24 Hours That Changed The World: The Last Supper

Lenten Sermon Series

Mark 14:12-31

We began our Lenten journey as we place the ashes on our foreheads or hands  with the solemn reminder that “We are Dust and Dust We Shall Return”.  During this season of Lent we will be beginning a new sermon series. entitled; 24 Hours That Changed the World. 

The aim of the series is to help us better understand the events that occurred during the last 24 hours of Jesus life, see more clearly the theological significance of Christ’s suffering and death, and reflect upon the meaning of these events for our own lives. 

Let us quickly look at all the events leading up to those 24 hours that changed the world.

Each of the Gospel writers tells the story slightly differently. But they agree on this: sometime before he died, Jesus arrived in Jerusalem with his disciples after walking the seventy-five miles from Galilee, where he spent most of his ministry.  He came to Jerusalem to celebrate the Feast of Passover, but he also knew that he had come to die.

He entered the city from the Mount of Olives, riding a donkey. Crowds hailed him, laying their garments down before him, waving palms branches and shouting, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!” (Matthew 21:9) This triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem is what we celebrate on Palm Sunday.

Over the next few days Jesus taught in the temple, and according to Matthew, Mark, and Luke, on one of those days in the temple, he overturned the tables of the merchants and moneychangers. After this, it was apparent to everyone, including Jesus, that his life was threatened, as he himself had predicted on three occasions.

Thursday of that week was the beginning of the festival of Passover, which Jesus wanted to celebrate with his disciples.  Likely he knew it would be his last; but perhaps even Jesus did not know how quickly events would progress.

This year Passover begins, March 30th and will continue until April 7th.  During that time, we Christians will celebrate Easter. Do you understand that we are literally surrounded by this story; though it is ancient history, it’s still shaping lives today?

Jesus – being not Christian but Jewish – celebrated Passover, and he wanted to celebrate it – especially if it was his last with those closest to him, his disciples.  So he gave them instructions to prepare for it.Finally, at dusk, they sat down to eat. (Passover Clip from Jesus of Nazareth)

I’d like to ask three important questions as we focus on this most sacred of meals.

1.     First of all, “Do we get it?” As Christians, we’ve got to get it!  Do we  truly understand the significance of this meal Jesus gave us? For us as Christians, it is our defining meal, just as the Passover Seder is the defining meal for Jews.

When Jesus took that ancient ritual, took that bread and cup and shocked his disciples by saying, “This is my body broken for you” and “This cup is my blood poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins,” he transcended the old meaning into a new one, the old covenant into the new.

The last twenty-four hours of Jesus’ life  – and this meal in particular – is the story of God whose love is so great that he send his Son to lay down his life as the sign and seal of a covenant that would deliver the human race from death. The Apostle Paul in writing to the Corinthians says;

What you must solemnly realize is that every time you eat this bread and every time you drink this cup, you reenact in your words and actions the death of the Master. You will be drawn back to this meal again and again until the Master returns. You must never let familiarity breed contempt.” (1 Corinthians 11: 23 – 26, The Message)

In transforming the Passover into the Eucharist, Jesus gave us this meal to define who we are. Through it, we remember that someone has saved us; that our freedom came at the cost of a person; that God, in human flesh, suffered and died for us.

We must see ourselves there at that supper and at that cross, knowing it was for each of us that Jesus died. Every time we take the bread and wine, we remember; and it reshapes us. It reminds us where we came from, and it defines who we are and who we will be.

2.     Second question is:  “When have we been Judas? When have you been a Peter?” The Passover is meant to be a festive and joyful celebration, and that was likely how that evening began. But as the night wore on, the mood darkened; everybody wondered what was going to happen to Jesus and to them. Would there be repercussions from his actions in the Temple? Would he finally proclaim himself Messiah? 

Jesus cut through this uncertainty with a statement so electric it still echoes across the centuries. “One of you,” he said, “will betray me” (Mark 14:18).

The echoes of Jesus’ prediction and the acts of betrayal by those closest to him are still discomfiting. In our own age, when church leaders have abused children, embezzled funds, and more, we realize that betrayals are commonplace. Jesus might as well have said, “All of you will betray me”; and with that realization, we must look at ourselves. So I ask you “When have we been Judas? When have you been a Peter?” 

When have you betrayed Jesus or denied or deserted him? The reality is that all of us will at some time betray him — every one of us.

3.     The third question is: “Who will be at our last supper?

”Is it any surprise, that, as Jesus approached his death, he found it comforting to be with his friends?

In breaking bread with them, he taught them one last time. In washing their feet, he showed them his love. He gave them a meal by which they would remember him for the rest of their lives. From that time to this, every time Jesus’ disciples have shared this meal of bread and wine, it has bound us together as his followers and reminded us that he is never far away.

Do you have friends – spiritual friends – people you can talk to about faith, about life; people you can confess to and who can confess to you; people who will pray you through tough times?Friendships like that do not just happen. We have to cultivate them.

That’s why the earliest Christians – hundreds of years before they had church buildings – gathered for worship and in smaller groups in one another’s homes.

I am a firm believer that you can’t truly be a Christian in the fullest sense of the word if we choose to live our faith outside of community. Because the truth is, each and every one of us needs close friends who will join us on this journey, who will challenge us, help us, and support us in our faith.  If Jesus needed a group like this, how much more so do we?

There, at the Last Supper, Jesus sat, with his disciples, a band of misfits and ragamuffins. There were fishermen, a tax collector who was a Roman collaborator, a Zealot who wanted to kill the Romans, a mix of brash and bashful men, most of whom (like most people in the first century) could not read and write. One would betray him, one would deny him, all would desert him; but they were still his friends. 

In breaking bread with them, he taught them one last time. In washing their feet, he showed them his love. He gave them a meal by which they would remember him for the rest of their lives. From that time to this, every time Jesus’ disciples have shared this meal of bread and wine, it has bound us together as his followers and reminded us that he is never far away.

In Mark’s Gospel, the Last Supper ends with these words:  “When they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives . . . they went to a place called Gethsemane.”