A Meal to Remember

Luke 22:7-23

March 4, 2012 | Brian Bill

This morning we’re going to address one of the two ordinances given to the church by Jesus Himself – Communion.  And next week we will witness 12 individuals follow the Lord in believer’s baptism, which is the second ordinance given to the church!  It’s interesting that Jesus began his official earthly ministry with his baptism and the Lord’s Supper is right at the end of his earthly ministry.  

I refer to them as “ordinances” rather than sacraments because they were especially “ordained” or ordered by Jesus.  As John Piper points out, the word “sacrament” carries some connotations that can lead to confusion.  The Latin word sacramentum speaks of giving “grace” or some kind of special favor from God, which I don’t believe the Scripture teaches.

This ordinance is known by a number of names.

  • The Breaking of Bread Matthew 26:26-27; Acts 2:42, 46; 20:7
  • The Lord’s Table 1 Corinthians 10:21
  • Communion 1 Corinthians 10:16-17
  • The Lord’s Supper 1 Corinthians 11:20
  • The Eucharist Matthew 26:26-27 (Some of us may not be comfortable with this word but it comes right from the Greek text and simply means “giving thanks”)

Going Way Back 

We’re going to survey some Scripture passages that provide the background to the Lord’s Supper, we’ll then look at the words of Jesus the night before He died, we’ll study how the early church practiced this ordinance, and we’ll conclude by celebrating the supper ourselves.  

In Exodus 12 we learn about the roots of Passover.  The head of the family was to take a lamb without blemish and slaughter it at twilight and then the blood was to be put on the sides and tops of the doorframes.  That same night they were to roast the lambs, and gather bitter herbs and unleavened bread.  They were to eat in haste and be ready to travel because God was going to judge the Egyptians by killing their firstborn – both men and animals.  Only those who were under the blood of the lamb would be “passed over.”

After being freed from the Egyptians, God’s people enjoyed a covenantal relationship with the Almighty for hundreds of years.  As you read their history however, you quickly discover that they disobeyed and ruptured their relationship with Him time and again.  When we come to the prophet Jeremiah we discover that God’s plan has always involved a new covenant: “The time is coming, declares the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah” (Jeremiah 31:31).

The Savior’s Supper

I wrote down some observations.

  • I find it very interesting that Jesus links the final moments of his life to the Passover celebration.
  • Note that the “lamb had to be sacrificed.”
  • Jesus is in absolute control of the details.  He told Peter and John what to do and where to do it.  Friends, there are no accidents with God, only appointments.  Matthew 26:18: “My appointed time is near.”
  • While it seems like they were sent on a “treasure hunt,” it would have been very unusual for a man to be carrying a jar of water.
  • The word “preparations” is used three times.  This shows that Jesus has worked everything out and that we need to do what we need to do to prepare ourselves.  
  • I love the phrase, “Just as Jesus had told them.”  Jesus is preparing things in the future so that when we get there, He is already there.  This is called the doctrine of prevenient grace.

The night before Jesus was to be crucified; He took charge of the arrangements for them to have a final meal together.  This dinner was more than just a social gathering; it was rich in spiritual meaning; with sweet symbolism that goes back to the first Passover. 

Jerusalem would have been filled with people from all over the world to participate in Passover.  Some elaborate preparations would have taken place beforehand.  A month before, God’s people would study and talk about the Passover as families.  Two days before a thorough search of their houses would have been conducted to make sure that there was no leaven or yeast in them (this represents sin).

In order to prepare the Passover itself, Peter and John took a lamb to the priests to have it slaughtered.  Incidentally, one historian estimates that over 250,000 lambs would have been sacrificed.  The priests blew a threefold blast from their silver trumpets and collected the blood in gold and silver bowls that were then passed up to a priest who splashed the blood upon the altar.  While all this was going on, a hymn of praise was led by the Levites, as the words from Psalms 113-118 filled the Temple.  The two disciples would then receive their lamb back from the priest and then they roasted it on a spit over pomegranate wood.  The 12 disciples gathered and took their places around the table in their best garments, joyful and at rest.  To express this idea the rabbis insisted that at least part of the feast should be partaken in a recumbent position.  

This explains Luke 22:14-16: “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 fulfillment in the kingdom of God.’”  That phrase “eagerly desired” literally means, “I have desired with desire.”  Jesus was set on celebrating this supper because he knew what it meant and he knew the meaning behind his final meal.

Each element of the Passover meal had special significance.  The unleavened bread represented the haste with which Israel left Egypt.  They would eat some bitter herbs to remind them of the pain of their slavery.  There was some puree paste which looked like clay to recall their forced labor.  The Passover lamb helped them remember God’s merciful “passing-over” over Israel and the wine symbolized the blood sprinkled on their doorposts.

Verses 17-18 show us that Jesus actually took the cup more than once.  Here we see that it happened before the bread: “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.’”

Jesus would have held up four different cups that night, each representing one of the “I will” phrases from Exodus 6:6-7

  1. “I will bring you out” (Cup of Sanctification).
  2. “I will free you from being slaves” (Cup of Plagues).  As a way to help remember the ten plagues, ten drops of wine were poured on a plate during the meal.
  3. “I will you redeem you with an outstretched hand” (Cup of Redemption).
  4. “I will take you as my own people and I will be your God” (Cup of Gathering).

The supper begins with Jesus as the “host” pronouncing a benediction over the first cup of wine, which has been filled for each person (by the way, this was probably diluted with 2 to 3 parts water).  After this, a table was brought in with the roasted lamb and Jesus would have taken some of the herbs, dipped them in sauce, eaten some, and given them to others.  This is the background to the phrase in Matthew 26:23 where we read, “The one who has dipped his hand into the bowl with me will betray me.”  

Immediately after this, all the dishes were removed from the table and the second cup of wine would be filled.  At this point it was customary for a son to ask his father a question: “How is this night distinguished from all other nights?”  In response, as the host, Jesus would have recited the history of Israel, focusing on Abraham, their deliverance from Egypt, and the giving of the law.  The dishes were then put back on the table and Jesus would have taken the symbols in succession, starting with the Passover lamb, then the bitter herbs and the unleavened bread as He briefly explained the importance of each one.  

Everything was going according to the Passover plan.  The disciples knew the drill, and could recite every word.  And then in Luke 22:19, everything changes: “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.’”  I imagine the disciples dropping their forks at this point (if they used them back then)!  What did Jesus just say?  This wasn’t in the script for the supper, or was it?  

Just as the Passover lamb was part of their meal that night, Jesus is saying, as the Lamb of God, He is the final sacrifice

As Jesus takes the unleavened bread, he utters words of thanks, breaks it, and hands it out to his followers.  The Savior is saying that this bread is a symbol for His body that was about to be broken, bruised and battered for them.  This must have stunned them. Just as the Passover lamb was part of their meal that night, Jesus is saying, as the Lamb of God, He is the final sacrifice.  Paul put it this way in 1 Corinthians 5:7: “For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed.”  It’s noteworthy that Jesus didn’t take some of the lamb and hold it up because this was the focal point of Passover.  He didn’t have to because in a few hours He, as the lamb Himself, would be lifted up as the final sacrifice.

Before they could fully recover from this shocking statement, we read this in Luke 22:20: “In the same way, after the supper he took the cup…”  This is probably the third cup, commonly called the “cup of redemption.”  Interestingly, in the Passover observance, this cup was set-aside for the anticipated Messiah!  

The script for the supper is back on track and then, in the second half of verse 20, Jesus startles them again when he says, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you.”  The cup represents His bloody death, which is going to inaugurate the new covenant, spoken of by the prophet Jeremiah. Biblical covenants were always ratified by blood.  

Friends, don’t miss this.  Jesus poured out His blood in order to inaugurate the new covenant.  The covenant is “new” because He Himself is the sacrifice.  It’s ratified with His own blood.  Hebrews 9:15 is very clear: “For this reason Christ is the mediator of a new covenant, that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance-now that he has died as a ransom to set them free from the sins committed under the first covenant.”

Chaos in the Church

As far as we know this meal to remember was celebrated with dignity and decorum (see Acts 2) until we get to the chaotic and confused church in Corinth.  Please turn in your Bibles to 1 Corinthians 11.  The church in Corinth met in large homes, and in Greco-Roman society, the owners of these homes often seated members of their own social class in the best rooms, while others were seated out in the atrium area, where they were served inferior food.  The Corinthian Christians also seemed to have stopped savoring the Savior’s Supper and treated the meal more like an all-you-can-eat banquet.

In verse 17, Paul is rather blunt with them: “In the following directives I have no praise for you, for your meetings do more harm than good.”  The word “directive” means command.  He then describes their divisiveness and their selfishness.  A group of them were eating and drinking without waiting for everyone else.  Verse 22 sums up Paul’s rebuke: “Don’t you have homes to eat and drink in?  Or do you despise the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing?  What shall I say to you?  Shall I praise you for this?  Certainly not!” 

Communion Correctives

We see four “Communion Correctives” in these verses (the outline I am using is from a sermon by Bob Hostetler from Cobblestone Community Church, combined with some help from Warren Wiersbe in his “Bible Exposition Commentary”).  As we go through these correctives, we’ll pause and pray after each one.

1. To Remember – “Look Back” (23-25). 

Paul received these instructions from Jesus Himself: “For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, ‘This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.’  In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.’” Twice in this passage we’re told to remember what Jesus did for us.  The celebration of communion helps us remember what we tend to forget.

Recognizing that there is wide disagreement related to the Lord’s Supper among different denominations let me make just two points.

  • The bread and the cup serve as memorials of the Lord’s death; they don’t mystically become his body or blood.  As the Passover meal was a remembrance of Israel’s deliverance from Egypt through the blood of the lambs on the doorpost, so the Savior’s Supper is not magic or mystical; it is a memorial of the One who has delivered us from the penalty and power of sin.  None of the disciples would have thought that somehow the bread and the wine were turned into the body and blood of Jesus – After all, He was still in the room with them.  When they saw Jesus hold these elements they would have immediately recognized them as tangible representations of a far deeper reality.
  • We are remembering His death, not repeating the sacrifice.  Some of you, including me, may come from a tradition that teaches that Jesus is sacrificed again and again through the celebration of the Mass.  Scripture is very clear that Jesus has completed His sacrificial work on our behalf.  Nothing more needs to be done, except to believe that He died as the substitute for our sins.  Hebrews 10:10: “We have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.”

Let’s pause and remember what Jesus did for us.

2. To Rejoice – “Look Forward” (26). 

“For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.”   We’re to look back and remember the cross and also look forward to the crown.  To “proclaim” means, “to announce publicly, to declare, publish, and perpetuate.”  The bread and the cup tell the story of redemption and look ahead to the culmination of history.  Ultimately, this supper points to the wedding banquet yet to come in Revelation 19:7-9: “Let us rejoice and be glad and give him glory!  For the wedding of the Lamb has come, and his bride has made herself ready.  Fine linen, bright and clean, was given her to wear…Blessed are those who are invited to the wedding supper of the Lamb!” 

Let’s pause and rejoice that Jesus is coming again.

3. To Repent – “Look Within” (27-28). 

“Therefore, 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.  A man ought to examine himself before he eats of the bread and drinks of the cup.” Once we remember by looking back, and rejoice by looking forward, we can’t help but look inside and see our need to repent.  Paul is cautioning us about approaching the Lord’s Table in a trite manner.  

I think there are at least two ways we need to examine ourselves:

  • Am I saved?  Have you ever come to the point in your life where you have received Christ by faith?  Are you born again?  2 Corinthians 13:5 challenges us to ask some tough questions: “Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves.  Do you not realize that Christ Jesus is in you-unless, of course, you fail the test?”
  • Am I surrendered?  Are you keeping anything back from the Lord right now?  Any sin that you’ve been playing around with that you’ve not repented of?  Are you out of whack with anyone?  Give it up.  David learned this the hard way in Psalm 32:5: “When I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long.  For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was sapped as in the heat of summer.  Then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity.  I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the LORD’–and you forgave the guilt of my sin.”

Warren Wiersbe writes, “The Corinthian Christians neglected to examine themselves, but they were experts at examining everybody else.” Communion should really be a time that we ask the Holy Spirit to shine His piercing light on anything in our lives that is unworthy of the body and blood of Christ.  Examine your attitudes, actions, and your affections; when He convicts, confess it immediately.

Let’s pause and repent of those sins the Lord shows us.

4. To Reconcile – “Look Around” (29, 33-34). 

“For anyone who eats and drinks without recognizing the body of the Lord eats and drinks judgment on himself…so then, my brothers, when you come together to eat, wait for each other.  If anyone is hungry, he should eat at home, so that when you meet together it may not result in judgment.”  Communion is also the time to make sure we’re living in loving relationships with people.  Jesus has made us one, so we need to act accordingly.  This is stated clearly in 1 Corinthians 10:17: “Because there is one loaf, we, who are many, are one body, for we all partake of the one loaf.”

We’re all part of one body, and no one is better than anyone else.  The story is told of a time that the Duke of Wellington took communion.  As he was kneeling at the front of the church, a very poor old man went up and knelt down next to him.  Immediately tension and commotion interrupted the silence of the church.  Someone went up to the man and whispered to him, asking him to move away from the Duke.  But the great commander overheard what was said and grabbed the old man’s hand to prevent him from rising.  In a deep voice the Duke said, “Do not move; we are equal here.”

Let’s pause and pray about our need to reconcile right now.

Supper Time

Now, if we examine ourselves too long, we can end up discouraged and despairing.  Someone has wisely said that for every look you take at yourself, take two looks at Christ.  The point of looking at ourselves is to convince us of our need for forgiveness.  When I see the sinfulness in my own heart I’m drawn to the Savior.

In the Bible, dining together signifies two things: appropriation and participation.  By eating the bread and drinking from the cup we’re saying that we have received redemption and we’re declaring that we are in community with one another and with the Lord.

Do you have any thoughts or questions about this post?