Author’s Note: It’s been said that familiarity breeds unsuspecting unfamiliarity. This series is meant to help your God-given imagination to see things that might feel familiar, but perhaps can be new again: the true events of the last week before Jesus’ death. These posts are adapted from a sermon, and were written with two texts for study: the Gospel accounts and The Final Days of Jesus by Köstenberger and Taylor.
It’s Thursday—Passover. This is the day, and by Old Testament law, the meal has to be eaten inside the city walls. Everyone is making plans, homes are full of relatives and the lines at the checkout are full of last minute shoppers.
Jesus knows that it’s going to be a long night, and His heart is heavy with what is ahead. You can’t separate His deity and humanity—it’s wrong to think He enters into this evening without emotion, fear or the call for courage in the face of grief and pain.
Jesus is not a victim of circumstance or power outside His control. He has been, is and will be in control at each turn of this week—regardless of what worldly power and demonic minds think they are at play.
But tonight is His last meal to eat before He dies.
Tonight is His final chance to sit with His friends before their last three years are changed forever. It is their last supper together.
And tonight is a different kind of Passover—it is the last Passover of the Old Covenant. The blood of the lamb of God brings in a different and stronger word—the New Covenant is coming.
Given that this week has made Him a bit of a celebrity, where Jesus spends Passover is a big deal. When the disciples asked about dinner plans, He sent them to find a man who was looking for them. It was already taken care of. Dinner that night was in a house at the end the street, in a large upstairs room with high windows. There were a couple of columns spread wide across the room, a low table in the middle and cushions set out in a U shape to lean on while they ate. Jesus is sitting in the middle of the center table and everyone is laying on their side, leaning on their left arms, feet out from the table, eating and drinking with their right hands.
We’re standing together against the inside wall of the upper room. You can see the sun fading outside the windows, as stars will soon begin to show. The candles and lamps are lit inside, and the table is set for a feast. Where it has been a triumphant week for many, the air in the room has turned sober. Jesus is talking about being betrayed, about suffering, about His body breaking, His blood spilling, about leaving and a Helper that’s coming.
Jesus tells the disciples that He’s longed to eat this Passover with them before He suffers, for He’s not going to eat it again until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.
Jesus then takes a familiar and life-orienting narrative in the lives of the disciples, the story of the Passover, and He re-narrates it through taking the place of the lamb for the forgiveness of sins.
“He took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, ‘This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.’
And likewise the cup after they had eaten, saying, ‘This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood’” (Luke 22:19–20).
As there had been at many points that week, I’m sure a couple glances were shared between the disciples. They didn’t quite get what He was saying, but Jesus knew. He dropped little anchors in their memories. Jesus does this so that their faith might be strengthened in their coming trial. Jesus loved and looked out for them to the end.
We can tell from where we’re standing that the plates are empty. The meal is done, and there is one less of them at the table. Judas left early, maybe to buy more food or run an errand. We saw Jesus tell him something, and then he was gone.
Throughout the meal we’ve heard them sing several times, but now, before the table is cleared and things are done, tradition calls for the final song: Psalm 118.
As we stand in the shadows of the room, the sun is long gone, the moonlight hits the rooftops around us, and the faces inside are lit only by flickers of lamplight. Their voices begin to echo off the stone walls.
And as we watch this circle of friends—disciples and their Lord singing—we hear these words come from their mouths. One wonders Christ’s own thoughts as He sang, both text and subtext, together in His voice:
Oh give thanks to the LORD, for He is good;
for His steadfast love endures forever!
Out of my distress I called on the LORD;
the LORD answered me and set me free.
The LORD is on my side; I will not fear.
What can man do to me?
The LORD is on my side as my helper;
I shall look in triumph on those who hate me.
The LORD is my strength and my song;
He has become my salvation.
I shall not die, but I shall live,
and recount the deeds of the LORD.
The LORD has disciplined me severely,
but He has not given me over to death.
Open to me the gates of righteousness,
that I may enter through them
and give thanks to the LORD.
This is the gate of the LORD;
the righteous shall enter through it.
I thank you that you have answered me
and have become my salvation.
The stone that the builders rejected
has become the cornerstone.
This is the LORD’s doing;
it is marvelous in our eyes.
This is the day that the LORD has made;
let us rejoice and be glad in it.
You are my God, and I will give thanks to you;
you are my God; I will extol you.
Oh give thanks to the LORD, for He is good;
for His steadfast love endures forever! (Psalm 118:1, 5, 14, 17–24, 28–29)
After they sing, they leave through a door in the far corner off to our right, and head down the stairs, into the street. They are headed to the Garden of Gethsemane, where Jesus prays and wrestles His will to the ground with tears that flowed like blood. He prays for His disciples, His friends. He prays for those who would come to believe in Him—for you and me.
On the last night of His life, Jesus prays that God would let us see His Glory, be one with Him, and that God would keep us from evil. Jesus asks His Father that we might be a sign to the world, in unity and love, that He is the true Son, sent by the Father.
As we stand now in the darkness of the garden, we’re again hidden in the shadows, this time by thick olive trees with squatty trunks as round as tires and heavy with branches.
Jesus is walking toward us. Exhausted from prayer, He comes back to find His three friends—Peter, James and John—sleeping just off to our left. Their spirit is willing, but their flesh is weak.
If there was any time to be awake you would think it’d be now. These three have already been woken up twice by Jesus, but it’s late. The meal was long, the wine is heavy and their bodies are tired. Jesus rouses them once more, saying something about it being time.
Wait, what are they looking at? Do you hear it? The footsteps? Do you see the torchlight? There is a mob coming quickly in the darkness.
There’s an awkward greeting. The hug of a friend, a kiss of betrayal and a night of injustice ahead.
His is a heart full of grief, like no one has ever known.
Righteous, victorious and humble.
This is our King, and this is His hour.