Edited by Rev. John Adams, B.D.

In the Upper Room


By Rev. D. J. Burrill, D.D., LL.D.

Chapter 1


(Mark xiv. 12-16.)

At length the hour for which the whole creation had been groaning and travailing had arrived. The hands on God’s dial were pointing to the fulness of time. And Jesus said, "The hour is come."

The hour had come to fulfil Messianic prophecy by filling full the long-cherished "hope of Israel" and revealing the mystery of salvation which, having been "hid from the beginning," was now to be made known in the manifold wisdom of God. The hour had come to make an end of the old economy — which was but "a shadow of good things to come" — and usher in the gospel, in which the entire "handwriting of ordinances" was to be blotted out. The hour had come for the Master to keep His last Passover with His disciples. It was now Thursday, known as the Paraskeue or "day of preparation," and the feast was set for to-morrow evening; but it must be kept by anticipation, if at all, because to-morrow Jesus would not be here. The Lamb of God was about to be offered as a sacrifice for the world’s sin. The hour had come to assemble "the remnant of Israel" for reorganisation in the larger form of the Christian Church; and in this assemblage great forces were to be set in motion, which should ultimately, despite all opposition, bring in the Golden Age.

All this and more was in the mind of Jesus when He said to Peter and John, "Go into the city; and there shall meet you a man bearing a pitcher of water. Follow him; and wheresoever he shall enter in, say to the goodman of the house, The Master saith, Where is my guest-chamber where I shall eat the Passover with my disciples? And he will himself show you a large upper room furnished and ready. There make ready for it"

1. The Outriders of the King

The four men here mentioned were appointed as outriders or pursuivants of the King to prepare the way before Him. The campaign of the centuries was about to be inaugurated, and the Master began with these men. They were the vanguard of a great multitude whom no man can number, commissioned to go forth to the conquest of the world. In the logic of events they must be multiplied along the centuries until, at length, the glory of the Lord shall cover the earth as the waters cover the sea.

Two of these outriders are Peter and John; who, being representatives of the apostolate, properly lead the way. As lifelong friends they go arm in arm. Thus it is written, "Two are better than one; for if one fall the other will lift him up."

In their boyhood they had played together by the shore of the Galilean sea. As fishermen they had helped each other to let down their nets and to carry their catch to the fish-market in Capernaum. They were as different as different could be. John was like light and Peter was like heat; but light and heat were here united in a single flame.

The strongest bond of their fellowship was their mutual devotion to Christ. He had met them at the seashore when they were mending their nets and had said, "Follow me." This was their call not merely to the Christian life, but to the apostolic office. They were summoned from all secular pursuits into the exclusive service of Christ; wherefore, they arose and left their boats and nets to follow Him. They were no longer fishermen, but "fishers of men."

In this they stand as representatives of the ministry through all succeeding ages; that is, of such as have turned their backs on common pursuits to declare the unsearchable riches of Christ. Who shall number them now? They are sounding the Lord’s trumpet in the pulpits of the world. They are traversing plains and climbing mountains, crossing seas and fording rivers to carry the gospel of light and life to those who dwell in regions of darkness and the shadow of death.

"How beauteous are their feet

     Who stand on Zion’s hill;

Who bring salvation on their tongues

     And words of peace reveal.

The watchmen join their voice.

     And tuneful notes employ;

Jerusalem breaks forth in songs.

     And deserts learn the joy."

The third of the outriders is "the goodman of the house," and he has his place as really as the apostles in the mighty plan.

It would appear that he was a man of wealth and social position. His home was of such dimensions as to afford a large guest-chamber; furthermore, he had servants in his employ.

He was obviously a believer in Christ. His name is not recorded, possibly for prudential reasons. He was undoubtedly one of many who at that time accepted Christ without openly confessing Him. This is evidenced by the fact that his house was so readily placed at the Master’s command. Consecration is the touchstone of discipleship. Blessed is 'the man who holds all his possessions for Christ Discipleship is stewardship. Our time and treasure are held in trust. It is enough for a true Christian when the word comes, "The Master hath need." Happy is he whose home has ever a room which Christ may call "my guest-chamber." Nay rather, happy is he in whose heart and home alike there is no smallest room which is not wholly Christ’s. The home becomes a vestibule of heaven when the Saviour stands in its doorway saying, "Peace be within this house."

So this goodman stands for that splendid company of influential laymen who hold themselves and their possessions subject to the order of Christ. Whatever may be said of the shrivelling power of wealth, we know there are many such "goodmen" who lend themselves to the blessed work. The great enterprises of the Church to-day are largely indebted to such as count their wealth by millions. Because they reckon their talents in terms of stewardship they shall not fail of the Master’s commendation, "Well done, good servant."

The fourth of the outriders is the man with the pitcher of water. What of him? He was a mere nobody. Yet he also was included in the mighty plan. God has a place for the nameless ones.

He was engaged in a menial task; indeed, he was doing a woman’s work, bearing a pitcher from the well. But what matter, if he was carrying that pitcher in the line of duty?

"A servant with that clause

Makes drudgery divine;

Who sweeps a room as to God’s laws

Makes that and the action fine."

It would probably have surprised this inconspicuous man, a mere plebeian, had he been informed that he was exerting an influence for good. He little dreamed, when he heard footsteps behind him, that not only Peter and John, but the whole Christian Church was really following in his steps. How far his little candle throws its beams!

This man with the pitcher stands for the countless rank and file of humble believers who are rarely in the limelight. Their names are not heard in public places. They serve in remote corners and within narrow limitations. There are no trumpet blasts or waving plumes in the campaign of their lives. They modestly use their single talent for the glory of their Lord, and hope for nothing beyond His praise; "They have done what they could." Of such is the strength of the Christian Church to-day. Not fame but faithfulness is what the Master requires of us.

"Jesus bids us shine with a clear, pure light,

Like a little candle burning in the night:

In the world is darkness; so we must shine,

You in your small corner, and I in mine."

The outstanding fact is this: the true measure of life is always found in our relation to Christ. The only claim to immortality on the part of the two apostles, the goodman of the house, and the man with the pitcher, is based upon the fact that they were all, consciously or unconsciously, serving Him. His service overshadows all. It is only as we find and fill our appointed places in His mighty plan that we win success in this present life and qualify ourselves by faithful apprenticeship for the higher tasks of Heaven awaiting us.

I see these men climbing the outer stairway to the upper room. The door closes; great things will presently be doing there. The Church will gather about a table, with the Master in the midst, and partake of a feast of fat things and wine upon the lees. He will confer with them in the secret place of His pavilion, and His banner over them will be love.

2. The Transforming of the Feast

(Luke xxii. 14-18).

The scene in the upper room comes vividly before us. The Lord, whose relation to the Twelve was like that of a father in his household, arose at the head of the table and, according to custom, recounted the incidents of the memorable night when Israel was delivered out o bondage. Would that we might have heard the tragic story as it fell from His lips: the gathering of the households, the sprinkling of the blood, the awaiting of the signal with loins girt and staves in hand, the cry at midnight from homes bereaved, a deep crescendo of mothers’ woe — and then the going forth.

The story was probably followed by the singing of one of the Hallel psalms. For the Passover was not only a memorial; it was also a Eucharist or thanksgiving feast. Could the Jews ever forget how the angel of destruction had "passed over" their homes on that eventful night? Let them lift the song therefore: "Oh, that men would praise the Lord for his goodness and for his wonderful works to the children of men!"

But the Passover was more than a Eucharist; it was also a Sacrament. The word is derived from sacramentum, meaning an oath of allegiance, such as was taken by Roman soldiers on the eve of battle. The Jews were expected at this feast to renew their covenant with God. The terms of that covenant are recorded in connection with the first celebration of the Passover at Sinai: "If ye will obey my voice, indeed, and keep my covenant, then ye shall be a peculiar treasure unto me." And the people answered with one accord, "All that the Lord hath spoken will we do" (Ex. xix. 1-8; see also Ex. xxiv. 7, 8, and xxxiv. 1-28). This covenant was renewed in the upper room. The disciples were thus reminded of the obligations which rested upon them as believers in the true God.

But the Passover was more than a Memorial, a Eucharist and a Sacrament; it was a Communion. At this feast the tribal banners were laid aside, and all united in celebrating their oneness as the Chosen People, knit together by a common faith and a common hope.

This was destined to be the last Passover that would be lawfully kept in Israel or ever in this world of ours. A new feast was now to supplant it. The Passover must go; because the whole ceremonial system was about to be nailed to the Cross and taken out of the way. It had but one purpose, namely, to keep alive the Messianic hope. Its mission was now accomplished; and it was to disappear as shadows vanish at the rising of the sun.

It is written accordingly that "after the supper" Jesus took bread and, when He had given thanks, He brake it and gave to His disciples saying, "This is my body which is given for you: this do in remembrance of me." And He took the cup in like manner saying, "This cup is the new covenant in my blood, even that which is poured out for you" (Luke xxii. 19, 20).

In the Lord’s Supper thus instituted we have the Passover merged, transformed and reduced to its simplest terms. Observe the close correspondence.

The Lord’s Supper, like the Passover, was a Memorial. "Do this in remembrance of me." "For as oft as ye do this, ye do show the Lord’s death until he come." Thus the Cross threw its shadow over the feast The paschal lamb was a prophecy of "the Lamb of God slain from the foundation of the world"; as Paul says, "Christ our passover is sacrificed for us" (1 Cor. v. 7).

It is also a Eucharist At the Lord’s table we rejoice in Him who by His atoning sacrifice has blotted out our sins. There is no Hallel like ours: "This poor man cried, and the Lord heard and saved him out of all his trouble. Oh, that men would praise the Lord for his goodness and for his wonderful works to the children of men !"

It is also a Sacrament; in which we renew our covenant vows. "Ye are bought with a price," says Paul, "therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God’s" (1 Cor. vi. 20). The price of our ransom is designated by Peter where he says: "Ye were not redeemed with corruptible things, as silver and gold, but with the precious blood of Christ as of a lamb without blemish and without spot" (1 Pet. i. 18).

The Lord’s Supper is also a Communion. "One family we dwell in him." We are akin with all those, of every name throughout the world, who receive Christ as their Saviour. In Him we are united not only with all the living members of the family of Christ, but with the innumerable company that have gone on before us.

"One family we dwell in Him:

     One Church above, beneath;

Though now divided by the stream.

     The narrow stream of Death."

In addition to all this, the Lord’s Supper is profitable as a foreshadowing of the great marriage feast at which the nuptials of Christ and His Church arc finally to be sealed. In that day the bride shall present herself "without spot or blemish or any such thing"; and a feast of fat things shall be spread before the guests. "Blessed are they that are called to the marriage supper of the Lamb!" "Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of men, the things which God hath prepared for them that love Him!"