During the Last Supper—a Passover celebration—Jesus took a loaf of bread and gave thanks to God. As He broke it and gave it to His disciples, He said,
Luke 22:19-21(HCSB)19 And He took bread, gave thanks, broke it, gave it to them, and said, “This is My body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of Me.”20 In the same way He also took the cup after supper and said, “This cup is the new covenant established by My blood; it is shed for you. 21 But look, the hand of the one betraying Me is at the table with Me.
Matthew 26:30(HCSB)30 After singing psalms, they went out to the Mount of Olives., He concluded the feast by singing a hymn and they went out into the night to the Mount of Olives. It was there that Jesus was betrayed, as predicted, by Judas. The following day He was crucified.
A study of the Lord’s Supper is a soul-stirring experience because of the depth of meaning it contains. It was during the age-old celebration of the Passover on the eve of His death that Jesus instituted a significant new fellowship meal that we observe to this day. It is an integral part of Christian worship. It causes us to remember our Lord’s death and resurrection and to look for His glorious return in the future.
The Passover was the most sacred feast of the Jewish religious year. Israel had been in Egypt in bondage for over 400 years. They had been oppressed and enslaved. God delivered them by the leadership of Moses through a series of plagues. God’s command was that throughout the generations to come the feast would be celebrated. The story is recorded in Exodus 12. Finally Pharaoh was so distraught at what was happening in his nation, that he let them go. The final plague, you remember, was the death of the firstborn, the angel of death came and killed the firstborn in every family, the firstborn of man and animal unless you had sacrificed a lamb and splattered the blood on the doorposts and the side beams. Then the angel of death passed by. The lamb was then roasted and eaten with unleavened bread.
There’s a simple principle that comes through in that and it is this, to be delivered from judgment requires death. That’s the first thing to think about. To be delivered from judgment requires death. Second, critical, that death can be the death of a substitute. That death can be the death of a substitute. God was saying, “I will spare you, I will deliver you from this judgment if there is the death of an innocent substitute.” The message of the Passover is God delivers through the death of an innocent substitute. From then on, all sacrifices and this is not the first sacrifice, but from then on all sacrifices were clearly indications that God delivers from judgment by the death of a substitute. But the animal sacrifices weren’t that substitute. No person was ever delivered from divine judgment of any animal. The repeated sacrifice of animals was simply a continual symbol of the fact that God does deliver by the death of an innocent substitute but no animal was ever satisfactory to God and so the sacrifices went on and on and on and on by the millions. And the people waited for a sacrifice that would be satisfactory to God which all those unsatisfactory sacrifices pointed.
Matthew 26:26-30 (HCSB)26 As they were eating, Jesus took bread, blessed and broke it, gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take and eat it; this is My body.” 27 Then He took a cup, and after giving thanks, He gave it to them and said, “Drink from it, all of you. 28 For this is My blood that establishes the covenant; it is shed for many for the forgiveness of sins. 29 But I tell you, from this moment I will not drink of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it in a new way in My Father’s kingdom with you.” 30 After singing psalms, they went out to the Mount of Olives.
Matthew doesn’t tell us much about the meal. In fact, he really doesn’t tell us anything about it. Verse 26 says, “And as they were eating,” and that’s all he says. And maybe just briefly I could remind you of what the process was like. There were four cups of red wine to be shared. This is the first of those cups. A cup of blessing and that’s how the meal was initiated. That cup of red wine was mixed with water. In fact, not only mixed with water but mixed with a double amount of water so that there would be no intoxication, no drunkenness. And if they were to imbibe four such cups, it was important that it be strongly diluted. So it would begin with the first cup of red wine, the cup symbolizing the blessing of God upon them.
Following that first cup of red wine there would be a time to wash their hands, not for the sake of physical cleanliness but as a ceremonial cleansing which was designed to symbolize that each participant in this time of remembrance needed personal cleansing. You could not come before God to celebrate His redemption, His deliverance in an impure fashion, and so there was a ceremonial cleansing before they could eat which was to be symbolic of the cleansing of their hearts. And no doubt it was a time for introspection, a time for personal confession of sin as they were celebrating the salvation of God. They wanted to be sure their hearts were clean.
Following that brief time of cleansing of the hands they would indulge themselves in what could be called, in a sense, the first of a couple of appetizers, bitter herbs. The bitter herbs were symbolic of the bondage in Egypt and the bitterness of that bondage when they were enslaved and when life was so terribly difficult. Those herbs would be dipped in salt and vinegar to make them especially bitter and they would be eaten as a reminder of the bitterness of life before the redemption of God.
Following the bitter herbs would come the second cup of wine. At this point, the father if it was in the family, or the head of the table in the case here, the Lord Himself, He would hold up the second cup and with that the more formal part of the Passover feast was initiated. And he would, holding that second cup, begin to describe the significance of this feast. And he would take the people back to the time of Egyptian captivity and he would talk about the deliverance of almighty God through the plagues, and ultimately drowning Pharaoh’s army in the sea and delivering His people in freedom, ultimately into the promised land. And then they would sing the Hallel, and the Hallel is basically Psalm 113 through 118. They would sing perhaps the first few of those psalms together, psalms which exalt and extol God. And then they would drink that second cup of wine.
That was then followed by unleavened bread. After taking a large flat piece of unleavened bread, the host, the father, the head of the table would then break it and distribute it. That unleavened bread was then dipped into a sauce, a sauce usually made out of sweet apples and nuts called keroseth. And that’s the sauce into which they dipped that unleavened bread. Unleavened bread, as you well know, symbolized the fact that they were moving out of Egypt through the redemption of God and there was no leaven in the bread which means there was no influence remaining from the past. In other words, leaven symbolizes influence all through Scripture. Leavened bread means you take something from a past loaf that is fermented, you put it in another loaf but there was nothing from the past to be brought into their new life after redemption and so their bread was unleavened, no yeast in it.
After that, which was in a sense the last of the appetizers, they would engage themselves in eating the lamb. And you remember they were to have a spotless lamb without blemish. That lamb had a very clear prescription as to its character and its slaying. And then they would pursue that eating of the lamb as the high point of the Passover. And, of course, that was symbolic of the lamb that had to be slain and whose blood had to be put on the doorpost and the lintel which was a picture of Jesus Christ Himself, the Lamb of God, who would be slain for the sins of the world. And by the way, at the Passover table there is usually a bowl of water there, a bowl of salt water. That bowl of salt water sits there on the table to remind them of the tears they shed in slavery and also of the parting of the Red Sea.
The accounts of the Lord’s Supper are found in the Gospels (Matthew 26:26-29; Mark 14:17-25; Luke 22:7-22; and John 13:21-30). Here’s a scary word of caution: there’s a church in Corinth. It’s not a great church. They’re getting drunk, they’re suing each other, they’re sleeping together, they’re hiring prostitutes. One guy’s sleeping with his mother or mother-in-law. Heads or tails, nasty. They call it pluralism, diversity, openness, tolerance, they had a parade, it looked very official, but God was very unhappy, and he said, “You’re not repenting. You’re claiming to love me and then you’re disobeying everything I say. You’re a bunch of rebellious, bratty kids.” My translation.
Paul includes a statement not found in the Gospels:
1 Corinthians 11:27-32(HCSB)27 Therefore, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy way will be guilty of sin against the body and blood of the Lord. 28 So a man should examine himself; in this way he should eat the bread and drink from the cup. 29 For whoever eats and drinks without recognizing the body, eats and drinks judgment on himself. 30 This is why many are sick and ill among you, and many have fallen asleep. 31 If we were properly evaluating ourselves, we would not be judged, 32 but when we are judged, we are disciplined by the Lord, so that we may not be condemned with the world.
We may ask what it means to partake of the bread and the cup “in an unworthy manner.” It may mean to disregard the true meaning of the bread and cup and to forget the tremendous price our Savior paid for our salvation. Or it may mean to allow the ceremony to become a dead and formal ritual or to come to the Lord’s Supper with unconfessed sin. In keeping with Paul’s instruction, we should examine ourselves before eating the bread and drinking the cup.
So then, through Paul, God speaks to them, and here’s what he says about Communion: “Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner.” So, let me say this: there’s a worthy and an unworthy way. In our day of pluralism, tolerance, diversity, it’s, “Oh, no, no, we’re all—” Nope. There’s worthy and unworthy. There’s right and wrong. There’s obedient and disobedient. There’s qualified and disqualified. God’s grace doesn’t just forgive our sin. God’s grace empowers us to put our sin to death because Jesus died for it.
Some of you are partaking in an unworthy manner. You’re in open rebellion and sin. You come to church with your girlfriend and take Communion and then go home and sleep with her. That’s an unworthy manner.
“Will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord. Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup.” Here’s what he’s saying. Some of you will say this: “You can’t judge me!” Then judge yourself. If you judge yourself, then no one else will have to judge you. You will see your own sin, folly, rebellion. You’ll come clean with God and his people. You’ll say, “You know what? I got a problem. I need help. I need God’s grace and God’s people to help me fix my sin.” That’s humility, it’s integrity, it’s honesty, so that you don’t have to partake in a way that is unworthy.
Before you take Communion, do you examine yourself? Do you examine your life? Do you consider your sin? Do you take a moment and ask, “Holy Spirit, your job is to convict me of sin. Let me know anything that’s amiss, and I want to get this right and I’m sorry. If there’s anybody here I need to reconcile with, let me go apologize. Is there anything that would keep me from partaking in a worthy manner?”
God always answers that prayer. God never looks at a humble child and willing heart and says, “Well, I won’t help you or speak to you.” God never responds that way. He’s a good Dad. Judge yourself. Stop judging others. Judge yourself. Stop being so frustrated with those who judge you. Judge yourself.
You say, “Well, what happens if I don’t do that? My girlfriend is cute.” “For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself. That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have,” what? “Died.” Plain literal or figurative literal? This is a real funeral. Imagine that on a Sunday, people are coming up for Communion, dying. You have to step over the body to take Communion. You’re like, “You know what? I’m gonna pray a little more. I’ll be back in a minute.”
Now, some of you here say, “That’s very unloving, very unkind, very mean. That’s very harsh of God.” No, it’s actually very loving, very gracious, very kind, because God treats his people like he treated Pharaoh, begging, pleading, waiting, upping the consequences, and eventually you get so hard-hearted that you both know you’re not gonna repent.
Now, what happens to a church that doesn’t protect holiness? Well, it leads to meals being eaten like Genesis 3. “I want sin, and I want Satan.” And when we partake, we partake publicly. It’s your way of saying, “I personally belong to Jesus, and I personally am part of a people that belong to Jesus.” The first meal is forbidden fruit, and it is the first meal eaten without God in Genesis 3. So, most of you are likely familiar with the story. God creates our first parents, Adam and Eve, in his image and likeness. He puts them in this perfect, amazing garden. How many of you not only love good meals, you love to cook, and the ideal situation would be your own organic, fantastic garden? That’s where he puts them. He puts them in a garden. That means it has all of the fruits, and the vegetables, and the herbs. Everything you could imagine for just feasting and celebration.
And what God tells them is, “You can eat anything you want in this magnificent garden, with one exception, the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Do not eat from that tree. Do not partake of that forbidden fruit.” That’s what God says. Now, some people’s view of God is that God essentially creates life as a law garden with a grace tree, meaning, the answer’s no to everything, and there’s only a thing or two that you really get to do. The way God created the world, it was a grace garden with a law tree in the middle. Tons of freedom and joy with one thing that was forbidden.
And what happens is Eve has a conversation with Satan. He’s the serpent; he’s the enemy. Revelation 12 and Revelation 20 say that this serpent, this dragon who comes to have a conversation with her, it’s Satan. It’s the enemy of God. It’s a rebellious angel. And what he invites her to do is to partake of forbidden fruit. And the Bible says that Adam, her husband, was a passive coward. He was there with her, complicit to the whole thing, and they partook of the fruit, the forbidden fruit.
As a result, they received a sin nature. God came searching for them; they hid from one another and God. They blamed each other. God had to clothe their nakedness. They were kicked out of the garden, they were separated from eternal life, they experienced death. By the next chapter, their two sons are fighting and one kills the other.
We inherit a sin nature, Romans 5:18–19(HCSB)18 So then, as through one trespass there is condemnation for everyone, so also through one righteous act there is life-giving justification for everyone. 19 For just as through one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so also through the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous. Because of their rebellion, we all die. Does it seem like a lot, that eating fruit would result in that? You say, really? You ate the wrong thing off of a tree and every human being in the history of the world has a sin nature, is hell-bound, and dies?
It’s not just about eating a meal, it’s about picking a friend. What Adam and Eve were doing is saying, “We choose not to be friends with God. We choose to be friends with Satan. We choose to disobey God and obey Satan. We’re pushing God out of our lives and we’re inviting Satan in.” We don’t just eat meals, we worship, and sometimes eating is worshiping. That’s why Paul says in the New Testament, “For some people, their God is their stomach.”
Eating is a form of worshiping, and when we eat a meal, we’re not just choosing a food, we’re picking a relationship. That’s why Christians pray before their meals. “Lord Jesus, thank you. We welcome you.” Eating is a very sacred thing. It’s a worshipful thing.
And what happens in Genesis 3 is that a meal is eaten without God, and a friendship is forged in rebellion against God, and then the promise is made that Jesus will come and he will make all things new and better. What happens then is they are kicked out of the Garden of Eden and they’re cast away from the tree of life, because had they partaken of the tree of life, they would have lived forever in sin, separated from God. So, it was an act of grace that God kicked them out.
And let me say this: as God’s people take Communion, what we’re showing is, “I’m friends with Jesus and his people.” You can’t be a Christian and not connected to the church. I don’t get this. This is like a dad with five kids who adopts a kid, and that kid says, “He’s my dad, but I don’t have any siblings and I’m not part of the family.” It’s all together. God’s a Father, adopts you, you’re now part of a family. You got brothers and sisters. I don’t get this solo, independent, me and Jesus, rebelling Christianity. It doesn’t make sense. The Bible knows nothing of it. If you’re connected to God, you’re connected to his people.
And here’s what we read in Acts 2:42: “They devoted themselves.” So, this is ongoing. It’s habitual, it’s common, it’s regular. “To the apostles’ teaching.” First thing, what’s the Bible say? “Fellowship.” This is where Christians hang out and get to know each other.
“And to the,” what? “Breaking of bread, having meals together and praying.” I’ll tell you the easiest way to build a friendship with somebody: have a meal and pray together. Eat together, pray together. Like, let’s say you’re here, you’re married, you’re not getting along. Eat together, pray together, your friendship will grow because God always blesses those kinds of connecting moments. You’re struggling with your friends, try to resolve it over a meal. Start it, end it, bathe it in prayer. That’s how things get worked out relationally.
The day finally came on that Friday when God chose His Lamb and offered Him as a sacrifice, a substitute for sinners and poured out His wrath on that innocent substitute. As we come to the verse that we read, verse 14, it is Thursday night of Passover week. Passover begins with this Thursday night, followed with seven days of the unleavened bread feast which also commemorated the exodus out of Egypt. Millennia have gone by, waiting for an adequate sacrifice. Millennia have gone by with people’s hearts hoping but never being satisfied that a true and final sacrifice had come. But one more day, a few more hours on Friday at exactly the hours of slaughter between three and six when all the Passover lambs had to be killed, the Lamb of God would die in that same period of time.
Slain not by a priest like the rest of the lambs but by God and by His own willing self-sacrifice. He became the perfect sacrifice for sin and this became then the last Passover. No longer did there need to be animal sacrifices pointing, pointing, pointing, pointing to the one who would come because once He came, the shadows all disappeared in the reality.
He had spent all of the night before on the Mount of Olives,telling them about the future, and now He reiterates again, yes there is a Kingdom, yes My death is not the end, yes I’m going to die but I’m going to rise again, I’m going to return to heaven but I’m going to come back and establish My Kingdom. There is hope. His death is not the end. He will be back on earth but not until His coming to set up His Kingdom.
Another statement Paul made that is not included in the gospel accounts is
1 Corinthians 11:26 (ESV)“For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes”. This places a time limit on the ceremony—until our Lord’s return. From these brief accounts we learn how Jesus used two of the frailest of elements as symbols of His body and blood and initiated them to be a monument to His death. It was not a monument of carved marble or molded brass, but of bread and wine. That’s why Paul writes, 1 Corinthians 11, he gives the whole order for the Lord’s table, he says, “Do this until He…what?…comes.” And then when He comes and establishes His Kingdom, we’ll celebrate the Passover and the Lord’s table with the Lord Himself. It will probably be an evening very much like this only it will encompass all of us in some wondrous way as He again reiterates the memorial of the Passover which looked to the cross, a memorial of communion which looks at the cross as well. Yes He sees His suffering. Yes He sees His coming glory.
What is the New Covenant? The New Covenant is the covenant that is the saving covenant. It’s the covenant of forgiveness and salvation, it’s the covenant by which God forgives sinners and it’s ratified in the death of Christ.
How can God do that? Only when justice has been satisfied. You can only be delivered from judgment when death has been accomplished that satisfies God. It has to be the death of an innocent substitute who is satisfactory to God and that is Christ by God’s own choice. God made Him sin who knew no sin that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him. I’ve said this so many times, God treated Jesus on the cross as if He lived your life…so He could treat you as if you lived His. He was wounded for our transgressions, bruised for our iniquities.
So from now on, there’s a new feast, the new ordinance, a new supper, the Lord’s supper. The bread and the cup reminding us of the Lamb of God chosen by God, sacrificed for sinners, satisfying God’s justice, a life poured out on our behalf so that our sins can be fully forgiven.