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Life of Christ (1996-1998)

The Lord’s Supper: Preparation

Matthew 26:17-19, Mark 14:12-16, Luke 22:7-13, John 13:1-20

In this section we will see the beginning of the Lord’s Supper. The event is most significant, and therefore we will take several lessons to examine it. Let’s begin with the preparations.

(Mat 26:17-19 NIV) On the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread, the disciples came to Jesus and asked, "Where do you want us to make preparations for you to eat the Passover?" {18} He replied, "Go into the city to a certain man and tell him, 'The Teacher says: My appointed time is near. I am going to celebrate the Passover with my disciples at your house.'" {19} So the disciples did as Jesus had directed them and prepared the Passover.

(Mark 14:12-16 NIV) On the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread, when it was customary to sacrifice the Passover lamb, Jesus' disciples asked him, "Where do you want us to go and make preparations for you to eat the Passover?" {13} So he sent two of his disciples, telling them, "Go into the city, and a man carrying a jar of water will meet you. Follow him. {14} Say to the owner of the house he enters, 'The Teacher asks: 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} The disciples left, went into the city and found things just as Jesus had told them. So they prepared the Passover.

(Luke 22:7-13 NIV) Then came the day of Unleavened Bread on which the Passover lamb had to be sacrificed. {8} Jesus sent Peter and John, saying, "Go and make preparations for us to eat the Passover." {9} "Where do you want us to prepare for it?" they asked. {10} He replied, "As you enter the city, a man carrying a jar of water will meet you. Follow him to the house that he enters, {11} and say to the owner of the house, 'The Teacher asks: Where is the guest room, where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?' {12} He will show you a large upper room, all furnished. Make preparations there." {13} They left and found things just as Jesus had told them. So they prepared the Passover.

Preparation

In this little vignette we see much of the mind of God. It reminds me very much of Jesus going fishing to pay the Temple tax.[1] Jesus sees it this way:

·         “My appointed time is near.” This seems to be sufficient explanation to the man with the upper room, whoever he might be. From this we may gather that the owner of the upper room was a disciple, and one with an understanding of what was to come.

·         The way that the disciples are to identify the house is interesting. Go into the city, follow the first guy with a water jug, and ask the owner of the house he goes into. One wonders; was that water going to be used that night to wash the disciples feet? Did Jesus have it planned that much in detail?

·         Whatever the preparation on earth, this makes one thing clear: God controls. The seeming chance of a man with a water jar leads the disciples to the right place. We need to remember such a “coincidence.”

Passover

For us to understand what is about to happen, some basic facts about Passover are required. Our next lesson will go over this in more detail, but here are some of the more pertinent facts. We will focus mainly on the symbolic aspects, as these are the ones which the Jew would remember.

·         Passover commemorates the Angel of Death “passing over” the homes of the Jews while slaves in Egypt. In so doing, the Jews were given a particular feast and ritual to perform.

·         In that feast the main course was lamb or goat. It did not matter which, but the animal had to be “without defect.” This, of course, is the symbolic picture of the sinless Christ being slain that we might be “passed over.”

·         Bread in this feast was to be made without yeast. Yeast is usually used as a symbol of sin and evil (because of the way it spreads through the bread dough, like sin spreading through people.) So the people were to be “without sin” in the ritual sense.

·         Such bread was to be the only type eaten for seven days – seven being the number of completeness. So they were to be completely without sin.

·         It commemorates the “passing over,” but it also commemorates the fact that God brought them out of Egypt (often a symbol of sinful life) “with a mighty hand.” This is a phrase which would be used every year.

·         It is the defining moment of the nation of Israel. Before this, they are tribes related to one another. After this, they are aware of being the people of God, set apart for Him.

So, then, the event is one which the disciples would, as a matter of prior religious learning, take most seriously. We shall see how Christ transforms this meal into the Communion we know today – and why.

The Dispute

There is certainly no clear evidence of which passages from the various Gospels come in what order. I have chosen to place this one next as it seems most likely to have happened that way. Do you remember that jug of water? It may be that it is the start of this dispute. To understand what they might have been arguing about, we need to understand the times.

In those days, most houses did not have a bath tub. If you wanted a bath (and it was a frequent occurrence for the well-to-do) you went to a public bath house. You bathed in the heated water there. Many of these have been found dating to the era of the Roman Empire. Now, when you left the bath, you were clean – but you were also wearing sandals. So when you got home, you needed to clean your feet again. This task was usually assigned to one of the servants, and it was considered to be the most menial of tasks. The “low man on the totem pole” got this job.

It is likely enough that the disciples took turns performing this service for each other. I suspect that the issue on this night turned on “who’s the most important here.” The discussion also comes in the context of the disciples discussing who would betray Jesus, so I think it possible that they were arranging the pecking order. Luke then picks up the account:

(Luke 22:24-30 NIV) Also a dispute arose among them as to which of them was considered to be greatest. {25} Jesus said to them, "The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who exercise authority over them call themselves Benefactors. {26} But you are not to be like that. Instead, the greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like the one who serves. {27} For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one who is at the table? But I am among you as one who serves. {28} You are those who have stood by me in my trials. {29} And I confer on you a kingdom, just as my Father conferred one on me, {30} so that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom and sit on thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.

The way of the world

We have recently been privileged to see the opening of the Getty Museum of Art, a magnificent building. I have actually been to the Getty Museum (for a job interview). It is a stunning, lavish complex. No expense has been spared. This is typical of the way the world views “leadership.” The man with the money and the power (in this case, J. Paul Getty) blesses us with this museum. He is, as the verses here describe, a benefactor.

We see this in our economic debates too. Much has been made of “trickle down” economics, the idea that we increase the wealth of the wealthy so that their use of that wealth will benefit the rest of us. Some say this works, some say it doesn’t, but the point is that this is how the world works.

This does not make being a benefactor a bad thing. On the contrary, it is a good thing. Those who are rich are commanded to be generous.[2] Being a benefactor is a good thing. It is not, however, the best thing. And the good is often the enemy of the best.

The way of Christ

Christ will now set out his way. He reminds them of his example, that he is among them as one who serves. This is a potent thing, example. Christ does not just tell his disciples, he leads them.

He also makes it clear that if they follow, great will be their reward. If you suffer with Him, you will reign with Him. All the blessings of the triumphant Christ are to be theirs because they are the ones who have stuck with Him.

Notice something: there is no particular set of experiences referenced. It is not a quid pro quo; it is that they have “stood with him” in his trials. We often seek for the grand things to do, when our Lord asks us for the small things. Jesus asks us to stand by Him so that we might reign with Him.

How small? The next bit of teaching will show us that.

Washing the Disciples’ Feet

(John 13:1-20 NIV) It was just before the Passover Feast. Jesus knew that the time had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he now showed them the full extent of his love. {2} The evening meal was being served, and the devil had already prompted Judas Iscariot, son of Simon, to betray Jesus. {3} Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; {4} so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. {5} After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples' feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him. {6} He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, "Lord, are you going to wash my feet?" {7} Jesus replied, "You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand." {8} "No," said Peter, "you shall never wash my feet." Jesus answered, "Unless I wash you, you have no part with me." {9} "Then, Lord," Simon Peter replied, "not just my feet but my hands and my head as well!" {10} Jesus answered, "A person who has had a bath needs only to wash his feet; his whole body is clean. And you are clean, though not every one of you." {11} For he knew who was going to betray him, and that was why he said not every one was clean. {12} When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. "Do you understand what I have done for you?" he asked them. {13} "You call me 'Teacher' and 'Lord,' and rightly so, for that is what I am. {14} Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another's feet. {15} I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. {16} I tell you the truth, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. {17} Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them. {18} "I am not referring to all of you; I know those I have chosen. But this is to fulfill the scripture: 'He who shares my bread has lifted up his heel against me.' {19} "I am telling you now before it happens, so that when it does happen you will believe that I am He. {20} I tell you the truth, whoever accepts anyone I send accepts me; and whoever accepts me accepts the one who sent me."

Pause with me a moment. This is the art of teaching at its highest. Please notice how Jesus teaches:

Timing

·         Jesus does this at the most sacred of feasts, when their minds are most tuned to what God has done for them. It is not just the act itself, but when the act is performed.

·         He does it as they are arguing over who is the greatest! Here he seizes what they themselves are doing wrong, and turns it into an object lesson.

·         He waits until the meal has started. He does not do it beforehand, where the meaning might get lost in the shuffle. He waits until they cannot help but notice.

Gesture

The gesture itself cannot be mistaken. It is so “low” as to be completely unambiguous. The very ordinariness of the act raises this to an art.

It is also an example for us to imitate. It says, by that example, that nothing is so “low” as to be beneath us. It also says that nothing is so trivial that it cannot be done as a service to God.

Waiting

We are told to “wait upon the Lord.” Note, in verse 3, the divine timing. The rationale John gives us is that the Father has put all things under Jesus feet, and that He came from God and was returning to Him – so that determines the moment to wash the disciples’ feet.

Note one other thing, too. When Peter objects (Peter seems to be the mouth of the disciples) Jesus gives him only the briefest of explanations. He carries on – and when he is completely done, then he explains. How often we are inclined to explain all at every step! Rather, we should examine God’s timing and stay silent so that our actions may speak.

Principle: servant and master

The servant is not above the master. I am less than Christ. If He washes the feet of the disciples, what then is so low that I cannot be tasked to do it? What then is so trivial that I cannot take the time for it?

The two things go together: the humbling of the servant and the ultimate exaltation of the servant. Paul puts it this way:

(Phil 2:5-11 NIV) Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: {6} Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, {7} but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. {8} And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death-- even death on a cross! {9} Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, {10} that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, {11} and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

If you suffer with Him, you will reign with Him. Your attitude should be the same as His. Indeed, if you are His, you should imitate Him in all things. Here is an excellent place to start.


[1] Matthew 17:24-27

[2] 1 Timothy 6:17-18

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