Date: March 17, 2019
Speaker: Erik Raymond
Scripture: Matthew 26:17–26:30
Title: The Joy and Sorrow of the Supper
Text: Matthew 26:17-31
The Lord’s Supper teaches us that forgiveness and fellowship are at the heart of Christianity.
Meals are not only essential for us physically but they are meaningful for us relationally. Think of how often you’ve celebrated a big event with friends or families. They mark our birthdays, highs, lows, and everything in between. Eating together is deeply meaningful.
In our passage this morning we see Jesus eating a meal with his disciples. But it’s not a normal meal. It’s a traditional meal that takes a few surprising turns with big implications for you and me.
As we read and consider this passage I hope that you will see how the Lord’s Supper teaches us that forgiveness and fellowship are at the heart of Christianity.
This morning, we’ll consider 3 headers from this important meal between Jesus and his disciples; we have a sovereign plan (17-19), a sobering prediction (20-25), and a strategic practice (26-31).
It’s a big day in the middle of an important week. For the Jewish people, there is the celebration of Passover. Jesus, as a Jewish man, is preparing to observe this feast day. But at the same time, there is drama playing behind the scenes that eclipses what has everyone’s attention.
The religious experience for an Israelite was embedded with signs, shadows, and allusions to Jesus. This is because God has been—through the pages of Scripture-anticipating Jesus’ coming into the world. God’s been working a problem for a long time. We should not be surprised then when we find these verses so full of rich connections to Jesus. It’s like walking through a collector’s home or an antique store—there’s a lot to catch your eye and not a lot of room to maneuver. Every passage seems to be filled with all kinds of reference to Jesus. This is because God has been working a problem for a long time.
You’ll notice in verses 17-19 that the conversation between Jesus and his disciples involves the preparation for Passover. The Passover is the first day of the feast of Unleavened Bread, which would last a week. These preparations were very important. The lamb would have been ritually killed and then roasted with bitter herbs. The room would be meticulously cleaned and bread would be prepared without yeast (with reference to the original Passover when they had to eat and leave quickly). They prepared bitter herbs to remind them of their days of bitter bondage in Egypt along with salt water as a reminder of the shed tears in slavery and the salt water they passed through in the Red Sea. They also prepared a paste of apples, dates, pomegranates, and nuts to remind them of their work in Egypt. They would also prepare wine to be passed around the table. Four cups of wine were prepared as the promises of Exodus 6:6-7 were recalled. There was much to do in order to prepare.
But, I wonder, did you also notice the way Jesus talks about this preparation? Look again at verse 18. In response to the disciples request for instructions about preparing the Passover meal, Jesus says, ““He said, “Go into the city to a certain man and say to him, ‘The Teacher says, My time is at hand. I will keep the Passover at your house with my disciples.’ ”” (Matthew 26:18)
He is speaking like a king. He is talking like a sovereign. Go into the city and you’ll find a guy. Tell him I need it. We don’t know the details beyond what we have. But we feel the weight of emphasis. Jesus is in control. Can you imagine telling someone, head up to Newton Corner and you’ll see a guy behind the post office? Tell him that you need to use his house for Thanksgiving dinner.” Can you imagine?
One more thing here about sovereignty. Do you see that little phrase in verse 18? “My time is at hand.” What does he mean? Remember over and over again Jesus has held back and restricted either the expanse of information about himself or the more full revelation of who he is? He has said many times that his time had not yet come. But now, his time has come. What does this mean? It means it is time for the cross. We are moving quickly ahead to Calvary. All of this is done with the sovereignty of God on display. Christ is in total control and is fulfilling God’s design.
The way Matthew lays this out is interesting. The disciples ask the question and then they go and do what Jesus wants. It almost looks like they are the ones preparing the feast, doesn’t it? But in reality, who prepared it? It was Jesus, wasn’t it? He is in charge of the location and he is going to be the one who leads everything. This is a good reminder that this is the way it works with our conversion also. Jesus prepares the feast and invites us in. He has made all of the arrangements. There is nothing you contribute to your salvation; you don’t bring a side dish. It’s all him. You come and feast at the table of grace, with your place setting laid out by the King of kings.
I want you to envision this scene here. Jesus is eating the Passover meal with his disciples. They have been together for years now and have spent day after day together. They have witnessed some amazing things. They have been surprised by Jesus in what he does and what he says. Now they are going to be surprised again.
As they were eating, Jesus has something to say. Look down at verse 21, “And as they were eating, he said, ‘Truly I say to you, one of you will betray me.”
It’s striking, isn’t it? These aren’t the words of a paranoid leader. It’s not a conspiracy theory. As we saw last week in verses 1-3 of this chapter, Jesus is aware of what’s going on. He is not going to be caught off guard. He has known that he would be betrayed and he knew who would do it. He has embraced it. This doesn’t take away from the drama; it actually adds to it. Jesus is sitting there, remarkably calm and in control, having embraced his fate and the means.
His hour has come. And, he will be chaperoned to his death by the hand of one who was close to him.
How do the disciples respond? It’s a bit of a bombshell in the middle of dinner. In verse 22 we read that they were sorrowful and began to question one another as to whether it was them. They were grieved. The prospect of betraying Christ unto death is like a punch in the gut. What? Who? Is it me they ask?
With this pronouncement, sorrow has entered the meal. The joyful celebration of God’s deliverance from sin in the past has shifted to Christ be delivered up for their sins in the present.
Jesus gives them an answer, but it doesn’t satisfy their concern. Instead, it intensifies the drama. He says (in verse 23), “He who has dipped his hand in the dish with me will betray me.” Remember, they are sitting around together at the table. And in the middle, there is a decent sized bowl that they would dip their bread in. It’s a community bowl so to speak. We might have a family bowl of salsa or queso or hummus on the table—everyone is sharing it. For the disciples, they are still wondering, “Is it me?” This is a reference back to the 41st Psalm (verse 9) which refers to a close and trusted friend who betrays another, after eating bread.
Jesus further intensifies this here by saying something shocking. In talking about the one who would betray him he says it would be better that he was not even born. This means that the judgment that he will incur —including personal guilt and shame—far outstrips the joys of life he has experienced. Jesus here relativized everything to what he has done with Jesus.
Judas responds to this personally. His heart no doubt beating through his chest at this moment. Remember he’s got a pocket full of silver for his recent deal with the religious leaders. He has already sold Jesus out. Now Jesus is calling him out. So he asks him, Is it I, Rabbi? Jesus affirms his answer. You have said it.
This meal of celebration has certainly taken a somber turn.
For many of you here this morning this may be causing you some introspection. I think this healthy for us. The Bible commends regular self-examination to make sure we are truly Christ’s disciples. There is something in the text that helps us. Did you notice the two different ways in which the disciples responded to Jesus? In verse 22 we have them very sorry for and asking is it I, Lord? And then in verse 25, Judas says, Is it I, Rabbi. On the one hand, we have the confession that Jesus is Lord and master. On the other, Judas simply calls him a teacher. Now I don’t want to put too much into these two terms, to say that anyone who calls Jesus Rabbi or teacher is not a Christian. But it is striking, isn’t it, that many people can commend Jesus’ teaching, his virtue, and his way of life without commending him as their God. I think this is helpful for us this morning. Do you see Jesus simply as a moral figure, a teacher? One to be esteemed for sure, but not quite to the level of Lord. You see there is a difference. We all have many teachers. There are people whom we read, have taken classes from, and people who have a great impact upon us—but we don’t worship them as God. If you are examining your own heart here and wondering about this, I’ll simply ask you, is Jesus your Lord? Have you come to see him as someone not only to pattern your life after with admiration but give your life for in worship? In order to be a disciple of Jesus he has to be more than your teacher, he must be your Lord.
This sobering prediction by Jesus puts his finger on the issue: Judas is a counterfeit. Peter and the others will waffle too. But they will repent and return. Judas will die in the mires of guilt and rejection. A sobering prediction indeed.
Jesus continues on with the meal. Taking the place of the father, the leader of the family, in the traditional sense, he is reciting the Scriptures and leading the meal. But there is a twist. Jesus changes things up. The meal becomes different. Instead of partaking of the Passover meal, the Lord Jesus changes it. It becomes the meal of the New Covenant.
What happens? In the middle of the meal Jesus took the bread and broke it up, and distributed it to his disciples. Then he told them to eat it, and called it his body. Similarly, Jesus took the cup and distributed it to his disciples and said it was his blood of the covenant for the forgiveness of sins. Then Jesus says he is not going to drink of the wine until the time he’ll drink it with his disciples in the coming kingdom.
What this isn’t. You may be aware that there are some varying views about what is happening here at the meal. Probably most extreme and familiar for us here in the Boston area is the view of the Roman Catholic Church. They teach that in the Lord’s Supper, this meal here, that the bread and the wine actually change in essence and become the true body of Jesus and blood of Jesus. Through what Roman Catholics call transubstantiation, the elements are changed into the actual body and blood of Jesus. They believe, “In this divine sacrifice which is celebrated in the Mass, the same Christ who offered himself once in a bloody manner on the altar of the cross is contained and is offered in an unbloody manner." They believe the priests continue to sacrifice Jesus as he is “re-present” with them in the mass. I don’t think there is anything in this text—or any other in the Bible—to support this.
What this is. As Protestants, we believe that Jesus is speaking figuratively here, not in a literal sense. The bread and the cup represent the body and blood of Jesus. The materials don’t change in essence but they are injected with meaning in their figurative sense.
What it means. This meal, what we call communion or the Lord’s Supper is loaded with meaning. It is an ordinance or command, instituted by Jesus to remind his disciples that forgiveness and fellowship are at the heart of the church’s life together. It has been said before that in baptism the new Christian goes public with their profession of faith. In baptism, we are saying publicly, “I am with Jesus and his people.” In the Lord’s Supper, we are pledging our ongoing faithfulness to Christ and one another. We are saying that we are still needy of God’s grace in Christ; we are committed to loving Christ and his people; we are saying we are still with Jesus and his people. Baptism then is the front door along with church membership and the Lord’s Supper is the dining room table where we renew our vows of faithfulness to Christ’s Word.
Who it’s for. Naturally then, the Lord’s Supper is for those who profess faith in Christ. It’s for those who submit to Jesus as Lord. This is why each week when we take the Lord’s supper one of the elders aim to be clear about who should partake. The Supper is a sign of fellowship with Christ and his people. If you aren’t yet a Christian then you should not eat the bread and drink the cup. It’s like wearing a wedding ring when you aren’t married. The symbol loses its meaning when the reality it represents is unsupported.
How should you take communion? I’m not talking about the form of being served but what should be going on in our hearts and minds as we do? Here are some things to consider. Let’s call them the five looks.
Look Up — Since God has invited us to his table, it is appropriate for us to acknowledge him as central. He invites us to his table through Christ. When we celebrate the Lord’s supper together, look up and consider who God is. He is the unchanging God who is merciful and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness. He who has loved even you and me.
Look In — When we look up at who God is, then we have a better view of ourselves. The supper affords us this opportunity. In a parallel passage in 1 Corinthians Paul gives instructions for the church when they take the Supper. Turn with me if you would to 1 Cor 11. We see in verses 27-28 a number of warnings for those who would come, take and eat.
1 Corinthians 11:27–28: Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord. 28 Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup.
There is a need in this examination to consider if there are sins that need to be confessed before the Lord. We don’t live a secret life; the Lord sees it all. To pretend that you are living in a bubble is to act like there is no God. And to be guilty concerning the body and the blood means to eat in a way that dishonors Christ. Therefore when you come to the Lord’s supper it is a time to consider your own heart before the Lord. It is a time to clear accounts and confess sin. It’s a time to make sure you that you are truly clinging to Christ for your righteousness. There is a need for self-examination.
Look Back — But there is another look. The Lord’s Supper points us back. It tells us to look back. You’ll notice that Jesus uses the elements to instruct us about the cross. He uses the simple elements of bread and the cup to show that he has broken his body and spilled his blood for us.
Jesus says “this is the blood of the covenant” what does he mean here? It’s a vivid image really. Jesus is saying that through his death he will bring in the benefits of the New Covenant. Look at Jeremiah 31.
Jeremiah 31:31–33: Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, 32 not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the Lord. 33 For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people.
This promised New Covenant is here. God forgives sinners through the New Covenant. It has a better priest and a better sacrifice. The blood of the lamb is sufficient to save sinners like you. The cup then looks to the cross.
You know in the Passover meal this would have been the third cup of wine, the cup of blessing. Jesus is saying that his blood on the cross is the cup of blessing. At the Lord’s supper then we partake of this blessing. We are regularly reminded that through the body and blood of Christ, on the cross, he secured our standing in a New Covenant. The Lord’s Supper makes us look back.
Look Around — The Lord’s Supper also makes us look around. We read in 1 Corinthians 11, verses 28-29,
28 Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. 29 For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself.
Paul is dealing with an issue in the Corinthian church. There is a lot of selfishness going on. We know that selfishness is the root of all sin. He is warning the church to examine their hearts and lives together. There is a need to discern the body. This means to know that you are part of a church family. This local church together is comprised of different people with different experiences and different issues. But at least two things are in common: we are sinners and we are united together by faith in Christ. Therefore, if there are outstanding relational issues they need to get worked out. We don’t just bury stuff under the rug. We have to deal with it. If it’s sin it needs to be dealt with biblically. If there are issues of disagreement, we need to do our best to work it out. The Lord’s supper is the regular reminder that we are good with Jesus and we are good with one another. If we one or both of these is true then we should not take the supper. If we are, then we are to enjoy this meal as we look around together
Look Ahead — Did you notice that Jesus anticipates another meal? He says that he will not drink this cup again until he does in the coming kingdom with his people. He is anticipating another meal. And when we take the Lord’s supper we are too. We are looking ahead to another meal with Jesus and his people. We are looking ahead to the great marriage supper of the lamb when the entire church is gathered together to boast in the great saving work of Christ. In Revelation 19:6-9 we read of this great multitude gathered together from all nations and all time. And we will rejoice and exult and give him the glory!
Look Up — God has prepared the feast
Look In — self-examination
Look Back — at the cross
Look Around — at your fellow church members
Look Ahead — to the marriage feast
As we do we will be reminded again that forgiveness and fellowship are at the heart of our lives together as Christians.
I don’t know if you have had this experience, I trust you have or you will.
There are times when we think about the Lord’s supper and we feel like we don’t have a right to be there.
There is joy and sorrow at the table, but there is grace there.
I hope you can see today that the same hands that spread the feast were pierced with nails to secure our place at it.
Jesus shows us that at the heart of the Christian life we find forgiveness and fellowship.
This is a meaningful meal.