Hour of Darkness
A few weeks ago I was at a seminar where one of the speakers mentioned a Church Satisfaction Survey. They were asking their members and visitors to rate their worship experience, ranging from the style of music, to the comfort of the seats, to their parking lot experience, to the quality of the teaching. They said that they were interested in making sure everyone had a happy worship experience.
I’m not real sure how I feel about a worship satisfaction survey. While I want to make sure that everything is done well, and that we communicate the love and grace of God here. It is also important that I remember that worship is not for me. I can understand why a store or restaurant would need to check their customers level of happiness with the service they’ve received. If your steak isn’t cooked right then by all means send it back. If I don’t like the service that I’m getting, I’ll ask to speak to the manager. If the dry cleaner isn’t cleaning my clothes the way I want, I’ll switch cleaners.
But when we allow that consumer culture mentality to creep into the church we have lost our identity. We are the servers in the church, and a restaurant never asks the servers how they feel about the customers. When we adopt a consumer culture in the church, we find ourselves asking questions like, are my opinions most important? Are my preferences being catered to? Am I being noticed? Am I being served?
Jesus never asked, am I being served? Instead He wanted to know, am I serving? In our text this morning, we see that once again the disciples are having a fight about who is the greatest. It’s after sundown on Thursday evening and Jesus is down to the final hours of His life. He doesn’t have much time left, and He has spent what precious little time they had left listening to them arguing about who is the greatest.
This is not the first time they have had this discussion, as a matter of fact they have had it several times before. And every time they had this argument, Jesus reminds them that the most important thing is that the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give His life as a ransom for many.
The disciples either refused to learn this lesson, or they just didn’t understand what Jesus was saying. It was counter culture for them to intentionally serve someone else, Even though Jesus taught, The first will be last, and If you want to be great, then you become the servant, that’s not the way it works in our world.
You know as well as I do that the world doesn’t turn the other cheek; you even the score.
You don’t pray for your enemies; you defeat your enemies.
You want to be first so just like at a Black Friday sale, you elbow and you cut your way to the front of the line, because the first are first.
If you want to be exalted, then you make sure you’re noticed and you step into the spotlight whenever possible, because the exalted are exalted.
What I have to be reminded of quite often is that if I am going to wear the name of Christ who left the glory of Heaven to be a servant. Then I need to understand that He is calling me to not just wear His name, but live the kind of life He lived.
With less than twenty-four hours left and the clock ticking, Jesus had time for one more lesson. But this time He didn’t use words. He walks over, picks up a towel and a wash basin, and the arguments over who is the greatest begin to die down. The room grows quiet as the status-seeking disciples quietly watch the Creator of the World, the King of kings, the Lord of lords, the Son of God wash their dirty, smelly feet.
John 13:4 reads, Jesus got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him.
In Luke 22 Jesus had sent Peter and John to get the passover ready, and they were responsible for having someone there to wash feet. They were going to be reclining around a table, sharing a meal together, and their feet were covered in sweat and dust. Jewish tradition says if there was not someone there to wash feet, then the youngest person in the room would serve the others by performing this task. Tradition tells us the youngest person in the room was John, who not only didn't get someone to wash feet; he was so invested in the argument of being the greatest that he forgot his act of service.
So Jesus performs this beautiful object lesson and then simply says to His disciples, Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. I tell you the truth, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.
If we are going to take Jesus literally and serve the way He did, then we cannot pick and choose who we think are worthy to serve and who is not worth our time. Jesus served everyone who had a need, regardless of their worthiness or what they could do for Him in return. Consider that Jesus was willing to serve disciples that He knew would abandon Him and betray Him and deny Him. He washes the very feet of Judas, who would lead the soldiers to Him for arrest. Because Jesus knew that if we were going to impact the world we had to turn our thinking upside down.
We struggle with it, I struggle with it. It goes against my human nature to put others needs before mine. You understand the struggle as well. I mean how do you serve a husband who’s really never been thoughtful of your needs?
How do you serve a wife who you just can’t please?
How do you serve a child who never says, Thank you?
How do you serve a dad who constantly belittled you?
How do you serve a coworker who stabs you in the back?
How do you serve a friend who is always taking but never giving back?
I think we all have to battle the urge to fold up our towel, put it in the drawer. We all get weary and tired not only of serving, but not being appreciated. We want to put the towel away and let somebody else do it, because I don’t deserve to be treated this way.
Jesus lived out the fact that He did not come to be served but to serve.
He didn’t come to be paid back but to serve.
He didn’t come to be noticed; He came to serve.
He didn’t come to get a raise; He came to serve.
He didn’t come to be great. He didn’t come to be recognized. He didn’t come to be rewarded. He didn’t come to be elected. He didn’t come to be crowned. He came to serve.
And He calls us to live that same kind of life. Jesus served people like Peter, who would deny Him, and Thomas who would doubt Him, and Judas who would betray Him. He came to serve people like you and me, who receive His mercy and grace and still struggle with our brokenness.
Jesus wasn’t done teaching in the upper room with the washing of their feet. There were a few more lessons that the disciples needed to learn. I love the fact that when Jesus wanted to remind His disciples about His true purpose, He didn’t teach them theory. While there is a lot of merit to theories about Jesus and our sin, He understood that we would need something deeper. Jesus gave them and us an act to perform. Specifically He gave us a meal to share that speaks more volumes than any theory. The best way to understand what Jesus has done for us to participate in the meal together.
Mark 14:22 says 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." I imagine that the disciples kind of perked up at this point. Luke tells us that they had just taken the third cup, the Cup of Redemption, all that was left to do was for them to take the cup of Hallel and sing some hymns as they close out the seder. But instead we see that Jesus makes a change, He stops looking back at the Passover, and begins to talk about His role in the redemption of all mankind. He institutes a memorial to remind us that we follow a Savior who came to redeem everyone of us.
In his book Letters to Young Evangelicals, Tony Campolo tells about one of his earliest memories of taking Communion. He was sitting with his parents in church and the preacher had been talking about the grace and the forgiveness of Jesus. There was a young lady in the pew in front of him, who probably was in her early twenties, who was crying, sobbing, and she shaking her head no as the preacher talked about forgiveness and grace. When communion was passed she just passed the plate to the next person and refused to take it. Campolo says he remembers his dad, who was this big Sicilian man, lean forward to this young lady and said, Take it, girl. This was meant for you. You must take it, you need to take it, you need to understand what Jesus did for you, you must.
The young lady took the bread and she drank the juice. And there were still tears, but these were not tears of bitterness. These were not tears of shame and guilt. These were tears of thankfulness for such unconditional love.
As our men get ready to serve us this memorial of Christ’s unconditional love, I want you to understand that as we share in this communion, we are also sharing in the forgiveness and love of Christ. I know that there are some of you here today that have put your trust in Jesus but are feeling a lot of guilt and shame and are having a hard time receiving His love and His grace. Today as you take the bread and the juice I want you to hear Jesus say, This was meant for you. You must take it, you need to take it, you need to understand what Jesus did for you, you must. This was meant for you.
(Partake of the Communion Feast)
While Jesus was still speaking, Judas, one of the twelve apostles, came up. With him were many people carrying swords and clubs who had been sent from the leading priests and the Jewish elders of the people. Judas had planned to give them a signal, saying, "The man I kiss is Jesus. Arrest him." At once Judas went to Jesus and said, "Greetings, Teacher!" and kissed him. (Matthew 26:47-49)
Jesus had just been praying in an olive grove called Gethsemane when He was approached by a crowd of armed soldiers lead by one of His own disciples. Judas came straight to Jesus and said Greetings, Teacher! and then gave him a kiss. Even after walking with Christ for some three years, Judas still does not believe that Christ is the Messiah. After all of the miracles, and after hearing all of the teachings, Judas still believes that Jesus is a good man or a great teacher and nothing more.
The crowd takes Jesus away while the disciples scattered into the darkness. Peter, who had just said he would die for Jesus, denies Him three times. Jesus endured a series of mock trials from midnight until nine o’clock in the morning. Under the cloak of night Caiaphas gathers the Sanhedrin together and they illegally made false charges against Jesus.
When they couldn’t find any evidence, Caiaphas asks Jesus, Tell us if you are the Christ, if you are the Son of God? Jesus’ answer changes everything. They accuse Him of blasphemy. They spit in His face. They cover His head. They strike Him with their fists. Now remember all of this is taking place through the night while the good Jewish folks are asleep. The religious leaders are in such a hurry to get rid of Jesus they have thrown the rules out the window. They take Jesus to Pilate who sends Him to Herod, who sends Him back to Pilate. And this all-night ordeal continues for Jesus.
After interrogating Jesus, Pilate says He’s done nothing wrong. But a crowd has gathered and the Scribes, Pharisees, and Sadducees are stirring them up. Pilate offers to have Jesus punished and then released, but the crowd doesn’t want a slap on the wrist; they want blood. And they take our Savior, who was already bruised, out to be beaten. The soldiers that did the scourging were masters at their trade. This punishment was called the little death and with a savage determination they beat Jesus until his skin was ripped open and His muscles and bones were exposed.
Then we read a very short phrase that has huge implications. It just says, They crucified Him. It doesn’t elaborate on it very much. A couple of the Gospels give us more details. But it says, They crucified Him, because everyone back then knew what that phrase meant. This was the most horrific and humiliating, the most prolonged and painful manner of death. It would turn your stomach to even hear about it. They would strip the prisoner of His clothing and take a six-inch metal spike and drive one through your wrists and one through your ankles into a cross where you would hang while you suffocated.
While the Jewish leaders believed that they were in control, that they were pulling the strings, the truth is that they were merely fulfilling the promise that God had made starting all the way back in Genesis 3. All throughout the Old Testament God was pointing to this moment, God made sure that there were thousands of hints to what was happening and it is remarkable to me that in the face of so much evidence that the folks missed it.
I received this Shofar as a gift, it’s a beautiful horn that is made out of a Kudu antler. For the Jewish people it was a common sight and a common sound, especially during the holy days. When the Israelites heard this sound everyone in the city stopped. The merchants in the market, the children playing, the laughing moms tending to household duties, the men at work in the field, the students in school, everyone stopped what they were doing and they all grew silent. The sound of the shofar was signifying that the priest was sacrificing a lamb on their behalf. They stopped in silence as an expression of respect and gratitude that there was a sacrifice for their sins.
When God called for a sacrifice of blood He was teaching the Jewish nation that sin brings death. This was a lesson that they learned at least twice a day, every day, during their lifetimes. Once in the morning and again in the afternoon, the shofar would sound as a reminder that there is a cost involved with forgiveness.
According to Richard LaFountain by the time that Jesus was crucified, those morning and afternoon sacrifices had become quite elaborate. The lamb would be lifted up. People would watch this ceremony as the priest would sacrifice the lamb. At the designated time a priest would stand by the altar with a knife to the throat of the lamb. Another priest would stand on the highest point of the temple and in his hands would be the shofar. Twice a day, at 9:00 and at 3:00 the shofar would be blown letting the whole city know what was about to happen. And every faithful Jew who believed in the one true God would stop what they were doing, because they knew that after the sound of the shofar came the blood of the lamb.
It’s helpful to remember that God had always been pointing to this moment. Every day the Israelites were being prepared for what was about to happen to the Messiah. We read in Mark 15:25: it was nine o’clock in the morning when they crucified Him. Does that sound interesting to you? Remember God doesn’t deal in coincidences, only providence. It was not a mistake that Jesus is put on the cross at the exact same time the shofar sounds signifying the slaughter of an innocent lamb.
God points to this moment one more time, because Matthew, Mark and Luke all tell us that Jesus died at 3:00, the second time in the day that the people would hear the shofar and the priest would sacrifice a passover lamb.
Josephus was a 1st century historian and he estimates around two million people were in Jerusalem for the Passover holiday. People were coming from everywhere. You would expect there to be a city filled with noise and the confusion that so many visitors would bring with them. But today has been different, the normal noise in Jerusalem has been replaced by an eerie quiet. At noon the sun refused to shine, then all of a sudden, at three o’clock the people hear the familiar sound of the shofar. At that moment everyone knew that a sacrifice was being made on their behalf. What most of them didn’t realize was that the sacrifice was outside the city. You see Jesus didn’t just come to serve; Jesus also came to save and to give His life as a ransom for many.
As Jesus breaths His last he says, Father, into Your hands I commit My spirit. It is finished. Do you know what was accomplished, what was finished? Jesus was using a merchants term to say that the debt has been paid in full. There is finally a way for our sin to be forgiven and paid for once and for all. While the shofar is blowing and while the Son of God is dying, the temple veil is torn from top to bottom, signifying that now we have a way to have access to God through His Son Jesus Christ. Victory was won on the cross. His blood covers over our sins.