April 9, 2009

I Was There: The Apostle John - Apr 9, 2009


Jesus, You prayed for us on the evening of that first Maundy Thursday. Through the message of the apostles, we have come to trust in You. Make us truly one with each other, unified in mind, mouth, heart and judgment. Make us also one with You and the Father, sinners forgiven by faith in Your blood, saints of heaven, children of God in the world of men. Breath Your Holy Spirit out on us here, and sanctify us by Your truth. Your Word is truth. Amen.


Throughout this Lenten season we’ve tried to imagine our Savior’s sufferings through the eyes of people who were actually there. Tonight, we try to picture the events that happened on the first Maundy Thursday through the eyes of the apostle John.

May the Holy Spirit bless our thoughts as we meditate on these events, as described for us in the Holy Word of God.

Luke 22:7-13 (NKJV)

7Then came the Day of Unleavened Bread, when the Passover must be killed. 8And He sent Peter and John, saying, “Go and prepare the Passover for us, that we may eat.”
9So they said to Him, “Where do You want us to prepare?”
10And He said to them, “Behold, when you have entered the city, a man will meet you carrying a pitcher of water; follow him into the house which he enters. 11Then you shall say to the master of the house, ‘The Teacher says to you, “Where is the guest room where I may eat the Passover with My disciples?”’ 12Then he will show you a large, furnished upper room; there make ready.”
13So they went and found it just as He had said to them, and they prepared the Passover.

Good evening. I was there in the upper room when Jesus celebrated His last Passover, and instituted the first Lord’s Supper. I am one of the original Twelve.

In fact, I was there in the upper room much earlier than the rest. Jesus had instructed Peter and I to make Passover preparations. So, on Thursday, that’s what we did.

Only Jesus knew where we were going to eat the Passover. And when He revealed it to Peter and I, He did so in a miraculous way. Only later did we understand why.

Jesus knew that Judas was going to betray Him that night, when no crowd was around. The Passover supper would have been the perfect time to do this. Everyone else was busy at their own suppers.

But Jesus would not have His Last Supper interrupted by a mob of priests and soldiers. He wanted to celebrate this meal in peace. Three years had passed and our Teacher still had more to tell us.

He especially wanted to further prepare us for the events that were so soon to overwhelm us and take Him from us. He wanted to give us what you still enjoy today, Holy Communion with the Son of God.

Peter and I found the man carrying the water jar, and followed him to the upper room. It was furnished, but not just with furniture. As was common at the time of the Passover, the owners of this house had also furnished their spare room with dishes and even some of the customary Passover foods.

The Passover is a meal of remembrance. It commemorates how Jehovah God freed the children of Israel from slavery in Egypt. The foods on the Passover table have special meaning in connection with this.

The bitter herbs remind us of the bitterness of slavery.

Charoseth was a mixture of nuts, raisins, apples and almonds that was suppose to look like the clay that our ancestors used to make Pharaoh’s bricks.

The unleavened bread remind us how hastily Israel had fled Egypt. When the time came, they couldn’t even wait for the morning bread to rise.

All these foods pointed our minds back to the first Passover. But the Passover lamb was by far the most important.

On the first Passover, God sent the angel of death through Egypt to strike dead the first born child of every house. But, if a perfectly healthy lamb had been butchered, and its blood painted on the door frame of a house, death passed over that house leaving its inhabitants alive.

A lamb was sacrificed, so that others might live. Everyone who ate the Passover meal in remembrance of these events had to eat part of the lamb.

So, Peter and I went to the sheep market and purchased a perfect, healthy, spotless lamb and took it to the Temple. There, as was customary, we joined the throng of others bringing their lambs into the court of the priests. That was the court just outside the sanctuary itself. There stood the great blazing altar where burnt sacrifices were offered.

Peter and I killed of the lamb ourselves, as a priest stood by to catch the lamb’s blood in a golden bowl. Then the blood was cast at the base of the altar.

When the lamb had been flayed and cleansed properly, we took it with us back to the upper room to roast it over the fire.

The blood of the lamb was not taken to the feast. That would have been detestable to any Jew. But when the wine was poured, one couldn’t help but think of that image. The blood of that perfect lamb, poured out to rescue God’s people.

Luke 22:14-18 (NKJV)

14When the hour had come, He sat down, and the twelve apostles with Him. 15Then He said to them, “With fervent desire I have desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer; 16for I say to you, I will no longer eat of it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.”
17Then He took the cup, and gave thanks, and said, “Take this and divide it among yourselves; 18for I say to you, I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.”

On Thursday evening, when the first three stars had appeared in the night sky, three trumpet blasts sounded from the Temple, and everyone knew that the day of Passover had begun. Now the meal could commence.

The Passover meal itself was a worship service and a supper in one. Three cups of wine were drunk throughout the supper. One at the beginning, one in the middle and one at the end.

The unleavened cakes of bread were broken and part of one was reserved for the end of the meal. There were prayers and Psalms. There were ceremonial washings. At one point in the meal the youngest participant asked what all this ceremony meant, at all was explained. And there in the middle of all was the Passover lamb that all shared.

We didn’t sit in chairs around the dinner table like is the custom in your country. All these things took place around a low, rectangular, eastern table. We laid down, resting over a cushion, on our left side, leaving our right hand free to eat with.

It was common to seat the guests around the table in a horse-shoe shape, leaving one end of the table open. That way the servants didn’t have to step over the guests to serve them. They simply placed the dishes on the open end of the table and they were passed along as needed.

Jesus was the host of our Passover meal. He was seated with one person to His left and one to His right, on one end of the horse-shoe shape. The place to His left was the place of highest honor, the place that we all desired.

It’s sad to say, but we argued about who was the greatest on that night. In the end, Judas was seated to the left of Jesus, and I recline to His right. Across the open end of the table, Peter was seated at the other end of the horse-shoe shape.

The meal began with cup of wine that had been mixed with two-parts water. After it had been blessed and passed around among us all, Jesus got up and walked over to where the water for ceremonial washing was.

This came of no surprise to anyone. It was all part of the ritual. After the first cup of wine, the host went and washed his hands.

But, when Jesus returned dressed like a servant and began washing our feet, we didn’t know what to do. We were appalled. We just lay there, dumbstruck as Jesus made His way around the table, first washing, then drying our dirty feet.

Peter spoke up. Tried to get Jesus to stop. Jesus was our Master! Not our servant. After a few words from Jesus, Peter listened and let Him wash his feet also.

When He had put His regular clothes back on, He returned to His place. And said,

“…Do you understand what I have done for you?”… 13“You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. 14Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. 15I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. 16I tell you the truth, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. 17Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them” (John 13:12-17 NIV).

I’ll tell you, we felt pretty ashamed. Moments before we were arguing about which one of us was the greatest. And now, the truly great one had washed our feet.

The Passover had always been a meal of remembrance, but that night it became a meal of revelation too. This was the first revelation: Jesus wanted His followers to serve each other in a spirit of love and humility. Jesus wants His followers to serve each other like He served us.

Matthew 26:21-24 (NIV)

21And while they were eating, he said, “I tell you the truth, one of you will betray me.”
22They were very sad and began to say to him one after the other, “Surely not I, Lord?”
23Jesus replied, “The one who has dipped his hand into the bowl with me will betray me. 24The 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.”

The fact that Jesus wanted humble servants was not the only revelation of the night.

Our attention was focused on Jesus that night, even more so than usual. He was the Master. He was also the host of this Passover meal.

Sometime after we had begun to eat, Jesus began to look very upset. He told us the reason for His troubled heart, saying that one of us, one of the twelve, was going to betray Him.

A spirit of somber depression settled on the table. We stared at each other, shocked that this could be so. But Jesus was never wrong. One after another we asked Jesus, “Surely not I, Lord?”. Surely not I!

From across the table I saw Peter motion to me. When I was paying attention he quietly hissed, “Ask him which one he means.”

As everyone was jawing away about how it certainly wasn’t them, I leaned back against Jesus, and asked, “Who is it?”

He said, “…It is the one to whom I will give this piece of bread when I have dipped I in the dish…” (John 13:26 NIV).

And dipping a piece of bread into a bowl nearby, Jesus offered it to Judas.

Though we did not know it then, at the very moment that Judas took the bread, Satan entered into him.

No one else heard their hushed conversation. But I did. I was there reclining right next to Jesus, with Judas just on the other side of Him.

Judas said, “Surely not I, Rabbi”

Jesus responded quietly, “Yes, it is you. What you are about to do, do quickly.”

Then Judas got up and left the room. Only Peter and I knew why. Us, and Jesus. Everyone else assumed that he was going out to get something that had been forgotten, or to make some special Passover gift to the poor. He was after all, the treasurer of our little group.

Only later did we learn that Judas wasn’t spending money that night. He was making it. Thirty silver pieces for the Messiah. Thirty silver pieces to betray the Son of God.

But Jesus had known. He had known Judas’ heart just as surely as he knew ours. After Judas left Jesus taught us a lot more. He foretold how we would all abandon. Which we did, that very night even though we all said we’d rather die than abandon Him.

He even foretold how Peter would deny knowing Him THREE TIMES before the rooster crowed, that very night.

His words were true. The spirit is willing, but the body is weak.

Jesus knows your sinner’s hearts too. He knows the sinful thoughts that fill your mind. The sinful deeds that darker your every day. The words you say behind people’s backs. But He loves you anyway. In fact, He chose to suffer for your sins on the cross. Died so that you could live forever with Him in heaven. He even sends His Holy Spirit to show you these things in the Bible. And He even comes to you Himself, in the Lord’s Supper.

Mark 14:22-25 (NKJV)

22And as they were eating, Jesus took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them and said, “Take, eat; this is My body.”
23Then He took the cup, and when He had given thanks He gave it to them, and they all drank from it. 24And He said to them, “This is My blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many. 25Assuredly, I say to you, I will no longer drink of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God.”

I said earlier that the Passover was a meal of remembrance. Through it we Jews were reminded of the slavery of our ancestors, and the freedom that God had given us. We were reminded how a spotless lamb died so our ancestor’s children could live.

The Lord’s Supper is a meal of remembrance too. Jesus Himself told us to celebrate it in remembrance of Him. In the Lord’s Supper we are reminded of our past slavery to sin, and the freedom that God has given us through His Son’s cross. We are reminded how the sinless Lamb of God died so that we might live with God, freed from sin and punishment forever.

You know, before I was a disciple of Jesus, I was a disciple of John the Baptizer. I was standing beside the Jordan River one day when John pointed at Jesus and said, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29b NIV). Now I know exactly what He meant.

Jesus is God’s eternal Passover Lamb. Death cannot touch us now, because His blood marks us as God’s forgiven people.

But the Lord’s Supper is more than a meal of remembrance. It is also a meal of revelation. For in it, the depth of Jesus’ love is revealed. He allowed His body to be broken for us. He poured out His blood for us.

Jesus resurrection is also revealed in this Supper. It is His LIVING flesh and blood that you receive when you take the Lord’s Supper. For He is alive now, and forevermore.

And Jesus also reveals His love for YOU THE INDIVIDUAL in His Supper. For He comes to you SPECIFICALLY when you stand at His altar to receive the bread and wine.

Revelation 7:13-17 (NIV)

13Then one of the elders asked me, “These in white robes—who are they, and where did they come from?”
14I answered, “Sir, you know.”
And he said, “These are they who have come out of the great tribulation; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. 15Therefore,
“they are before the throne of God
and serve him day and night in his temple;
and he who sits on the throne will spread his tent over them.
16 Never again will they hunger;
never again will they thirst.
The sun will not beat upon them,
nor any scorching heat.
17 For the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd;
he will lead them to springs of living water.
And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”

Years after that Last Supper, when I was an old man, the Roman government banished me to the Island of Patmos because of my faith in Jesus. And while I was there, God gave me the visions which I recorded in the book of Revelation.

In one of the visions I saw a huge crowd of people robed in white. I found out that their robes were white because they had been washed in the blood of the Lamb. In the blood of my dear Savior, Jesus Christ.

And there He was in my vision, standing in the form of a Lamb. Leading His people to springs of living water in heaven.

I know, it’s not part of the things that I saw on the evening of Maundy Thursday. But I wanted you to hear it, because I think that’s what you should think of when you take the cup of blessing at the Lord’s Supper.

You’ve been made white, from head to foot, by the blood of the Lamb. The Holy, sinless Lamb of God. That Passover Lamb that was sacrificed once and for all on a rough Roman cross.

Think of those robes when you take the Lord’s body and blood with the bread and wine. Think of those white robes. His suffering makes you sinless in the sight of God the Father.

The Lord’s Supper is surely a supper of remembrance. It is a reminder of His suffering in our place and a revelation of His love and forgiveness. And because of Him, one day, you and I will sit down to feast at the marriage supper of the Lamb, in the eternal Kingdom of Heaven.

Until that meal, cherish the one you have been given. Come to it often, and remember what it means. Robes of white now cover all your sins.

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