Sermon - 24 March 2016

Sermon, Maundy Thursday, 24/3/2016

Reader Martin Brown

Maundy Thursday commemorates the Last Supper, when Jesus shared the Passover Meal with His disciples on the night before His crucifixion.

Over the last few evenings we’ve been hearing about Joseph and the Passover stems from his time.  Jacob, Joseph’s father moved his family to Egypt and they prospered.  However, subsequent rulers of Egypt became envious and fearful of the Israelites and so began many years of slavery.

The annual spring festival, the Passover, is one of the most important religious festivals in the Jewish calendar, commemorating Moses’ liberation of the children of Israel from Egypt.  God promised to release the children of Israel from slavery, but not before Pharaoh had refused their release and God had visited ten plagues on Egypt to demonstrate his power.

In the final plague an avenging angel went from house to house killing every first-born son.  Israelite children were spared, God thus showing them to be his chosen people.
So the angel knew the Israelite homes, the Israelites were to slaughter a male lamb and brush its blood on the door frame.  This told the avenging angel it was an Israelite home and to 'pass over'.

The Passover meal has symbolic components including roasted lamb, commemorating the paschal lamb sacrifice; bitter herbs recalling the bitterness of slavery; a paste representing the mortar the slaves used to make bricks; a green vegetable dipped into salt water symbolizing the slave’s pain; a roasted hard-boiled egg symbolizing mourning; unleavened bread as a reminder of the Israelite’s hasty departure; and four cups of wine representing the four biblical promises of redemption.

At the Last Supper Jesus re interprets elements of the Passover Meal.

He broke the bread, symbolizing Him laying down His life for His people.  In Jesus’ day a million pilgrims traveled to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover and thousands of lambs were slaughtered.  In giving His life Jesus was like the Passover lamb as His is the blood that turns away the angel of death from our homes.  And we read in Genesis last night, that Joseph, like Jesus, was sent by God to preserve life.
Jesus takes a cup of wine, gave thanks and says, "Take this and divide it among yourselves.”  Jesus ‘gave thanks’.  The word in Greek is ‘eucharisteo’ from where we get our word, ‘Eucharist’, meaning ‘thanksgiving’.

Passover is a meal shared by a family and their closest friends.  By calling the Lord’s Supper ‘Communion’, it conveys the sense of what’s going on.  When we partake of the cup we’re declaring our communion, our fellowship with one another and God.  Paul also refers to this oneness in our sharing of bread.  Paul says, ‘Because there is one bread, we, who are many, are one body, for we all partake of the one bread.’

‘In the same way, after the supper [Jesus] took the cup, saying, "This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.’  This reminds us that in His death the Lord was establishing a new covenant with us.  What Jesus is doing for us draws us into a covenant with one another and with God, urging us to walk with him, and in his ways.

Under the Old Covenant, faithfulness was encouraged upon God’s people from outside, whereas under the New Covenant, sealed with Christ’s blood, the urge to be faithful comes from the Spirit calling from within us.

Jesus says, ‘Do this in remembrance of me.’  We all have trouble remembering things.  But the Lord established the practice to help us remember the benefits Christ brings to our needs; to our coming future with Him; to the rewards participation in the meal brings to us - assurance and the sense of oneness with one another.  But most of all Jesus wants us to remember Him, to be aware of His caring presence, and love for us.

Communion, like Passover, has elements of the past, present and future.  Communion is forward looking as there will be a new Exodus when the Lord comes to bring us home.  Jesus tells us, ‘I will not eat it [again] until it finds fulfillment in the kingdom of God’, and ‘From now on I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.’  Although, as we travel through life in the here and now, the New Covenant has been established because the Spirit has arrived; the world, and us, have not yet been made perfect - that awaits the day our Lord returns.
In Israelite tradition, when it was time for a couple to marry, agreement between respective fathers was sealed with a cup of wine.  The prospective groom would go and prepare a home for his new life with his betrothed, who would live in anticipation of his return.

Like brides we await the day of Christ’s return.  We’ve been bought with a price and we need to make it our life’s ambition to be faithful to Him.

When we partake of the Lord’s Supper, we remember we stand before Christ as forgiven people.  We’re not perfect; are sorry for our mistakes and want to be something more.  We’ve been reconciled to God.  The fact we needed reconciliation means our relationship with God was broken.  When Christ died on the cross, He satisfied God’s judgement and made it possible for us to find peace with Him.  As we partake of Communion, we recall all the Lord has done for us, His love for us and the fact we’ve been reconciled to Him.

There’s one more element to the Last Supper - betrayal.  Both Joseph and Jesus suffered betrayal by their brothers; into the hands of gentiles in order they might save the world; and both for the price of a slave.

A traitor is worse than an enemy because of the element of trust you had in them and the deceit involved in being a traitor.  Tonight we remember one of the most well known traitors; Judas Iscariot, who was part of the inner circle and stood with the disciples in proclaiming the gospel of Jesus.

It’s still taken for granted in Arab culture that to eat with someone amounts to saying, ‘I’m your friend, and I’ll never hurt you.’  Judas was enjoying a private time with Jesus and the disciples; one of only twelve men given the privilege to celebrate the Passover with the promised Messiah.  This was a very close knit setting.  The disciples could feel at home with one another.

This peaceful setting ended when Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, one of you is going to betray me.”  The disciples could sense in Jesus’ demeanour something wasn’t right.  The disciples assumed they were united, and began to say to Jesus one after the other, “Surely not I, Lord?”  Jesus replied, “The one who has dipped his hand into the bowl with me will betray me.”

The disciples were at a loss to know which of them He meant.  What bothered them wasn’t only the fact one of them would betray Jesus, but that they didn’t know which one.

You might say the disciples should have been confident they would never betray Jesus and what kind of faith did they have to even question whether they would do such a thing.  But the disciples realised the same thing Paul declared, “I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature.  For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out.”

This is something we need to realize about ourselves.  Before we stand in judgement on Judas, don’t be surprised by it, because all of us have an element of Judas inside us.  It’s our sinful nature.  We’re all guilty of sin and whereas our sins aren’t always serious betrayals, they could very easily progress to what Judas did.  The disciples realized they had the potential to do such a thing, and it worried them.

Jesus couldn’t allow Judas to continue sinning without exposing his sin, so He said, “It is the one to whom I will give this piece of bread when I have dipped it in the dish.”
Then, dipping the piece of bread, He gave it to Judas Iscariot.  Judas said, “Surely not I, Rabbi?”  Jesus answered, “Yes, it is you.  Do quickly what you are about to do.”  The disciples were unaware Judas was the traitor.

By not confronting Judas in public, was Jesus still trying to reach out to him?  Knowing God’s heart to be gracious and compassionate, one would believe this to be so.  But how did Judas respond?  As soon as he took the bread, instead of repenting, he became more determined to do what he had planned and ran away.

This is a great revelation of the heart of our Saviour, that when we’re disloyal to Him, He still continues to feed us with bread and offer His gift of forgiveness.  In a gentle way He shows us our sin, so He can soothe us with His forgiveness.  Instead of letting us go on in our sin, Jesus has the compassion to reveal our sinful natures, so He can reach out with the Bread of Life - His forgiveness.

The disciples still didn’t know Judas was the traitor.

So why did Jesus reveal it in the first place?  He says “I’m telling you now before it happens, so that when it does happen you will believe that I am He.”  Only later would the disciples remember Jesus predicted Judas would do this.  Only God would know it was a prediction of what would happen to Him, and so the disciples would conclude Jesus must be the Christ - the Chosen One.  At His time of betrayal Jesus was concerned with the disciples’ faith and so He was planting a seed, which would later grow and produce faith in them.

Jesus knew who was going to betray Him.  He revealed him.  But then, what did He do?  Instead of commanding the disciples to hold Judas and stop him from doing what he was about to do, Jesus not only told him to do it, but told him to do it quickly.

This reveals two things to us about our Saviour.  Firstly, He could have forced Judas to stay and not betray Him.  But God creates all of us with a free will to do evil.  We have the freedom to walk away from Jesus.  He doesn’t put a wall around our faith and says we can’t leave.

Just as with Judas, Jesus implores us to stay with His gentle compassion, but He doesn’t force us.  If we want to leave, we can.  Jesus let Judas go and betray Him of his own volition.

Secondly, this command reveals Jesus' compassion and resolution.  He knew this was going to be a painful night for Him.  Not only was He going to be crucified, but He was going to have the sins of the world placed on His shoulders.  This was the only way Jesus could redeem the world from its sin.  Jesus didn’t want time for His human flesh to think about the pain He would go through and so He told Judas to do it quickly.

When Jesus was faced with betrayal by a close friend, Jesus revealed the compassion He had for this friend as He tried to reach out to him.  He revealed His resolve to die on the cross for us.  Jesus’ revealing of the traitor also revealed what a wonderful Saviour we have in Jesus. 

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