The Only Lamb to Celebrate Passover

Please read Mark 14:12-26 in your Bible.

Starting Over_Jesus (1)Image by James Best, (C) 2020, https://www.behance.net/gallery/90621713/Sermon-Illustrations-2020

       “Aatami Kuortti, a Lutheran pastor in Russia, was sentenced to ten years of hard labor in a concentration camp because of his refusal to become a spy for the government. A fellow prisoner received a package from home, a little bread and a few apples. He thought that it would be possible to celebrate the Lord’s Supper. He proposed this to Pastor Kuortti.

“‘I have already crushed the apple juice in a mug and the crusts will serve as communion bread. We can have the holy ordinance in the corner where my brother and I have our place, and the Russians, if they see us, will think we are drinking tea.’

Pastor Kuortti wrote, “‘I gladly fell in with the proposal of the brethren. After repetition of Scripture, I blessed the bread and the mug of apple juice, and we ate the Lord’s Holy Communion. The altar was but a dirty plank, and the pastor, as well as his flock, was in rags, yet we realized the presence of Christ.’”  (Sunday School Times, as found at moreillustrations.com.)

The Lord’s Supper is one of the times of worship that is a special remembrance of Jesus.  We honor Jesus’ sacrifice and demonstrate our gratitude.  This morning we’ll look at the event at which Jesus instituted this practice.

Communion also addresses a problem we all share: sin.  Jesus’ last Passover was the occasion that led into the days of Jesus’ passion and the solution to that problem.

The question is what to do about sin.  The answer is Jesus.

  1. Passover preparations. (12-16)

The situation in Jesus time was unlike any we’ve known.  The Passover and the week-long Feast of Unleavened Bread that followed it were considered to be one thing.  So the FIRST DAY refers to the Passover.  The population of Jerusalem swelled to something like 3 million people at Passover.  Based on verse twelve, it appears Jesus and His disciples have procrastinated!  Who would wait until the last minute to try to find accommodations in an over-crowded city?

The preparations: were they miraculous or premeditated?  Let me be plain: the reason they had a Passover meal was Jesus made arrangements in advance.

There are 3 good reasons for Jesus making arrangements in secret and in advance.  One, He was in control of the events leading up to His crucifixion.  Jesus’ life was not taken from Him, He surrendered it (John 10:17-18).

Two, he acted in secrecy to avoid His arrest happening in front of a large group of His followers.  Jesus did not want to cause a mob scene that would result in violence.

Three, Jesus made these secret arrangements to keep Judas from knowing them.  Jesus wanted to control the time and place of Judas’ betrayal.

  1. Asking the right question. (17-21)

WHEN EVENING CAME: the meal was to be eaten between sunset and midnight (Exodus 12:8-14).  In this account, there is a keeping of tradition and a redeeming of traditions to give them new values.

Jesus broke tradition with a stunning announcement: “ONE OF YOU WILL BETRAY ME.”  It is hard to imagine how such a statement would have felt.  The phrase ONE WHO IS EATING WITH ME increased the emotional impact of Jesus’ words because to betray a friend after having shared a meal with him was the worst kind of treachery.  As this meal was the Passover, the betrayal would be the worst of all!

The stunned disciples, in their response, asked the right question: “SURELY NOT I?”  Eleven of these men had no plans to betray Jesus; they had never even considered such a thing; but ONE BY ONE, they asked Jesus the same question.  What’s clear in the Greek is that the question is asked with an expectation that the answer will be “No.”

Judas also said “SURELY NOT I?”  He was guilty of gross hypocrisy, history’s worst traitor.

Jesus didn’t answer directly, but offered a clue and a warning.  The clue came in this statement: “ONE OF THE TWELVE…WHO DIPS BREAD INTO THE BOWL WITH ME.”  This is in two parts; His betrayer was one of the Twelve and one who was very near to him.  Their customary way of eating  was to use a piece of bread to scoop food from shared bowls.

The warning was expressed as, “WOE TO THAT MAN [Jesus’ betrayer]!  IT WOULD BE BETTER FOR HIM IF HE HAD NOT BEEN BORN.”  These words were for Judas’ benefit.  Jesus gave him a warning and a last chance to repent.

  1. Receiving the right answer. (22-26)

A measure of the love of Jesus is that He included His betrayer in the Last Supper.  He could’ve easily called Judas out in public or in private and told him to shove off.  Instead, he kept him part of the group for the moment.

Jesus took parts of the Passover meal and gave them new meaning.  Jesus altered the Passover to become a new ritual centered on his death & resurrection.

For example, the Bread had been used to symbolize Israel’s hasty transition to freedom, but Jesus used it to symbolize His body, given as a sacrifice for our sins.

Also, the four Passover cups had been used to symbolize the four promises of God in Exodus 6:6-7, but Jesus used it to symbolize His blood, the basis for the new covenant between God and people.

The supper concluded on a solemn but hopeful note.  It was solemn because Jesus declared He would not drink again of the fruit of the vine until the day God’s kingdom came.  It was hopeful because there was a kingdom coming.

Singing is the traditional ending of a Passover meal. After that, they left the upper room and made their way to Gethsemane (32), the scene of Jesus’ arrest.

The question is what to do about

sin.  The answer is Jesus.

“Three times a month, Jermaine Washington and Michelle Stevens get together for what they call a ‘gratitude lunch.’ They met at work where they used to have lunch together. One day Michelle wept as she spoke about waiting on a kidney donor list for 11 months. She was being sustained by kidney dialysis, but suffered chronic fatigue and blackouts and was plagued by joint pain. Because Jermaine couldn’t stand the thought of watching his friend die, he gave her one of his kidneys.  He said, ‘When you’ve got something great to be thankful for, having a ‘gratitude lunch’ is a great way to celebrate.’”

(Today in the Word, November 14, 1993, found at bible.org.)

It’s good for us to think of the Lord’s Supper as a “gratitude lunch.”  In those moments we remember the great sacrifice of our Passover Lamb and celebrate the hopeful news that He is coming again.

 

RESOURCES:

Message #565

The Bible Knowledge Key Word Study, The Gospels, Mark, Joel F. Williams

One Perfect Life: The Complete Story of the Lord Jesus, John MacArthur

http://www.moreillustrations.com/Illustrations/lord’s%20supper%201.html

https://bible.org/illustration/gratitude-lunch

 

Disappearing Disciples

reject Jesus

Following Jesus is necessary; it is not easy.

          We live in a time when the people who exert the greatest influence on American culture think it fashionable to flaunt and condemn Christianity.  With an assertiveness and obnoxiousness that would be condemned as “intolerance” if it were directed at any other faith, these self-appointed guardians of political correctness work to marginalize everyone who lives and practices the true faith.

          In my generation, the most notorious opponent of Christianity was Madalyn Murray O’Hair, a woman who brought suit to remove prayer from public schools.  It’s an amusing testimony to the power of her legacy that though she’s been dead several years, Ms. O’Hair can still cause an email firestorm when spam about her taking a case to the FCC makes the rounds every 2 years or so.

Her atheism flowed from a poisonous personality that gradually gave way to some of the vileness only hell itself could devise.  It may interest you to know that Ms. O’Hair’s son William Murray, became a Baptist minister, author, and lobbyist for conservative values.  As a child, he was named by his mother as the plaintiff in the lawsuit she used to remove prayer from public schools.  Rev. Murray says of his mother, “she was just evil.” She was murdered by members of her own organization in 1995, the dismembered bodies of O’Hair, her son, and her granddaughter were recovered in the woods near Camp Woods, Texas five years later.

https://www.religiousfreedomcoalition.org/2011/04/05/the-madalyn-murray-ohair-murder/

Good news – the Church has survived all of Ms. O’Hair’s activism.  The Church will also survive the current crop of “talking heads” who are likewise so eager to remove Christianity from the public sphere.

Bad news – things will get more difficult before Jesus comes again.  Following Jesus in America is certainly not as difficult as it is in other parts of the world, but it has never been an easy thing to do.  As a reminder to be faithful, this morning we’ll see how some people who identified themselves as Jesus’ disciples turned their backs on Him.

  1. Accept Jesus’ teaching though it can be hard to take. (vs. 60-65)

John reported MANY OF HIS DISCIPLES COMPLAINED. The may have been complaining about what Jesus taught earlier in the chapter.  Here are couple examples of the teaching to which they were reacting.

“UNLESS YOU EAT THE FLESH OF THE SON OF MAN AND DRINK HIS BLOOD, YOU HAVE NO LIFE IN YOU.” (53)

“I AM THE BREAD OF LIFE (48).  THIS IS THE BREAD THAT CAME DOWN FROM HEAVEN.  YOUR FOREFATHERS ATE MANNA AND DIED, BUT HE WHO FEEDS ON THIS BREAD WILL LIVE FOREVER.” (58)

Their complaint was this teaching seemed HARD to them.  As we see in v. 52, they took these words very literally, saying, “HOW CAN THIS MAN GIVE US HIS FLESH TO EAT?”  Taken literally, the idea is repugnant, against God’s law, and physically impossible.

Taken as a figure of speech, it was meaningless to them.  They did not understand the symbolism Jesus used.  Further, Jesus’ reference to their FOREFATHERS might have made them feel defensive and a little more peevish.  So, HARD = difficult.  The teaching was difficult to understand and accept.

John also wrote they were GRUMBLING and offended by what Jesus said.  The Greek word translated as GRUMBLING can also be rendered “complaining, murmuring.”  They bellyached, but not to Jesus

When operating in our flesh alone – that is, without spiritual insight – it’s easy for us to take offense.  Maybe they felt Jesus was trying to make them look ignorant.  Jesus was not responsible for offending them; they chose to take offense at His words.  As a result, they did not BELIEVE and He called them on it (64).

Jesus’ reply revealed four more truths about Himself.

He predicted He would ASCEND TO WHERE HE WAS BEFORE. John told us in chapter one where Jesus was before, and that was with God the Father.  John’s gospel does not tell us about the Ascension of Jesus but we read about it at the end of Luke and the beginning of Acts.  It marked the end of Jesus’ earthly ministry.  This is a proof of the divine side of Jesus’ nature; He existed before all creation and participated in creation.  Jesus is telling them He is God but they’re not having it.

Their complaints were materialistic (of the FLESH) but the Spirit’s contributions bring life.  They missed the symbolism in His words because they had no sense of the Spirit’s testimony in what Jesus was saying.  Jesus clearly informed him of the spiritual origin of His teaching and promised that those who believed them would have LIFE.

We saw in 2:24-25 Jesus knew the content of people’s hearts but here He reveals this supernatural insight to them.  He said, “SOME OF YOU DO NOT BELIEVE.”  Jesus said this before many of them turned away and left Him, predicting and explaining their response before it happened.  Jesus knew FROM THE BEGINNING who would turn and walk away.  He also knew which of the Twelve would be His betrayer.

He repeated what He said in verse 44; it was impossible to come to the father apart from His words.  Many of His listeners supposed they were in God the Father’s good graces because they were descendants of Abraham.  Jesus exposed that assumption as false.  The truth is, there is no relationship with God the Father without believing His words.

  1. Do not turn your back on Jesus. (66-71)

This was the last straw for MANY OF those who had claimed to be HIS DISCIPLES.  In chapter two we saw the superficial faith of those who were wowed by His miracles.  In chapter six we see the superficial faith of those who wanted another miraculous meal.

Jesus exposed their motives in v. 26: “I TELL YOU THE TRUTH, YOU ARE LOOKING FOR ME, NOT BECAUSE YOU SAW MIRACULOUS SIGNS BUT BECAUSE YOU ATE THE LOAVES AND HAD YOUR FILL.”  If He had continued to feed them and ask for nothing in return, they would have hung around.  As it was, I guess you can say they couldn’t “stomach” the truth!

Jesus asked the essential question: “Do you want to leave me too?”  It’s a question each of us answers daily by the choices we make.  We’ve established Jesus knew people’s hearts, so this is not a question He asked for information’s sake.  There may’ve been some frustration or other emotion behind this, but I believe His purpose in asking is to draw out His disciples and give them a chance to declare faith.

Peter gave the correct answer.  Is there frustration or disappointment in Peter’s reply, “WHERE ELSE CAN WE GO?”  Even so, we have to credit Peter with having the faith to realize two important things:

“YOU HAVE THE WORDS OF LIFE.”  This statement implies Jesus alone has the WORDS that lead to LIFE.  There are all kinds of things competing for our attention but only Jesus has the WORDS OF LIFE.

“WE BELIEVE AND KNOW YOU ARE THE HOLY ONE OF GOD.”  This is how we are saved: the Holy Spirit works in every life to draw us to Jesus.  By belief in the works and words of Jesus, we gain access to God the Father.  By faith we accept the salvation Jesus provided for us and receive the forgiveness of God the Father.  We then have life eternal.

Jesus affirmed Peter’s statement of faith as true, as if He’d said, “I hear you and that’s why I chose you to be my TWELVE.”  However, He also knew that one of the Twelve was not faithful; worse, he was a DEVIL.  The word DEVIL means “slanderer” and is not usually used to refer to a human being.  Here it is a figure of speech to show how diabolical Judas was being.

John’s editorial comment in v. 71 explains who the unnamed DEVIL was and why he was devilish.  John 13:2 says THE DEVIL PROMPTED JUDAS to betray Jesus.  In 13:27 we read Satan ENTERED INTO Judas.  This does not excuse Judas’ choices; it merely explains how he was able to betray Jesus.

Following Jesus is necessary; it is not easy.

We spoke briefly at the beginning about opposition to our faith coming from outsiders.  This event reminds us that sometimes people who claim to be disciples oppose and reject the teaching of Jesus.  It’s necessary to remind ourselves that current situation exists in part because the Church in America allowed it to happen.  We dozed peacefully at the wheel and wonder how we landed in the ditch!

The American Church will most effectively resist the conductors of culture to the degree we choose to follow Jesus truthfully.  We must take up the message Peter defined in vs. 68+69, without any compromise with this culture.  We must affirm, with our words and deeds, that Jesus is the sole means of eternal life, the HOLY ONE OF GOD.  This message must go out by our love and be proven by our integrity.  Friends, this must happen as millions of convinced Christians live their daily lives in the Holy Spirit.  We must give our all to Jesus but not give an inch to the world.

 

RESOURCES:

Greek Lexicon, Walter Bauer.

Last Supper, Last Words (1 of 5)

gentle

Please read John 13:18-32 in your favored version of the Bible.  I used the NIV (1984) to research these remarks.

While watching the Olympics recently, I saw that one of the networks has jumped on the recent live musicals fad to offer “Jesus Christ, Superstar” on Easter.  Personally, I don’t recommend watching it.

Since its first performance the rock opera “Superstar” has fueled debate about its portrayal of the biblical events.  We don’t have time to get into all that this morning, but I mention it because one of the failings of the musical is that it is about Judas, not Jesus, and it mistakenly portrays him as being politically motivated to betray Jesus.

The Bible, on the other hand, gives two motives for Judas’ actions.  One is greed.  He embezzled from the group’s purse and asked for a bribe to turn Jesus over to the leaders who wanted him dead.

The second motive is one we will see in today’s passage: the evil influence of Satan.  Judas acted in free will but he eventually became so committed to betraying Jesus that he actually sold out to the devil.  Judas’ character is a startling contrast to Jesus’.

Jesus’ gentleness to His betrayer is an example for us to follow.

  1. Jesus predicted His betrayal. (13:18-21)

Verse eighteen shows two things about Jesus.  One, I KNOW THOSE I HAVE CHOSEN means He knew the hearts of His disciples and loved them anyway.  Remember, He washed 12 pairs of feet.

The depth of Jesus’ love is powerfully illustrated in his treatment of Judas.  Jesus blessed the disciples in verse seventeen.  However, lest Judas think that he was part of that blessing Jesus said, “I AM NOT REFERRING TO ALL OF YOU.”  Judas’ betrayal was not worthy of blessing.  Just the opposite; he is cursed.  In Matthew 26:24 Jesus said, “The Son of Man will go just as it is written about him. But woe to that man who betrays the Son of Man! It would be better for him if he had not been born.”

Two, it was part of His mission to fulfill prophecy.  Jesus fulfilled prophecy by His choice to be obedient to God’s will and Judas by his choice to disobey.

Jesus quoted Psalm 41:9 to give the disciples insight into His emotional state.  He quoted all but the first part; EVEN MY FRIEND, WHOM I TRUSTED.  In this Psalm, David complained to God about his enemies, including his own son, Absalom, who betrayed him.  Jesus is saying that this Psalm has both historical and predictive elements.

He elaborated by using the most dastardly deed done by a trusted friend.  There are two seemingly contradictory phrases in verse eighteen:

SHARES MY BREAD indicates friendship, family, intimacy, and  hospitality.

LIFTED UP HIS HEEL refers to an Eastern expression for showing contempt to another.  These insights reveal the striking and emotional nature of Jesus’ words.

In verse nineteen Jesus paradoxically revealed His betrayal in order to help His disciples understand who He was: “SO THAT WHEN IT DOES HAPPEN YOU WILL BELIEVE THAT I AM HE.”  In this sense, verse nineteen is a word of prophecy.  When it comes true, the disciples are to consider it proof that Jesus is who He claims to be: the Son of God.

In verse twenty Jesus revealed that He and the Father were one and the disciples would join them in that unity of character and purpose.  Thus, anyone who accepted the disciples, accepted Him and anyone who accepted Him accepted God the Father.

Verse twenty-one shows the human side of Jesus’ nature.  The fact that His heart was TROUBLED may indicate a hope to receive  comfort from His disciples.  This would be a natural expectation from a human being.  Moreover, the text says Jesus was DEEPLY TROUBLED; that is the same word used to describe Jesus’ emotion in 11:33 when he saw the grief of people at Lazarus’ tomb.

  1. Jesus revealed His betrayer. (13:22-26)

As plain as Jesus made the “big reveal,” the twelve still didn’t get it (22).  HIS DISCIPLES STARED AT ONE ANOTHER: This is the kind of detail an eye-witness would mention. It is how you would expect folks to react to such a surprise.  They were AT A LOSS TO KNOW WHAT HE MEANT.  This happens a lot in the Gospels.

In verses twenty-three to twenty-five, questions were raised. Notably, by THE DISCIPLE WHOM JESUS LOVED, who has traditionally been identified as John.

Simon Peter’s rush to know specifics fits with what we know of his character.  Making use of his being next to Jesus, John simply asked Him, “LORD, WHO IS IT?”

Judas is unmistakably identified in verses twenty-six and twenty-seven.   Jesus’ answer was confusing at first.

At a time when bread was used in place of tableware, it was customary to use bread to scoop up meat or some other dish as one ate.  (As our Ethiopian brothers and sisters do today.)  It was also customary for the host of a dinner to make a point of giving a special morsel to honor a guest.

When Jesus chose this means of identifying His betrayer, it seemed that He was honoring and exposing Judas at the same time.  I believe Jesus is showing grace to Judas, showing him love, and maybe offering him one last chance to repent of his decision.

  1. Satan entered Judas. (13: 27)

The phrase SATAN ENTERED INTO HIM is extraordinary.  Let’s explore what it means.

Don’t miss the detail in verse twenty-seven; AS SOON AS JUDAS TOOK THE BREAD, SATAN ENTERED INTO HIM.  Judas’ willingly receiving the bread is his way of accepting his role, the moment of his decision to accept the role of betrayer, and his ultimate sell-out to Satan.  There was nothing “magical” about the bread; it is the act of accepting it when Jesus had specifically imbued it with meaning that has Judas crossing a line that demarked the “point of no return.”

This phrase marks a clear break between Judas the disciple and Judas the betrayer.  Judas gave up on any “second thoughts” or temptation to back out for any reason.  It means that Judas gave himself fully to the evil purpose that was the devil’s will.  Back in 6:70-71 we read, THEN JESUS REPLIED, “HAVE I NOT CHOSEN YOU, THE TWELVE?  YET ONE OF YOU IS A DEVIL!”  (HE MEANT JUDAS, THE SON OF SIMON ISCARIOT, WHO, THOUGH ONE OF THE TWELVE, WAS LATER TO BETRAY HIM.)

In Mark 5:12 and Luke 8:30 this phrase refers to evil spirits being sent into a herd of swine, which then drowned themselves.  Talk about spiritual evil and its deadly effects!

Jesus dismissed Judas with the words, “WHAT YOU ARE ABOUT TO DO, DO QUICKLY.”  I can think of reasons for Jesus to send Judas away.  One is to make the rest of the Last Supper time spent only with the eleven.  The other is to get the sequence of events leading to His crucifixion started.

Judas wasted no time: AS SOON AS JUDAS TOOK THE BREAD, HE WENT OUT.  The mention of NIGHT is historically accurate, but also symbolic; in John’s Gospel, NIGHT describes moments when evil reigns.

  1. Judas left to enact his betrayal. (13:27-30)

Verse twenty-seven makes it clear Jesus understood fully Judas’ role in what was to happen that night.  He had already predicted many times that it would happen.  Jesus knew when He would be betrayed, who would betray Him, and why it was necessary He be betrayed.  But now time was running out; He needed to get Judas going to move events along.

Skip ahead to verse thirty.  Did Judas feel exposed and that’s why left quickly?  Did he worry about reprisals or being restrained by the eleven?  Was their any guilt or shame in his heart or had the devil pushed all that away?

His emotional/spiritual condition aside, by getting up and leaving, Judas made a further choice ally himself with the devil’s purpose and committed himself again to the course of betrayal.  Ironically, this was one occasion where he was obedient to Jesus’ command.

Go back to verses twenty-eight and twenty-nine.  For their part, the disciples still didn’t get it: NO ONE AT THE MEAL UNDERSTOOD WHY JESUS SAID THIS TO [Judas].

They thought Jesus had sent Judas on a typical kind of errand SINCE JUDAS HAD CHARGE OF THE MONEY.  It was customary to give offerings to the poor as a means of observing the Passover. They rationalized; maybe Judas went out TO BUY WHAT WAS NEEDED FOR THE FEAST or TO GIVE SOMETHING TO THE POOR. These events happened during the most holy of Jewish holy days; the Passover, which was a feast day.  It’s human nature to find the ordinary in things we don’t understand.

  1. Jesus spoke to His glorification. (13:31-32)

The key word here is NOW (verse thirty-one).  Our Bibles separate verses thirty and thirty-one into different sections; I think this is incorrect because the word NOW links them.  This means there was something about Judas’ going forth that glorified Jesus as God the Son and also God the Father.

GLORY is the presence of God manifest in one or both of two ways: in light (a supernatural radiance visible to the eyes) and/or in acts of divine power; miracles.  In this situation, Jesus promised His disciples God’s presence was going to be revealed in a way they had been warned about but still did not expect: Jesus’ resurrection.

Jesus’ response to Judas’ betrayal was gracious and dignified.  We must be characterized by such behavior when we deal with those who oppose or persecute us.

As He did in other teachings (17:22), Jesus is directly attesting to the unity between Himself as God the Son and God the Father.  The chain of acceptance (verse twenty) and the chain of glorification (verse thirty-two) both explore aspects of the unity present between God and His people, also between members of the Trinity.

Jesus’ gentleness to His betrayer is an example for us to follow.

            So there you have it.  Whatever else may have been rummaging around in his head, Judas betrayed Jesus for money.  He was so sold out to the idea of betraying Jesus that the devil became his partner.

This depth of betrayal is too stunning for us to take in.  That’s one reason some people have sought to make excuses for Judas; to humanize him or at least make his decision a more ordinary thing.

Another mistake we make about Judas is thinking we’re nothing like him.  The Bible makes it plain that every sin is an act of betrayal.  It is rebellion against God.  Every sin carries the same deadly consequences as Judas’ treachery.

The good news is that Jesus has shown us the same tender mercy He showed Judas in the upper room.  He gives us multiple chances to repent and resist the devil.  He offers forgiveness that is complete and eternal.