We’ve got a short one today. This chapter serves as prelude to the last plague, the calm before the final storm. It calls back to several events that God predicted previously, so we’re going to look back at those previous passages, in the interest of actually having something to talk about. Ha! I’m not being entirely facetious.
In Genesis 41, Pharaoh has a pair of troubling dreams and is in need of an interpreter. It’s Joseph’s time to shine! This is the Dream Master’s big moment! Except that, while I’ve been riffing on his brothers’ epithet for him, “the Lord of Dreams,” the Lord of Dreams isn’t really Joseph at all. It’s God.
I’ve had an up-and-down relationship with the gospel of John. Of all the four gospels, it was the one that most saturated my childhood. I have these random memories: reading it with my mom at a TCBY as part of homeschool lessons, memorizing John 3:16 and thinking about God’s love for the world while swinging on a pull-up bar on the playground. In high school, I became increasingly aware of the scholarly skepticism surrounding it, its alleged late authorship and its authenticity. The sun moved, everyone’s favorite gospel suddenly became shrouded in shadow, and for years afterward reading through it became weird for me.
If you don’t want to hear Jesus’ last message to his disciples before his crucifixion, you’d better either close your Bible or skip ahead to John 18. The other gospel authors each spend maybe half a chapter on the Last Supper, but John devotes an entire three chapters to Jesus’ words over the meal, plus a fourth chapter in which Jesus gives a prayer entrusting the disciples to God the Father. It’s time to dig into these meaty chapters, so in the words of professional video game expert Tim Rogers: click that X, or buckle that seat belt. You make the choice.
If you were reading through the New Testament in canonical order, starting with Matthew and ending with Revelation, then Acts 8 would be the last you’d see of Philip. Even in the first half of the chapter, he ends up leaving the limelight as Peter handles Simon the Ex-Sorcerer’s attempt to purchase distribution rights to the Holy Spirit. But in the latter half of the chapter, Philip gets a solo adventure and an opportunity to do some big kingdom work, and it all starts with an angel and a eunuch.
Acts 2 is the chapter where the early church blows up. Boatloads of Jews from all over have come to Jerusalem to celebrate the holiday of Shavuot, known in Greek as Pentecost. The Holy Spirit miraculously grants the disciples the ability to speak and comprehend various languages, in a kind of reverse Babel, and Peter preaches a gospel message to the crowds that results in thousands repenting and getting baptized. In the previous chapter, the disciples had been biding their time, waiting for the gift of the Holy Spirit that Jesus had promised them. But here God starts making waves, and he won’t let up until it gets the disciples kicked out of Jerusalem. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
Judas doesn’t show up much in the synoptic gospels. He gets mentioned in the roll call of the disciples in Matthew 10:2-4 and Luke 6:13-16 as “the one who betrayed Him,” and that’s pretty much it until today’s portion of the narrative, Matthew 26. But when it comes to Jesus’ last hours, that’s Judas’ time to shine.
Just as the transfiguration divided the gospel of Luke in half, so it divides Matthew. It’s a momentous, supernatural event that marks a shift in the narrative no matter which gospel you’re reading it in. And when you reach Matthew’s account of the transfiguration here in chapter 17, you know you’re not too far from the endgame in Jerusalem, in part because it suddenly starts hitting the disciples: hey, there’s going to be an endgame in Jerusalem.
In today’s chapter, no good deed goes un-disdained, at least where the Pharisees are concerned. They chew Jesus out for letting his disciples snack on grain on the Sabbath, conspire to “destroy” him when he heals on the Sabbath, and accuse him of using the power of Satan to cast out demons. And then some of them even have the audacity to ask for a sign from him. After all that, it’s no wonder that Jesus quickly gets short with them.
Sometimes, even though you’ve read a passage before, you open it up again and find that you’re reading it as if for the first time. It must have been early 2001 when I had that experience with Matthew 24, the analog of today’s chapter in Luke, and Matthew 25, which comprises several parables about the last days. I seem to recall that I was in Georgia visiting relatives over spring break, and I was sitting in the back of the family Toyota Sienna reading the passage. But wherever I was, I had recently learned from some book of N.T. Wright’s about the destruction of the Jerusalem temple in 70 AD, and I remember trying to sort out the passage, asking which of Jesus’ prophecies had already been fulfilled and which ones genuinely pertained to the Second Coming.