Today we are looking at the section of scripture in which Jesus institutes the Lord’s Supper. It is called by various names in Christianity today, in some churches, it is the eucharist, in some, it is communion. All refer to the same ceremony, yet all do not observe it in the same way. It is the belief of this church, and most conservative, evangelical Christian churches, that this ceremony is one of two essential ordinances for the church, the other being baptism. In fact, some theologians have said that the identification of the church is that it observes the preaching of the word and the observation of the ordinances. So it is important that we know how we are to observe the ordinance of communion, and why.
I believe that the answers to those questions can be found in this text. For the answer to how we are to observe it, I would point to the precursor of this ritual as the template from which it is established. And as we se in vs12, it is the ceremony or ritual of the Jews that was known as the feast of Unleavened Bread. And if you look back at vs 1 of chapter 14, you will see that the Passover and the feast of Unleavened Bread are presented as synonymous. They refer to the same event, which is a week long celebration of Passover.
Now this ceremony was perhaps the most important ceremony celebrated in Israel. It was a celebration of the deliverance of Israel from captivity to Egypt. You will remember that Israel was captive of Egypt for 430 years, and God raised up Moses to be their deliverer. God, through Moses demanded that Pharaoh would let Israel go, but Pharaoh hardened his heart, even though God showed great signs and caused plagues to fall on the Egyptians. Until at last the patience of God was finished, and God pronounced a curse upon the land by saying that at midnight the death angel would pass through the land, and God would strike dead the firstborn son of whomever did not have the blood of the Passover lamb upon the door posts.
For the salvation of Israel from the plague of death, God instituted an ordinance which required for the Israelites to take an unblemished lamb and slay it, and put some of the blood upon the doorposts of their house. Then they were to roast the lamb whole in fire, and eat the lamb with a side dish of bitter herbs and with unleavened bread. This meal was to be taken once a year on the first month of the year, as a way of remembering God’s deliverance of the Israelites from slavery.
And though all the Jews may not have understood all the spiritual significance of the feast, other than the historical application, yet from our perspective we know that there were many symbols in the feast which were to be for our instruction. Namely, that as the scripture said in Hebrews 9:22, that without the shedding of blood there is no remission of sins. The unblemished Passover lamb that was to live with the Jews in their home for 3 days, and then be sacrificed was a substitute for sin. It presented the principle of the innocent dying for the guilty. God allowed for the spotless lamb to be slain for the sins of the believing family. The bitter herbs represented the bitter years of slavery to Egypt, which in turn represented the bitter years of enslavement to sin and the world. And the symbol of unleavened bread represented the removal of sin; sin being represented by the yeast which causes corruption in the bread, making it rise, or in the absence of it, causing it to be unleavened, or uncorrupted.
So the Passover was observed every year in Jerusalem, and Jesus has been heading for this particular observance since the day He began His ministry, referring often to His appointed hour, which was the exact time when the lamb would be slain during the Passover. Now on the day of the feast, Jesus sends two of His disciples to prepare the meal in a room which He has designated for this important event. And there is an interesting aspect of mystery to Jesus’s instructions. He says “Go into the city, and a man will meet you carrying a pitcher of water; follow him.” It sounds like some clandestine arrangement like you would read about in a spy novel or something. In fact, there is a reason why Jesus would want to keep the location secret, and that is the fact Judas is looking for a way to betray Him to the rulers. So in saying look for a man carrying a water pitcher, the disciples would readily recognize the incongruity of a man doing something which was typically something only women did, and in so following this man they would be taken to the house which the Lord had designated, without Jesus having to divulge it’s exact whereabouts ahead of time. Now we don’t know whether or not Jesus had prearranged this, or whether it was His divine foreknowledge, but either way, it was something Christ had arranged, either through divine providence or prearrangement.
And I believe it was by divine providence, as Christ is able to even tell them the details of the conversation they will have, and Mark tells us that they found everything just as Jesus said it would be. And so they prepared everything for the Passover meal.
When it was evening, Jesus came to the house with the rest of the disciples, all twelve of them being now present, and Jesus as the host would have conducted the ceremony. The timing of this is Thursday evening, by the way. I’ve heard some commentators explain that the Galileans celebrated the Passover on Thursday evening, but the Judeans celebrated it on Friday. Thus, Jesus could celebrate the customary meal with His disciples on Thursday evening, but then be sacrificed Himself on Friday as the Passover Lamb for the remission of sins, even as thousands of lambs were being slain in the temple.
Now according to John’s gospel account, Jesus first washes the disciples feet in preparation for the meal. It was customary to wash one’s feet before entering a house to eat. And so Jesus takes on the position of a servant, that He might wash the disciples feet. You can read that account in John 13 if you like, but I will not expound on that aspect of the evening except to point out one fact; and that is that Jesus also washed Judas’s feet. If you want to know what being a spiritual servant looks like, then look no further than at the humility of Jesus who washes the feet of the man who will betray Him that very night.
And then, once again we see the divine omniscience of Jesus in His remark as they were then seated and eating the meal, “Truly I say to you that one of you will betray Me—one who is eating with Me.” Now this was a shocking statement, and it should be noted that the word betray means literally, to deliver over. So it is clear what Jesus is saying, yet it is unclear of whom He is speaking of.
If this were a “who dunnit” then such a statement might draw conspiratorial glances around the dinner table, each of them appraising the criminal intentions of his neighbor. But to their credit, it sparks intense introspection on the part of the disciples, as they each wonder whether they could be the culprit. They show a sense of healthy self distrust. They don’t think of themselves as too far above such a thing as disloyalty or even betrayal of their Lord.
And I say such an attitude is healthy, because we should always have the mindset that we should not think of ourselves as being above some vile sin. We should always have a view towards anyone found in some public sin, that there for the grace of God go I. In fact, to some extent, all of them would desert Him that night. And Peter would in fact deny Him. Betrayal is just one step further.
So they each ask with a sense of inner grief, “Surely, not I?” They grieve because they mourn their own lack of fortitude or certitude. They know they are weak, but they pray that they are not that weak. And Jesus does not immediately allay their fear. Nor does He identify the culprit. But Jesus allows a moment of introspection and examination. And in 1 Corinthians 11:28, Paul warns that we too must take the moment to examine ourselves that we do not eat of the table of the Lord unworthily. We need to take the time to examine ourselves, to look for the yeast which needs to be removed from the Lord’s house, whose house we are, if we are to properly celebrate what Jesus has done for us in His sacrifice.
Jesus gives an answer to their questions of “Is it I” by giving an ambiguous answer, “It is one of the twelve, one who dips with Me in the bowl.” This was referring to the practice of eating a sop, a piece of bread dipped in the juices and herbs and meat. He was referring to the unthinkable act of sharing His food and yet plotting His betrayal by one of His own friends and close acquaintances. Especially in that culture, such an act after the host’s hospitality was considered unconscionable.
But though it was meant to be ambiguous to the disciples, it must have cut like a knife to Judas, who knew what his plans were, and now understood that Jesus knew his heart. It’s interesting that among the disciples none were more highly esteemed than Judas. He was above reproach. He was the treasurer, even though someone like Matthew, a tax collector, had more experience with handling money. He was a Judean, whereas all the others were Galileean. Therefore he was probably from a better society, better educated, more noble in appearance. And yet we are reminded that God said, “man looks on the outward appearance, but God looks at the heart.” And Jesus knew what Judas had planned in his heart.
And then Jesus adds a warning for Judas. “For the Son of Man is to go just as it is written of Him; but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been good for that man if he had not been born.” Though the Christ had been prophesied in the scriptures that He would die, (Isaiah 53 especially) yet Jesus is saying that Judas is still responsible for his actions. Though God appointed that Jesus would suffer for the sins of the world, yet still man who caused His suffering is responsible. Nowhere in scripture does predestination cancel human responsibility.
It was intended as a warning, but also as an opportunity; a last opportunity to repent. Judas could still have repented. Perhaps even as Judas kisses Jesus as a signal to the mob later on that night, he could have still repented. But like Pharaoh, Judas continues to harden his heart.
Well, at this point, Judas goes out, the other disciples thinking that Jesus must have given him some mission to go buy something that was needed. And so Jesus resumes the Passover meal, and in so doing He institutes the ordinance of the Lord’s Supper. And please note that I try to consistently use the term “ordinance.” There is another word that is often heard in this regard which is “sacrament.” Sacrament infers a sacred act by which a certain measure of righteousness is attained. The Roman Catholics, for instance, believe that this ritual involves transubstantiation, in which the bread and wine become the very body and blood of Christ as it is taken. The Reformation began to move Protestants away from that assertion, and most evangelical Christians today believe that it is representative, or symbolic of Christ’s body, but it is not His actual body.
I was just in Starbucks the other day talking with a Catholic about this. They believe that the host, or the bread, is the actual body of Christ, even before it is eaten. So they cannot offer the host outside of the church. However, they have altered the ordinance because they do not offer the wine to the public for sanitation reasons, among others.
But we believe that Jesus was speaking figuratively. And if you will remember the Passover meal and it’s symbolism which I started by describing for you, then it should not be difficult to recognize that as the Passover meal was symbolic of God’s deliverance of Israel from their sins, then the Lord’s Supper is symbolic of Christ’s deliverance of the sins of the world. Jesus often used symbolic language to teach spiritual principles. For instance, Jesus said “I am the vine, you are the branches.” Obviously symbolic. Jesus said about Himself that He was the door, He was the light of the world, He was the good shepherd, He was the bread that came down out of heaven, He was the rock in the wilderness, He was the water of life. In alll those expressions we understand them to be symbolic, and so also then is the Lord’s Supper.
Furthermore, Jesus was sitting there in front of them in His natural body, a 30 something year old Jewish man, and He was holding out a piece of bread or a cup of wine and saying, “this is My body, this is My blood.” He was not yet crucified, so He could not be actually offering those things to them except symbolically representing what He would accomplish for them on the cross.
So without further debate, it was a symbolic ceremony that Jesus was instituting. But what in fact did it represent? Well, once again we need to look at the precursor, the Passover meal. Jesus was declaring that He was the Passover Lamb. We are the family that must offer an unblemished sacrifice for the remission of sins, that the angel of death might pass over us. We do not have a qualified unblemished lamb that we may offer to God. The Bible says that there is none righteous, no not one. The original Passover Lamb in Egypt was a symbol of the true Lamb of God which takes away the sin of the world which at that time was yet to come. The Passover pointed forward in faith to the day when Christ would come as the unblemished Lamb of God. The Lord’s Supper points back in faith to the day when Christ came as the unblemished Lamb of God which takes away the sins of the world.
As the Jews ate the lamb and the meal, they looked forward to that promise in Christ. Even so, as we eat the Lord’s Supper, we look back in faith to what Jesus did on the cross, the righteous dying in the place of the unrighteous. The innocent dying for the guilty. We recognize that we are guilty and that He died in our place. And then we eat of the unleavened bread, as acceptance of the righteousness of Christ which is applied to us by faith. As He is righteous, we by faith become righteous. That is why we eat the unleavened bread. It represents His righteous, sinless body, which was broken for US. His sinlessness avails for us through His death when we appropriate it by faith.
And then we drink of the cup. The cup, Jesus said, was the new covenant in His blood. Only God can make a covenant with man. A covenant is a binding agreement, a promise, usually sealed with an oath, or a deposit, or sometimes with blood. Jesus made the strongest possible bond of covenant, when He sealed it with His precious blood, the very blood of God. By His blood we are saved. Romans 5:9 “Since, therefore, we are now justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God.”
The Old Testament spoke of this new covenant, especially in Jeremiah 31:33-34 “But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days,” declares the LORD, “I will put My law within them and on their heart I will write it; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. They will not teach again, each man his neighbor and each man his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ for they will all know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them,” declares the LORD, “for I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more.” This covenant between God and man for our forgiveness is ratified by Christ’s blood.
The author of Hebrews rightly tells us that Jesus is the guarantee of a better covenant with better promises. Though we celebrate the Lord’s Supper again and again, it is in remembrance, not in a continual sacrifice. The scripture says once and for all His sacrifice has sufficed to be the guarantee of our inheritance in heaven as children of God. But please understand that Jesus says that His blood has been poured out for many. That is more than a few, but not for all. But only to those who eat of His body and drink His blood. That is, for those who appropriate His sacrifice and substitute for themselves. They believe in Him, and they accept Him as their Lord and Savior. And that is what we are symbolically referring to when we eat and drink of the Lord’s Supper. Just as baptism does not save us, but it represents what has happened on the inside, and the new life spiritually that we are now living, so the Lord’s Supper represents what Christ has done, and what we have believed and appropriated, and now live with Him in us, and us in Him.
Finally, there is one last statement which Jesus makes in vs. 25, “Truly I say to you, I will never again drink of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God.” In this statement Jesus reveals that the Lord’s Supper not only points back in remembrance to the cross, but also it points forward to the second coming. When Jesus speaks here of the Kingdom of God, He speaks of the consummation of the kingdom, when Jesus comes for His bride the church, and we are with the Lord, and participate in the Marriage Supper of the Lamb. Jesus is prophesying, in the face of His imminent death, that He will rise again, and He will return to claim His kingdom as it’s King. It is then not just a solemn remembrance of His death, but also a blessed hope of the resurrection, not only for Christ as the first fruits, but also for us as His bride, who will never taste death but will be raised with a new, glorified body to be with the Lord forever. And that is something to celebrate.
In vs.26, Mark says that they concluded the ceremony by singing a hymn, and went out on the Mount of Olives. I would point out that this is the only time we are told that Jesus or the disciples sung. I’m sure it wasn’t the only time. But it’s telling that singing does not have the emphasis in the New Testament that we have given it in the church today. Now you can make as much of that as you want. But I think we need to examine what we do today in the church in the name of worship by comparing what they did in the early church. There were other examples of singing in the church, Paul and Silas in prison comes to mind. And both James and Paul instruct us to sing.
But once again, if we look to the Passover Feast celebration, then we learn that the hymn they traditionally closed with was called the Hallel, which is Psalm 115 to 118. I would love to take this opportunity to read them in their entirety, but we do not have the time. It is particularly poignant though to read some of the verses recognizing what Jesus was about to go through as He was singing them. We don’t know the melodies of these songs today, but I can’t help but imagine that they were like fighting songs, like marching songs, that stirred up courage and faith in a time of trouble. And so in closing, I would like to read just a few random verses as they speak so vividly of what Jesus must have been feeling as He prepared Himself for the cross.
Psalm 116:3-4, 6, 8-9, 15 The cords of death encompassed me And the terrors of Sheol came upon me; I found distress and sorrow. 4 Then I called upon the name of the LORD: “O LORD, I beseech You, save my life!” … 6 The LORD preserves the simple; I was brought low, and He saved me. … 8 For You have rescued my soul from death, My eyes from tears, My feet from stumbling. 9 I shall walk before the LORD In the land of the living. … 15 Precious in the sight of the LORD Is the death of His godly ones.
Psalm 118:1, 5-6, 8, 14, 16-17, 19, 22, 27-29 Give thanks to the LORD, for He is good; For His lovingkindness is everlasting. … 5 From my distress I called upon the LORD; The LORD answered me and set me in a large place. 6 The LORD is for me; I will not fear; What can man do to me? … 8 It is better to take refuge in the LORD Than to trust in man. … 14 The LORD is my strength and song, And He has become my salvation. … 16 The right hand of the LORD is exalted; The right hand of the LORD does valiantly. 17 I will not die, but live, And tell of the works of the LORD. … 19 Open to me the gates of righteousness; I shall enter through them, I shall give thanks to the LORD. … 22 The stone which the builders rejected Has become the chief corner stone. … 27 The LORD is God, and He has given us light; Bind the festival sacrifice with cords to the horns of the altar. 28 You are my God, and I give thanks to You; You are my God, I extol You. 29 Give thanks to the LORD, for He is good; For His lovingkindness is everlasting.
Let us not forget that Jesus suffered and died for us, that those who believe in Him and accept Him as their Savior and Lord might have the forgiveness of sins and have everlasting life. We are now going to celebrate the Lord’s Supper. Let’s pray as we prepare our hearts.