Dr. Chris White April 6th, 2014
In the church, the Lord’s Table is a place for meeting God. It is a place we find peace through our remembrance of Jesus as the one who gave body and blood for us. It is a place of peace. But we also find temptations at the table. In fact, it is not inevitable that we leave this table with the peace of God. And the disciples who sat at the first table are evidence of this.
Join me in Luke 22:24-30. We will understand this temptation to “rule” if we keep in mind the privilege afforded those who ate with Jesus. The Pass-over season in Jerusalem was a heady time for a common Jew, but to eat with the rabbi who was the talk of the city is especially inflating. This meal is exclusive time with Jesus, the man on the mind of everyone. If he is identi-fied as the messiah, as many believe, then the Twelve can only presume that they are on the cusp of prosperity beyond their dreams. And prosperity beyond their dreams seems to mean that, as the messiah’s right hand men, they would rule like the hated Romans ruled them. They will be “great” with Jesus, and they will be lords among the people like the Romans. They will even be Benefactors—literally, do-gooders. It was a title used often by Gentile rulers of the time to paint themselves as benevolent lords that gave to the people they ruled. Jesus seems to understand that the disciples envied those who had the position, the power, and the privilege to give.
But you are not to be like that. As far as Jesus is concerned, greatness is in the attitude of the youngest and the servant, not, as per ancient custom, the elder and the ruler. Just as he was among them as a servant, so must they serve one another.
The temptation here is to see Jesus’ favor as a ticket out of common life and all its required humility and inevitable humiliations. For the disciples, Jesus has been a ticket to respectability, a way out of the common life they brought to the table. He was the friend that lifted them up from the labor of boats and the deceit of tax collection. But they, and we, have to remember that Jesus was among us as one who serves. He was the foot washer on this night. Jesus has come to rescue us from sin, but he has not come to rescue us from serving others. Jesus tells his disciples, and he tells us, that a kingdom is coming where we eat and drink at the same table, but that is a kingdom not of this world. The kingdom of this world is a kingdom of servants. It is a kingdom of foot washers and child-like faith.
There is a second temptation here, recorded in Luke 22:31-34. Simon, Simon are the opening words to Peter, chief of disciples. He is the one with the great promises of faithfulness. Imagine his surprise when Jesus speaks to him as if he is the weakest disciple in the room. It’s one thing to say that he’s prayed for him, but note that he speaks of Peter turning back. You only have to turn back if you’ve gone the wrong way. Jesus knows he will fail. Peter characteristically promises to go with him to prison and death. And then Jesus drops the hatchet: I tell you, Peter, before the rooster crows today, you will deny me three times. The fall of this disciple is well-known. And we might note that it was predictable.
The falling is not the point. The catastrophic temptation for Peter, and anyone failing Jesus, is to leave and not turn back. It is common for a conscientious disciple to self-punish for failing Jesus, and the greatest punishment Peter could have placed on himself was to stay away. I’m sure this still happens today more than we know. It happens because we’re not realistic about the weight of this world. Like Peter, we presume we can endure all things. But we cannot endure all things. Consider Peter’s crushing load on this night: arrest, trial, torture, and crucifixion in a matter of hours? Who was ready for that? We might think of the events of Jesus’ death like the landslide that took out the community of Oso, Washington. Like other tragedies, people talk about how they’ll survive, but the weight of a mountain only buries people. So with Peter. Of course he denied Jesus. A man is thinking about his family, thinking about his fear, thinking about the pain; you do not hold up a mountain with good intentions.
The temptation in sin is to feel that you’ve crossed a line and cannot come back. Notice the words of Jesus in verse 32 again: And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers. Jesus called for Peter to return to his brothers on the other side of the denials. Because they, too, know some-thing about denial, they will need to be strengthened. Jesus has an eye beyond our failings. He knows the mountains collapse on us—stress, fatigue, disappointment, loneliness, and guilt. Under certain pressures we succumb to unfaithfulness. But Jesus calls for us to return. We are not taking Jesus lightly by accepting forgiveness and moving on; we are, in fact, taking him at his word. He brings us forgiveness in this new covenant, and forgiveness is to be received as the gift it is.
And so we celebrate the Lord’s Supper.
1 Corinthians 11:23-24. On the night he was betrayed he took common bread, prayed in thanks, and broke. As he shared the bread, so he shared his body. As the disciples were fed by bread, so would they be fed by Jesus, the bread of life. He says in John 6:48, I am the bread of life. Your forefathers ate the manna that comes down from heaven, which a man may eat and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world. We turn to him for our deepest needs. The one who calls us to serve will feed us, even when our serving in unnoticed or unrewarded. We may go hungry as far as recognition is concerned, and we may never be the Benefactor, but Jesus will be enough for us. God notices the unnoticed and rewards the unrewarded. We eat as a sign of our kinship with the great servant, Jesus. We remember his death for us and the servant spirit that took him to the cross.
1Corinthians 11:25. The new covenant was in blood, not mere promises. Jesus’ blood. Like Peter and us, the world is full of promise makers that fail. Jesus knew this. Jesus knew that Peter would fail. He knows that we will fail. And so he provides a way for us to come home. He provides forgiveness for our sins. As Colossians 2:13-14 notes, God made us alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, having canceled the written code, with its regulations, that was against us and that stood opposed to us; he took it away, nailing it to the cross. Drinking from this cup is not so much our way of seeking forgiveness as it is celebrating our forgiveness. Jesus’ blood, as symbolized in this cup, is our way home.