Category Archives: Jesus Christ
A few weeks ago I went to see the film “Risen”. In many ways this is an admirable film. It is virtually the only film about Jesus that adequately deals with the Resurrection. Many of the films about Jesus talk about his life and his death but hardly any even mention the Resurrection. This film concentrates on the Resurrection and that is a good thing. The film was advertised as being about a Roman Army officer who was asked to look into the disappearance of the body of Jesus. His job was to investigate, like a detective, to interview various people involved and find out what actually happened.
In the film here was a moving depiction of the Crucifixion and then the Roman officer started to interview the soldiers and other people involved. Eventually he meets with the risen Lord in Galilee and is convinced of the Resurrection. I realise that this is a fictionalised account but I think that if the makers of the film had had the Roman officer not meeting with the Risen Jesus himself, but only talking with the witnesses of the Resurrection, and then being convinced, that would have made a much better film. I can’t help feeling that the film makers have missed an opportunity. That’s my opinion – you might disagree. It could have been presented as a “whodunnit” detective mystery in ancient times! It would have been an opportunity to present the evidence for the Resurrection in a very lively and convincing way.
I’m now going to attempt to present that evidence in a similar way. Let’s imagine that we are detectives investigating the disappearance of the body of Jesus. Let us then interview various people who we were witnesses of what happened. Let’s find out “who done it”!
1) Our first Witnesses: Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus
“Yes we went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. We were both followers of Jesus but we had kept that a secret up to this point. But now we plucked up our courage and we asked Pilate if we could bury the body of Jesus. He gave us permission and we took him down from the cross and prepared him hastily for burial. There wasn’t much time – it was almost the start of the Sabbath when no work could be done. As we took down his body there was no doubt in our minds that he was indeed dead. When the soldier had pierced his side with a spear congealed blood and clear fluid had flowed out – a sure sign that the body has been dead for at least a few hours. He was stone cold when we took him down from the cross and put him in the tomb. We wrapped his body in a mixture of myrrh and aloes weighing about 100 pounds. And then we rolled the stone over the entrance of the tomb and left. It was the beginning of the Sabbath and no work could be done on that day.”
2) Our next witnesses: the Soldiers guarding the tomb
“On the Saturday morning we were told to guard the tomb of Jesus in case his disciples came to steal his body. You see, Jesus had actually said that he was going to rise again after three days, and the Chief Priests had asked Pilate to be allowed to guard the tomb. So on that Saturday morning we went into the tomb to check that his body was still there and then we rolled the stone back over the entrance and sealed it. This was done by stretching ropes across the entrance and sealing them with a lump of clay impressed with the Chief Priest’s seal. There was no way that anyone could move that stone without breaking the seal.
Then we watched and guarded the tomb. Early in the morning there was a great earthquake. And then, in a blinding shining light, an angelic being came down from Heaven and rolled the stone away. We were terrified! We could not move – we were like dead men. Eventually, when we came round, we ran off and told the Chief Priests what had happened. They were shocked and horrified but they got together with the elders of the people and together they came up with a concocted story. They give us money and told us to say that his disciples had come in the night and stolen his body while we were sleeping. But I tell you: we were not sleeping, we had watched all night long. We were afraid of getting in trouble with the Roman Governor but the the Chief Priests said that they would make everything right with him. We are telling the truth now. Don’t let us be punished.”
3) Our next witness: one of the Chief Priests
“To be honest, we have no idea what happened to the body of Jesus. His disciples are out and about telling everyone that he is alive. One of them, Simon Peter, spoke to a huge crowd on the day of Pentecost. He was claiming Jesus had risen from the dead. He talked about King David’s tomb being in the city of Jerusalem and King David’s body still lying there to this day. But he also said to them ‘the tomb of Jesus is empty, he has risen’. Well it is true that the tomb is empty – you can go and look at it. We Chief Priests have no way of explaining this. The soldiers came up with some story about an angel but we don’t know what to believe.
You Roman’s can’t explain it either. I would say to Pilate, ‘if you have his body then why don’t you just produce it. We haven’t got the body, but if we had it we certainly would produce it and scotch all these rumours’.”
4) Our next witness: one of his followers, Mary Magdalene
“I came to the tomb early on the Sunday morning with some other women. We were not aware that the Romans had set a guard and sealed the tomb and we were hoping to be able to roll the stone away ourselves and to put some extra spices on the body of Jesus. You see, there had not been enough time to adequately prepare his body because of the Sabbath.
But when we got there the tomb was empty, the stone was rolled away and angels appeared and told us that he was alive! And then, as we ran off, we met Jesus himself! He greeted us, and we worshipped him with joy.
Some time later he also appeared to the other disciples. Numerous times over the last few weeks he has appeared to his followers. He showed himself first to the Apostles and then to others who believed in him. At one of his appearances there were at least five hundred of his followers who saw him. You can ask them if you don’t believe me. Or you could ask Peter, or John, or Thomas, or any of the other Apostles. I tell you: he’s alive! He has now gone back to heaven but he is alive. And he has filled us with his Holy Spirit so that we can go out to all the world with his good news.”
This then is the evidence of some of the witnesses
So then “who done it?” Who moved the stone? Who took the body, and what happened to it? Anyone who wishes to debunk the Resurrection has to answer these questions. The evidence of the witnesses indicates that an angel moved the stone, that God took the body and raised Jesus up to eternal life. He appeared to his followers for forty days and then ascended to his Father. At present he is seated at God’s right hand, from whence he shall return one day to judge the world.
I like to think that evidence such as this would have been enough to convince the most sceptical of Roman officers. It’s all there in the Bible. You know, you can’t explain it any other way, unless you’re going to make the Apostles and the Gospel Writers out to be liars. These were people who were prepared to die for their faith in the Risen Lord, and some of them actually were martyred. It would have been much easier for them to have escaped martyrdom by denying the Resurrection. But they couldn’t, because they knew it was true.
“Christ is risen: He is risen indeed!”
Matthew 22 1-14
The Parable of the Wedding Banquet, as we find it in Matthew’s Gospel, is packed full of meaning. It teaches us many things about our acceptance or rejection of the truth found in Jesus Christ. This parable is in fact two parables. The first one refers to the rejection by God’s people of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. One result of this rejection was the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans. (In the parable the King sends out troops to destroy the town of the evil doers.) A second result of this rejection is that the Gentiles, the outsiders, are invited insead. And they respond in great numbers.
The second parable is tacked on this first parable. It is about a man who came to the Kings banquet wearing the wrong clothes. it’s this second parable we shall be looking at today.
‘But when the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing wedding clothes. He asked, “How did you get in here without wedding clothes, friend?” The man was speechless.
The deeper meaning of the parable
At first sight it all seems terribly unfair to us. This man who had come to the banquet apparently was turned out from the feast simply because he was wearing the wrong clothes. Surely this can never be right! Of course no t – there is a much deeper meaning to this parable here.
I wonder if there is anyone here who has ever been invited to Buckingham Palace to be presented to the Queen, either for an award or to attend a garden party in recognition of service to the community. Over the years I have met a number of people who have been summoned to Buckingham Palace in that way. No one that I know of has ever refused such an invitation. It always involves a great deal of discussion about what to wear, and perhaps spending a bit of money on getting some clothes suitable for the occasion.
Now the man in the parable had turned up to the King’s banquet in clothes which were totally unsuitable for the occasion. He was just wearing his everyday clothes and he failed to do honour to the King. This man was indifferent to the King. It is as though he were saying, “You will have to just take me as I am. I haven’t got time for this sort of thing. I’m here, am I not?” This attitude would have been completely disrespectful. He had no notion of the honour conferred upon him, or the efforts that would be taken for his enjoyment. In the parable he is reprimanded severely and kicked out.
Now we have to be careful that we do not interpret this parable literally, as though it is all about what we wear when we come to church. That is not what the parable is about. The church of Jesus Christ was never meant to be a fashion parade (although there have been times in the life of the Church where it has been so). Nowadays we do not tend to dress up so much when we come to come to church. We wear clothes which are respectable but not showy. Over the years fashions have changed. For most people today their best clothes are the smart-casual ones. And when they appear in church in these clothes they mean no disrespect to God at all. No true Christian person would want to turn away people from worship because of what they are wearing. We would rather see people come to church in their ordinary clothes to sincerely worship God, then come all dressed up simply to show off. So we don’t dress up to come to church, we just see that we look respectable.
No, this Parable is not about what we should be wearing when we come to worship God. It is not about our outward coverings – it is about our inner attitudes. We should worship God in the right spirit. Listen to what Paul says:
As God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.
Paul says we are to clothe ourselves inwardly with the right attitude. This is far more important than outward garments.
Coming to worship God
When we come to God’s house to worship him (and especially when we come to the Communion Table) we need to examine ourselves, to see whether we are coming to God’s banquet wearing the right clothing inwardly. I am sure some people just turn up on Sunday without really preparing themselves to worship, without seeking to repent of their sins, without coming in humility and wanting to worship God. But when we come to worship God (and especially when we come to the Communion Table) we need to come with two particular inward garments, as it were: gratitude and humility.
Gratitude is the only proper response to the Gospel (and that’s why in some churches the Communion Service is known as the Eucharist – which is Greek for “Thanksgiving”).
And then there is humility. With this attitude we recognise our unworthiness, our sinfulness, our selfishness and our need for forgiveness. And so we humbly and gratefully come to worship God.
The Robe of Righteousness
But who is worthy to come into God’s presence, and who is worthy to sit at the King’s Table? If any person thinks that their own righteousness grants from the right to come then they are wearing the wrong clothes. If any person puts their trust in their own goodness rather than God’s goodness then they must learn the lesson that
“all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags” (Isaiah 64:6 – King James Version )
It’s not a question of being worthy, it’s a question of accepting the invitation and receiving the Grace that God gives us.
As it says in the Presbyterian Service Book, with regard to the Lord’s Supper:
“Come to the Holy Table, not because you’re strong, but because you are weak.
Come, not because any goodness of your own give a right to come, but because you need mercy and help.
Come, not because you love the Lord enough, but because you want to love him more.”
Apparently it was the custom in the East at the time of Jesus that if a guest were invited to a royal reception and for some reason or other did not have the appropriate clothes to wear, then the royal personage would provide the necessary robes for the occasion.
Something like this happened almost 65 years ago, at the time that Sir John Hunt and his team conquered Mount Everest. Tenzing Norgay the Sherpa and Sir Edmund Hillary were the two men to first stand on the peak of Everest. When the climbers returned to Kathmandu there was a flood of congratulatory telegrams, including an invitation for the team to attend Buckingham Palace. This caused a major crisis for Tenzing and for the rest of the team. Tenzing refused to go. He wasn’t going to Buckingham Palace. He had never even been out of Nepal before. He wasn’t used to high functions of this kind, and besides he didn’t have anything to wear, except his rough Sherpa clothes.
John Hunt and his party tried all they could to persuade Tenzing to change his mind, but they completely failed. On the other hand, there was no way they could think of accepting the Queen’s invitation without Tenzing, the first to reach the top of Everest. In desperation they sent a message to Nehru, the Prime Minister of India, asking him to intercede on their behalf with Tenzing. And so Nehru summoned Tenzing to Delhi and plainly told him that it would be an insult to the Queen and indeed an insult to his own Nepalese people, if he refused this royal invitation. And then he added: “I understand that clothes are your difficulty. I have anticipated that – come with me”.
And so he took Tenzing to his apartment. He said to him, “We’re about the same size. Put on these clothes.” And there was a complete outfit, in immaculate condition of the Prime Minister’s own clothes! So it was that Norgay Tenzing went to Buckingham Palace after all. He appeared before the Queen in the garments of the Prime Minister of India!
We have no garments of our own with which to appear before the King of Kings. But Christ has died on the cross to provide us with garments. He has provided for us a robe of righteousness and holiness that makes it possible for us to come before him. Our own good deeds and self-righteousness are worth nothing, but the goodness of Christ is a robe that we can wear.
What Jesus asks for is not any kind of elaborate ceremony or ritual, but a simple personal faith in him. It is a faith that believes that he’s able to do what we cannot do. A faith that believes in Christ’s sacrifice for us on the cross. A faith that believes that Jesus can clothe us with his own righteousness. A faith that with a humble, grateful reliance on him alone goes out, is his strength alone, to do those things that are worthy of his name. All we have to do is say “yes” to his invitation.
Well then, have we answered his invitation with a “yes”, or are we still finding other things to do and say is an excuse for staying away and missing out on the richest of all blessings – his daily presence in our hearts.
The man in the parable was speechless before the King when he was challenged about not having the right robe. Let us be careful that we do respond to the King with words of gratitude and appreciation for all that he has done for us.
(Sermon preached at the Brecon Presbyterian Church, based on an outline prepared by the late Rev. R. B. Owen, Prestatyn.)
John 6 25-34 35-42
Text: John 6: 35
Then Jesus declared I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never go thirsty.
This verse is very familiar – it is often quoted in Communion services. Like many of the sayings of Jesus it has become so familiar that we probably cease to think about what it is really saying. Obviously you can’t take it literally: it does not mean that if you become a follower of Jesus you will always have plenty of food and drink. Nor does it mean that you will be able to live on nothing but fresh air and never be hungry or thirsty. It is not to be interpreted in a literal, material, physical, bodily way but metaphorically and spiritually.
Human hungers and thirsts
As human beings we have many different kinds of hungers and thirsts. Some are basic instincts and appetites that ensure our survival – hunger and thirst to make sure we get enough nutrients and water into our bodies. Some are instincts which ensure the survival of the species – the procreative instincts such as sexual desire, maternal and paternal instincts. Some are needs of the human soul – the desire for beauty and order, the yearning for justice and truth, the psychological need for love, affection and companionship. Some are cultural needs – no human society has ever existed without music, craft, art or literature in some form or another. Even cavemen decorated their bodies with shells, seeds and tattoos. Thus they fulfilled their cultural needs.So it is indeed true that “man does not live by bread alone”. He needs other things in order to be a well-rounded person.
In addition to the physical, psychological and social needs of human life we have other yearnings. There is the striving for purpose and meaning in life. There is the desire for peace and harmony in the world. There is the yearning for a better world. (Somehow we know that world exists, even when we know nothing about it.)
These are the religious or spiritual yearnings of mankind. They represent nothing less than a hunger and a thirst for God himself. The Psalmist said,
“As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you. O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When can I go and meet with God? (Psalm 42:1-2)
God fulfills these yearnings:
How priceless is your unfailing love! Both high and low among men find refuge in the shadow of your wings. They feast in the abundance of your house; you give them drink from your river of delight. For with you is the fountain of life; in your light we see light. (Psalm 36:7-9)
As St Augustine said. “You have made us for yourself. O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in you.”
These deep spiritual yearnings are ultimately only satisfied by God himself.
Of course people don’t always recognise that. They mistake this yearning for another kind of desire, and they seek to fill their lives with other pleasures: sex, drugs, alcohol, gambling, materialism, or whatever.
You know, sometimes it is possible to feel hungry when your body doesn’t really need food. What it really needs is water, but somehow the brain confuses the messages. If you drink a glass of water the hunger pangs will go away. You see, you were mistaking one bodily need for another. This is comparable to what happens when people seek to fulfill their spiritual yearnings with worldly pleasures. They mistake one kind of hunger for another.
But how do we find God? How do we fulfill that spiritual need?
Jesus the bread of life
How do we obtain this fulfilling state of knowing God.
I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never go thirsty.
(John 6: 35)
Jesus is the Bread of Life – he fulfills our deepest needs
I cannot tell how he will win the nation.s
How he will claim his earthly heritage.
How satisfy the needs and aspirations
Of East and West, of sinner and of sage.
But this I know, all flesh shall see his glory.
And he shall reap the harvest he has sown.
And some glad day his sun will shine in splendour.
When he the Saviour, Saviour of the world is known.
(William Young Fullerton)
Many years ago on US television, Barbara Walters did one of her interview specials in which she talked to three celebrities Johnny Carson Johnny Cash and Walter Cronkite. Three C’s.
- Johnny Carson came across as a typical jaded playboy hedonist.
- Walter Cronkite was the suave humanist, the worldly philosopher.
- Johnny Cash, on the other hand, humbly admitted his background of alcoholism and drug addiction, and the fact that he had virtually destroyed a marriage and wrecked his life trying to satiate his innner hunger for meaning. He openly told Walters that then he had met Jesus.
There was a peace in his eyes and contentment in his voice as he spoke of a hope for the future which neither of the others had. Johnny Cash made it very clear that he had found what Jesus is talking about in this text – the bread of life – bread that satisfies far more than mere physical hunger.
Listen to the words of Jesus himself in John, chapter 6:
No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him, and I will raise him up on the last day. (verse 44)
I am the Living bread that comes down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. This bread is my flesh which I give for the life of the world. (verse 51)
I tell you the truth, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. (verse 53)
Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. (verse 54)
It doesn’t mean literal flesh and blood, of course. It means that by faith in Christ we become united with him. Our everyday food and drink is taken into our bodies and built into our muscles and bones and organs. After all: you are what you eat. And similarly, in a spiritual sense, through prayer, faith in God, meditation on his Word and opening ourselves up to the Holy Spirit, we feed on Christ. In the Communion service we take bread and wine to symbolise his body and blood, upon which we feed in a spiritual sense.
By our relationship with Christ through faith, our spiritual needs are satisfied.
“Bread of Heaven, Bread of Heaven; feed me till my want is o’er.” (William Williams)
Isaiah 61:1-3, Luke 4:14-21
Luke’s gospel tells us how, after Jesus was baptized and tested for 40 days in the wilderness, he came at last to Galilee in the power of the Holy Spirit. He went to his home town of Nazareth, and on the Sabbath day he went to the synagogue. As was the Jewish custom, as a visiting rabbi he was invited to read the scripture and give some teaching on it. They handed him the scroll of the prophet Isaiah. Jesus turned to Isaiah 61 and read – “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour”.
This was his manifesto – the declaration of his mission. This was what he intended to do in the power of the Spirit. So he said to them: “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”
Jesus spells freedom
When I was a young student in Cardiff, many years ago, I was very much influenced by the other students in the Christian Union. Although I had been brought up to go to church, my faith was very much a nominal thing. But now, under the influence of committed Christian young people, I began seeking to know God. One book which helped me a great deal on my pilgrimage to a personal faith was a paperback by Canon Michael Green – “Jesus Spells Freedom”. Written at a time of great social freedom and permissiveness, it pointed out that true freedom is only found in Jesus. Jesus spells freedom.
“To proclaim freedom for the prisoners”. How can this be? What kind of freedom does Jesus bring? Well he brings freedom from sins, from guilt, from condemnation, from pointlessness and from destructive lifestyles.
To illustrate this I am going to tell you some real life stories of people who have been set free by Jesus. (These stories come from the CWM magazine and the Bible Society newsletter.)
Freedom for the prisoners
Here is the story of an actual prisoner:
Eddie tapped his chest. ” I’m free here!” he said. “I’ve been in prison 20 years, but since I became a Christian I’m not a prisoner inside any more. I tell people it’s my Bible which helps me cope with my long sentence”.
He is in Leicester prison and he has received great help from the chaplain and from Louise Shepperd who works for the Bible Society providing Bibles for prisoners. They currently run two Bible studies a week for 30 prisoners.
Eddie is still physically imprisoned but Jesus has brought freedom to his soul. He knows his sins are forgiven and he is a member of God’s family.
Elizabeth Gelamp was brought up in a village in the highlands of Papua New Guinea. She moved to the city of Port Morsby to find work. Then things went wrong for her. She ended up homeless and jobless, living on the street. She sold her body to pay for food and for drugs to ease her pain. She got into fights and drug dealing and went to prison twice.
“I didn’t know what normal life was all about. I thought: why am I living like this when fellow human beings are happy in their homes”. Elizabeth wanted a normal life, to get married and have children. But who would want someone like her – a girl off the streets?
One Sunday she came across a some young people from a church, singing a song that touched her heart:
“He knows my name, he knows my everything,
he created my heart even before time began.”
It was like a sword piercing her heart. Elizabeth wept uncontrollably. “I said: OK, Lord you know my name, so maybe you do exist. Please forgive my sins. I am a prodigal daughter. I’m coming home, please forgive me.”
“The first time I went to church and heard the songs I thought I was in heaven, listening to the angels singing.”
She has now been a Christian for 4 years and hopes to be able to work with street people, the poor, orphans, prostitutes – to tell them about Jesus.
“They will understand me and I will understand their situations
because I’ ve been through it all”. Elizabeth Gelamp has found freedom in Jesus.
Jane lived in Nigeria. In 1994 her boyfriend took her to live in the Netherlands. She was 20 years of age. He told her she was beautiful, told her he would help her, get her educated, find her a job. Because she was desperately poor she agreed.
But once in the Netherlands he began to threaten her. If she didn’t do what he said, he would send her back to Africa and his friends her would harm her. He smuggled her to Italy and sold her to a woman as a slave. Jane was made to work as a prostitute. She had to pay 40 000 euros out of her earnings for the chair in which she slept. They hit her and threatened to beat up her mother in Nigeria. Then she had to pay for her place in the street where she stood to solicit customers.
The woman threatened to send the Mafia to kill her if she didn’t continue to work. She was constantly watched by pimps. After 6 years of this, Jane fled to Amsterdam. There she lived a vagrant life, from hand to mouth, doing people’s hair to earn a bit of money. She had twin babies. Eventually she was desperate for food and medical care for herself and the children.
Tom Mafo, a Ghanaian pastor helped her. He had set up a church and centre in Amsterdam for people like Jane. He gave her money and food for the children and hopes to lead her to a new life in Jesus.
Tom Mafo started this work when he saw women openly being traded as sex slaves in Amsterdam. Most of the girls were from West Africa and were being bought by pimps from Belgium, France, Italy and Spain to work as prostitutes in those countries.
“I just wept”, says Tom. He prayed for a long time and God showed him what to do. He set up his organization to rescue the women and to provide Christian love and fellowship for them. Thus, he fulfilled the mission of bringing freedom to the captives.
Slavery was abolished more than 200 years ago – officially. Yet, as you can see, it still exists today in a different form.
It is also true that we can all be slaves to something – to sinful habits, to destructive behaviour, to selfishness, to fear, to lust, to pride.
We all are slaves to something.
When I read that book “Jesus Spells Freedom” as a young student I was challenged. I knew I needed to experience the freedom that Jesus offered. I felt burdened by my sins.
So, what terrible crimes had I committed? Well, nothing particularly antisocial – I wasn’t a law breaker. My sins were what many people would regard as peccadilloes, but I still felt a sense of guilt. I felt God was holy and pure beyond imagining. Compared with him I was unclean. Compared with the life of the Lord Jesus Christ all my good deeds were as filthy rags. How could I know freedom from guilt? It came by trusting in Jesus. I struggled for a long time, but one day it just seemed to dawn on me that salvation was by faith alone. I just had to believe – to entrust myself to Jesus. To stop trusting in my own efforts. I found freedom then: peace with God, inner joy.
Jesus spelt freedom for me – as he did for all those who are trapped in far more destructive lifestyles.
He can spell freedom for you also.
“to proclaim freedom to the prisoners”. This is why Jesus came, and why he died and rose again.
A Communion Address
1 Corinthians 11 23-26, John 13 21 30
Many pictures have been painted of the Last Supper. For example: the famous one by Leonardo. These paintings are founded on the Gospel accounts of that meal, along with the imagination of the artist. We also must use our imagination, to some extent, when we think of that night when Jesus instituted of the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper. The various branches of the Christian church have produced their own versions of the Lord’s Supper, or Eucharist, to accommodate the practicalities of church worship in different circumstances. Very often the Communion service as we celebrate it today it’s very different from that simple meal Jesus had with his disciples in the Upper Room. None the less the meaning which is conveyed in the Sacrament is the same.
The disciples never forgot that moment when Jesus took the bread and wine.It was a significant moment for them and they celebrated it every Lord’s Day.
In his first Letter to the Corinthians, Paul has to correct some wrong practices which had crept into the worship of the Christians in that town. They were coming to the Lord’s Table in the wrong spirit. Paul gives a clear account of how the Lord’s Supper was instituted and in doing so sets the pattern that we use today: the words that we know as the Words of Institution. Let us meditate now on four words suggested to us by this passage: betrayal, trust, sacrifice, proclamation.
“On the night on which he was betrayed …”
What a start! It certainly sets the scene for us. Jesus and his disciples are gathered around the table in semi-darkness – just a few oil lamps scattered around, so they could see what they were doing. Jesus is troubled in spirit and he says with great emotion, “I tell you the truth – one of you is going to betray me.”
In his famous painting, Leonardo da Vinci depicts this moment – when Jesus tells his Disciples that one of them will betray him.
The Disciples are astonished. Staring in amazement they ask, “Is it I?”
Simon Peter signals to John, who is reclining close to Jesus, to ask Jesus who it is that will betray him. Jesus quietly answers John, “It is the one to whom I will give this piece of bread when I have dipped it in the dish.”
Now this was an ancient Middle Eastern custom – that as a sign of love and friendship you would dip a morsel of bread in the common dish you were eating from and hand it to your honoured guest. Jesus hands the bread to Judas. Perhaps this is a last appeal to him – a most personal and moving gesture, as if to say, “Judas now is your chance. Are you going to a betray me?”
Judas takes the bread, and perhaps at that moment sees most clearly that Jesus’ purposes are not of this world. He accepts the bread but he rejects all that Jesus stands for. “Satan”, we read, “entered into him” at that moment. (John 13:27)
Jesus says, “What you are about to do, do quickly”. Surely it is with breaking heart he says this.
Judas goes out, and the next time he greets Jesus it will be with the traitor’s kiss.
John records, “And it was night”. He’s not just talking about the physical gloom. No, he’s commenting on the fact that Judas was in spiritual darkness. The hour of evil had come and Judas Iscariot went on his way to betray the Son of Man.
It is not possible for us to convey adequately the sense of evil which must have oppressed Jesus at that hour. But his disciples were not aware of it.
In his musical “Jerusalem Joy”, Roger Jones aptly captures their feelings with the song in which they all sing:
“Isn’t it wonderful feasting with Jesus. Isn’t it wonderful eating with Him
Isn’t it marvellous talking to Jesus. I really want to spend all day with Him .”
Jesus is oppressed with sorrow, but at this very moment he gives hope. At the darkest hour he Institutes the Sacrament of Salvation
Life can be so dark – suffocatingly dark sometimes. We cannot see where we are going. We can’t see any solution. In this darkness we must cling to Jesus.
Jesus took bread and gave thanks – in the midst of darkness and terrible foreboding he still gave thanks to God. He you recited the Hebrew benediction over bread:
“Barukh ata Adonai Eloheinu, melekh ha’olam, hamotzi lehem min ha’aretz.”
“Blessed are You, LORD our God, King of the universe, Who brings forth bread from the earth.”
He trusts God his Father and he sees beyond the present darkness and the coming suffering. I don’t suppose he felt wonderful at this time – Jesus was going to need the strengthening of angels to face the experiences set before him. Here we see courage, faith and resolve, which will not be moved, shining in the darkness.
Who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame. (Hebrews 12:2)
Let us look beyond all present sufferings and trust in God’s love and faithfulness.
“This is my body which is broken for you…. This cup is the New Covenant in my blood … do this as often as you drink it in remembrance of me.”
These are very familiar words. To us they carry connotations of a very different world from ours. We’re talking about a world in which animals were brought for sacrifice to the Temple and offered up as burnt offerings. It was a world in which blood was poured out onto altars.
Jesus on another occasion said:
‘Very truly I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.’ (John 6: 53)
His hearers would have understood that when animals were sacrificed in religious rituals some of the meat was burnt, and some was given to the people for them to cook and eat. The pagans thought that their god had entered into the sacrifice and that by eating the sacrificial meat they were becoming filled with divine power.
Of course the Jews didn’t quite understand sacrifices in that way, but they would have understood what Jesus meant. He was going to be made a sacrifice who would bring life and divine power to the world.
Man was searching for God seeking to find union with the Divine through various religious rituals and sacrifices. Jesus is declaring that he is the one who makes that union possible. The sacrifice that unites God and Man. The people realised that he was claiming divine power, and many stopped following him because they couldn’t believe that.
When we take the bread in Holy Communion, we remember Christ’s human body broken for us on the Christ. The wine symbolises for us his life-blood shed for us on the Cross. And so, by faith, when we receive the bread and wine we share in the spiritual life of the risen Jesus.
“For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.” These are words of victory!
The Lord’s Supper is an act of remembrance, yes, but not like a memorial stone that we might visit in a cemetery. On Communion Sundays we don’t just keep his memory alive. We do something more than that.
The Lord’s Supper is a Sacrament: we partake in faith and share in his life. But it’s even more than that:
The Lord’s Supper is a proclamation. For if he is to come again, then he must be alive now!
So we come to the Table at his invitation, and with the upward look of faith we receive the help and strength we need to face the days ahead. Jesus faced the deepest darkness, and overcame.
“On the night on which he was betrayed, he took bread.”