happen. I’m ready!” He says that to Jesus’ face. Simon Peter should have known better. He should have known to listen to Jesus. And yet he keeps on not listening when Jesus says, “You will deny me three times before the rooster crows.” Peter is not listening. He is proud. But that night, when the rooster crows, he will remember. And then his pride will be gone. He will weep bitterly.

The folly and the arrogance don’t stop. Jesus turns to the others and asks them to remember how he sent them out to minister and do miracles, and how all their needs were met. And they remember. “We lacked nothing, Lord,” they say. But now it will be different, Jesus says. Evil is coming. Evil is present. And the one truly innocent man, their master, will be counted among the transgressors. The prophecy is written in Isaiah: “He was numbered with the transgressors.” It must come true, and it will come true. So Jesus says: “Be ready. Prepare yourselves. You’re going to need a sword!”

Is Jesus literally telling them to arm themselves? No, not with physical swords. But that’s how they take it. They’re not listening. They don’t realize that Jesus is warning them to prepare them for how hard it’s going to be. They say: “Look! We’ve got two swords already!” You can imagine the tone in Jesus’ voice when he says, “It is enough.” “Enough with your boasting, your arrogance, enough with your folly. I’m trying to tell you, but you’re not listening. Evil is coming.” And they should have known better.

And yet, God is not letting this time in the upper room be wasted. As we watch the spiritual car wreck unfolding before our eyes, we see God’s plan unfolding. God is using evil to move his plan forward. The disciples may not have meant to be all that foolish and arrogant; they should have known better. But God knew better still, and he meant it for good.

The disciples’ folly is like a sign–a huge, unmistakable arrow–that points away from them and right at Jesus. Who is the greatest among them? Who is the one who knows what true greatness is? While they quarrel and bicker, only one understands. It’s Jesus. The folly is all around him, and he stands out as so wise, so strong, so lowly and yet so great. He is among them as the one–the only one–who serves.

The disciples’ arrogance is like a piece of a puzzle. It’s not the center of the puzzle, thank God. But it is part of it. It fits right into the pattern taking shape, as Jesus moves toward the fulfillment of what was written about him. That pattern puts the great, wise, serving, innocent Son of God into the midst of sinners. That is Isaiah’s prophecy: “He was numbered with the transgressors.” And, as Jesus said, it must be fulfilled in him.

When the prophecy is fulfilled, it will be like a rock that’s dropped into a pool of water, and the circles will get larger and larger. “He was numbered with the transgressors”: Yes, and there will be one evildoer on his right and one on his left. “He was numbered with the transgressors”: Yes, and there at the cross, all around him are the religious leaders, the soldiers, and the onlookers, mocking him, goading him, telling him to save himself and be the greatest. But Jesus has come not to save himself; he has come to save you and a whole world of sinners. And in this way, he will be the greatest.

“He was numbered with the transgressors,” and the circle widens. It reaches back to the night before, back to that upper room, where there are more transgressors–Simon Peter and the other apostles–with Jesus in their midst. “He was numbered with the transgressors,” and the circle widens and reaches out into the future, all the way to tonight, to this room. Here there are more transgressors–you and me–with Jesus in our midst. Jesus overcomes the evil in our lives. He overcomes it by coming into the midst of it and dying. He lets the evil win and do its worst, so that it cannot do anything more.

And Jesus entrusts his spirit for a time into his Father’s hands. The Father honors his Son and raises him from the dead. Jesus has overcome the evil of death. It can’t do any more damage; it did all that it could, and Jesus still won. Now risen from the dead, Jesus has authority to forgive your folly, your arrogance, all the evil you participate in. And he will keep you in his care all the way to the day of his glory.

When you’re in the middle of a wreck as it’s happening, it’s hard to see what’s coming. But sometimes God does help us see it. Like when I see my stupidity in how I compare myself with others and think that, somehow, I’m greater than you are. Sometimes God helps us to see our arrogance and our pride, in thinking that we can live life just fine without the mercy and strength that only Christ gives. May God grant us a healthy dose of honesty and humility! Ask God’s mercy to see your folly as it is happening and to turn away from foolish pride.

“You meant it for evil, but God meant it for good.” Pray that God will take our folly and our pride and turn it into a sign, a huge, bright arrow that points away from us, and instead points us to Jesus. “He was numbered among the transgressors.” Yes, Jesus is here, among us, for good. In Christ, God means all things for our good.

Published in: on March 9, 2022 at 2:25 pm  Leave a Comment  
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