August 6, 2017
Everyone likes good news. Good news, it’s a boy. Good news, it’s a girl. Good news, she said her first word today – no. Good news, he took his first steps today – told you he’d do it before kindergarten. Good news, she got her report card today – all A’s. Good news, he passed. Good news, he hit a home run today. Good news, she was accepted to college. Good news, he got the job today, which means he’s moving out tomorrow. Good news, your Mom called, and it’s benign. Good news, Dad made it through surgery. We all like good news.
We have entered the last three chapters of the Gospel of Mark. It is called the gospel, literally good news, because it contains the good news – the final days of the life of Jesus, culminating in His death by crucifixion, burial and resurrection. It’s the gospel, good news.
As I suggested last week, everything up to this point has been preparatory – pointing to these last three chapters. The supernatural miracles, His authoritative teaching – all fulfillment of prophecies – all proving Jesus to be the Messiah. Now, the Messiah, according to divine plan and timetable, would become the Savior, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.
Much of chapter 14 is also preparatory – preparing Jesus for the cross. We saw the preparation of evil men as the chief priests and scribes plotted to seize and kill Jesus. We saw that evil preparation take a surprising turn, as one of Jesus’ own disciples, Judas Iscariot, came to these evil men and agreed to betray Him for thirty pieces of silver. The shadow of the cross is growing. We are moving closer to the good news.
In the midst of that secret plotting and betrayal, Mark inserted a story of unbridled worship as Mary came in extravagant display of devotion and worship, anointing Him with costly perfume from an alabaster vial. Jesus said that was also preparatory, preparing His body for burial. Up to this point, the preparations, while divinely orchestrated, have been performed by other people. Now, Jesus Himself will further the preparations. We read about it in Mark 14:12-26.
It’s all been preparatory, stretching back thousands of years. Before the law was given to Moses, before the sacrifices, before the priests, before the Tabernacle – 1500 years before Mark, the people of God were given the Passover – and even it was preparatory. It pointed to Jesus, causing Paul to say, “For Christ our Passover has been sacrificed.”
You remember the Passover found in Exodus 12. The Israelites had been enslaved in Egypt for 400 years. Moses was sent to deliver them, and lead them to the land of promise – let my people go. Of course, Pharaoh refused, just as God planned, giving Him the opportunity to display His power and glory over the paltry nation of Egypt and their pagan gods. That display came in the form of ten plagues. It was during the last plague, the death of the firstborn, that God instituted the Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread. On the night the death angel was to go through the land, the Israelites were to sacrifice a lamb, placing blood on the doorposts and lintel of the house. When the angel saw the blood, he would pass over the house, leaving the firstborn within alive. From that time forward, they were to celebrate these events annually to commemorate their deliverance from Egypt. The Passover celebration was to go like this:
On the 10th day of the first month, the month of Nisan, they were to select a lamb without spot or blemish. They were to keep it until the 14th day, and then sacrifice it at twilight. That evening, the 15th of the month, they were to roast the lamb and enjoy the Passover meal together, complete with lamb, unleavened bread, wine, bitter herbs, and a fruit and nut chutney.
Then, for the next seven days, they would celebrate the Feast of Unleavened Bread. They were to remove all the leaven from their houses for seven days – reminding them of the haste with which they left Egypt, and symbolic of leaving behind the evil influences of Egypt in their deliverance.
As you would expect, by this time, all kinds of tradition had arisen around these two events. First, they would select the lamb on the tenth of the month and take it to the priests for their approval. As we saw a few months ago, they seldom received approval and were forced to buy the very expensive lambs provided by the Temple. It was a real money-making deal.
They would keep the lamb until the 14th, and then two men would take it to the priests to be sacrificed. Remember, it had to be sacrificed at twilight, which by this time was understood as the two-hour period between 3 and 5 p.m. That’ll become important later. Josephus records at this time, 250,000 Passover lambs would be sacrificed. While he was prone to exaggeration, the point is, there were lots of people and lots of lambs and lots of blood. In fact, it is said the blood would flow out the back of the Temple, down the Kidron Valley to the brook below and turn it red.
The two men would take the lamb back to where they were to celebrate the Passover, usually with their families. By this time, the law said it had to be celebrated within the city limits of Jerusalem, which explains why Jesus and the Twelve celebrated in an upper room in Jerusalem as opposed to Bethany. The typical Passover meal went like this:
First, the head of the household would offer thanksgiving for the feast and the wine, praying over the first of four cups to be enjoyed during the meal. The four cups of wine corresponded to four promises God made to the Israelites in Exodus 6:6-7 as God prepared to deliver them:
- I am the LORD, and I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians.
- I will deliver you from their bondage.
- I will also redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great judgments.
- Then I will take you for My people, and I will be your God.
After the first cup came the ceremonial washing of hands, which signified the need for moral and spiritual cleansing. It’s suggested it was at this point in the evening that the disciples argued again about which one was greatest, prompting Jesus to wash the disciples’ feet.
Next came a course of bitter herbs and greens, dipped into a fruit chutney made of apples, dates, pomegranates, nuts and vinegar. The bitter herbs were to remind them of the bitterness of slavery, the brown mixture reminded them of the mortar they used to make bricks. After this came the haggadah, in which a boy, usually the youngest boy, would ask about what they were doing. He would ask, “Why is this night different from other nights?” Why indeed. The story of the Exodus would then be told.
Next came the singing of the first part of the Hallel. Hallel means praise, from which we get our word, hallelujah. The Hallel Psalms were Psalms 113-118. At this point, the first of the Psalms were sung. This would be followed by the second cup of wine, which would then be followed by the main course of roasted lamb and unleavened bread. Whatever was left from the lamb was to be burned before morning. Next came the third cup of wine called the cup of blessing, followed by another prayer of thanksgiving. All that is important. The participants would then sing the rest of the Hallel, probably Psalms 116-118, followed by the fourth cup.
It was a festive occasion, to remind them of God’s great act of salvation in delivering them from Egypt. All that is background, so we understand what we read. The outline goes like this:
- Preparation for the Last Passover (12-16)
- Prediction of Betrayal (17-21)
- Presentation of the First Lord’s Supper (22-26)
Mark says it was the first day of Unleavened Bread. Now that can be a bit confusing, till we remember the Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread are used interchangeably to refer to one 8-day event. It was Thursday, the 14th of Nisan, and it was time to sacrifice the Passover Lamb and eat the Passover meal that evening, the 15th.
Now, you should know there’s a bit of an issue between the synoptic gospels, that is, Matthew, Mark and Luke, and the gospel of John. You see, Matthew, Mark and Luke indicate that Thursday was the 14th of Nisan, that is, the Passover lambs were sacrificed on Thursday afternoon, and the Passover was observed that evening – I say that because the next day is Good Friday. Notice, Mark says: “On the first day of Unleavened Bread, when the Passover lamb was being sacrificed, His disciples said to Him, ‘Where do You want us to go and prepare for You to eat the Passover?’” Matthew and Luke say almost exactly the same thing.
It seems pretty clear Thursday evening was the Passover, right? Till we get to John’s account. It’s after this supper, then next morning, when Jesus is taken by the chief priests to Pilate. It’s Good Friday, the day of His crucifixion. And we read these words:
John 18:28 – “Then they led Jesus from Caiaphas into the Praetorium, and it was early; and they themselves did not enter in the Praetorium so that they would not be defiled, but might eat the Passover.” John 19:14 says further, “Now it was the day of preparation for the Passover; it was about the sixth hour. And he [Pilate] said to the Jews, ‘Behold, your King!’”
So which is it? Was the Passover on Thursday or Friday evening? Well, some suggest the two accounts are irreconcilable, and either Matthew, Mark and Luke, or John was wrong. Others suggest Matthew, Mark and Luke are right, and John can be made to fit them. Still others suggest John is right, and Matthew, Mark and Luke can be made to fit him. Some suggest Jesus celebrated the Passover a day early with His disciples, but the actual Passover was on Friday.
Finally, there is a large group of people who suggest there were two Passovers – that is, Galilean Jews and the Judean Jews were on two different calendars. I won’t try to explain it all, but they suggest the Galilean Jews, to include Jesus and His disciples, celebrated the Passover on the 15th of Nisan, which was Thursday, while the Judean Jews celebrated the Passover on the 15th of Nisan, which was Friday. It does make some sense that northerners and southerners couldn’t agree, but I’m not personally convinced. So which is it? I don’t know, but I think there’s likely an easy explanation. It doesn’t really matter – I just want you to be aware of the seeming problem, which probably isn’t a problem at all.
At any rate, Jesus tells two of His disciples to go into the city – remember, teeming with at least hundreds of thousands of people, and find a certain man. Jesus says follow this man to his master’s house, and tell the owner, “The teacher says, ‘Where is My guest room in which I man eat the Passover with my disciples?’”
So, what’s going on here? First, how would they find this certain man? Well, Mark tells us he’ll be carrying a pitcher of water, which would be unusual – sorry ladies, but that was considered woman’s work. So, they find the guy, follow him to find everything is ready – that is, there is a furnished large upper room for Jesus and His twelve disciples – maybe even others. Regardless, Jesus had apparently made arrangements sometime before this.
But, why the secrecy? In fact, Luke tells us He only sent Peter and John, and then led the other disciples to the secret place that evening. Why? Because He must share this Passover with His disciples. He had something very important for them, and He didn’t want Judas to betray Him early. Once again, we see Jesus is in control, not the forces of evil.
Which brings us to our second point, the Prediction of the Betrayal in verses 17-21. They were gathered in the upper room, reclining around a table. Contrary to Da Vinci’s famous Last Supper, they were probably not sitting, but reclining on triclinia, which were Roman couches close to the ground. The food was set out before them, each food item in a common or shared bowl. They were probably, and this is a guess, but probably at the point of the main meal, when they were eating the lamb and unleavened bread, when Jesus drops a bombshell.
“Truly I say to you that one of you will betray Me.” It was a bombshell to eleven of them, because they had no idea what He was talking about, and couldn’t imagine betraying their Lord with whom they had walked for three years. So they began asking the question, meant to evoke a negative response, “Surely not I?”
Jesus responded with, “It is one of the twelve, one who dips with me in the bowl.” They had all dipped their hands with Him at some point during the meal in the common bowl. It was a way of saying, it will be a friend, who has shared a meal with Me, making the deed that much worse. This is likely a reference to Psalm 41:9, “Even my close friend in whom I trusted, who ate my bread, has lifted up his heel against me.”
Jesus then says the betrayal is coming according to divine plan – just as it is written – reminding us once again who is in charge. But, just because it was unfolding according to plan didn’t make the betrayer any less culpable for his actions – in fact, woe to him, for it would have been better if he had never been born. This is a clear statement of divine sovereignty working with human free will. Judas acted according to God’s divine plan, but within his own human freedom.
Now, it shocked the eleven because they couldn’t imagine betraying Him, but it also shocked Judas, because He couldn’t imagine how Jesus knew. He had gone in secret to the chief priests. How does He know? And notice, no one suspected him. No one said, is it Judas? He was, after all, the trusted treasurer, and friend. So, in Matthew, Judas, like the others, perhaps not to appear suspicious, said, “Surely it is not I, Rabbi? To which Jesus responded, “You have said it yourself.” Meaning, yes, it is you. John indicates Jesus told him to go do what he was going to do quickly, and Judas left immediately, which is important. While Judas was present when Jesus washed his feet, he was not there for the Lord’s Supper.
Which brings us to our final point, the Presentation of the First Lord’s Supper. The danger we face here is familiarity. But this is a significant, magnificent event.
While they were eating – after bickering about who was greatest, after He’d washed their feet, after the prediction of the betrayal, after Judas left, probably just after the main course, Jesus says more shocking things. It was probably at the time of the third cup – you’ll see why in a moment.
Jesus took some bread and gave a blessing, like this common blessing, “Blessed art thou, O Lord our God, King of the universe, who brings forth bread from the earth.” (Please note, God was blessed, not the food.) Then He broke the bread, which would have been large, flat, crisp loaves of unleavened bread. He gave it to His disciples – the wording indicates He personally handed it to each of them. Then, He said these words, “Take it, this is My body.” This was a sharp departure from the normal Passover meal, and would have shocked the disciples.
This is my body? What does that mean? Luke adds some additional detail, which Paul later quotes, “This is My body which is given for you; do this in remembrance of Me.” That statement, “This is My body” has been the source of no small amount of debate through the centuries. It has divided the Catholic, Reformed, Lutheran and Baptist churches. I’m not going to get into all that this morning other than to say this: it was obviously bread – Jesus was still sitting before them – He took the bread, broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is My body.” The obvious meaning is, “This represents My body.” And, He gives us the purpose for the meal in Luke, as does Paul in I Corinthians 11 – Do this, why? Like the Passover, do this in remembrance – to remember the great salvation God has provided for you through the sacrifice of His own Son.
So also, He took the cup, I believe the third cup, called the cup of blessing. There’s some discussion as to whether the cups of wine were common cups – that is, one cup shared by all. Clearly, Jesus made this cup a common cup – expressing our unity. Paul says in I Corinthians 10:16, “Is not the cup of blessing which we bless a sharing in the blood of Christ? Is not the bread which we break a sharing in the body of Christ?” Jesus takes that third cup, which corresponded to the third promise, “I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and great judgments.” He gave thanks, probably with these words, “Blessed art thou, O Lord our God, King of the universe, Creator of the fruit of the vine.” The word for thanks is the word, eucharisteo, from which we get the word, Eucharist.
He took this third cup of blessing and shocked them even more. You must see them exchanging glances when He said, “This is My blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many” and Matthew adds, “for forgiveness of sin.”
First, you have to remember how repulsive blood was to the Jewish mind. They were strictly forbidden from ingesting blood. Try to find an orthodox Jew today who will eat a rare steak –won’t find one. Now, here, Jesus says, this cup is my blood – drink it. What is this? It’s reminiscent of John 6:53, where Jesus said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in yourselves.” What? Eat His flesh? Drink His blood? When He said that, many of His so-called disciples turned away and followed Him no longer, because these were difficult words.
And here He says it again. What does it mean? Most of you know. Unless you are willing to receive, partake of the sacrifice of Christ for you, there will be no forgiveness of sin. Understand this – Jesus was instituting a new memorial, yes. But He was doing much more than that. He was doing away with the Old Covenant, and bringing in the New Covenant. Because the Old Covenant would never justify anyone because of the weakness of sinful flesh. A New Covenant was needed by which our sins would be eradicated, forgiven, forever.
This is incredible – listen to this. The Old Covenant was inaugurated in Exodus 24 with the shedding of blood. Listen to these words:
7 Then he [Moses] took the book of the covenant and read it in the hearing of the people; and they said, “All that the LORD has spoken we will do, and we will be obedient!” [but they didn’t, because they couldn’t. Not because the law was bad – it was good. It was because they were weak in their sinful flesh.] 8 So Moses took the blood and sprinkled it on the people, and said, “Behold the blood of the covenant, which the LORD has made with you in accordance with all these words.”
Do those words sound familiar? You bet – they were some of the most important words to every Jew. The disciples knew them – they understood, maybe not till later, but they knew Jesus was instituting a New Covenant – a covenant Jeremiah tells us about in Jeremiah 31:
31 “Behold, days are coming,” declares the LORD, “when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah,
32 not like the covenant which I made with their fathers in the day I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, although I was a husband to them,” declares the LORD.
33 “But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days,” declares the LORD, “I will put My law within them and on their heart I will write it; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people.”
Do you see that? The Lord’s Supper is a reminder of a whole lot more than the broken body and shed blood of Jesus. While it includes that, it tells us that by His sacrifice, Jesus brought us the New Covenant, and sealed it with His own blood. Why was it necessary?
Because, Hebrew 9 and 10 says, 11But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things to come, He entered through the greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands, that is to say, not of this creation;
12 and not through the blood of goats and calves, but through His own blood, He entered the holy place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption…
18 Therefore even the first covenant was not inaugurated without blood.
19 For when every commandment had been spoken by Moses to all the people according to the Law, he took the blood of the calves and the goats, with water and scarlet wool and hyssop, and sprinkled both the book itself and all the people,
20 saying, “THIS IS THE BLOOD OF THE COVENANT WHICH GOD COMMANDED YOU.”…
10:1 For the Law, since it has only a shadow of the good things to come and not the very form of things, can never, by the same sacrifices which they offer continually year by year, make perfect those who draw near.
2 Otherwise, would they not have ceased to be offered, because the worshipers, having once been cleansed, would no longer have had consciousness of sins?
3 But in those sacrifices there is a reminder of sins year by year.
4 For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.”
And therefore, a New Covenant was needed – one that Jesus inaugurated by His death. That’s good news. And we remember it with this memorial. A Christian Passover, if you will, by which, when we have eaten His flesh and have drunk His blood – meaning, we have received His sacrifice by faith and have been born again, having our sins forgiven – we partake together, remembering the inauguration of the New Covenant. We don’t remember a deliverance from Egypt any longer – that was the last Passover; but we remember forever, through many Passovers, our deliverance from sin. And we’re going to do that together right now. Is it any wonder they followed that with the singing of the Hallel – Hallelujah Psalms.