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This is a lesson based on a Maundy Thursday service. Put yourself in the disciples’ place. What would that meal have been like for you?

The Comfort of the Familiar

(The Disciples’ Last Passover)

You know how it is – you’re tired; you’re stressed out; it’s been a tough few days (or weeks, or months) and all you want to do is “space out”. Yeah, space out… put some old movie on the tv that you’ve seen a thousand times and can practically recite every word – put it on and just let the familiar wash over you like a cleansing shower. You don’t want to have to figure out the plot, or “who-dun-it” or “will she get the guy…?” You don’t even want to think – you just want the comfort of the familiar.

I don’t mean to be irreverent or sacrilegious, but I wonder if that might not have been the attitude of the disciples going into that last Passover meal? Think about it…

The past few months had been increasingly stressful. Ever since Jesus’ question of “Who do men say that I, the Son of Man, am?” And Peter’s declaration of “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God”! The atmosphere had changed. Jesus seemed more determined to be heading toward – something – that the disciples couldn’t quite put their finger on… Every time they turned around, He was talking about going to Jerusalem and being handed over and dying – or “lifted up” as He called it. What in the world was He talking about? And not only that, but the tension between the disciples had become palatable! “Who’s the most important?” “Who’s the greatest?” “Where are we going to sit when He comes into His glory?” “How’s it all going to work?” “Where’s it going to be?” “When’s it going to happen?” And on and on they went. Every time Jesus mentioned dying, they ignored the statement and began discussing – or rather arguing about what their status was going to be. They just didn’t get it.

And what was up with all the secrecy? “Go into the village and you will see a donkey with a colt tied beside her, untie them and bring them to Me. And if anyone asks you what you’re doing just say ‘the Lord needs them’ and he will let you bring them…” How did He know there would be a donkey with a colt tied with her…? He certainly didn’t seem so secretive when He went riding into Jerusalem in broad daylight with all the people shouting “Hosanna!” But, on what should have been a joyous occasion, they noticed that Jesus was sad… even crying at one point…

And then there was that whole “Passover meal” maneuver – “Go into the city and look for a man carrying a pitcher of water. Follow him to his house and say to him ‘The Master says “where is the guest room…’” Yeah, ok… oh wait! A man carrying a pitcher of water? (Cue the “Twilight Zone” music here.) How could He know that? And why was He trying to hide His movements from them of all people? If He couldn’t trust these twelve men after living with them for three years – I mean – who could He trust?

Yes, these past few months had truly been like an out of control roller coaster ride, so I think the disciples were looking forward to the Passover meal like we look forward to that “mindless activity” that allows us to put ourselves on autopilot for at least a few hours. Think about it – they had each participated in the yearly Passover celebration for their entire lives – 30, 40, or maybe even 50 years for some of them. They knew what would happen, when it would happen, and how it would happen. They could recite the Haggadah (the ritual) in their sleep! They each had likely filled the role as the youngest child asking the four questions concerning the reason for the meal, as well as filling the “head of household” role in their own homes. And, as important as this celebration was – still – one could relax and enjoy the “comfort of the familiar” for at least one night. Yes, this night would be, to the disciples, what “comfort food” is to us… or so they thought…

And then the meal began…

First, the festival candles were lit, and after a response, Jesus lifted the first cup of wine, the cup of sanctification or blessing, which represented God’s promise of “I will bring you out…” and each of them drank of it.

After that, the head of household, or host would wash his hands in preparation for the remainder of the meal, however, when Jesus stood to wash His hands, instead of simply washing His hands, He took off His outer garment, wrapped the towel around His waist just like a servant would, and went to the entrance table and took the pitcher of water and basin that had been prepared for their dusty feet. The disciples immediately began thinking, “What in the world is He doing??? Then… He began to wash the feet of each one of the disciples, including Judas. And He said to them, “You call Me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am. If I then, the Lord and the Teacher, washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I gave you an example that you also should do as I did to you. Truly, truly, I say to you, a slave is not greater than his master, nor is one who is sent greater than the one who sent him. If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them.”

Well, that certainly put them in their place! But, after that unusual interlude, the meal, and ritual continued. The bread of affliction was broken, and the story retold. The questions were asked, the responses made, the foods eaten, and the Psalms sung… all according to the Haggadah, the order of worship. As the hours passed the disciples seemed to have forgotten that Jesus varied from the usual when He washed their feet, because really, the service hadn’t gotten started good when He did that. And He was always using “teachable moments” as they came up, so really there appeared to be nothing unusual about this Passover celebration… until… Until the second cup, the “cup of judgment” was lifted. When Jesus lifted this cup, and they all knew full well that this was “the cup of judgment”, He said, “One of you will betray Me…” He even added, as if they thought they hadn’t heard Him correctly, “the one who is eating with me.” Well shoot! They were all eating with Him! And so they began asking, “Surely not I, Lord?” meaning, “It’s not me, is it?”

As this discussion was going on, Judas leaned over and said, “Surely it’s not I, is it Rabbi?” But with all the talk, the disciples missed what Jesus said, and the next thing they knew, Judas got up and left. Well, perhaps Jesus needed Judas to go get something else for the meal. Judas did have the money, after all. But, after Judas left, Jesus then turned back to continue the Passover meal. He picked up the middle loaf of the three loaves of unleavened bread, held it up, said a blessing over it and then to their utter surprise said, “You see this bread? This bread is My Body”, and then He broke it in two! Well, actually He ripped it in two! And then they completely understood. He is going to die!  His body is going to be ripped apart. These words were not part of the Haggadah, this was something completely new.

Then He took the third cup of wine – the cup of redemption, thanked God for it and said, “This is My blood of the new covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.” As Jews, the disciples all knew and understand that in order for there to be redemption, and in order for there to be a covenant, that blood… must… be… shed. And Jesus was saying that it was His blood that was going to be shed.

When He said these words, the Passover Seder was forever changed. The disciples may have come to this night wanting just a few hours of the comfort of the familiar – but what they got changed their lives forever. They would leave this place asking lots of questions, which Jesus would answer on His way to the Garden of Gethsemane. He would pray for them, and then spend time in prayer for Himself. He would be tried by six illegal trials, beaten, flogged, humiliated, spit upon, and finally crucified. And then, after three days… He would rise – the “first fruits” of all believers!

The disciples would keep the great commission to take the gospel to Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and to all the world. And for that, most would die a martyr’s death, but they never again discussed who would be the greatest, and I don’t think they sought out “the comfort of the familiar” ever again, either.

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The Fulfillment of the First Three Feasts of the Jews

There are so many more things going on during the Passover/Crucifixion timeframe than we ever get a chance to cover during the Easter season. In this post I’m going to share what I’ve called “The Fulfillment of the First Three Feasts of the Jews”.

 

It is during Passover/Feast of Unleavened Bread/Feast of First Fruits that the Crucifixion/Resurrection takes place. (For more information on the specifics of the Feasts see Leviticus 23)

 

We know “somewhat” what Passover is. It celebrates the final plague that takes place while the Israelites are in Egypt. (See Exodus 12-13 and Leviticus 23:5) A “lamb without blemish” was killed and the blood placed on the doorposts so that the Angel of Death would “pass over” their house. (Interestingly, being “Jewish” did not save them – only having the blood on the door. No matter what their race, if they did not have the blood on the door, they were subject to the same plague as the Egyptians.)

 

Passover is, of course, only a “foreshadowing” of Christ’s shedding of blood for the atonement of our sin. Jesus is the “Perfect Lamb.”

 

The Jews celebrated Passover every year on the fourteenth of Abib (or Nisan depending on pre or post exilic calendar name) which falls somewhere between our mid-March and mid-April. The Jewish calendar revolves around the lunar calendar – in other words, the phases of the moon. Each “new moon” constitutes a new month. Therefore, Passover can fall on any day of the week, depending on when the full moon occurs.

 

The Jewish “day” goes from sundown to sundown (remember Genesis 1:5 “And the evening and the morning were the first day”) therefore on (our) Maundy Thursday at sundown, Passover begins.

 

The next day (Friday at sundown) the Feast of Unleavened bread begins. (See Leviticus 23:6) This feast lasts 7 days. Leaven, in the Bible represents sin and evil. The unleavened bread in the New Testament represents the Body of our Lord. Part of the Jewish Passover ceremony includes burying a piece of the unleavened bread before the day of Passover is over, in other words, before sundown on Friday… and remember, Jesus was buried before sundown on Friday…

 

Jesus’ followers (those who were left at the cross) wanted His body taken down from the cross and buried before the Sabbath began (at sundown.) What they didn’t realize was that they were actually fulfilling the Feast of Passover by the shed blood of “The Lamb” and burying His sinless (unleavened) body before the day was finished. And for even more “fulfillment” – the “middle piece” of the loaf of bread is what is buried. Jesus is the “middle part” of the Trinity – Father, Son, Holy Spirit.

 

The next feast, “First Fruits” takes place on the Sunday following Passover. Since the feast of unleavened bread lasts 7 days, one of those days will be a Sunday. On that day is the Feast of First Fruits. The feast of “First Fruits” is when the Israelites would bring the first offering from the early crops of their spring planting to God. (See Leviticus 23:10-11)

 

In the year of Jesus’ death, “First Fruits” occurred 3 days after Passover. (Thursday at sundown began day one; Friday at sundown began day two; and Saturday at sundown began day three – three days in the ground – Matthew 12:40.) So, all three of these major celebrations – Passover, Feast of Unleavened Bread, and Feast of First Fruits – all “happen” to take place back to back the particular year that Jesus was crucified.

 

Paul makes it clear in 1 Corinthians 15:23 that Jesus is the fulfillment of this feast. Jesus is the “First Fruit” to be resurrected from the dead. Yes, others were “raised” from the dead, but only Jesus was “resurrected” and given His resurrected body. It was not just “any” day that Jesus chose, but the very day of “First Fruits”. He fulfilled the feasts of Passover and Unleavened Bread, with the appropriate actions, and then finally He fulfilled “First Fruits”

 

And not only did Jesus fulfill these first three feasts, but He also presented a “First Fruits” offering to God. As Jesus hung on the cross, an earthquake occurred and graves were opened in Jerusalem. When Jesus was resurrected the bodies of “the saints” came out of these tombs. (Matthew 27:52-53.) Thus Jesus “showed the Father the early crops of what will be a magnificent harvest later on.” (From “The Seven Feasts of Israel” by Zola Levitt.)

 

We miss an important truth by calling our celebration “Easter” instead of “First Fruits” because “first” indicates that there will be others to follow. Paul did not call Him the “only” fruit, but the “First” Fruit. And anyone who believes in Him will someday be given a new life, too.

 

Now, let me add this – we know that God decreed that the penalty for sin is death. Period. Anything short of complete perfection and righteousness… is death. But then, He paid that penalty. “Well,” you might say, “Why couldn’t God have created a ‘sliding scale’ for sin? You know, the worse the sin, the worse the punishment?” And, in a way He did, but that’s just the “judgment” OF the sin. Sin, itself requires death. “The wages of sin is death.” And again we ask “why.” Why did the sacrifice have to be a “blood sacrifice”?

 

Well, I don’t know the “official” answer, but this is what I believe.

 

I believe it is so that we would know just how much God loves us. If the penalty had not been so severe – if the penalty had just been “according to” the sin; if the penalty had not required blood – we would never have known that God loved us so much that He would take that the very penalty (that He demanded) upon Himself for us. Wow.

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Last Wednesday I shared the short version of this information. Below is the sermon I shared this morning for our early service at Washington Pike United Methodist Church.

 

The Choosing of the Lamb Day

(AKA “Puzzles”)

 

Our scripture text this morning is from the book of Exodus. If you have your Bibles turn to Exodus chapter 12. In a few minutes I’m going to read verses 1-11.

 

But first, let me give you a little background; a little history… a little of “His Story…”

 

It used to be that sometime during Holy Week, “The Ten Commandments” would be on TV. You know – Charleston Heston, Moses, the plagues, crossing the Red Sea, all that… Did you ever wonder why “The Ten Commandments” always came on at Easter time? It doesn’t have anything to do with Easter, does it?

 

Well, matter of fact, it has a whole lot to do with Easter… That movie portrays God’s freeing of the children of Israel from their slavery in Egypt. That event is commemorated with a Feast or a Festival called Passover, because the death angel “passed over” every home that had the blood of a lamb on the doorpost.

 

This morning’s text takes place just before the Israelites leave Egypt. God is telling Moses and his brother Aaron, how they are to celebrate this thing that hasn’t even happened yet! (You see, when God makes a promise – He keeps it!) But, He gives very specific instructions on how it is to be done. And there is a reason for every single act, for every single element of that feast. And, for the most part, the Children of Israel always did it that way, and in fact, Orthodox Jews still do it that way today! (Actually, the Jewish Passover happens to be on Friday of this week.)

 

This week, as you know is called Holy Week and we will be having special services on Thursday night and Friday night; these are called Maundy Thursday, and Good Friday.

 

It is on that Thursday night that Jesus and His disciples were participating in what “we” call “The Last Supper” and what they called “The Passover” the most sacred of all Jewish Festivals or holidays. And as we’ll see, it’s a very important one in our lives as well…

Listen closely to the scripture reading, because every thing I read here, is not only a festival to commemorate what happened with the Children of Israel in leaving their bondage in Egypt, but is also a prophecy of what actually took place during this week, from today through Good Friday of this “Holy Week”.

 

(Read Exodus 12:1-11)

 

In order to understand this last week of Jesus’ earthly life; in order to see just why Jesus’ death on a wooden cross over 2000 years ago is the very atonement, or covering for every sin we’ve ever committed, or ever will commit, in order for the picture to become clear, we’ve got to go back to the Old Testament to collect the puzzle pieces. In order to understand what Jesus went through this week, for our salvation, we MUST understand the prophecy.

 

The first month of the Jewish year was called Abib, and it corresponded with our timeframe of mid-March to mid-April. The sacrificial lamb was to be killed, prepared and eaten at twilight on the day of Passover. Now, the first Passover in Egypt was to be eaten (read v 11) in other words, “with your coat and shoes on, and your bags packed and ready!” However, after they enter the Promised Land, we read later that they are to eat it reclining at the table, because then, they have already been delivered, and there’s no need for haste.

 

We read of Jesus’ disciples’ preparation for this Passover meal in all 4 Gospels. Listen to the way Mark puts it:

 

Mark 14:12 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?”

 

And then,

 

Mar 14:18 When it was evening He came with the twelve. As they were reclining at the table and eating, Jesus said, “Truly I say to you that one of you will betray Me–one who is eating with Me.”

 

The meal they are eating there IS the Passover. Everything about this meal is symbolic; the way it is prepared; the order in which it’s eaten; the things that are said with each part of the meal. It’s not just a group of guys sitting down and eating supper together. It’s a Worship Service! Mark 14:22-24 says While they were eating, He took some bread, and after a blessing He broke it, and gave it to them, and said, “Take it; this is My body.” And when He had taken a cup and given thanks, He gave it to them, and they all drank from it. And He said to them, “This is My blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many.

 

These words that we recognize as our Communion Service was Jesus putting the pieces of the puzzle together right before their very eyes…

 

And then verse 26 says, “After singing a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.” Even the very song they sang was a prescribed part of the Passover Worship Service. That night also began the Feast of Unleavened bread. Unleavened bread is bread with no yeast in it. You know, for Communion, we sometimes have this nice homemade loaf bread, or Hawaiian Bread, or some other big fluffy bread… no, what they had was flat and hard and without any yeast. Actually it sorta tastes like salt-free crackers – kinda bland…and, there’s even a reason for that…

 

When the Israelites were leaving Egypt, the Exodus happened so quickly that they didn’t have time to let the leaven (or yeast) work, or to let the bread rise.

 

But, symbolically it meant something else as well. The absence of leaven symbolized complete consecration and devotion to God. Leaven, in the Bible is often equated with sin, so therefore the “Bread of Life” was “Unleavened” – without sin…

 

The next day, Friday, what we call “Good Friday” is when Jesus would hang on the cross.

 

The day after the crucifixion (actually beginning at sundown on that Friday) was the Sabbath Day. Remember, that’s the reason the Jews wanted to make sure Jesus was dead and buried before sundown.

 

Then Saturday, their Sabbath is the “in-between” day for us, and I suspect, it was probably the longest day Jesus’ disciples ever lived. They couldn’t work, they couldn’t cook, they couldn’t go anywhere… all they could do was wait…

 

Sunday morning, our “First day of the week” began the Festival of First Fruits for the Jewish people. We find that in Lev. 23:9-11 Then the Lord said to Moses, “Give the following instructions. When you enter the land I am giving you and you harvest its first crops, bring the priest a bundle of grain from the first cutting of your grain harvest. On the day, after the Sabbath, the priest will lift it up before the Lord so it may be accepted on your behalf. (Emphasis added.)

 

Remember what Paul called Jesus? 1Corinthians 15:20 “But now Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who are asleep.”

 

But now, here’s the real “kicker” for me – a piece of the puzzle that I didn’t even realized existed…

 

Look back at the beginning of our scripture text.  (Read Exodus12:2-3) “This month shall be the beginning of months for you; it is to be the first month of the year to you. Speak to all the congregation of Israel, saying,(listen now…)  ‘On the tenth of this month they are each one to take a lamb for themselves, according to their fathers’ households, a lamb for each household.”

 

And then verse 6 “You shall keep it until the fourteenth day of the same month, then the whole assembly of the congregation of Israel is to kill it at twilight.”

 

Now, think about it, if Maundy Thursday, the night of the Last Supper is the time of the sacrifice, and that is the 14th day of their first month, count backwards to the 10th of the month and what have you got… Wednesday, Tuesday, Monday… today… You’ve got Palm Sunday! Their “Choosing of the Lamb” Day is our “Palm Sunday!”

 

Matthew tells us that the Triumphal Entry (Matthew 21:4-5) “was done to fulfill the prophecy that said, ‘Tell the people of Israel, Look, your King is coming to you. He is humble, riding on a donkey – even on a donkey’s colt.’” But, there is an additional significance; we can see it as “The Choosing of the Lamb” Day.

 

The Children of Israel see the sacrifice of the lamb, and the blood on the doorpost as being symbolic of the death angel passing over their homes. But we see the blood of Christ as being the covering for our sin.

 

There is no sin too big, for the blood of Jesus to cover. There is no sin too terrible, or too overwhelming for the blood of Jesus to cover. There is nothing you have ever done that is too horrible for the atoning blood of Jesus. His blood covers it all!

 

This adds so much more emphasis to John the Baptist’s words in John 1:29 “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!”

 

He is truly our Sacrificial Lamb!

 

Father, we fall on our faces before the Throne of Grace this morning thanking You for the atoning blood of Your beloved Son, Jesus. And we thank You for preserving all the pieces of the puzzle so that we can better understand and see the complete picture.

 

Father, You’ve given it to us in bite-sized pieces, for we could not comprehend it all at once, the glory of it would be too much to bear.

 

We pray now that You will touch the hearts of your children, that You will “tune our hearts to sing Your praise”, and that You will give us a passion to know Your Word, and to seek ways to serve You.

 

In Jesus’ name – Amen.

 

 

 

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