Sermon preached at PCC by Ps Jeff O’Neil on 31 March 2002

“And it was the preparation of the Passover,….” (John 19:14)
“Now the feast of unleavened bread drew nigh, which is called the Passover.” (Luke 22:1)

There is an apparent difficulty between John’s Gospel and the other three evangelists over the day of the Passover. We have to remember that the Jewish day is different from ours, in that their day finished at sunset, and the next day began straight away. And for anyone who is interested in the chronology of the events, I refer you to Alfred Edersheim’s The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah—but suffice it is for us from the two texts given to show that first of all:

(a) It would seem that the seven-day Feast of Unleavened Bread was annexed to the feast of the Passover. The first of the seven days was on the actual Passover day itself. They were to eat the lamb with unleavened bread, thus depicting the haste with which they had to leave Egypt. But also it (the leaven) depicted a form of corruption.

(b) And, secondly, that there was a preparation for the Passover and Feast of Unleavened Bread. The Passover lamb was to have been scrupulously examined and prepared. In fact it was Peter and John who are the two agents whom Christ sent in order to prepare for the Passover. And in fact Peter and John had the responsibility of preparing the first and the last Passover that is recorded our Lord ever attended. There are no other accounts of Him attending the Passover in Jerusalem. And so Peter and John were given this responsibility. They had to prepare the upper room, and also take the lamb to the temple in order for the priest to slay it, and then take it to the upper room, in order for it to be roasted there.

(c) But, thirdly, this preparation also requires that every Jewish house had to be searched for any residue of leaven. Every old leaven prior to the Passover had to be destroyed. Now the law commanded them to do that, in Exodus 12. But the Jews added an interesting custom to it. They not only searched, but they took candles in order to search, and they would go into the kitchen and searched whatever utensils they had, and the stove that they used. They would look on the floor, in every nook and corner, just in case a piece of leaven had fallen inadvertently and hid itself in the dark corners of the home. The house was searched diligently by the owners. This had to be eliminated, and all the old corruption found and destroyed.

Now leaven in the Scripture is used in the good sense, and in a bad sense. But it is the bad sense that I want to refer to this morning. Remember the Apostle Paul, he uses the symbolism to deal with the problem in the Corinthian church. He says this: “Purge out… the old leaven” (1 Cor 5:7), get rid of it, that corrupting influence in your midst, purge it out. And so, in a symbolic form, all corrupting influences were to be removed before the Jews of old partook of the Passover.

Now we, as Christians, would hold that the Lord’s Supper is the New Testament successor of the Passover (1 Cor 5:7). The two ordinances in the Scripture (the Passover and Circumcision) are taken over into the New Testament. The outward form is changed but the inner principle and substance of the two remain. So that the Truth was in symbolism in the Old Testament, and the symbolism is stripped away and the gospel truth is set forth in all its simplicity. Remember Paul writing to the Corinthians again, in fifth chapter in 1 Corinthians: “For even Christ our Passover is sacrificed [crucified] for us.” But with that principle that is carried across into the New Testament, I would suggest to you that the principle of preparation is also taken across. And though the external changes concerning it, the inner principle remains, and so when Paul writes to them in the eleventh chapter, he says this: “But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of that bread, and drink of that cup” (v. 28). So you have the principle now of preparation in the Old Testament, and then Paul, after using the analogy of the leaven, goes on to explain to them concerning the Lord’s Supper: “Let a man examine himself.” And that is to say this, dear friends, that we are to investigate, we are to examine the rooms and the chambers of our own hearts, not with candles but with the light of God’s Word before we come to the Table of the Lord. Preparation before participation.

1. A Time of Preparation

And that is the purpose of this Sabbath, this is what you hold at this church. It is different in many countries. In Scotland, and particularly in the islands of Scotland, when they would have preparatory services, on the Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, and then the Lord’s Table on the Sunday. And then on the Monday, a service of rejoicing. In Wales, it used to be but not so now, that the Saturday itself was a time of preparation before the Lord’s Table. Your church holds it the Sunday before and the week before, using these as a time of preparation. So this service then, through the preaching of God’s Word, is in order to bring us to remembrance concerning next Sabbath when we celebrate the Lord’s Supper, and that during the week we may take the opportunity to scrutinise, to examine, to investigate the rooms of our hearts, whether there be any impediments of sin therein. And so, with David, we can concur upon this: “I commune with mine own heart: and my spirit made diligent search” (Ps 77:6), not with candles, but with the light of God’s Word, and then Psalm 139: “Search me, O God, and see if there be any wicked way in me” (vv. 23–24). And that, my friends, should be the desire and the willingness in the heart, my heart, that God would purge by the light of His Word, and investigate the labyrinths of my soul and there chase after any impediments that would prevent me coming to the Table sincerely, genuinely, in spirit and in truth. And therefore, the time of preparation can also be a time of expectation; and so the blessing is doubled, in as much that the anticipation in the preparation would convey a blessing to the soul, let alone coming to the Table next Sabbath morning. So it is blessed to receive a time of communion, but it is also blessed to give a time of preparationfor communion. Setting apart a time by personal assent is also a time well spent. And may I encourage you, that if you fix upon a time during this coming week, where you would in your heart be determined that you would seek the Lord so that your heart may be prepared before Him, don’t be diverted by any circumstance, by any involvement, by any other concerns or interests, but keep the appointed time. Be rigid, be disciplined in the time spent, however long it is, before the Lord, in order to prepare yourself for the Lord’s Table.

Now let me give an example of this time of preparation. In my time of forty years in the steelworks, a great number of apprentices were placed with me in order to teach them the craft. And we would have these big parts of machines coming in from the mills, covered with rust and grease. But they would want it back quickly in order for production to go on, and I would tell the apprentices that a successful job required 95% preparation, to strip down the parts to clean. The alterations were made, and within a short time the parts were assembled, but 95% of the time it was preparation. And so it is with sportsmen, if they have talents in a particular sports, 95% of the time is spent in preparation, in training, before the finals. And it is no different with the Lord’s Table, the Table of the Lord,preparation increases the joy of participation. And without due preparation then it is but presumption on our part; we are presuming upon the Lord if we come without preparation. Philip Henry says, “Now it is one thing to be unworthy to come,” (and I’m sure we all feel unworthy to come to the Table), “but it’s another thing to come unworthily”; that’s the great difference. And that shows the necessity of preparation.

2. Preparation Consists in Examination

“But let a man examine himself.” And as the Jews searched out any remaining corrupting influences, the old corrupting leaven in their homes, we are to strip the symbolism away from that, and honestly deal with our souls and see if there be any wicked ways within. Now the Scripture proposes three kinds of corrupting leaven. There are more than three, but in the context that we are using, let me show you three corrupting leaven.

Leaven of Hypocrisy (Lk 12:1). There was a multitude there, and “[Christ] began to say unto his disciples first of all, Beware ye of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy.” There, our Lord clearly identifies leaven with hypocrisy. And who is not troubled with this plague in the soul? We never seem to root it out completely out of our nature, do we? In Wales, we used to have a weed in the garden called foxes tail. And you can till the ground, you can toil it industriously, you can pull it out by hand, you can put weed killer on it, but within a month, up it comes again. It is the most awkward of plants to get rid of. And so it is, I feel, with the weed of hypocrisy. We deal a blow to it, but then some time later, up it comes again in our nature and in our hearts.

Now the word “hypocrite” means to wear a mask. You know, in medieval times, when they had their plays, and even in Shakespeare’s time, the actors played many parts, not just one part like nowadays, but many parts. And in order to change the character, they would have a mask on a stick, and they would hold it before their faces, it covered them, and so they became a different character. And it is the covering that hides the real person.

It is one thing to have a form of godliness, but you know from your own experience, that often times, we deny the power of it because of hypocrisy. You know, Esau wept, because he had lost the blessing. But my friends, he did not weep because he had sold the blessing. That is what he should have been weeping about: he had sold the blessing. Notice here that Christ tells the disciples first of all the truth from this teaching; He pinpoints to His disciples before telling the multitude. How serious a thing it is, for a Christian to have a name to live, without being alive indeed. The outside looks clean, but within there is this power of corruption. You know, when you see someone rowing a boat, he is facing one way and the boat is going the other way. So it is with the Christian, that he seems to be facing the right way, but really his life is going in the opposite direction. And is that true of you, this morning? My friends, if any of you are in the state of backsliding, and you are continuing on in your Christian life as if nothing is going on, or nothing is the matter; then you are really in a state of hypocrisy! If you are bearing ill will to a person, and you are going to come to the Table next Sabbath, really you are wearing a mask. It’s as simple as that. If you are criticising a brother or sister and destroying their character while you are doing it, then you are leavened with hypocrisy. And the leaven of hypocrisy is weakening the power of godliness, it impedes the power of prayer and it robs the soul of the preciousness of Christ. I can say that from my own experience, that the first thing that suffers is: that prayer is impeded. And therefore we are to hunt for this enemy. You can visualise the hunt in the homes of the Jews, but we have to hunt in our hearts for this enemy and we have to cry unto the Lord to rend the veil that would cover and hide my soul from Thee.

Now, the soul that is not truly hypocritical but has a leaven of hypocrisy will be prepared to examine itself. And prepared for God to examine it. The difference between a hypocrite and a Christian who has a little leaven in his soul is this: that the Christian with a little leaven will be prepared to examine it, the hypocrite won’t. He can’t abide that. But the Christian will bewail any hypocrisy and he will flee to that fountain opened for sin and uncleanness. Philip Henry says, Moses took a veil when he spoke to Israel, but he put it off when he spoke to God. Hypocrites do the opposite, do the contrary: they show their best faces to men, and they cover it before God. Notice Christ says this: “Beware,” and that’s a danger signal to us: Beware. He says it first of all to His disciples, “Beware,” and it has this meaning of holding towards oneself, don’t reach out and take hold of this leaven and bring it into your bosom. It’s the leaven of the Pharisees, those who desire “a fair shew in the flesh” (Gal 6:12); outwardly they deceive men but ultimately God reads the hearts. But why beware, why beware, why is it such a positive danger, child of God? It is a danger for this reason: because hypocrisy slides into apostasy. And apostasy is proof of hypocrisy, the downgrade, the steps going down, and that’s why it is a danger. Child of God, beware of this subtle sin and beware of this excuse that we make: “Well, nobody’s perfect”; don’t we use that at times? My friends, that is a “believer’s bed of thorns, and the hypocrite’s couch of ease” (John Duncan). That is true. We must look and search and find, if there is a special nook, a special hiding place in our heart; and we must learn that any profit from the Table depends on preparation for the Table. So beware of the leaven of hypocrisy.

(b) Examine for 
Leaven of Heresy (Gal 5:7–9). Paul tells the Galatians that you are to examine yourselves for the leaven of heresy. Perhaps that may be too strong a word for our purpose this morning; we could use the word “error.” Examine for the leaven of heresy, “Ye did run well; who did hinder you…? A little leaven leaveneth the whole lump.” What was happening was this, the context of the previous verses shows, some had come in, Judaisers, into the Galatian church; and they were teaching Jesus Christ, yes, Jesus Christ for salvation, yes, but plus circumcision. You must be circumcised on top of your salvation. And they were spreading confusion and error in the church in Galatia. A little leaven leaveneth the whole lump. Now this corrupting influence is often difficult to discern, as it makes itself quite at home in our natures.

Now all of us here have different constitutions, different predispositions, different likes, dislikes; we are all different characters, but we have these likes and dislikes in the realm of the intellect particularly, so that certain persuasions, certain doctrines, appeal to us, we are attracted to them. There is something in the make-up of man that we find, perhaps, that we respond to the unusual and to the unorthodox. And the feature of this particular leaven is that it insinuates itself into other areas of the Truth. And what it does is that it infects our discernment, it infects our balance as Christians, and it infects our appreciation of the Truth itself. And it is the most obdurate and stubborn of leavens to purge out. Now the reason why it is so is that it has two friends, and they are called Pride and Prejudice, or Pride and Ignorance. And these three are stronger than David’s three mighty men. Now when I was a young Christian, these three were my constant companions, they were the bane of my life. They were worse than Job’s three miserable comforters, giving me all the wrong advice, and sending me all the wrong directions. And they can only be overcome by three that are stronger, and that is the Truth, the Spirit, and the Heart humbled under the mighty hand of God. And that’s important in a Christian’s life: that submissiveness under the mighty hand of God.

An obdurate heart and mind, and I know something of this myself, an obdurate heart and mind that are closed to the Truth, and will not respond to reason or to teaching, even though at times I didn’t have the answer for my position, I was in a precarious position. When you think of it, this leaven of error or of heresy is such a potent invader that it came and invaded the life of the Apostle Peter; and Paul had to stand there and challenge him, the two greatest figures in the New Testament church. One of them fell grievously into error and Paul withstood him face to face and challenged him, saying: “Look Peter, that’s wrong. I’m telling you that’s wrong, according to the Word of God.” I did mention last week of something similar, that heresy in the head is not as bad as heresy in the heart. Heresy in the heart, when in the heart, has captured the city. When in the head, it tends to be theoretical, and therefore it is not heretical, not truly heretical; and can be mastered by the Truth itself. The Christian who falls into serious error, and our Lord’s Word can be applied here, and is promised in: “if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them” (Mk 16:18).

Again, and here I have the advantage of old age perhaps, that when I was a young Christian, I was an Arminian, I think most Christians, when they are converted,—there are exceptions,—are Arminians to start off. I was Arminian, amongst other things. And Arminianism is really a very serious heresy, not an error, it is a heresy. And it breeds others as well; for instance, that you can fall from grace, that is directly related to Arminianism: that you can fall from grace. I was an Arminian, but gradually I was worn down by the Truth, the Truth that I read, the Truth in the Bible, the Truth that I read in Banner of Truth books, for instance. And mixing with the Reformed brethren for the first time, I was gradually worn down by the Truth; it was ignorance on my part, my background, I didn’t have any teaching on this matter; it was pure ignorance on my part, and the tradition that I have been brought up with. But it was Truth that rescued me and delivered me, and changed my stance and my position. And so then, it is well to examine our hearts as we come to the Table; and ascertain whether we believe what we really believe, believe sincerely and truly and fully, or are there elements of doubt concerning the truth that trouble us, and make us uncertain? That agitates our consciences perhaps, and worries our minds. If so, we are to confess our difficulties before the Lord, to come and to pray that He, in His grace and mercy, will open our eyes. It doesn’t prevent us coming to the Table, for it is there that the Truth is placarded crucified before our eyes.

Daniel Rowlands, who was probably the greatest preacher that Wales has produced and God raised up, (and I would set him above Whitefield), was preaching and he was unconverted. He was an Anglican, and one Sabbath when he was taking a communion service in the crowded church, as he knelt at the lectern in the front, he came to the reading of the order of service. He read out loud: “By thine agony and bloody sweat,” and when that came into his conscience, he saw the suffering of Christ, and his outlook changed, he imbibed the Truth. And so it is that the communion service can be the means of restoration, it can be the means of information, it can be the means of bringing the Truth to bear upon our minds and consciences in the way of the Truth not experienced before. It has that element of power, not in the bread, not in the wine, but in the Truth, that is the requisite.

Leaven of Scandal (1 Cor 5: 7). “Purge out the old leaven, that ye may be a new lump.” He’s talking to the church: Now get rid of this leaven, destroy it, eliminate it, that ye might be a new lump. Now the context in which he uses that is this: it is of an incestuous person within the communion influencing the whole of the lump, or whole of the church. Just as there was sin in the camp when Achan hid the wedge of gold and goodly garment, the Lord saw there was sin in the camp; so in the Corinthian church there was this incestuous person. Now, beloved, we can harbour in our hearts darling sins that would scandalise if they were known. For this leaven I am talking about cannot only ruin your life, it can ruin the life of your church. You see, this leaven not only corrupts within yourself, but it festers without like an angry boil, and it can break out before the eyes of the world. And if you are entertaining something similar in your heart, then lance the boil! We must forever be watchful of our personal walk, so that as a people we have a conscience void of offence before God and before men.

There was a scandal in the Corinthian church; and no church and no individual is exempt from this leaven. And this scandal, these scandals, they all spring from temptations and from entertaining exciting thoughts. Now, whether these scandals are temptations of the flesh, whether they are financial temptations, whether there is pride over a certain subject, or whether there is malice, or there is personality antagonism towards each other; they are not to be given house room, they are not to be entertained in any way. You know Luther said, “You can’t stop a bird flying over our heads, but we can stop it from building a nest in our hair.” And Paul says to us, these temptations will come into our lives, they will cross our minds, but that’s as far as they must go.

And as we anticipate coming to the Table of the Lord, then this preparation of purging must take place in our hearts, so that we don’t unworthily eat. To partake of the cup unworthily is to drink poison instead of blessing. You have heard of the poison chalice. Well, my friends, such is the cup of the Table if it is taken unadvisedly. Yes, in preparation, in investigation, in examination, we may discover sin and it is bitter, but when we come to the Table, we will discover Christ, that He is sweeter, and it will be sweeter. It is one thing to take the elements, but another thing to taste them. So those of us who count ourselves friends of Christ, and are privileged to dine with Him, and claim to be His brethren and sit at His Table and sup, we are to seek to discover and to “lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us” (Heb 12:1). You recall that Joseph only ate with his brethren, and discovered himself to them, when they had confessed their sin. And so likewise, when we come to the Lord’s Table to eat with the heavenly Joseph, we must confess our sin, and He will manifest Himself and discover Himself to His brethren. For we are promised: “the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin” (1 Jn 1:7). And that is a time of preparation, a time of examination, in which we look particularly for the leavens that I have mentioned.

3. Time for Meditation

Now, this is a constituent and element of preparation. We are in the busyness of this age,—and I don’t envy Singapore in that respect,—to try and stop and think, not only about the great verities and truth of the Christian faith, but to dwell upon the banquet that our Lord has prepared for us next Sabbath. He is calling us, by appointment, to the banqueting house, and His banner over us is love; and therefore we are to meditate upon ourselves, and above all upon the Lord Jesus Christ, because “on other Sabbaths God feeds us, but on the Table Sabbath, He feasts us” (Swinnock). There is a difference; that week by week we are fed and watered by the Word of God, but come the Sabbath on which we have the Lord’s Table, He feasts, He spreads the Table for us.

Now meditation is a difficult exercise and business, and of course it is because of the busyness of our age, and the busyness of our lives. But when you think of the lengths that the world goes to in this, did you know that Pythagoras hid himself in the cave for one year, that he may study abstruse and finer points of philosophy and that only to satisfy his mind? But the Christian has more. When the Christian meditates it kindles his affections. Remember how David reacted: “O how love I thy law! It is my meditation all the day” (Ps 119:97). The more he came to the Word of God, the greater his love increased. So meditation kindles the affection, warms the heart, it stimulates faith and desire. But as well as these workings it also sanctifies the soul; and it is incumbent upon us, of course, to sanctify ourselves in readiness for the Table of the Lord next week. Do you know that many of the Jews would bathe themselves? This was part of the preparation for the Passover; they would bathe themselves before they partook of the Passover. That is symbolic, of course, of sanctification. But remember what Joshua told the people. He told them: “Sanctify yourselves: for tomorrow the LORD will do wonders among you” (3:5). Sanctify yourselves; and it was on the Sabbath that the walls of Jericho fell down because the people sanctified themselves. And it is on the Sabbath of preparation, that the walls of opposition to spiritual growth and progress and enjoyment can fall at the contemplation of Christ’s bounty that is on the Table.

“You know the Jews would not eat common bread with unwashed hands, neither should we eat the sacred bread with unwashed hearts” (Swinnock). So sanctify yourselves. And such contemplation, such meditation, although demanding effort, and it does demand effort because we are not used to it. Our forefathers had perhaps, more of a pastoral society; they had more time, you can say. But, nevertheless, you can still meditate, and it is far less demanding, and less exhausting, than what Joseph’s brethren did when they heard that there was corn in Egypt. They packed their bags, took their sacks and they moved out, whatever the hazards of the journey to Egypt were, whatever difficulties, whatever the problems, they would go to Egypt in order to get the corn. Why? Because they were hungry. So it is that next Sabbath, the heavenly Joseph opens His storehouse, the great granaries of grace, and there is sufficient for all; and spiritual hunger will strive to get it. Spiritual hunger will strive to be satisfied and partake of the Bread of Life Himself.  And there is sufficient for all, just as Abigail brought out two hundred loaves and two large containers of wine, to satisfy the hunger of David and his men (1 Sam 25:18).

But, my friends, Christ spreads the Table, and there is bread and wine for all, in abundance. If He could feed the five thousand, He can feed our hungry souls next week. Bread and wine for the soul. Oh, Singaporeans are noted for their appetite and their love for food. Oh, but the Christian Singaporean should be different, he should be noted for his desire and hunger for the wine and for the bread of life. We should want to feed on Christ, we should want to derive all the benefits that are in Christ; we can’t get enough of Him, our souls hunger and thirst after the living God and we know that He is present with us on the Lord’s Table day so that we might enjoy Him and feast on Him. And therefore we are to take this opportunity to prepare and so “open the doors of your souls and let the King of Glory enter in” (Swinnock). We often, in the singing of some Psalms, think of heaven’s portals opening and the ascension of Christ, and the receiving of Him, and the exalting of Him in the glory. But think of it also, more personally, as you open your heart to the King of Glory, He will come in. My friends, upon the communion Sabbath the Bridegroom comes forth from His chamber again, as the sun comes forth in the morning. He comes forth from His chamber to embrace His bride, and we are to prepare ourselves for the “kisses of his mouth,” to experience that “his love is better than wine” (Song 1:2), for He is the heavenly Solomon. And in the midst of His enemies and in the midst of our enemies, He spreads the Table before us, and He calls to us as Wisdom: “I have furnished my table” (Prov 9). The Table is furnished; the feast is ready. Oh, that the guests will come in their wedding garments, and in a state of preparation.


Yet, two things by way of application.

(a) The first is this: Remember this is a family meal, and only those who are blood relations can come, only those of us who have the relationship with Christ, the blood relationship with Christ, and it is at the feast Table that the household of faith are gathered. And they gather to rejoice and to share in the provision of our Elder Brother and God our Father. And we come in to sit at the Table. Well, I preach in a church in Surrey, England, and there they have tables and the congregation moves forward in the communion service, the sheep come forward, the goats are left in their seats. There is a clear division. And as they come forward, they sing a psalm as they come to the table. They sit around the table, and the one cup is passed round, and the one bread is passed round. They share at the Table of the Lord, but it is a family meal. And as we sit together, there ought not to be any rancour, there ought not to be any problems in the family of faith, there ought not to be any leaven of hypocrisy between brothers and sisters in the Lord sharing together in divine and holy communion, eating and supping with Christ. For He has promised to be there, and in the elements we see Him. O Zion, prepare to meet thy God, not in wrath, but at the Table. It is lovely to think that He will sit with us next Sabbath. Prepare to meet Him in His holy ordinance! It’s a great occasion, and therefore it would take great preparation to sit with the Lord Jesus Christ.

(b) Then this thought: perhaps someone may be feeling very weak in coming, there is a weakness upon you. But, dear souls, you must realise that it is a strengthening ordinance, as the Puritans used to say. It is to equip you further, and it will strengthen you. By it, Christ will overcome your deficiency and “give strength into your soul.” Thou art weak, He is mighty, and will hold thee with His powerful hand. You may bemoan your unfitness, but all the fitness He requireth is to see your need of Him. You should come in need, you should come with hunger; and your needs, dear ones, will tug at His heart like a kite tugs at the string in the hand that holds it. He feels your need, and He will meet your need in Christ and will perfect His strength in your weakness. Oh, we are of the weak, of the foolish, and the base things of this life. The Apostle Paul had his weakness, he had his infirmities, yet he realised: “Thy grace is sufficient for me, and that your strength will be made perfect in my weakness” (cf. 2 Cor 12:9). The motto of the Scout Movement is: Be Prepared. How much more should that be the desire of the Christian? Be prepared, and come with love in your heart. God willing, may you share together as a complete church in this ordinance of the Lord’s Supper. Amen.

26 May 2002