I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes...
- Romans 1:16
This "gospel" that he talks about, that has the power to save men, is the story of Jesus: the passion of His death, the glory of His resurrection. Basically, it is the story of God taking on the form of humanity in the person of Jesus Christ and coming to live among men - and mankind was so blinded by their own evil that they:
- Plotted to destroy Him
- Lied in order to convict Him
- Tortured Him, humiliated Him
- Murdered Him and then tried to forget Him
However, three days after these horrible events, Jesus rose from the dead leaving His tomb empty. He then appeared to over 500 people in different places and times for over a period of a month. Then, in full view of His Apostles, He was taken into heaven leaving them with the promise that one day He would return unexpectedly in order to bring to heaven all those who believed and served Him, and punish all those who did evil and those who knew of Him but refused to believe in Him.
This "gospel" that Paul talks about, which I have told you in brief form, is contained in the books of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. Each writer tells us this same story from his own unique perspective, but all of them climax their witness of Jesus' life with His death, burial and resurrection.
In this series, entitled "The Passion and the Glory" I want to focus on the climactic final moments of Jesus' life where the greatest drama of human history was played out:
- I want us to be with Him at His last supper
- I want us to hear His last words
- I want us to see His last miracle
- I want us to know His last command
- I want us to receive His last gift
Today, in a time when religion is often used as a vehicle for politics or entertainment, I want to share with you the scenes that the Apostles experienced; the story that Luke says, "... turned the world upside down," when it was told (Acts 17:6).
I want to tell you about the Passion and the Glory of Jesus Christ. Let us, therefore, begin with...
His Last Supper
The final week of Jesus' life was the week of Passover culminating in the Passover meal. To understand properly the significance of the events surrounding Jesus' last days we need to understand the history of the Jewish Passover.
History of the Jewish Passover
2000 years before Christ, God chose and promised to Abraham (lived in modern day Iraq), that He would protect him, give his descendants a special land to live in, and one day send the Savior through his people.
Abraham's descendants were the Israelites and through a series of circumstances found themselves in Egyptian slavery for several centuries. God remembered His promises to Abraham and called one of these people, Moses, to lead the Jewish people out of Egyptian slavery and into the land that God had promised to them long before. The Egyptian king refused to allow Moses to bring the people out of Egypt, so God sent many plagues and catastrophes on Egypt in order to change his mind. The king stubbornly refused despite all the calamities happening in his country. The final plague sent by God was that the first born child and animal of every family would be killed by God's angel on a particular night.
In order to save the Israelites from this disaster, God instructed Moses to tell the people to:
- Sacrifice a young lamb without blemish
- Sprinkle its blood on the door posts of their homes
- Stay inside and eat the lamb that night
The Israelites did this and when the Angel of Death came that night to seek out the "first born" of every house, he passed over those homes where the blood was on the posts (frames) of the door. The Egyptians allowed the Israelites to go when they discovered the terrible thing that had happened to them that night.
God instructed Moses to tell the people that every year thereafter, in the spring, they were to keep the Passover meal as a remembrance of their liberation from bondage in Egypt. This occurred between 1500-1400 BC.
1500 years later, by the time of Jesus, the Passover meal had grown into a week of festival that included the Passover meal followed by the seven day Feast of Unleavened Bread.
- Originally these were two separate feasts: Passover (sharing the Passover meal on one day) and the Feast of Unleavened Bread, a separate seven day feast that followed.
- By the time of Jesus, these two feasts had merged into one as writers referred to them together as the Passover.
During this time Jews from all over the world would come to Jerusalem in order to sacrifice a lamb at the Temple and share a Passover meal with friends and family.
- Each family or group would purchase a lamb and bring it to the Temple to be sacrificed.
The meal itself consisted of:
- Roasted lamb
- Unleavened bread
- Bitter herbs (escarde, parsley, cucumber)
- Four cups were drunk in ceremonial fashion accompanied by praise, Scripture reading and prayer.
- Since it was Passover and no leaven was permitted it seems that they drank new wine, fruit of the vine or unfermented wine.
The procedure of the meal was as follows:
- The family would gather and the father or leader would conduct the meal. Everyone would wash their hands (ritual) and would have their feet washed if visiting someone's home.
- The first cup of wine was shared and they gave a blessing (grace).
- The father dipped the herbs into the meats and would pronounce a benediction, he then would eat and the others followed.
- The second cup of wine was prepared and a son would then ask the father to explain the feast and this would provide an occasion to teach the family the significance of what they were doing, as well as tell the story of the Passover in Jewish history.
- The lamb = sacrificial lamb and the blood covering as protection.
- Unleavened bread = purity, holiness of God's people, the rush to leave bondage (no time to allow the bread dough to rise).
- Bitter herbs = difficult experience in Egypt.
- Wine = blessing and abundance when they settled in Canaan
- After this they sang Psalms (113-114) and drank a second cup with prayer and thanksgiving.
- At this point the father would wash his hands and take two portions of bread. One piece he would eat along with the meat and salad, the others would do the same until the father would eat the last piece of lamb and this would signify the end of the meal.
- After this there was a third and fourth cup with songs and blessings: Psalms 115-118 (Hallel).
It was the traditional Passover meal that Jesus ate, and it was this meal that the Lord had sent Peter and John to prepare for Himself and the other Apostles (Luke 22:7-13). This particular Passover meal was to be special, however, because it would be Jesus' last meal before His death on the cross.
Passover with Jesus
Peter and John have Prepared the Room
The meal was set at a private upper room furnished with a low table in a "U" shape with cushions surrounding it where the guests would recline. In those days, the host (John) had the first place on the left so he could see to the needs of the leader or honored guest who sat next to him, and then the rest were placed in order of age or importance. Judas sat to the left of Jesus (we know this because Jesus offered him a sop of bread to indicate who the traitor was - (John 13:21, 25-26). We know John chose the first/host position next to Jesus because he leaned on Jesus' breast at some point during the meal (John 13:23-25). According to John (John 13:4-6) Jesus either started or finished washing the Apostles' feet with Peter so either way, Peter was in the last place on the right. The owner of the house had also left a basin of water and a towel in order to allow the guests, who had travelled on foot, to wash their feet before they entered the house to eat.
They prepared the table by laying out the roasted lamb and other sacrificial meats, the bitter herbs, unleavened bread, as well as the wine with the cups for the blessings.
Jesus and the Other Apostles Arrive for the Passover Meal
Luke records that there was a dispute among them concerning who was to be regarded as the greatest.
24And there arose also a dispute among them as to which one of them was regarded to be greatest. 25And He said to them, "The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who have authority over them are called 'Benefactors.' 26But it is not this way with you, but the one who is the greatest among you must become like the youngest, and the leader like the servant. 27For who is greater, the one who reclines at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one who reclines at the table? But I am among you as the one who serves.
- Luke 22:24-27
Perhaps John and Judas in having taken the places closest to Jesus at the table cause the others to be jealous and this argument began. Jesus tells them that in His kingdom the youngest is the greatest, the one who serves is the most important. John (John 13:2-5) describes how Jesus underscores this lesson by rising from His honored position at the head of the supper table and taking the basin and towel, He proceeds to wash the Apostles' feet. Usually a slave was present at feasts and this service was done by him as a gesture of hospitality by the host. Each Apostle had entered, saw the basin, knew what it was for, but did not wash his own feet and did not offer it to the others. This task was for slaves, not for those interested in 'position.'
Jesus Reveals the Traitor
After this, the Passover meal continues with the usual procedure: Jesus serving as leader, distributing the food.
During the meal, all four gospel writers indicate that Jesus reveals to the Apostles that there is a traitor among their number (Matthew 26:21).
They are, to be sure, mortified and begin to question themselves and Jesus as to whom it might be. Let us piece together what happened as each writer tells the story:
- Mark (14:18-31) tells us when Jesus said this, they all asked Him saying, "Surely not I?" and Jesus answered nothing.
- Luke (22:23) says that they also discussed among themselves, "... which one of them it might be who was going to do this thing."
- Matthew (26:25) records that when Judas asked the question, "Surely it is not I, Rabbi?" Jesus answered him, "You have said it yourself." This is the Hebrew way of saying: What you say is what you are.
- It is left to John, who is seated next to Jesus, to describe what happened at this point.
21When Jesus had said this, He became troubled in spirit, and testified and said, "Truly, truly, I say to you, that one of you will betray Me." 22The disciples began looking at one another, at a loss to know of which one He was speaking. 23There was reclining on Jesus' bosom one of His disciples, whom Jesus loved. 24Simon Peter gestured to him, and said to him, "Tell us who it is of whom He is speaking." 25He, leaning back thus on Jesus' bosom, said to Him, "Lord, who is it?" 26Jesus then answered, "That is the one for whom I shall dip the morsel and give it to him." So when He had dipped the morsel, He took and gave it to Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot. 27After the morsel, Satan then entered into him. Therefore Jesus said to him, "What you do, do quickly." 28Now no one of those reclining at the table knew for what purpose He had said this to him. 29For some were supposing, because Judas had the money box, that Jesus was saying to him, "Buy the things we have need of for the feast"; or else, that he should give something to the poor. 30So after receiving the morsel he went out immediately; and it was night.
- John 13:21-30
The Apostles knew Judas was a thief (John 12:6 says that he used to steal the money from the money box), and now they knew him to be a traitor, but they are not aware of his plans as he left and went into the night.
The Lord's Supper
There remains only a piece of unleavened bread to be eaten and the final cup of blessing to offer a prayer of thanksgiving in remembrance for the freedom God gave to the Israelites from Egyptian bondage long years before.
But Jesus changes the focus of the group here from the past to the future.
26While they were eating, Jesus took some bread, and after a blessing, He broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, "Take, eat; this is My body." 27And when He had taken a cup and given thanks, He gave it to them, saying, "Drink from it, all of you; 28for this is My blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for forgiveness of sins. 29But I say to you, I will not drink of this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it new with you in My Father's kingdom."
- Matthew 26:26-29
The bread, without leaven, no longer representing the holiness and purity the people should have, but now will represent His holy and pure body given for them as a sacrifice for sin.
The wine no longer will represent the blessing and abundance of the promised land, but now represents His blood, His life freely given to purify all men from sin and guarantee the promise of an abundant eternal life.
There will be no more lamb to kill and sacrifice for He is the Lamb of God whose blood will cover and protect His people forever. There will no longer be bitter herbs as a memory of suffering because the memory of His suffering will be eclipsed by the glory of His resurrection form the dead.
This is His last Passover, but it will also be their last Passover. From now on they will remember this night and share the bread and wine to remind them of their freedom from sin and death to life and glory through the body and blood of Jesus Christ.
It was a custom to end the meal with songs of praise and thanksgiving and so Matthew and Mark write that, "after singing a hymn they went out to the Mount of Olives." (Matthew 26:30). They probably sang Psalms 113-115, known as the Hallel, meaning joyous praise in song.
The Prayer and Close
The lamb of the Passover had been sacrificed and eaten, but now as Jesus and the Apostles left the solitude of the upper room, the true Lamb of God was being prepared for sacrifice. After supper, the writers each describe how Jesus prepared the Apostles for what was to come by telling them plainly that very soon He will be tortured and killed, and they will all run away. Matthew and Mark write that the Apostles insist that they are ready to die with Jesus, and Peter says he would never deny Him. Jesus tells him that even before the cock crows he will deny Him three times. Luke tells us that Jesus prayed for Peter at this point so that Satan will not overpower him, and that Peter will have strength to encourage others. Luke says that in a panic the Apostles take two swords with them.
John gives the longest description of this time where Jesus not only warns them, but prays for the Apostles (John 14:1-17:26):
- That they might love one another, true sign of authentic disciples.
- That He will prepare a place in heaven for them.
- That the Holy Spirit will be given to strengthen and give them power.
- To remember that He is the true vine and so long as they remain faithful, they will be very fruitful.
- That God sanctify and purify them in truth, and keep them united with each other, Himself and God.
After this, they made their way to the Mount of Olives, bringing their swords with them.
The Mount of Olives was outside of the city, a place frequented by those who wished for solitude and time for prayer. The eleven follow Him to the edge of the garden and He brings Peter, James and John further in, asking them to pray with Him because He is becoming sad and heavy with pain. Matthew and Mark describe how Jesus wrestled in prayer asking God to take away the cup of violence He faced.
Three times He returned to the Apostles for their encouragement and prayer support, three times He found them asleep, heavy with fear and sorrow. Luke tells us (Luke 22:43-44) that He was in such agony, He sweat blood (a medical condition called hematidrosis caused by severe stress and mental anguish) and an angel came to strengthen Him.
In the end, the battle to bring His human will under complete control of the Heavenly Father is won as Jesus accepts the cross with the words, "... My Father, if it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may Your will be done."
He went away again a second time and prayed, saying, "My Father, if this cannot pass away unless I drink it, Your will be done."
- Matthew 26:42
After returning to the eleven at the edge, they hear the sound of a crowd and the clanging of swords and see the light of torches in the night. Judas had agreed to identify Jesus to the crowd by greeting Him with a kiss. John tells us (18:3) that he has Roman soldiers, guards from the Temple of the priests and the Pharisees with him. Jesus receives the kiss and tells them to leave the Apostles alone; when they hear his voice they fell to the ground.
Peter seizes the opportunity and uses one of the swords to cut off the ear of one of the High Priest's servants (Malchus). Matthew (Matthew 26:52) tells us that Jesus healed the man's ear and stops Peter from further violence.
John (John 18:11) writes that Jesus accepted to be taken in order to fulfill the will of God when He said, "Put your sword away! Shall I not drink the cup the Father has given me?" Mark closes this chapter simply by saying, "And they all left Him and fled." (Mark 14:50)
Like a lamb for the Passover sacrifice, Jesus was bound and led away into His night of suffering.