Darkness on Maundy Thursday

Many Christians today don’t think about Maundy Thursday, the day before Christ’s crucifixion. They leap directly from Palm Sunday to Easter, perhaps offering a moment of silence on Good Friday. But Maundy Thursday is an important day, even crucial I would say, for understanding much of our role in God’s kingdom. On this night Jesus met with his disciples in the upper room for the last Passover and the first experience of The Lord’s Table.  The term Maundy (not “Monday”) comes from the Latin word for commandment, Mandatum, found in the Latin Vulgate translation of John 13:34. “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, just as I have loved you that you love one another.” He gave this command late Thursday night and thus the title Maundy (Commandment) Thursday.

This was the evening that Jesus washed the disciples’ feet, a precious and memorable event in our spiritual history. On this evening He also delivered His longest recorded teaching, The Upper Room Discourse, sometimes called The Farewell Discourse. He filled this time with encouragement, promise, and instruction.

But Maundy Thursday has a dark side to it. It is the night that Judas confirmed in his unregenerate heart to betray the Lord, the night that he let Satan influence him to “betray innocent blood” as he himself later puts it. We often overlook the fact that the glory of the new commandment shows brightest against the contrasting darkness of this faithless world. In many ways Judas represents all faithlessness, all rebellion against the grace of Christ.

Faithlessness is a more important subject than we might think. For one thing, the fact that God holds us responsible for our unbelief indicates the gravity of human moral responsibility. At no time do we see Judas acting against his own will in this situation. Even when Satan apparently nudges him directly at the heart level (John 13:2) there is no indicator of Judas resisting. It is a reminder of human culpability. We can blame no one but ourselves for our unbelief.

Secondly, the existence of Judas’s faithless unbelief reminds us that humanity’s problem is one of a fallen will rather than simply ignorance (see Romans 1:18-20). Judas had every reason to trust Jesus like his friends did. He was there for all the miracles, the preaching, the implications of Jesus’ divine identity, even for the foot washing! He let Jesus wash his feet along with the other disciples, for heaven’s sake! He nodded along with everybody else up in Caesarea Philippi when Peter blurted out that Jesus is the Christ the Son of the Living God (Matt.16:16). He had his own basket of leftovers after Jesus fed the five thousand (Matt.14:20-21). But he was faking it all along (John 12:6). It is simply illogical, unreasonable, and irrational to reject Jesus as Messiah after seeing firsthand what Judas saw (John 14:11). Which means that Judas had a will that was in opposition to the realities confronting him about Jesus. The mind is the servant of the will and the will is bent in on itself (Luther’s image).

Which brings us to the final point here. Judas must have been a thoughtful person, one who watched, listened, analyzed, and made decisions, like all rational humans do.  But he was thinking autonomously. That is, he held his thoughts, his analysis, his opinions aloof and above the words and works of Jesus. He reserved the “right” to “disagree” with Jesus and the other apostles. This is exactly what Eve and Adam did. After observing and hearing God’s Word, the human creature takes upon himself/herself the divine mantle and “demurs” with regard to God’s expressed and gracious will. Satan cheers people on in the deadly illusion that our rational analysis is more important that God’s expressed word. And the result is darkness if every kind. After serving supper and washing everyone’s feet, Jesus handed Judas the dipped morsel and said, “Get on with it.”  Whereupon Judas immediately went out…and it was dark… (John 13:30). That darkness so overwhelmed him that, in a further faithless act of disobedience, he hanged himself in an effort to atone for his own evil (Matt.27:5).

But you, Christian friend, are not like Judas (Rom.8:9; Heb.6:9-12). When you sense a conflict between your will and the Lord’s will, you pray and repent and seek to do what He wants. When you fail in these, instead of trying to atone for your own sins you cry for mercy to the One whose Spirit is in your heart and He forgives you every time in Christ (1 John 1:8-2:2). When you reason, you do your thinking within the realities of your faith. Anselm called this “faith seeking understanding.” When you doubt and wrestle with skepticism in your heart, you resist with your faithful reason aided by the Spirit and God’s Word (1 John 3:20). You reject the amoral autonomy of this world and choose rather to shape your thoughts in grace through the Word of the gospel. For you, the upper room is filled with light, the presence of the Lord drawing you into the warmth of the Trinity, His table nourishing your soul deeply and often. You are safe in the grace by simple faith in Jesus Christ, the one reality Judas would not submit to. The good news is so much brighter when we see it against the backdrop of the darkness the Lord has delivered us from.

Unbelief is crucial to our understanding of true faith. No gray areas here. If you trust Jesus Christ, it’s all yours. If you don’t…it’s all dark. I find this sobering, but quite clarifying.

Just a thought,

Pastor Rick