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Communion

Date: Mar. 29, 2020

Author: Michael Mark

Mark 14:12-26

Key Verse: Mark 14:24

"This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many," he said to them.

As a student ministry on a college campus, we have organized dozens of events over the years, and the thing that will help you the most in drawing students are these two words: “Free Food.”  But that’s not only because they’re hungry, but there is a social and relational aspect about gathering together around a meal.  In Jesus’ time, who you ate with spoke a lot about who you were friends with.  Jesus ate with tax collectors and sinners, and he was chided by the religious leaders.  Peter had made the mistake of avoiding meals with Gentiles when certain Jews were around, and was rebuked.  Eating together is an expression of unity and fellowship, and that is the one thing I really miss in these times of social distancing.  I miss eating lunch with my coworkers at work.  I miss eating together with all of you, week after week.  And around this time of the month, we have our communion service, and I will miss partaking in the bread and the juice with everyone in unity under Christ.  This message comes at an appropriate time, as our communion would have been this week, and the time of Easter is approaching.  Though we cannot take communion, we will learn today what it’s all about, and may our hearts desire this wonderful feast when we meet again soon.  In this climate of the growing pandemic, with people getting sick, shelter in place laws and businesses shutting down, it can be easy to feel distressed, isolated and worried.  And what are we worried about?  We are worried that we will have nothing and no one, and that will cause anxiety, but Jesus shows us today that we can have Him and each other.  That is the meaning of communion.

In our study through the book of Mark, we are finally on the eve of Jesus’ death in his Passion week.  In last week’s message, on Wednesday of the Passion week, we saw a beautiful thing done for Jesus in Bethany, just outside of Jerusalem.  Mary poured a jar of perfume as an act of devotion to Jesus.  Judas was furious that such a valuable jar of perfume, worth more than a year’s wages, was wasted.  But Jesus, perhaps even unbeknownst to Mary, said this was done for his burial.  This was the final straw that broke Judas’ back.  He was looking for political power, influence and wealth, but here, not only did Jesus, the Messiah, defend her, but he spoke of his impending death.  Jesus, the Messiah die?  This shattered all of Judas’ selfish hopes, and he went to the chief priests to betray Jesus to them.  What a strange opportune time.  Jesus had just defeated all of his opponent’s trick questions, and the religious leaders were at a loss on how to trap Jesus.  Maybe they were about to give up.  Maybe not.  Just then Judas shows up – one of Jesus’ inner circle, part of the Twelve.  The religious leaders were delighted!  Could it be that dissension is growing among the ranks in Jesus’ supporters?  This breathed new life into their wicked schemes to arrest Jesus.  It’s like in that episode of the Simpsons, when Fidel Castro was about to give up his Communist takeover of Cuba, and Homer shows up with a trillion dollar bill.  Castro asks “Can I see it?” Homer gives it to him, then he hides it.  Homer says “Where’s the trillion dollar bill,” and Castro says “What trillion dollar bill?” And Homer walks away dejected.

Our passage today takes place on the Thursday before the Good Friday of Jesus’ death.  This is the final day of Jesus’ life and ministry, and on this day he sets up and establishes a new constitution for His kingdom.  I will explain this more as the passage progresses.  We begin at v.12, which says, “On the first day of the Festival 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 the Passover?’”  The Passover was one of the most significant events in Israel’s history.  The Passover is still celebrated to this day, because there is historic truth and significance to the event.  This year (2020) it begins sundown Wednesday, April 8 and ends Thursday evening, April 16.  The Passover, according to one website, is a festival of freedom.  It commemorates God’s deliverance of Israel out of slavery Egypt in the Exodus, which took place around 1446 BC.  The centerpiece of the Passover is the lamb.  On the night God would deliver his people, the angel of death would pass over the houses that had the blood of the lamb painted on its doorposts, allowing them to survive and escape.  The blood of the lamb was their key to salvation.  In Jesus’ time, the Passover Feast was a momentous celebration, and Jews from all over came to Jerusalem to celebrate.  The population would swell from 40,000 to 250,000 people in the city.

I like the disciples’ eagerness to serve the Lord.  They volunteered, and asked Jesus “Where do you want us to go and make preparations?”  From v.13-16, we see that Jesus sent two of his disciples and told them “Go into the city, and a man carrying a jar of water will meet you.  Follow him.”  We learn from the book of John that these two disciples were Peter and John.  Now I don’t know if Jesus had pre-arranged these meetings beforehand, or if these things happened by Divine Providence, but the disciples went into the city and found things just as Jesus had said.  I am more inclined to think it was pre-arranged, because Jerusalem was already so crowded, it’s like trying to book a hotel or a restaurant reservation when there is high demand.  During festivals such as these, the residents of Jerusalem typically opened their houses and set up spaces for guests to celebrate the Passover.  Sometimes more than one group or family shared certain rooms.  It was a time to make new friends, or greet old friends from afar.

God had provided a beautiful space for Jesus and his disciples to celebrate.  It was a large upper room, fully furnished, and they would have it to themselves.  It was an upper room, an area prepared on the roof of a home, and accessible from the outside so they would not have to walk through the house itself.  The owner of the house was obviously a disciple of Jesus, and he graciously gave the guest room to Jesus and the Twelve.  Usually the Passover was celebrated with families, but a momentous occasion was about to take place, and this Passover took place between Jesus and his closest disciples.  Peter and John had a lot to prepare.  They had to make the unleavened bread, buy some bitter herbs, prepare sauce for dipping, pick up some wine, bring water for the cleansing rituals, and most importantly prepare the Passover lamb.  They would need to purchase a lamb, bring it to the Temple for offering and sacrifice, then take it back to roast it.  Very similar to how we prepare our Thanksgiving and Christmas meals.

Once the disciples were done preparing, they returned to Jesus to let everyone know the meal was ready.  It was evening, Thursday evening, when Jesus arrived to the upper room with the Twelve, and the Passover meal began.  Jesus knew this would be his last meal with them.  Imagine that.  What would your last meal with someone, if you knew it, what would that be like?  From John’s gospel we learned that Jesus loved his disciples to the end.  Sometime during the meal, Jesus washes his disciples’ feet, in an act of utmost love, humility and service.  The scene is an intimate dinner setting with Jesus and his disciples, those who followed him for the last three years, those he taught, and shared many meals with. These were his disciples, these were his friends.  He called them friends.  He loved them all, but there was one who grew cold and distant.  There was one who was unfaithful inwardly, whose spiritual decline led to moral decline, one who was slipping and descending further and further into darkness.

Jesus was troubled in spirit and he testified.  Look at v.18, “While they were reclining at the table and eating, he said, ‘Truly I tell you, one of you will betray me – one who is eating with me.’”  Jesus did not say who it was, but he knew.  Now Judas, we might be able to safely assume, did not go and tell Jesus he was going to the chief priests to negotiate a price for his head.  He did these things in secret, and no one knew about it – not his colleagues the disciples, and up to now he probably thought Jesus was none the wiser.  But Jesus says this: “Truly I tell you,” listen, listen, “one of you will betray me.”  He knew, he knew who it was.  But what was on Judas’ face?  The Bible doesn’t say.  No emotion.  No remorse.  No shock.  Like he was dead on the inside.  Maybe he thought others might be plotting too, but I’m doubtful about that.  His heart was so depraved that Satan took hold of that, as it says in John 13:2, that the devil had already put it into Judas’ heart the suggestion to betray Jesus, by the time of the meal.

The disciples were shocked at this, however.  Look at v.19, “They were saddened, and one by one they said to him, ‘Surely you don’t mean me?’”  Notice that they did not blame one another, but checked their own hearts.  On the one hand, they were clearing themselves of this abhorrent accusation of such a heinous crime, not angrily, but out of a clean conscience.  On the other, they could have also doubted themselves, knowing their weakness and frailty.  It is good to examine ourselves to see if there is anything we should repent of, and it is one of the things we do when we take communion together.  Notice also that no one blamed or even suspected Judas.  Judas had truly looked squeaky clean on the outside.  He was the keeper of the money bag, or the treasurer, and you would want someone capable, trustworthy and dependable to hold it.  He was able to follow Jesus and his disciples for all this time, and no one suspected a thing.

Jesus replied in v.20, “It is one of the Twelve, one who dips bread into the bowl with me.”  This is still vague, because all Twelve have dipped their bread into the bowl with him.  This magnifies how horrific this betrayal is.  To dip bread into the bowl with someone is extremely close.  Most people I know are careful not to double dip their chips into the chip dip, but we’re still dipping into the same bowl.  Jesus was wise in this matter, maybe knowing some of the temperaments of his disciples.  For some reason, as we know later, Peter carried a sword on him.  James and John had their fingers on a trigger to unleash fire from heaven.  If some found out it was Judas, they might have exacted vengeance on him then and there.  Jesus was vague enough that this would make an impact on the disciples’ hearts, and when all was revealed, only then would they understand and know what Jesus was talking about.  Only then would they find out, Jesus knew his betrayer all along, and allowed what needed to happen to fulfill what he came to do.

Jesus continued in v.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.”  If Judas was still in the room, what a strong denunciation and warning Jesus gives.  He says, “It would be better for him if he had not been born.”  This suggests that the one who does this, there will be condemnation and punishment.  One might say, why is Judas to blame?  Wasn’t this his destiny?  Wasn’t this the will of God?  But Judas made his own choices.  Judas hardened his heart toward Jesus.  Judas stole money from the treasury.  Judas looked upon Jesus with disdain.  Judas never repented, he never saw Jesus as the Messiah, as the Son of God.  Even in his dying day, when he hung himself because he was seized with remorse, he said “I have betrayed innocent blood.”  He did not say I have betrayed the Son of God, but to him Jesus was just a man.  An innocent and righteous man, he testifies, but just a man.  Be careful of denying the truth.  When we deny that Jesus is the Son of God, when we deny that there is a God, slowly but surely we stray from the way of truth, from the way of life, and descend into darkness.  This happened to me, after college, I was a capable man, I found a good job that paid for my travels away from home.  I thought I found freedom, but found myself enslaved to drinking, smoking and pornography.  I can’t believe I’m saying this on Facebook Live, and the internet, but I have no boast but only in Jesus Christ and in the living God. Jesus Christ delivered me, the Son of God in his mighty strength delivered me out of that muck and mire, all of it, I am free from, and I will tell you how, as we proceed through the passage.

In these next few verses, we have a very solemn, significant and monumental act of Jesus.  In these verses, Jesus institutes the Communion.  Jesus establishes a new Passover.  What?  You might say?  Isn’t the Passover this huge, momentous occasion where thousands upon thousands, millions of people celebrate?  How could Jesus do this?  Well, either he is sacrilegious, blasphemous, a lunatic, or as C.S. Lewis famously put it, a poached egg, or He is the Son of God.  Let’s see how he transitions from the old Passover to the new.  Look at v.22 “While they were eating, Jesus took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to his disciples, saying, ‘Take it; this is my body.’”  What is Jesus doing here?  He is giving himself to us.  You, poor fellow, who says you have nothing, look at Jesus!  Look at Christ!  He says take it!  Take it!  Take me!  You can have God, and God will be yours.  Just as the bread goes into your body, and strengthens and nourishes you, so Jesus goes not only into your body, but your heart, your mind and your soul, and strengthens and nourishes you.  Jesus tells his disciples in John 14, shortly after the last supper, “I will not leave you as orphans, I will come to you.  Before long the world will not see me anymore, but you will see me.  Because I live, you also will live.  On that day, you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you.”  And again, what did Jesus give us?  His body.  What did Paul call our bodies in 7:24?  He called them bodies of death!  But Christ, the Son of God, was also the Son of Man, he gave us his body to make ours new.  The infinite Son of God became the incarnate Son of Man, taking on humanity to give us a new humanity.

He continues in verses 23-24, “Then he took a cup, and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them, and they all drank from it.  ‘This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many,’ he said to them.”  To drink out of the same cup it to share in it.  Christ came to share in our humanity and in our sufferings.  In his first coming, Jesus did not take his disciples out of their suffering, but shared with them in it.  God is with us in all our suffering, even now, with the COVID-19 pandemic.  But when we drink the cup with him, just as he shares in our sufferings, we share in his life.  We share in his power through the Holy Spirit.  Now look again at v.24, Jesus says something significant, the words that have changed the face of the Passover.  Look again at v.24, “ ‘This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many,’ he said to them.”  The blood of the covenant.  This is huge.  These were very similar words Moses said on Mount Sinai, I think around 3 months after the Israelites had escaped from Egypt.  God made a covenant with the Israelites, and this covenant was meant to bring them into a relationship with God.  Just like how a marriage is a covenant to bind two people together for life in an exclusive relationship, so this first covenant bound Israel to God.  The covenant stipulated in Exodus 19:5-6 “If you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession.  Although the whole earth is mine, you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.”  Then Moses established this covenant with the Israelite by sprinkling blood on them and saying, “This is the blood of the covenant that the Lord has made with you in accordance with all these words.”  The covenant was established.  But there was a problem.  There was a problem with the “obey me fully part.”  The Israelites couldn’t do it.  Time and time again, they sinned against God, intermarrying, worshipping idols and ignoring God’s prophets.  Every year they had to come back and make atonement for their sins, every year they had to come and sacrifice a lamb to God because their sins could not be taken away.

With these words and this communion, “This is my blood of the covenant,” Jesus changed all that.  Moses said, “This is the blood of the covenant.”  Jesus says, this is MY blood of the covenant.  Moses established the old covenant with the blood of animals.  Jesus establishes the new covenant with his own blood – the blood of the Son of God.  Moses established the old Passover, the festival of freedom, by which people were set free by the blood of the Passover lamb.  Jesus establishes the new Passover, a freedom from sin and from death, because He is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.  Jesus establishes and confirms the new covenant by his blood, which has bound us to God.  What is this new covenant?  It is not like the old, in fact, it is superior to it.  The New Covenant says, “I will put my laws in their hearts, and I will write them on their minds … their sins and lawless acts I will remember no more.”  How does God do this?  It is through the atoning sacrifice of Jesus, the Lamb of God.  The blood of bulls and goats was not really an atonement for sin – but it pointed to the reality, the true way that God would take away our sins.  Our sins deserve death, from the least of them to the greatest, we die because of sin.  But Jesus came to die in our place.  That is the atonement, and that is good enough for anyone, even Judas if he had believed.

Because Jesus died, we may live.  Because Jesus died, he could send us the Holy Spirit, who writes God’s laws in our hearts and our minds, to help us obey them.  Because Jesus died, God remembers our sins no more.  Jesus’ blood was poured out for many.  Jesus looked beyond this infant church of 11 disciples.  Jesus looked beyond the nation of Israel, and saw his church, his kingdom of many tribes, tongues and nations.  Jesus saw the many his blood was poured out for, and that includes you.  The new covenant has re-constituted the kingdom of God.  We are not bound to God by “obeying fully,” though we still must obey.  But we are bound to God by faith in Jesus Christ.  In this covenant, you belong to God, and he belongs to you.  God’s original purpose is fulfilled: to deliver you out of death, and into his kingdom by Jesus, the Lamb.  So now look at 1 Pet 2:9-10 “But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness and into his wonderful light.  Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.” 

Jesus concludes this communion with a promise of the coming kingdom, and they all sing a hymn.  Rev 7:16-17 give us a glimpse of this kingdom.  “Never again will they hunger; never again will they thirst.  The sun will not beat down on them, nor any scorching heat.  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.’”  Sickness and death will always be with us, until the day Jesus comes again, and he will be back.  He has made us one body, and one with Him.  We have unity with Christ and in Christ, and surely we will live forever.  Until that day, and through this new Communion, this new Feast, He is with us in our struggles and through our struggles.  He has given us himself and each other, and he commands us to love one another.  Let us all praise him together and encourage one another.  Even in this time of social distancing, thank God for the internet.  Let’s use it often to communicate.  I pray we may be able to eat together again and celebrate Communion all together soon.

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