A Special Invitation

I wrote last week about the tearing of the curtain in the Temple at Jesus’ death and suggested its significance was that of an invitation: an invitation into the presence of God.

It’s a really big deal, speaking volumes about God’s grace.

Note that, normally, the only person who could enter the Most Holy Place was the High Priest of God’s people. He had to be a descendant Levi, the son of Jacob. He had to be a descendant of Aaron, Moses’ brother. He could only enter once a year, and when he did, it had to be with an offering of blood. To enter any other time carried a death sentence. For anyone else to enter was unthinkable.

But Jesus was not of the tribe of Levi. Though he was a High Priest, he was not a descendant of Aaron. Though his priesthood was much older than Aaron’s, entering into that Most Holy Place still cost him his life, for the blood of his admission was his own.

In doing this, God opened the way into His presence not just for one man, but for all. In doing it, God changed everything. He changed everything for us. Oh yes, the change was all a part of God’s original plan. But the plan was to involve a demonstration of the lengths to which God would go to give us fellowship with Him. It was a demonstration of His grace and love for us.

Consider what God has done for you. And then, consider what you can do for God.

An Open Invitation

“With a loud cry, Jesus breathed his last. The curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom” (Mark 15:37-38).

Matthew, Mark, and Luke all write about the tearing of the temple curtain – the curtain that separated the Holy Place from the Most Holy Place (the place of God’s dwelling).  Other than the fact of its tearing, they make no other point.

In the days of Moses, the curtain was made of “blue, purple and scarlet yarn and finely twisted linen, with cherubim worked into it by a skilled craftsman” (Exodus 26:31).  That curtain was replaced by Solomon when the temple was built and described as “made of blue, purple and crimson yarn and fine linen, with cherubim worked into it” (2 Chronicles 3:14).  The Jewish historian Josephus described the curtain in Herod’s day as ninety feet high and thirty feet wide.  It was a Babylonian curtain, embroidered with blue, and fine linen, and scarlet, and purple, and made with marvelous skill.  On the curtain was an image of the heavens.  That last part is important.

The writer of the book of Hebrews noted that Christ at his death entered the Most Holy Place with his own blood to obtain redemption for us all.  It is by that same blood that we too  enter into God’s presence (Hebrews 10:19).

I find it interesting that when the gospel of Mark begins, the heavens are torn open and God proclaims about Jesus: “This is my Son.”  At the end of the gospel, a curtain with the heavens depicted on them is torn open and I imagine the significance was not to announce Jesus’ divinity nor even to receive Jesus back, but to call all of us into God’s presence.

Fear Turns To Confidence

He said, “Abba, Father, for you all things are possible; remove this cup from me; yet, not what I want, but what you want.” (Mark 14:36)

Jesus knew he was going to die.  Matthew, Mark, and Luke all agree that at least three times, Jesus told his disciples he was going to be murdered..
But Mark makes plain Jesus did not want to die.

More vividly than the other gospel writers, Mark describes Jesus’ panic in the garden.  In Matthew Jesus prayed “if it be possible, let this cup pass.”  Luke has it “if you are willing, remove this cup from me.”  In Mark, however, Jesus is more direct.  First, he leans heavily on his relationship with God calling him “abba Father” (or daddy, father).  It’s the only time Jesus uses this most familial of addresses.  Then, he says “all things are possible for you.  Remove this cup from me.”  It’s not a request, but a cry of desperation.

You have to see all this to appreciate what follows.  They don’t forcibly drag Jesus away, kicking and screaming.  Jesus willingly goes to meet the mob, and then goes with them.  And though the story that follows is shorter in Mark than the other accounts, it’s obvious Jesus is in charge all the way.  He criticizes the mob for their hypocrisy.  He refuses to answer the High Priest except to warn him of impending judgment – a judgment Jesus himself will inflict.  He refuses to answer Pilate except to affirm that he is king of the Jews.

Jesus will go to his death in control all the way, because he had, in the end, entrusted himself to God.  In days of difficulty we pour out our hearts to God for deliverance.  Sometimes it is received.  Sometimes not.  Either way, life is to be lived under His hand, and that means there comes a time when prayers for deliverance stop.  Not because we lose faith, but because we have resigned ourselves to the will of God, and trust Him to see us through.

What Would You Do WIth A Second Chance?

But the chief priests stirred up the crowd to have Pilate release Barabbas instead” (Mark 15:11).

Barabbas had been imprisoned for participating in a revolt in the city. Mark actually refers to it as “the revolt,” implying it was a memorable incident – at least for the time. Mark and Luke tell us he was a murderer, and Luke tells us the murder happened during the revolt.

Jerusalem, a large city, built on a hill, home to a great temple, was always in need of fresh water. Pilate determined to build an aqueduct to provide additional water, and who better to pay for it than the single greatest user, the temple? Every year Jews from all over the world sent money to pay for the administration of the temple and Pilate, rather heavy handedly, took that money to build the aqueduct. A revolt ensued and all this about the time of Jesus’ death.

Two things capture my attention:

First, Mark says the two crucified with Jesus were “revolutionaries” (though the word sometimes means “robber”). I’ve wondered if those two were Barabbas’ accomplices.

Second, it’s interesting that the name Barabbas, reduced to its parts, means “son of the father.” It’s even more interesting that some manuscripts give a fuller name: “Jesus Barabbas.” So here we have two men named Jesus, both called the “son of the father.” One was guilty of sedition and a murder. The other, innocent of any crime. And yet, it was the innocent who took the place of the guilty on a cross. What became true for Barabbas has become true for us all: Christ has taken our guilt, borne it Himself, and given us a new start. I wonder what Barabbas did with his?

What are you doing with yours?

He Did Not Flinch

Rise, let us be going; see, my betrayer is at hand” (Mark 14:42).

I think I’d have said it differently.

One word.

“Run!”

The disciples would run of course – but not Jesus.  Years later, Peter described the unfolding scenes of the following hours this way: “When they hurled their insults at him [Jesus], he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly.” (1 Peter 2:23).

Jesus didn’t want to die.  No serious reading of Mark’s Gethsemane account can miss the terror that tore at his soul.  Running would have made absolute sense.  But when Judas arrived with his unruly band of brigands, Jesus stayed.  He rebuked the crowd for treating him like a criminal, rebuked his disciples for adopting the same posture as the mob, and healed the wounded.
He may have been led “like a lamb to the slaughter,” but he was no pushover.

Before the High Priest he demanded witnesses be brought to substantiate the charges against him.  When criminally assaulted for insolence, Jesus demanded proof he had spoken improperly. Before the Jewish council and Pilate he admitted his identity as the Son of God and king of the Jews.  He did not flinch.

Christian people are called to “show proper respect to everyone: Love the brotherhood of believers, fear God, and honor the king.”  But it doesn’t mean we roll over and play dead in the face of opposition.  We must speak out in favor of the oppressed, against injustice, and against sin, bringing light to the darkest of places – even if they are high places.  But we cannot adopt the weapons or vocabulary of the powers of darkness.  Never denying who we are, we follow the one nailed to a cross, entrusting our lives to Him who judges justly.

Fellowship With Christ Requires Fellowship With One Another

While they were eating, Jesus took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to his disciples, saying, “Take it; this is my body.” Then he took a cup, and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them, and they all drank from it” (Mark 14:22-23).

This institution of the Lord’s Supper is also found in Matthew 26:27 and Luke 22:17.  While all three accounts are substantially the same, Mark differs in that only he is specific in saying all the disciples drank from the same cup.

It is part of a larger point in Mark.  Three verses later, Jesus tells his disciples they will all fall away.  Peter replies: “even if all fall way, I will not.” Two verses later  all the disciples say “Even if I must die with you, I will not deny you.”  Finally, when Judas comes to betray Jesus in the garden, all the disciples flee (vs. 50).

Three points stand out to me: First, the table of the Lord is not a table of merit.  It is a table of grace.  Not one of those disciples deserved to sit in fellowship with Jesus.  But they all did, and they all did at the invitation of Jesus.  None of us comes to the table of the Lord worthy of the fellowship it provides.  But by the grace of Christ, we join him, and one another, there.  Second, we are either all in it together, or not in it at all.  The table of the Lord reminds us we are one body.  Third, we come not just to be reminded of who we are, but to be reminded of what Christ can make of us if we remain, together, in fellowship with Him.

Who Is Invited?

“I tell you, I will not drink from this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom” (Matthew 26:29).

Yes, this verse sounds very much like another from Mark 14.  But it is a little different.  In this one, Jesus says “I will not drink this fruit of the vine . . . until . . . I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.”

The passage again calls to mind the great banquet scene in Isaiah 25 and  Matthew 22, both of which are images of the kingdom of God at the end of time.  Jesus’ vow here is not just an oath to make the promised kingdom happen.  It is also a warning.  He does not promise to drink with everyone, but only with those in his Father’s kingdom.  I appreciate the way J. A. Motyer (in his commentary on Isaiah) sums up the point: “In the end, there will be a great gulf fixed between those who are at the feast and those who are not.  It will not suffice to have belonged to a group close to the kingdom, to have stood on its very threshold, or to have known some who entered.”

You’ve got to actually enter into the kingdom.

It requires entrusting your life to God, believing his guidance is better than your own and that of the world about you.  It means turning from the ways of the world, dying to it and being raised to a new life (Romans 6:3-4).  It means being “born again” (John 3:5), having your past washed away (Acts 22:16), being cleansed (Ephesians 5:26), and having God adopt you into His family (Galatians 3:26-27).

This is, however, but the beginning.  Submitting to the rule of God is a life-long life-style. That is, in its essence, the requirement of Kingdom belonging, and the condition to fellowship at the great banquet of God.

The Great Banquet

“This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many,” he said to them. “Truly I tell you, I will not drink again from the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God” (Mark 14:24-25).

The last line is a puzzling one.  Both Matthew and Mark mention it.  It contains both a vow and a promise.  The abstention from wine might not seem like much of a vow for many of us.  We have other alternatives.  But given that wine was the staple drink of the ancient world, refusing it would be tantamount to not drinking anything!  It was a serious vow.  But what does it mean?

There are two ways to look at this promise:

First, it was an assurance that the arrival of the Kingdom of God was imminent.  Jesus would soon rise from the dead, ascend to the father, and take his place at the right hand of God, ruling over all authority, power, and dominion.  The Church, where that rule would be seen on the earth, would be established and God’s people would gather regularly to fellowship with Christ in the Lord’s Supper.

But second, perhaps something more future also is involved.  Isaiah had promised a glorious banquet in the presence of the Lord (25:6-9).  This promise was mentioned several times by Jesus and connected to the Kingdom of God at the end of time (see Matthew 22).  John refers to it in Revelation 19 as the “wedding supper of the lamb.”  The promise not to drink wine until he drinks it with us looks forward to that day when we will eat and drink together with Jesus, in His presence, at the end of the time.  The vow Jesus takes here is our assurance it will happen.  The Lord’s Supper is a weekly reminder that something greater is coming.

In Agreement With God

While they were eating, Jesus took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to his disciples, saying, “Take it; this is my body.” Then he took a cup, and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them, and they all drank from it. “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many” (Mark 14:22-24).

In the ancient world, serious agreements (covenants) were sealed by slaughtering animals and cutting them in half.  Participants in the agreement walked between the halves and then burned them in sacrifice (see Jeremiah 34:17-20).  The notion was: “If we do not fulfill our part of this agreement, may we become as this animal.”

Whenever I read this passage in Mark 14, I am reminded of a story in Genesis 15.  There, in a crisis of faith, Abraham asks how he can believe God will make good on his promises.  God has him to prepare several animals for sacrifice, cutting them in half.  But Abraham is not asked to walk between them.  Instead, God, in a flame of fire, passes between them and burns them up in sacrifice.  The point is this: God is making a covenant with Abraham, a covenant guaranteed solely by God and his wholly by His being.

When we become God’s children, we enter into an agreement with God, an agreement so serious it is guaranteed by the sacrifice of God Himself – signified by the blood of Jesus.  This event in Mark 14 is Christ’s initiation of the Lord’s Supper.  Our observance of that Supper each week  is a reminder not only of Christ’s death, but also of His covenant with us and the promises of that covenant.  It is also a reminder that those promises, so integral to the covenant, are guaranteed by the life of God himself.

Sharing in Christ’s Life

Then he took a cup, and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them, and they all drank from it. “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many,” he said to them (Mark 14:23).

Ages before, God had said “I will set my face against any Israelite or any foreigner residing among them who eats blood, and I will cut them off from the people” (Leviticus 17:10). Keep in mind that the statement “cut them off from the people” implied a death sentence – likely to be carried out by God Himself.

In the Old Testament, life was bound up in blood (Leviticus 17:11). It was too precious to be used as food. If it was used at all, it was to be offered to God for forgiveness of sins, but never to be consumed by humans. So imagine how horrified the disciples must have been when Jesus passed around his cup of wine, had his disciples drink from it, and then told them: “This is my blood.”

Christ’s blood was certainly an atonement offering – his ransom price for our sin. But his life was also the life of God. To drink the blood of Christ was to share in his life and destiny. His life is the only life worth sharing so intimately, and the life of Christ is the only life worth emulating (John 6:53ff).

In the Lord’s Supper, we remember not just that Jesus died, or that he died for us, or even that he died so we might find forgiveness. It is also a reminder that we have voluntarily decided to share in his life. While we affirm this decision in observing the Lord’s Supper, to be true, it must be seen in the way we live each day.