In looking at the Passover meal that was the Last Supper celebrated by Jesus with his disciples, the significance of Jesus as the Passover sacrifice is important. Clearly. But there’s more. Jesus is doing more than simply identifying a theological principle. Jesus is the Master, the Rabbi. His disciples are called to follow in his steps, to follow his example. When Jesus identifies himself as the sacrificial lamb here in the context of anticipating the fulfilment of the Kingdom, he is pointing to something hugely important about how the Kingdom comes. The Kingdom does not come through conquering the enemy with violence. The Kingdom comes when Jesus conquers himself, and is obedient unto death. That is how the victory is won. And the way Jesus wins the victory is the way we are called to follow. It’s the same path. To be sure, we are able to follow only because Jesus went there first and made the way, but we are Jesus’ disciples only insofar as we walk the path he set out.
In case this point isn’t really landing for you, let me put it to you this way. Sometimes you and I might be tempted to think that we are important enough that we need to take care of ourselves first before serving others. Sort of like what airlines tell you about the masks that drop from the overhead compartment – put yours on first before assisting others. After all, if I don’t take care of myself, then how can I help others? I am an important part of God’s plan. I don’t want to mess that up.
There is a grain of truth in that, but consider this. There was never a more important person than Jesus. And there was never a person who exemplified self-sacrifice – even self-abandon – more than Jesus. He had no home. He accumulated no wealth. He wrote no books. He built a church, but not a ministry centre. He simply focused on his mission. If we were looking at leadership and strategic planning, in many ways he turned the conventional wisdom upside down by not planning adequately for the future, by not creating a proper legacy that would allow the work to continue. And yet it did. We see that now.
Jesus knew that he was going to do something that seemed familiar – establish a kingdom – but that was going to be different from what his followers expected. He was going to win a battle, but he was going to win it by losing. He was going to conquer, but by surrendering himself to death. He lived the truth of his teachings. He fulfilled the law. He counted the cost. And he emptied himself and embraced a horrible, shameful death that he in no way deserved. And he taught his disciples to do likewise.
In this, Jesus went beyond the old covenant – which was not a bad covenant – and established a new covenant in his blood. Don’t forget that a covenant is a contract, a promise, a commitment. It is one in which what Jesus does is absolutely necessary for anything good to happen, but it is not much of a covenant unless the disciples observe it as well. That is another reminder that the sacrifice and surrender and submission that Jesus models is not simply for show. It is for us. To imitate.