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This was a service that was centered around the Communion Table. We would sing, I would preach, and we would partake of an emblem. It is rather lengthy, but it covers the entire service. 

 


In My Memory

Matthew 26:26-29 

The Body represented by the bread

As far as the disciples knew they had gathered in that upper room to participate in the Passover. That’s why Jesus had sent Peter and John to prepare the upper room. Surely in their minds this was just another Passover, the third they had shared with Jesus. They were prepared to go through the customs and recite the prayers just as they had every year of their lives. They were ready to eat the bitter herbs, and taste the salt water just as they had in years before. But as the apostles would soon realize this was not a common Passover meal, Jesus was about to redeem this meal and show the significance of His death. 

It is striking to me that when Jesus wanted to give His disciples a way to understand what was about to happen, He didn’t teach them theory. While there is a lot of merit to theories about Jesus and our sin, He understood that we would need something deeper. Jesus gave them and us an act to perform. Specifically He gave us a meal to share that speaks more volumes than any theory. The best way to understand what Jesus has done for us to participate in the meal together.  

Mark 14:22 says And as they were eating, he took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to them, and said, "Take; this is my body."  I imagine that the disciples kind of perked up at this point. You see Luke tells us that they had just taken the third cup, the Cup of Redemption, all that was left to do was for them to take the cup of Hallel and sing some hymns as they close out the seder.

But instead we see that Jesus makes a change, He stops looking back at the Passover, and begins to talk about His role in the redemption of all mankind by discussing His body. For a moment I want you to think about what His body endured on your behalf. John 19:1-3 says: Then Pilate took Jesus and flogged him. And the soldiers twisted together a crown of thorns and put it on his head and arrayed him in a purple robe. They came up to him, saying, “Hail, King of the Jews!” and struck him with their hands.

Look at the words "...and flogged or scourged Him...," Since we have never witnessed a scourging our mind absorbs the phrase and passes to the next sentence. The Bible gives no further explanation. There is no footnote explaining what it means. Most of us read over it for years without really contemplating that word...scourged.

It was somehow a part of the crucifixion. Maybe we heard a preacher say it was some sort of a whipping, but it was so much more. Remember that these were not civilized people by modern standards. We would not be allowed to treat a dog today the way they treated our Lord. A scourging was a legal beginning to every Roman execution because it weakened the victim through shock and blood loss. Without scourging a strong man might live on the cross for several days. This brutal flogging was called the "little death" and preceded the "big death" or crucifixion.

History tells us that a criminal was flogged either by two soldiers, called lectors, or by one who alternated positions. Under Hebrew law a punishment was limited to forty strokes. However, there was no such limitation imposed by the Romans.

A scourging’s severity depended entirely on the lector’s disposition. The only rule for the lector who scourged a man about to be crucified was that he was to die on the cross and not at the stake. Therefore he tried to bring his victim to the very verge of death, without crossing that threshold.

The prisoner was tied to a post that was usually about two feet high. Their wrists were strapped to an iron ring that projected near the top. The lector would use a short-handled whip, called a flagellum, with several single or braided leather straps of variable lengths, in which sharp pieces of sheep bones or glass were tied at intervals. Sometimes the whip was made of several thin, iron chains which ended in small weights.

Before the prisoner was beaten they were stripped so they stood naked, or with a loincloth. They were stretched; face down, with their back positioned to provide little protection for the underlying flesh. The body was rigid.

Then it came; the whistle of the whip and the dull thud as it made contact with flesh. There was a burning sensation and the first trickle of blood. Then again and again, more rapidly, blow after blow with unbearable agony the back, neck, face, chest, and legs were repeatedly struck. At first, it caused deep bruising. Then, as the lector continued; the whip, sheep bones, chains, and weights cut into the skin and even muscle.

The lacerations often tore into the underlying skeletal muscles and produced quivering ribbons of bleeding flesh. As V. P. Black puts it, "They beat Him until His shoulder blades looked like two whitecaps on an ocean of blood."

After what seemed like an eternity the prisoner was finally taken down from the post. The body would be in circulatory shock. Also factor in that Jesus had gone without food, water, and sleep for fifteen to thirty hours and that He had been physically and mentally abused during the night.

If His body had not taken enough abuse, after the scourging they put a crown of thorns on His head, put a reed in His hand, and put a purple robe on Him.

The thorns probably came from the lote tree. This tree had thorns averaging one inch in length. It was improbable for anyone to form a wreath-like crown using these thorns without being injured. It would be more probable, that the crown of thorns was more like a helmet. In fact, it would have been easier to cut off a branch and use it as a helmet of thorns.

Another soldier then took the reed and hit Him over the head, driving the thorns deeper into his flesh. Since even a small cut to the head bleeds profusely, imagine how the blood must have run down His face, into His eyes, nostrils, and mouth.

Immediately following the scourging, Jesus’ clothes were put back on His massacred back. Imagine how the garment must have soaked up the blood. How uncomfortable it was to have that rough material scratch against His open wounds! As the blood began to clot, His clothing became stiff and dry. Just about the time His bleeding stopped, they ripped His clothes off and placed the robe on Him opening the wounds again.

All of this would have happened before Jesus even began the torture of the cross. This morning when we stop to take this bread, it is a representation of the body of Christ. We stop to reflect on the body that was embarrassed, humiliated, spit on, and tortured so that we could have a relationship with Him.

Let us now partake of the bread, a symbol of the body that endured the torture and pain for you and me.

 

The Blood Represented by the Fruit of the Vine.

The idea of drinking wine at the Passover was not a new idea with Jesus or His apostles. It was not only the custom, but the Rabbi’s taught that it was an obligation. We read in the Mishnah that even the poor are obliged to drink the four cups (Pes. 10:1). Each cup represent the four expressions of deliverance promised by God Exodus 6:6-7: "I will bring out," "I will deliver," "I will redeem," and "I will take."

Honestly most of us are not very familiar with the sight of blood. But for the Jew the sight, and smell of blood was a part of their daily lives. History records that on a Jewish Holy day, the temple floors were covered with the blood of animals that had been sacrificed for the sins of the people. When you think about the fact that every family would bring a lamb, or bull to be sacrificed for their sins, the amount of blood would have been enormous. It would have been enough to cover the people’s feet and even get on the bottom of their robes.  

Blood was a central part of the lives of first century Jews and the book of Leviticus talks about the importance of the blood.  It is amazing to see the lengths that man had to go through to please God and cover sin. If we look to the book of Leviticus in chapter 4 we see that Moses was spoken to by the Lord about how the Israelites had to atone for their sin. There were precise methods that God required and specific items He required for a sin offering. These sacrificial offerings always required blood to cover sin.

The blood of an animal was required to make atonement for sin. The animal would be brought to the priest and the priest would perform all the necessary steps required by God. The Bible tells us what the result was for those acts in  Leviticus 17:11 where we read For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it for you on the altar to make atonement for your souls, for it is the blood that makes atonement by the life.

Blood was such an important part in the Jewish culture because it reminded them of a few things:

First The Blood is a reminder that we are sinful.

According to Leviticus 17:11 Animal sacrifices were used to cover the sin of the people. The sacrificial system was necessary because we are a sinful people as well who need the cleansing and forgiveness of God.

We read in Leviticus 19:2, Be holy, because I, the Lord your God, am holy.” The blood sacrifices were a reminder to the people that they were sinful and God wanted them to be holy as He is. The Israelites purified themselves through the sacrificial system. Their was an abundance of blood shed as the Israelites appealed to God to forgive them of their sins. The sight, smell, and feel of blood was everywhere and served as a physical reminder of their sinfulness.

Secondly Blood is a reminder that sin is costly

As we look in Leviticus to these sacrifices, we see that it cost the Israelites something whenever they sinned. If you had a problem, let’s say with a quick temper, each time you blew up at someone you would end up paying for it with a sheep. Think about how that would impact your life is we collected fines here at the church when you sinned? Everyone showed up on Sunday morning and paid set fines: $50 for each time you cussed, $75 times for each time you lusted, $100 for each time you acted proudly, think about what our budget would look like.

Sin has always been costly. It brings great damage to us personally. It separates us from the love and fellowship of our God. And it cost the life of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Finally we see that Blood is a reminder that Salvation comes through Jesus Christ.

Jesus was born for the express purpose to be a sacrifice for our sinfulness. The Levitical law stated that the animal sacrifice had to be an animal without blemish, and the sacrifice had to be made over and over again. The sacrifice of an animal only pushed our sins forward, they could not pay the penalty for them.

The Hebrew writer would say it this way, The Law of Moses is like a shadow of the good things to come. This shadow isn't the good things themselves, because it cannot free people from sin by the sacrifices that are offered year after year. If there were worshipers who already have their sins washed away and their consciences made clear, there would not be any need to go on offering sacrifices. But the blood of bulls and goats cannot take away sins. It only reminds people of their sins from one year to the next. (Hebrews 10:1-4)

Our sinfulness demanded a better sacrifice. Jesus lived a perfect life, and was the only one able to provide that perfect sacrifice for our sins. The wine that the Apostles used during their Passover meal reminded them of what God had promised. In very much the same way we partake of the cup so that we can remember the blood that Jesus shed on our behalf. 

When Jesus told the disciples to take the cup and remember Him, He was reminding us to love our God, who reconciles us to himself. The cup reminds us of our sinfulness, his holiness, and his salvation.


The Offering

I grew up in the church, so it seemed every Sunday after the men had passed out the cup a man would stand up and say “Now separate and apart from the Lord’s Supper.”

I understood what they intended, but I also believe that they were wrong. What we are about to do cannot be separated from what we have just done. Think for a moment, we have just stopped and remembered what a wonderful gift that God has given us. Jesus purchased us with His body and His blood. The creator became fully human so that He could experience a horrible death and redeem us from ourselves.

When we are faced with the reality, how do we respond?  The collection that we take is, in essence, our response to the goodness of God.

There is a wonderful story about a young boy living in Chicago. His parents had turned him loose one Sunday morning, and in his boredom he made his way into a church. He had never been in a church before and found the singing and preaching very interesting. At the end of the service they participated in the communion service, where a gentleman described the depth of God’s love and what a cruel death Jesus died on the cross.  

Then it came time for the offering and the man said that this was a time to give God what you wanted him to have. The little boy watched anxiously as the collection plate drew nearer and nearer to him. He saw person after person put money in the plate and he began to rifle through his own pockets looking for something to give. He searched his pockets and found only a single button.  He was stricken with fear as he realized he had no money, he had nothing to give to Jesus. Fear shot through that little boy, what would the preacher say, what would the people around him think?

Then the plate arrived, he took it with trembling hands, then he knew what he wanted to give to God. He gently placed the plate on the floor and stepped very carefully onto it and whispered, “Lord I give myself”.

Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 8:5 that the Macedonian Church did very much the same thing. Having nothing they gave themselves first to the Lord. Because of their thankfulness of what God had done for them they were willing to give generously.  It’s noted that they gave far above their means and even pleaded for the chance even the privilege of giving to the work of God seeing it as a service to the saints.

This morning we pause here to let go of our wants or our time and remember that we are not our own. You and I have been brought at a price the precious blood of Christ was spilled out on the cross of Calvary. With the incredible gift we have been given, the very least you can do is give yourself to Him.

 

Invitation

Many of you know that I am a fan of LSU. And by most standards I am a pretty good fan. I have been to some games, I have some t-shirts and jackets, and I even have a sticker on the back of my truck. I read different blogs about the team and I check twitter to see the final scores. I cheer for them when things are going right and I fuss about them when they are losing. But at the end of the day that’s as far as it goes.

I know this is not your usual Easter Sermon, but I stand before you this morning, after seeing everything that Jesus has done on my account, and I wonder if we are content with just being fans, or are we compelled to be a follower.

For most Christians today, we attend some of the services, wear the Christian T-Shirts and bracelets, occasionally read different books or blogs about the Bible, and even check in from time to time to see what the Bible has to say. We get all excited when the church does something I am passionate about, and we gripe when they make a decision that makes me uncomfortable, but at the end of the day that as far as it goes.

As you read through the Gospels you will find example after example where Jesus puts people in a position where they had to make a choice. There are several examples of times where large crowds were following Him and He would preach a sermon that would determine who was committed to being a real follower.

Jesus was never impressed by the size of this crowd, it’s the commitment level that He cared about and still cares about. Today Jesus wants to know if we truly want to be a follower or are we happy just being a fan. Where we may wear a cross, but we don’t bear the cross. You can come to church, know all the songs, open your Bible and take notes, walk out to your car with a Jesus fish on the bumper and say grace before lunch, but that doesn’t necessarily make you a follower.

I need to confess to you this morning that I was raised to be more of a fan than follower. I attended churches and worked with churches that confused knowing about Jesus with knowing Jesus. But I now understand that there is a difference between knowledge and intimacy. You can know a lot about Jesus, but still not know Jesus.

Jesus didn’t come to this earth so that you would be better behaved or to tweak your personality or fine-tune your manners or smooth out your rough spots. He wants total transformation. The objective of the gospel is not to make you a well-behaved person but to turn your life upside down. Jesus didn’t come to change me but to kill me. When I quit fighting for the controls of my life and surrender everything to Him, when I die to myself and live for Him I find life that that is truly life.

Jesus was serious about calling us to be more than fans, He called us to be followers in passages like Luke 9:23 where He says if we want to follow Him we must deny ourselves and take up our cross daily. And that’s different from my modern view of being a disciple. You see I have been taught that the call of Jesus was to be comfortable.

What I am realizing now is that a true follower doesn’t ask “How can I be comfortable?” But when Jesus challenged the comfort level of those who were following Him, when He began to say difficult things like, deny yourself, take up your cross and follow me, many of His followers left. When it got hard to follow Christ let quit following Him.

I need to you hear me today when I say, there’s nothing comfortable about the call to follow Jesus. He demands full commitment.

I have a friend who claims to be a vegetarian. And most of the time she is very strict about what she eats, and how she cooks it. But she has a little problem, she really likes bacon so every now and then she makes an exception. She will tell you that while she really like vegetarian food, she’s not 100%  committed.

I wonder if you understand where she is coming from. I wonder how many of us are committed until it becomes inconvenient and uncomfortable. So when the special is Filet Mignon then our commitments can be adjusted. I mean we really like Jesus, but I’m not really excited about serving the poor. I happily call myself a Christian, but there are so many other things I can do besides going to church. While I love Jesus but in this area of my life I’m not 100 percent committed.

We say, I want to follow Jesus but don’t ask me to forgive the person who hurt me. Don’t ask me to release that bitterness and resentment I’m not going to let that go.

I want to follow Jesus but don’t ask me to give a percentage of my money. I worked hard for that.

I’ll follow Jesus but don’t talk to me about my sex life, I can’t help my desires.

We wear the name Christian and then we pick and choose the teachings of Jesus that we’re going to follow like the teachings of Scripture were a buffet, where you just take what looks good to you and don’t worry about the rest.

That’s what fans do. They are there to cheer from the side lines when things are going their way, and they are quick to complain when things get uncomfortable. But they never get into the game, never make the sacrifices needed to be a real follower. The truth is that many of us were raised in Church, but we weren’t raised in Christ. We were taught to be a fan of Jesus instead of a follower of Jesus. Most of us have a little bit of God, we have some Biblical morals. But one of the most dangerous ways to be raised is with a little bit of Jesus…it’s like an vaccine.  A little bit can make you immune to the real thing.

The time to follow Jesus is now. He doesn’t want your time, or your money, or your stuff. He wants you, all of you. Jesus isn’t looking for half-hearted fans. Following Him part-time isn’t an option. He has no interest in weekend visitation. He wants all of you, so that He can give you all of Him.

His sacrifice demands that He is your one and only. Jesus says the most important command is to love the lord with ALL your heart, ALL your soul, ALL your mind, and ALL your strength. That’s the kind of relationship He wants to have with you.

The invitation hasn’t changed. Jesus still says, If anyone would come after me he must deny himself, take up his cross and follow me. My favorite word in that invitation is anyone. No matter what your story, no matter what you’ve done this is the relationship Jesus wants to have with you.

Anyone who has ever laid awake in bed and thought I would give anything to undo what I’ve done. Anyone who has looked at themselves in the mirror and said I can’t believe what I have become. Anyone is an all-inclusive term, Anyone means everyone. Anyone means me and anyone means you.

This morning you have seen what Jesus has done for you. How can you do anything less than be a follower of His.



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