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Mark

The Lord's Supper

Mark 14 (various)

Because we take communion each week it is easy to assume that we all understand just what this means. But that doesn’t mean it’s not worth the time to review it.

Preparations

The Holy Bible, New International Version

12On 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?”

13So 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. 14Say 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?’ 15He will show you a large upper room, furnished
and ready. Make preparations for us there.”

16The disciples left, went into the city and found things just as Jesus had told
them. So they prepared the Passover.

Providence

God has a rather dry sense of humor. It is so dry that many pious commentators just can’t seem to find it. They need look no further than this passage.

It rather reminds me of Jesus’ method of paying the Temple tax. You will recall how he told Peter to throw his line into the lake, open the mouth of the first fish he caught – and there would be a coin sufficient to pay both Peter’s tax and his own.

The same style is shown here. Luke’s account gives us a specific name to the type of water jar – it’s rather a large one, with two handles. That’s a good sign for the disciples, because Jerusalem is crammed to the walls with tourists in town to celebrate Passover. The upper room could have been arranged beforehand; a man with sixty pounds of water on his shoulder is a little too much. Especially when it will be the first one.

Though we deny it, God takes charge of every detail of our lives (which is one reason we are taught to give thanks in all things). Why, then, do we have such trouble with this? We are willing to accept the grand things of Scripture (like the Resurrection) but balk at God’s providence in our daily lives. Why?

Perhaps it is this: we want to be in complete control of our lives. If we can’t be in complete control, then we want to yield as little control as we must. So it’s OK for God to take charge of the freeway (when we’re on it) – but our driving is our own.

A side note: what is the man doing with that water jar? Is it just possible that this water jar is the one which Jesus will use in washing the disciples’ feet? Our God works all things together for the good of those who love him.

Foreknowledge

Please remember that to know something before it happens is not the same as making it happen that way. There is a difference between foreknowledge and predestination.

Some may quibble with this, but it’s likely enough that Jesus’ method of finding the room – and displaying his foreknowledge – is meant to comfort the disciples. If he knows who will be walking by just at the moment you enter the city, surely he knows all the “big things” as well. It is a comfort – I know that he knows.

God of the small things

Sometimes we reject the God of the small things – the God whose providence rules our lives. It could be that this is our pride – but it’s also possible that it is our humility. We reason, “after all, why would God be interested in such a small thing as that?”

To say such a thing is to deny the omnipotence of God. It is as if we had said, “Yes, he’s powerful in making the events of history – but either not able or not willing to intervene in my life.” Not able? Is there anything too hard for him? Not willing? Consider the lilies of the field.

Sometimes we are too rational for our own good.

The Passover

The Holy Bible, New International Version

22While they were eating, Jesus took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and
gave it to his disciples, saying, “Take it; this is my body.”

23Then he took the cup, gave thanks and offered it to them, and they all drank
from it.

24“This is my blood of the£ covenant, which is poured out for many,” he said
to them. 25“I tell you the truth, I will not drink again of the fruit of the vine until
that day when I drink it anew in the kingdom of God.”

It is a familiar passage. But we must give it full consideration, and not be led astray by the frequent repetition.

Similarities

It is hard to miss the deliberate similarity between Passover and Communion:

·        The lamb to be eaten at Passover was to be “without defect.” Jesus was our sinless sacrifice, as John has it, the Lamb of God.

·        The house was to be purged of yeast, a symbol of sin. This is also symbolic of our Lord’s sinlessness.

·        Blood was to be applied to the door posts and lintel so that the angel of death would “pass over” that house. We know that it is by the blood of Christ that we are saved, that judgment “passes over” us. Interestingly, it was applied using hyssop, which was also used during the Crucifixion.

·        Only the circumcised (whether Jew or alien) could partake of the Passover. Similarly, only the baptized believer should partake of the Lord’s Supper – but it is open to all such.

·        The Jew was instructed not to break any bones of the lamb – just as none of Christ’s bones were broken.

·        Interestingly, the Jew was instructed to leave none of the meat until morning – he was to burn it up if necessary. Just as Christ stayed on the cross only for the one day, Good Friday.

·        All the people were to participate, with no exceptions. It was not sufficient for the religious rulers to condemn Christ; they had to get the crowd with them. Remember how they said, “His blood be on us and on our children?”

·        They were to eat the meal in haste, clothed for a journey. We are to eat it until he comes again – a coming about which we are warned to be ready.

·        And like the ancient Jew, God “passes over” us in judgment, not for our merit or good works, but because of his grace.

(All stolen from a previous lesson – but worth the repetition).

Nature of symbolic worship

The nature of communion – the most common form of symbolic worship – provokes one of three reactions in most believers:

  • There are those who deny any symbolic meaning whatever – all the while quoting the Bible in those passages which make it clear that this is the highest form of symbolism. I recall one choir leader, called upon to provide the communion meditation, saying “Communion is not a ritual.” Which misses the mark widely. Why? Because we fear to be accused of taking it in an unworthy manner; to some, all ritual is empty ritual.
  • There are those accept the symbolic meaning – as token only. You hear them saying, “this represents Christ’s blood.” Yes, there is meaning, but no, there is nothing beyond the meaning. It appears as a convenient memory aid in remembering Christ’s sacrifice – nothing more.
  • There are those who are capable of accepting the “thick” side of Christianity. When Christ says, “This is my body,” he didn’t mean “this represents my body.” He said what he meant – in some sense, this is my body. It clearly is not in the literal sense (a crude view of transubstantiation). But that does not preclude the mystic sense.
Preparation – for the Son of Man

When I was in the army, nothing so irritated us as having a Saturday parade. Why all this fuss? The army was trying to get into my head (quite unsuccessfully) that we were a team, moving together. We were having teamwork drilled into us (literally).

There is a sense that the Passover this night is preparation for the Son of Man. Consider this: being sinless makes you fit for the ultimate Passover sacrifice. But it doesn’t make you fit to be a brain surgeon (not that he would have need of that!) There is a sense in which Jesus was made fit for his task. As the writer of Hebrews put it:

The Holy Bible, New International Version

8Although he was a son, he learned obedience from what he suffered 9and,
once made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey
him

How can the Son of God have any need of being “made perfect?” It means that he was fitted for the task. That task was to be the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. For that task the Son of Man would need to be perfected – by obedience. In this instance, by living through the ceremony which foreshadowed his sacrifice.

Note one thing: he was afraid. Evidently perfection does not preclude fear.

In the Garden

The Holy Bible, New International Version

 

32They went to a place called Gethsemane, and Jesus said to his disciples,
“Sit here while I pray.” 33He took Peter, James and John along with him, and he
began to be deeply distressed and troubled. 34“My soul is overwhelmed with
sorrow to the point of death,” he said to them. “Stay here and keep watch.”

35Going a little farther, he fell to the ground and prayed that if possible the
hour might pass from him. 36“Abba,£ Father,” he said, “everything is possible for
you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.”

37Then he returned to his disciples and found them sleeping. “Simon,” he said
to Peter, “are you asleep? Could you not keep watch for one hour? 38Watch and
pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the body is
weak.”

39Once more he went away and prayed the same thing. 40When he came back,
he again found them sleeping, because their eyes were heavy. They did not know
what to say to him.

41Returning the third time, he said to them, “Are you still sleeping and
resting? Enough! The hour has come. Look, the Son of Man is betrayed into the
hands of sinners. 42Rise! Let us go! Here comes my betrayer!”

Possible

What does it mean when we say something is possible?

  • Within our own natural limits, it means that something has a probability of occurring – even if it’s a slight possibility.
  • It can also mean that the event is consistent with natural law.

But in neither sense can we apply the word possible to God – for he arranges all things, and nothing is impossible with him.

So in the spiritual sense, it comes down to this: Is it in God’s will? Not just “Is this what He wants?” but “is it consistent with his purposes?” Most of our prayers fall in that latter category: we want something which is not forbidden, but might not be very probable. The key is that little phrase, “in God’s will.” That’s what Jesus is asking for on this night.

Fear

I find it greatly comforting that Jesus was in agony on this night – that he showed the genuine fear that I would have experienced. It means that he understands when I am afraid. It is proof that he is “fully man.” (And it is heresy to deny that.)

But “being afraid” and “chickening out” are two different things. So the question arises: how did Christ conquer this fear?

  • “For God so loved the world…” – as the Scripture has it, perfect love casts our fear. This is the power by which he overcame that fear of death.
  • The mechanism he used to implement that power was obedience. It is through his obedience that he was made perfect to be the Lamb of God.

There’s a lesson in this for us. Fear is not sovereign. Love, acting in obedience, is.

The weakness of the flesh

The three who saw him transfigured just a few weeks earlier now fail him. The flesh is indeed weak. This is one reason we fear; after all, if we were invincible in our bodies, what would we fear?

How, then, do we overcome our fears? Love, acting through obedience – just as our Lord did. The victory has been won at Calvary. Some day – perhaps very soon – we shall have that invincible body. We will testify through the ages that love does indeed cast out fear. The greatest love, that of God, cast out the greatest fear of man, that of death. We need but obedience to claim that victory.

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