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

 

Were You There?

board game

Casting about on the internet, I found part of a 2009 sermon by C. Philip Green entitled “Take A Risk.”  There he described a game published by Parker Brothers in the 1950’s.  It was called “Going to Jerusalem.”  (it’s worth $50 on Ebay!)

The players moved little plastic pieces across the Holy Land by looking up answers to questions in a little book of the Gospels provided with the game. Players started in Bethlehem, and moved their three pieces all the way to a “triumphal entry” into Jerusalem to win the game.

Pastor Green took exception to the fact that there was never any Crucifixion or Resurrection following the Triumphal Entry.  You just got to Jerusalem and quit.  He saw this as very unbiblical, promoting a shallow and impractical expectation of life and a lopsided view of Scripture.  Sure, it’s easy to get people to line up to be the life of the party, the “Grand Marshall” of the parade if that’s all there is, but there’s only been one man willing to face pain, humiliation, death, and taking on every other human being’s sin.
https://www.sermoncentral.com/illustrations/sermon-illustration-sermoncentral–stories-discipleship-74176?+ref=TextIllustrationSerps

I have to agree with Pastor Green.  While the Triumphal Entry makes for a good game, we need to know the whole truth.  In the Bible, the Triumphal Entry was not an end in itself, it was the beginning of the events of Jesus’ death and resurrection.  What we’ll see this morning is that the Triumphal Entry of Jesus into Jerusalem supports two points: One, Jesus is King, and two, He’s not the king you’re looking for, but He is the King you need!

Please read Mark 11:1-11 in your favored version of the Bible.  I have prepared these remarks using the NIV.

What if you were there to welcome Jesus?

  1. Who would you have been?

Obviously, you’d have been a Jew.  You would have been one of thousands of pilgrims attending the Passover; a Jewish feast day and arguably the most important.  (If you melded Christmas and July 4th, you’d have a similar vibe: patriotic and religious.)  Jewish pilgrims came to the feast from all corners of the Empire.

Passover occurs in the spring, during the Jewish month of Nisan, on the 14th day, which is often in early April.  Using astronomical data, our best guess is that THIS Passover was April 3, AD 33 or April 7, AD 30.

The last leg of your trip is from Jericho to Jerusalem, and could be the most difficult part of your journey.  Jericho is 17 miles from Jerusalem, but the Roman road goes up and over the Mount of Olives, elevation 2600 feet.

There is a village along this route, but it is so small, off the main road, and so close to the city that not many people ever stop there as they make this journey.  So why does Bethany rate a mention in Mark 11:1?  Mark tells us that during the days prior to His death, Jesus didn’t spend nights in the city, but stayed in Bethany.  Bethany was home to Mary, Martha, and Lazarus, whom Jesus raised from the dead.

This is one of many instances where Jesus is shows He was completely in control of the events leading up to His death.  He didn’t want to be handed over to the Jewish authorities too soon; His death had to occur during the Passover.  Staying in Bethany kept Him further off the public “radar” until His time had really come.

  1. What would you have done?

We could twist our heads around backward trying to make a firm calendar of the events of the last week of Jesus’ life.  For example, Mark has Jesus going directly from Jericho to Jerusalem while John has Him stopping in Bethany first.  There are ways to reconcile these seeming inconsistencies, but today we’ll skip all those details and look at the sequence Mark offers.

Every faithful Jew was expected to return to Jerusalem at this time every year.  If you were wealthy, you probably did.  If not, this was a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

Jesus’ coming into the city was something people anticipated and raised the excitement of THAT Passover to new heights.  They were familiar with the details of the predictions about the Messiah in the Scriptures, so Jesus’ method of arrival sent an unspoken message: “Here I am!  Your King has arrived!”

SO – on this day you greet Jesus as a King, with the great enthusiasms we read in vs. 8-10.  You spread your cloak out on the road before Him.  This is the ancient equivalent of the “red carpet treatment.”  (In 2 Kings 9:13, when Jehu was crowned king, the people greeting him in this way.)  Your hope is that this parade will be the first step to Jesus assuming the throne of David, overthrowing the Romans.

You spread out branches cut from roadside fields.  In this culture cut branches were associated with joyous times. (For the Festival of Booths, palm branches were cut to make temporary shelters.)

You praise Him by shouting, “HOSANNA!” and “HOSANNA IN THE HIGHEST!”  Hosanna means “God saves!”  “BLESSED IS HE WHO COMES IN THE NAME OF THE LORD” was shouted by folks on one side of the road, while “BLESSED IS THE COMING KINGDOM OF OUR FATHER DAVID” was shouted as a response by folks on the other side of the road.  This antiphonal kind of worship was typical among the Jews; the Psalms were recited in this way.

  1. Why would this Passover be remembered?

Because it fulfilled Old Testament prophecy and a prophecy from Jesus Himself.  Jesus sent His disciples after the COLT as a demonstration of His miraculous fore-knowledge and divine authority over the events as they unfolded (vs. 2-4).

His miraculous foreknowledge is revealed in the fact that the animal was precisely where He said it was and the exchange occurred just as He said it would.  The fact that the owners initially objected shows Jesus had NOT made previous arrangements with them.  The disciples did not identify themselves or the LORD they represented.

His divine authority is indicated in the fact that the owners allowed the COLT to be taken by strangers who did nothing more than say, “THE LORD NEEDS IT AND WILL SEND IT BACK SHORTLY.”

This is the only time in the Gospels that Jesus rides anything.  He walked everywhere else.  The distance between Bethany and Jerusalem is just two miles.  The COLT is not needed for practical reasons, but was chosen to send a biblical message to the faithful pilgrims on the road; “Your Messiah has come!  God’s Promised One is here!”

You will also remember it because on that day your hopes and dreams were fulfilled.  At this time in history, the Jewish people had been under the heel of Rome for nearly 100 years.  They were understandably anxious to throw the Romans out of their land. During those years, men would claim to be the Messiah and amass a group of followers.  The inevitable result was a rebellion against Rome ending in bloodshed and even worse offenses imposed on the people as a means of punishment and discouraging further rebellion.

To these horrible violations you added with the typical and more personal abuses of authority you’ve experienced at the hands of Romans.

With the city crammed with pilgrims during the Passover, it was a yearly crucible for rebellion, and the Jewish leaders worried terribly about a repeat of past events.  You can see how easily a big public demonstration like this would provoke a deadly reaction in a way that Jesus’ teaching or miracles ever did.

One last fact to support this interpretation: when Jesus finally got into the city, what did He do?  Not much.  Verse eleven tells us He went directly to the temple, but just looked around a bit, then left!

That was surely unexpected and probably felt a little anticlimactic.  And it begs the question, why go to all of that trouble just walk in, look around, and walk back out again?

I believe the best explanation for Jesus’ action is because the parade accomplished Jesus’ purpose and there was nothing more to do.  He’d already made His point and there was no reason to linger.

Dr. William Craig Lane is a well-known apologist for the Christian faith.  I used his article on Mark 11 as a basis for my remarks and will quote a small part of it to conclude. (Go to https://www.reasonablefaith.org/writings/popular-writings/jesus-of-nazareth/the-triumphal-entry/ to see for yourself.)

“What lessons can we learn from the story of Jesus’ triumphal entry? Let me mention two. First, we see the Lordship of Jesus. The crucifixion of Jesus was not an accident that befell him unawares while visiting Jerusalem. Rather, Jesus understood and embraced his calling to undergo so excruciating a death. In fact he deliberately provoked the events that would lead to his execution. Throughout the process he displayed foreknowledge of the events of his passion and announced all these things in advance.

“The second lesson is related to the first: Jesus doesn’t always meet our expectations. The Jews expected a king who would be a great military leader who would establish God’s kingdom by force. But Jesus was radically different than they expected.”

At the beginning of this message I asked,

What if you were there to welcome Jesus?

I hope and pray your answer has come closer to the very message Jesus was trying to send: He came as King, but not the kind of King who meets worldly hopes or fulfills dreams we have written for ourselves.

I hope and pray you have decided to make Jesus YOUR King.  That you see in Him the fulfilling of all God’s promises on His terms and in ways that bless and challenge us in ways we didn’t anticipate or want, but have found to be exactly what we needed.

There is no better reaction you can have to the account of Jesus’ triumphal entry than to take your place among the crowds who welcomed Him.  No greater act of faith than to welcome Him as your own Lord and Savior.

Impure Heart or a Pure Heart?

Get and keep the kind of heart God has for you.

If I asked you to name a consumer product that is laboratory tested to be “99 and 44/100 pure,” could you name it?  Hint: the name is found in Psalm 45:8.

I have often thought of that trademarked phrase as a metaphor of the human heart.  Impure by nature, and always at least 56/100ths short of absolute purity, the heart is a symbol of why we need God in our lives.  Why the problem of sin is unsolvable in our own strength.  Without Jesus, the human heart is a puzzle with at least one piece missing, the very picture of never good enough.  Grace is the answer and the path to perfect purity.

  1. An impure heart is the source of sin (Mark 7:20-23).

Context = This is one of the many confrontations between Jesus and Jewish religious leaders.  This particular one is a dispute about keeping the letter of the Law while violating its spirit.

Comment = Jesus showed that keeping the Spirit is more important than superficially obeying the letter.

The hypocrites’ view was that external things like hand-washing DEFILE a pers0n.  As ridiculous and nit-picky as it may sound to our ears, the religious leaders were leveling what they saw as a serious charge against Jesus’ disciples.  The seriousness of the charge is implied in the length of Jesus’ reply.  I doubt He’d waste time on something trivial.

In Mark’s language, to be “defiled” meant to be impure; guilty of sin.  A defiled person was excluded from the temple until they were cleansed by ceremony & sacrifice required by the Law.  There was often a waiting period too.

Jesus’ taught that the seriousness of the matter is dependent on the condition of one’s heart, not one’s hands.  Logically, it is possible for a person to obey all the hand-washing rituals perfectly and yet not have God in their heart.  Having clean hands in no way proves a clean heart.  Dirty hands are a symptom, not the sickness.  The real sickness, the cause of the problem of sin is the condition of a person’s heart.

In fact, as we see from Jesus’ list, sins flow from a sinful heart.  As He described it, EVIL THOUGHTS come from a person’s HEART and they, in turn, lead to all sorts of evil deeds and sins.

Interestingly, listing sins like this is something Jesus did not often do in the Gospels.  It is not an exhaustive list – it was not intended to be – but a sample of what a human heart can produce.  They go from t more obvious/overt/sensational sins to more subtle/covert/ commonplace ones, but Jesus is not ranking them.  All sins have deadly consequences.

As Jesus summarized in v. 23, it is the overflow of evil from within a person that truly defiles them. This is a point Jesus often tried to make in conversation with the Jewish religious leaders; He said it three times in this passage (vs. 15, 20, & 23).

  1. A pure heart produces righteousness (2 Timothy 2:22-26).

Context = Paul wrote Timothy at length about how he was to deal with false teachers. One step is to make sure his spiritual life was in order.

Comment = A PURE HEART is two-sided; it involves fleeing from evil and pursuing good.  Part One – avoiding evil – is expressed in the phrases FLEE THE EVIL DESIRES OF YOUTH (“youth” having more to do with spiritual immaturity more than age) and DON’T HAVE ANYTHING TO DO WITH (“refuse”).

As Jesus did in Mark 7, Paul listed actions that spring from EVIL DESIRES: FOOLISH & STUPID ARGUMENTS (23), QUARRELS (23), and resentment (24).  These sins divide people, and that’s all they really accomplish.  In t heat of the moment, we think something important is at stake, but truth is that the argument is more sound and fury, empty of significance.

Part Two is to PURSUE godly actions.  PURSUE means just what you think it means: to be active, continuously seeking God’s way. Virtuous deeds don’t happen by accident; they have to be actively pursued.  Paul offers a sampler of virtues: RIGHTEOUSNESS, FAITH, LOVE, and PEACE are gifts from God, but we have to choose to express them in our words and deeds.  KIND TO EVERYONE and NOT QUARRELSOME are characteristic of spiritually maturing people, folk who understand they don’t always have to be right or insist on their own way (25).  Indeed, God’s people are characterized by gentleness, even when they are bringing correction to someone else’s life (25).

Pure-hearted people act in virtuous ways because they have a godly agenda, not a selfish one.  For example, their aim in bringing a rebuke is IN THE HOPE THAT GOD WILL GRANT THEM REPENTANCE LEADING TO A KNOWLEDGE OF THE TRUTH, AND THAT THEY WILL COME TO THEIR SENSES AND ESCAPE THE TRAP OF THE DEVIL, WHO HAS TAKEN THEM CAPTIVE TO DO HIS WILL (25-26).  In this very lengthy sentence we see Timothy’s aim was to be to deliver these people from captivity to the devil caused by his lies.  Having this aim required placing God’s will and the good of the other person in higher than his own feelings or benefit; to have a purity of good purpose.  These virtues have to be commanded because they aren’t always part of our nature.  In our heart we enjoy winning arguments, spouting off, or putting people in their place.  But these sinful motives pollute our hearts and dilute the purity God desires.

Paul is here reminding Timothy that even people who choose to be our adversaries are NOT our enemy.  Instead, they are victims of the Enemy, captives of Satan.  Therefore, gentleness aimed at freeing them from the influence of the Enemy is what God wants.

The answer is, of course, IVORY soap.  It has been advertised with that slogan since the late 1800s.