Our message today is from Mark 14. I remind you that we don’t gather here to hear from me or any other person, but really the Word of God and these verses in Mark have got a lot to do with the Lord’s Supper. The Lord’s Supper in our mind is often governed by the painting by Da Vinci, where for some reason, everybody decided to sit on one side of the table. I think because the artist was there wanting to get everybody in. And there have been many, many thoughts about the Lord’s Supper in the last 2000 years, lots of crazy ideas, lots of helpful ideas. And it’s good for us to travel back to the 1st century and see simply what Mark wanted to tell us.
If you were here last week in Mark 14, we’re travelling in the last chapters of Mark leading up to Easter. We saw two people and their extreme reactions to Jesus. One of them was a woman, basically, anointing Jesus with expensive perfume. Very grateful. The other one, of course, was Judas, greedy, plotting His death. You couldn’t have greater extremity.
These two were a reminder to us last week that in the end, the world is either moving towards Christ or away from Christ. We may be very grateful this morning, many of us, that God has caused us to come to Christ, but we must also remember that many are hostile, and we are in the world to be good signposts for Christ.
This section in Chapter 14 from verse 12 is searching because we begin to realise as we look at these verses, that as they sit at the table, there’s only one worthy person. You’ve got others there who are deserters, and you’ve got one there who is a betrayer, but there’s nobody worthy at the table, but Jesus Christ, the saviour.
If you look at Chapter 14, 12 to 26, that there are 15 verses and they’re arranged by Mark as a sort of, a sandwich. The first five verses tell us that Jesus is in complete control. We might say He’s the king. The last five verses tell us that Jesus is a loving saviour. And in the middle, there is a great evil.
It’s as if the section begins by telling us that Jesus is the master, it finishes by telling us that He is the lover, and in between, there is a massive need. Now when you think about those three together, control, evil, love, first five, second five, third five verses, it is remarkable that the three of them could be together at the same table.
If Jesus is in complete control, why have a betrayer at the table? Why not eliminate him? Isn’t this one of the big questions we ask every now and again, if God is so great, why doesn’t he just eliminate evil? Surely, with one flick of the finger, He could do it. If there is a betrayer at the table, why be loving? Why allow the body of Christ to be crucified and the blood of Christ to be spilled? Isn’t, again, this’s one of the great questions that we ask? If there is so much evil in the world, what is God doing?
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On the first day when it was customary to sacrifice the Passover lamb, Jesus’ disciples asked Him, “Where do you want us to go and make preparations for you to eat the Passover?” In other words, “Lord, it’s time to remember our rescue from Egypt. Where will we be doing this together?”
Those of you who read the gospels carefully will know that the days of the Passover are presented in the four gospels in various ways, some would say contradictory ways, but they are wonderfully reconcilable and especially when we remember that the word ‘Passover’ is not just the word for the feast, but the word for the week.
In the city of Jerusalem, it’s estimated during the Passover week that the numbers rose massively. One writer has suggested a million more people came into the city if that could be possible. And so, what Jesus says in Chapter 14 verse 13 is amazing, when He says to two of the disciples, “Go into the city, and a man with a water jar will bump into you.”
You think to yourself, “What corner will that happen on?” And Jesus says, “I want you to follow this man, and he’ll take you to a house, and I want you to say to the owner of the house, where is the big room? He’ll show you the big room. You get things ready.”
Here is Jesus in complete control. You remember that when He was entering Jerusalem, He sent two disciples and they were to find a colt tied to a fence, and they were to untie it. And when people spoke to them about the colt, they would say this, and the people would say this, and they would say this, and then He would ride into Jerusalem. And now He sends two again, to arrange the supper. And this is two who’ll meet a man with a water jar, and a house, and a room, and it’s all because the teacher has arranged it.
Now, how does this work? How does He do this? How do you walk into a city of maybe a million people and meet the right person who owns the house that they are going to? Why does He have a big spare room waiting in such a busy week? When did Jesus arrange this?
Well, friends, if you think this is difficult for Jesus, you need to rethink Jesus. What a pleasure it was this week to meet up with somebody who has really been drawn to Christ and has begun to realise that Christ is who He says He is, the king of the world, the saviour of the world. And this man is drawn to the greatness of Christ as, of course, we should be.
But, you see, all the plotting that’s going on to kill Jesus, and we saw some of it in Chapter 14: 1, with the religious leaders, and we saw it in 14:11, with Judas going off with his money. We see it here again at the table as Jesus says, “One of you will betray me.” This is all under control. This is how Jesus will do His work. And these five verses in Mark 14: 12 to 16 are really a little mini version of the whole work of Jesus to organise everything to the goal that He has planned. And He’s the only one who can do this. And that’s why He’s never threatened by anybody. He’s the only one who can predict the future with accuracy.
During the week, I took a funeral and a lady came up to me at the funeral and she said, “You won’t remember me.” She said, “But I was your kindergarten teacher.” And she was my kindergarten teacher. Just amazing that she would remember me after 30 years. I paused to let you let that sink in. She remembered me after 60 years and recognising that I was a clergyman. She said, “I’m not religious,” and she’s an old lady. She said, “But I’m not afraid to die.” I said, “You should be afraid. You should be afraid,” I said to her, “Because you and I do not have the answers about the future, but Jesus does have the answers. And He says, there are a heaven and a hell.”
I suspect that I was a precocious kid at kindergarten and she was keen to move away from me once again. But it’s absolutely true, isn’t it? The only person who knows the future and controls the future, Jesus Christ is the person we should be trusting in because we don’t know or control the future ourselves.
This is the first thing you see we’re being told by Mark in these five verses, Jesus is completely in control. Whether He is organising a rescue for the world or whether He’s organising a room for a meal, great or small, He has it all under control.
Now, we find this difficult to believe when things go wrong. I find it difficult to believe when things go wrong. I think if He’s in control and He’s loving, it should all be great. But you’ll see again and again in the scriptures that He’s in control and He’s loving, and He’s going to use what’s not so great. I want you, therefore, to lock into your mind wherever you go in the future of your life that Jesus Christ controls the cosmos and the cells in our bodies. He is in complete control. Lock it in, then work with the other problems, but lock it in that He is in control. Nothing has escaped Him. Nothing has got away from Him. Nothing is bemusing Him, confusing Him. He’s in complete control.
Second, there is a great evil, verses 17 to 21, Jesus says the offensive words as they sit at the table, He says, “One of you is going to betray me.” Perhaps they’re not sitting at the table, perhaps they’re lying on the ground, but He says, “One of you is going to betray me.” And He knows that Judas has been plotting. He knows. He knows that there’s going to be a betrayer. Even the Old Testament said there would be a betrayer. Psalm 41:9 says, “My friend, he who shares my bread has lifted up his heel against me.” And you’ll notice how Jesus having announced that one of you will betray me, narrows the circle in verses 18 to 20. He says, “One who is eating.”
Now, it’s possible that in this big upper room there were more than 12 in that Passover meal. It could be that right across the room people were eating in the Passover meal, including Jesus and the 12, and what He’s simply saying is, one who is with me in this meal. Then He says, verse 20, now it’s one of the 12. And then he says, verse 20, now it’s one dipping bread into the bowl. And Luke and John both tell us, although Mark doesn’t tell us, that it is Judas.
Now, I want to just go on a little side with you at the moment and ask the question as to whether Judas is free to do what he’s doing, or whether he is a puppet of some system.
The answer, I hope you know, is neither. He’s not entirely free, and he’s not a puppet of some system. People are not free, although we often talk about how we’ve all been given free will, we’re not free from our sins. Just try not lying this week or thinking the wrong thing. We’re not free from our sins. We’re not free from the consequence of our sins, which is death and judgment, we’re not as free as we think we are. But we’re; also, we’re not puppets. We’re not able to save ourselves, the Bible tells us, but we’re not able to excuse ourselves.
Somehow God has perfectly arranged things so that we won’t boast about how great we are, but we won’t blame about how bad we are. We’re meant to be the sort of people who understand that we must take salvation from Him because of our sin, and we must take responsibility for the choices we make.
In other words, God is completely sovereign, and we are completely responsible, and somehow these two train tracks run through the Bible so that we can never boast of our salvation or blame for our mistakes. Judas is not able to be perfect, but he is able to be responsible. You and I are not able to be perfect, but we are able to be responsible. And the great sin that Judas commits here is that he, obviously, walks away from Christ. And we know this because Jesus says the most terrible words in verse 21, which is that it would be better for Judas if he’d not been born. He is remorseful after he does the deed, he comes back as he throws the coins and he burst into tears, and he goes and hangs himself. But it appears from what Jesus is saying, that he’s made the tragic decision of walking away from Christ. And if you walk away from the saviour, there is no salvation. If he had just betrayed and come back to Christ, and fallen on his knees and asked for mercy, of course, he would have been forgiven. But it looks as though he has been one who walks away from Christ.
I come back to this critical point that Jesus is the only worthy person at the table. You’ve got people who will desert Jesus. You’ve got one who will betray Jesus, but nobody is worthy at the table but Jesus. And when we understand this, we begin to work out the two whys of salvation. The one is that we are very needy, and the other is that He has very wonderful news. And when those two whys connect in your prayer of faith, you become a believer. So, you see that Jesus knows what Judas is up to. Jesus knows what I am up to. You don’t know what I’m up to, but Jesus does. I don’t know what you’re up to, but Jesus does. Everything is known to Him. And the wonderful thing is that He knows exactly what we’re like past, present, and future. He expresses and offers His love to us in immeasurable measurable ways. So, we don’t come to the Lord’s table, as we will in a couple of minutes, saying to ourselves, I’m a pretty pious person. I should be at the table because I’m a little cut above the rest. That would be completed nonsense. What we do is we come to the table saying, I’m a deserter like the disciples.
When the New Testament tells us that we’re to examine ourselves, it’s not that we will make ourselves worthy and, sort of, polish ourselves up and make ourselves fit for the bread and the wine, but we are going to recognise that we have a place among the sinners and we have a very great saviour.
That’s why when we come to the communion, we’re meant to be coming, first of all, with a sense of our own hopelessness and a sense of His massive grace, sufficient for our problem. That’s, friends, why I respect greatly the people who don’t take the communion, who sit in the pew as the communion comes around, and they say, “I won’t take this because I know deep in my heart that I have never truly decided to repent of my sins and put my faith in Jesus. I’m not going to pretend.” I respect that.
But this coming to the table is for those who are unworthy and full of gratitude for God’s amazing grace. Never forget friends that Judas was at the Lord’s Supper, taking the bread, probably taking the cup, and being given these things by Jesus prove positive the taking the bread and the taking the wine cannot possibly save you.
It doesn’t matter who gives it to you, that person cannot possibly save you unless there is a response in your heart which is broken for sin and grateful for salvation. We would do well, I think, at communion to remind ourselves that we come to the table like the deserters, but full of gratitude.
Now, when He says at the table to the disciples, “Take, drink,” these words are so well known, we almost go to sleep. I was reading this week that they’ve discovered a circle of stones in Scotland, and they have immediately announced, The Historical Society, that they’re 4,500 years old, which is what historical societies often do.
But I read in their minutes that researchers come to an abrupt halt because the owner of the land has explained that he put them there 20 years ago. And the Historic Society is disappointed.
There you are some very old looking, but actually quite modern stones. Some very old words with very fresh, not stale significance. Remember that the is the Passover meal as well as being Jesus’ Last Supper. They’ve, obviously, had the lamb and the herbs and now it is time to take the bread and the cup. And as Jesus takes the bread, this would be the normal thing spoken at the Passover.
The head of the home would say this, “This is the bread of affliction which our fathers ate in the land of Egypt.”
And you’ll see in verse 22 that Jesus announces something brand new as He takes the bread. He says, not this is the bread of affliction, which our fathers ate in the land of Egypt but, “This is my body,” and breaks it. Then in verse 23, He took the cup, and He announces something brand new, He says, “This is my blood of the covenant.”
Some gospels have “New covenant”, and so if I could quote Peter Bolt, he reinterprets the Passover meal in terms of His death. He says, “No longer are you to cast your mind back to Egypt as being the great rescue, you are to cast your mind to my death as the great rescue.”
Who would dare to do this? Can you imagine Moses having been given the instructions after a few weeks saying, we’re getting a bit tired of this, we think we’ll change the words?
Can you imagine King David saying I’m the king of Israel, I think we’re going to have a brand-new liturgy? This is the Son of God, and He is teaching disciples everywhere that rescue is to be found because of His death. And, of course, the bread and the wine are symbols.
As the great men of the reformation pointed out, what could be more confusing than for Jesus to be sitting at the table in His body announcing that the brand had become His body?
And as one famous reformation leader said, “If the cup was the new covenant, we’ve lost the new covenant.” No, no, no, it’s obvious that these are symbols. The bread is a symbol of His body which will be broken. The wine is the symbol of His blood which will be shed. And so, Jesus directs their attention to the day we call Good Friday where His body and His blood will be sacrificed in their place so that the believer will go free.
And then verse 25, He announces another day, a final day which is coming, which is the day He looks forward to where He will eat and drink in the fellowship of His people in the Kingdom of God. In other words, here we are today. It’s a particular day. We are looking back to the day of Good Friday, and we’re saying that’s where our rescue was achieved. And we’re looking forward to the day where all Christ’s people will be with Him in a feast which He promises and proves and which is unimaginable.
I find this difficult to believe. I’m sure you do too, but everything is moving to the future. And we have one person who has come into the world and uniquely impacted the world, and He has told us, with proof and promise, this is true that death is what will achieve your salvation.
The day at the end is where you will receive it in all its fullness. So, keep trusting Him. We are people who stand on the promises, and we keep going forward with very good reason. This is how these 15 verses fit together.
There are five on the kingship, and at the end, there are five on the saviour, and in the middle, there are five on the sinners. We might say that the five on the king and the five on the saviour are like arms wrapping themselves around the sinners.
Just imagine, friends, if God only accepted moral people. There could be somebody here this morning, and you think, “I’ve come into the church and the people here, they’re probably nice people.” No, no, no, if God accepted moral people, we would boast one day, and we would be desperate the next, neither of which is helpful. Imagine if God accepted everybody in the world and said to the world, “You’re all going to be saved, but don’t care what you think and I don’t care what you want. I’m going to steamroll you. You’re all going to be saved.”
Well, we would get quite bored with this. And, possibly, we would be just moderately grateful. But God, you see, comes and says to us, “You don’t deserve to be at the table, but my grace is sufficient, and you’re loved, forgiven and assured.”
I gather from listening to another preacher that there was a fictional story, I’d never heard this before, of a Jewish boy back in Egypt on the night of the original Passover. And he wakes in the night and He discovers that the blood which has been taken from the lamb that they’ve eaten has been put in a bowl and the blood in the bowl is meant to have been put on the doorposts to make sure that when the angel of death passes through, that they will be safe, but the blood is sitting in the bowl. And he quickly races in and alerts his dad and says, “Quick, put the blood on the doorstep, on the doorposts.” And what they’re doing by that, of course, is that they’re moving from this theory to trust.
And God calls people today who deserve His judgment, and the world deserves His judgment, not just to hear of the sacrifice of Christ, but to make it their own by telling Jesus Christ, if possible on your knees in prayer, that you are trusting what He has done for you only and completely. And then the arms of this master king and this gracious saviour, wrap around the sinner, and you find yourself forgiven, adopted, and safe forever. And that I think is something of what Mark 14 is trying to tell us.
Let’s bow out heads. Heavenly Father, we thank you for not just telling us of these wonderful things, but giving us such a wonderful person in the Lord Jesus Christ. We pray that you would help all who are here present, all who are listening, to respond in faith, in confidence, in joy, and help us to live gratefully and in your goodness, useful, in Jesus’ name. Amen.