Monday, February 6, 2017

Passover to Communion

In a memorial service, we remember the one who has died. We recall aspects of their life that remind us what they were like and what they meant to us. We tell stories of special moments and through memories relive the relationship, usually all very fresh and quite tender from hearts still grieving.

God used memorial services to remind Israel of special moments when He did amazing things for them. Piling up rocks as a monument or creating a new ritual. To memorialize His deliverance of Israel from the Egyptians in the Exodus, God instituted Passover. On the night of that deliverance, He told them to prepare a specific meal and eat it. Then He said do this each year as a reminder of that event.

Here were the instructions for that first Passover: Now the LORD said to Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt, “This month shall be the beginning of months for you; it is to be the first month of the year to you. Speak to all the congregation of Israel, saying, 'On the tenth of this month they are each one to take a lamb for themselves, according to their fathers' households, a lamb for each household…Your lamb shall be an unblemished male a year old; you may take it from the sheep or from the goats. You shall keep it until the fourteenth day of the same month, then the whole assembly of the congregation of Israel is to kill it at twilight. Moreover, they shall take some of the blood and put it on the two doorposts and on the lintel of the houses in which they eat it. They shall eat the flesh that same night, roasted with fire, and they shall eat it with unleavened bread and bitter herbs. Do not eat any of it raw or boiled at all with water, but rather roasted with fire, both its head and its legs along with its entrails. And you shall not leave any of it over until morning, but whatever is left of it until morning, you shall burn with fire. Now you shall eat it in this manner: with your loins girded, your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand; and you shall eat it in haste--it is the LORD'S Passover. For I will go through the land of Egypt on that night, and will strike down all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both man and beast; and against all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgments--I am the LORD. The blood shall be a sign for you on the houses where you live; and when I see the blood I will pass over you, and no plague will befall you to destroy you when I strike the land of Egypt. Now this day will be a memorial to you, and you shall celebrate it as a feast to the LORD; throughout your generations you are to celebrate it as a permanent ordinance. (Ex 12:1-14)

And you shall observe this event as an ordinance for you and your children forever. When you enter the land which the LORD will give you, as He has promised, you shall observe this rite. And when your children say to you, 'What does this rite mean to you?' you shall say, 'It is a Passover sacrifice to the LORD who passed over the houses of the sons of Israel in Egypt when He smote the Egyptians, but spared our homes.'" And the people bowed low and worshiped. (Ex 12:24-27)

But like any repeated ritual, after a while the significance can be lost. Like us singing a hymn unconsciously since it’s so familiar and not worshipping God. They could go through the motions of observance and fail to connect with God, not remembering what He had done, or why they were doing this in the first place.

It’s called perfunctory religion – going through the motions with no connection to God and failing to see any relevance to us personally.

During the years, Passover became formalized with certain procedures a Jewish family would go though: Lighting candles, repeating memorized prayers, dipping parsley in salted water, taking three matzos, removing the middle one, breaking it and hiding one half until the end of the ceremony.  

They would use four cups of wine, reflected in what God said in Ex 6:6 I am the Lord, and I will bring you out from under the yoke of the Egyptians. I will free you from being slaves to them, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with mighty acts of judgment. I will take you as my own people.

These four cups, each had particular significance:
1.       Cup of Sanctification – I will bring you to Myself – setting you apart from others
2.      Cup of plagues – I will free you from your slavery
3.      Cup of redemption – I will redeem you
4.      Cup of praise – I will take you to Myself

Though we usually don’t make the connection, Communion is a memorial service that came out of Passover. But instead of continuing the same traditional practices, we observe communion with a sense of fulfillment the Jews knew nothing about.

Communion is a photo of an event that if we examine it closely, we’ll see that it captures a much bigger picture of what Jesus did and how that affects us today. To understand Communion and its’ roots in Passover, we have to go back to the Last Supper Jesus had with His disciples the night He was arrested.

Now before the Feast of the Passover, Jesus knowing that His hour had come that He would depart out of this world to the Father, having loved His own who were in the world, He loved them to the end. During supper, the devil having already put into the heart of Judas Iscariot, the son of Simon, to betray Him, Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into His hands, and that He had come forth from God and was going back to God, got up from supper, and laid aside His garments; and taking a towel, He girded Himself. Then He poured water into the basin, and began to wash the disciples' feet and to wipe them with the towel with which He was girded. So He came to Simon Peter. He said to Him, "Lord, do You wash my feet?" Jesus answered and said to him, "What I do you do not realize now, but you will understand hereafter." Peter said to Him, "Never shall You wash my feet!" Jesus answered him, "If I do not wash you, you have no part with Me." Simon Peter said to Him, "Lord, then wash not only my feet, but also my hands and my head." Jesus said to him, "He who has bathed needs only to wash his feet, but is completely clean; and you are clean, but not all of you." (Jn 13:1-10)

And He said to them, "I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer; (Luke 22:15)

What they were doing was observing traditional Passover. But more than just going through the same ritual meal they had all done each year since they were little kids, Jesus now gave them insight into the message within the ceremony.

When the dad, leading his family in Passover, took the three pieces of bread, he had no idea what they represented. Why three? To us, we think immediately of the Trinity. We see the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. And then he would take the middle piece—the Son—and break it, we say, “That’s Jesus.” And a whole new message opens up.

While they were eating, Jesus took some bread, and after a blessing, He broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, "Take, eat; this is My body."

Suddenly, in that moment in that supper room, the broken matzos had been explained.

Then the cup. Remember there were four cups? In the sequence of the ceremony, the cup of wine that is used after the breaking of the matzos is the third cup. It was the cup of redemption. God said: I will redeem you.

And when He had taken a cup and given thanks, He gave it to them, saying, "Drink from it, all of you; for this is My blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for forgiveness of sins.  (Matt 26:26-28)

The story of God’s redemption now became specific in Jesus.

Knowing that you were not redeemed with perishable things like silver or gold from your futile way of life inherited from your forefathers, but with precious blood, as of a lamb unblemished and spotless, the blood of Christ. (1 Pet 1:18)

Paul put it all together: Is not the cup of blessing which we bless a sharing in the blood of Christ? Is not the bread which we break a sharing in the body of Christ? (1 Cor 10:16)

What Jesus did was explain what was about to happen by revealing what had been hidden within the Passover meal all along.

We celebrate the whole picture in Communion. But in repeating it so often, what are we to do to keep this new tradition from becoming perfunctory? What would keep the significance of it alive?

Consecrate – dedicate formally to a divine purpose. A utensil in the Temple.

Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. (Rom 12:1) – Worship is presenting ourselves to God.

If communion is a worship time, we should be presenting ourselves as dedicated to God.

Worship requires consecration as an acknowledgment that God is in our lives and these lives belong to Him.

Then they slaughtered the Passover lambs on the fourteenth of the second month. And the priests and Levites were ashamed of themselves, and consecrated themselves and brought burnt offerings to the house of the LORD. They stood at their stations after their custom, according to the law of Moses the man of God; the priests sprinkled the blood which they received from the hand of the Levites. For there were many in the assembly who had not consecrated themselves; therefore, the Levites were over the slaughter of the Passover lambs for everyone who was unclean, in order to consecrate them to the LORD. (2 Chron 30:15-17)

Consecration is a recognition of spiritual neglect in my life and the necessity of acknowledging I have been stained by the world. I need cleansing.

Before Jesus observed Passover with the disciples, He washed their feet. It was a custom but also a lesson for them. He was about to turn Passover into a whole new worship moment.

The custom: Roman bathhouses. Come out clean but going home you kick up dirt and dust from the roads. When you get home you need to wash your feet again, not take another bath.

To be consecrated required clean hands and a pure heart. Passover then and Communion now were divine appointments for us to ascend to the hill of the Lord, to stand in the presence of God and declare worth to Him for what He did.

Who may ascend into the hill of the LORD? And who may stand in His holy place? He who has clean hands and a pure heart, who has not lifted up his soul to falsehood and has not sworn deceitfully. He shall receive a blessing from the LORD and righteousness from the God of his salvation. (Ps 24:3-5)

When Jesus washed the disciples’ feet, He was teaching them that though they were clean in spirit, fully His, they wouldn’t stay clean in body. To come deliberately into God’s presence, we need to be wholly clean.

But Jesus was also making a promise: as He cleaned the disciples’ feet to make them acceptable to worship, He will provide cleansing for us, who can’t stay clean either.

If we say that we have fellowship with Him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth; but if we walk in the Light as He Himself is in the Light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (1 Jn 1:6-9)

We still sin. Sinning doesn’t make us unsaved. Sinning makes us unworthy for fellowship with God. Not unworthy of but for.

--Egg Farm – not unworthy of my mom’s affection, just not acceptable to be
   hugged at that moment.

For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus in the night in which He was betrayed took bread; and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, "This is My body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of Me." In the same way He took the cup also after supper, saying, "This cup is the new covenant in My blood; do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me." For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until He comes. Therefore whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner, shall be guilty of the body and the blood of the Lord. But a man must examine himself, and in so doing he is to [then] eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For he who eats and drinks, eats and drinks judgment to himself if he does not judge the body rightly. (1 Cor 11:23-29)

Examine: to determine worthiness, acceptability to perform, to qualify – are you qualified to take communion?

What gives us the right to take communion in the first place? We belong to the Lord.
We have cried out to the Lord for salvation, a relationship with Him has begun because the Father applied Jesus’ blood to the forgiveness of our sin which bathed us completely.

What makes us acceptable: clean hands and a pure heart.

Have we remained clean from sinning since then? No. So we figuratively look at our feet, dirty from walking in a sin-infested world, and ask the Lord to wash them again.

Communion is a right given to God’s children. It is a deliberate time that we connect with the Lord. It is a memorial service, a time to remember what Jesus did and why. It is a time of personal worship when I honor, thank and love Him for what He did for me.

He makes us acceptable for this act of worship. It’s all because of what Jesus has done and continues to do: cleanse our sin and make us holy.

1.       If we know Jesus as our Savior, we are already washed and qualified to take Communion.
2.      But chances are we’ve tracked in some dirt from the world that might interfere with being our worship.
3.      If we acknowledge our sins, He is not only able but willing to cleanse us from what hinders us connecting with Him today.
4.      So, before we take Communion, examine your life. Spend a few moments letting Him wash your feet.

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