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Eyes on Jesus: More Than Meets the Eye

April 09, 2020
By Rev. Peter Heckert

+ Grace to you, and peace, from God our heavenly Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. + Amen.

The text for our meditation for this Holy Thursday comes from our Gospel text where Jesus tells His disciples, “This is My blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many.”  Here ends our text; dear Christian friends…

YHWH had visited nine plagues on Egypt … and the Passover marked the tenth and final one. To every house that was not protected by the blood of consecrated lambs, YHWH came and struck down the firstborn sons. However, for the houses marked by the blood of said lambs, He caused the destroyer to pass over – hence, the name.

This was such a momentous occasion that God commanded His people to celebrate the Passover annually as a memorial meal. Moses told the people, “When you come to the land that YHWH will give you, as He has promised, you shall keep this service. And when your children say to you, ‘What do you mean by this service?’ you shall say, ‘It is the sacrifice of YHWH’s Passover, for He passed over the houses of the people of Israel in Egypt, when He struck the Egyptians but spared our houses.’”

Take a long, hard look at the Passover. If we dwell only on the blood and the violence, the slaughter and death, it might cause us to stumble. It shocks our pacifist sensibilities. What kind of God would perpetrate such wrath against even helpless children? And doesn’t it seem morbid or cruel to memorialize such a bloody, gory event?

But look deeper. After Moses announced the institution of the Passover, we are told, “The people bowed their heads and worshiped.” They recognized that, when YHWH speaks His will, the only proper response is worship. The Passover is all about the First Commandment: “You shall have no other gods.” YHWH had said concerning the Passover, “On all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgments: I am the LORD.” The tenth plague was divine warfare against God’s idolatrous enemies, against the Egyptian false gods and the oppressors of His people. Later in Exodus, God says, “I, YHWH your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate Me.” Under all the Egyptian blood, you should not see innocent victims of a capricious god, but impenitent sinners receiving just judgment from the one Holy God. All of His acts of judgment on idolaters—from the flood to the Passover to the conquest of Canaan—are intended to warn us about the consequences of idolatry and impenitence. They are previews of the final judgment.

And that should make you uncomfortable. When you see the slaughter of the Egyptians by the holy and just God, you also see the judgment you deserve. For your idolatry – for every time you have not feared, loved, and trusted in YHWH your God above all things – you merit the destroyer’s arrival to spill your blood on the ground, as well as the eternal punishment of hell that follows. YHWH is no tame God. Paul knew this all too well, when he wrote to the Galatians, “Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap.”

Now, lest we think they were sinless, it’s worth noting that the Israelites deserved the same fate as the Egyptians. They were sinners – just as idolatrous as we can be. However, looking at the blood of the Passover lambs painted thickly on the doorposts of Hebrew homes, you see God’s Word of grace, promising to gave His people a means of salvation from the destroyer. Those who believed the promise … were saved. Under the blood of Passover lambs, you do not find any merit or worthiness in the Israelites, but only the promise of deliverance from the gracious and merciful Lord.

So, the Passover was to be celebrated by Israel above all as a remembrance of YHWH’s election of Israel, His gifts to them of protection and salvation from their enemies. This prefigures the sacrificial system God gave to Israel; through the pouring out of blood in the Most Holy Place, He provided His people with a means of cleansing and forgiveness for their sins. As the preacher to the Hebrews put it, “Indeed, under the law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins.”

Which leads us to the Upper Room on the night when Jesus was betrayed. It was, after all, a Passover meal. Israel’s deliverance from Egypt was in view, and the recently shed blood of Passover lambs would be fresh on the disciples’ minds. They’d celebrated this meal dozens of times with their families; they knew the Passover liturgy by heart. They thought they knew what was coming as they celebrated the meal with their rabbi … but then He revised that Passover liturgy.

Mark tells us, “As they were eating, Jesus took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to them.” So far, so good; no surprises yet. But then comes the bombshell: Jesus spoke over the bread, “Take; this is My body.” An unexpected bombshell, no doubt, but Jesus seems to go back to the regular liturgy: “He took a cup, and when He had given thanks, He gave it to them, and they all drank of it.” A return to normalcy, they thought. Maybe they’d misheard Jesus earlier, but then Jesus drops another bomb on them, as He said to them, “This is My blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many.”

At this unprecedented Passover meal, Jesus teaches His disciples three main things. First, in a short while, His body would be given and His blood shed on the cross—and that under the apparently senseless slaughter of a Righteous Man, they should see His death as a ransom for the masses of humanity, for the sins of the whole world. His sacrifice is God’s final judgment on sin, and from that day forward, the only sin that condemns to hell remains idolatry, but specifically the idolatry of unbelief. Second, Jesus teaches that in a mysterious and supernatural way, by the power of His Word, the bread of this Passover meal was truly His body and the wine was truly His blood, given to His disciples for the forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation. By His words, “Do this,” He instituted the Lord’s Supper for His Church to proclaim His death to the end of time. Finally, Jesus was teaching them that the Passover and the sacrificial system of Israel all prefigured His once-for-all sacrificial death on the cross, but now these Old Testament ceremonies must give way to the New Testament in His blood.

John the Baptist had pointed to Jesus and proclaimed, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” At the Last Supper and on Good Friday, John’s preaching was fulfilled, when God’s holy, spotless Passover Lamb, Jesus Christ, finally offered His life as a ransom for the masses. No longer do sinners get what they deserve; rather, believers in the promises get what Jesus has earned for them. Everything in the Old Testament pointed forward to the coming of Jesus as Messiah to redeem His people and win forgiveness for all – Jews and Gentiles!

It’s obvious when we look at the Passover, but there’s another Old Testament text that is obviously fulfilled in the Supper Christ instituted. YHWH had told Israel, “If any one of the house of Israel or of the strangers who sojourn among them eats any blood, I will set My face against that person who eats blood and will cut him off from among his people. 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.” The blood of animals in the Old Testament was reserved for the atonement for the people’s sins, not to be consumed. That prohibition would end with the institution of the Lord’s Supper, the New Testament in Jesus’s own blood! His blood delivers to us the forgiveness of sins and serves as the antidote to death. Jesus promises, “Whoever feeds on My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For My flesh is true food, and My blood is true drink. Whoever feeds on My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him.” The life is in His blood, my friends; when we are able to congregate once again, I encourage you to feast well, and feast often, on the life-giving blood of the Lamb who died for you! At this Table, there’s more than meets the eye!

+ In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.