The Last Supper
Communion, Good Friday, Passion of Christ
You probably own something that to the outsider is of little value . . . but it is something which you consider priceless. It may be a ticket stub, a baseball, a piece of furniture. It doesn’t look like much but its value is the meaning associated with the item.
I remember I had a pair of corduroy pants that I kept in my dresser drawer for a long time. I kept them not because I wore them or even liked them. I kept them because they were a gift my aunt had purchased for me, just before she died suddenly. The pants reminded me of her. I had trouble throwing them away because to do so felt like I was losing my last piece of her.
The tie bar I wear is special to me because it belonged to my dad. There is an irrational anxiety that I feel if I misplace it.
Tonight Jesus takes a piece of bread and a glass of wine and gives that kind of meaning to them. That meaning is so deep that most of us cannot drink any kind of grape juice without thinking of communion.
In Luke 22 we have a record of the last night Jesus had with His disciples before His crucifixion. There is some debate as to whether this was the Wednesday or Thursday Night of Holy Week. Traditionally, it has been viewed as Thursday night.
We have already learned that Judas was preparing to deliver Jesus over to the officials for a moderate bounty. Let’s eavesdrop on what took place.
Preparing for the Passover
7 Then came the day of Unleavened Bread on which the Passover lamb had to be sacrificed. 8 Jesus sent Peter and John, saying, “Go and make preparations for us to eat the Passover.”
9 “Where do you want us to prepare for it?” they asked.
10 He replied, “As you enter the city, a man carrying a jar of water will meet you. Follow him to the house that he enters, 11 and say to the owner of the house, ‘The Teacher asks: Where is the guest room, where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?’ 12 He will show you a large upper room, all furnished. Make preparations there.”
13 They left and found things just as Jesus had told them. So they prepared the Passover. (Luke 22:7-13)
This meal was so significant to the Jews that many people made the pilgrimage to Jerusalem for Passover. Many homes of the area were opened so visitors could meet to eat this sacred dinner. The only fee for most rooms was the skin of the lamb that was slain for the meal.
When Peter and John asked Jesus where they would eat the Passover, Jesus was very cryptic. The reason for this is simple: If Jesus was more specific regarding the location of the meal, Judas could have used that information to have Jesus arrested before it was time.
The instructions were to go into the city (Jerusalem) and find a man who was carrying a jar of water. To us that seems like saying, “Go to Wal-Mart and find someone who is pushing a grocery cart”. However, it was unusual for men to carry water and it was even more unusual for a man to carry water in a jar (they would normally carry water in a skin). So the real analogy would be to go into Macomb and at Wal-Mart follow the man who is dressed like Sponge Bob!
Once they found the man they were to follow him to the place where he was going and then tell the owner that “you are with me”. Then, when they had found the room, they were to make preparations. Most likely Jesus had already made preparations. Some suggest it was the home of Mark’s family.
The preparations were specified in detail. The Jewish Mishnah tells us that the slaughtering of the lambs began at 3:00 p.m. The large group of people waiting to sacrifice were divided into three shifts. Each group would enter the court and the gates would be closed behind them. There would be a long blast from the ram’s horn and the sacrifices would begin. People came forward to a long row of priests who held basins of silver and gold. Each Israelite slaughtered his own offering and the priest would catch the blood in a basin and pour the blood at the base of the altar (a symbol of atoning for sin). The worshiper would leave with the dead lamb over his shoulder.
When they arrived home the lamb would be roasted on a pomegranate spit. Traditionally the participants would dress in festive white and recline at tables with the leader, or the head of the household, at the head of the table.
In the Gospel of John we learn that before the meal Jesus washed the feet of the disciples as an illustration of the servant mentality the Lord desired from His followers.
A Memorial Created
What we know as the celebration of Communion actually took place within a prescribed ritual. Again, if we turn to the Jewish Mishnah we find the traditional order of the meal.
- A prayer of thanksgiving by the leader or head of the house, followed by drinking from the first cup of diluted wine.
- Lettuce dipped in bitter herbs would be eaten as a reminder of Israel’s bitter slavery in Egypt.
- Then the story of the Exodus would be told. Usually the son would ask, “Father, why is this night distinguished from all other nights?” Then using the book of Deuteronomy (26:5) the leader would recite: “My father was a wandering Aramean, and he went down into Egypt with a few people and lived there and became a great nation, powerful and numerous. 6 But the Egyptians mistreated us and made us suffer, putting us to hard labor. 7 Then we cried out to the Lord, the God of our fathers, and the Lord heard our voice and saw our misery, toil and oppression. . . until the story was told.
- Next the group would sing Psalms 113 and 114, after which they would wash their hands and have a second cup of wine.
- Next they would carve and eat the lamb and the unleavened bread in memory of what was done on the first Passover.
- Following the meal there would be a third cup of wine.
- The group would sing Psalms 115-118 and then have a 4th Cup of wine. [Pesachim 10:1-9]
What we read in verse 15 likely was spoken at the beginning of the meal,
15 And he said to them, “I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. 16 For I tell you, I will not eat it again until it finds fulfillment in the kingdom of God.”
17 After taking the cup, he gave thanks and said, “Take this and divide it among you. 18 For I tell you I will not drink again of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.”
Jesus informed His disciples that they were reaching a turning point. He would not celebrate the Passover with them again until the Kingdom of God had come. Jesus knew what was coming. He knew this was going to be the last night He could spend on earth before His death.
When He took what was either the first of second cup Jesus reiterated the fact that their times of eating the Passover together would be coming to an end.
Imagine if you gathered for Thanksgiving and one of the family members said, “I’m sure I won’t be with you to celebrate next year.” Perhaps some of you have actually had that experience. Perhaps someone had cancer and the treatments were unsuccessful. The end is near and the person speaking acknowledges that fact. Such a comment adds a deep significance to the gathering. Such was the case here.
Jesus most likely took the bread during the time of the meal. It was unleavened bread (in other words it was without yeast so it was flat) He broke it and said,
“This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.”
At this point in the meal Jesus changed the entire focus of the celebration from Egypt to Jerusalem. He turned the focus from the lambs that had been killed in Egypt to THE Lamb who would be executed the next day in Jerusalem. Jesus wanted His followers (He wanted us) to know that He gave His life willingly on our behalf.
Put yourself in the sandals of those disciples. They had no idea of the events that were about to knock them flat. They likely had no idea what Jesus was telling them. But they never forgot His words; “this is my body, broken for you.” The bread because a symbol of our Savior giving His life as a payment for our sin.
The Bible is clear on several things:
- God is Holy; untarnished, pure. He expects us to be holy too. We are told to “Be Holy as I am holy” (Leviticus 19:2)
- We are not holy but sinful. Sin is rebellion against God in our attitudes and actions. “all have sinned and come short of the glory of God” Romans 3:23
- Because of our sin we must face the penalty of our sin which is physical and spiritual death. “For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life” Romans 3:23
- No matter how hard we work we cannot earn our way into Heaven. “Not of works that any man should boast (Eph. 2:9)
- Jesus lived a perfect life making Him uniquely qualified to serve as our substitute. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet was without sin. (Hebrews 4:15)
- Jesus died as a sacrifice to pay the penalty for our sin. For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. (1 Peter 3:18)
This is difficult for us to grasp. How could one man pay for the sin of millions? I hope you know the answer to this question: it was because of the office or position of the one man. Because Jesus is the perfect Son of God, His life carries enough value to pay for anyone who will put their trust in Him.
When Jesus says His body was broken for His disciples, He was speaking literally. His death was the literal payment for our sin.
It was probably the third cup (the one after dinner) when Jesus stood and told the disciples that his blood would establish a new covenant with God.
In the book of Hebrews this new covenant is explained,
13 Under the old system, the blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a young cow could cleanse people’s bodies from ceremonial impurity. 14 Just think how much more the blood of Christ will purify our consciences from sinful deeds so that we can worship the living God. For by the power of the eternal Spirit, Christ offered himself to God as a perfect sacrifice for our sins. 15 That is why he is the one who mediates a new covenant between God and people, so that all who are called can receive the eternal inheritance God has promised them. For Christ died to set them free from the penalty of the sins they had committed under that first covenant. [Hebrews 9:13-15 NLT]
In the book of Jeremiah God told Jeremiah about the coming New covenant,
33 “But this is the new covenant I will make with the people of Israel on that day,” says the LORD. “I will put my instructions deep within them, and I will write them on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. 34 And they will not need to teach their neighbors, nor will they need to teach their relatives, saying, ‘You should know the LORD.’ For everyone, from the least to the greatest, will know me already,” says the LORD. “And I will forgive their wickedness, and I will never again remember their sins.” [Jer 31:33-34]
This new covenant will bring a cleansing from sin that goes beyond a surface cleaning to our very heart. The blood of Christ makes it possible not just for us to be forgiven, but for us to become a new creation. Through faith in Christ God give us the Holy Spirit who enables us to know God with a new intimacy and serve Him with a new strength.
Let me draw you a picture,
On one occasion Dr. Christian Barnard, the first surgeon ever to do a heart transplant, impulsively asked his patient, Dr. Philip Blaiberg, “Would you like to see your old heart?” On a subsequent evening, “the men stood in a room of the Hospital, in Johannesburg, South Africa. Dr. Barnard went up to a cupboard, took down a glass container and handed it to Dr. Blaiberg. Inside that container was Blaiberg’s old heart. For a moment he stood there stunned into silence—the first man in history ever to hold his own heart in his hands. Finally he spoke and for ten minutes plied Dr. Barnard with technical questions. Then he turned to take a final look at the contents of the glass container, and said, ‘So this is my old heart that caused me so much trouble.’ He handed it back, turned away and left it forever.”5
This, is what Christ makes possible for us. He gives us a new heart. God has written his laws within us.
21 But the hand of him who is going to betray me is with mine on the table. 22 The Son of Man will go as it has been decreed, but woe to that man who betrays him.” 23 They began to question among themselves which of them it might be who would do this. (21-23)
This is a good news bad news statement. The good news is that those who put their hope, faith, and trust in Christ will be forgiven and will get a heart transplant. However, for anyone who turns away from Christ (like Judas did), there would be a different result. Jesus says, “Woe, to the man who betrays him.”
Don’t miss the tragedy of these events. The Savior is giving His life to redeem us from ourselves, yet Judas spurns the love of the Savior. Sadly, we see this happen again and again. Every time someone turns away from God’s offer of salvation they follow the way of Judas. Every time we turn away from standing with the Lord in our daily living we spurn the very one who gave His life for us.
You may not feel that you are betraying the Lord. Let me ask you a question: if your teenage child left home and refused to acknowledge your existence would you feel betrayed? Of course you would! You gave life to that child and you provided what they needed to live that life. There were sleepless nights, trips to the Doctor, preparation for school, nights sitting down doing homework. If your child simply disowned you, you would feel betrayed.
Now take this into your relationship with God. You may not be openly antagonistic to God. You may not be living your life recklessly. However, if you have turned your back on the One who died to save you, you are a betrayer. If you are indifferent to the Lord, you are facing the woe of Judgment rather than the blessing of forgiveness and a new heart.
Anytime we come to the Lord’s table we remember what God has done on our behalf and how it impacts the way we live our life today. Every time we hold the bread we are reminded that our relationship with God is not due to our good deeds but is a result of the willing sacrifice of Christ on our behalf. Without His willing sacrifice we would be hopelessly beyond redemption.
The cup reminds us that the transaction at the cross was not solely legal. It was not just about removing sin . . . it was about giving us a new life. A life filled with the Holy Spirit, a life that is headed in a new direction; one that brings hope, joy, and everlasting life in Heaven.
Every time we come to the table we should renew our commitment. We should confess and banish our acts of indifference and rebellion. We should come to Him humbly and gratefully, willing to serve Him in whatever way possible.
We call this day Good Friday not because it was good that people killed Jesus. It is Good Friday not because of what happened to Jesus, but because of what happened to us because of the death of Christ. This is a holy celebration. It is one that should lead us to deep reflection, sincere worship and everlasting gratitude. In one sense it is just bread and wine (or grape juice). However, in a deeper way . . . it is soooo much more.