There is an unfortunate tendency in modern Western culture to “protect the innocence” of our children by neglecting to teach them the truth, or sometimes even by actively lying to them in order to hide the truth. Nothing could be more harmful to our young than this unfortunate, sentimental desire of ours to wrap them up in cotton-wool and let them believe that all the world is rosy-tinted and nothing sad ever happens. When it comes to laying the foundations of our Christian faith, it becomes all the more urgent that we speak the truth and let our children learn the difficult teachings that our beliefs are based upon.
As Resurrection Day approaches, I am struck by the grievous lack of emphasis upon the death of Jesus in children’s Sunday School material. The triumph of Palm Sunday will be emphasized tomorrow. The triumph of the resurrection will be celebrated next Sunday. Christ’s suffering and sacrifice will be mentioned, as bloodlessly as possible. And yet, the death of Messiah is the central tenet of our faith. If Jesus had not died our death for us, we would have no hope.
I hope to give some ideas in the next few posts to help us tell our children the truth in a way that the youngest of them can grasp. This first installment concerns the Last Supper.
Most of the Gospel of John takes place during the last week of Jesus’ life. Chapters 13-17 of John tell about the Last Supper. I think the fact that John spends five whole chapters describing this one evening in Jesus’ life tells us how incredibly important it was! Why were Jesus and His disciples having a special feast that night? It was Passover, and every Jew was commanded by God to sacrifice a lamb for that night and eat it together with bitter herbs and unleavened bread. What were the Jews remembering with these elements? Yes, they were remembering how God had delivered them from slavery in Egypt. Specifically, they were remembering how God had delivered them from the final plague, the death of the first-born of every family. Can any of you remember what the Israelites had to do before that last plague? They had to kill a perfect lamb and paint its blood on the sides and top of the doorway to the house they were in. When God saw the blood, He promised He would “pass over” that house and protect it from the destroyer. To “Passover” means to cover, like a mother hen “passing” her wing over her chicks to hide them. God saved His people from this plague if they obeyed Him, and used the plague to change Pharaoh’s heart so that the people could be free from slavery.
Of course, everything that happened was a picture, or symbol, of what Jesus was going to do for everyone in the world. We are all slaves of sin, and we are all going to be destroyed by that sin. But Jesus, God’s perfect Lamb, was killed to save us. Just as the Israelites in Egypt had to apply the blood to the door of their homes, Jesus’ blood is applied to our hearts. When God sees the blood of the perfect Lamb, He covers us to save us from the destroyer.
There are four cups that are poured during the Passover meal. The third cup is the Cup of Redemption. What does Redemption mean? It means “to buy back”. Sin owned us, but Jesus bought us with His blood out of slavery to sin. This is the cup that Jesus took and said, “This cup is the new covenant in My blood which is poured out for you.”
Another important part of the Passover seder is the Unity, or Echad. (ek-AHD) This is a bag or napkin with three pieces of matzoh, or unleavened bread in it. (It would be a good idea to have a large cloth napkin, folded in quarters, with three loaves of matzoh, one inside each fold, to show.) Echad is a Hebrew word meaning “One”. Can you think of a reason why three things together should be called “One”? This represents the Trinity, God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. Remember the “Sh’ma”, that we learned earlier this year: “Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One”? The word “One” at the end of that verse is “Echad”. Up until this particular Passover, the Jews would just talk about the Echad, the unity, and how God had commanded them to eat only unleavened bread for Passover. But Jesus did something different. He took the middle loaf of matzoh out of the unity, broke it, and handed pieces of it to His disciples. (Take out the middle loaf of your unity and break it, giving pieces to the children.) “This is My body, broken for you,” Jesus said.
Does this remind you of anything? It’s communion, or the Lord’s Supper, isn’t it? This is where it comes from. God designed the Passover seder with just this one evening in mind, the evening before Jesus died. Passover was God’s way of preparing the minds of His people for the death of the Messiah. The Jews celebrated it for 1,500 years without understanding what it meant. Now Jesus was finally going to show them what Passover meant. And He did it on the very day of Passover. You see, according to the way the Jews reckon days, each day begins in the evening and ends the following evening. When the sun goes down today, the Jews would say, “Now it’s Monday.” When the sun went down on the night of the last supper, it was the beginning of the 14th day of the month of Nissan, Passover. Jesus died the next afternoon before the sun went down, so it was still the 14th day of Nissan, still Passover.
Jesus did and said many other things during this special, important supper. It was His last chance to explain things to His disciples before His death. But we don’t have time to talk about all those things today! We’ll finish this story next time!