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April 9, 2020

Sermon Matthew 26:45-46 . . .Maundy Thursday

Maundy Thursday

Matthew 26:45-46

 

        Grace to you and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus.

        If I were to ask what were the most important moments in all of history, what would you say?

        It’s not an easy question to answer.  There are so many things.  After all, history covers a long period of time, and touches every nation and culture on earth.  It’s difficult to say.

        There’s Pax Romana, Roman peace.  For two hundred years, much of the civilized world enjoyed good roads, a common language and peace.  At that time in history, men devised some of the most remarkable engineering feats of all time, like arches, bridges, dams and plumbing.  Pax Romana was an important time in world history.

        Or think of the Renaissance.  Nothing can compare to the age of the Renaissance.  It’s when the world began to understand the importance of a falling apple and the marvel of a distant star.  Men learned there was order in physics and mathematics and complexity in color and light.  It was an awakening to the world and the universe around us.         

The Reformation was certainly one of the greatest events in world history.  One man, Martin Luther, brought the people to the Bible, and the Bible to the people.  Because of him, the world will never be the same.

        And there’s the American Revolution.  Men like Washington, Franklin and Jefferson adopted ideas from the Greeks and the Romans and combined them with lessons learned from the Bible to rebel against an unbending authority.  Even today, whenever the United States has an election, the world watches.

        Or we could turn the pages of history to the Twentieth Century to World War I, World War II and the fall of the Berlin Wall.  Those too brought some of the most significant events in world history.

        But of all the happenings that have ever taken place throughout history, past, present and future, none could ever be more important than the suffering and death of Jesus.  It was three days that changed the world.

        At the age of thirty-three, after a life of some 12,000 days, Jesus died.  And of those 12,000 days, the gospel writers chose to devote most of their work to just 1,100 of those days, the last three years of His life.  Even more, their primary interest was in one particular day—the day He was crucified.

        In a period that began late Thursday evening and lasting into Friday, Jesus would eat the Last Supper with His disciples, pray in the garden of Gethsemane, be betrayed and deserted by His friends, be convicted of blasphemy by religious authorities, be tried and sentenced for insurrection by Pontius Pilate, be tortured by Roman soldiers, and undergo crucifixion, death and burial.

        And when the apostle Paul summarized the gospel for the Christians in Corinth, he did so with these words:  “I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified.”  These twenty-four hours--the suffering, crucifixion and death of Jesus--are the pinnacle of the gospel and the completion of God’s saving work.

        Jesus, of course, knew what was coming.  He had foretold it, though His disciples never really understood.

        As soon as the meal ended, as light gave way to darkness, Jesus led His disciples out beyond the city wall, down a series of short, narrow steps, to a valley that ran along the east and the north of Jerusalem.  It was the Kidron Valley, dividing Mt. Zion from the Mount of Olives.  To the right were tombs of priests and prophets.  At the base was a grove of olive trees, a garden called “Gethsemane.”  A full Passover moon shone high overhead.

        This quiet garden spot was familiar to all of them.  Jesus had often come there to meditate and pray.

So what was the purpose of this nighttime outing?  It was no ordinary time of prayer, like they had often known before.

        Something about this night was different.  Every one of them felt it.  The Bible says Jesus began to be sorrowful and troubled, grief-stricken and disheartened, overwhelmed by the path He was about to walk, about the load He would carry.  Every step He took was labored.  He groaned  out loud.  His disciples reached out to support Him, afraid He’d fall to the ground.

        Now He was numbered among the transgressors.  Now He would bear the sins of all.  

        “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death,” He said.  “Stay here and keep watch with Me, lest ye fall into temptation.”

        And as He stumbled deeper into the garden, Satan came to whisper in His ear—“Look, Jesus, Your people have rejected You, every one of them, and no one wants anything to do with You.  Soon they’ll shout ‘Crucify.’  And Your disciples?  They’re sound asleep.  They don’t care about You.  If they really loved You and cared about You, they would watch and pray.  One of them, Judas, with coins jangling in his pocket, is even coming to betray you with a kiss.  And Peter—bold Peter, brave Peter—in a moment he’ll forget who You even are.  All of them, every single one of them, will run, leaving You bound and chained like a thief, like the common criminal that You are.  The ones You came to save plot evil against You.  It’s over now.  You’ve lost it now. And You’ll die a disappointment, a failure.  Better quit now, Jesus, before it’s too late.”

        Still He prayed, “Father, dear Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as You will.”

        What did Jesus see as He looked into that cup?  He saw the debt of sin that we could not pay.  He saw the pain and suffering of souls in hell.  He saw man’s sinfulness and wickedness.  He saw the thick clouds of separation that were coming between Him and His Father in heaven.  With deep sobs and distress, He cried that His Father would take that cup away, that He would not make Him drink it.  But the die was cast, the decision was made.  And now, in just a few hours, it would all be done.

        And as He finds His disciples sound asleep on the edge of the garden, He asks one of the saddest questions He could ever ask, “Are you still sleeping and resting?  Behold, the hour is near, and the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of men.”

        No one knows for sure just how it started.  Some think it came from pagan traditions.  Others think it started among Christians.

Whatever the source, in 1712, author Henry Curzon wrote that villagers in the English county of Herefordshire hired “poor people to take on them the sins of the deceased.”  Eating breads that represented the souls of the dead, they came to be known as “sin eaters.”

You see, back in the 18th and 19th centuries, when a loved one died in certain parts of England, Scotland, and Wales, the family grieved, then they placed bread on the chest of the deceased, and called for a man to sit in front of the body.  And as the family of the deceased watched, the local professional “sin eater,” absorbed the sins of the departed’s soul, saying, “I give easement and rest now to thee, dear man.  Come not down the lanes or in our meadows.  And for thy peace, I pawn my own soul.  Amen”

As strange as it may sound, the people actually believed that the bread soaked up their loved one’s sin.  And once it had been eaten, all the misdeeds were passed on to the hired hand.

One of the most famous “sin eaters” of all was a man named Richard Munslow.  He was a successful farmer who suffered the loss of four children, three of whom died in a single week.  Apparently, it was his way of grieving, of helping his children into the afterlife.  As one author put it, “Bereft by the loss of his children, he sacrificed his soul to save the soul of his community.  For one already so heavily burdened, it was an incredibly noble act.”

So why would villagers hire sin eaters?  Because neither they, nor their loved ones, wanted to suffer the consequences of their sins.  It was better, they said, to give them to someone else.

In Jesus Christ, we have more than just a “sin eater.”  We have a Savior.  Watch Him as He prays in the Garden, see Him suffer on the cross, and best of all, see Him rise on Easter day.

In the words of a hymn:  “Then, for all that wrought my pardon, for Thy sorrows deep and sore, for Thine anguish in the Garden, I will thank Thee evermore, thank Thee for Thy groaning, sighing, for Thy bleeding and Thy dying, for that last triumphant cry, and shall praise Thee, Lord, on high.”

 

 

        Dear Jesus, that night in the garden, Your disciples slept even when You needed them the most.  Grant that, by Your grace, we may watch and pray.  This we ask for Your sake.  Amen

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