Luke 22:14-22 “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.’ 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 of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.’ And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, ‘This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.’ 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. The Son of Man will go as it has been decreed, but woe to that man who betrays him.’”
Reading about the Last Supper in the New Testament is a journey into many surprises. There are actually five accounts of the Last Supper, one in each of the gospels and the one in I Corinthians 11 which passage it is our custom to read each time we celebrate the Lord’s Supper.
1 THE SURPRISES ABOUT THE LAST SUPPER.
i] The first surprise is that in the gospels of Matthew, Mark and John there is no instruction or exhortation to Christians to celebrate it in the church. Just in I Corinthians and in our text today do we read such instructions. Our Lord gives us this familiar commandment, “Do this in remembrance of me” (v.19). Neither Matthew nor Mark nor John tell us that Jesus told the church to do this. If we had those three accounts of the Last Supper alone then we might place the Lord’s Supper in the same category as the foot washing of the disciples, that it was something that Jesus did with his disciples – a mere symbol – but then there would have followed 2,000 years of debate as to the part the Lord’s Supper was to play in stated church services, for example, whether the local congregation was under any obligation to hold a Lord’s Supper itself. But there is, in fact, no debate about that fact because Luke and Paul make it clear that our Lord said, “You do this.” He wanted his people in the ensuing years to break bread and drink wine. When we read the Acts of the Apostles we find the early church with its thousands of new Christians continuing steadfastly in the breaking of bread and prayers. So the first surprise is the absence in Matthew, Mark and John of an exhortation to Christians to be keeping the Lord’s Supper.
ii] The second surprise is the account of the Last Supper found in John’s Gospel. Now one of the legacies of modernism has been the magnifying of the Lord’s Supper and the diminishing of other means of grace such as preaching. A young Welsh pastor came to me with a question about this. He had gone to a Baptist College and there it had been drilled into him by the modernist lecturers that the most important service in the church was the eucharist. Even the architecture of non-conformist chapels built in the 20th century displayed this thinking as they inclined to put the pulpit on the side of the church and the table for the Lord’s Supper at the very centre of the front of the building. This young pastor read the New Testament gospels and the letters and the book of Acts and he did not find such central significance given to this sacrament at all. He found an extraordinary emphasis in the gospels of our Lord preaching, and in the Acts the journeys of the apostles everywhere did not result in their arrival at a town, taking out priests’ robes, putting them on, erecting an altar and celebrating the eucharist. Their evangelism was all about verbal communication of the gospel. They went everywhere teaching, debating, defending the faith and explaining to people about the life and death of Jesus Christ. And when you read the letters to the young churches you find that almost none of them contain any reference to the Lord’s Supper.
So you might think that it must be through the influence of John’s Gospel, a work so profound and mystical and full of high theology, that in such a gospel written by the man who rested his head on Jesus’ bosom in the Upper Room, there would be great detail about the Last Supper insisting on what the church is to do whenever it meets together, especially that is must centre upon the eucharist. Surely we will find that stress here in all its mystery and importance. So let’s have a look at the account of the Last Supper in John chapter 13 and see what emphasis that great apostle gave to the details of the supper, the bread and the wine. The scene is set in the opening words; there Jesus’ love for his disciples is declared, and then the evening meal is being served, and the grief underlined of finding the betrayer Judas, one of the Twelve, there in the Upper Room and his plans of betrayal are mentioned . . . and then . . . and then . . . what? No bread or wine are mentioned at all. Not a hint of it. Then Jesus washes the feet of his disciples and the narrative about that goes on to the 17th verse.
Then do we find the Lord’s Supper? Not then. The theme returns to Judas and his betrayal, and that lasts for another 13 verses, and then from verse 31 to the end of the chapter Jesus predicts Peter’s denial, and . . . that is it! The meal is over and from chapter fourteen onward Jesus preaches to them, for three chapters and then the mighty prayer in chapter 17. John’s gospel is full of the actual teaching that took place in the Upper Room, not the sacrament, not the eucharist, not the institution of the Lord’s Supper. I would think that if that were as important as the modernists, or as Rome and the Anglo-Catholics all maintain, then the apostle John got it wrong. They make the Lord’s Supper to be the climactic aspect of their services and emphasize this in their costumes and choreography and the very architecture of their churches. That is not as John sees the Last Supper; he is more interested in the betrayal of Judas, the imminent fall of Peter and the preaching of Jesus – this is what John tells us about. He does not give a mention to the bread and wine. The words of institution by Jesus which Luke and paul record are totally ignored by John. What a surprise!
What a caution to those whose whole Christianity lies in attending masses or in weekly communion services. What John gives us is not the Lord’s Supper but the word of God. And if that is John’s emphasis, and if that is also the emphasis of the other New Testament writers – I mean where in Romans or Ephesians is the Lord’s Supper referred to, and in those letters you find a very comprehensive gospel theology – then that balance is going to be my emphasis and yours too as a congregation, if we want to be New Covenant Christians. It has been suggested that by the time John came to write his gospel there was developing in the early church an inordinate stress on the ceremony of the bread and wine and John wrote his gospel by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit to restore a true perspective. Maybe he did.
iii] The third surprise in the Bible’s account of the Upper Room is the fifteen verses that describe Jesus washing the feet of the disciples. There are just seven verses here in Luke describing the institution of the Lord’s Supper, but John devotes fifteen verses to the feet washing. Not one of the disciples expected this event to take place. What a strange action by their “Teacher and Lord” (Jn. 13:13). They were embarrassed by it, particularly Peter. This was no ordinary Passover feast was it? Several strange events were to take place, and unusual words were to be said and this must have left them all feeling puzzled, afraid and excited all at once. Of all the events that took place in the Upper Room that night the lengthy washing and drying of twelve men’s feet by Jesus must have been the overwhelming image they had in their minds in the following days, Jesus on his knees carefully pouring water over their feet and washing and drying them – all 24 feet!
Jesus obviously did not think in his heart that nothing must happen in the Upper Room that detracted from the crucial significance of the institution of the Lord’s Supper. He was the one who introduced and enacted the foot-washing at such length. It would take about five minutes to wash and dry one man’s feet – and there were twelve of them. That would be an hour. Then he spoke to them all of betrayal and the way he did that upset them all – “Lord is it I? Is it I?” They were in an emotional quandary. He warned Peter of denying him. The Lord’s Supper was not the holy climax to the Upper Room’s Feast introduced very solemnly with much explanation and ‘sacredness.’ It was not like that. Even in this record in Luke of his instituting the cup he runs it into the betrayal without a pause. See in our text verses 20 and 21; “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.” By Jesus’ own design the Lord’s Supper was one event among many that evening in the Upper Room to be followed by a few hours of preaching. We would never do that. We would never propose marriage to our girl-friend and then in the same breath say, “I had a nasty time from my boss today. What a boss I’ve got . . oh dear . . . I don’t know what to do!” But Jesus does something like that. The new covenant in his blood, and also Judas are both there in the same breath. It does not seem to me that Christ is elevating this ordinance inordinately as the most sacred of all the means of grace. It is important, yes, because of its theme and because he has initiated it, and let us be thankful for that.
iv] The fourth surprise in the Bible’s account of the Upper Room is the absence of any reference to the lamb in any of the five accounts. Not a word about it. We cannot say categorically, “There was no lamb in the meal in the Upper Room,” but it seems unlikely that there was, because there’s no mention of it at all. Yet we know from the book of Exodus that it was the centre of the Passover Meal. Since the first Passover the blood was no longer sprinkled on the doorposts. The lamb was taken to the Temple and sacrificed there, and its body was brought back and prepared in the home for the Passover Meal, but none of that is mentioned anywhere. So we presume there was no lamb, but we have another reason also for this . . .
v] The fifth surprise in the New Testament account of the Upper Room meal is that it happened a day earlier than the Passover. We are told in Matthew’s gospel that Jesus’ disciples asked him “on the first day of the Passover” in what house and room he would like them to prepare the meal (Matt. 26:17). The first day of the Passover would be the 13th of Nissan. Your task on this day was to remove from your house any trace of leaven and bread made from yeast. It had to be made a leaven-free zone. Leaven was a symbol of captivity to the Egyptians and every connection with that bondage must be purged away. That had been one of the tasks of Peter and John that morning. The Passover meal was eaten two days later on the 15th of Nissan. So in answering the disciples’ query about the place of the Upper Room Jesus sent them into the city to meet and follow the servant with the water-pot and then tell his master that the Teacher needed the room. They all went later that day and ate the last supper together than night. That would have been the night of the 14th because days ran from evening to evening.
When you read John’s account of the Last Supper it is made quite clear that it was held the day before the Passover. We can ascertain that from the opening verse of John 13: “It was just before the Passover Feast” (v.1), and then the beginning of the next verse, “The evening meal was being served” (v.2). John later goes out of his way to explain to us why on the next morning (after this meal together in the Upper Room the previous night) Jesus’ accusers didn’t want to enter Pilate’s residence “the Jews led Jesus from Caiaphas to the palace of the Roman governor. By now it was early morning, and to avoid ceremonial uncleanness the Jews did not enter the palace; they wanted to be able to eat the Passover” (Jn. 18:28). So on the day after the Upper Room meal the Passover had not yet taken place. In fact John tells us that Jesus was condemned to be crucified on “the day of Preparation of Passover Week, about the sixth hour” (Jn.19:14). The Passover Meal had not yet been eaten; it was still the time of preparation for it. So the Twelve ate with Jesus in the Upper Room on the day of Preparation – I wonder would they have been able to get a lamb a day early for their own meal even if they’d wanted one? That’s something we can’t be certain of, but here is the scene. The disciples are puzzled as to why the meal is taking place a day early and that there is no lamb. They still don’t understand why their lord and teacher, Jesus of Nazareth has to die. You will remember that the Jews wanted to make sure that none of the bodies remained on the crosses after dusk so that they’d be hanging there on a Sabbath, polluting it, a Sabbath which that year happened also to be the Passover Day itself.
You understand what John is pointing out? The Lord Jesus was crucified and dying at exactly that same long time as hundreds and hundreds of unblemished Passover lambs were being sacrificed in the Temple. There were rivers of blood flowing in the Temple. The priests and Levites were worked off their feet, the smell of animal blood filled the air as the throats of ten thousand lambs were cut. It was the day of Preparation, because thousands of Passover Meals were going to take place all over the city that night. But at that time, outside the walls of the city at the Place of the Skull, the execution site for condemned criminals, three crosses had been erected and two young men were nailed each side of the one in the centre who was the Son of God. All through the Day of Preparation they hung there and Jesus was the first to die, but they must all be dead and taken down before the end of the afternoon because the Sabbath began at dusk, a special Sabbath this year because it was also the Passover. So the soldiers were instructed by the Roman Governor to finish off the men before the end of the afternoon, and so they did so simply and brutally by breaking their legs. Then they could no longer force their bodies up to suck in air and they were quickly suffocated to death. But a glance at Jesus was enough to tell the squaddies that he had already died, and so they did not break his legs.
Let us read carefully what John says; you see how anxious he is that you know this happened and believe that it is true; “Now it was the day of Preparation, and the next day was to be a special Sabbath. Because the Jews did not want the bodies left on the crosses during the Sabbath, they asked Pilate to have the legs broken and the bodies taken down. The soldiers therefore came and broke the legs of the first man who had been crucified with Jesus, and then those of the other. But when they came to Jesus and found that he was already dead, they did not break his legs. Instead, one of the soldiers pierced Jesus’ side with a spear, bringing a sudden flow of blood and water. The man who saw it has given testimony, and his testimony is true. He knows that he tells the truth, and he testifies so that you also may believe. These things happened so that the scripture would be fulfilled: ‘Not one of his bones will be broken’” (Jn. 19:31-36). Where does that quotation come from? Do you have a reference at the bottom of the page in your Bibles? Yes you do. See it refers to . . . Exodus 12:46! Exodus chapter twelve . . . does that passage ring any bells? It should. Yes it does. It is the account of the first Passover and how the first lambs were to be treated. None of their bones was to be broken. None of the bones of the Lamb of God was broken. He is the anti-type of the type of the Passover lamb. All those millions of lambs slain over the last fourteen centuries were all pointing to his coming and what he would do to obtain pardon for sin and a peace that endures.
In his relatively speedy death (because sometimes a man could hang dying on a cross for a day or two) you see God’s love for his Son. Jesus had humbled himself to death even the death of the cross. He’d drunk the cup of lashing and crucifixion and mockery and the spear thrust and the anathema of a sin-hating God, and then his Father draws the line. No more! Christ can cry, “It is finished! Father into thy hands I commend my spirit.” His pain is over; now what is left is for him to taste death for us all. His Father acts and two good men take his body lovingly down from the cross, and he is embalmed with myrrh and frankincense and the best tomb is prepared for him, carved out of stone, brand new, no old bones lying in dark corner; no rats skulking around.
So on the Day of the Passover itself the man Christ Jesus is not to be found sitting with any family, dressed ready for a journey, eating lamb and bitter herbs. He is not at all a part of the ceremonial typological celebrations. He is away from all of that. They have all been finished. As to his spirit he has been welcomed back to heaven to be greeted by his Father and the Spirit and an innumerable company of angels. As to his body on the Passover Day he lies in the tomb until the first day of the week when spirit and body are reunited and he comes forth in the power of an endless life.
The Gentile Christians in Greece in the city of Corinth were first generation Christians. They were church members with fellow Christians who had been raised as Jews, who in the early days circumcised their baby boys, and kept the food laws and rested on the seventh day of the week and some of them were still going up to Jerusalem for the fast of the Passover. The Gentile Christians didn’t want to come behind their Jewish brothers and sisters in anything. Now that they were Christians should they also keep the seventh day of the week and keep the Passover and eat bitter herbs and unleavened bread and lamb? Paul says to them, “Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed. Therefore let us keep the Festival, not with the old yeast, the yeast of malice and wickedness, but with bread without yeast, the bread of sincerity and truth” (I Cor. 5:7&8). The herbs and the unleavened bread and the lamb were all symbols for the old covenant people of God during the childhood of the church. They were pictures for them of being separated from the yeast of sin, and delivery from death and judgment though Jesus the Messiah. He is for ever the reigning all powerful saving and keeping Lamb of God who takes away not just their sin as Old Testament believers but now the sin of the world, of Jews and Gentiles alike. What the herbs and the yeast and the lambs stood for in a picture is now in our reality through Jesus Christ. The old yeast to remove is malice and wickedness from our lives. So there are the surprises of the Upper Room meal.
2. THE ACTIONS OF JESUS IN THE LAST SUPPER.
i] Jesus assures them that this is the Passover. The Lord Jesus and these young men all knew the routine of the Passover; they knew its liturgy and traditions backwards. It was always done the same way, but this Upper Room meal was already very different, as different as the New Covenant would be from the Old. Remember, it had been held a day early; Jesus had washed the feet of his disciples, and there was no lamb. A Passover without the lamb was like a wedding without a bridegroom, or Hamlet without the Prince; the USA without a president; an ocean without water. There had to be a lamb or it couldn’t be a Passover, and yet there is no lamb. What does Jesus do? He first expresses his delight in being there were them, the thirteen of them in the Upper Room, saying, “I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer” (v.15). “This Passover,” – those are the words he says, “This is a Passover even though we are not eating Lamb.” Right . . . their Teacher and Master was always saying and doing unusual things . . . Again he has broken the mold . . . this is different, a lamb-less Passover. O.K. Whatever he says is right.
ii] Jesus looks ahead to climax of the coming of the kingdom of God. What he says and does next is focused on the future. Everything he says has a focus on what is to come. He is not looking back to the Exodus. The symbols are all being fulfilled and the future is going to be very different for the people of God. Little did they realise that the kingdom of God would henceforth be extraordinarily different. What convulsions were going to take place in bringing in this new phase of kingdom life where there would no longer be a holy land, no holy city, no kings, no class of priests and judges, no Temple, no tribes, no sacrifices, no altar, no feasts in Jerusalem, no seventh day Sabbath, no circumcision, no badger skins, no shittim wood, no ark of the covenant, no food laws, no temple tax, no temple guard. All ended and much more! All gone because they had had a defined and limited purpose of preparation for the coming of the Christ! All part of the Mosaic dispensation! All looking forward to the arrival of the Messiah and his work and teaching and rule! Now it was going to be all change!
So the first thing he said to them about the future was that this would be the last meal they would have together. That was a shock because they had eaten and drunk together virtually every day for three years, and now that was ended, fellowship and instruction over the table. That would have brought a terrible solemnity and silence to their meeting and prepared them with a great spirit of gravity as they listened to his profound preaching. “We will eat again, but it will be in the fulness of the kingdom of God,” he says (v.16). He was thinking of the day of full redemption, body and soul, of all the millions of God’s people, the marriage feast of the Lamb that heralds the inauguration of the new heavens and the new earth. Then they would eat again. Of course they were going to eat with him when he rose from the dead, a fish breakfast on the beach. In fact, whenever two or three gathered in his name and gave thanks for their food then he would be joining them there, but the chief feast after this feast would be in the new heavens and new earth. That would be the climactic date on the divine calendar.
His second reference to the future begins when he takes a glass of refreshing wine. It is hot and dusty and Peter and John have been working through the day preparing the room and the meal. Wine would gladden the heart. It was not the time yet for mourning. The bridegroom was still with them. He gives thanks to God for his provision of the wine and then he offers it to them. It is almost a toast to the future of the kingdom of God. The implication seems to be that he gives them his own cup and they pass it from one to another in a circle around the table, and again he repeats to them that they would not share in eating and drinking again until the coming of the kingdom of God. So we would say that he is setting this meal into an eschatological perspective. “I have eagerly desired this meal with you, but also I am eagerly desiring that great climactic meal in the future when the kingdom of God has come in its fulness because then we will not be parted.” What you have here is Jesus setting his heart on the joy that was set before him and so preparing himself to endure the cross and despise the shame of the night ahead with its lashing and whipping and the next day’s crucifixion and mockery. He is planting hope in their hearts.
iii] Jesus institutes the Lord’s Supper. This is the time when the lamb would have been carved into generous pieces, divided into tasty cuts among all the members of the family and the guests. But Jesus takes the unleavened bread; “And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, ‘This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me’” (v.19). Not the Passover lamb’s life taken away as their substitute and propitiation but Jesus’ body given for them. The absence of a lamb was no obstacle. No obstacle at all, in fact the Lamb was not absent at all. Jesus himself is the Lamb of God who is taking away not simply the sin of the Jews but the sins of the world (Jn.1:29). He is the bread from heaven who gives his flesh for the life of the world.
He says this bread ‘is’ my body, in other words, it is a symbol of his body. The bread is not literally, organically, flesh and skin and blood and bones and tissue an extension of his body, any more than when he says, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood” he was not referring to the goblet of pewter (or whatever) that he was holding in his hand, that that goblet was literally the new covenant in Jesus blood. It was a sign, a symbol of the new covenant in his blood. When I show you a photo of one of my daughters and say to you, “This is Catrin,” then you don’t take that literally. You know that it is a figure of speech. It is a representation of her.
So he is telling the disciples that a time of replacement has come. Good-bye the Passover! Welcome the Lord’s Supper! Not the blood of the Passover lamb but henceforth you remember Jesus’ blood, how his life was torn from him by evil men but he poured it out for their redemption. The old is being set aside. Good-bye old covenant and welcome the new! Jehovah Jesus’ own blood will ratify and seal this new covenant, the blood of the God-man. That is how God will bring his people into an eternal relationship to himself.
Then you see how he gave them his own cup of blessing, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you” (v.20). Jeremiah’s promise of the coming of a new covenant had now been fulfilled. It is here in him, and taking the cup from him, Mark tells us “they all drank from it” (Mk. 14:23). Each one of them would have had his own cup at the table, and the host would have made sure that their cups were full, and they would have drank individually, but he made a personal and direct gift of his cup to them. He did not drink from it. He compared it to his blood which was to be poured out for them. It would not have been appropriate for him to drink it. It was his cup which he gave to them, and later he took his cup into the Garden and asked his Father was it possible to have another cup, but it was not. Unless he drank that cup of damnation he couldn’t have offered the cup of salvation to his disciples. It was the same cup; death to him was life to them.
Then he tells them, “Now you must go on doing what we have done here. I want to reinforce what my poured out blood and broken body will do for you. I want you never to forget Golgotha.” The cross was central, not the Supper. The wondrous cross on which the Prince of glory died once and for all to put away our sins – that is what we are to remember. We are to preach it. Paul said, “I was determined not to know anything among you save Jesus Christ and him crucified.” We are to live the crucified life, but the Lord Jesus has commanded us to meet together and to break bread and drink the cup and proclaim Jesus to sight gate and smell gate and taste gate and touch gate in these familiar elements and to keep doing that until his comes. These disciples had never imagined that their Passover Supper was going to develop in this way. Christ is always doing something new, and when you become a Christian then you will find in what remarkable unthinkable and blessed ways your life will go. I felt sad for Andy Murray on Friday having had this colossal achievement of reaching the final of Wimbledon and thousands of people were on their feet cheering his victory, and he did not know the God who was responsible for his health, and strength, and physical skills, and dexterity, and all the gifts of money and fame that he has been given. He could not say thanks to God for giving all that to him. He could not say that what was gain to him when compared to the cross was dross, and “My richest gain I count but loss and pour contempt on all my pride.” When you know God you have a new perspective on everything, and you know yourself for the first time. So what do we have here in the Lord’s Supper?
i] We have a memorial feast that does not involve a sacrifice being made. The slain lamb and his blood was not needed. Jesus’ death alone is the totally sufficient ground of our salvation. The Lord’s Supper looks two ways, back to the cross and on to the consummation at the marriage feast of the Lamb, with our thanks to him for it all.
ii] We have a very simple feast. He took the bread. He prayed for God’s blessing on them as they ate it. He broke it. He gave it to the disciples. He took the wine and prayed and gave it. Let us not make complicated what Jesus has made so lucid.
iii] We have a feast not a solitary meal. This is an event in which we participate in solidarity and in fellowship with the people of God. There is no place for some individual celebration and individual participation in what we call the Lord’s Supper. Both are inappropriate. It was from the very first a congregational ordinance. If you are at home recovering from a long illness you can listen to preaching on CDs and DVDs. The church leaders will come and minister to you, and all that will do you much more good than having a personal ceremony, a little piece of bread and a wee cup of wine with your vicar.
iv] We have a Christocentric feast. All that is said and done focuses on him, but it is perfectly proper to go on from that and to talk to the church of the members of the congregation and their needs, just as here Jesus went on to talk of the disciples.
v] We have an imperfect feast. We are given a sketch with some non-negotiable elements which our Lord insists we apply to our congregations. We are to do it as biblically as we can, but none of us gets the Lord’s Supper absolutely perfect. It could be improved in every church, but it can also be ruined in attempts to improve it as it was being ruined in Corinth during a time of great blessing. Let us thank God for what we have and seek to eat and drink to his glory in our congregation.
8th July 2012 GEOFF THOMAS