Now the Festival of Unleavened Bread, called the Passover, was approaching, and the chief priests and the teachers of the law were looking for some way to get rid of Jesus, for they were afraid of the people. Then Satan entered Judas, called Iscariot, one of the Twelve. And Judas went to the chief priests and the officers of the temple guard and discussed with them how he might betray Jesus. They were delighted and agreed to give him money. He consented and watched for an opportunity to hand Jesus over to them when no crowd was present.
Then came the day of Unleavened Bread on which the Passover lamb had to be sacrificed. Jesus sent Peter and John, saying, “Go and make preparations for us to eat the Passover.”
“Where do you want us to prepare for it?” they asked.
He replied, “As you enter the city, a man carrying a jar of water will meet you. Follow him to the house that he enters, and say to the owner of the house, ‘The Teacher asks: where is the guest room, where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?’ He will show you a large room upstairs, all furnished. Make preparations there.”
They left and found things just as Jesus had told them. So they prepared the Passover.
From Christ’s teaching concerning the end of history, Luke now brings us back to the immediate situation that prevailed in Jerusalem. Against the backdrop of the usual feverish preparations for the celebration of Passover, the atmosphere in the city was becoming more hostile and a plot to get rid of Jesus was brewing along the dark corridors of power.
The chief priests and religious authorities could not rest until they had dealt with Jesus. They were determined to get rid of him. Determined that he should die. But they had a problem: Jesus’ current popularity with the crowds meant that they could not successfully move openly against him. They had to find a way of getting to him, without the people knowing.
A way was handed to them. Judas Iscariot, one of the twelve apostles, could tell the direction the wind was blowing and saw an opportunity to make money. He went to the authorities and negotiated a price for betraying Jesus to them at a time when there would be no crowds. The authorities were understandably delighted. But there was more than human agency at play. “Then Satan entered Judas…”
Most contemporary readers of Luke’s account, especially in the West, would struggle to accept his analysis, not least because the figure of Satan has become either the grotesque figure of horror movies (that no one believes in) or a figure of fun (that no one believes in). But the Bible is clear: behind the presence of evil in this world there is an Evil One: his infernal majesty.
These dark events do not simply turn on human jealousy and greed. They are part of a much deeper conflict which here reached its climax as Satan prepared to launch what he hoped would be his final assault on the Son of God and on all who trusted in him. Through allowing himself to be consumed by personal greed, Judas had unwittingly opened himself up to being exploited by Satan, who was determined that Jesus should die.
Jesus also was determined that he should die! But not as a helpless victim of either human evil or of Satan’s power, but as a deliberate action, in a moment and context of his choosing, giving himself through death as the sacrifice for the sin of the world. He was determined that nothing should happen before he had shared in the Passover meal with his disciples.
The practical challenge was that Passover was a meal eaten in the evening, and evenings were dangerous for Jesus in Jerusalem. While Jesus taught openly by day in the Temple, towards evening he would go out of the city and stay overnight somewhere on the Mount of Olives, to prevent his premature arrest.
At some stage during the week Jesus made a private arrangement with an unnamed individual to borrow a room where he and his disciples could celebrate Passover, without Judas having any prior knowledge of where they would be. The courageous actions of that unnamed person challenge me. If I had had a room in Jerusalem, would I have been as willing to lend it to Jesus? Would I have allowed my home to become an outpost of the true King, when the whole city had turned against him?
And today? In my heart and home, in my work and relationships, in my ambitions and desires, in a context that grows increasingly hostile towards the true King, will I invite him to establish his rule?