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Matthew

The Last Passover

Matthew 26:17-29

Lesson audio

Matthew’s account of the Last Supper is very short. Perhaps it is that he wants to put our attention not on the supper but on the Lamb.

Preparation

Mat 26:17-19 NASB 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?" (18) And He said, "Go into the city to a certain man, and say to him, 'The Teacher says, "My time is near; I am to keep the Passover at your house with My disciples."'" (19) The disciples did as Jesus had directed them; and they prepared the Passover.

History

The Passover, as most know, celebrates the deliverance of Israel from the power of Egypt. On that night God gave instructions to the Israelites so that they might be spared the death of their first born. In so doing, He also gave them a picture of the sacrifice to come at Calvary.

Consider some very quick elements:

  • A lamb, unblemished and pure, was to be sacrificed. This is the picture of the Sinless Sacrifice.
  • They were to be saved through the blood – just as we speak of being saved by the blood of the lamb.
  • It was to be eaten with unleavened bread – leaven (yeast) being the symbol of sin.

The picture is much more complex and rich than this, but we may sum up the matter simply: Passover is the picture of that which was to come. When it was fulfilled, the Law no longer bound those who were willing to accept that blood.

By the first Passover God established His covenant with Israel. It seems a bit arbitrary, for a covenant allows no room for negotiation. The new covenant established that night allows no room either. But consider: God does not have to deal with us at all. There is no bargaining with the Almighty. But there is an offer of mercy.

“Where,” not “do you?”

Please note that the disciples do not ask if Jesus wants to celebrate the Passover; they ask where. There is no question in their minds that Jesus, being Jewish and a pious man, would want to do this. There are lessons in that for us.

  • It is another example of the true character of Christ. He is eternal; He is faithful. You can count on His character every time.
  • It also carries, yet unknown to the Apostles, another example of the eternal nature of Christ: He will fulfill what the prophecies say about Him.

Count on Christ; He never changes.

A certain man

Luke tells us that they will recognize the man by the fact that he will be the first one they meet who happens to be carrying a 60 pound water jug. In a city crowded with pilgrims, this is an act of providence. Christ needed the upper room; by God’s providence the disciples found it.

But there is another lesson here. The man carrying that jug is a slave, one of the lowest members of society. It is a lesson to us: even the least can serve.

The Betrayer

Mat 26:20-25 NASB Now when evening came, Jesus was reclining at the table with the twelve disciples. (21) As they were eating, He said, "Truly I say to you that one of you will betray Me." (22) Being deeply grieved, they each one began to say to Him, "Surely not I, Lord?" (23) And He answered, "He who dipped his hand with Me in the bowl is the one who will betray Me. (24) "The Son of Man is to go, just as it is written of Him; but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been good for that man if he had not been born." (25) And Judas, who was betraying Him, said, "Surely it is not I, Rabbi?" Jesus *said to him, "You have said it yourself."

Comfort

This passage is, in its way, a great comfort to the Christian:

  • It is a comfort in that Christ had the power to escape the Cross – and refused to use it. Rather, He chose to be the Lamb of God.
  • It is a comfort that He knew His betrayer – and did not openly condemn him. Why? Perhaps He sought repentance.
  • It is a comfort that in the most trying time of His life, He consistently acted in mercy, with no thought of vengeance.

Truly, we have the God of all comfort.

Christ’s actions

What does Christ do for a sinner such as Judas?

  • He begins by identifying him – so that the sinner knows He knows. There is no escape from the eye of the Almighty. Jesus makes this clear.
  • He then warns the sinner of the consequences – better that he had not been born.
  • But He does not expose and publicly humiliate the man; He works in mercy.

This has given rise to a wonderful game of “what if?” What if Judas had repented, would one of the other disciples have done it? What if Judas had never been born, would the Christ have avoided the Cross?

A chance for repentance

Christ’s intent is clear, at least – He offers repentance a chance. But this passage does bring us up against the problem of predestination. Was Judas somehow predestined to do this? If so, how could we argue that it’s his own sinful fault? Christ knew he was going to do it – and therefore there was no chance he wouldn’t. Doesn’t that relieve him of fault?

But if it does, how can we say that anyone has free will? I can but give you a parallel from the world of science. It concerns the nature of light. If you examine it with instruments designed to detect light waves, you will find the nature of light to be a wave phenomenon. But if you want to count photons, it’s a particle phenomenon. It depends on how you examine it. Perhaps the same is true for human behavior as well.

The act, however, does bring us two other insights:

  • Christ offers mercy even though there is no hope it will be accepted. Mercy does not depend on the worthiness of the recipient but on the love of the giver. Thus we should offer mercy even if we’re sure it will be spurned.
  • When it is spurned, we should not rage at the ingrate, but remember that the patient endurance of suffering and evil is a virtue. In it, we imitate Christ Himself.

The Lord’s Supper

Mat 26:26-29 NASB While they were eating, Jesus took some bread, and after a blessing, He broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, "Take, eat; this is My body." (27) And when He had taken a cup and given thanks, He gave it to them, saying, "Drink from it, all of you; (28) for this is My blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for forgiveness of sins. (29) "But I say to you, I will not drink of this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it new with you in My Father's kingdom."

Body

The passage is at once well known and obscure. Matthew has chosen to recount the Lord’s Supper only briefly. It is a much discussed item, so permit me to offer some uncommon observations:

  • Bread is made up of ground wheat. No single stalk of grain is important, but rather bread is made from the wheat of many stalks. This bread is the food of the church; the church is what she eats. Therefore we are to be many, none essential, but all necessary.
  • It is unleavened bread. The usual reference is to equate leaven with sin. But may I also point out that it is “hasty bread?” Bread baked in haste has no time for yeast. Thus we should be prepared at any time for our departure (“sandals on your feet.”)
  • With bread we feed the hungry; with the Bread of Life we feed those who hunger and thirst after righteousness.
Blood

Perhaps we can see some different insights for the wine as well:[1]

  • Wine, too, comes from many – grapes, in this. But do you not see that if grapes are to be suitable for wine they must be crushed? We become what we eat; the proud heart must be crushed, broken hearted, to be of service to the Savior.
  • In its time wine had two properties we do not normally think of. First, it was an anesthetic, relieving pain. It is not sufficient to be forgiven; the pain of the sin must be dealt with as well. It is also an antiseptic, used for cleansing a wound. So it is Christ relieves the pain of sin, and cleanses us from it, by His blood.
  • In our own time there is another example. Some of you have given blood at a blood drive. You know that such blood saves the lives of those in surgery or injury.
Fellowship

(There is some debate as to whether or not Judas was at the Lord’s Supper. In what follows we will use the traditional interpretation that he was there.)

Solo Christianity is an oxymoron. Without the church, we cannot long stand as Christians. Nowhere is this more plain than in Communion. It is the public marker of the faith; if you take Communion with me, you are brother to me. The world looks at this as the defining act. Given that, we must deal with inclusions and exclusions.

We are taught that we are to exclude from our midst those who are open, unrepentant sinners.[2] We are to be as charitable as possible in these matters, giving every opportunity for repentance and forgiveness. But, ultimately, we must keep from fellowship with someone such as this.

More important, I suspect, is that we must welcome all who claim the name of Christ. Do we bar the door by dress codes? The problem is not a new one. The communion meditation quoted below tells the story:

The year was 1866;  the place was Richmond, Virginia.  The citizens of the capitol of the defeated Confederacy were still trying to recover from the devastation of war.  Among many other problems, they were struggling with the question of the role and relationship of the newly freed slaves -- a struggle which is not yet done.
In a fashionable church in Richmond the minister was offering Communion.  In this particular house of worship Communion was offered somewhat differently than we serve it.  When the time came, the minister would stand at the front of the church, behind an altar rail.  Those wishing Communion would rise from their seats, a few at a time, come forward and kneel at the altar.  The minister would hand them Communion.  Usually those in the front came forward first, but it was not uncommon for some to remain longer than others, deep in meditation.  One rule was observed:  Communion could not be given to a solitary person -- at least two must be at the rail.  This was to preserve the spirit of Matthew 18:20.
In the middle of this procession, from the back of the sanctuary, a former slave stood up and strode forward.  The minister was taken aback.  This was a "white" church;  racial separation was the firm belief of virtually all the members.  This was also the Lord's Supper.  The minister hesitated.  The man was at the rail alone;  he was not obliged to serve Communion to a solitary worshiper.  What was he to do?  All eyes in the congregation were on him.
At this moment another worshiper rose from his seat.  He was an elderly man, with gray hair, but tall and erect in his bearing -- military, we would say.  He walked down the aisle and without a word knelt by the "man of color" (as the phrase is today) to take Communion.  His example decided the minister's action;  Communion was served to both men together.

We often forget that Communion is also proclamation. (1 Cor 11:26 NIV)  For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes.  We forget that by this act we proclaim Christ, and all that he taught, to all who observe.  It is easy to do so here in the Lord's house.  Do we proclaim it in the world as well?  Indeed, do we even proclaim it in the Lord's house?  Examine yourself;  does it feel uncomfortable to you when you see people of other races and color worshipping with you?  Is it OK for the missionary to reach other races -- as long as the other races don't reach you?  Or do you rejoice that Christ died for all, and that in His church we at last can put aside the feelings that have divided his people?
Do not think for a moment that your thoughts and actions are of no account in this.  This is not the affair of the minister alone.  The guiding example came not from the pulpit but from the pew.  One man (or woman) can make a difference in God's economy.
The minister in our story was probably a man of faith, but he was unprepared for action.  The man in the pew was not.  Not surprising, that -- his name was Robert E. Lee.

I wrote this eleven years ago, and I don’t mind the look of it now.


[1] That

[2] 1st Corinthians 5:1-13

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