Wednesday, March 15, 2017

“Follow Me”...into a New Covenant With God

We all have habits. Some are good, some not so good. For instance, maybe you have the habit of attending church. Hopefully going to church is more than just a habit, but nonetheless, we can have far worse habits. Some habits are not so good. Perhaps they cause stress, lead to health issues, waste inordinate amounts of time, etc. But the point is that we know what habits are, and we all have them.

But beyond the specific idea of habits, we all probably do several things not necessarily because of habit, but because it is the way we learned to do some task. For instance, it is said that the width of our modern railroad tracks dates back to the chariots pulled by Roman horses. While the exact nature of this claim is in doubt, the width is very similar (4 ft, 8 ½ inches), and it is possible that the ancient width does have a bearing on the current tracks.

The story goes something like this. The American rails were originally developed by former Europeans, largely British. Using the same materials they had used in Europe made sense, so the standard carried over. Why were the European rails 4 ft, 8.5 inches? Because the pre-rail trams used that width? Why did the trams use that width? Because that was the width of wagon wheels which measured as such to match the ruts in the roads? Why were the ruts that wide because that was the width of the wheels of a Roman war chariot? And, finally, why was the Roman chariots wheels placed that far apart? Because 4 ft, 8.5 inches was the width a chariot needed to be to accommodate the size of two war horses! (Again, some refute the exactness of this, but the essence is likely true.)

The point here is not about train tracks or chariots, but rather how seemingly minute details can make a difference for generations and even centuries. Such was the case with the original Passover. God instituted this idea when the Israelites were still slaves in Egypt. The Passover was very much the story of how and why Pharaoh finally gave into Moses plea to “Let my people go.” A very short time later, God would prescribe the Passover to be celebrated annually with a feast. By the time of Jesus, the Passover had been celebrated for well over 1000 years, and perhaps for almost 1500 years. So, for as many as 1500 years, by the time Jesus gathered with His disciples, the story had been told and the rituals had been followed – year by year – as a reminder of their freedom from their bondage to Egypt.

And, with one little word, Jesus changes the long-standing tradition. But it is that change, and it is His reason, why we come together today. And that reason is wedged inside of another Markan sandwich – a sandwich which contrasts the faithfulness of Jesus to the faithlessness of those who follow.

The Preparation For Many (Mark 14.12-16)

Passover was a time of great celebration in Jerusalem. Deutoronomy 16.5-9 says that the Passover was to be celebrated in the place where God would establish His presence. Thus, Jerusalem, and every able-bodies male was supposed to attend. In 66 AD, the year the temple was finally completed, it is reported that 225,000 lambs were slaughtered for sacrifice. Therefore, we must understand the celebration was a bloody one, but one which would have seen somewhere between one and two million people in the city.

To find a place to be together would require advance reservations. And Jesus apparently made such reservations. The disciples are worried about where they will eat, but Jesus is not and sends two disciples into the city (Peter and John according to Luke 22.8).

A couple of oddities are presented here. First, the key is that the two disciples will see a man carrying water. In that day, it was the woman’s job to do so. So, this is a great way for the disciples to know they have found the right man. However, notice the end of verse 13. It does not say they will find the man, it says the man will meet them. Essentially, the man will find Peter and John, and they will know it is the correct man because he will be carrying a jar of water. This may still sound fine, but consider what I just said about the number of people who would have been in Jerusalem (i.e. the streets). I truly believe that Jesus made plans in advance as well as relied on divine wisdom. Certainly, a full message, if not a series, could be preached on that one concept, but for now I simply make the point that we should make preparations, yet look to God for guidance in fulfilling our plans (see Proverbs 16.9; James 4.13-17).

Verse 16, says the two disciples found that matters were just as Jesus described. The idea of the room being furnished means that it had a paved floor, but that is also likely had rugs, and maybe couches. Regardless of the details, the disciples made the necessary preparations. I must expand this principle a bit. The disciples found that what Jesus said was perfectly correct and they did what was necessary. But as we will see in the fourth point, Jesus makes another statement about what will happen, and all of the disciples deny the truth of what Jesus says. We can either choose to believe that all of what Jesus says is truth, or we can choose to believe ourselves. I am not saying that the outcome of believing the choice is easy, but if we claim to trust Jesus, then we must always choose His truth – especially when we don’t like what He asks us to do.

The Prediction For One (Mark 14.17-21)

It is now evening. The matter of which evening is debatable. Differences do appear to exist between John and the other gospel accounts, but Scripture does not contradict itself. Thus, any real (or perceived) differences will always have an explanation, even if we don’t completely understand the differences. While these discussions can help us better understand the processes, the overall principle is already clear.

The principle that needs to be addressed in this set of verses is that Jesus spends far more time focusing on the idea of betrayal than He does on the actual meal – at least, as the gospel writers record it. It is in the context of lounging and eating together that Jesus makes the troubling statement about His betrayal. He does not reveal who it is, though He gives a clue, that apparently was missed by the others because they each ask, “Is it I?”

The most troubling aspect in this moment was the breach of etiquette that Jesus was suggesting. In ancient times, to eat a meal with someone was an act of friendship and devotion. Certainly, business-type lunches would have happened, but here we note they are reclining together. Distant friends may eat near one another, but intimate friends share a meal together. The disciples were sharing a meal together with their Master.

And once again, Jesus predicts that what is about to happen is by design. Within hours, the peace and security that the disciples have known will be turned upside-down as they watch their Lord be taken from them. And, in this moment their question is not, “What can we do?” Rather, their question is, “It’s not me, Jesus. Is it?” Jesus doesn’t answer their question, but He does say that the one responsible would have been better off had He not been born.

It is well-noted that Judas is actively doing the will of God here. Someone was going to betray Jesus. Elsewhere, it says that at this moment, Satan enters Judas. But did Judas have a choice? Remember, last week we saw that it was Judas who went to the religious leaders with intent to betray Jesus. The choices Judas made in the past led to this moment when he would be the agent to fulfill God’s purposes. We all have choices on how to live and whether, or not, to follow God. Those that choose to follow will be a part of God’s solution to the problems in our world. Those who do not follow cause challenges for those who do. But in no way, is God unprepared. He has a plan. And it will be fulfilled – in His time, and in His way.

The Presentation Of One (Mark 14.22-25)

We now turn to what most people consider the focal part of this passage – because of what Jesus does. I must say that I did before really studying this passage this week. Again, Jesus spends a couple of verses redefining a tradition. But the fullness of this passage shows the preceding four verses and four of the five verses to follow talking about betrayal. Thus, verses 22-25, are indeed important, but not because of what Jesus does, but rather Who He is. In the middle of Jesus focus on a lack of remaining faithful, Jesus shows us what true faithfulness is.

But before I unpack that thought, let me briefly share a few thoughts on the meal and what Jesus did do. First, this meal had very traditional aspects. It wasn’t like a Thanksgiving meal where we sit down and someone prays and someone might tell a story or some other family tradition. For the Passover, the exact words and the exact order are important. Any deviation was/is unwelcome.

Therefore, what Jesus said was shocking to His disciples that night. Usually, the family head would hold a piece of bread and say: “This is the bread of our affliction, which our fathers ate in the wilderness.” Jesus alteration – “This is my body” is basically like saying “This is the bread of MY affliction.” When Jesus held up the bread, all was normal. By the time, He had finished the sentence, the disciples would have been stunned!

Then Jesus did the same thing with the cup. In this case, Jesus equates the wine to His blood. This is symbolic, but to a Jew, the mere thought was appalling. A good Jew would not eat any blood from any animal. We think nothing of it when we take the Lord’s Supper. We know it is symbolic, but some of you like your meat quite rare! This was detestable to a Jew.

However, the cup is but one of four cups used during the Passover meal. Scripture does not clearly indicate which cup Jesus means in this moment, but the four cups come from Exodus 6.6-7. Biblically, a cup often symbolizes the wrath of God in some way. If we think of Jesus prayer in the Garden (which we will review next week), He asks that the cup could pass from Him.

What are the four cups?
  • I will take (bring) you out
  • I will save (deliver) you
  • I will redeem you
  • I will make you a nation (take you to be my people)

In making the statement about the cup representing Jesus blood, the disciples would have been shocked. But they also would know that Jesus was the one who would bring them out of bondage – that Jesus was the one who would save them. That Jesus was the one through whom they would be redeemed. And that Jesus was the one who would call them to be His people. And what was true for them on that night is true for us today as well.

Finally, one more point about Jesus presenting Himself as the One.
  • At the baptism of Jesus, a voice from heaven declared: This is My Son – 1.11
  • On a mountain top, a few disciples were with Jesus when they heard: This is My Son – 9.7
  • At this Passover meal, the disciples with Jesus heard Him say: This is My Body – 14.22
  • And then, later in the meal: This is My Blood – 14.24

The statements of “This is My…” originated with the Father in heaven. Now, in Jesus final hours, He provides one more piece of evidence that He, indeed, is God, by claiming the “This is My…” phrase for Himself.

Shortly afterward, Jesus and His disciples left the upper room and traveled to the Mount of Olives. On the way, they sang a hymn – which would have been from Psalm 113 through 118, and most likely from 116-118 (the Hallel hymns.) At this moment that the disciples should have felt empowered to do anything, but instead, they heard Jesus begin to talk about betrayal again.

The Prediction Of Many (Mark 14.26-31)

In verses 17-21, Jesus predicted that one would betray Him. Now, in verse 27, the focal word becomes “all” – used by Jesus here, by Peter in verse 29, and then in a general statement about the promise of every remaining disciple in verse 31 (Judas was not with them at this time).

What started as a painful, but simple, understanding for the disciples – that one of them would betray Jesus, had now become a challenge to their very core as individuals, and as a group. If you recall, in Mark 13, the common theme was to endure to the end. That chapter was reviewed over three weeks with a continual focus on Jesus’ call for His disciples to endure, then relating our need to endure as well. Jesus did not waste His words. He knew the disciples needing to be encouraged, because He knew they would soon fall away. Notice the reality of them falling away.
  • Last week, in verses 10-11, we saw the Judas fell away (in part, due to greed).
  • Next week, in verses 37-42, weakness will cause several to fall asleep. In verse 50-52, all the disciples, and a young man (almost certainly Mark), will flee in fear.
  • In two weeks, Peter will be a coward and deny Jesus in verses 66-72.

The all who drank the cup (v. 23) and promise to be faithful (v. 31), are the same individuals who all fell away just a short time later. Yet, Jesus spent His last hours of freedom with them – not condemning them, but rather eating with them – not because they were worthy, but because of His grace. The disciples could not fathom that they were unworthy of Jesus. In their minds, they were hand-picked, and thus were worthy of being with Him, eating with Him, serving beside Him, and even dying with Him (verse 31). But Jesus does not select us based upon our worthiness. It is not our merit that makes Him notice us. It is only by His grace that He would eat with a group of sinners and traitors then. And it is only by His grace that we – as modern-day sinners and traitors of our Lord, can be found worthy to be with Him.

Indeed, as we have seen, each, and every, disciple would abandon Jesus. His last hours would not be in the comfort of friends, but alone and deserted. But He told them beforehand what would happen so they after He returned, and had a time to nourish them, they would be ready to take on the world.

Do you need to know that Jesus still cares for you? Do you need to know that Jesus still loves you? Have you fallen away and wonder if He would still invite you to dine with Him?

The answers are these: He does still care! He does love you! He wants to dine with you! The past is behind – nothing can be changed other than our response to it. God can forgive the past because as Jesus showed in these verses today, He knows the future. Jesus presence with the disciples at this last supper should be all the proof we need that He would eat with us if we will take the time to eat with Him, despite what we have done in the past or will do in the future.

JOURNEY: That is why our JOURNEY letter for the week is: JJesus.

It is Jesus who was and is faithful, not us. Our faithfulness to Him comes because of our trust in Him. God alone is faithful, but He is waiting for each one of us to turn and say, “God, let me be faithful to You.”

OPPORTUNITY: Embrace any necessary change. To be faithful to God, some here need to change the way things are done. Maybe you have been taught something years ago, and you have realized it is wrong, but like the railroad tracks and Roman chariots, you keep doing it because that is what you have always done.  Maybe, it is time to change some traditions, or some beliefs, or some practice. Whatever it is, Jesus shows that not all change is bad. But, as we follow Jesus, our change must be inspired by, and led by, Him.

REMEMBRANCE: Do this, in remembrance of Me. We celebrate the Lord’s Supper in remembrance of the sacrifice He made. As I said a few weeks ago, we can never get to a place on this side of eternity where we no longer need the saving grace of Jesus. Furthermore, we can only enter into eternity with God through His saving grace. Today, we take time to collectively take the bread and then the cup – all in remembering what He did for us on the cross.

NEXT STEP(S): Prepare for the Lord’s Supper by asking yourself: Lord, is it I? What must I confess to be ready for this meal? (Our church partook of the Lord’s Supper this week.)

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