The Lord’s Supper
OT Reading: Jer.31:31-34
NT Reading: Luke 22:14-23
The Passover was a special day, a holy day. The feast of the Passover occupied an important part in the life of the Jewish nation. For centuries, Jews had celebrated the Passover. As they did so they remembered how God had intervened in their history to deliver them from slavery in Egypt. For 400+ years Israel had dwelt in Egypt where the conditions of their slavery became worse and worse. They cried out for deliverance and the LORD heard their prayers.
The LORD sent Moses to speak to Pharaoh and to demand the release of his people. He declared that he considered Israel to be his own first born son. Pharaoh refused and a series of plagues followed. Time and time again Pharaoh was given the opportunity to do the right thing and to release God’s people but again and again he would not. So one after another the LORD God demonstrated his complete supremacy over the gods the Egyptians worshipped by means of those miraculous plagues.
Did the Egyptians worship the Nile? – he would turn it into blood.
Did they worship frogs? – the frogs would die by the million.
Did they worship their cattle? – their cattle would all be destroyed.
Did they worship their health? – they would be covered with painful boils.
Did they worship the sun? – the land would be covered with a thick darkness
We know that these plagues were miraculous because of the way in which they were limited in extent. The Egyptians experienced all of these plagues but the region known as Goshen, where the Israelites, lived was unaffected.
And then came the warning of a final and devastating plague. This final plague was to involve the death of the first born in every household. Pharaoh had so signally refused to deal in a just and kindly way with God’s first-born (the Israelites) that the LORD would give him a taste of his own medicine. Divine justice is not arbitrary.
This time it was not only Egypt that was at risk, the Israelites were too. However the Israelites were assured of safety and protection if only they did what the LORD told them to do. Doing what they told him would be an act of faith and trust in the promises of their God.
The first Passover celebration took place before deliverance from slavery actually took place – every subsequent celebration took place after and looked back to the salvation that was granted that day.
The Israelites were given careful instructions what they were to do. We don’t need to go into all the details suffice it to say that the central feature was the killing of a young lamb and the painting of its blood on the doorframe of their houses. All those inside such a house were protected by the blood and no further death would occur there. Wherever the Israelites obeyed and painted the blood not a single first-born forfeited his life.
The celebration of the first Passover looked forward to the soon-to-come deliverance – later that same night in fact. But the Passover feast was also designed in God’s perfect plan to look forward to a still greater deliverance one that would require a greater sacrifice. The Passover feast was a foreshadowing of Christ’s atoning work on the cross. And Christ’s hour had now come.
Ever since the Fall of Adam and Eve, God had been pursuing his plan of salvation which would deal with the guilt, penalty, power and pollution of sin. And the time had now come for that greater deliverance to be secured. What was needed was not the mere freedom from foreign oppression but a freedom from a far greater tyranny, the tyranny of sin. The statement that Jesus’ hour had now come meant that it was time for him to suffer and die. Jesus, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, is our Passover Lamb.
With the reality to which the Passover feast pointed having come the reason for celebrating the Passover comes to an end and is replaced by a new meal, the Lord’s Supper. This meal celebrates not the hope of the old covenant but the reality of the new!
A Pivotal Moment
The old order was passing away and the new was on the verge of being inaugurated – it was a unique time and it all hinged upon our Lord Jesus. The focus is upon him and clearly so.
about himself and deliberately puts himself centre stage, right at the heart of the proceedings
about his coming sufferings
about fulfilment – the Passover was not complete in itself but had this definite forward looking aspect to it
about the coming Kingdom of God, coming in its completed state
about the fact that what he is doing he is doing on behalf of others, for the benefit of others, he could hardly speak more clearly!
about the new covenant and what it entails – once again he clearly links this new covenant to himself and to his own action
finally he also speaks about the reality of betrayal and of the fearful prospects that await the betrayer
People have tried to work out exactly how the celebrations took place that evening as Jesus ate his last supper with his disciples. They have considered the traditional Passover rituals and tried to establish at what moment Jesus added a new element or made changes to an old. They have then gone on to the Lord’s Supper itself and tried to work out in what precise order the events that are clearly recorded actually happened. It seems that chronological precision was not what interested the writers of the NT – their interest lay elsewhere.
I am not suggesting that there is error or confusion in what is written and we certainly must not assume that if we don’t get the picture then it is the gospel writers who are the ones at fault. We may simply be asking the wrong questions and looking for the wrong answers. If we keep our sight set on the things that are crystal clear then we will not go wrong for we will be focusing upon those things that the NT authors deemed to be of first importance.
Let us look at some of this.
There are only a few verses that record the passover meal that Jesus shared with his followers and how he instituted what we call the Lord’s Supper and those verses show little interest in providing us with a precise detailed description of exactly how it all took place.
On the other hand there are many chapters full of Jesus’ preaching and teaching – John, for example, doesn’t mention the institution of the Lord’s Supper at all but spends three chapters outlining the teaching that Jesus gave in the Upper room, the occasion when the Supper first took place.
When we put those two observations together we ought to be able to draw the simple conclusion that it is more important to understand what Jesus taught than simply to perform a religious ritual. The Lord’s Supper is important, I don’t want any of you to think otherwise, but it is only of value if and when it is properly understood.
What I mean to say is this: there is no value in participating in the Supper if you don’t know what it is about, and there is certainly none if you don’t believe in the truths to which it points. You will meet some people who will try to tell you that you will automatically benefit simply by eating the bread and drinking the wine. They are sacramentalists and they believe that it is the performing of certain religious rituals that matters whether or not you believe. Well I hope you realise that the Bible simply does not teach sacramentalism. If it did there would be far greater emphasis on and explanation of the rituals to be followed.
Jesus deliberately put himself centre stage. I’ve already mentioned this but want to say a bit more about it. During the Jewish Passover one of the children present would ask questions of the head of the household as to the significance of everything that was being done. The head of the household would then point away from himself and talk about the lamb explaining why it was being sacrificed. But Jesus during the feast did not point away from himself to talk about the passover lamb – in fact there is not the slightest hint that Jesus spoke about the passover lamb at all! Instead he continually relates and refers things to himself. He is saying in very clear terms "Think about me".
He tells his disciples that he won’t eat with them again until all has been accomplished and the Kingdom comes in its fullness.
He gives his followers a cup and says to them that he won’t drink it again with them again until the Kingdom of God comes.
He takes bread, he breaks it and gives thanks for it, but he doesn’t stop there. He goes on and says that the bread referred to him, it was a sign that pointed to him, it was all about him. When his followers ate it they were to do so thinking about Jesus. Christians have continued to do this down through the centuries.
He takes another cup and says this too is a sign whose purpose is to speak about him. As his followers thought about that cup full of wine being poured out for them they were meant to think about Jesus’ own blood that was to be shed on their behalf.
Indeed the new covenant which had been promised by some of the OT prophet most notably Jeremiah but also Amos and Ezekiel is inaugurated with a distinct reference to Jesus. How? It was to be the new covenant in Jesus’ blood!
Not simply did Jesus put himself centre stage he specifically put his upcoming death there:
He speaks about his sufferings – Luke frequently records Jesus using the word "suffer" to refer to his death:
Eg. to the two disciples on the Emmaus Road he said "Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?"(Lk.24:26)
Or to the 11 when he opened the Scriptures to them "Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead." (Lk.24:46)
Jesus associated his upcoming death as being intimately related to the accomplishment to which all the signs and symbolism of OT feasts and sacrifices pointed, the fulfilment of which would be in the Kingdom of God.
Jesus spoke of his suffering and death as a purposeful act that he would undergo on behalf of others and in the place of others. He spoke of his body as having been given for the life and well-being of his followers. He spoke of his lifeblood being poured out as a cup is poured out saying to his disciples he declared that it was "poured out for you".
Jesus did not simply suffer and die as so many others have done throughout history. His death was special in that he deliberately laid down his life as a sacrifice "for others". When he died he did so bearing the penalty of our sin in his own body as he hung on Calvary’s cross. He could do so because he himself was without any personal sin of his own for which to answer. For this reason he is described elsewhere in the NT as being "our Passover lamb" and one of the criteria for an acceptable passover lamb was that of being without spot or blemish.
If Jesus took such care to speak to his disciples so clearly about the centrality of his life and particularly of his death we must be very careful that we do not shift our focus away from that.
It is possible for us to imagine that he is a great example and that we must imitate him if we are to be saved – he is indeed a great example for us but he alone could suffer and die in the place of sinners – we mustn’t try to imitate him in that glorious work, indeed we cannot, but we must entrust ourselves wholeheartedly to him.
It is possible to try to turn everything into a series of religious rites and rituals and then to imagine that in keeping them we’ll be fine but those rites and rituals only have any worth or value as we allow them to speak to us of Christ and his outstanding worth and value!
Then again it is possible for us to respond to everything he offers with the rejection of a traitor.
A Heinous Betrayal
Judas’ story is an awful one for it tells us that someone can have so many spiritual advantages and still fail to truly belong to JesusI
Others imagine that if only they could see Jesus with their own eyes and hear him speak with their own ears then they’d believe. But Judas saw the Lord day in, day out for three years and he also heard most of the sermons, stories and parables that Jesus ever told.
Some people want to see a miracle and imagine that that would satisfy them Judas saw them all, he even participated in some, but he had no change of heart.
Yet it all amounted to next to nothing for Judas – 30 pieces of silver were more precious to Judas that Jesus was at the end of the day. And he thought that money would satisfy – by the time he found out otherwise it would too late!
Judas sinned and he sinned against the light. He had such opportunity and he not only let it slip through his fingers he actively cast it all away.
Even here at this point so close to the end Jesus will not identify him to the other disciples as the turncoat he is. In alluding to him simply as one sharing with him at table Jesus underlined that he had been offered friendship and had indeed shared friendship before turning away. The treachery of a one-time friend is reprehensible and Judas had played his role as a false friend well, so well in fact that none of the others suspected him for a moment!
When Jesus spoke of there being a traitor in their midst each of the others examined themselves; "Is it I, Lord?" they asked.
Have you ever asked that sort of question for yourself? Are you right with God through Jesus Christ? Have you responded to what you know about him? Are you trusting in what he did for sinners, believing that what he did for them he did for you? Or are you simply trying to look like a friend on the outside while the inner reality is something very different? Did you know it is possible for you to be sat comfortably here in church today without yet having made your peace with him?
And where do you turn when you’re asked such questions when the preacher will insist in asking them?
You know whether you turn to Jesus with sincerity in your heart but you also know if you don’t. It is the day of salvation and you still may turn to him in repentance and faith but you must call on the name of the Lord if you would be saved. Call out to him to forgive you your sin and to make of you one of his genuine disciples and don’t give him rest until he says yes!
Even as he talks about the one who will betray him Jesus continues to see himself as being right at the centre of God’s plan. Everything that happens to him happens in line with that plan. He has come to die for sinners, nothing will stop him, and his journey to the divinely ordained cross of suffering and shame will even be promoted by sinful, awful, shameful treachery of sinful men like Judas. Yes, even the wilful, wicked, sinful deeds of godless rebels will be made to further God’s plan and purpose! That is the constant message of Scripture but it never excuses the sinner for his wilful responsibility. Nothing will ever excuse you for your sin, nothing, that is, apart from the blood of Christ – you must not ignore that, don’t turn away from that!
We are also given a glimpse of what will come Judas’ way. If Jesus’ future is determined by God so is the future of Judas and it is awful:
v.22 "Woe to that man by whom he is betrayed."
We must not understand Jesus’ words as invoking a curse upon Judas as though he longs to see troubles befall this man. No, Jesus’ words are words of compassionate sorrow as he reflects on the dreadful outcome that Judas is bringing upon himself.
And now I must urge you not to bring a similar judgment upon yourself. Jesus came to die for sinners, even the very worst of sinners. Will you not entrust your life to him today and then go on by his grace to live for him day by day?
In the words of a well-known hymn:
COME, ye sinners, poor and wretched,
weak and wounded, sick and sore;
Jesus ready stands to save you,
full of pity joined with power;
He is able,
He is willing; doubt no more!
And to God be the glory.