The Lord's Table
Scripture: Matthew 26:26–30
The Lord's TableMatthew 26:26-30
Sunday, November 7, 2010
Pastor Randy Smith
It was over a thousand years before the birth of Jesus. The Israelites were in Egypt, praying for the day when God would liberate them from their slavery. It was bondage that began with severe hard work and then eventually progressed to cruel treatment, ending up with deadly consequences. Their prayers were answered in a man named Moses. Moses would lead God's people out of Egypt to the Promised Land.
However, before they departed, God brought ten disastrous plagues upon the Egyptians. The final plague was the worst. "Moses said, 'Thus says the Lord, 'About midnight I am going out into the midst of Egypt, and all the firstborn in the land of Egypt shall die, from the firstborn of the Pharaoh who sits on his throne, even to the firstborn of the slave girl who is behind the millstones; all the firstborn of the cattle as well. Moreover, there shall be a great cry in all the land of Egypt, such as there has not been before and such as shall never be again''" (Ex. 11:4-6).
Yet God would protect His people. "Speak to all the congregation of Israel, saying, 'On the tenth of this month they are each one to take a lamb for themselves, according to their fathers' households, a lamb for each household… Your lamb shall be an unblemished male a year old... You shall keep it until the fourteenth day of the same month, then the whole assembly of the congregation of Israel is to kill it at twilight. Moreover, they shall take some of the blood and put it on the two doorposts and on the lintel of the houses in which they eat it. They shall eat the flesh that same night, roasted with fire, and they shall eat it with unleavened bread and bitter herbs… you shall eat it in haste - it is the Lord's Passover… The blood shall be a sign for you on the houses where you live; and when I see the blood I will pass over you, and no plague will befall you to destroy you when I strike the land of Egypt'" (Ex. 12:3, 5a, 6-8, 11b, 13).
Through a blood sacrifice of the innocent, death would pass over. This deliverance was to be celebrated with a Passover meal, consisting of a roasted lamb, unleavened bread and bitter herbs. And from that point on, once a year, the Israelites were commanded to keep this Passover meal (Ex. 12:24-25).
Fast forward to the first century. Jesus Christ like every good Jew made His pilgrimage into Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover. Jesus made His intentions clear: Luke 22:15, "And He said to them, 'I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer.'" His disciples obeyed His directives. Verse 17 of Matthew 26, "Now on the first day of Unleavened Bread the disciples came to Jesus and asked, 'Where do You want us to prepare for You to eat the Passover?'" We know from Scripture Jesus and His disciples prepared the meal in a furnished "upper room" (Mk. 14:15; Lk. 22:12). At that same time, every other Jewish family enjoyed the same traditional ceremony. Let me see if I can hit some of the highlights demonstrating them with two daughters from my own family.
At this point the unblemished lamb would have been chosen and slaughtered. The father would lead his family through the house the night before by candlelight to remove all leaven. Feet would have been washed. All would wash their hands as a ceremonial cleansing. The table would be set and the group would gather around the table (about 18 inches off the ground) often sitting oldest to youngest reclining on their sides. The father of the home presides over the service.
The ceremony begins when the first of four cups of wine is poured. The wine was red and warm and diluted with two to three parts water (in our case we are using grape juice). After each cup is poured, a prayer is uttered over each cup as are the four verbs of Exodus 6:6-7 recited, one verb over each cup.
After the first cup ("the cup of sanctification") is poured, the first prayer goes like this: "Blessed are You, O Lord our God, King of the universe, who has created the fruit of the vine… And You, O Lord our God, have given us festival days for joy, this feast of the unleavened bread, the time of our deliverance in remembrance of the departure from Egypt. Blessed are You, O Lord our God, who has kept us alive, sustained us, and enabled us to enjoy this season." Then the first part from Exodus is recited: "I am the LORD, and I will bring you out from under the yoke of the Egyptians" (Ex. 6:6). The wine is consumed by all.
The head of the house now dips bitter herbs (traditionally lettuce or celery) into salt water or vinegar. All partake as they are passed down the table.
The second cup ("the cup of plagues") of wine is poured which prompts questions from the youngest child at the table and subsequent answers from the father (cf. Ex. 12:26-27). Question: "Why is this night different from all other nights? On all other nights we eat leavened or unleavened bread, but this night only unleavened bread? Answer: "This reminds us that when our forefathers left slavery in Egypt they left in haste with no time to bake their bread." Question: "On all other nights we eat all kinds of herbs, but this night only bitter herbs?" Answer: "This reminds us of the bitter and cruel way Pharaoh treated our people. The salt water reminds us of the tears they shed."
The first half of the Hallel (a word that means "praise" where we derive the word "Hallelujah") from Psalms 113-114 is now sung. A sample of some verses goes like this (without the singing): "Praise the Lord! Praise, O servants of the Lord, praise the name of the Lord. Blessed be the name of the Lord. From this time forth and forever. From the rising of the sun to its setting the name of the Lord is to be praised. The Lord is high above all nations; His glory is above the heavens. Who is like the Lord our God, who is enthroned on high, who humbles Himself to behold the things that are in heaven and in the earth?… When Israel went forth from Egypt, the house of Jacob from a people of strange language, Judah became His sanctuary, Israel, His dominion… Tremble, O earth, before the Lord, before the God of Jacob, who turned the rock into a pool of water, the flint into a fountain of water (Psm. 113:1-6; 114:1-2, 7-8).
There is another prayer of thanksgiving and the second reading from Exodus 6:6: "I will deliver you from their bondage."
At this time the Pascal lamb (to remember the blood sacrifice), charoseth (a pasty dip to remember the mortar used to make bricks) and two unleavened bread wafers (to remember the haste in which they departed Egypt) are served. The father prays over the bread, the bread is broken and it is dipped in the charoseth. The second cup of wine is also now consumed. The father proclaims, "It is finished."
After the meal the third cup ("the cup of redemption" or "the cup of blessing") is poured. Prayer is again offered: "The name of the Lord be blessed from now until eternity. Let us bless Him of whose gifts we have partaken: Blessed be our God of whose gifts we have partaken, and by whose goodness we exist." The father then recites the third verb from Exodus 6:6, "I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great judgments." The wine is consumed.
The fourth cup ("the cup of completion") of wine is poured. Prayer again is offered and the father recites the fourth part from Exodus 6:7: "Then I will take you as My people, and I will be your God; and you shall know that I am the Lord your God, who brought you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians."
Psalms 115-118 are sung as a closing hymn. Here is a portion: "O Lord, do save, we beseech You; O Lord, we beseech You, do send prosperity! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord; we have blessed you from the house of the Lord. The Lord is God, and He has given us light; bind the festival sacrifice with cords to the horns of the altar. You are my God, and I give thanks to You; You are my God, I extol You. Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good; for His lovingkindness is everlasting" (Psm. 118:25-29).
Let's now transition from the family Passover celebration to the specific one Jesus had with His disciples (children dismissed-men called forward).
Let's remember that what we just went through was very similar to what Jesus and His men would have experienced that night in the Upper Room. We know there was a time of foot washing (Jn. 13:5f) - a time when Jesus taught a lesson that the greatest in His kingdom would be the humble servant like Himself. We know they ate the same bread and drank the same wine (Mt. 26:26-27). We know they offered the same prayers (Mt. 26:26-27).
However in that Upper Room, there came a point in the meal when Jesus inaugurated some new changes. As the Old Covenant came to a close, the very meal that God commanded be observed "forever" (Ex. 12:24) was transformed into a new celebration called the "Lord's Supper" that aligned with the reality of the New Covenant. And this new meal, as Jesus says in 26:29, would continue perpetually until the day when we celebrate it with Jesus during the Marriage Supper of the Lamb (Isa. 25:6). The implication is that Jesus would someday return, and we are to continually partake in the Lord's Supper until that time (1 Cor. 11:26). The implication is that the Passover is now a dead feast as its purpose to which it pointed is fulfilled in Christ.
Consider the comparison and the fulfillment in Christ: As a Passover lamb was selected in advance, Jesus presented Himself to the nation on Palm Sunday. As the Passover lambs were without blemish, Jesus is the Passover Lamb of God (1 Cor. 5:7) without sin. As the Passover lambs were killed and their blood was shed to atone for sin, Jesus was crucified and spilled His blood for the sins of many. As physical death passed-over the Israelites in Egypt, those in union with Jesus Christ will have spiritual death pass over them. So Jesus is the new Passover lamb to remove death. Jesus is the new Moses to deliver His people from bondage to provide the greater Exodus. As Moses took God's people to the Promised Land, Jesus takes God's people to the coming kingdom. As the leader of the home said, "It is finished," Jesus said the same just before He died on the cross (Jn. 19:30). The old has reached its fulfillment in Christ. Jesus is now the One we look toward. Jesus is now the One we celebrate!
So understanding this we return to the meal. I mentioned the four cups of wine. It is believed that before the third cup ("the cup of redemption" or "the cup of blessing") that Jesus inaugurated the new institution. The Pascal lamb and the charoseth and the unleavened bread were already served. Let's pick up our text from Matthew 26. Verse 26, "While they were eating. Jesus took some bread." The verse says Jesus gave the traditional prayer of "blessing." He probably also read the third verb from Exodus 6:6, "I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great judgments." Very appropriate! Continuing in verse 26, "He broke [the bread] and gave it to the disciples, and said, 'Take, eat; this is My body.'"
"This is My body." What does this saying mean? Did the bread as the Roman Catholics teach become the body of Jesus? Of course not! For starters, Jesus was right there at the table for all of them to see. His body and the bread were clearly distinct from each other. Second, Jesus frequently used symbolism. Jesus said "I am the door" (Jn. 10:9). Is He a door or a morning star or a cornerstone or a vine or a rock or a fountain? Third, as we have been learning, the whole meal is about symbolism. The symbolism did not change when Jesus picked up the bread. On the contrary, as the bread symbolized the haste in which the Israelites left Egypt, the bread would now symbolize His body, a body that now would stand as our substitute and be broken (not bones) and bear our sins for our redemption.
So if Jesus has taken away your sins because you have received Him by faith, I now invite you to join in the Lord's Supper (serve the bread).
Verse 27, "And when He had taken a cup," again this was probably the third Cup of wine, "and given thanks" another prayer of thanksgiving (eucharisteo), "He gave it to them, saying, 'Drink from it, all of you.'"
The command is given. The expectation is that "all" of His people will participate in this ceremony because in this way they are symbolizing that they are indeed in communion with Him.
Verse 28 tells us the wine is also symbolic: "For this is My blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for forgiveness of sins."
The wine (or in our case grape juice) is symbolic of the blood that Jesus shed. "Without shedding of blood there is no forgiveness" (Heb. 9:22). Just as the Old Testament Passover lamb gave its life (which is represented in the blood) for the Israelites' pardon (Ex. 24:8), Jesus the Lamb of God would be required to give His life as well. His blood would be "poured out for many for forgiveness of sins" (Mt. 26:28 cf. 1:21). And through this sacrifice of Jesus, God would be able to enact a new covenant with His people (Jer. 31:31-34).
So again, if you have received Jesus Christ by faith, may you remember the blood that was shed on your behalf to forgive your sins and bring forth God's glorious New Covenant (serve the juice).
The fourth cup of wine was still on the table. I believe that cup was untouched prompting Jesus to say as He did in verse 29 that He would not drink with them anymore until He drinks again with them in His Father's kingdom.
Verse 30 describes how the ceremony concluded. As it was customary, they sang a hymn. Staying with the Hallel, they sang from Psalms 115-118. A portion of Psalm 118 goes like this: "The stone which the builders rejected has become the chief corner stone. This is the Lord's doing; it is marvelous in our eyes. This is the day which the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it" (Ps. 118:22-24).
May we always remember the special day when Jesus laid down His life once and for all to purchase our redemption. May we praise God and be found rejoicing in His marvelous plan of salvation!