As I mentioned last week, I am doing a sermon series for Lent. Lent is the season that begins with Ash Wednesday and goes through the Saturday before Easter. Normally during Lent, the Lectionary calls for reading from Jesus’ ministry leading up to Palm Sunday. You’ve heard those Scriptures proclaimed numerous times. Ministers around the world are always trying to bring fresh ideas to the church, like sermon series that are theme based. I chose to do a sermon series this Lent on Jesus’ final week. We don’t often read the Scriptures of Jesus’ final week, because we don’t come to church during the week between Palm Sunday and Easter.
Palm Sunday is the Sunday before Easter. Many of your calendars will say that it is Palm Sunday, because it is an important day in the church. Palm Sunday begins what is known as Holy Week. Holy Week is the week between Palm Sunday and Easter and we are to remember the stories of Jesus final week.
Last week, I read the story of Palm Sunday and preached on that story and we sang Palm Sunday hymns. In order to read the Scriptures that tell the story of Jesus’ final week during Lent, I needed to start with the story of Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem. I had hoped to have palms last week. We will have palms on the Palm Sunday that appears on your calendar; however, on that Sunday, I will read the story of Jesus’ conviction and sentencing and preach about that event. Today, we move to the story of Thursday’s Last Supper.
As I said last week, Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem was a politically charged parade for the peasants whom Jesus had preached the Gospel to and they shouted their pleas for Him to bring them salvation. They had hoped He would bring an end to the Roman occupation of Jerusalem and reestablish the kingdom of Israel. His Disciples had thought He would do just that as they followed Him around the countryside traveling from village to village to listen to His stories about the Kingdom of God. As He entered Jerusalem, He fed the people’s belief that He was the Messiah to save Jerusalem by His act of political defiance.
Jerusalem was part of the Roman Empire. The Roman Emperor, Caesar Augustus, had set King Herod Antipas as king of Galilee which is where Jesus taught. King Herod had named Pontius Pilate as the governor of Judaea including Jerusalem that Jesus has now entered. King Herod had appointed Caiaphas has the High Priest of the Temple and was using the Temple to govern Jerusalem and collect the taxes owed to the empire which corrupted Temple leadership.
Today, we read the story of the Last Supper which is the Thursday of Holy Week. Up to this point, Caiaphas and the chief priests have been plotting to kill Jesus. Judas has been recruited and agreed to betray Jesus. Judas had finally caught on to Jesus’ teaching about the kingdom of God and that Jesus had no plans to restore the kingdom of Israel. Judas was disappointed in Jesus, because Jesus was not living up to expectations of the Messiah.
The Bible tells us that after Judas had conspired with the Temple he gathers with Jesus and the Disciples for the Last Supper. The Last Supper is the Passover meal the men ate together that night. The Passover meal commemorates the Passover meal of the Old Testament. In Exodus, the Passover meal is instituted on the night of the Hebrews last night as slaves in Egypt. God tells Moses to have the people prepare a dinner than be ready to leave. The Passover meal consisted of lamb with bitter herbs and unleavened bread. The Hebrew people were asked to use the blood of the slaughtered lambs to mark the doorposts of their homes. God would slaughter the firstborn of all the Egyptians, but Passover the houses marked with lamb’s blood. Then, the Hebrews could leave Egypt and set out for the Promised Land.
When Jesus ate the Passover meal with His Disciples, they were eating a meal commanded by God to eat in remembrance of the meal eaten by the Hebrews on their last night of oppression. The meal was a reminded of God’s redemption action in the history of the Jews. The Passover meal Jesus ate would have consisted of lamb seasoned with bitter herbs, fruit, nuts, vegetables, and unleavened bread with wine. Jesus ate the meal with His Disciples, not only to remember God’s redemptive action, but also as a sign of the coming redemptive action of God.
Jesus gave the Passover meal new meaning when He spoke of His body and blood represented by the unleavened bread and wine. As they were eating, Jesus took bread, and when He had given thanks, he broke it, as was the custom to break it in half, and gave it to His Disciples, saying, “Take and eat; this is my body.” Then he took a cup, there would have been 4 cups of wine, according to Passover custom, after giving thanks for the wine, he gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you. This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. I tell you, I will not drink from this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.”
All of the New Testament stories about the Last Supper quote Him as saying a few slightly different details. In Luke, Jesus is remembered to have said that His body was “given for you” (Luke 22:19). And, Jesus says the cup is a new covenant. Paul, in 1 Corinthians 11 indicates that the church was saying that the bread is “for you” and the cup is a “new covenant.” We do all this in remembrance of Jesus as He commanded. We read the words of Jesus at the Table today because these are the words He said to institute what we know as the Lord’s Supper.
As they were eating, Jesus announced that one of the Disciples would betray Him. Just as Judas was disappointed in Jesus for not living up to his expectations of the Messiah, Jesus is disappointed in Judas for betraying Him. Jesus was disappointed in someone who He had invited to be a part of His inner circle and who He had dined with regularly.
Judas had been passionate about His faith in Jesus, but he thought Jesus had let him down. Jesus was not going to restore the kingdom of Israel. So, Judas thought he would sell his faith for 30 pieces of silver and betray the One who is the Messiah, just in a different way than Judas had imagined (For more on Judas’ passionate faith and disappointment, see: David Lose, In The Meantime, “Matthew 26: 14 – 16, http://www.davidlose.net/2014/03/matthew-26-14-16/).
I think we could say that we have been disappointed by God. Not that He wasn’t there. God has disappointed us by the way He has answered our prayers. It isn’t often that God answers our prayers in the way we had hoped for or the way we anticipated. We often find that God answers our prayers in ways that we hadn’t thought of and in just the right way to lead to our salvation in whatever situation we prayed. This is what Judas experienced. He was disappointed that Jesus was not answering his prayer for a Savior in the way he expected, but Jesus was saving him in a different way.
We can also understand Jesus’ disappointment in Judas. How often have we been betrayed by a friend? How often have we been disappointed by a friend? We have expectations of our friends to be loyal and honest and present in our lives, but people we count as friends may tell others our secrets or not be there for us in difficult times.
I think the church can disappoint us too. I answered the call to ministry, because I was disappointed in my church. They had welcomed me and invited me to participate in Bible study and women’s group. As I become more involved, I saw how dysfunctional they were and how much they failed to love one another. Some people didn’t want to be involved in leadership, but were very vocal in their criticism of those who were leaders. There were 3 worship service and one group was jealous that one of the other groups was quickly growing. Some would say that they would leave the church if things weren’t done the way they thought was best. Others would just go and do whatever they thought was best and not consider the unity of the church.
I’m sure you remember a time when this church was much like that church. People doing whatever they thought was best. People being critical of leadership. People not wanting to be a part of the solution. The church was disappointing you, but you saw that it was capable of being a healthy and vital congregation. So, you stuck with it and resolved your differences. You became a unified body.
This is going to be important as we adopt the new vision and plan the steps needed to realize the ministries that are part of the vision. We need to be one unified body. We need to think about what is best for the collective group. We need to not be critical of others. If we see a problem, we need to be willing to talk it out and resolve the matter, then let it go. If we don’t understand something, we need to ask questions. Individuals can’t go off doing whatever they want to no matter their good intentions. We need to stick to the plan and work as a team.
Most of all, I need your support. It was the first item of every year of the last plan and I hope it will continue to be important. You have been very supportive of my ministry and we’ve worked well together as a team. I hope that continues, because I can’t be an effective leader without your confidence that I will lead you in spiritual growth and to fulfill your plans.
You know, Jesus and the Disciples sang a hymn after they ate dinner, so let’s sing a hymn.