4/22/2019 10:53:14 AM
Maundy Thursday: See Him Give
You’re sitting toward the back of a full church on a Sunday morning. We have already sung the opening hymn, and the pastor is leading the congregation through the opening dialogue. After we confess how we have disobeyed God in thought, word, and deed, the pastor boldly proclaims the forgiveness of sins that is ours through Jesus. He says, “As a called servant of Christ and by his authority, I forgive you all your sins in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” And Jesus promises in his Word, that when Christians share forgiveness with one another it’s as if he himself is standing before us speaking those words. What a wonderful thing to hear that my sins are forgiven! Yet there are times that I doubt my God’s forgiveness, even when I am sitting in church; even after hearing what Jesus has done for me. The devil starts to whisper. He says, “That forgiveness just proclaimed to everyone, it’s not for you. The pastor isn’t talking to you when he shares God’s love. He’s talking to the 300 people sitting in front of you. I know the sin you continue to struggle with. My goodness, I know what you did last night. I know the hurtful word you said to your spouse this morning. That forgiveness is not for you. It’s for all the good people sitting in church today.” And we’re tempted to believe the lies the devil tells. We begin to wonder if he might be right. We question, “Are my sins really forgiven?” “Was the announcement of God’s forgiveness meant for me?”
About 30 minutes later, you stand up. You walk to the front of church. And in your hand you receive a small wafer of bread. But with Jesus’ promise, the pastor tells you that it’s not just bread. With the bread is the very body of Jesus Christ. You also receive a small cup of wine. But again with the promise of Jesus, it isn’t only wine you take to your lips. With the wine is the blood of Jesus Christ. The blood Jesus shed on the cross for your sins. Then the pastor says to you, not to 400 people but to you, and he is speaking as Jesus. He says, “This is for the forgiveness of all of your sins. You, you, are forgiven.” In the Lord’s Supper, we receive Jesus’ promise and assurance of sins forgiven in such a tangible, personal way. You walk back to your seat feeling 100 pounds lighter. The burden of guilt and doubt is gone.
On this night almost 2,000 years ago, Jesus gave us the meal that we so love and look forward to; the meal that is so personal and so comforting. Yet, he didn’t institute the Sacrament of Holy Communion in a vacuum. He gave it in real time and in a real place. The setting in which Jesus gave this meal is not insignificant. Rather it only deepens our appreciation for it. We consider Luke’s account of the very first celebration of the Lord’s Supper:
7 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 room upstairs, all furnished. Make preparations there.” 13 They left and found things just as Jesus had told them. So they prepared the Passover. 14 When the hour came, Jesus and his apostles reclined at the table. 15 And he said to them, “I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer.16 For I tell you, I will not eat it again until it finds fulfillment in the kingdom of God.” 17 After taking the cup, he gave thanks and said, “Take this and divide it among you. 18 For I tell you I will not drink again from the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.” 19 And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.” 20 In the same way, after the supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you.
I got home from church this past Sunday just in time to watch the end of the Masters. I caught Tiger’s last three holes. After he tapped in the last put on the 18th, his fist pump was full of such vindication. He gave his catty a huge hug. And then, Tiger walked off the green to find and embrace his children. I don’t know about you, but sitting in my living room I had chills throughout the whole thing. And I don’t even consider myself a golf fan or a Tiger fan. It was just such a neat emotional moment. Can you imagine though, not watching from your living room, but being there in person standing next to the green on the 18th hole at Augusta National? To witness in person the final put, the fist pump, and all the emotional embraces!
I have a similar thought every year as we go through Holy Week. What would it have been like to be there with Jesus? To be there among the disciples on Sunday afternoon as he rode into Jerusalem to the shouts of “Hosanna!” To witness Jesus’ righteous anger as he drove the money changers out of the temple courts on Monday. To walk with him and listen as he taught on Tuesday. And then to be there as the pace toward the cross really picked up on Thursday evening. Well, the disciples were there. And for them, that first Maundy Thursday started out the same as any other 14th day of their month of Nisan. Their minds were on the Passover and the preparations that needed to be made.
Why would Luke include here the seemingly insignificant details of Jesus entrusting the Passover preparations to Peter and John? Two reasons: 1)They remind us again before we see Jesus suffer and die that he was in absolute control. What happens over the next 24 hours is no accident. He doesn’t fall victim to the Jewish and Roman authorities. Yes, he’s about to be betrayed and arrested, but it will happen according to his will and on his timeline. Notice only Jesus, Peter, and John will know where they would eat the Passover. Jesus wouldn’t allow Judas to hand him over until afterwards. 2)Luke wants to highlight for us the connection between what is about to take place in the upper room and the very first Passover. He says, “Hey, there’s a connection here. Don’t miss it!” In other words, it’s no accident that Jesus gives us this new meal of his body and blood with the bread and the wine on the same night he and his disciples ate the old meal. Nor is it by accident that it happens the night before he dies.
As they celebrated the Passover they looked back. In fact they looked back 1,400 years. They remembered, “We were slaves in Egypt and God kept his promise to set us free. He set us free by the blood of lambs. So today we slaughtered a lamb and poured out its blood, just as our ancestors put the blood of lambs on the doorframes of their houses. The Lord saw the blood and he passed over. His final blow against Pharaoh and the Egyptians did not touch us.” Though that first Passover did serve to deliver the Israelites, that wasn’t its only purpose. It wasn’t only something to look back on and remember. The first Passover and every Passover celebration to follow was a sign of something to come. The Passover with its lambs, and sacrifices, and blood, and meals, and deliverance pointed ahead to the greater lamb, greater sacrifice, greater blood, greater meal, and greater deliverance.
Jesus reclines with his apostles at the table, and they must have realized that this Passover meal was different. The fulfillment had come. Whether they realized it at the time or not, Jesus was the greater lamb – the perfect, unblemished Lamb of God that all the millions of Passover lambs over the previous 1,400 years pointed to. That Friday was the greater sacrifice – the sacrifice and slaughter of the Lamb of God for the sins of the world. And it was his blood, not poured on doorframes but poured out on the frame of a cross. And freedom and deliverance not from earthly bondage but from the bondage of sin, death, and hell. Jesus connects his apostles, and he connects you and me to all of it by giving us the greater meal. That’s the meaning of the new covenant. Not only is it “new.” It’s superior; its greater. And this meal is more than just a meal of unleavened bread and wine, but a meal of his own body and blood with the bread and the wine.
You may not have been at the 18th green at Augusta National on Sunday. But every time you take part in the Lord’s Supper, you’re at no less of an advantage than the disciples during Holy Week. You’re there in the upper room, participating in the same meal, in the very body and blood of Jesus Christ the Lamb of God. And you receive the very same benefit. His body was given, his blood was poured out, for you. By receiving his true body and blood with the bread and the wine, you receive the forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation that Jesus secured through his body and blood on the cross. You have been set free from the bondage of sin, death and hell. God’s judgment has passed over you.
That’s why the Lord’s Supper is so special; why we love it so much, why it’s so comforting and burden lifting. So in just a few minutes from now, stand up. Walk to the front of church. And let Jesus’ promises attached to this greater meal dismiss all doubt and all guilt. Amen.