This is a communion Sunday & so our focus is particularly on the Lord Jesus & what He has done for us. We have taught on the elements & what they represent. We have taught on all that Jesus redeemed on the cross but this week I felt the Holy Spirit wanted something a little different.
I was quite worried when I got to Friday night & not even a hint of a sermon for today [not the first time, probably not the last & panic tends to set in despite the fact Jesus has never once let me down!]~ & trying to force something spiritual without the unction of the Holy Spirit would be like forcing you to eat dry sticks ~ nasty at best & downright unpleasant.
I believe one of the things the Holy Spirit wants for this church is to know Jesus. He wants us to know Jesus as well as knowing about Jesus. There is a difference! All the knowledge in the world will be of no benefit to you unless you know Jesus, deeply, personally, intimately; until you know Him as Job knew Him, able to say: Though He slay me, yet will I trust in the Lord; until you know Him as Abraham knew Him, able to lay your most precious belonging on the altar of sacrifice trusting that the Lord is indeed able to raise up that which is dead; until you know Him as David knew Him ~ Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I will fear no evil for thou art with me…
Relationship makes all the difference when you come to God for something whether it’s healing or finances or the salvation of a loved one. If you only know about then if you don’t get what you asked God for in whatever timeframe you deem acceptable then the easy conclusions most people make are along these lines: God doesn’t love me; God doesn’t do that anymore; God doesn’t answer my prayers; God doesn’t care about my suffering, my fear, my worries. Nothing could be further from the Truth but the ability to Trust as you wait is dependent on your relationship. If God is good then it is His nature to be always good, to look for opportunities to help & bless us.
So I want us to turn to Matthew 26 because Matthew was the gospel to the Jews & Jesus was a Torah observant Jewish man & one of the things He accomplished during His time on earth was to fulfil all the demands of the Torah. We will start at verse 17: On the first day of unleavened bread… As we know the Feast of Unleavened Bread follows Passover we are looking at a translation misunderstanding. It is referring to the day before~ Passover Day ~ as a Jewish day goes from sunset to sunset, not sunrise to sunrise. In the evening Jesus will celebrate the Passover meal with His disciples. Naturally His disciples are anxious to know where they will be celebrating because at sunset the Sabbath begins & no more work can be done.
Note: they have to travel into the city from Bethany, about 2 miles away. Passover is one of the High Holy Days when every Jewish male who was able travelled to Jerusalem to worship. Now, just think for a moment. Have you ever travelled at Easter? Christmas? Labor weekend? The roads are clogged. So it was for Jesus & his disciples & why he sent Peter & John ahead to prepare everything. [Luke 22:8]
The roads were unpaved or cobbled. The dust & pebbles would have worked into their open sandals & the dust would have been sucked up under their robes. The crowd would have jostled & bumped them as everyone hurried to get into the city because the city could not house everyone so the surrounding districts would also have had people staying there but on this day everyone had to get to Jerusalem. Fit as the men were they would have become hot & dusty. The sweat would have itched between their shoulder blades & rolled down their faces into their beards.
We have celebrated a Passover seder so we know some of the things that Peter & John had to do: buy wine, bitter herbs, cinnamon & apple to prepare the haroset; make salt water, but not gifilta fish, nor a boiled egg or a bare lamb shank bone, since this practice does not date back to the time of Jesus; lay out the cups, set a place for Elijah as well as prepare the celebratory meal.
At some point the lamb that had been chosen a month earlier for the sacrifice was taken to the temple for slaughter. I can only imagine! Thousands & thousands of lambs: the baaing of terrified animals; the stench of blood & death; the chanting of the priests as they sang the hallel continiously; the press of bodies in the courtyard…& then the quiet of the house, the seder things laid ready, the meal prepared, the anticipation as the day draws to a close & dusk quietly settles over the city. Jesus leads his disciples in the ritual search for leven & somewhere in the city a woman lights the first seder candle & proclaims the blessing.
Jesus washes His disciples feet ~ & they would have been filthy after walking from Bethany & through the holiday streets of Jerusalem. There is the ritual handwashing & everyone gathers around the low table from youngest to oldest around the head, at this seder, Jesus. That John rested his head on Jesus breast tells us he was probably the youngest disciple, something of a hot~head, & perhaps explains Jesus special affection for him.
As the head it was Jesus who lead the hallel, His disciples chanted the responses. This was a celebratory festival remembering what God had done for Israel when he led them out of bondage in Egypt ~ & there were those 4 cups of wine to be drunk! I imagine it was joyful, even rowdy. Into this atmosphere Jesus drops a bombshell. One of you is going to betray me.V21
Scripture says that these men, who had spent 3 years with Jesus, who believe Him to be the promised messiah, his closest friends, were greatly distressed by this revelation.
It is easy for us in retrospect, with the Holy Spirit to help give us revelation, but the disciples did not have that luxury. They are probably on something of a high. A month before the people had waved psalm fronds & yelled hosea. They are celebrating Israel coming out of Egypt & may have hoped Israel was about to come out from bondage to Rome. More importantly, they are friends. They have a close & complicated relationship, that of disciples as well as friends but friends who sometimes vie for pre-eminence, who don’t always get it ~ or get it then do something dumb, friends who have seen & experienced miracles, healings, the casting out of demons ~ & who knew the Sanhedrin was just waiting for an opportunity. They have literally been trusting each other with their lives for 3 years.
But Jesus hasn’t finished. He takes the matzoh & breaks it & he says: Take this & eat for this is my body. V26 The Greek is soma & literally means a dead body. What’s more we quote Isaiah 53:4~5: By His stripes we are healed ~ because the bread used is stripped & pitted to remind us of the blows Jesus suffered for us & the crown of thorns He wore but here is the interesting thing: In Hebrew the word *blow* [wound or stripe] has the same root as the word *friend* so we could just as truthfully say, In His friendship, we are healed.
Then He took the cup & said: V28 Each of you drink from it for this is my blood, which confirms the covenant between God & His people. It is poured out as a sacrifice to forgive the sins of many.
Then they sang a hymn & went out to the Mount of Olives. V30
As we prepare to come forward as sons & daughters of the most High pause for a moment & see Jesus step out into that night. He is surrounded by His closest friends but He knows before too many hours have passed one will have betrayed Him unto death & the others fled in terror for their own lives. Their footsteps slap against the cobbled streets. In all the windows light spills from the sabbath candles & there can be heard sound of voices singing: His love endures forever. In His heart Jesus knows he is the Passover Lamb prepared from the foundation of the world but His love carries Him, step by step, to the mount of Olives & from there to a wayside cross to be displayed as a curiosity for all who pass by.
Yet do you know something very wonderful? There in the garden when Jesus prayed, He prayed for you & I. My prayer is not for the world, but for those you have given me, because they belong to you. Jn 17:9 We are a gift from the Father to the Son, from the son to the Father & we are protected by the power of the Name. We deserve that love no more than Peter or John did but even so Jesus bore it all that we might have friendship with the Father, & the Son, & the Holy Spirit.