The Last Supper

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Matthew 26:17–30 (NLT)  17 On the first day of the Festival of Unleavened Bread, the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Where do you want us to prepare the Passover meal for you?”

18 “As you go into the city,” he told them, “you will see a certain man. Tell him, ‘The Teacher says: My time has come, and I will eat the Passover meal with my disciples at your house.’ ” 19 So the disciples did as Jesus told them and prepared the Passover meal there.

20 When it was evening, Jesus sat down at the table* with the Twelve. 21 While they were eating, he said, “I tell you the truth, one of you will betray me.”

22 Greatly distressed, each one asked in turn, “Am I the one, Lord?”

23 He replied, “One of you who has just eaten from this bowl with me will betray me. 24 For the Son of Man must die, as the Scriptures declared long ago. But how terrible it will be for the one who betrays him. It would be far better for that man if he had never been born!”

25 Judas, the one who would betray him, also asked, “Rabbi, am I the one?”

And Jesus told him, “You have said it.”

26 As they were eating, Jesus took some bread and blessed it. Then he broke it in pieces and gave it to the disciples, saying, “Take this and eat it, for this is my body.”

27 And he took a cup of wine and gave thanks to God for it. He gave it to them and said, “Each of you drink from it, 28 for this is my blood, which confirms the covenant* between God and his people. It is poured out as a sacrifice to forgive the sins of many. 29 Mark my words—I will not drink wine again until the day I drink it new with you in my Father’s Kingdom.”

30 Then they sang a hymn and went out to the Mount of Olives.

This passage and the parallel passages in Mark and Luke (Mark 14:12-28; Luke 22:7-30) are some of the most important passages in the Gospels for our understanding of the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper or Communion.  Also important are Paul’s teaching about the Lord’s Supper in 1 Cor. 11:17-34.  The Lord’s Supper (along with baptism) is the central act of faith in Christian worship.  Each time we celebrate Communion or the Eucharist, we are remembering Christ’s atoning work upon the cross.
The Passover was one of the 3 major festivals in the Jewish calendar.  Ex. 12:14 stays that the Passover meal should be celebrated each year.  The Passover festival was also called the Feast of Unleavened Bread.  It commemorated the deliverance of Israel from bondage in Egypt by God.  The Passover itself was accomplished through the death of the firstborn in Egypt.  The angel of death passed over the Jews who had marked the mantels of their doors with the blood of a sacrificed lamb.  The festival began on the 14th of Nisan (March/April) (Ex. 12:11-30; Lev. 23:5; Num. 9:1-5; 28:16; Deut. 16:1-8)  The Feast of unleavened Bread was officially on the 15th Nisan (Ex. 34:18-21; Lev. 23:6-8; Num. 28:17-25; Deut. 16:1-8; 16, 17)
Josephus says that there were some 3 million Jews who gathered each year in Jerusalem for the Passover.  Consequently, the city would have been packed with visitors.
Jesus instructs the disciples to go into the city to a certain man and to inform him that they would celebrate the Passover at his house (v. 18).  In Matthew as in all the synoptic Gospels, the meal is definitively the Passover meal.  In contrast, John suggests that Jesus was crucified at the same time that the Passover lambs were sacrificed.  It may be that John is emphasizing this in order to make the point that Jesus is the perfect Passover lamb.  The problem can be harmonized.  In either case, Matthew has it as a Passover feast.  And since Matthew’s readers were primarily Jewish, he does not provide any details of the meal, for they would all have understood the context.
The meal would have begun after sunset on Thur. evening and lasted several hours.
During the meal, Jesus drops the bombshell that one of them will betray him.  All of the disciples deny it, “Surely not I, Lord?”  Jesus makes the statement, “The one who has dipped his hand into the bowl with me will betray me,” which does not suggest Judas, as they shared a common bowl.  Jesus declares that this betrayal fulfills prophecy.  Ps. 56:13 David describes his betrayal by a close friend, which is often cited as foreshadowing the betrayal of Jesus.  Finally, Matthew records that Judas said, “Rabbi, surely not I.”  In response, Jesus says, “Yes, it is you.”
The context of the meal was the Passover meal.  In recent years, it has become popular to celebrate the Passover meal in the church.  However, that can be insensitive to Jews who live in our cities.  The Passover meal is supposed to be celebrated in the context of a family meal.  The North Texas Conference has recommended that churches do not celebrate the Passover meal in church.  However, there are some rabbis who are willing to come to churches to explain the meal and the Passover festival to churches and that can be enlightening.
However, the elements of the Lord’s Supper, bread and wine, are not the distinctive elements of the Passover meal.  Rather, they are the common elements of any meal that is served in Palestine and around the Mediterranean Sea even to today.  If you go to Spain, Italy, France, Greece, and Israel, etc. you will probably be served bread and wine with almost every meal.
The fact that the Lord’s Supper is given in the context of the Passover festival demonstrates the continuity of the New Testament (NT) with the Old Testament (OT).  There is one story from Genesis to Revelation in the Bible.
The prayer of giving thanks is replayed each time we serve the Lord’s Supper in the Great Thanksgiving.  With each element Jesus gives a command and an interpretation:  “Take this and eat it, for this is my body.”  “Each of you drink from it, for this is my blood, which confirms the covenant between God and his people.  It is poured out as a sacrifice to forgive the sins of many.”  The words of institution clearly point to the nature of Christ’s atoning work upon the cross.  His death was for our sins, and by his blood, we receive forgiveness of sins.  These words ties Christ’s saving work with Isaiah’s description of the Suffering Servant in Isa. 53.  Isa. 53:1-9 is the clearest statement of the concept of substitutionary atonement in the OT.
Every time we eat this meal (for it is a meal) together in church, we remember Christ’s death and the meaning of his sacrifice for us.  The atonement is effected through his blood for the forgiveness of sins for those who accept him as Lord and Savior.
One of the great privileges I have as a pastor is serving communion to the members of my congregation.  Sometimes as I read the words and think about them, I lose my place.  I am overcome with gratefulness and wonder that Jesus would die for me and my sins.
Jesus said that his death would accomplish the forgiveness of sins for “many.”  Who are the many?  The universal nature of Christ’s atonement is expressed in many Scriptures.  One favorite is John 3:16, “For God so loved the world, that He gave only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but hve eternal life.”  The many in Jesus words in Matthew are the same as “whoever believes in him” in John 3:16.  Jesus’ atoning work upon the cross is effective for whoever believes in him.  The criteria is faith.
The question to answer is, “Do you believe?”  In John’s Gospel, believing is equivalent to having faith.  Faith is not a static believing in doctrine, but faith is dynamic, believing in Jesus Christ, the Son of God, and trusting him to forgive all your sins on the basis of his atoning work upon the cross.  Believing is the trait of all authentic disciples of Jesus Christ.
Lord, I believe.  Help my unbelief.  Help me to live daily into the understanding that we have been redeemed by your blood.  Each time I take the Lord’s Supper, help me to remember and to be truly grateful for the forgiveness that we have in you.  Amen.

 

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