The God of the Fourth Cup

Sermon by Gabe Fluhrer on February 19, 2017

Mark 14:12-25

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Well if you have your Bibles, please turn to the fourteenth chapter of Mark’s gospel, found on page 850 if you’re using a pew Bible. We’ll take a brief break tonight from our series on the book of James as we’re observing evening communion here tonight. And what a joyous time that is. And because of that, we’ll study this section here in Mark’s gospel when Jesus instituted what we’re going to observe later after we hear the preaching of God’s Word. Mark chapter 14. We’ll read verses 12 through 25; page 850 in your pew Bibles. Let’s pray before we hear God’s Word.

 

Lord, we are about to hear the Word preached and then see the Word pictured in the sacrament You gave us of the Lord’s Supper. In both cases, we need Jesus. We are weak, we are wounded, we are sick, we are sore. We need a Friend of sinners. And so would You meet us in the Word preached and the Word pictured for the glory of the great name of the King who sets the Table, even Jesus our Lord, in whose name alone we humbly pray. Amen.

 

Mark 14 beginning at verse 12. This is God’s Word:

 

 “And on the first day of Unleavened Bread, when they sacrificed the Passover lamb, his disciples said to him, ‘Where will you have us go and prepare for you to eat the Passover?’ And he sent two of his disciples and said to them, ‘Go into the city, and a man carrying a jar of water will meet you. Follow him, and wherever he enters, say to the master of the house, The Teacher says, ‘Where is my guest room, where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?’ And he will show you a large upper room furnished and ready; there prepare for us.’ And the disciples set out and went to the city and found it just as he had told them, and they prepared the Passover. And when it was evening, he came with the twelve. And as they were reclining at table and eating, Jesus said, ‘Truly, I say to you, one of you will betray me, one who is eating with me.’ They began to be sorrowful and to say to him one after another, ‘Is it I?’ He said to them, ‘It is one of the twelve, one who is dipping bread into the dish with me. For the Son of Man goes as it is written of him, but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been better for that man if he had not been born.’

 

And as they were eating, he took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to them, and said, ‘Take; this is my body.’ And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, and they all drank of it. And he said to them, ‘This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many. Truly, I say to you, I will not drink again of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God.’”

 

The grass withers, the flowers fall, but the Word of the living God shall stand forever and ever.

Isn’t it amazing how many of our memories are tied to certain smells? I’m going home in a few weeks back to South Carolina, and to this day, when I walk through the front door of the house where I grew up, a wall of memories hits me when I smell that house because it smells exactly the same way it did when I was Garner’s age. And we’ve all got those things in our lives, don’t we? We’ve all got those scents, those smells that take us back almost more than what we remember seeing during certain events. And think about it this way. From this point forward, these disciples, whenever they smelled bread and wine would go back to this night. They would never forget it. And every day that their wives or where they were, somebody baking bread, every time they smelled bread they would go back to this night. And what that tells us is that this Lord’s Supper that we’re going to celebrate here shortly is meant to take us back. It’s meant to show us in a very graphic way, Jesus. It’s meant to arrest all five of our senses. That’s what’s going on in the Lord’s Supper.

 

The context here in Mark 14 – Jesus will be betrayed after this and arrested; He’s been teaching, He’s been preaching. Mark’s gospel is organized geographically. He’s worked His way down from the north to the south to Jerusalem, and He’ll be arrested and crucified here in a couple of chapters. And what I want to see this evening, briefly, are two quick points. The Lamb in their midst then, in verses 12 to 21. And the Lamb in our midst, now and forever, verses 22 to 25. The Lamb in their midst then and the Lamb in our midst now and forever.

 

The Lamb in Their Midst

 

And the point of what Jesus is saying to us here tonight is that He is the true Passover Lamb who gives us a foretaste of heaven in the Lord’s Supper. He’s the true Passover Lamb who gives us a foretaste of heaven in the Lord’s Supper. The scene is set pretty plainly. One interesting note here is that men did not carry water. That was usually a woman’s job. So this was a prearranged sign that Jesus had arranged for His disciples. And it’s important when we begin this whole description of the Passover to understand that Mark is very intentional in telling us when these things took place. And there was a liturgy to the Passover, a liturgy of four cups, each cup representing a part of the promise of Exodus 6, verses 6 and 7.

 

Four Promises

There were four promises there. “I will bring you out. I will rid you of bondage. I will redeem you. I will take you for My people.” And so every time a Jewish family got together to celebrate the Passover, these four cups were there and this liturgy was celebrated. Let me walk you through it very quickly. At the outset, the head of the household would begin by blessing the food with a very specific set blessing and drink the first cup of wine. Then the food was brought in. The Passover lamb, you can read about it in Exodus 12, roasted whole, and with bitter herbs and stewed fruit. And each had a symbolic meaning in the feast. The lamb, the sacrifice in place of the household. The lamb whose blood would be put on the doorposts so that the angel of death would pass over that household. Safe in the blood of the lamb. And then the bitter herbs to remind them of the bitterness of slavery. And as best as we can tell from historical documents and Jewish, rabbinical documents, documents that the rabbis wrote in the 1st century when Jesus would have celebrated this, the stewed fruit had the appearance of the kind of mortar that would have been used to make the bricks out of clay to remind them of their bondage in slavery and what God brought them out of.

So after the blessing and the first cup, this food was brought in, and the son would ask the question, the firstborn son – “What are we doing?” And the father would explain and then drink the second cup of wine and break the bread and say, here was the prayer, “The Lord our God, sovereign of the world, who has caused bread to come forth out of the earth, praise be to His name!” This is likely where Jesus distributed the bread that we just read about at this second cup. And then the first part of the Hallel Psalms was sung – Psalms 113 to 115. After that, the meal was eaten and blessed and the third cup of wine was drunk and then the second part of the Hallel, Psalm 116 to 118. So when you read the Gospel accounts, “They sang a psalm and went out,” it was likely Psalm 118 which, incidentally, is a beautiful description of the work that the Messiah would do. And then the Passover concluded with the drinking of the fourth cup. And the fourth cup was the cup of consummation. And there was a prayer, “Lord, make us worthy of the Messiah and to be Your people, the Messiah the Son of David in His seed.” And after that, rabbis record that there would be long discussions of God’s Word well into the evening and early morning hours and a general sense of celebration at who God was.

 

Jesus is Our Passover Lamb

So as you’re familiar with that, as we read this scene before us, three things stand out immediately about this Passover scene that then is where the Lord’s Supper is instituted. Notice first of all that Jesus does not drink that fourth cup. And that’s going to be very important when we come to the end. Notice also there’s no mention of the Lamb in this text. That is because the Lamb is sitting with them. All that the Passover lamb pointed to is the one serving the feast to them. Jesus, Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 7, is our Passover Lamb. He fulfills everything that Lamb pointed to. He is the substitute under whose blood we are saved. Let me try to put it as clearly as I can. When you come in a minute to drink the fruit of the vine, what you should hear ringing in your ears is, “I am safe in this household because the blood of the Lamb is over the doorposts.”

 

The True Family of God

And the other thing to notice here is that all of these men are Jewish men and Jewish men had families; we read about Peter’s mother-in-law. Likely all of the apostles were married. And Jesus takes them away from probably the most important family day of the year for a Jewish family and brings them together with Him. The heads of these households are gone from their families. That is important because Jesus is telling us that this now, “The people I am gathering around Me, this is the true family of God. This is the family that you swear allegiance to above all others.” Jesus is telling us something about our community here. Then we read the tragic words in verse 18, “Truly I say to you, one of you will betray me, one who is eating with me.” All of them betrayed Him eventually, didn’t they? All of them acted in self-interest. Judas just had ice water in his veins and disguised it through a meal. All of them left. All of them scattered in the very next chapter when they arrest Him.

 

Divine Sovereignty and Human Responsibility

And what we see here, Jesus says, “He goes as it is written of him.” God is sovereign. That’s what Jesus is saying. But He says, “Woe to that man! It would have been better for him if he had not been born.” That’s human responsibility. How do we balance those two? My favorite three words the longer I preach the Word of God – I don’t know! And I suspect there’s nobody out there that does either. But we know they’re in the Bible and we know they’re true. God is sovereign. It is written, “Woe to that man!” We are responsible. And betrayal plays a key part in this narrative. All of them are eating. All of them think, “It couldn’t possibly be one of us.” Did you see that? Nobody suspected Judas. Nobody said, “You know what?” and John leaned over to Peter and goes, “I’ll bet it’s Judas.” That never happened. They all looked like they were going to stay loyal. That’s the Lamb in their midst then.

 

The Lamb in Our Midst Now and Forever

 

The Lamb in our midst now and forever. Let’s look at these particulars of the institution of the Lord’s Supper. Jesus says, “Take, this is my body.” What is He saying to them? “I am going to be with you after I’m gone. This table will remind you of Me and I will be present at that table. This is not just going to be a mere memorial service.” One of the shortfalls – I was talking with a friend about this recently – one of the shortfalls kind of in the reformed tradition is the way that we are kind of raised to do the Lord’s Supper is, you sit and when we’re going to sit down and the elders are serving the elements you either try really hard to feel bad about sin or you try really hard to like, picture Jesus suffering or something. That’s how we think it means to remember Him. That’s not what He’s saying to us. We are to confess our sins and we’re to look at the bread and say, “He’s with us. And He is with us and He is physically a real person in heaven now.” The bread doesn’t magically become His body. The wine doesn’t magically become His blood. That’s wrong. That’s a grievous error. But Jesus is present by the power of the Holy Spirit when we come to this table. And when He gave it to His disciples originally, He is saying to them, “Don’t be afraid. Though I’m gone, I’m with you.”

 

Animal Sacrifices No Longer Necessary

And when He says, “This is my blood,” He is saying there will never be a need for sacrifices ever again. Think about how shocking that would have been to a group of Jewish men in the 1st century whose entire lives, who parents’ entire lives, whose grandparents’ entire lives, whose great-grandparents’ entire lives were centered around the temple and sacrifices and this high feast day and going up to Jerusalem singing the Psalms of Ascent that we find – Psalm 120, 121 – singing all those psalms. Every generation had done that, and Jesus says, “It all ends tonight. All the altars that smoke with sacrifices and blood spilled upon them are no longer necessary because the true Lamb is here to die and shed His blood, which is the only blood that takes away sins.” That’s what He’s saying to them. And when He says, “Truly I say to you, I will not drink again of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God,” He is taking a solemn oath to them. He is saying, “There is not a chance that this does not come to pass. This will happen. I swear to My own hurt, as the Son of God,” is what He’s saying to them, “that this is going to come to pass.”

 

Believers Union With Christ

So since the Passover was meant to recall what God did for His people and individuals – read Exodus 13 verses 8 to 9. It says, “This is what the Lord did for me.” For me. That’s what this table is tonight. It’s the perfect fulfillment of that. And when we talk about drinking this cup together, when you drank a cup in this culture it signified full identification, union with the person that you were drinking that cup with. And as Ed so beautifully expounded for us in those two sermons on union with Christ, when we come to this table in a minute, you are saying, “I am His. All that is true of Him is true of me. I died with Him” – Romans 6. We were buried with Him. We were put to death, as it were, in Him. The old person has died, no matter how much we have to live with that old person every day as we feel the pull of sin on our souls. Because of our union with Christ, all that’s true of Him is true of us. We are dead in Him; we have been raised to newness of life in His resurrection. That’s what we say when we have that cup. That’s why this is so significant. That’s why it’s a celebration. We’re united to Him, and thus the Lord’s Supper looks back to what Jesus did. Ministers grace to us in the present. We use that phrase, “means of grace,” here a lot. That is a good phrase. I hope you love it. What it means when we say, “a means of grace,” it’s where God meets us. It’s how He communicates grace to us, communicates Christ to us – through the preaching of the Word and the taking in of the sacrament. You are saying, “I’m Yours, Jesus, and You are mine.” And you are saying with Paul, “You are 100% correct, Paul. My life is hidden with God in Christ Jesus.” The Lord’s Supper looks back, it ministers grace in the present, and it looks forward. And that’s where we come back to the fourth cup.

 

Where Are We in This Text?

But before we do that, let me just notice two things in application. First of all, as we read this text and as you read Biblical text, it’s always good to ask, “Where am I? What is this text teaching me about God? What is it saying to me?” And this is one of those texts where it’s very easy to answer the, “Where am I in this text?” question. Where we are in this text? We’re Judas. We’re the Judas in this text. We’re the betrayers of Jesus. We’re the ones who would have fled like the others did. We have betrayed our Master in how we’ve lived and in how we have failed to do what He has called us to do. We are failures, betrayers. And there are two kinds of betrayers at that table and that come to this table tonight. There’s the betrayer who, like Peter, betrays Jesus. Cusses. He swore an oath. Let’s not sanitize that. Peter is saying curse words. “I have never known Him!” And there’s Judas. He pays a slave’s price for the King of the universe. The difference between the two is that Peter went to Jesus and Judas ran from Him. And the difference between the two kinds of betrayers, which we all are tonight, is those who like Peter will run to this table. This is a table for betrayers. He served the one who would betray Him and He is still serving betrayers today. You see, the Lord’s Table is the only table set by a King for His enemies. It’s the only table set by a King for those who would betray Him unto death because Jesus is the only King who dies for His servants who betray Him and then sets a table for them.

 

The Fourth Cup

And that’s why He didn’t drink the fourth cup. Because when that cup was drunk, the cup of consummation, the cup of joy, Jesus went to drink a different cup so that betrayers could come to this table. He went to the Garden of Gethsemane and said, “Father, if it’s possible, let this cup pass from Me.” Which cup? The cup that all of us deserve to drink; the cup mentioned in the prophecy of Isaiah – full of the fury of God and unmixed; 100% proof. Fury of God. Wrath of God. That’s our cup. That’s the cup we deserve to drink. That’s the cup the Savior prayed over and sweat great drops of blood, as it were. The fourth cup He went to drink was not the cup of consummation at that point. It was the cup all of us deserved to drink to its dregs. And here is what He’s done – He drank it in your place. The fury of God. Is there a stronger word in our English language to express when somebody is angry beyond all sense than fury? And the difference is, with God, it makes perfect sense. We’re betrayers. We deserve that fury. There’s no injustice when the cup of God’s wrath is offered sloshing around in its sides to our mouths. All of us should have drunk the whole thing to its dregs. That’s what we deserve. And on the cross, Jesus drank the fourth cup.

 

And what that made it for us then, when we come tonight, is the cup of blessing. We’re going to drink a different fourth cup tonight. We’re drinking the cup of the Messiah, the cup of kingdom consummation. What do I mean by that? We’re coming here tonight saying there is a day coming when, because the Lamb of God spilled His blood for us, drank the cup of God’s fury, that we will be forever feasting with Him in a faint picture given to us tonight at the marriage supper of the Lamb, because we get to drink the cup of blessing because He drank the cup of wrath. This is a cup of blessing for us tonight. That’s what Paul calls it – “the cup of blessing which we bless” – is a cup of blessing because He drank the cup of wrath. And that’s why when you come here tonight and you drink this, you’re doing something else. Why did they all leave Him? Because the apostles, like us, are very self-centered creatures and the Lord’s Supper is a protest to the selfishness of our lives. It’s a cup of protest to the selfishness that engulfs our lives and it says we are identified with another – our sin-bearing, wrath-bearing, grace-bringing substitute, the true Passover Lamb, Jesus.

 

Jesus is the Ultimate Host

The other thing we learn about this table tonight is that Jesus comes as our host. David and I will serve this supper. The elders will serve it to you. We are not your hosts. We are ministers. We minister for the Host. The Host is Jesus. And if you think about it this way, Jesus is the ultimate Host who became a Host in His earthly life to those who should have been His hosts. “He came to his own and his own received him not.” But He came to those who should have been His hosts and served them like His guests. And as Ed has reminded us, one of the things the Gospel will do is make us recognize that we are to see ourselves as Christians in this world as hosts, not guests. We are to be on the lookout to be hosts, not guests. And the power to be a good host in a selfish world is here tonight as Jesus the Host serves you, serves you at His table and says, “Go and invite others. Bring them in. Serve them.”

 

There’s a theologian who used to be an atheist by the name of Alister McGrath. He teaches at Oxford. He’s a well-known theologian. He was very close with his aunt and she died not too long ago. And he has this very poignant story about finding an old photograph in her things when he was cleaning them out after she died. She’d been in love once in her life and this young man had been in love with her, their relationship ended tragically and she never married again. But she kept this photograph so that when McGrath and his siblings found it, it was all crumpled up, barely recognizable. And one of them asked, “Why would she keep this photograph?” And here’s how he explained it. He wrote, “As she aged, she knew that she would have difficulty believing that at one point in her life someone had cared for her and regarded her as his everything. It could have all seemed like an illusion, something that she had invented in her old age to console her in her declining years, except for that photo. That photo reminded her that she really loved someone and was loved in return.”

 

Here’s the point! “Communion bread and wine,” writes McGrath, “like that photograph, reassure us that something that seems too good to be true, the Gospel, something that we might even have to be suspected of having invented, really did happen.” Let’s go together and gaze upon God’s photograph for us. Let’s drink the fourth cup together. Let’s pray!

 

Thank You, Lord of hosts and our Host, for Your Word. Bless us now as we come to Your Table. Let us meet with Jesus and drink that cup of blessing that He has made it for us. We pray in His name, amen.

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