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Worship Message - The Last Meal

 The Last Meal
Lent 2015 Message #5

The last week before the death and resurrection of Jesus. What an eventful week it was. A week that started with Jesus making a triumphant entry into the city of Jerusalem. An event that was followed by Jesus claiming the Jewish Temple as His house. A house that was to be a place of prayer. A claim that preceded Jesus performing a miracle and spending a lot of time teaching. After which He took a break at the house of a man named Simon, during which He was anointed by a woman.

A week that included what we will talk about today, that being two things that happened during the last meal Jesus had with His disciples before His death. A meal that was part of the celebration of the Jewish holiday of Passover.

Very briefly, Passover was a celebration of a miracle of God as the people of God were nearing the end of their time of slavery in Egypt. For a long time, the people of God had suffered through slavery. Eventually God had heard their cries for help. He answered by afflicting the Egyptians with 10 plagues, the last one being the killing of the first-born of all in Egypt. The only ones spared were the Jewish people who put blood on their doorposts. The death passed over the ones in houses treated that way.

It was after that tenth plague that the leader of Egypt let the people of God go free. Passover was an annual celebration of that freedom.

It was during the last week before Jesus’ death that the Passover feast took place that year. It happened on the Thursday evening of that week. So it was that the day after resting at the house of Simon, Jesus sent two of His disciples to find a place for Jesus and all His disciples to have the feast, which takes us to the first of three passages for this message as we take a journey through three of the Gospels.

The first passage is in chapter 14 of Mark, where we are told, beginning in verse 12, that the disciples asked Jesus where He planned for them to go and prepare the meal. Jesus sent two of the disciples to go into Jerusalem and find a man carrying a jar of water.

That, by the way, was to be an unusual sight. Carrying water was women’s work. Men did not do that. The unusual sight would have attracted the attention of the disciples.

“Find that man”, said Jesus. “Follow Him. See the house he enters and say to him, ‘The Teacher says, Where is My guest room, where I am to eat the Passover with My disciples?’”
Jesus added that the man would show them a large upper room, which would be furnished and ready. It was there the two disciples were to prepare for the meal.

The two disciples left with those instructions. They found it all as Jesus had said. They prepared the feast.

Then came the evening. Jesus arrived with the rest of the disciples. Together they all took part in the Passover meal.

I often wonder all of what Jesus and the disciples talked about during the meal. Did they make small talk? Did they discuss the weather? Did they, more seriously, talk about all that had happened over the past few days? Did the disciples share how privileged they felt being with Jesus, eating with Him?
I wonder about all of what the disciples talked about. However, there are a couple things I know they discussed. One for sure, the other a suspicion.

The one thing for sure is mentioned in verse 18 of Mark 14. Jesus mentioned to the disciples that one of them was soon going to betray Him.

The disciples were all shocked by that announcement. All, of course, except for Judas Iscariot, who had, just before this meal, made arrangements to betray Jesus. However, Judas did not admit what he had done. He pretended to be as shocked as the others.

The other thing the disciples discussed appears to have had something to do with which of them was the greatest disciple. That led to what Jesus did that is recorded in the Gospel of John. We will get to that later.

But Jesus and His disciples, in an upper room, were gathered for the Passover meal. They enjoyed the food and the significance of each part of the meal. They talked with one another. The disciples enjoyed the company of Jesus.

Then two very significant things happened, one of which was Communion. Mark 14, beginning with verse 22. As they were eating, Jesus took a piece of bread. He blessed it. He broke it. He gave it to His disciples.

When the bread had been passed to the disciples, Jesus invited them to take it and eat it. He said, “This is My body.”
And no, it was not His physical body. It was a representation of His body. A body blessed by God. A body that was about to be broken, which would happen in the hours leading up to and including His crucifixion.

As the disciples ate, they were to think about what was going to happen to Jesus. As we eat Communion bread in our services, we are to think about what did happen to Him. As the disciples were to rejoice at what would be Jesus’ sacrifice, we are to rejoice.

Let’s be thankful that Jesus was willing to die as the perfect sacrifice for sins. It is because of that we can be in a good relationship with God, now on earth and later in Heaven.

Jesus then took a cup. He gave thanks for it. He then had it passed around to His disciples, inviting them to drink from the cup, explaining that the wine in the cup was His blood.
Again, the wine was not His physical blood. It was a representation of His blood. Blood that would be spilled as part of His sacrifice.

As the disciples drank from the cup, they were to think about what was going to happen to Jesus. As we drink the Communion juice in our services, we are to think about what did happen to Him. Again, as the disciples were to rejoice at what would be Jesus’ sacrifice, we are to rejoice.

And again, let’s be thankful that Jesus was willing to die as the perfect sacrifice for sins. It is because of that we can be in a good relationship with God, now on earth and later in Heaven.

Remember that during the Passover meal, Jesus and His disciples talked about lots of things. Maybe a bit of an argument took part of the attention of the disciples. An argument about which of them was the most important of the group.

During the meal, Jesus introduced the first Communion service. He did that so His disciples - He did that so we today - would be and are able to remember and celebrate His sacrifice, which at that time was just hours away.

Communion was one of the very significant things that happened at the last meal Jesus had with His disciples. The other very significant thing is recorded in the first part of chapter 13 of the Gospel of John. It followed what might have been the argument among the disciples of who was the greatest of them.

During the meal, Jesus got up from the table. He picked up a towel, with which He girded Himself. He poured water into a basin. He then began to wash the disciples’ feet. Jesus dried their feet with the towel.
Remember that back in Jesus day, the positioning at tables was not so much sitting as it was reclining. The custom was to rest on the left arm and use the right hand for eating. The feet were behind those at the table.

I mention that to bring up two points.

First, what Jesus did was not a bragging sort of thing, like, “Look what I’m doing.” It was a very humble act, done away from the view of those whose feet were being washed.

Second, whatever the disciples were discussing, it took them a while to figure out what was going on. It seems the first few might not even have noticed or made the effort to turn around and thank the one who was washing their feet. Gratitude we might think should have been expected, although the washing of the feet of guests was the task of the lowliest of lowly servants. I guess such servants were not in the habit of expecting to be thanked.

Eventually, though, it was noticed what Jesus was doing. Which brought an interesting reaction from the disciple Peter when Jesus got to him. Peter said, “What? Lord, do You wash my feet? What is going on? You’re the Lord. Why would You wash my feet?”

Peter was aghast that Jesus would do what He was doing. He protested, coming close to refusing to let Jesus do what He planned, which Jesus corrected. but what a relevant question it was that Peter asked. Why did Jesus, as great as He was, do what He did in lowering Himself to the point of washing His disciples’ feet?

Well, here are three things to think about.

If the disciples were, at that time, arguing about who was the greatest among them, it would seem likely none of them had done what was customary, which was to have someone wash the feet of guests.

And yes, they were in a borrowed room, so I suppose the owner of the house is the one who should have seen to it the feet of those at the meal were washed as soon as they had arrived. But if that did not happen, one of the disciples could and should have taken care of that. Apparently, though, none of them did, perhaps reluctant to sink to such a demeaning act.

But Jesus was not afraid to lower Himself. Which might be a lesson for us that if the needs of others are not met, we, who are followers of Jesus, should act to take care of them. Which should extend, not only to the washing of feet, but in many other ways.

And for us, even if we do not do that personally - which we should do if and when we can - we can help others who do that work.

I am thinking of the support we give to the People’s City Mission here in Lincoln. It includes financial support through our church budget, along with donations many of us make to the Mission, and some who donate time and skills.
I am thinking of the children we support through the Children of Promise program, which helps children in developing countries with all sorts of needs. As a congregation, we support four children. Some do that individually.

Jesus was not afraid. In fact, He was willing to lower Himself to serve others. That is one answer to the question of why Jesus did what He did when He washed the feet of His disciples. What a challenge that is for us to do the same as we think of a second possible answer, which is this. What Jesus did displayed His humility.

He is God. He was about to do what was necessary to become the Savior. He had developed the reputation of being a great teacher. He was known for His miracles. At the beginning of the week that was now drawing to a close, He had been praised and honored.

The normal thing to expect was that Jesus would demand the accolades continue. He could have asked for robes to be brought to Him. He could have stood tall and posed in such a way He would have called attention to Himself.

Instead, He girded Himself with a towel and knelt. He did that behind the disciples. He did not bring attention to Himself. He was - as important as He was and is - He was humble.
Again, what a challenge for us to do the same as we think of a third possible answer to why Jesus did what He did. It showed the love Jesus had for His disciples. Love shown physically. The disciples were comforted as their feet were washed. Love spiritually as well as He explained that the physical washing He was doing was also representative of the spiritual cleansing that comes from accepting Jesus as Savior and from being baptized, both of which are critically important.

For us, may we know the importance of accepting Jesus and being baptized. If you have not done both those things, know they are important. Accepting Him is the only way to be right with God now. The only way to be assured of Heaven. Being baptized is a wonderful way to show others you have accepted Jesus.

May we be willing to show love. And again, may we be humble. Humble enough to lower ourselves to serve others, including when others will not help.

At the Passover meal on the Thursday night of the last week before Jesus’ death and resurrection, Jesus and the disciples ate. They talked. And Jesus did two very significant things. He introduced Communion and He washed the feet of His disciples.

Which, by the way, He then instructed His disciples to do. I believe that applies to Jesus’ present-day disciples as well.

Then, after the meal - this, too, needs to be mentioned in this message - I am referring to Matthew 26, beginning with verse 36 - Jesus and His disciples left the upper room and went to the Garden of Gethsemane, just outside the city of Jerusalem.

Jesus had often been there before when He had needed some quiet time. It was there, in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus prayed, asking God three times if there was some other way for Him to become the Savior. Some other way for the penalty of sins to be paid. Any other way than for Him to suffer and die.

Such asking is perfectly understandable. Jesus was and is God, but He was also human. Therefore His suffering, both physically and emotionally, was going to be real.

But each time, Jesus ended His prayer of request with amazing words. He prayed, “Nevertheless, not as I will, but Father, as Thou will. Thy will be done.”

Talk about love, humility, and a willingness to serve for the good of others. That was Jesus’ desire, even as He was, at that time, rapidly approaching great suffering that would result in His death. No, He did not want to suffer. He was not looking forward to suffering and death. But His goal was to do God’s will to fulfill the mission God had sent Him to earth to do.

And one more point. A point of challenge for us.

Jesus had not gone to the Garden of Gethsemane by Himself.  His disciples had gone with Him. Three of them - Peter, James, and John - were close by when Jesus prayed.

He asked those three to pray with Him.  However, each of those three, each of the times Jesus prayed, instead of praying for Him as He had asked, fell asleep.

Which again is understandable. It was at night. They had just had a meal. There were lots of emotions that had been going on all week. The disciples were certainly very tired, both physically and emotionally. But how sad that when Jesus needed them the most, they fell asleep.

When we are stressed, including religiously, will we stay awake and pray? I hope I do. I hope I can.

Shortly after that, Judas betrayed Jesus, which led to Jesus’ arrest, which led to a series of trials in which Jesus was the defendant. We will consider the trials next Sunday. Then on Good Friday we will commemorate the crucifixion and burial of Jesus.

Until then, let’s remember all that happened right before all that.

Including the significance of Communion, during which we are called to remember that Jesus willingly gave His body and His blood as the sacrifice we need to be forgiven for our sins.
Including the significance of foot washing, which reminds of the need to humbly show our willingness to serve others.
Including the importance of Jesus’ willingness to follow God’s will, no matter what. And though we may never be called upon to follow Jesus’ example to the point of our own deaths through persecution, may we be willing to pray with Jesus and to Jesus as one example of obeying Him.

Today’s closing song is Alleluia, which describes Jesus and proclaims what is to be our reaction to Him. The song will also serve as our benediction. As we sing, let’s be thankful for Jesus’ sacrifice and His example of humble service. May we, too, seek always to do God’s will.
Alleluia, alleluia,
Alleluia, alleluia,
Alleluia, alleluia,
Alleluia, alleluia.

He is worthy, He is worthy,
He is worthy, He is worthy,
He is worthy, He is worthy,
He is worthy, He is worthy.

I will praise Him, I will praise Him,
I will praise Him, I will praise Him,
I will praise Him, I will praise Him,
I will praise Him, I will praise Him.

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