This is the sermon I delivered during a Tenebrae service at White Station Baptist Church in Memphis, Tennessee. The sermon addresses the Old Testament Passover festival in light of the Lord’s Supper, and (hopefully) prepares the mind, heart and soul of the listener to partake of the elements with a greater appreciation for the Lord’s work to redeem the believer from the price of sin.
– begin –
Holy Thursday Sermon
As we celebrate the Lord’s Supper at this most special time of the year, let us take a few moments to consider that evening when the Lord Jesus celebrated his final Passover meal with his disciples during his earthly ministry and formally instituted his new covenant.
On the same night he would later be betrayed by one disciple and denied by another, Jesus gathered his closest followers to eat the Passover meal. This annual observance and celebration reminded the Jews of Jesus’ day – and many of the Jewish people who live in this very area of town today – of how God had miraculously delivered their people from the bondage of slavery in Egypt.
Just as God had delivered Israel from Egyptian oppression that first Passover night, many ancient scholars of the Old Testament scriptures thought God’s Messiah would one day deliver his people from oppression during a celebration of the Passover. Thus, even as the Jewish people ate the Passover meal and remembered their people’s history, they also ate it with a sense of anticipation about the future.
The Passover meal was assembled using a very specific set of instructions. Each item at the table represented some memory of the Israelites’ bondage and suffering in slavery or their victorious exodus from Egypt under the leadership of God‘s servant, Moses. During the normal Passover meal, the head of the family or someone recognized as the leader of the group would fill the role of the teacher and explain how the different items represented different memories of the exodus story.
During this Last Supper, Our Lord Jesus Christ filled this role of teacher. We can only imagine the immeasurable insight he passed to his disciples that evening.
In addition to explaining the Passover symbolism, Jesus shared a new observance with his disciples that evening. We Baptists call this new observance the Lord’s Supper. This new observance once again focused on the deliverance of God’s people – but this time, the deliverance was not from Egypt or Rome or some other temporal power… this deliverance was from the true enemy and enslaver of all mankind since Adam and Eve had been forced from Eden, the bondage of sin and death.
This new exodus, led by Jesus, took his people out from under the bondage of sin and death and into the Promised Land of eternal salvation. We remember this new exodus not through the eating of a cooked Old Testament Passover lamb and establishment of the old covenant, but by eating the symbolic elements of the body and blood of the ultimate sacrifice, Jesus Christ himself.
The old covenant was established in the wilderness outside of Egypt shortly after God forced Pharaoh to set the Israelites free. After Israel had been delivered from Egypt, God presented the former slaves with the opportunity to be his chosen people if they would obey him and keep his commandments. This agreement was sealed with blood sacrifices. In Exodus chapter 24 we read how shortly after the covenant was established, Moses, Aaron and seventy elders of Israel ascended Mount Sinai and shared a meal with Almighty God.
In this new covenant, God again shared a meal with Israel. This time, it was Jesus Christ sharing his last Passover meal with his apostles. In the minds of those who followed Jesus in those days, the twelve apostles clearly represented the twelve tribes of Israel.
Just as the apostles did not bring blood sacrifices to ratify the new covenant, we do not need to bring sacrifices to the new covenant today. Jesus’ suffering and death is the only sacrifice that is needed in this new covenant, then and now.
Unlike the people of Israel in the old covenant, we do not have to flawlessly obey a set of rules and regulations or offer new sacrifices to be reinstated into the covenant, because in this new covenant Jesus lived a perfect, sinless life himself. All of our sins were placed upon him, were nailed to the cross with him, and died with him. In this new covenant, it is not our ability to act flawlessly that keeps us in covenant relationship with God, but rather it is the unchanging perfect life of Jesus Christ. It is in thanksgiving for this tremendous gift that Christians attempt to live lives that are honorable and pleasing to God.
With this new covenant, Jesus has rescued believers once and for all from the slavery to sin and delivered us into a new Promised Land of a daily relationship and the promise of eternal life with God.
(Hold up bread)
In Luke 22:19, Christ tells us the bread represents his body. The bread of the Passover meal was referred to as the Bread of Affliction, and was a reminder to the Old Testament Jews of the afflictions they suffered while in slavery to the Egyptians. In this new covenant, we see this bread as symbolic of Christ’s body, which was afflicted, punished, brutalized and killed for our sins.
(Lower bread, hold up cup)
In Luke 22:20, Christ tells us that the wine of the cup represents his blood. The blood of the old covenant sacrificial Passover lamb was spread on the doorposts of the houses of Israel to keep the fearsome Death Angel from killing the firstborn in the days of the exodus. Just as the blood of the old Passover lamb removed the fear of death from the houses of Israel, so the new covenant’s shed blood of Jesus himself is poured out to give believers a doorway into eternal life with God, removing any fear of death.
With the new covenant, it is revealed that the thoughts of those ancient scripture scholars had proven true. Jesus the Messiah chose the Passover season to formally deliver his people and all who will accept him from oppression… not the temporary oppression of nations and governments, but from oppression under mankind’s true enemies – sin and death. With the resurrection, it is revealed that the sins of the world and even the most brutal death imaginable are no match for the power of Jesus.
When we willingly believe Jesus took our sin debt in his body and allowed his blood to be shed to pay the price for our transgressions; when we declare Jesus is Lord, the only begotten Son of God, then we have truly eaten or “taken in” the truth of his broken body and shed blood. When we accept Jesus as Lord and Savior, we share in the salvation he promised, and share in his resurrection victory over sin and death.
Just as the Old Testament children of God ate their Passover meal in their day with their minds on the events of the past and in anticipation of their Messiah coming in the future, we observe the Lord’s Supper in our day with our minds on the Gospel events of the past and in anticipation of Jesus’ second coming, one blessed day in the future.
Please bow your heads in prayer as we prepare our hearts, minds and spirits to remember the Lord’s death, burial and resurrection with the observance of the Lord’s Supper this evening.
Lord Jesus, through your new covenant, you invited not only the nation of Israel to be delivered from the enemies of sin and death, but all mankind. We thank you for the honor and privilege to worship you today.
For the Christian, every day is, after a fashion, an observance of your death, burial and resurrection, but for the world at large this is the season we formally commemorate those events. We pray that people searching for truth find a new relationship with you during this time, and will be added to your growing kingdom.
Prepare us now to celebrate this Lord‘s Supper observance with a renewed sense of thanksgiving for your atoning work and a rededication of mind, heart and spirit to follow your example and share the good news of your new covenant.
– end –