The Matthew Series - The Last Supper
Matthew 26:17-35 English Standard Version (ESV)
The Passover with the Disciples
17 Now on the first day of Unleavened Bread the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Where will you have us prepare for you to eat the Passover?” 18 He said, “Go into the city to a certain man and say to him, ‘The Teacher says, My time is at hand. I will keep the Passover at your house with my disciples.’” 19 And the disciples did as Jesus had directed them, and they prepared the Passover.
20 When it was evening, he reclined at table with the twelve.[a] 21 And as they were eating, he said, “Truly, I say to you, one of you will betray me.” 22 And they were very sorrowful and began to say to him one after another, “Is it I, Lord?” 23 He answered, “He who has dipped his hand in the dish with me will betray me. 24 The Son of Man goes as it is written of him, but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been better for that man if he had not been born.”25 Judas, who would betray him, answered, “Is it I, Rabbi?” He said to him, “You have said so.”
Institution of the Lord's Supper
26 Now as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is my body.” 27 And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, “Drink of it, all of you, 28 for this is my blood of the[b] covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. 29 I tell you I will not drink again of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father's kingdom.”
Jesus Foretells Peter's Denial
30 And when they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives. 31 Then Jesus said to them, “You will all fall away because of me this night. For it is written, ‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.’ 32 But after I am raised up, I will go before you to Galilee.” 33 Peter answered him, “Though they all fall away because of you, I will never fall away.” 34 Jesus said to him, “Truly, I tell you, this very night, before the rooster crows, you will deny me three times.”35 Peter said to him, “Even if I must die with you, I will not deny you!” And all the disciples said the same.
Jesus calls his disciples to celebrate a meal that they would, as a people, have celebrated for about 1400 years before this event. This was the Passover meal. This was a meal that was instituted by God through Moses to remind the people of God that He is the God who will save His people. Now, what I want to do tonight, is, connect us back to the historical reality that Jesus is connecting us to: the Passover.
I believe this is important because it becomes a reminder to us of God’s work in history, His work in the Messiah, and therefore His work in our life.
To start off, God has been doing something, actively, in history that has been the salvation of His people for about 3500 years. We continue in that tradition; we continue in a long unbroken line of God’s intervention into human history. This is important because it grounds us. It causes us to stop and recognise that there is something bigger going on here and now that our little worries, and our contemporary problems.
So, what is happening? Let us start with;
The Historical connection
In 1446 BC (according to conservative scholars interpretation), a prophet was called by God to lead his people out of slavery in Egypt. Obviously this was Moses who subsequently gave Israel the Law and lead the people of Israel through the desert for 40 years until they came to the Promise Land (Israel – the land of Canaan).
You can read the story of the salvation of Israel from slavery, by God, for yourself in Exodus. What is of particular importance for us tonight is the justice that God wrought upon Egypt who had enslaved the people of Israel and who had killed the first born sons of Israel.
As the story goes, the final plague that God brings against Egypt was that the Angel of death was sent throughout the land of Egypt to kill every first born son (and we will link the connection with Christ in the next point). This was an act of justice by God against the command of Pharaoh to kill all the first born sons of Israel at the time of the birth of Moses. However, what we see in this judgment is a grace; a mercy. If anyone by faith – and listening to the warning of God – would kill a first born, unblemished, lamb, and put its blood on the door posts of their door the angel of death would pass over than house. There would be mercy granted to everyone who did this; Israelite and Egyptian.
Now in the history of this event God set up a ritual to be practiced by the people of God every year to re-enact and remember this event and to teach each generation anew what God had done for His people. This was called the “Passover” meal. And it is amazing how much of our passing on of traditions and vital lessons are situated around meals.
So Jesus takes this ancient meal, this celebration of the salvation of God and uses it to teach a new lesson about the salvation of God. Very much connected to the previous intervening salvation of the Exodus story. In fact, they mirror each other profoundly.
However, what I want us to pick up is that we are participating in an incredibly ancient story, and repeating it to ourselves and each other every time we re-enact it. What is this story? God is at work within His creation to rescue His people.
All this leads up to this meal that Jesus lead 2000 years ago and He take the same elements, except one the lamb (and we will see why) and connects it to what God is doing in and through him.
The wine and bread, the blood and the body
Jesus starts with the bread, Matzos a unleavened bread (or flat bread) with no yeast in it. There is a lot to unpack in this symbol, but it represented the fact that the Israelites were fleeing slavery that night; there was no time to let bread rise. It also represented uncorrupted bread.
Jesus blesses it. which meant he recited the blessing, which translated into English would be;
Blessed are You, LORD our God, King of the universe, Who brings forth bread from the earth.
The beauty of this statement is profound in itself; it is God who sustains us who brings forth the meals that give us strength. But Jesus adds to this blessing. He says;
“Take, eat; this is my body.”
A connection lost on the disciples until a few days later. But the bread of the Passover, is not simply a remembrance of God’s salvation, it is now a symbol of how God plans to save all mankind, through the broken body of the Messiah.
Next Jesus takes the cup, a glass of wine and blesses it as well, saying;
Blessed are You, LORD our God, King of the universe, Who creates the fruit of the vine.
Again a beautiful statement of the blessing of the fruit of the vine. This too is from God and therefore we should thank God for it. However, Jesus pushes this further and uses this too to describe how God is bringing salvation to all mankind. He says;
“Drink of it, all of you, 28 for this is my blood of the[b] covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.”
Jesus is forcing his disciple and us to make a connection. This is the connection between the Exodus story and His own. Between God’s salvation of his people from the slavery of Egypt and God’s salvation of His people from the slavery of sin. The connection is that the Exodus story is only possible because of the Christ story. The salvation of Israel was for this event in the life of Christ – so that the Messiah might come through the Jews, but it was also only possible because Messiah would come.
How could God have mercy on Israel? How could God not pour judgment on all people, well it was through the Lamb in the exodus story and it is through the Lamb of God in this story.
Which leads us to
A conspicuously missing lamb.
What is missing from this Passover meal, which is the centre of every other Passover meal (it is the focal point of the story) is the lamb. We read in the Exodus story in Exodus 12:12-13:
“On that night I will pass through the land of Egypt and strike down every firstborn male, both man and beast, and I will execute judgment against all the gods of Egypt. I am the LORD. The blood on the houses where you are staying will distinguish them; when I see the blood, I will pass over you. No plague will fall on you to destroy you when I strike the land of Egypt“
It was the death of the lamb that would atone for the life of the first born, a life for a life, an innocent for the guilty. This lamb was conspicuously missing at Jesus’ meal. It has, however, been alluded to. Jesus takes the cup and says; it is my blood, He takes the bread and says this is my flesh, my body. He is the lamb.
John picks up on this metaphor and in his Gospel in John 1:29 says;
“Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!”
Jesus is the real lamb. The lamb of the Passover was simply pointing to the True Lamb, who would deal with the problem of man once and for all time.
The story is the same; it is still a loving God who longs to intervein in the world He created. A God who loves the world so much that He gives! He gives Himself. He would be perfectly just to simply let us have what we all wanted, a life without him. That is what we declared when we all collectively took of tree.
Now, you might be saying, it was Adam and Eve who took from the tree. And you are right. However, every single one of us have continued that rebellion, that hateful defiance ever since.
The worst thing you could ever do to someone is to ignore them, to treat them as if they don’t exist. Well, we have done that to God our entire life. We have sought the things that only He can offer in anything else. We know we want eternal love and significance and yet we waste ourselves on things that are fading away.
Imagine having a child who you gave everything for, you sacrificed for, you loved. And they simply lived their life like you didn’t exist. It would shatter your heart. Well, God is your true Father, and yet all of mankind lives their lives as evidence that they think He is irrelevant at best and non-existent at worse.
It would be perfectly right of God to hand us over to what we want; which is a universe without Him. The problem is a universe with Him is known as hell. God loves us so much, that He made a way. He bore the result, the end of our sin, so that we could receive freely, what he deserved.
On the cross, Jesus cried out (in horror) my God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Jesus, who did not deserve my fate – to be forgotten and forsaken by God – received my punishment. He was forsaken, he was handed over to the hell of a universe with God. However, in that act, I was, by faith, taken up into a universe with God. Where I am fully accepted, fully received.
All this leads me to a final response;
Hope for the hopeless
At the end of the meal, and even in it is this tread of betrayal – pointing to Judas. But at the end of the meal, Jesus makes a startling statement; not one of you will remain faithful. All will fail all will forsake Him. Even Peter, who makes a bold statement of absolute allegiance. Jesus declares, every one will fail. This lesson comes home to us tonight; none of us will pass the test either. In fact, I would be as bold to say that in some way even this week you have failed.
Paul picks up on this; on the hopeless condition of man’s unfaithfulness and says in 1 Cor 11:25b-26; as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.” 26For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes”
We need the communion; because it is a reminder of our salvation, it is a reminder of what it took, and what it will take. It is not by our effort, or goodness that we accepted. It is because Christ died.
Our hope is built, sustained and completed in the fact that Jesus did all that was required for sinners like us. And so it is not that we have been obedient, it is not that we are good, it is not that we have made it. It is that Christ is our obedience, Christ is our goodness, Christ is the hope we have for making it.
And so tonight we are going to take part in this meal again. An ancient meal, a meal that reminds us of the truth of our faith! We are made right through receiving what has been done.
Let’s move to the communion table.