Pastor Gary Wong, April 1, 2021
12 On the first day of the Festival of Unleavened Bread, when the Passover lamb is sacrificed, his disciples asked him, “Where do you want us to go and prepare for you to eat the Passover?” 13 He sent two of his disciples and said to them, “Go into the city, and there a man carrying a jar of water will meet you. Follow him. 14 Wherever he enters, tell the owner of the house that the Teacher says, ‘Where is my guest room, where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?’ 15 He will show you a large upper room, furnished and ready. Make preparations for us there.” 16 His disciples left and went into the city and found things just as he had told them; and they prepared the Passover. 17 When it was evening, he arrived with the Twelve. 18 While they were reclining and eating, Jesus said, “Amen I tell you: One of you will betray me, one who is eating with me.” 19 They began to be sorrowful and said to him one by one, “Surely not I?” 20 He said to them, “It is one of the Twelve, one who is dipping bread with me in the dish. 21 Indeed, the Son of Man is going to go just as it has been written about him, but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been better for that man if he had not been born.” 22 While they were eating, Jesus took bread. When he had blessed it, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “Take it This is my body.” 23 Then he took the cup, gave thanks, and gave it to them. They all drank from it. 24 He said to them, “This is my blood of the new testament, which is poured out for many. 25 Amen I tell you: I will certainly not drink again of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God.” 26 After they sang a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.
Imagine that you are a soldier in boot camp. You’re in unfamiliar surroundings among a sea of strangers. The training is long and hard. While Army food is nutritious, you long for a home cooked meal. In fact, the last satisfying meal you had was the one you ate before you left. At that time, your mom promised, “When you get back, I’ll cook your favorite dishes just the way you like them.” As the day of your return approaches, your anticipation builds. Finally, you’re back home surrounded by family and friends. Familiar aromas tantalize your taste buds. After you’ve prayed, you dig into this long-awaited meal. You taste and savor each delicious morsel. Everything is just the way you remembered it. This was the most satisfying meal you’ve had in a long time, and you look forward to the time when you can enjoy that special meal again.
The Jews of Jesus’ day looked forward to a very special meal that marked the beginning of every New Year. The Passover was a sacred meal that commemorated the Israelites’ deliverance from slavery in Egypt. Many of you know the story well—how a worldwide famine had brought Jacob’s family to Egypt where it prospered and grew into a nation of two million people. Unfortunately, a new king who didn’t know about all the good things Joseph had done enslaved the Israelites. God’s people suffered at the hands of their taskmasters for over four hundred years. The Lord, however, had not forgotten the Israelites. In his mercy, God sent Moses to set his people free. Not surprisingly, the Pharaoh refused to let the Israelites go. So, God sent plague after plague upon the Egyptians. God gave the Israelites very specific instructions as to how they were to prepare for the tenth and final plague. The key was the Passover lamb. They were to paint its blood on the top and sides of their doorframes. Everyone inside the homes marked with the blood of the lamb would be spared when the Angel of Death passed through Egypt. When the Lord struck down all the firstborn in Egypt, the Pharaoh let the Israelites go. Every year after the Exodus, the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob celebrated the Passover as a remembrance of their miraculous deliverance.
God’s chosen people experienced many high and lows following that first Passover. For instance, God gave them his holy law on Mt. Sinai; but when they worshipped the golden calf, God punished them by forcing them to wander in the desert for forty years. Some eight hundred years later, the people of Judah were sent into exile in Babylon because of their idolatry; the Lord however, graciously brought back a remnant seventy years later. While these events are unique, we can see some recurring themes throughout Israel’s history: the unfaithfulness, idolatry and rebellion of God’s people contrasted with God’s faithfulness, mercy, and compassion. God did not treat his people as they deserved. Sadly, many people chose to take God’s grace for granted and continued to defy or ignore God’s Word. However, God graciously preserved a faithful remnant. In Jesus’ day, there were still some who continued to follow God Word and celebrated the Passover.
Our text is a portion of Mark’s account of Jesus’ and his disciples’ celebration of the Passover. On the day we call Maundy Thursday, Jesus had given specific instructions to two of his disciples to make preparations for the Passover celebration. The disciples, of course, were eagerly anticipating this meal. Little did they know that Jesus would be instituting a completely new meal that Christians would be celebrating until Jesus’ return on the Last Day. Now, the original Passover had evolved over the centuries into what the Jews call the Passover Seder. Some elements were dropped, others added, and some remained the same. For instance, at the first Passover, the Israelites ate the meal standing up with their cloaks tucked in their belts. In Jesus’ day, family members reclined at couches. Why were they reclining instead of standing? Back in the day, slaves were the ones who stood as they served the guests. So, as they reclined, the Jews were reminded that God had freed from slavery. Other traditions had been added such as the blessing of the cup, the washing of hands, the recounting of the Passover with the children, and the recitation of Psalms 113-118. However, the most important Passover elements—the unleavened bread, the bitter herbs, and the lamb, were scrupulously retained.
As evening fell, Jesus and his disciples sat down for the most highly anticipated meal of the whole year. Each element of the Seder meal was familiar, comforting, and full of meaning. The unleavened bread symbolized their haste. The bitter herbs reminded them of their cruel bondage as slaves. All of these elements led up to the meal of the Passover lamb whose blood had brought about their freedom. Yet, for many of these Jews, the Passover was a bittersweet celebration. Yes, the Jews were no longer slaves in Egypt; but in many ways, they were still suffering in bitter bondage. Now they were under the yoke of the mighty Roman Empire. In some ways, living under Roman rule was like being a slave. Little did Jesus’ disciples know that at this particular Passover, Jesus would offer them true, lasting freedom from their worst enemies. This huge change began very matter-of-factly when, as the disciples were eating, Jesus took the bread, gave thanks, broke it and gave it to them saying, “Take [and eat]; this is my body” (v.22). Then Jesus took the cup and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them and they all drank from it. As they were drinking, Jesus said to them, “This is my blood of the [new] covenant which is poured out for many” (vv.23-24).
Did his disciples understand the significance of what Jesus had just told them? In Mark’s bare bones account, we have no idea what the disciples’ response was. Mark simply tells us that after celebrating the Passover, the disciples sang a hymn and then went out to the Mount of Olives. In the nearly two thousand years since Jesus first uttered what we call the Words of Institution, an ocean of ink has been spilled trying to explain what Jesus meant when he said “This is my body” and “This is my blood.” Now, Jesus’ words are simple enough that an average first year Greek student can easily translate these sentences. But how can what Jesus says be true? How can a flat, tasteless wafer be Jesus’ body and a thimble full of ordinary table wine be his blood? It doesn’t make any sense to the human mind; it defies logic. This is the mystery of the Lord’s Supper. In a way that we cannot understand, every time we are at the Lord’s Table and eat the bread and drink the wine, we are also receiving Jesus’ true body and blood. While we can’t understand it, we believe it by faith.
While it is almost impossible to wrap our minds around this sacramental union of divine and earthly elements, it is clear that Jesus is giving the Lord’s Supper to all Christians—not just the men who were in the Upper Room on Maundy Thursday—but to Jesus’ disciples of all time. When he gave them the cup, Jesus said that it was his “blood that is poured out for many.” On the night he was betrayed, Jesus also said, “I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer” (Lk. 22:15). With those words, our Savior was pointing to his crucifixion where he would shed his blood and give up his life for us. Why did Jesus willingly make this ultimate sacrifice? The reason goes back to the Garden of Eden and the fall into sin. Adam and Eve’s disobedience wrecked the relationship between God and man. Because of our first parents, we were slaves to sin, powerless against the devil, and under the curse of death. Because we are sinners, we deserve to die. Our holy God demands our very lives, for as the Bible says, “Without the shedding of blood, there is no forgiveness” (Heb. 9:22).
That is what the Passover was all about; that memorial meal pointed ahead to the sacrifice Jesus would make on the cross on Good Friday. Just as the Jews were to sacrifice a one-year-old male lamb without any defect, Jesus is the perfect Lamb of God who willingly sacrificed his life on the altar we call Calvary. As the Son of God, Jesus was without sin. Despite the countless temptations thrown at him, Jesus lived a perfect life. Just as the blood of the Passover lamb saved the Israelites from the Angel of Death, the holy, precious blood that Jesus shed on the cross has saved all people from eternal death and damnation. Jesus’ perfect life and innocent death have freed us from the slavery of sin. We don’t have to be afraid of death or the devil. Because of Jesus and through faith in him, we can, along with Paul, proclaim, “’Where O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?’ The sting of sin is death and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Cor. 15:55-57).
Spiritually speaking, the Lord’s Supper is the most satisfying meal we will ever have this side of heaven. In this holy meal, God pours out his undeserved blessings. For as many times as we fall short of God’s glory and deserve his wrath and condemnation, Jesus reaches out in love. This memorial meal assures us that we are completely forgiven. Though our sins were like scarlet, they are now whiter than snow. Because of Jesus, we stand before God in robes of righteousness. Unlike believers in the OT, we don’t have to wait a whole year to have this special meal. God knows that we need constant encouragement and forgiveness. That’s why Jesus invites us to frequently attend his Supper: ”Do this, whenever you drink it in remembrance of me” (1 Cor. 11:25). Along with God’s Word, we want to make Holy Communion a regular part of our meal plan. As we gather at the Lord’s Table, we stand side by side with our fellow brothers and sisters who believe in one Lord, who share one faith, and whose faith is being strengthened by this Supper.
We are immeasurably blessed every time we come to the Lord’s Table. It is truly the most satisfying meal because it gives us forgiveness, peace, joy and hope. We look forward to the day when we will eat and drink with Jesus at the heavenly banquet he has prepared for us. Until that day, whenever we eat the bread and drink the cup, we proclaim the Lord’s death and resurrection until he comes again in glory. Amen.
“Lord Jesus Christ, You Have Prepared” (CW 312)
Text: Samuel Kinner, 1603-68; tr. Emmanuel Cronenwett, 1841-1931, alt.
Lord Jesus Christ, you have prepared
This feast for our salvation;
It is your body and your blood,
And at your invitation
As weary souls, with sin oppressed,
We come to you for needed rest,
For comfort and for pardon.
Yet, Savior, you are not confined
To any habitation,
But you are present ev’rywhere
And with your congregation.
Firm as a rock this truth shall stand,
Unmoved by any daring hand
Or subtle craft and cunning.
Lord, I believe what you have said,
Help me when doubts assail me.
Remember that I am but dust,
And let my faith not fail me.
Your super in this vale of tears
Refreshes me and stills my fears
And is my priceless treasure.