Jesus takes the Passover meal and invests new meaning in the wine and the bread. The wine symbolises his blood and the bread his body.
Jesus takes the Passover meal and invests new meaning in the wine and the bread. The wine symbolises his blood and the bread his body.
Hello and welcome to Series 12 and Episode 11 - 'the Lord's Supper established'. We're in Luke 22: 17 - 21, following on the beginning of the story about the Last Supper of Jesus on that Thursday evening of his Passion week.
Introduction and Recap
If you've been following Series 12 and Series 11, you'll know that the wider picture is that we're in a series of very intense events that took place in the last week of Jesus's life. In Series 11, we saw the events of the first half of the week - Jesus' Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem, his confrontation with the religious authorities when he cleansed the Temple on the Monday; then on the Tuesday, there was a long time that Jesus spent in the Temple compound debating, teaching and then ultimately confronting and condemning the religious establishment. In the background of this whole week is this simmering conflict between Jesus and the Sanhedrin, the Jewish ruling council, who have decided that they are going to do away with Jesus. They are going to find a way of getting him executed. Their first task is to get him arrested and tried by their own council, their own judicial system, and then handed over to the Romans. This is the backdrop to the whole week and in every single episode, I've referred back to this fact, to remind us what's going on but I've also referred back to the fact that Jesus is always in the initiative. He comes to Jerusalem at a time he chooses. He enters Jerusalem in a provocative way. He goes into the Temple and confronts the authorities. He speaks parables and stories against the ruling authorities. He issues condemnation against them. He warns them of God's divine judgement because they are leading the whole Jewish nation away from wholeheartedly following Jesus Christ as the Messiah. It's their responsibility to open the door for the people but they're closing it. This is the theme that goes right underneath this whole week and in God's sovereign purpose, he was going to allow his son to die on the cross as a substitutionary atoning sacrifice for the sins of the world. He was going to allow the evil machinations of the Jewish rulers and other people, and the Roman authorities, to lead to this tragic and yet gloriously important event.
Jesus went on to discuss with his disciples privately, as we saw in Matthew 24 and 25, about the end times, about his return in glory in the future because there would be a Second Coming. He also spoke in more detail about what kind of judgement would come upon Israel for their rejection of the Messiah. That took us seven episodes at the beginning of Series 12 to cover that material in Matthew 24 and 25. Then we looked at the anointing of Jesus by Mary in the home of Simon the Leper in the nearby village of Bethany. On that occasion we noticed that Judas Iscariot was coming to the point of making the decision to betray Jesus. He'd been thinking about this for some time but as it says at the beginning of Luke 22, Satan actually took over his decision-making, allowed this evil process to develop to such an extent that he came under the power of dark forces. He went to the authorities, to the Sanhedrin, and offered to betray Jesus; offered to lead them to him at a place that would be quiet and discreet away from the crowd, so that he could be arrested without a scene. This creates a real sense of tension in the story. Everybody knows that something drastic is going to happen very shortly.
The Passover is just beginning to take place. The Passover feast was the time that Jesus chose to come to Jerusalem and, as I've discussed in the immediately preceding episodes, Jesus gathers his twelve disciples for a meal on the Thursday evening, and we are in the middle of that meal now; it's known as the Last Supper because it was the last day of Jesus' life but it was also Passover supper at which they ate a ritually-sacrificed, slaughtered lamb which had been roasted. Peter and John were responsible for the preparation of the meal at a discreet location - an upper room in the city of Jerusalem. Jesus and his twelve disciples gathered together for what was to become the Last Supper.
We then saw in our last episode that, just as the Last Supper was starting, Jesus quite suddenly went round his twelve disciples and he washed their feet, which was the action of a servant. They would be reclining at table and he'd go round their feet and he washed all their feet as a servanthood love towards them, as an indication of the nature of leadership, which is to be the servant of those that you are seeking to lead.
The Lord's Supper
Now we return to Luke's account, where we were two episodes ago, at the beginning of the story. We're going to see that the Last Supper turns into the Lord's Supper. The Last Supper describes the event in general. The Lord's Supper describes something that happens within that meal, where Jesus takes the basic actions of the meal and turns them into something of a permanent symbolic significance - what we later have come to call a sacrament. We'll talk about that a little bit later on. As he is going through this Passover meal, which had a number of rituals - bread being passed around, cups of wine being passed around and shared together - Jesus invests those symbolic actions with even more symbolism because they come to have a reference to himself. In the material we're going to look at. In the few verses that we're studying in this episode, we have the foundation of what has become known as the Lord's Supper, or the Eucharist, or the Communion. This has now become a major feature of the life of Christian communities. We'll think about those Christian communities and what it means for us a little later but for the moment the best way to approach this is to forget about ourselves and to think about those twelve apostles gathered together, bearing in mind that Judas Iscariot is there, rather reluctantly because he has already decided that very shortly he's going to leave the meal and going to tell the authorities where Jesus is, and where Jesus is going after the meal, so that they can go there and arrest him.
Let's first of all go back Luke 24: 14 - 16 which we looked at in the previous two episodes. This is the beginning of the Last Supper;
‘When the hour came, Jesus and his apostles reclined at the table and he said to them, “I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer, for I tell you I will not eat it again until it finds fulfilment in the kingdom of God.”’Luke 24:14-16, NIV
Jesus sets the tone for the meal. It's a Passover meal, but he's basically saying it's the last one I'm going to share with you. I won't be here next year. He's already predicted on many occasions his suffering and death which he predicts again here. He is about to invest this meal with incredible significance. He acts as the head of the family in this private event. He is now equipping and training his disciples to face up to a drastically different situation that they are going to find themselves in within 24 hours of this moment. It's the following day that Jesus will be crucified by the Romans, at the instigation of the Jewish religious authorities.
The Messianic Age
Let's read verses 17 - 18 because here we see something remarkable happening.
‘After taking the cup, he gave thanks and said, “Take this and divide it among you, for I tell you I will not drink again from the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.”’Luke 22:17-18, NIV
Jesus has in his hand a cup filled with wine, the fruit of the vine, and he passes the cup round. This was a gesture and a symbol within the Passover meal and it was done several times during the Passover meal. Take this and divide it among you. He said that he would only drink it again when the Kingdom of God comes. Two episodes ago, when we looked at the previous verses - verse 16 ‘I tell you I'll not eat it again today finds fulfilment in the Kingdom of God’, we studied this concept which comes up again here in verse 18. The Jewish concept of the Kingdom of God involved a fulfilment of that Kingdom when it comes in its full power at some later stage in history, when God himself visits Israel and Jerusalem and the world, particularly in the form of his Messiah who will rule from Jerusalem. Have a look at Psalm 2 and Psalm 110 as prophetic examples of this. That rule will be characterised by harmony, peace, salvation, and well-being within humanity after God has judged those who have resisted him. This is called the messianic age, the age of the Messiah. It is a frequent concept in the Jewish prophetic books. It's very often the high point of their prophecy. It's the expectation that one day God will come and he will put everything right. He will rule humanity directly, bringing peace and harmony. In the centre of that vision is a concept of a feast, as we mentioned two episodes ago - a banquet - not just a one-off event but an ongoing reality of feasting, which God himself, through his Messiah, will bring to mankind and bring to those who are redeemed.
We looked at this before and I'll quickly mention again the fact that, for example in Matthew 8: 11, Jesus predicted of the Gentiles,
‘“I say to you that many will come from the east and the west, and will take their places at the feast with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven.”’Matthew 8:11, NIV
It's an example of that expectation of some kind of feast as a symbol of salvation and harmony, and the relationship between God and man. Jesus again says, ‘I'm not going to drink this wine until that Kingdom comes and I'm participating in that feast.’
He invites his disciples to drink from the cup. When this Passover feast is connected to the death of Jesus Christ, the wine becomes very clearly connected symbolically with the blood of Jesus, shed on the cross. Then he goes on in verse 19,
‘And he took the bread, gave thanks and broke it and gave it to them, saying “This is my body, given to you. Do this in remembrance of me.”’Luke 22:19, NIV
Matthew 26: 26 and Mark 14: 22 adds in at the beginning of this expression, ‘Take and eat.’. He is inviting them to participate in the bread and he describes the bread as a symbol of his body. This is my body. Jesus' death is being symbolised here. It's the body of Jesus in death. It's given for you, the body is given over to death for your benefit. ‘Do this in remembrance of me’, in other words repeat this action of eating this bread and he'll be repeating the action of taking the wine in the cup as well. ‘Do this in remembrance of me.’ What Jesus is going to achieve by dying, shedding his blood and his body broken in death is going to be something that he wants his followers to always bring to mind regularly. And verse 20,
‘In the same way after the supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood which is poured out for the many’”Luke 22:20, NIV
In doing so here, he is investing the wine with great significance. The cup is being passed around in the meal, but he describes it as being a symbol of a new covenant. This is a massive statement and we need to think about this. This is right at the heart of the significance of the Lord's supper being established here. He takes an ordinary cup, he takes a Passover event - Passover supper event - and he turns it into something much greater and much more powerful. He actually describes a new covenant relationship between God and man being formed through the events that this cup and this wine symbolises. Those events are his forthcoming death on the cross which will take place the next day.
A New Covenant
It's a new covenant. This makes us think about the covenants. So, we pause for a moment and think what would this mean in the Jewish mind? The Jews knew that in the Old Testament period there were five covenants that God had made. First of all he made a covenant with Noah after the floods. (Genesis 9) That was a covenant with all of humanity, irrespective of their faith or race - a covenant which granted them the certainty of a great environment to live in, after the judgement of the flood. Then came the covenant with Abraham which was the formation of the Jewish people and the calling on the Jewish people to be God's representatives on the earth and to reveal his glory to the other nations. (Genesis 17) Then came the covenant with Moses, which was at the time that the Jewish nation had grown to be a substantial number of people and was about to enter into its promised land. The covenant with Moses created a system of worship, a system of morals, a system of social ethics, and a system of priesthood. It created a place of worship which was initially the moving tent called the Tabernacle, later on to become the Temple. It was a whole system of life. (Exodus 20)
Then the Old Testament prophesied that there would be a new covenant later on and here it is. This is the moment that the new covenant emerges. The clearest prophecy in the old Testament of this new covenant comes in Jeremiah 31: 31 - 34;
‘“The days are coming,” declares the Lord, “when I'll make a new covenant with the people of Israel and with the people of Judah. It will not be like the covenant I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt, because they broke my covenant, though I was a husband to them,” declares the Lord. “This is the covenant I will make with the people of Israel after that time,” declares the Lord. “I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. No longer will they teach their neighbour, or say to one another, ‘know the Lord,’ because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest,” declares the Lord. “For I will forgive their wickedness and remember their sins no more.”’Jeremiah 31:31-34, NIV
Jeremiah clearly prophesies that the covenant with Moses which he refers to in verse 32 is going to be replaced by a new covenant that's going to be more effective. A covenant is a revealed way of God relating to mankind which he reveals on his terms. It's a divinely-initiated framework by which mankind can relate to God on his terms. The Law of Moses, that served the Jewish people these hundreds of years, and Jesus fulfilled the Law of Moses, now he was going to replace that legal system with a new covenant based on his sacrificial death, his resurrection, on the gift of the Holy Spirit to a new people which are going to be called the Church - Jew and Gentile together, who will not be controlled by the legal system of the Mosaic covenant but will be led by the Spirit and taught through the teaching of Jesus and the Apostles, which will be written down in Scriptures.
This is the new covenant that is implied and stated here. It's just about to come into existence, and it's already going to have a symbolic framework in the cup, in the Lord's Supper. ‘It's in my blood. It's the new covenant in my blood.’ In other words it's achieved by death. This is incredibly important. It is always wrong to think of Jesus' ministry primarily as just healing and teaching. The most important thing he did was to die in our place; die for us; die as our substitute. The new covenant is achieved by his death and he fulfilled the principal of the Law of Moses that God had instituted many hundreds of years ago and taught to the people of Israel, which is that the pathway to forgiveness comes through atonement, through a sacrificial substitutionary death on behalf of somebody else. This was first of all fulfilled through animals dying but was finally and completely fulfilled in Jesus Christ's human death for us. As stated in a previous episode, this principle is summarised beautifully in the Leviticus 17: 11;
‘For the life of a creature is in the blood and I have given it to you to make atonement for yourselves on the altar. It is the blood that makes atonement for one's life.’Leviticus 17:11, NIV
and Hebrews tells us in chapter 9 that without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins. (Hebrews 9: 22) This is just the way that God has made the spiritual world. It was his choice to do it that way. It's his choice that this is how forgiveness is going to come and it's supremely fulfilled in Jesus Christ. His one sacrifice on the cross - his one death - was sufficient to cover all the sinfulness of all people who come to him.
‘This cup is the covenant in my blood which is poured out for you’. Matthew and Mark also add, ‘and for many’
It is poured out on your behalf; it's a substitution. You don't have to take the punishment of your sin because Christ has taken the punishment for you; it is poured out for you, for the forgiveness of sins.
When Paul in 1 Corinthians 11, teaches the Corinthians about the Communion, or the Lord's Supper, and encourages them to have this symbolic sacrament in their worship services, he adds in some interesting things. Verse 26 -
‘For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes.’1 Corinthians 11:26, NIV
It's a reminder to us of what Christ has done for us. It's also a reminder that he will return again in the Second Coming. Paul goes on to teach about how we should prepare ourselves for that Communion. We'll come to that in just a moment.
Returning back to Luke, let's look at the final verses in our passage. I'll just read verse 20 again, and then just add verse 21.
‘In the same way after the supper he took the cup saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood which is poured out for you, but the hand of him who is going to betray me is with mine on the table.”’ (Verse 22) - ‘“The Son of Man will go as it has been decreed but woe to that man who betrays him.”’ (Verse 23) - ‘They began to question among themselves which of them it might be who would do this.’Luke 22:20-23, NIV
This leads us on to the question of the betrayal of Judas Iscariot which we'll take up later on in our teaching.
Let me make some concluding reflections as we have considered these very important words as the Lord's Supper is established. One of the ways of expressing the death of Jesus, which the New Testament adopts, is to describe him as a Passover Lamb, or using the expression the Lamb of God. It's a very odd expression to use unless you know what the background is. We know in the Passover that the animal in question that was going to be sacrificed was a lamb, and we know from 1 Corinthians 5: 7 that Paul describes Christ as our ‘Passover Lamb’ who's been sacrificed for us. We know that John the Baptist in John 1: 29 describes Jesus as ‘the Lamb of God who will take away the sin of the world’ and we can think of other examples. For example, in 1 Peter 1: 18 to 19;
‘For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver and gold that you are redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your ancestors, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect.’1 Peter 1:18-19, NIV
Isn't it interesting that Peter should use the expression ‘a lamb’. It doesn't make any sense unless you understand this connection to the Passover. Even the Book of Life, in which are written the names of all the people who are to be redeemed on the day of judgement, is designated in the book of Revelation (13:8) as the ‘Lamb's Book of Life’. One conclusion is that one way of understanding Jesus is, he is the ultimate Passover Lamb, who died for us in atonement as a substitutionary sacrifice to bring forgiveness for us.
What Jesus does on this particular occasion, as described in these few verses, is institute what we have now called a Sacrament, a special event in the life of the Church, a special community event, sometimes known as Eucharist, sometimes as the Lord's Supper, sometimes as Communion, and by other names too. This becomes a very important part of the Church's life. There are two things that Jesus formally commanded his followers to do. One of them was to have the Communion service and Sacrament and the other was to baptise believers by immersion. Baptism and communion are the two fundamental symbols of the Christian faith that carry forward from generation to generation. It's a symbolic act with spiritual power and significance. There isn't a miracle that takes place by which the wine and the bread literally become the blood and body of Jesus. No, we're talking here in metaphorical language. We're talking here about a simple action that we are commanded to do, which God invests with special power. It has a power of strengthening us in our faith. It has the effect of causing us to remember the death of Jesus for us. It is a very wonderful symbolic way of expressing the fact that we are a family together - a family of those who are redeemed. When we come to the communion in our own life, in our church context, or perhaps informally in small groups, or in home situations, depending on the tradition that you come from, what we should remember are the words of Paul in his explanation about the Lord's supper. It's worth studying 1 Corinthians 11: 17 - 34, but verse 27 is helpful
‘So then whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord. Everyone ought to examine himself before they eat of the bread and drink from the cup.’1 Corinthians 11:27-28, NIV
This is not just an ordinary meal. This is a spiritual act of worship, when you come and partake of the bread and the wine of the Lord's Supper. We should prepare for that by confessing any known sin, refreshing our spiritual life and focusing on the wonderful meaning and significance of the death of Jesus for us. Thanks for joining me.