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The Last Supper and sacrificial love

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Date: May 6, 2018

Speaker: Eric Stillman

Series: Savior and Lord

Scripture: Mark 14:1–14:26

This morning we are in the seventeenth week of our journey through Mark’s gospel. Last week we were in the most confusing chapter in Mark, while this week we move to the most familiar ones. Over the next few weeks, we will look at Jesus in the context of the Last Supper, the Garden of Gethsemane, the arrest, the trial, the crucifixion, and finally the resurrection. Let’s begin in Mark 14:

 

Mark 14:1-26 - Now the Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread were only two days away, and the chief priests and the teachers of the law were looking for some sly way to arrest Jesus and kill him.  2 "But not during the Feast," they said, "or the people may riot." 

 

As you can see, the religious leaders of Israel have had enough of Jesus, and they want him arrested and executed for his blasphemy, for making himself out to be God and subverting their faith as they understood it. The context of this chapter is the Passover, which is a 12 hour period during which the Israelites commemorated their deliverance from slavery in Egypt by God. Remember that thousands of years ago, the people of God ended up as slaves in Egypt. And the Israelites cried out to God in their slavery, and God raised up Moses and Aaron to go to Pharaoh and tell him to let the people go. But Pharaoh refused to let them go despite God sending nine plagues. But then comes the tenth plague. God tells Moses what will happen and how to prepare for it in Exodus 12:3-14:

 

Exodus 12:3-14 - Tell the whole community of Israel that on the tenth day of this month each man is to take a lamb for his family, one for each household.  4 If any household is too small for a whole lamb, they must share one with their nearest neighbor, having taken into account the number of people there are. You are to determine the amount of lamb needed in accordance with what each person will eat.  5 The animals you choose must be year-old males without defect, and you may take them from the sheep or the goats.  6 Take care of them until the fourteenth day of the month, when all the people of the community of Israel must slaughter them at twilight.  7 Then they are to take some of the blood and put it on the sides and tops of the doorframes of the houses where they eat the lambs.  8 That same night they are to eat the meat roasted over the fire, along with bitter herbs, and bread made without yeast.  9 Do not eat the meat raw or cooked in water, but roast it over the fire-- head, legs and inner parts.  10 Do not leave any of it till morning; if some is left till morning, you must burn it.  11 This is how you are to eat it: with your cloak tucked into your belt, your sandals on your feet and your staff in your hand. Eat it in haste; it is the LORD's Passover.  12 "On that same night I will pass through Egypt and strike down every firstborn-- both men and animals-- and I will bring judgment on all the gods of Egypt. I am the LORD.  13 The blood will be a sign for you on the houses where you are; and when I see the blood, I will pass over you. No destructive plague will touch you when I strike Egypt.  14 "This is a day you are to commemorate; for the generations to come you shall celebrate it as a festival to the LORD-- a lasting ordinance.

 

The tenth plague is that every firstborn son will be killed, except for those households where a lamb has been slain and its blood put on the doorposts. And so, in every home in Egypt, there would either be a dead child or a dead lamb. On that first Passover night, these lamb were slain so that a child could be spared and the nation could go free. The blood of the lamb saved them from slavery, rescued them from death. And to commemorate, the people of God were to eat the Passover meal every year, to remember that they have been set free by God, to look on the lamb and remember that this lamb died instead of me, so that I could go free.

 

And so, there were at least hundreds of thousands of pilgrims in Jerusalem for the event. And scholars believe there were probably about 180,000 lambs in the city that would be slaughtered. On the date of Nisan 14, the lambs would be slaughtered in the temple, and after sunset, the Passover meal would be held. Given the large crowd, and Jesus’ popularity with much of the crowd, the religious leaders did not want to incite a riot. They needed to find a way to arrest him secretly.

 

Let’s continue with the story:

 

3 While he was in Bethany, reclining at the table in the home of a man known as Simon the Leper, a woman came with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume, made of pure nard. She broke the jar and poured the perfume on his head.  4 Some of those present were saying indignantly to one another, "Why this waste of perfume?  5 It could have been sold for more than a year's wages and the money given to the poor." And they rebuked her harshly.  6 "Leave her alone," said Jesus. "Why are you bothering her? She has done a beautiful thing to me.  7 The poor you will always have with you, and you can help them any time you want. But you will not always have me.  8 She did what she could. She poured perfume on my body beforehand to prepare for my burial.  9 I tell you the truth, wherever the gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her."  10 Then Judas Iscariot, one of the Twelve, went to the chief priests to betray Jesus to them.  11 They were delighted to hear this and promised to give him money. So he watched for an opportunity to hand him over. 

 

They are at the home of a man known as Simon the Leper (probably his former condition, likely healed by Jesus), and this unnamed woman anoints him. Some of the people present see it as a waste of money, but Jesus calls it an act of devotion. He calls it a preparation for his burial. But after this event, Judas goes to the religious leaders in order to betray him. And the religious leaders are delighted because they needed someone who could help them track Jesus’ movements at night, and now Judas, one of his own disciples, has come forward, willing to betray Jesus and help them arrest him.

 

Continuing:

 

12 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.  17 When evening came, Jesus arrived with the Twelve.  18 While they were reclining at the table eating, he said, "I tell you the truth, one of you will betray me-- one who is eating with me."  19 They were saddened, and one by one they said to him, "Surely not I?"  20 "It is one of the Twelve," he replied, "one who dips bread into the bowl with me.  21 The Son of Man will go just as it is written about him. But woe to that man who betrays the Son of Man! It would be better for him if he had not been born."  22 While they were eating, Jesus took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to his disciples, saying, "Take it; this is my body."  23 Then 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."  26 When they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives. 

 

My understanding of the timetable here is that they are most likely celebrating this meal the day before Passover. Jesus anticipates that his time is short and he won’t be able to celebrate the actual meal with his disciples, and so they are celebrating Passover a little early. But this is no coincidence that his last supper with his disciples is a Passover meal. As we will see, everything about this Passover celebration, an observance that has been happening for thousands of years, points to Jesus, the one presiding over this celebration with his disciples.

 

But as Jesus goes through the Passover ritual with his disciples, there are two amazing things that must be pointed out:

 

  • Jesus makes the Passover story about himself

 

Typically, a presider would explain the Passover ritual, telling through the elements of bread and wine the story of how God rescued their forefathers from slavery in Egypt. They would say things like “this is the bread of affliction, which our forefathers ate in the wilderness.” And “This cup represents the deliverance that God has brought to His people.” But Jesus changes the story to make it about himself. He says, “This bread is my body” and “this cup is my blood.” Who does that? Imagine taking the story of the 4th of July, of our independence, and saying that it is really about you! That is the closest parallel we might have to what Jesus is doing here. Jesus tells his disciples that the bread and wine are about him – his body, and his blood. He will suffer so that they might go free.

 

What does he mean by doing this? He is proclaiming that there is a greater Exodus about to happen, to which that first Exodus pointed. He is inaugurating an even greater redemption through his death. That this story, of God rescuing the nation of Israel from slavery to Egypt through the sacrifice of a Lamb and bringing them out to the Promised Land, as great a story as that is, is only a sign pointing to the greater story, that God is rescuing the world, every nation, from slavery to sin and death itself, through the sacrifice of His Son, and that He is bringing them out to a greater Promised Land, where they will live forever. Wow.

 

And the second amazing thing about this Passover celebration is:

 

  • There is no mention of the lamb

 

Think about it - this is a pretty small meal. The bread is there, the wine is there, but where is the main course? Where is the lamb that they can point to and say “this lamb died so that we could go free?” Where is the Lamb??? I think the reason there is no lamb, practically speaking, is that it was the day before the Passover, so the lambs had yet to be slain. But in a more accurate sense, the Lamb WAS there, standing at the table. Jesus is the Lamb who will be slain so that the world might go free. Jesus’ blood is the blood of the lamb that will cause the angel of death to pass over us. There was no lamb at the table because the one to whom the lamb points was sitting there with them as the table. This is what had been predicted in Isaiah:

 

Isaiah 53:1-12 - Who has believed our message and to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed?  2 He grew up before him like a tender shoot, and like a root out of dry ground. He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.  3 He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering. Like one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not.  4 Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted.  5 But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed.  6 We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.  7 He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth.  8 By oppression and judgment he was taken away. And who can speak of his descendants? For he was cut off from the land of the living; for the transgression of my people he was stricken.  9 He was assigned a grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death, though he had done no violence, nor was any deceit in his mouth.  10 Yet it was the LORD's will to crush him and cause him to suffer, and though the LORD makes his life a guilt offering, he will see his offspring and prolong his days, and the will of the LORD will prosper in his hand.  11 After the suffering of his soul, he will see the light of life and be satisfied; by his knowledge my righteous servant will justify many, and he will bear their iniquities.  12 Therefore I will give him a portion among the great, and he will divide the spoils with the strong, because he poured out his life unto death, and was numbered with the transgressors. For he bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.

 

Isaiah spoke of a servant of God would die for the sins of the people, like a lamb led to the slaughter. This servant is Jesus. This prophecy is fulfilled in the Son of God, laying down His life for the sins of the world. This is why John the Baptist said what he did in John 1:

 

John 1:26-31 - "I baptize with water," John replied, "but among you stands one you do not know.  27 He is the one who comes after me, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie."  28 This all happened at Bethany on the other side of the Jordan, where John was baptizing.  29 The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, "Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!  30 This is the one I meant when I said, 'A man who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me.'  31 I myself did not know him, but the reason I came baptizing with water was that he might be revealed to Israel."

 

And this is why in Acts 8, after the death and resurrection of Jesus, we read this:

 

Acts 8:29-36 - The Spirit told Philip, "Go to that chariot and stay near it."  30 Then Philip ran up to the chariot and heard the man reading Isaiah the prophet. "Do you understand what you are reading?" Philip asked.  31 "How can I," he said, "unless someone explains it to me?" So he invited Philip to come up and sit with him.  32 The eunuch was reading this passage of Scripture: "He was led like a sheep to the slaughter, and as a lamb before the shearer is silent, so he did not open his mouth.  33 In his humiliation he was deprived of justice. Who can speak of his descendants? For his life was taken from the earth."  34 The eunuch asked Philip, "Tell me, please, who is the prophet talking about, himself or someone else?"  35 Then Philip began with that very passage of Scripture and told him the good news about Jesus.  36 As they traveled along the road, they came to some water and the eunuch said, "Look, here is water. Why shouldn’t I be baptized?”

 

Jesus comes to the Passover celebration with his disciples. He tells them that the bread represents his body, which will be broken for them. He tells them that the wine represents his blood, that will be shed for them in order to create a new covenant with them. And there is no need for a lamb, because the true lamb is none other than Jesus himself. The Passover story, the account of God delivering His people from slavery to Egypt through the blood of the lamb, points to this, the account of God delivering the world from slavery to sin and death through the blood of the true Lamb of God, Jesus. As Peter says:

 

1 Peter 1:18-19 - For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your forefathers,  19 but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect.

 

What does this mean for us?

 

  • You can be free from slavery to sin and death.

 

In case you haven’t noticed, death comes for everyone. It will come for you. But the Last Supper shows us that Christ is our Passover lamb. He died so that your death will not be the end. He died in your place. Because of His blood, the angel of death will pass over you, and death will simply be falling asleep and waking up in eternity. You are no longer a slave to sin, but you belong to God.

 

Romans 8:1-4 - Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus,  2 because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death.  3 For what the law was powerless to do in that it was weakened by the sinful nature, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful man to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in sinful man,  4 in order that the righteous requirements of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the sinful nature but according to the Spirit.

 

  • You can have a relationship of peace and love with God

 

Jesus says that the cup represents the new covenant in His blood. The old covenant, which was made between God and Moses and the Israelites at Mt. Sinai after their escape from Egypt, was think: you will be my people, I will be your God, and here are the terms. Follow them and you will be blessed; disobey them and you will be cursed. But the new covenant is written on their heart. It is a relationship of peace and love with God, where God’s Spirit lives in you, changing your heart, changing your desires, so that you want to know Him and follow Him.

 

Jeremiah 31:31-33 - "The time is coming," declares the LORD, "when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah.  32 It will not be like the covenant I made with their forefathers when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt, because they broke my covenant, though I was a husband to them," declares the LORD.  33 "This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after that time," declares the LORD. "I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people.

 

Ezekiel 36:26-27  - I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.  27 And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws.

 

You can have a relationship of peace and love with God. But you need to take Him in by faith. This Last Supper, this communion celebration, is a meal. It does you no good to look at it. You have to eat and drink it in order to be nourished by it. And in order to know God and receive the benefits that come from knowing Him, you need to put your faith in Him, receiving Him as Lord and Savior.

 

John 6:49-57 - Our forefathers ate the manna in the desert, yet they died.  50 But here is the bread that comes down from heaven, which a man may eat and not die.  51 I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world."  52 Then the Jews began to argue sharply among themselves, "How can this man give us his flesh to eat?"  53 Jesus said to them, "I tell you the truth, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.  54 Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.  55 For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink.  56 Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in him.  57 Just as the living Father sent me and I live because of the Father, so the one who feeds on me will live because of me.

 

Those who heard Jesus teach this did not understand what he was saying, but now, because of the Last Supper, we understand. Only those who take Jesus in by faith will live eternally.

 

  • Jesus has made us into a family

 

If you remember in the Exodus instructions, the Passover was designed to be a family meal. By celebrating the Last Supper with his disciples, Jesus is creating a new family. Mark 3:33-35 - "Who are my mother and my brothers?" he asked.  34 Then he looked at those seated in a circle around him and said, "Here are my mother and my brothers!  35 Whoever does God's will is my brother and sister and mother." This church, along with all other believers of God, are members of your family. And one day we will join with all the rest of the worldwide family of God in the final feast, described in Revelation 19:9 as the wedding supper of the Lamb

 

  • Become like Jesus in remembrance of Him

 

When Jesus celebrated the Last Supper with his disciples, he told them to do this in remembrance of me. In one respect, I believe he meant “eat this meal again and again in remembrance of me”, which is what most of us do when we celebrate communion. As we do that, Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians, we proclaim his death until he comes again.

 

But he also may have meant “do this – do what I am doing – in remembrance of me. As I have broken my body and poured out my blood for the healing of the world, you remember and honor me when you do the same, when you allow yourself to become like broken bread and poured out wine for the world.” Do this – follow me in my suffering – in remembrance of me. Because when you decide to follow God, you follow in the steps of a suffering Savior who calls you to join him in suffering for the hurts of the world, in order to heal the world. And many of you who are serving God are here this morning suffering, because you have been serving Him, and you feel like broken bread and poured out wine.

 

The truth is that all true love is sacrificial and substitutionary. When you love someone, you break, you pour yourself out, you sacrifice some of yourself in order to bring healing and wholeness to another. You can’t truly love without substitutionary sacrifice. You can’t love the nerd without taking on some of his nerdiness. You can’t love the poor without taking on some of his poverty. You can’t love the mentally ill without taking on some of his mental illness. You can’t serve in the nursery or the Sunday School without sacrificing some of yourself – your time, your energy. You can’t go on missions without sacrificing your money, time, energy, and comfort. You can’t get married without taking on some of your spouse’s issues and in some real way making them your own. And you can’t have children and raise them without sacrificing yourself. All true love is sacrificial and substitutionary. To do this in remembrance of him is not just to celebrate a meal together, but to follow in the footsteps of our suffering Savior by becoming broken bread and poured out wine for the healing of the world.

 

This is what the Last Supper means for us. You can be free from slavery to sin and death. You can have a relationship of peace and love with God. You can be a part of a worldwide family that belongs to Jesus. And you can join Him in the greatest calling of all, laying down your life in order to bring healing to others.

 

I think there is no better way to end than by reading together John’s vision from Revelation 5:

 

Revelation 5:1-13 - Then I saw in the right hand of him who sat on the throne a scroll with writing on both sides and sealed with seven seals.  2 And I saw a mighty angel proclaiming in a loud voice, "Who is worthy to break the seals and open the scroll?"  3 But no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth could open the scroll or even look inside it.  4 I wept and wept because no one was found who was worthy to open the scroll or look inside.  5 Then one of the elders said to me, "Do not weep! See, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has triumphed. He is able to open the scroll and its seven seals."  6 Then I saw a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain, standing in the center of the throne, encircled by the four living creatures and the elders. He had seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth.  7 He came and took the scroll from the right hand of him who sat on the throne.  8 And when he had taken it, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb. Each one had a harp and they were holding golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints.  9 And they sang a new song: "You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased men for God from every tribe and language and people and nation.  10 You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and they will reign on the earth."  11 Then I looked and heard the voice of many angels, numbering thousands upon thousands, and ten thousand times ten thousand. They encircled the throne and the living creatures and the elders.  12 In a loud voice they sang: "Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise!"  13 Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all that is in them, singing: "To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be praise and honor and glory and power, for ever and ever!"