THE PASSION OF OUR LORD:

DETAILING THE EVENTS OF OUR LORD’S SUFFERING AND DEATH

Session #10  (Most quotes are NIV)

THURSDAY EVENING, APRIL 6, 30 A.D.:  WASHING FOR DINNER

The Passover was not to be eaten until sunset.  The meal could only begin after hearing the shofar (שופר) (it was a type of horn).  The man who blew the shofar stood on the top of the wall on the southeast corner of the Temple complex, and waited until he could clearly see three stars!  Then it was time to blow the horn.  It could be heard for miles (after all, they kept quiet and waited anxiously to hear it!)

It is only the Gospel of John which tells us the story of Jesus washing the disciples’ feet.  This occurs just before the group is ready to eat the meal.  They have already assembled and taken their places.  How do we know this?  John 13:1-4  “It was just before the Passover Festival….The evening meal was in progress…so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist.”

There are those theologians who claim that these verses in John disagree completely with the Synoptics or that this proves that Jesus ate the meal on Wednesday night and therefore this wasn’t the Passover, blah, blah, blah….  Jeffrey Gibbs, in the 3rd volume of his commentary on Matthew, page 1403, quite rightly says “Some of the debates are generated by questions that might prove to be unanswerable.”

We know the story of Peter:  “You’re not washing MY feet!  REALLY? Then wash my face and hands too!”  It is typical excessive “Peter.”  But the others must have been shocked as well.

What is the purpose of the foot washing?  Here too there are arguments.  I feel confident that the primary purpose of the foot washing was to wash the disciples’ feet!  But in doing so, Jesus showed an incredible servitude.  Remember that foot washing was so detestable that it was actually beneath a slave’s paygrade!  Therefore, it is easy to say “Jesus did this to show the disciples how ready they must be to serve mankind.”  It is a great comment, with textual support.  John 13:14 says “I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.”  

I would like to propose another suggestion:  Jesus did this to show His disciples that there was nothing too disgusting, too degrading,  or too shameful to prevent Him from following His path to the cross.  He would go through abuse, torture and death for them (and for us!).  Foot washing was a mere trifle compared to what was to come in the next 24 hours, and He was ready!  There was no line He would not cross, and He was preparing them mentally for what they were about to see!  “You are unhinged because I wash your feet?  Stick around for the main event!”

I defend this suggestion with John 13:19 “I am telling you now before it happens, so that when it does happen you will believe that I am.”  I AM?  Yes, that’s the translation of God’s proper name, Yahweh.  I’m convinced that John is playing cat and mouse with his readers—tossing that odd phrase out there to see if anyone “gets it.’  (They don’t.)  It’s the center of John’s Gospel message.  Many claim that the “I am” passages “don’t mean anything.”  But I spent two years researching these odd passages, and these double-entendre passages will keep popping up in the story.  They are there for a purpose, and some of them pack a huge punch!

If this theory is correct, then John has included the foot washing in order to say:  “If you think having the Messiah wash your feet is a train wreck, wait until you figure out that it is God who is humiliating himself and going to the cross to die for you!”  

THURSDAY EVENING MEAL (USUALLY FRIDAY), April 6, CONTINUED…

Matthew, Mark, Luke and John all tell the story of Judas Iscariot leaving early.  Please note—and pay attention—that Judas left BEFORE Jesus instituted the new covenant of the Lord’s Supper, so don’t’ say “How can you Lutherans exclude people from communion?  Jesus didn’t exclude Judas!”  Yes, he did—Judas was long gone!

Actually, Judas is given the “green light” by Jesus himself to go do what he is going to do.  Matthew and Mark say Jesus told the disciples that the betrayer is “the one who dips into the dish at the same time I do.”  (Their positioning on couches and reaching for the food with their fingers would make this a common event.)  The Gospel of John has Jesus giving Judas a chunk of bread he had dipped.  Luke, for some reason, skips these details all together.

Judas will undoubtedly need a couple of hours to get the lynch-mob together and head for the Garden of Gethsemane (Jesus probably told Judas where to come for the arrest. Did you ever think of that?  How did Judas know where to find him?).  The point here is that by the time Judas gets back to the Mount of Olives with the Temple Guards, Jesus will have had his chance to finish giving the disciples a pep talk, institute the Lord’s Supper, sing some hymns, and pray to the Father.

PASSOVER MEAL vs. LORD’S SUPPER:  OLD COVENANT vs. NEW COVENANT

Most commentaries provide a rough outline of how the Passover Meal was eaten by Jewish families.  Arthur Just’s Commentary on Luke, vol 2, p. 824ff, James Voelz’ Commentary on Mark, vol. 2, p. 1017ff, Jeffrey Gibb’s Commentary on Matthew, vol. 3, p.1403ff are three recent Lutheran commentaries which provide the information.  I mention these in case you just HAVE to have the tiniest details of how the ancient Passover meal was eaten.

We won’t get into the minutiae of “how.”  A couple of things are important though:  

  1. this is April, 30 A.D.  Jews were using wine, not grape juice.  How do I know this? Grapes in the Holy Land ripen in October, and grape juice does not keep, unrefrigerated, for six months.  They made wine from the grapes, and the Bible is clear that they believed wine was God’s gift to man to make us happy (unless you get TOO happy.  Then it’s best to stick with the grape juice!)   It was common to mix a little water with the wine to avoid intoxication.  (Just as an aside:  alcoholic Jews exist, but they are rare.  As a group, Jewish people generally don’t abuse alcohol.)
  2. The Words of Institution appear in Matthew, Mark, Luke and I Corinthians.  Three of these are intended as an approximation of what Jesus said.  The ipsissima verba Jesu (Latin for “the exact words of Jesus”) are found in I Corinthians 11.  However, all four of the renditions use the same phrase: “covenant in my blood” (I Cor. 11:26 ἡ καινὴ διαθήκη ἐστὶν ἐν τῷ ἐμῷ αἵματι).  They are eating a “Passover covenant meal” and Jesus recreates it as the blood of the NEW lamb—the Lamb of God.  Calling this a “new testament” instead of a “new covenant” is an obscenity which must be removed from our hymnals!  THINK, Hymnal Committee, THINK!  The Wisconsin Synod Lutheran Church gets it right in their hymnal, so why can’t we?  The words actually say “the new covenant in my blood which is poured out for you.”  I can live with “given for you.” But “the new testament”?  Indefensible!  Red wine, lastly, is more appropriate as a depiction of Christ’s blood (which isn’t white), but that’s less of a big deal.
  3. Even today in an Orthodox Jewish home, the youngest boy will begin the meal by going to the front door to “see if Elijah is there.”  Remember that the Old Testament ends, Malachi 4:5 with these words:  “I will send the prophet Elijah to you before that great and dreadful day of the Lord comes.”  And Jesus, Matt. 11:14, referring to John the Baptist, says “he is the Elijah who was to come.”  Why is this important?  This was all predicted for anyone who cared to notice.  The Old Testament was setting up the next 16 hours or so.

These reminders of how the meal was celebrated, coupled with the expectation that the Messiah would declare himself at midnight on the Passover, means Jesus has a room full of guys who expect “TONIGHT’S THE NIGHT!  This is what we have been waiting for!”   

Matt. 26:30-31  “When they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.  Then Jesus told them, “This very night you will all fall away on account of me, for it is written:  “‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.’” 

That quote from Zechariah 13 was about to come true!