You know, not that long ago I was watching an old TV show and this particular episode opened with the children in Sunday School. And the teacher was telling them about what an awful, horrible place hell was. How no one would ever, ever want to be there. Without being too graphic, she scared them quite a bit, which led to them asking the inevitable question, “Teacher, how do we make sure we don’t go to hell?”
“By following the ten commandments!”
Maybe for you that’s a facepalm moment. Maybe you know better. But really, out in the world, those who only know Christianity from pop culture… well that is what the answer is, right? Christianity is a system of rules designed to stop you from having any real fun and if you follow them (and just how often or how well you have to follow them is a little fuzzy), but if you follow them – the God rewards you with heaven… right?
I probably shouldn’t even ask that as a question. Because how many people who’ve never really looked into God actually think that? Too many. Too many who maybe feel scared for a bit about eternity at night when their mind is a little too quiet, but they calm themselves by saying, “No, I don’t have to worry. If there really is a God, I’m sure he’s a nice guy and I’m a pretty good person – I’m sure God will take me in if he exists.” That’s not just wishful thinking to many people, it’s what they really believe.
But… why? Why this perception of God? You and I know this is clearly not the case, God does not trade works for Heaven, at least not in the way we would make him out to do it. So why does this perception even exist? In fact, not just why does it exist…why is it the dominant thought of every person who doesn’t know Jesus for real? Why is it every false religion, even every erring branch of Christianity ends up with this notion that you must do something to be saved?
The fact is, it’s simply in our nature. Ever since the first humans betrayed God by reaching for that fruit in the garden. They were told they would be like God if they ate it. They wanted to be like God. They wanted to be in control of their own lives. We have not changed. Every single sin we commit comes back to this one basic principle: I want to be my own god. And that includes, if not saving myself directly, at least doing something to help or show that I’m worthy to be saved. It’s one of our strongest natural inclinations.
Can it work that way? Let’s look into history to see. Because there was a time when God made this deal with the people. It was pretty fair, all things considered. In fact, it was exactly the kind of deal that we want to hear. It was a list of rules, a list of conditions in order to remain in God’s good favor. Follow the rules, keep the law, and everything would be fine. God would be with you, he would protect you, and when the time came, he would take you to be with him forever.
Considering what God was offering, there shouldn’t have been anything he couldn’t ask of his people, and what God was asking wasn’t all that hard. If he was to be your God, then you had to give him the proper worship and honor as God and as far as relating to each other, it was all the sort of stuff anyone would consider basic human decency. Be nice, thoughtful, and fair. And if you messed up a bit here or there, not all hope was lost, you could make a repayment for your crime that would pay for the guilt of it. You would sacrifice something you had to pay for what you’d done. Something else could go in your place. All fair enough, really.
Except the problem was that for as “obvious” and “simple” as anyone would call these rules, nobody was able to keep them. Our society would call them basic human decency, and would say that anyone, properly educated, would be able to follow these rules that basically boil down to thinking about others first. But not one of them was able to do it. Nobody has managed to even go through one day without some selfish action or thought. And anyone who seriously understood how badly they’d failed this covenant would also understand that it was simply impossible to offer enough sacrifices for what they’d done wrong. Day and night they’ve have to be at the temple offering those penalties for breaking the law of God.
It couldn’t be done. No one could earn God’s favor.
And that has not changed in any group that claims there is something you can do to please God. It can’t be done. The demands can’t be met and the penance is never enough. And that was the point of the old covenant. This idea that something I do can make God happy with me; it comes from the depths of the sinful nature. The idea that God can be happy with what I do on my own is pure egotism. It is that old desire to replace God with the self. I can save myself, it says, I do not need God, I can be my own god. The Israelites and everyone since including you and me need to know and be convinced that I cannot make God happy on my own. God’s demands cannot be satisfied by us. The Old Covenant as this deal was called, the law, was never meant to save anyone, it was meant to teach us that we cannot save ourselves.
But that’s only part one of the overall lesson God wants to teach us. Because there is a new covenant, one that teaches us what we really need, what we’re ready for once we’ve learned that we can’t do this ourselves. The author to the Hebrews describes this for us in our reading this evening:
15The Holy Spirit also testifies in Scripture to us, for first he said: 16This is the covenant I will make with them after those days, says the Lord. I will put my laws on their hearts and I will write them on their mind. 17Then he adds: And I will not remember their sins and their lawlessness any longer. 18Now where these sins are forgiven, there is no longer any sacrifice for sin. 19Brothers, we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place through the blood of Jesus. 20It is a new and living way he opened for us through the curtain, that is, his flesh. 21We also have a great priest over the house of God. 22So let us approach with a sincere heart, in the full confidence of faith, because our hearts have been sprinkled to take away a bad conscience, and our bodies have been washed with pure water. 23Let us hold on firmly to the confession of our hope without wavering, since he who promised is faithful. 24Let us also consider carefully how to spur each other on to love and good works. 25Let us not neglect meeting together, as some have the habit of doing. Rather, let us encourage each other, and all the more as you see the Day approaching.
Here it is. “I will not remember their sins and their lawlessness any longer.” (v17) This is the entire basis of the new covenant. The old covenant was a deal: “Do this, and you will be rewarded. Don’t, and you’ll be punished.” We saw how well that turned out. God came with a new covenant. “I will do everything, and you will be rewarded.”
Now this isn’t just arbitrary. God can’t just erase what he’d already set up in the old covenant. The law had to be followed and where it wasn’t followed there had to be sacrifice, in blood. The difference is that now God says, never mind all that. I’ll do it. That is what Jesus is all about. He lived an innocent life completely in line with the law. And he grants you complete and full credit for that life. All the things you are supposed to do, all the things you were supposed to do – as far as God is concerned you’ve done them.
And the failures? The crimes? Again, a payment does need to be made. In blood. And that is the foundation of the new covenant, the blood that was poured out to pay for our crimes. Not just any blood this time, though. The blood of God himself. Poured out for us on the cross, just as we celebrate each time we come to the Lord’s table. This blood is the full sacrifice for all sins. The blood of animals didn’t actually accomplish anything, it was just a symbol for what was coming. The blood of God is valuable enough for all.
This is the new covenant that we enjoy. As the author says here, “Now where these sins are forgiven, there is no longer any sacrifice for sin.” (v18) There is nothing left to do. We cannot contribute anything to this covenant because it has all already been taken care of.
And the blessings it provides to us are immediate. It’s not just the promise of a future, better life. Yes, that will come. But it changes things here and now, too. By the blood of Jesus, we have the confidence to be able to enter into the Most Holy Place. That was the place of the temple where God’s presence dwelt. And by the law no one was allowed to approach except the high priest and then only once a year after special preparation. Sin divides us from God. But where sin has been forgiven, then there is nothing that stops us from approaching God. This point was driven home when Jesus poured out his blood to make this happen. We’ll see that tomorrow night as the curtain in the temple that separated the Most Holy Place was torn in two from top to bottom! Nothing separates us from our God now that the payment for sins has been made.
We can come before him now with our prayers and petitions, confident that we will be heard. We know that we don’t deserve to have our requests considered, we don’t even deserve to be given a hearing. But our God gives you 100% of his undivided attention whenever you approach him, because this new covenant has made it possible.
And this new covenant changes how we live now. As it’s written here, “I will put my laws on their hearts, and I will write them on their mind.” (v16) The law does not work like it used to. Before we had a heart full of sin and the law came to us from the outside, tried to browbeat us into submission out of fear of eternal death, but it never really changed the heart within. Now we have been cleansed from the inside out by our God and we are each a new creation. The new self that is holy at its core. This means the new self naturally does what God required in his law. Not because it is demanded of us, not because there is a threat if we don’t. The new self lives the law just because…that is who it is!
So as the author encourages us here, hold on to the hope that this new covenant brings. Don’t let anyone chain you back to the law and convince you that your actions are going to determine your salvation. As we grow individually weak, the fire of the group keeps your faith burning bright. Encourage each other to hold to the hope of Christ and let others be an encouragement for you. Keep up your meeting together to worship your Lord, not “because you always have,” or “because it’s what you’re ‘sposed to do,” but because of the benefits it brings your faith and your hope.
And as part of that ongoing building up and strengthening of your faith, celebrate the blood of that covenant that was poured out for you. Treat the supper with reverence, not taking it for granted or as some kind of rote formula you follow, but think about it! Treasure it! Celebrate it! Each time you come forward, let the blessings that God pours out to you through it continually strengthen and encourage you. Let it be another proof and reminder that God has done everything for you. The final day is approaching. Whether it is the last day of this world or the last day you set foot on it, let God prepare you, that your sure hope in eternity is built up and strengthened. This evening as we celebrate the institution of the Lord’s Supper, taste and see that the Lord is good. Rejoice in the new covenant he has made for you. Amen.
It’s Holy Week. People everywhere are preparing for special services, religious traditions and special ceremonies. That’s why we’re gathered here tonight. To celebrate a special supper that connects us with Jesus our Savior.
But if you go down the street – to the left about 3 blocks. You’ll find another place of worship. Temple Beth Meyer. A synagogue. There’s another one on Falls of Neuse – Temple Beth El. These are places similar to this church. A place people gather for worship. A place for those of the Jewish faith.
And people who belong to that faith are having a ceremony tonight too. They’re gathering together around 6p. Decorations on the table – blue and white hanging from the ceiling. Everyone sits down and they sing some religious songs and read some religious readings – in Hebrew, not English – but still. They eat some bread. They drink some wine. They say, “Happy Passover” in Hebrew.
But as similar as it might sound.
It is not the same ceremony that we’re having.
It’s not the Lord’s Supper.
Is Passover something that is completely Jewish?
Does is have nothing to do with Christianity?
Is something of a different religion? Or does it help us connect with Jesus?
Tonight we’re looking at the institution of the Passover in Exodus 12. We’re going to see that a correct interpretation of the Passover not only is very Christian – but connects us to Jesus. Let’s say a prayer and ask God to help us: Lord, strengthen us by the truth, your Word is truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see; open our ears to hear what you want us to hear; open our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. A Jewish Celebration
This takes place in Exodus 12. A brief summary of what’s going on. The Jewish people have been slaves in Egypt for 400 years. God heard their cries for help and God decided to use his miraculous power to set them free. He does this through a man named Moses. God uses Moses to send messages to the king of Egypt – Pharaoh.
The conversation quickly becomes very repetitive. Moses tells Pharaoh to let the Jews go. Pharaoh refuses. Moses says that God will send a plague if he doesn’t. Pharaoh still refuses. God sends a plague (millions of locusts all over the land, frogs in your kitchen and bedrooms and bathrooms, a giant hailstorm to destroy all the crops, a week of nothing but darkness over all the land). Pharaoh summons for Moses. He pleads with Moses to pray to God to stop the plagues – then he’ll let the people go. Moses prays. God stops the plagues. And Pharaoh says, “Just kidding. You are still my slaves.”
Until we get to the tenth plague. God tells Moses. “Moses, Pharaoh will let you go this time. Because this plague is awful. This plague is terrifying. I will send the angel of death to kill the firstborn son of every family in Egypt—from the maidservant all the way to Pharaoh’s family. The son will die.”
But God didn’t want that terribly sad result to happen for the people of Israel. Not for his people – believers. He tells Moses the following:
“This month is to be for you the first month, the first month of your year. 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. 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 here are. You are to determine the amount of lamb needed in accordance with what each person will eat. The animals you choose must be year-old males without defect, and you may take them from the sheep or the goats. Take care of them until the fourteenth day of the month, when all the members of the community of Israel must slaughter them at twilight.” (Exodus 12:2-6)
The initial instructions are interesting. God tells the Israelites to get themselves a lamb. Not from the store. Not from the local Whole Foods. Not even from the local Gyro restaurant. (I don’t even know if Gyros were around back then). They are to go out back, grab one of the lambs that their family owns, one that’s almost been like a pet to them – providing wool, blankets, clothing.
And kill it. Clean it. Wash it. Prepare it.
Then, eat it.
But notice it isn’t just any lamb. It’s the lamb without defect. There weren’t any spots on it where the wool wasn’t coming in. There weren’t any sickly parts. There weren’t any malformed limbs or cross-eyed lambs being sacrificed.
The best lambs were killed.
The ones that were in great condition.
The ones that were perfect.
But they weren’t just using the lamb for food. They were also using it for exterior trim paint.
Then they are to take some of the blood and put it on the sides and tops of the door frames of the houses where they eat the lambs.
Picture that – Blood drained into a bucket. A paint brush. Dipping it into the blood. Painting it carefully, gruesomely over the frame of the house.
On that same night I will pass through Egypt and strike down every firstborn of both people and animals and I will bring judgment on all the gods of Egypt. I am the Lord. 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.
God’s wrath will pass over.
God’s wrath will pass over because of the blood.
God’s wrath will pass over because of the blood of the Lamb.
That’s what happens. The angel of wrath kills the first-born sons of the unbelieving, unrepentant, rebellious Egyptians. But He has mercy on all who trust God’s Word and trust in the blood of the lamb. The Israelites are set free.
That’s a big deal. A moment in history that the Jewish people want to remember. It’s why they celebrated Passover for years after that – to remember God’s mercy to the Jewish people.
II. With Worldwide Consequences
Fast forward thousands of years. That’s exactly the meal that Jesus was celebrating with his disciples. They were eating the unleavened bread so they could remember how quickly this happened. Eating the bitter herbs to remember the slavery of Egypt. Eating the lamb to remember the lamb and drinking the wine to remember its blood.
But in the middle of the meal Jesus does something different.
He took bread, gave thanks and gave it to his disciples saying, “Take and eat; this is my body; given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way after supper, he took the cup, gave thanks and gave it to his disciples saying, “Drink from it all of you; this cup is the new covenant in my blood which is shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.” (Matthew 26:26-28)
Why? That’s not how the Passover meal goes.
1 Peter 1:19 says this, “Jesus is a lamb without blemish or defect.” That’s not a reference to his appearance. It doesn’t mean that every piece of beard hair was in perfect order. It means he was perfect. He had no moral flaws. He never rebelled against God. He always obeyed God. He had no sins.
1 Corinthians 5:7 says this, “Christ our Passover Lamb has been sacrificed.” He was killed on a cross. He shed his blood. His body is broken. His blood is spilled – it’s painted on wooden frame. Whoever believes in him is covered by his blood. God’s wrath against his sin passes over him or her. His wrath passes over you.
In fact, that was the point of the original Passover – the whole time! Look at what Colossians 2:16-17 says, “Don’t let anyone judge you with regard to a religious festival…These are a shadow of things to come. The reality is found in Jesus.”
That means the Passover was like a shadow. Shadows aren’t real. If you see a shadow on the ground, try to step on it. It won’t feel it. You need to follow the shadow to the real thing. The real thing casts the shadow.
The Passover is the shadow. What is it casting the shadow?
He’s the real Passover Lamb. He’s the real perfect Lamb. He’s the one whose real blood covers our sins. He’s the one that gave the original Passover lambs their strength. He’s the one who really shows God’s mercy. He’s the one that the Passover lambs were pointing to for thousands of years.
The Lord’s Supper, then, make a wondrous connection with the Passover. As the Passover pointed forward to Jesus – the Lord’s Supper points backwards to Jesus.
More than that it points downward to His Word where he promises us forgiveness of sins, life and salvation in this supper. It even points upwards as it reminds us of God’s final plan for us – because of His mercy – because of the lamb – because of the blood of THE PASSOVER Lamb.
I look forward to celebrating the death of the Passover Lamb with you tonight. Amen.
A Devotion Based on Luke 22:19-20
19 And Jesus 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."
John pulled his tunic over his nose. It was a bit chilly outside the city. No walls to cover the wind and no trees to block its bitterness.
Well…not any living trees.
Before John stood a tree that had been transformed into a torture device. It was an instrument of execution. A terrifying spectacle that no one in the ancient Roman world wanted anything to do with.
On that cross hung someone very dear to John. Someone John looked up to. Someone John learned from. It was his mentor, his teacher, his friend.
It was Jesus.
John stood there in agony. With Jesus’ own mother, Mary clinging to his side. How awful it must be for her! His Lord was Mary’s Son. The One that she had brought into the world was leaving the world before her very eyes.
And in a cruel way! His body was broken. His skull had been broken open by the thorn. His hands were broken by a nail. His feet were broken by another nail. His lungs were breaking as his strength withered. Soon his heart would break and all that would be left was a broken, defeated, body.
And his Blood was poured out. It was pouring out of those holes in his head, pouring out of the holes in his right hand, pouring out of the hole in his left hand, pouring down the back of the cross from the wounds covering the back of Jesus…pouring from his feet and pouring from his mouth as his body began to shut down.
His poor friend. Jesus was broken. Jesus was poured out.
Wait…John had heard that somewhere before.
The night before John had joined the other disciples and Jesus for a traditional Passover meal. They had traditional bitter herbs to remember the bitter herbs of slavery in Egypt that their ancestors endured. They ate traditional unleavened bread as their ancestors had so they were ready to leave Egypt at a moment’s notice. They served traditional lamb as a reminder of the blood of a lamb that caused the angel of death to Passover those Israelites houses that night in Egypt.
It was a traditional meal, until Jesus did something untraditional.
Jesus took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to his disciples saying, “This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.” (Lk. 22:19)
Strange. That wasn’t a normal part of the meal. That wasn’t a part of any Passover memory.
Then, Jesus took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you.” (Lk. 22:20)
Stranger. This definitely wasn’t a part of the meal. Sure, they drank some traditional wine. Sure, the wine had some meaning, but that meaning reached back thousands of years to the Old Testament. The Passover was a remembrance of what happened in the past...not a glimpse ahead into the future?
And how could it be his body? His body was handing him the bread, not in the bread.
And how could it be his blood? Unless he had a blister from the rubbing of his sandals, there wasn’t a drop of blood on him.
This didn’t make any sense.
At least not then. But now…now as John stared at Jesus’ broken body and his dripping blood – the truth could not escape him. Jesus was right. His body was broken. His blood was shed. Jesus was the embodiment of that meal.
Which meant that they had been wrong about the Passover meal for thousands of years. It wasn’t just a link to the past, but for thousands of years it had been a predictor of the future. John the Baptist was right – Jesus was truly True Lamb of God.
Jesus was right, he had truly given up his body. He had truly shed his blood.
But if Jesus was right about that, maybe he was right about something else he said last night.
“This is my body…given for you. This is my blood….poured out for you.”
For you. For you.
John found it hard to believe; yet he was convinced that he needed it. John’s life had been filled with pride. He had even had the audacity to ask for a position at Jesus’ right hand. And he had been known to be argumentative, a Son of Thunder, selfishly attacking his fellow disciples.
And last night? Last night he had let Jesus get arrested. He had abandoned him. Sure, he had been at the trial. Sure he was there at the cross, but he was also doing nothing of consequence to stop what was happening to his friend.
He had sinned. He knew what the Old Testament sacrifices had taught. Sin deserved death. There was no forgiveness without the shedding of blood.
That truth did not escape him, he deserved sin’s consequence. He deserved to have his body broken. He deserved to have his blood shed. He deserved to die!
But Jesus…Jesus had said…Given for you. Poured out for you.
He had been right about it’s happening. Could he be right about it’s effect?
Friends, we’ve got the benefit of seeing what happens after his body is broken and laid to rest. We get the benefit of seeing what happens after all his blood is shed.
Jesus returns to life.
It is nothing less than proof that what Jesus said on the first Maundy Thursday was indefinitely, completely, and absolutely true.
Do you have sin just like John? Maybe you’ve got sin that burdens your conscience. Perhaps you’ve got guilt that bothers you to the core. Maybe you’ve got the unshakeable feeling that you can’t be forgiven.
Listen to Jesus’ words: My body broken for you. My blood shed for you.
Those words were recorded.
Those words contain eternal truth.
Those words don’t just talk about John.
They talk about you.
It means you have sin. You deserve death. You need a Savior.
It means Jesus took your sins. It means Jesus died. It means Jesus is your Savior.
In a moment, we will receive the Lord’s Supper. When you receive that Lord’s Supper, you will be receiving his body which was broken on the cross for you. You will be receiving his blood which was shed on the cross for you. You will be receiving true and complete forgiveness.
See Jesus. Trust Jesus. Believe Jesus. Amen.