Maundy Thursday: Christ is our Passover Lamb

The Sacrament of the Altar
The background depicts the Last Supper and the crucifixion. The foreground depicts the distribution of the Lord’s Supper in the Divine Service (1 Cor. 11:23-32). From a book by Martin Luther with questions and answers on Passiontide (1560).

Lessons: Exodus 12:1-14, 1 Cor. 11:23-32, John 13:1-15
Hymns: LSB 431, 617, 445, 452

Listen to the entire service here (the sermon alone is above).

      Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.  Amen.

      Tonight’s Old Testament lesson begins with God speaking to Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt. The year was 1446 B.C. The people of Israel had been living in Egypt for hundreds of years, after Jacob and his family went down there to escape a seven-year famine.

      Now it is time for God’s people to return to the Promised Land. Pharoah had enslaved the Israelites, and God raised up Moses to guide His people out of Egypt, away from slavery and into freedom. Pharoah refused to let his giant force of slave laborers go (the Israelites), so God inflicted nine plagues upon the Egyptians. Pharoah’s heart was hard, and he refused to let God’s people go.

      Now it is time for the Tenth Plague—the plague that is harsh enough to finally convince Pharoah to release the Israelites from their bondage. It is spring of the year, and it will be for the Israelites the beginning of a new year. On the tenth day of the month, the Israelites are commanded to kill year-old male lambs without blemish. They must put blood from the lambs on their doorposts, roast their lambs, and eat them in haste. Whatever they do not eat, they must burn. It is the Lord’s Passover.

      They must eat the roasted lamb with their belts fastened, sandals on their feet, and their staffs in their hands, for God is about to pass through all the land. He will cause much grief and pain among the Egyptians, and the Israelites must be ready to flee at moment’s notice. Through this, God will deliver His people.

      Because of Pharoah’s hard heart and refusal to listen to the man sent from God, Pharoah and the Egyptians had to learn the hard way. On that night when the Tenth Plague struck, the angel executed the firstborn in every household, both man and beast. There was a great cry in Egypt, for there was death in every household. At this, Pharoah finally consented to releasing the Israelites and letting them travel home to the Promised Land.

      You would think mankind would learn not to fight against God, but history repeats itself. The chief priests and elders fought against Jesus, crucifying Him. Even St. Paul fought against Christians prior to his conversion. Today, Satan is still pulling the wool over people’s eyes. Many reject God’s Word of truth, replacing the Word of God with lies. Many rebel against God’s created order, refusing to be subordinate to God. This happens both egregiously when they flatly reject God and subtly when they hear God’s Word and insert their own “well actually” commentary as they seek to spin God’s truth to match modern thinking. Both the outright rejection of the Triune God and the casual intrusion of error are more fashionable today than holding fast to God’s pure divine truth.

      On this night (the night before our Lord’s crucifixion), Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper. The Sacrament is intended to unify and express unity, yet there is much division within Christianity on Holy Communion. Many reject the words of our epistle, assuming it is impossible for some to eat and drink to their judgment. As a result, they have no regard for who comes forward to commune. Most non-Lutheran churches deny that we could be possibly eating the Body of Jesus and drinking the Blood of Jesus in Holy Communion. Some say Jesus is not in the Sacrament at all, others say He’s present in some sort of spiritual or mystical sense, and still others teach that we somehow ascend spiritually to meet Jesus above as we commune. These are all unbiblical opinions of man, contrary to God, and a mockery of what Jesus has declared this sacrament to be.

      On this night, Jesus took bread, broke it, gave thanks, and gave to His disciples His Body. He took the wine, blessed it, and gave to His disciples His Blood. This sacrament remains what Jesus said it is until end of time, for when Jesus said, “Do this,” He intended this same blessing to be given to Christians throughout the world until His return on the Last Day. He declared it His testament, and a testament is confirmed forever through the death of the testator. Because Jesus died on the cross the following day, there’s no way to change this Sacrament. It remains what it is forever. It is the Lord’s Supper.

      What Jesus does in the Sacrament of the Altar is simply amazing. Despite all the disunity among Christians concerning Holy Communion, Jesus unites Himself to the bread and wine. And, as we receive His Body and Blood, He unites Himself to us. We are joined to Him in a most wonderful way in Holy Communion. He takes our sin away and purifies us of all unrighteousness. He declares us holy and acceptable in Him. Jesus joins Himself to sinners, feeds sinners, forgives sinners, and blesses sinners with His righteousness.

      How can He do such wonderful things for us sinners? How can He unite Himself to sinners who deserve nothing but temporal punishment, eternal death, and the wrath of God? How can Jesus come and make His home in us through Holy Communion? It is a mystery, but what He teaches us what He does through this blessed sacrament remains true. We can only have these blessings because Jesus lovingly went to the cross to pay for our sins. He cancelled them out through His death, reconciling us to God. He fulfilled His Father’s will, met every requirement of the Law, and atoned for our sins on the cross as He bore our sins in His Body on Good Friday.

      When the angel passed over the Israelites, it wasn’t because they were somehow better people than the Egyptians. Instead, they heard the Word of God, didn’t question it, and followed it. It would have been easy for some to say, “I don’t like lamb. I’ll eat fish instead.” It would have been easy for some to say, “I’ll put flowers around my doors instead of blood.” But no one did such a thing. Too much was at stake. They all did as they were instructed.

      To this day, God’s people study His Word, increasing their Christian knowledge and wisdom. They desire to hear God’s Word and receive God’s gifts. Our eternal future is at stake. This is no laughing matter. With that same urgency of the Israelites preparing for the Tenth Plague, so we urgently hear God’s Word and receive the Lord’s Supper. For our desire according to our New Man is to abide in Christ, for He passes over all our sin and can alone rescue us from eternal death and usher us into everlasting life.

      On that first Passover, the angel passed over all families which had the blood of the lambs on their doorposts. Not a single Israelite died that night. God was delivering His people, and bringing them to the Promised Land, flowing with milk and honey. He was releasing them from their bondage and oppression brought on by the Egyptians.

      On that last night before our Lord’s crucifixion, Jesus instituted a blessed sacrament by which God delivers His people, bringing them into union with Christ, and releasing them from their bondage to sin. This is a most marvelous mystery, an astounding blessing, and a great gift of God. Just as God saw the blood on the doorposts and passed over the Israelites, so also God sees the Blood of the Lamb poured out for us and He passes over us and our many sins, granting us everlasting life. For Jesus, who instituted the Lord’s Supper when celebrating the Passover feast, is our Passover Lamb, who was slain to set us free. Amen.

     The peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus to life everlasting.  Amen