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April 10 lesson: Passover with the King

March 31, 2022
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Passover with the King

Spring Quarter: God Frees and Redeems
Unit 2:
Liberating Gospels

Sunday school lesson for the week of April 10, 2022
By Dr. Hal Brady


Lesson Scriptures: Matthew 26: 17-30
Key Verse: Matthew 26:29


Lesson Aims
  1. Summarize what Jesus said at the last supper.
  2. Explain the historic significance of the Feast of Unleavened Bread and Passover
  3. Suggest a way to improve his or her church’s observance of the Lord’s Supper.
The story is told of a little girl whose parents had taken her forward to receive Holy Communion.

Disappointed with the small pieces of bread she was given to dip in the cup, the child cried loudly, “I want more! I want more!” While embarrassing to her parents and amazing to the congregation, their little girl’s cry accurately expresses the feelings of many contemporary United Methodists. They want more. They want more. They want to understand why communion is so important.

Let’s begin! The Passover Meal commemorates the struggles that began in Egypt. When eating it together Jesus and his disciples not only remembered what had happened to their people but also anticipated what was to come.

Lesson Context

Our lesson takes us about midway into the week of Passover, after Jesus and many others had arrived in Jerusalem for the feast. (Various accounts of the meal are found in Matthew 26:26-29, Mark 14:22-24, Luke 22:17-20, John 13:1-30.) God commanded the Jewish people to observe the Passover Feast in memory of their dramatic deliverance from bondage in Egypt (Exodus 12). Passover became a national spiritual holiday. God had commanded it to be celebrated in Jerusalem on the 14th day of first month (Leviticus 23:5; Numbers 28:16). This was the month of Nisan (formerly called Aviv in the Hebrew religious calendar), which is late March and early April.

We are told that during Jesus’ time, groups of pilgrims slew their lambs at the Jerusalem temple, where the blood would be sprinkled on the altar. Then they went to celebrate the meal with their families or other companions in groups of at least 10 people. Despite the lamb’s centrality to this feast, the bread and fruit of the vine play much larger roles in the accounts of Jesus’ last supper (example, Mark 14:12-26). The symbolism of the animal’s absence from the story should not be lost on us. As our lesson moves forward, the sacrifice was already present.
  1. Readying the Passover (Matthew 26:17-19)
Jewish tradition made Jerusalem the ideal destination for Passover celebrations. The number of pilgrims arriving to celebrate “Passover” in Jerusalem in Jesus’ time likely exceeded 85,000, or several thousand more Jews than lived in Jerusalem. In this severely overcrowded environment, finding a room in which to observe the meal could be difficult. Note here that because of the long journey, pilgrims had taken to purchasing sacrificial animals in Jerusalem instead of traveling with them. This was not considered problematic until the merchants moved inside the temple, making the prayerful space into a commercial market (see Matthew 21:12, 13). Since Jesus did not own a house or livestock (8:20), his disciples would have purchased a lamb.

The “Festival of Unleavened Bread” lasted a full week immediately following the night of the Passover Meal (Deuteronomy 16:1-8). We are told that baking bread with yeast was a slow process. A piece of dough was set aside and allowed to rise; before the next meal, the leavened dough was worked into a new batch of dough so that it too would rise. The speed of unleavened bread’s preparation reminded Jesus of the haste of the flight from Egypt (Exodus 12:39).

Knowing that Jesus had come to Jerusalem to participate with them in the Passover meal, his disciples ask where they should prepare for the celebration (26:17). They are still in Bethany, early in the day on Thursday. Jesus directs them to go into Jerusalem where they will find a specific man, whom they will tell, “The Teacher says: my appointed time is near, I am going to celebrate Passover with my disciples at your house” (26:18).

Finding a man carrying a water jar would not be difficult, since women normally lugged water. Either Jesus has made pre-arrangements for the room with friends in Jerusalem in order to avoid Jewish authorities, or else there were divine arrangements. Either way, Jesus’ statement “My appointed time is near,” recognizes that he is on a divinely ordained time-table (Matthew 26:45).

The Passover Plot (Matthew 26:20-25)

Judas already had agreed to the contract on Jesus’ life (Matthew 26:14-16), but none of the other disciples knew that. Therefore, “when evening came” for them to share the Passover, it was easy for Judas to join as one of “the twelve” with his plan undetected.

In Jesus’ time, the seating for special meals like this involved reclining on low couches. Participants leaned on the left elbow with their heads toward “the table” and their feet away from it, and they would eat with their right hands.

During the Passover, Jesus reveals the betrayer: “I tell you the truth; one of you will betray me.” Jesus has anticipated the betrayal and even warned the disciples on this journey to Jerusalem that he will be betrayed (Matthew 20:18; John 6:71; 12:4), but his prediction of the treacherous act at the meal apparently comes as a surprise to all. Hence, “they are very sad” or distressed. They do not expect a betrayal to come out of their tight-knit group that has experienced so much together for the last three years. Yet the disciples are now fully aware that Jesus has an understanding of events beyond their comprehension. He knows more about them than even they know about themselves. So one after another they ask, yet hesitantly declare, “Surely not I, Lord?” This question expects a negative answer, but they do not speak confidently.

Now Jesus prolongs their dismay as he states, “The one who has dipped his hand into the bowl with me will betray me.” As with many cultures still today, the custom was for food to be shared by everyone out of large serving dishes rather than individual place settings. Therefore, Jesus’ statement could refer to anyone in the room, for all of them were sharing in that activity during the evening meal. In Matthew’s telling Jesus did not narrow down the list of suspects (contrast John 13:25-28). This emphasized a sentiment expressed by the psalmist’s lament, “Even my close friend, someone I trusted, one who shared my bread, has turned against me” (Psalm 41:9). Most certainly, Jesus knew that the betrayal would indeed come from within their group.

But even with the treachery, the betrayal does not stop God’s plans, for Jesus declares: “The Son of Man will go just as it is written about him.” Jesus affirms the divine certitude of his death by referring to what “is written” about him, which is a reference to the Suffering Servant prophecies (Isaiah 42-53). Here Jesus drives home the truth that the Scriptures have prophesied the coming of a slain messiah.

Then Jesus sternly warned that his betrayer would not be allowed to dodge the consequences of his rebellion either (see Acts 1:15-20). In the terrible judgment he would face, Judas could not argue “I wasn’t warned!” Jesus lamented Judas’s choice and the loss of his beloved friend.

Thus Matthew 16:24 presents both the human and the divine sides of this event. From the divine side or point of view, Judas’s treachery was predicted in Scripture and was part of the plan of God. But from the human point of view, Judas was guilty of a base crime and was completely responsible for what he did. Divine sovereignty and human responsibility are not in conflict, even though we may not always be able to understand how they work together to fulfill God’s will. In verse 25, Judas addressed Jesus with the same form of question as the other disciples, except that he used the title “Rabbi” rather than Lord. While this was an honorary title for exceptional teachers of the law (23:7-8), when applied to Jesus it missed the heart of his identity – Judas is the only disciple in the Gospel of Matthew to refer to Jesus this way (see 26:49). Judas may have believed that Jesus was a wise teacher, but there is no record that he confessed Jesus as Lord.

Judas maintained his charade of loyalty to the very end. Knowing full well that he was the one, he still asked, “Surely you don’t mean me?” But in true prophetic fashion, Jesus threw off the cover to reveal Judas’s wicked betrayal. If Judas thought he had successfully hidden his evil work, he found out what he should have known all along: nothing can be hidden from the Lord.

Although Jesus made it clear to Judas he knew about his plan of betrayal, Judas would betray him anyway. The chief priest and elders had previously planned to wait until after the weeklong feast in order to avoid any riots (Matthew 26:5). However, perhaps Judas, feeling exposed, accelerated his plans to betray Jesus that very night (Matthew 26:45-47).
  1. Passover and the Kingdom (Matthew 26:26-30)
“Institution of the Lord’s Supper”

According to scholars, it was after Judas had left the room that Jesus initiated something new, the Lord’s Supper (1 Corinthians 11:23-34). He took two elements from the Passover feast, the unleavened bread and the cup, and He used these to picture His own death. The broken bread pictured His body given for the sins of the world. This is a new symbol of God’s miraculous salvation to be remembered and shared by the community of believers.

The “fruit of the Vine,” (Matthew 26:29) pictured His blood shed for the remission of sins. The blood of the Passover lamb had protected the Israelites from God’s final plague (Exodus 12:13), and blood was later sprinkled on the people as they entered a new relationship with God. However, nowhere was it suggested that the people should drink the blood. This practice was explicitly forbidden for any animal (Leviticus 17:10-14).

So while symbolism of being covered in the blood of the Lamb persists, ingesting the “blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins” speaks to an inner change, not only an outer show (compare Isaiah 53:11-12; Romans 5:15).

Now, the covenant in Exodus required obedience to God and strict loyalty to him alone (Exodus 20:1-6), which the Israelites proved unable to do. The prophesied new covenant would be different from the one their ancestors entered into at Sinai (see Jeremiah 31:31-34). This new covenant was enacted by the shedding of Jesus’ blood.

The biblical text here does not indicate that anything special or mysterious happened to these two elements. They remained bread and the “fruit of the vine,” but they now conveyed a deeper meaning, the body and blood of Jesus Christ.

A teenager said, “I asked Jesus if he loved me? And he stretched out his arms and died.”

The Lord’s Supper reminds us to “look ahead” for Christ’s return. And we are to observe this supper until He comes (1 Corinthians 1:26). Important to remember! The Passover pointed ahead to the Lamb of God who would take away the sins of the world (John 1:29). The Lord’s Supper announces that this great work has been accomplished.

As we are reminded in Matthew 26:29, Jesus Himself added the note of future glory in the kingdom. Though he did eat bread, fish and honey after his resurrection, there is no record that he drank the “fruit of the Vine.” Even though He faced the rejection of his nation and the suffering of the cross, he was looking ahead to the kingdom that would be established because of his sacrifice.

There were traditionally four cups drunk at the Passover feast, each cup relating to one of the four promises of God in Exodus 6:6-7: “I will bring you out…I will free you from being slave to (the Egyptians)…I will redeem you…I will take you as my own people.” The third cup associated with “I will redeem you” was typically a benediction. So Jesus likely offered his own “thanks” in place of a more traditional blessing with the third. The “cup of thanks-giving” named in 1 Corinthians 10:16 further suggests that the third cup is in view.

The Passover Meal ended with singing, traditionally from the Hallel Psalms 113-118. These songs exalted the Lord as the one true God of all the nations, among other praises. Imagine our Lord being able to sing praises to God in the face of rejection, suffering and death.

Conclusion

Jesus’ life was given in sacrifice for the sins of humanity, washing us clean in his blood so that our sins are forgiven, never to be brought against us. One last Passover with his closest friends would mark the beginning of a new Lord’s Supper that empowers Christian worship to this day. We participate together in remembrance and thanksgiving knowing that we are part of a body in a new covenant with God, forgiven of sins through the body and blood of Jesus. What the prophets dreamed of is the life that we today have been given in Christ. So every bite of bread or sip of the fruit of the Vine connects us to the past, present, and future of God’s story.

The late Dr. Lloyd Ogilvie, chaplain of the Unites States Senate, said that he called a minister friend in another denomination. When Dr. Ogilvie asked to speak with his friend, the secretary said, “He can’t come to the telephone now, he’s celebrating.”

Dr. Ogilvie said, “Well, I’m all for that. But what is he celebrating at this hour of the morning?”

And the secretary said, “He’s celebrating Holy Communion!”

I like that! That’s also what we do when we participate in the Lord’s Supper with our fellow believers.

Action Plan
  1. What is your understanding of the connection between Passover and the Lord’s Supper?
  2. How do you prepare yourself to eat the Lord’s Supper and do you feel that your preparation honors Jesus? Please explain!
  3. What memories of Christ do you focus on when eating the Lord’s Supper?
Resources for this Lesson
  1. “2021-2022 NIV Standard Lesson Commentary, Uniform Series, International Bible Lessons for Christian Teaching,” pages 273-280.
  2. “The NIV Application Commentary, Matthew” by Michael J. Wilkins, pages 823-826; 831-838.
  3. “Be Loyal, Matthew,” by Warren W. Wiersbe, pages 240-242.
Dr. Hal Brady is a retired pastor who continues to present the Good News of Jesus Christ and offer encouragement in a fresh and vital way though Hal Brady Ministries (halbradyministries.com).

 

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