Beginning the Memorial
“Go into the city to such a man, and say … The Master saith, My time is at hand; I will keep the Passover … with my disciples. And the disciples did as Jesus had appointed them; and … when the even was come, he sat down with the twelve” (Matthew 26:18-20).
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We come to the last day of our Lord’s life, Nisan 14, the day he would be raised on Calvary’s cross for our sins. The sun has descended in the west. It is still light, but day 13 is closing, Thursday changing into Friday, 2000 years ago. Candles are lit for the coming darkness. Darkness is settling also among the enemies of the son of God.
Four days before, while Jesus and his disciples sat to dine in Bethany, dear Mary had made a costly gift. The raising of Lazarus was still fresh in her mind, but long before that she
loved to sit at the feet of Jesus and hear the words of life. Mary unsealed an alabaster box with somewhat more than 1½ cups of costly scented oil. She applied this first on Jesus’ head, the remainder on his washed feet, and wiped the residue with her hair. Soon the fragrance of spikenard filled the home.
A thousand years before, Solomon penned the words: “While the king sitteth at his table, my spikenard sendeth forth the smell thereof” (Song of Solomon 1:12). Jesus remembered.
Later, Jesus would be wrapped with myrrh and aloes, representing his death and the healing that would come from it. But there was a fragrance of love — and it filled his heart.
The next morning, Monday morning, still the 10th of Nisan, Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a colt, representing the new doctrines of grace and truth which he bore. He was proclaimed
king by the crowds, and properly so, for he was their Messiah. But his welcome presaged his death. Passover lambs were selected on Nisan 10, and he was presented to Israel the same day.
Tuesday, Jesus cursed the fig tree, cleansed the temple, and taught the people.
Wednesday, the temple leaders confronted Jesus and sent agents to trap him in his words. It was to no avail — no man spake as this man spake. But it was an exhausting day. He taught the people through the day, publicly called to account the leaders of Israel, and warned of the coming judgment. When at last he departed for an evening at Bethany, he paused at the Mount of Olives and uttered two chapters of prophecy
and parables for his disciples.
Thursday was spent by Jesus with his disciples at Bethany. As the sun declined, the last events began to unfold.
Jesus sent two disciples ahead of him into Jerusalem to prepare, with enigmatic instructions. Upon entering the city they would find a man bearing a pitcher of water. They were to follow him to whatever home he entered, and request of the house manager a place to prepare for Passover. He would show them a large upper room, spread with carpets and cushions for dining. But suppose they did not find such a man? Or perhaps more than one? Or maybe they would be delayed en route and miss an intended connection. Or perhaps the first man would turn in to the wrong home?
No, it would all go well. In this last errand, they would have another tangible sign of the Lord’s mastery of all affairs. So the saints all through the age have found appointed servants
of Jesus, carrying vessels of truth. Following these, they have found their master has provided a rich spread of blessings.
There the disciples made ready. “And when the hour was come,” Jesus sat down with the 12 apostles (Luke 22:14). Some suppose this was the Passover meal his disciples were to make ready. Others suppose it was a pre-Passover last supper, noting the words of Jesus, that he would not eat Passover with his disciples until the kingdom. In either case, the Jews at large would bring their lambs to the temple the following afternoon, about the time Jesus’ completed his suffering on the cross. And in either case, Jesus would die on the 14th of Nisan, as predicted centuries before in the Passover type.
The Host of the Evening
Jesus was the host for this gathering. It was customary for a host to offer guests a cup of refreshment upon the commencement of the evening’s event. Jesus offered this to his disciples before the meal. But he himself would not receive it. Thus he said to his disciples, “Take this, and divide it among yourselves” (Luke
22:17). He explained to them, “I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God shall come” (verse 18).
Subsequently, as the meal proceeded, Jesus took bread symbolizing his body, and the “fruit of the vine” symbolizing his blood, and passed them to his disciples as emblems of his sacrifice. These we receive with thanks. Without the sacrifice of Jesus for us, we have no life in us.
The Last Supper
As the supper proceeded, Jesus observed that something had been overlooked. It was customary for guests to have their feet washed, for the comfort of the evening. They had walked
perhaps three miles from Bethany, and this kindness would be appreciated. But none of his disciples had taken the opportunity to serve the others in this way.
So Jesus did. Only John records this episode. Jesus took a towel in hand, poured water into a basin, and one by one went to each disciple. Surely, at even the very first disciple, they recognized a lesson, and by the time Jesus came to Peter, he broke the tension by refusing to have the master thus serve him. Peter had a good spirit, but Jesus had something deeper in
mind. Jesus was about to die for them all. What our Lord was doing now was in symbol of the cleansing only he could give them — and us.
“If I wash thee not, thou hast no part with me” said Jesus (John 13:8). The same words apply to each of us. We are sinners by nature. If our Lord would not cleanse us, we could have no part with him. Are we not blessed to have the son of God himself, stoop to this service for us? If Jesus would do this for us, then we should in the same spirit wish to serve others. Each of us feels that lesson from our master.
The Hand of a Betrayer
It was apparently after this that Jesus introduced the emblems of his death, the bread, and the cup. Luke says, following those emblems, that Jesus said the hand of his betrayer was on the table (Luke 22:21), and John’s account next introduces the matter of Judas. It was no intellectual matter for Jesus. It touched him. It troubled him. John 13:21 says, “Jesus … was
troubled in spirit” and said, “Verily, verily, I say unto you, that one of you shall betray me.”
The news took them by surprise. Each looked around, wondering of whom he spoke, and wondering if it was them. Peter, a little removed perhaps, asked John, who was next
to Jesus, to ask who was meant. Jesus replied, “He it is, to whom I shall give a sop” (John 13:26). Jesus took a morsel of food, dipped it in the sauce, and gave it to Judas. Perhaps only John heard this, and when Jesus then said to Judas, “that thou doest, do quickly,” they supposed Jesus meant for him to purchase something for Passover, or perhaps give some charity to the poor (John 13:27-29).
Now Judas was gone. Now Jesus began preparing his disciples for his departure. What would he say in the short time remaining?
- He told them he was going.
- He gave a new commandment, to love one another, “By this shall all men know that you are my disciples” (John 13:35). And so it has worked. Christianity is marked as the religion of love, above all others.
- Peter protested, saying that he was willing even to lay down his life for Jesus. And he meant it. He had said the same thing weeks earlier, as had all of the disciples — and they all meant it, as shown by following Jesus to Jerusalem, knowing of the peril. But fear would loom, and Jesus warned Peter of three denials before the crowing of the cock.
- Jesus then addressed his disciples as a groom might speak to a bride. When a young Jewish man proposed to a bride if her answer was yes, she would take a cup of wine offered by the groom. Jesus had passed the cup, and
they had all taken it. Then Jesus said he would go away to prepare them a place, as a groom would prepare living quarters for a new family, and return later to claim his bride. “If I go, and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself” (John 14:3).
- Thomas, Philip, and Jude had questions, and Jesus gave answers that they would understand later. Jesus promised the Holy Spirit to guide them in his absence, by which Jesus and God would make their abode with them.
Then Jesus closed the occasion: “Arise, let us go hence” (John 14:31). As they passed eastward, perhaps vine carvings on doors near the temple prompted the lesson of the vine and branches. Jesus repeated his command about love, and assured them that they were his confidants and that he had chosen them, and commissioned them to bear fruit.
They would be hated and persecuted by others, but they should not be offended. Then he repeated his earlier, cryptic thoughts, reworded a little. “A little while, and ye shall not see me: and again, a little while, and ye shall see me.” They would have deep sorrow for a time, but they would see him raised from the dead,
rejoice greatly, and go forth with a renewed spirit, zeal, and faith. Then “your heart will rejoice” and no one would dim that joy. The words were still cryptic, but they would understand soon enough.
Then he spoke more plainly: he came from the Father, into the world, and now would leave the world and return to his Father. But, he said, a trial was coming, and they would be scattered
for a short time.
He then lifted his eyes to heaven and prayed audibly for his disciples, a prayer that constitutes John chapter 17. Keep them, sanctify them, nourish them.
They reached the brook Kidron, east of Jerusalem, and then Gethsemane, at the base of the Mount of Olives. Jesus called on Peter, James, and John to come further and watch with him.
Three times Jesus sought to know from his Father that all things were well. There was great intensity, fervor, and concern. The weight of his mission bore upon Jesus with more pressure than we can apprehend. But an angel sustained him, and he was at peace. The intensity of his prayers is preserved for us perhaps through the witness of young John Mark, in the shadows, as
others were sleeping.
God allowed nothing to interfere until Jesus’ wrestling in prayer had run its course. Then it was time. Judas led an armed band
and betrayed Jesus with a kiss. Jesus addressed his captors, and as they all fell back, he could simply have walked away. But it was his time. But Jesus was still in control. He healed the ear
of Malchus, and saw to the freedom of all his disciples. Then he faced the hour of darkness alone, except for his Father.
Jesus was taken to Annas, bound there, and sent to his son-in-law Caiaphas, the high priest that year. Peter and John followed at a distance. John gained entrance for them at the courtyard of Caiaphas, bringing Peter into danger. Three times he denied Christ. When the cock crew, Luke says that Jesus caught the eye
of Peter, who wept bitterly.
Meanwhile, Jesus was condemned by a council. They searched for witnesses, and some came forward, but no two agreed. At last two were found with a semblance of agreement about a threat by Jesus against the temple. Jesus would not respond until Caiaphas adjured him to speak, as a solemn charge to a man of honor. Then Jesus replied, “Ye shall see the Son of
man sitting on the right hand of power, and coming in the clouds of heaven” (Mark 14:62).
That was it. It was not what they wanted, but it was close enough. The high priest rent his garment in mock horror, demanded a verdict, and the council obliged. Thereafter, soldiers took the liberty to mock him, spit on him, hit him blindfolded, and ridicule him until they tired of their sport.
At first light, the priests and elders affirmed their sentence and brought Jesus to Pilate. Jesus said little to Pilate and nothing to the accusations of the priests and elders. Pilate marveled at his reserve. Pilate’s wife warned him, “Have nothing to do with that just man: for I have suffered many things … in a dream because of him” (Matthew 27:19). Pilate gave his verdict: “I find no fault in this man” (Luke 23:4). But his accusers railed, claiming Jesus had stirred up people from Galilee to Jerusalem.
Galilee? He was a Galilean? Herod, the ruler of Galilee, was visiting Jerusalem at the time. Pilate would send the matter to him. Herod was curious and willing, but Jesus would not reply a word, so Herod returned him to Pilate, but not before Herod’s men adorned Jesus in purple and mocked him.
Pilate faced Jesus a second time. He decided to scourge Jesus, a brutal process, and release him. Jesus was scourged, and the soldiers made a crown of thorns, and hit him repeatedly, taunting him as King of the Jews. In this way Pilate presented him to the crowds, seeking sympathy. But none was offered. Instead, the crowds railed: “He ought to die, because he made himself the Son of God” (John 19:7).
The Son of God? Now Pilate was even more afraid. He brought Jesus into the hall of judgment again. “Where did you come from?” Jesus would not answer, until to Pilate’s claim to have the power of life and death, Jesus said, “Thou couldst have no power at all against me, except it were given to thee from above” — a tacit acknowledgment of his standing with God.
It was now about the sixth hour from midnight. Pilate tried to release Jesus, but threatened with a charge of infidelity to Caesar, he yielded. He washed his hands, but he could not wash his guilt. Three years later he would die by his own hand, facing accusations against him brought to Caesar.
They took Jesus to the place of the skull, Golgotha, Simon of Cyrene being conscripted to carry the cross. At Golgotha, iron nails would blow-by-blow fasten hands and feet to the rough wooden cross. He would endure six hours of exposure and indignity. But he would not stop his thoughts from pursuing his mission.
- His garments were distributed by lot
- He assured a repentant thief of the kingdom
- He gave John charge of his mother
- He claimed Psalms 22 from the cross
- He tasted vinegar to fulfill prophecy
- He exclaimed, “It is finished”
- He quietly committed his spirit to God
The sky darkened at noon for three hours. Jesus died between two thieves and he was buried in a rich man’s tomb. The earth quaked at his death, the temple veil rent, tombs were opened, and bodies thrown up. The Centurion and his soldiers feared, and said, “Truly this was the son of God” (Matthew 27:54).
Friday, Nisan 14, came to a close. Sabbath began, and Jesus rested in the tomb. His pain had ended, his work was done. In the houses of Israel around the land, two candles were lit to
bring in the Sabbath. These candles are named Zakhor (remember), and Shamor (observe). Now we remember. Now we observe.