What's it all about? - Luke 22:7-23

This is a sermon by Nathan Buttery from the morning service on 21st December 2003.

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It's been dubbed the "one film to rule them all" and it is set to be only the second film in history to break the $1 billion mark in takings. The Return of the King, the final film in the Lord of the Rings trilogy hits our cinema screens this Christmas, and already it promises to become one of the biggest film phenomena of all time. On the very first day the trailer was released, 1.6 million people downloaded it from the internet. Millions have been spent on the films, but profits for all three films including DVD's and merchandising will go well into the billions. Peter Jackson, the director, is set to be about $150 million richer for the enterprise, which is not a bad profit, since the price Tolkien originally agreed for the film rights years ago was Some of the statistics surrounding the films betray what a huge task it has been. 12.5 million rings of chain link armour were made for the costumes by two costume makers who now have no fingerprints left after doing it for three years. 1,600 pairs of rubber ears and feet were used for the actors playing the hobbits. 26,000 extras were used for the crowd scenes. And most impressive of all, of coffee was drunk during filming. But what struck me most of all as I watched the trailer for the final film were these words which were flashed across the screen as the story was being told. "There can be no triumph without loss, no victory without suffering, no freedom without sacrifice." And if you watch the films you'll discover that that is exactly right. "There can be no triumph without loss, no victory without suffering, no freedom without sacrifice."

And if you wanted a suitable headline for our passage this morning which comes from Luke 22, there you couldn't do much better than that. Because this morning we are looking at another spectacular drama, but with this one, there is a big difference. For the script writer, the director and the lead actor are all the same person, and that person is the Lord Jesus Christ. And this is no make believe fantasy world, but the very real world in which you and I live, and an event which happened in real time and history years ago but which affects us in the most profound way possible 20 centuries later.

In Luke 22, the scene is Jesus' last supper with his disciples in the upper room. Later that night he'll be betrayed, arrested, beaten and flogged and put through a mockery of a trial, before the next morning being nailed to a cross and executed. And Jesus knows what is going to happen. And he knows his betrayer is at the table with him. And yet he calmly eats this last meal with his friends, and indeed says that he has eagerly desired to eat it with them. How can that be? How can he sit there knowing what will happen to him? For the simple reason that he knows that this is what must happen. For his death is the reason why Jesus came. He knows he has been on the road to Calvary since his birth, and now, the night before, nothing will stop him from fulfilling his mission. And it is very clear that Jesus is the one in control. He is the one who sends the two disciples off to make secret preparations according to Jesus' prearranged plans. He is the one who prophecies about the betrayer Judas. He is the one who will willingly gives himself up to the authorities to be put to death. Jesus is the one in control. Not the Jews, not Judas, not even the devil. But Jesus. And so this final night before his death is very carefully orchestrated, like some well crafted and ordered drama presentation. The script has been written, the director is guiding the proceedings, and the lead actor takes the centre stage. But this time it is for real. And in this very important passage, Jesus is explaining to us what his death means in context of the Passover feast, and he is preparing his disciples so that they will be cross focussed for the rest of the history of the world until Jesus returns. And that is a message that Jesus wants us to come back to time and again in our Christian lives, for the simple reason that we need to, for our own spiritual health. For to forget the cross or move away from it is to put ourselves in very serious spiritual danger. So what then does Jesus teach us in this passage about his death, about his sacrifice?

1) A Sacrifice Planned for us in the Past

Well the first lesson Jesus teaches us is that his sacrifice was planned for us in the past. And looking back to the past was exactly what Jesus and his disciples were doing that Thursday night in the upper room. Have a look at verses 7-8: "Then came the day of Unleavened Bread on which the Passover lamb had to be sacrificed. Jesus sent Peter and John, saying, 'Go and make preparations for us to eat the Passover.'" They were celebrating the Passover festival, one of the most important events in the Jewish calendar. It was a religious festival which was full of national significance. All the family would get together and celebrate it as one. It was a sort of Christmas and Remembrance Day experience all rolled into one. It was a time of celebration but also solemn remembrance. Because the Passover was set up by God to help the people of Israel remember an event that took place 1500 years before, when they were brought out of slavery in Egypt. If you know the story, you'll remember that the people were slaves under Pharaoh, and he would not let them go. The different aspects of the meal helped the people remember different aspects of the nation's experience. They would eat bitter herbs which would remind them of the bitter life in Egypt; grated apples recalled the clay from which Jews made bricks for the Egyptians; red wine reminded them of the Pharaoh's cruelty when, punished by leprosy, he bathed in the blood of Jewish children in order to be cured; salt water was put in a dish on the table to remind of the waves of the Red Sea. But the most significant was the unleavened bread, bread baked without yeast and the lamb. Pharaoh you see had refused to let Israel leave, despite God sending nine savage plagues on the land of Egypt. But the tenth was to be the most devastating. Every firstborn son and animal was to be killed one night as the angel of death passed over the land. It was God's worst judgement on the land to date. But for the Jews there was a away of escape. As evening drew in, the Jews were to kill a firstborn lamb and daub it's blood on their doorframes. That way, the angel would see that a life had already been taken in that household and he would pass by. The family would then eat the lamb and the bread which did not have time to rise, because that night they would be leaving Egypt. Because the next morning when the land awoke, there was devastation across Egypt as every firstborn son had been killed from the firstborn in Pharaoh's palace to the lowest slave.

Think about your own family for a moment and consider the firstborn sons. In mine, I'd be dead, my Dad, my father in law, and my brother in law. Half the family would be killed, were it not for that lamb's blood we'd put on the door. Think of one family where the little firstborn son Joshua has heard what is going to be happening. He's scared of the angel of death, so he says to his Dad at teatime. "Dad, have you put the blood on the door yet? ""Not yet son, he says. I'll do it later." Well about 8pm, Josh goes to his Dad and says, "Dad have you put the blood on the door yet?" "Not yet, son, after the news." Well about 10pm, Joshua is getting worried. He cannot sleep and he's tossing and turning, so he comes downstairs to speak to Dad. Dad is watching the Premiership highlights of the top of the table clash between Alexandria City and Cairo United, and Dad says, "Don't worry son, I'll do it later." Well it gets to 11:45pm, and Josh is really sick with fear. So he rushes downstairs and says to his Dad: "Dad have you done it yet?" And Dad says: "Yes, it's done. The blood is on the door." And when midnight strikes, there are screams all across the land. But as Joshua's Dad goes upstairs, he finds Joshua is sleeping soundly. Because something else has died in his place.

You see that night there was a death in every household as God acted in judgement. For the Egyptians who refused to bow the knee to God, there was a terrible price to pay, as their firstborns were killed. But for the Jews, who trusted in God's provision of a rescue, there was hope. Something else stepped into their place and paid the price of death. As little Joshua came out of his house the next day, he could honestly say: "That lamb died where I should have died. That Passover lamb saved my life and took my judgement." And as a result the people were given freedom and a new life as God's people. And it was that staggering event on Passover night that was built into the collective memory of the people of Israel. And every year they remembered it. They ate the bread, they drank the wine and they gave thanks to God he had provided something else to die for them. And they remembered it because a past event, God's rescue had a present significance, since they were God's rescued people living in freedom.

Now that story from Exodus should be ringing large bells for us as Christians. Because as we will see in a moment, this Passover experience for the people of Israel was a foreshadowing of a far greater rescue that God would provide in his Son Jesus for you and me. It was not just an end in itself. It was part of God's preparation for the coming of his Saviour-King, Jesus Christ. And the point that Jesus is making in this passage is that he is the Passover Lamb par excellence. He is the fulfilment. Everything in the OT points to him. Later after he has risen from the dead, Jesus will say to his disciples: "Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms." And Jesus saying to us, "See how my death and sacrifice has been planned in the past. It is part of God's amazing plan for the world. See how the OT speaks of me and talks of my work that I would do." You see the OT isn't just an old story book that has no relevance to us today. And nor need we be afraid of the OT. Rather it is the preparation for the coming of the Saviour Jesus and when we do look back we see God's amazing plan being laid for our rescue. A sacrifice planned for us in the past.

2) A Sacrifice Affecting us in the Present

But Jesus doesn't stay in the past. He brings us bang up to date and he teaches us that his sacrifice affects us in the present. How? Because his sacrifice, his rescue, is something that must be received by us now and remembered by us now.

a) Receiving the Rescue- First we must receive the rescue that Jesus offers. For that is what true life is about. Jesus uses this Passover meal to make an amazing statement about his own mission. Now usually the script for the Passover meal was set. The head of the household, perhaps the father would retell the wonderful Passover story and God's rescue of the people out of Egypt. There would be various prayers of thanksgiving said with cups of wine, four in total. And the bread would be broken and given thanks for. Up till this point, Jesus had done everything normally, but then we read those staggering words in verse 19: "And he 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.'" And then in verse 20 he does something equally strange to Jewish ears: "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." Now there is nothing in our collective national mind quite like Passover, but a few years ago, it might have been the traditional carol service, with nine lessons and carols. So imagine if I got up to read John 1, and instead said of saying "In the beginning was the word, and the word was with God and the word was God etc, what I actually said was: "There once was a vicar called Tinker, whose curate was a bit of a stinkerThat would be totally out of place and bizarre. And to the disciples' ears Jesus' statements would have been totally strange and out of place. Until that is they had witnessed Jesus' death on the cross the next day. For then and in the days that followed they would understand.

For Jesus is saying that this ancient Jewish festival will find its fulfilment in him. That's why he is so eager to eat this particular Passover supper, because it is brimming with significance. For the next day Jesus will daub his blood, not on a doorframe, but on the cross and die in our place. For as Jesus hangs on the cross his body is broken and his blood is shed. He, the Passover Lamb, dies where we should be. And as the angel of death passes over our lives, so to speak, to judge us for the way we have ignored and mistreated our God, then he sees the blood of another, of a perfect sacrifice, shed in our place where we should have been.

And what does Jesus say his blood shed means? He says in verse 20 that this is the cup of the new covenant. Now this new covenant was something that the prophet Jeremiah had talked about many years before. He'd said that God promised to write the law on our hearts. He said that we could all know God personally. And he said that God would forgive our wickedness and remember our sins no more. That was the new covenant that God was promising. And on that cross, that is what Jesus secured for us. He secured a way for us to be totally forgiven, even to the extent of God not remembering our sins any more. We're safe in his arms, secure in his love, forgiven by his blood. It's just like a patient with a fatal heart condition being given a new heart and a completely clean bill of health!

The first surgeon ever to do a heart transplant was Dr Christian Barnard. And one time he impulsively asked his first patient, a Dr. Philip Blaiberg, after the operation, if he would like to see his old heart. Well the patient was non committal, so the surgeon went to a cupboard, took out a glass container, and handed it to the patient, in which was his old heart. Well the patient was stunned for a moment and didn't know what to say. He was the first person in history to hold his own heart and still be alive! But after a while, having taken a final look at the contents of the container, the patient handed it back to the surgeon and said: "So this is my old heart that caused me so much trouble!" And with that he handed it back and never saw it again.

And with Jesus we receive a new heart cleaned up and forgiven, a heart which no longer condemns us to death but which gives us life. A heart which no longer condemns us to slavery, but gives us freedom. Now can you think of anything better than that as a Christmas present this year? Imagine having the slate totally wiped clean, imagine being totally forgiven and guilt free for ever. Imagine having that peace which says "I know I'm going to heaven because of what Jesus has done for me." Well it's all available through Jesus' death on the cross. And Jesus holds out the gift of life to us. He says to each one of us this morning: "I had my body broken for you. I had my blood shed for you. Receive my rescue."

b) Remembering the Rescue- But Jesus sacrifice for us affects us in the present in a second way too. For it means we must remember the rescue. For in this passage Jesus is giving us a wonderful family meal to help us remember and trust in the death of Jesus on the cross. Do you see what he says in verse 19: "This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me." Now in the history of the Christian church oceans of ink, and sadly not a little blood has been spilt on those few words. We've not got time to go into details, but we can get what Jesus means if we remember the context of where he says those words. He's in a Passover meal, a meal which had tangible symbols of bread and wine to point back to a great act of rescue that God did for his people 1500 years before. And that is essentially what Jesus is doing here. He is initiating a new Passover meal, and he is giving these same symbols new meaning. Now, the wine symbolises Jesus' blood shed for us, the bread his body broken for us. It's not that the bread and wine become the blood and body of Jesus. That is a heresy which robs the cross of its sufficiency and finality. No on the cross alone, Jesus paid the full price for our forgiveness. Rather this lovely, simple meal is given to us by the Lord Jesus to help us not to forget what he has done for us. There is nothing magic in it. You don't need special powers to conduct it, nor does the ceremony make you a Christian. It's the cross alone that forgives, and this meal points us back there. So Paul can say in 1 Corinthians 11 that whenever we eat this bread and drink this cup, we proclaim the Lord's death until he comes again. And when you come forward with the whole church family to eat and drink you are saying: "I identify myself with this Saviour and I am trusting his death. I am proclaiming Jesus' death until he comes again! Thank you Lord." You are expressing your faith that he is the only Saviour and you are delighting in wonderful fact.

But perhaps the danger for us here at St. John's is not so much making too much of the communion service, but of making too little. There is a danger of being all too blasabout it, as if it is nothing too special. But Jesus has given us this meal for our benefit. It is meant to strengthen our faith and to encourage us on in the Christian life. And we are warned by the apostle Paul not to approach the Lord's table in an unworthy manner. I wonder how you consider the times when we do share bread and wine? An extra burden, a longer service than usual, more time to wait for others to get back to their seats? Well if so, then listen to these words written by Thomas Cranmer which come from the prayer book of the church of England. As we approach the table, the minister is to say: "Above all things, you must give most humble and heartfelt thanks to Godfor the redemption of the world by the death and suffering of our Saviour Christ, who did humble himself, even to death upon the cross, for us miserable sinners, who lay in darkness and the shadow of death that he might make us the children of GodAnd to that end we should always remember the exceeding great love of our Master." Well the language may be a little quaint but isn't the attitude right? Perhaps we are more prone to think about it for a minute or two and then chat with someone else nearby or think about other things. Well why not take the time as you are waiting to come and receive bread and wine to read a passage on the cross and pray it through. Read Isaiah 53 again and delight that God in his grace has rescued you. Because the moment you get complacent of the cross, then you're in serious trouble. That's why we need this reminder. God knows human nature. Because we might think, "Well surely we'd never forget the cross would we?" Answer this: Why is it that husbands have written reminders around the house in their diaries of the wedding anniversaries or wives' birthdays? Because they forget! If we forget our own wedding anniversaries, then how much more prone are we to forget God's greatest gift! God knows we are forgetful. He knows that some of us get very proud of our own achievements, and we are puffed up with self importance. Remembering the cross reminds us that Christ alone can get us to heaven. And God humbles us. But for others of us, we may often feel the lowest of the low and perhaps even beyond God's love. We've maybe let God down again this week and mucked up badly. Will God have us back? Yes. Look at the cross and see what he has done for even the worst sinner. That's why we need to keep remembering, so that the proud are humbled and the broken hearted are lifted up. Yes, Jesus' sacrifice affects in the present time. And we must both receive and remember the rescue that Jesus has provided.

3) A Sacrifice Pointing Us to the Future

But then finally and very briefly, Jesus' death is a sacrifice which points us to the future. Notice that twice in this passage Jesus looks forward. Once in verse 16: "For I tell you, I will not eat it again until it finds fulfilment in the kingdom of God." And then again in verse 18: "For I tell you I will not drink again of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes." Here he's looking forward to the time when he comes again and brings everything to an end. It will be the time when the kingdom of God comes to its complete fulfilment in the new heaven and the new earth, when the king comes back to judge and destroys all evil for ever. In short when we eat bread and drink wine in remembrance of what Jesus has done for us, we recognise that the best is yet to come. Yes we are forgiven. Yes we know that the cross is the victory of the king. Yes we know we're heading for heaven. But we're not there yet. We do not see God face to face. But one day we will. And it's the cross that guarantees our future. For one day we will sit with the Lord Jesus at his kingly banquet table and enjoy the great messianic banquet as the bride of the Lord Jesus, the church, is finally married to her Lord permanently and fully. So as we share this meal, as we will in a moment, let us not just look back with great thanks for the cross of Christ, but let us also look forward and cry out: "Come Lord Jesus. Lord we long for heaven. Keep us trusting the cross until you come again."

And that is the question this passage asks of us. Will you keep trusting the cross until Jesus comes again? Will you remember to humble yourself before the cross of Christ when you feel proud and full of yourself. Will you remember to humble yourself at the foot of the cross when you feel low and guilty, knowing you need forgiveness. For if we lose sight of that most precious of sacrifices then we will find ourselves in great spiritual danger, either puffed up with pride, or eaten away by guilt. So come. Come back to the cross where you Saviour died for you, and never move from it. For trusting the cross, now and always is the only way we'll see heaven. For "there can be no triumph without loss, no victory without suffering, no freedom without sacrifice."

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