Jesus reclined at the table for His last meal with His closest friends. Do you think that, just maybe, the things He said to them were perhaps, of special importance for them and – by extension – for all of us, some 2,000 years later? I do.
But before getting into that, I need to do a bit of groundwork. FYI, I’m going to be using John’s account from the NIV and the NLT bibles even though John’s account is probably not chronically accurate. John wasn’t a “stickler” for keeping things in exact chronological order. He put events where they made the most sense to him as he wrote his account of Jesus’ time on Earth. And, while Jesus referred to Himself as the Son of Man, John had come to recognize Jesus as the Son of God; and, the only Perfect Sacrifice for man’s sin.
The other Gospel’s place the bulk of this discussion just prior to their arrival in Jerusalem, for Passover. Regardless, the critical point is that these teachings came very shortly before Jesus went to the cross.
I’m sure some of you have already considered this. Not me. It has been right in front of me, but I’ve never spent any time studying it from this particular “angle”. I think that was a mistake. [Sorry, Jesus.] Also, please keep in mind, that if you read these same passages of scripture for yourself, you will see things that speak to you that I just blast right past. That’s one of the things that makes the Bible so fascinating. BIBLE – Basic Instruction Book for Living on Earth. Really? For everyone? Yes – and, Yes.
More ground work. There is an overarching premise that John makes clear without actually stating it. It is this. God is about to perform another rescue of His chosen creation – mankind. This time through His Son, Jesus.
Another rescue? Oh yes! I think the rescues started with Adam and Eve. Instead of abandoning them to Satan, He hung onto them. Disciplined them, yes; and He stayed their God. The next rescue was through Noah.
By Noah’s time, he (and by extension, his family) were evidently the only God followers left. God decided (Ge 6:6-8) to destroy mankind …His creation that caused Him so much grief. But, because Noah found favor with God, he was saved. After the flood, “…God blessed Noah and his sons, saying to them, ‘Be fruitful and increase in number and fill the earth.’” (Ge 9:1).
Next, let’s look at the fledgling nation of Israel (well, they weren’t yet a nation; but they would become one in 440 years or so). First, there is a “little rescue” that is a precursor to a much bigger rescue. (This time God is working through Joseph.) Near the end of the story of Joseph (Ge 37:1 – 50:26), he invites his twelve brothers (later to become the patriarchs of the twelve tribes of Israel), their households, flocks and servants to settle in Egypt to save them from a severe famine. This is what I refer to as “the little rescue”. And, this event ultimately leads directly to the necessity of a much larger rescue 400 years later. And, that one you’ve likely seen on TV – well, the movie, anyway. (This is the rescue John had in mind as he wrote his gospel.)
During the 400 years mentioned above, the Hebrews were quite prosperous. Their population and herds grew dramatically. And, even though they lived in an area separate from the Egyptians, the Pharaohs eventually saw them as a threat to Egypt; and decided to enslave them. (What we’d call a preemptive strike.) The Hebrews thus became the enslaved workforce of Egypt. Yet they continued to increase in numbers. And, the Egyptians became more and more fearful. Finally, Pharaoh ordered that all male Hebrew babies be killed at birth. Bad move. God saw the plight of His chosen people, and sent Charlton Heston…. no, make that Moses, to lead the Hebrews out of Egypt and to their “Promised Land”. This event would be called the Exodus. It involved an estimated 1.5 million people – all their belongings and all their livestock. Again, I recommend you read the story for yourself – in the Old Testament book of Exodus.
It took a lot of convincing before Pharaoh released the Hebrews; after all they were his entire nation’s workforce. And before he would agree, ten plagues were visited upon Egypt. The last plague on Egypt was horrific. God instructed that the Jews would forever celebrate a festival, to be called Passover, to remind them of how (and at what cost?) God had obtained their freedom.
At twilight on the fourteenth day of the first month (Hebrew calendar), every Israeli family sacrificed a perfect (1-year old and without blemish) lamb or goat, and put some of the blood on the sides and tops of the door-frames of their houses. That night God moved throughout Egypt striking down the firstborn son of every house except those with blood on the door-frame. The very next day Pharaoh released the Israelis and the Exodus began.
So what’s the significance of this story to John’s gospel? Simply this, it was about 1500 years after that first Passover that Jesus rode a donkey into Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover Festival – knowing exactly how the final events of His mission on Earth were about to play out. God’s only Son, another perfect lamb, was about to be sacrificed to rescue not just the Israelis this time; but rather, the whole world – for all time. Awesome plan …doesn’t even begin to cover it. How many years in the making? All of recorded history? Yes, and how long before that? Try to wrap your mind around our God – who is that BIG and that full of love for His creation… us.
And, that’s the end of the groundwork. Next week, Jesus’ talks to us from that “last supper”.