Jesus, our Passover Lamb ( Mark 14)

Publié le 2 avril 2022 dans Traductions

Sermon preached by Julien Grenier, Agape Campus minister, on 3rd April 2022

This morning we will continue our study of the Gospel according to Mark. We have seen over and over again that Christ throughout his life identifies himself directly or indirectly as the Messiah, the Son of God.

In the first chapters he stays for three years in Galilee where he performs healings and miracles. In chapters 8, 9 and 10 he says that he has to go up to Jerusalem in order to suffer and die there, and be resurrected 3 days later. Since chapter 11 we have entered the last week of our Lord’s life, the last week that he spends in Jerusalem, the last week that is the most important of his life, the last week towards which 1500 years of Old Testament prophecies point. The last week that represents the foundation of the building that is our faith, our church… The last week in which the most important events in human history take place.

We saw in chapter 11 that on Monday, as the Jews chose and brought their flawless lambs into Jerusalem in preparation for the Passover, the Lord also brought his perfect lamb into the city in triumph. We also saw in chapter 13 that the Lord announces his return and invites his disciples ― and through them, us too ― to stay awake and pray.

And this morning we come to chapter 14 and we enter the shadow of the cross… That fateful moment when the lion of Judas takes on the form of a lamb, when we see Christ the eternal high priest sacrificing himself.

I invite you to follow the reading of Mark chapter 14. We are not going to read everything… We are going to read verses 1-2 then verses 12-52 and we will finish with verses 66-72

This morning we will see 4 points: 

1/ The sovereignty of God

2/ The strength of Christ

3/ The weakness of man

4/ Peter’s victory

The feast of the Passover and unleavened bread was the most important feast for the Jews. It was a festival during which hundreds of thousands of lambs were sacrificed and during which several million people were in the streets of Jerusalem. A Jewish historian of the time notes that in that year some 256,000 lambs were sacrificed. Moreover, we know that the Jewish law required that there be between 10 and 20 people per Passover meal. So that week there were between 2.5 million and 5 million Jews in Jerusalem, not counting the Romans of course. The streets of Jerusalem were therefore completely crowded. It must have been a bit like the hyper-center of Toulouse on the evening of June 21, the yearly music festival.

Jesus Christ lived his whole life with people around him who wanted to kill him… Religious leaders and Roman leaders. When he was born, Herod, the Roman governor, had already heard about him, about a king who was to be born in Bethlehem, he saw him as a threat to him, and he ordered that all Jewish children under two years of age in that region be put to death. But warned by an angel, Jesus’ parents fled to Egypt and Herod’s attempt failed. 

From the beginning of his ministry, Jewish scholars sought to put him to death because Jesus identified himself as the Son of Man, which is an Old Testament title for the Messiah, the Christ, the only Son of God. We saw that at the beginning of chapter 3. We also saw that throughout his ministry the experts try in vain to set traps for him in order to accuse him and have a legitimate reason to put him to death. But they do not succeed… The carpenter’s son answers all their questions wisely. Even when he returns home to his own people in Nazareth, to those who saw him grow up… They are so shocked by his teaching that they try to seize him and throw him off a cliff… But Jesus simply passes through them and goes away. There were probably many other attempts to assassinate Jesus, but they all failed… Why? Well, because his time had not yet come.

In verses 1 & 2 of this chapter we see that the Jews wanted to kill Jesus with cunning, with discretion. They did not want to do it during the Passover feast, because they were afraid of the crowd that had cheered his entry into the city, shouting « Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord. They understood well that they would fail and that they would probably not be able to have him executed during the feast because the crowd would come to his defense, and as we have said, it was a big crowd. 

However, it was not up to them to decide when and where the lamb of God would be sacrificed. As in a play, the actors in the drama that is unfolding cannot do what they want… They have a role to play, of course. But the director, the one who is sovereign, is the Eternal, the Almighty God. He decides when, where and how his Christ, his perfect lamb, will be sacrificed.

Revelation 13:8 tells us that the lamb of God is sacrificed even before the foundation of the world. This means that God’s plan precedes creation. Christ’s death was not an accident… Christ’s death was not God’s plan gone wrong. Jesus himself told his disciples in chapter 8:31, 9:31, 10:34, and in parable form in chapter 12:7. Acts 2:23 says, « This man was delivered to you according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God. » No it’s not an accident, it’s God’s plan… it’s always been God’s plan. It’s plan A, there was no plan B… there never was. And now the time, the hour of Christ is really here… The scene is set.

At the time of Moses, in Egypt, the Jewish people had been enslaved for 400 years. The time had come for the Lord to bring his people out of Egypt. And to bend the Egyptians to let the people go, the Lord sent a series of 10 plagues. The tenth and last of these plagues was the extermination of the first born. For the Lord to recognize his own, and not exterminate his people, he instructed them that every household should sacrifice a lamb without blemish and sprinkle its blood on the door lintels so that death would not strike them but would pass over those houses that bear the blood of the lamb… The Jewish Passover is a commemoration of this liberation.

And for 1500 years every year millions of lambs were sacrificed as substitutes for men… But the sacrifices of sheep and goats were not only a commemoration, it was also a necessity to cover sins. The blood of the innocent lambs was given in place of the blood of the sinful people, it was a substitute sacrifice, the innocent lamb was substituted for the sinful man. But no lamb had ever satisfied the justice of God, that’s why millions of them had been sacrificed… These sacrifices served to cover sins. But now comes the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, the one who must fully satisfy the justice of God is about to celebrate and eat the Passover, as the law required.

Imagine Jesus, all his life he sees these sacrificial lambs, and from a very young age he knows that he is the true lamb to which all these lambs point… He knows that at the moment fixed by his father he is going to be sacrificed like them, for us, in order to take upon himself our guilt and to offer us eternal life. It is therefore crucial that he becomes our paschal lamb and that he dies on Friday, the 14th day of the first month of the Jewish calendar at 3 o’clock in the afternoon when all the other lambs begin to be sacrificed in Jerusalem, that is the moment marked, pre-ordained by the Almighty Father.

But it is also crucial that he celebrates the Passover with his disciples… And this for several reasons. Firstly, to fully respect the requirements of the law, it was a commandment to celebrate the Passover. It was also an opportunity for Judas to hand Jesus over to the Jews and start the process of his arrest. But above all, it is crucial that he celebrates the Passover with his disciples in order to instruct them, to put an end to the old Passover and to inaugurate the new Passover.

Jesus does not allow himself to be deterred from this. In verse 10 we see that Judas is looking for a favorable and discreet opportunity to betray and deliver Jesus… And this meal would have been the perfect opportunity for Judas… In a crowded city it was the perfect time, and they were alone and out of sight. That’s why there’s all this mystery about where they will celebrate the Passover. Only two of the disciples, Peter and John (we know this from John’s gospel), go there to prepare the meal. So the Lord will celebrate and eat the Passover with his disciples on Thursday night and on Friday he himself becomes our paschal lamb. 

This double celebration of Passover is made legally possible by the fact that the Jews of Galilee celebrate Passover from sunrise on Thursday to sunrise on Friday, while the Jews of Judea celebrate Passover from sunset on Thursday to sunset on Friday. Thus Jesus can legally eat the Passover with his Galilean disciples on Thursday night and be the Paschal lamb on Friday, die at 3:00 and be buried before 6:00, stay three days in the tomb and resurrect on Sunday as foretold in the scriptures according to the sovereignty of God.

During their meal, he gives his last instructions to his disciples which we can see in detail in chapters 13 to 17 of the Gospel of John. It is during this meal in particular that he washes the feet of his disciples, giving them a lesson on humility. It is also during this meal that he promises them the sending of the Holy Spirit after his departure. It is during this meal that he takes and breaks the bread, saying it is his body, and distributes the wine, saying it is his blood, thus ending the old Jewish commemoration and instituting the new commemoration of the holy communion. Thus ending the old covenant which was based on the perpetual sacrifice of animals to establish the new covenant which is based on his sacrifice alone, once and for all.

After their meal and his last instructions, as Judas left to deliver Jesus to the Jews, they sing the Psalms… It’s 6 psalms, the Hallels, Psalms 113 to 118

Then they go to the Mount of Olives, and the first thing Jesus says is that this is also something that is part of God’s plan: he tells them in verse 27, « You will all stumble this night because of me, for it is written, ‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered.  He is telling them that they will flee from him, that they will deny him and forsake him… But in verse 28 he goes on to say that after his resurrection he will go ahead of them to Galilee… He is telling them that he will not forsake them and that he will go after them and even go ahead of them where they have fled to Galilee. 

Peter’s answer illustrates the ego and pride of man: Me? Never, and it is not that Peter is dishonest… He really thinks that as he says « even if all stumble, it will not be my case » and here again Jesus is sovereign and tells him exactly what is going to happen… Notice that although the emphasis is on Peter, in verse 31 we see that all say the same thing. Man is like that… We sometimes tend to trust our own strength more than God’s words. 

2/ The strength of Jesus Christ

On several occasions during the life and ministry of Jesus, the enemy, Satan, came to him to tempt him. And at each temptation, Satan’s objective is the same. If you don’t think about it too much, you might think that Satan’s goal is obvious… You might think that Satan wants to kill Jesus, that he wants him to be crucified. But if you think about it, you soon realize that it is the opposite. Man can be very naive, but Satan is cunning, he is deceitful, he is clever… He is not naive… He knows that the cross is the only hope of redemption for man. Satan’s objective is not to bring Jesus to the cross, but to keep him away from it… 

During the temptation in the wilderness just after Jesus’ baptism, Satan basically tells him that he doesn’t need to go to the cross, that if Jesus bows down to him, Satan would give him all the kingdoms of the earth. Satan fails. But then he says, « let him go away from him until a favorable time. » We see Satan reappear in chapter 8, at Caesarea Philippi when Jesus asks his disciples who he is and explains to them that the Son of Man must go to the cross, that he must suffer, that he must die, and that he must rise again on the 3rd day… And that Peter takes him aside and basically says, « But no, don’t worry, it won’t happen like that. » And what does Jesus answer him: « Get away from me Satan ». 

Satan was present in the garden of Eden, he is the serpent who tempted Adam and Eve and made them fall. And Satan is still present in the garden of Gethsemane, it is the favorable moment for him… And he seeks to make Jesus fall, that is to say to move him away from the cross. But where the first Adam in the garden of Eden fell, the second Adam, who is Jesus, in the garden of Gethsemane stood firm and crushed the head of the serpent. As it was written in Genesis 3:15.

What happens in the garden of Gethsemane is the greatest struggle our Lord has ever experienced, a struggle he wins. Jesus knew from a very young age that he had to go to the cross, that he had to become the perfect sacrifice that redeemed mankind… But there is a difference between knowing that something is going to happen to us and experiencing it. For example, if you’ve never been on a plane, you can imagine what it feels like to fly, but until you’ve been on a plane you don’t know what it feels like. Or you can imagine what it feels like to walk on the moon… But until you walk on the moon you can’t know exactly… And it’s the same for any experience, until you have lived the thing you can have an intellectual knowledge of it, but you can’t know what it will feel like. 

Well, it is the same for this experience that Jesus is going to have in the garden of Gethsemane… Jesus is going to taste, for the first time in his life, this bitter cup which is the cross and the abandonment of his Father. That is why this moment is the most favorable for the devil. And this experience is absolutely necessary… In the same way that in the name of love God had to leave the choice to Adam to take and eat the forbidden fruit or not to eat it, to follow him and love him or not to follow him and love himself… In the same way in the name of love, he has to leave the choice to Jesus, in full knowledge of the facts, that is to say knowing exactly what he is going to experience on the cross, to say not my will but your will.

And for whom? For us… What a sacrifice, what humility… 

3/ The weakness of man

In parallel with this demonstration of strength and will of Jesus, we see the weakness and cowardice of man. In chapter 13, you remember Jesus recommended vigilance and to keep watch, not to fall asleep… And now in chapter 14 at the hour of the Son of Man, after the disciples had proclaimed that « even if I had to die with you, I would not deny you »… These same disciples were not even able to stay awake for one hour.

It’s almost ironic, he leaves for an hour, he comes back and finds them asleep, so he reprimands them… he leaves again for an hour and then we say to ourselves after being reprimanded they are not going to go back to sleep! He comes back… and they are sleeping! It’s really strange… It’s almost as if Mark wanted to tell us: « See how weak man is by his own strength. The disciples look at Jesus and as if they themselves were astonished at their own weakness, they don’t know what to say to him… They have the will, they have the spirit, but in their weak flesh they cannot find the strength. The third time Christ says enough is enough… The hour has come, and he who will betray me is coming.

In the garden of Eden, God says to Adam (in not so many words): Follow me and you will live. Adam answers: No, I will follow myself. In the garden of Gethsemane God said to Jesus: Follow me and you will die. Jesus answers him: Abba Father, your will be done. 

Adam is us… We have freely chosen to live our lives away from the Lord. We have fallen very low. Jesus Christ is our hero, our Savior, the one whose life is not taken away but who offers it as a ransom for many… And he reaches out to us, and asks us to take it… But again, in the name of love, he does not force us… Can we force someone to love us? The very experience of love is that both parties give themselves to each other. 

The theologian Oswald Chambers once said that the whole of heaven is in awe of the cross, that the whole of hell is absolutely terrified of the cross… But that man is often indifferent to the cross.

In our story of the cross, in this drama taking place in the last chapters of the Gospel, we have seen several actors… We have seen Satan who does everything to keep Jesus away from the cross… We have seen the sinful man in Judas the Iscariot and in the Jewish specialists who do everything to have Jesus killed because they think he is a threat to them and to their interests. We have seen the weak man in Peter and in the other disciples who are proud and think they are strong, and who, when they see the abomination of the cross, lose all their courage and run away from the one who loves them, leaving him to die alone, abandoned. We saw the Father leading his beloved Son to the cross, as a parent would lead his child to school by the hand or as Abraham led his son Isaac up Mount Moriah. And finally we saw Jesus, the beloved Son, who in the face of the suffering of being separated from an eternal love takes courage and says yes. He says yes to the cross, he says yes to death in order to offer us life. 

4/ The victory of Peter. 

It would be appropriate to end here, for it is to Christ, the Lamb of God, that all the glory belongs. And we must remember this every day and perhaps even more strongly in this Easter period. However… And although you would have understood that I am not a humanist, the Lord has put me at heart to leave you this morning with a word of hope for man…

We have seen during these last months during these first 14 chapters of the Gospel of Mark that Peter was an impetuous man, not always very thoughtful, and too often proud and when it was necessary to be watchful and to be courageous, there was nobody left… However, we also know that in the years following these events, during his ministry, he showed great wisdom and profound humility. So much so that when Peter was crucified in Rome, he said to the Romans, « Crucify me upside down, for I am not worthy to die as my Lord did!” What a change of attitude, what a transformation!

Verse 72 says: « For the second time the cock crowed. Then Peter remembered what Jesus had said to him, ‘Before the cock crows twice, you will deny me three times…’ And as he thought about it, he wept. » For the first time we see a Peter who is not impetuous, arrogant or proud… We see Peter weeping… The word « Repentance » is a word that may seem a bit barbaric at times and yet it describes one of the heart attitudes in which our Lord takes the most pleasure. This morning I would like to suggest to you that this moment of weeping, this moment of repentance of Peter is one of the pivotal moments of his life with Christ. The moment when he understands that he is not capable of watching and praying, that he does not have the courage in his own nature that he thought he had… 

This attitude of heart, this repentance is the first step towards a life in relationship with Christ our Savior. This attitude of heart is the attitude that the prodigal son had when he returned to his Father. This attitude of heart is the way we choose to take the hand that Jesus Christ holds out to us. And this is our choice, it is our responsibility… It is also our hope… And this hope is solid and does not deceive because once we take his hand, he makes us his temple and he dwells in us, and he pours his love into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us. 

The victory of the prodigal son is not when he chooses to leave and live independently of his father, but when he humbles himself and returns to his father… The victory of Peter is not when he makes great promises to never deny Christ, but when he weeps and understands that he is weak. And our victory is not when we make great promises of righteous living in order to please Christ and earn his favor… But it is when every morning we return to the cross, and humbly ask him to help us and to do his work in us. 

And then yes, we will be able to stand firm and watch, we will be able to have the courage that Peter and the other apostles had after receiving the Holy Spirit… And we will be able to stand firm in the face of the enemy in prayer… However, and I end on this, as the apostle Paul said: Not us, but Christ in us.

Let’s pray.