1 The law is only a shadow of the good things that are coming - not the realities themselves. For this reason it can never, by the same sacrifices repeated endlessly year after year, make perfect those who draw near to worship. 2 If it could, would they not have stopped being offered? For the worshippers would have been cleansed once for all, and would no longer have felt guilty for their sins. 3 But those sacrifices are an annual reminder of sins, 4 because it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins. 5 Therefore, when Christ came into the world, He said: “Sacrifice and offering you did not desire, but a body you prepared for me; 6 with burnt offerings and sin offerings you were not pleased. 7 Then I said, ‘Here I am - it is written about me in the scroll - I have come to do your will, O God.’”
8 First He said, “Sacrifices and offerings, burnt offerings and sin offerings you did not desire, nor were you pleased with them” (although the law required them to be made). 9 Then He said, “Here I am, I have come to do your will.” He sets aside the first to establish the second. 10 And by that will, we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.
11 Day after day every priest stands and performs his religious duties; again and again he offers the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. 12 But when this priest had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, He sat down at the right hand of God. 13 Since that time He waits for His enemies to be made His footstool, 14 because by one sacrifice He has made perfect forever those who are being made holy.
15 The Holy Spirit also testifies to us about this. First He says: 16 “This is the covenant I will make with them after that time, says the Lord. I will put my laws in their hearts, and I will write them on their minds.”
17 Then He adds: “Their sins and lawless acts I will remember no more.”
18 And where these have been forgiven, there is no longer any sacrifice for sin.
26 While they were eating, Jesus took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to His disciples, saying, “Take and eat; this is my body.” 27 Then He took the cup, gave thanks and offered it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you. 28 This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. 29 I tell you, I will not drink of this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it anew with you in my Father's kingdom.”
30 When they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.
Today we celebrate Holy Communion as a Church family. If you think about it, it does seem a bit strange at first to use the word ‘celebrate’ in this context. At Communion services we are reminded of the horrors of the cross. Crucifixion is generally regarded as one of the cruellest means of execution in human history, but we do indeed have a reason to celebrate. The elements of bread and wine that we share in this Sacrament signify and represent to us the body and blood of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. We are reminded of Jesus’ perfect life on earth and His death on the cross. It is a reminder of the forgiveness of sins and everlasting life.
It is in our nature to remember the past. Exactly a hundred years ago millions of people were suffering during the First World War. Just yesterday was the 71st anniversary of the D-Day landings at Normandy. Many of you are members of the MOTHS, and we’re all familiar with the words ‘lest we forget’ whenever we are reminded of military conflicts.
So how much more then do we need to be reminded of an infinitely more important day in human history – the day Jesus died for our sins? We need to be reminded lest we forget as the Egyptians did. They forgot Joseph and what he had done for their nation and enslaved Joseph’s descendants. We need to be reminded lest we forget what Christ has done for us, lest we forget how His body was broken and how His blood was shed. We need to be reminded lest we forget His agony in Gethsemane when His sweat became blood. We need to be reminded lest we forget the cruel beatings, the crown of thorns, the pulling out of His beard, the brutal scourging, the nails driven through His hands and feet, and the spear thrust into His side. We need to be reminded lest we forget that He laid down His life for the sins of all mankind. We need to be reminded lest we forget that our relationship with God is based on a New Covenant in His blood.
If His first disciples, who were actually there and were first hand witnesses, needed to be reminded to observe Communion regularly, then we also need to do so as a reminder of what Jesus endured to pay for our sins. We need to remember because everything we have as Christians is centred in His death. We are a covenant people, and we cannot be reminded of that truth often enough.
The blood of Jesus Christ is what ushers us into this New Covenant. The basis on which God makes a covenant is always a sacrifice. Without a sacrifice there can be no covenant and wherever there is a sacrifice there must be the shedding of blood.
The Bible has come to us in the form of two covenants or testaments, the Old Testament and the New Testament. The Old Covenant between God and Israel was dedicated with the blood of sacrificed animals. As a result of this covenant God delivered Israel from bondage in Egypt, and when Israel became a nation God gave them the Law as part of that covenant. The covenant bound God to His Word and Israel to the terms of the covenant.
The New Testament is a new covenant, a new agreement, and a new promise ratified, enacted and sealed in the blood of Jesus Christ. Without the shedding of His blood there was no possible way Jesus could have established a new covenant between God and us. Under the Old Covenant only one man could approach God in the Holy of Holies once a year. This took place on the Day of Atonement. On that day the Jewish high priest, after all kinds of ritual washing and purification and with the blood of sacrificed animals, went into the Holy of Holies where he sprinkled the blood on the mercy seat to make atonement for his sins and the sins of the nation. But this sacrifice only covered the sins of the nation for one year and had to be repeated annually. This is the reason why the High Priest never sat down while performing the ceremony, because complete atonement was never achieved under the old system. It was merely (as we’re told in Hebrews 10) a foreshadow of the things to come.
Once we have a grasp on what happened at Calvary, the endless rituals of Old Testament sacrifices begin to make sense. They all point us to the one, perfect and final sacrifice of Jesus. Hebrews 10:12 says of Jesus, “when this priest had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, He sat down at the right hand of God.” In Mark’s account of the ascension, it says “After the Lord Jesus had spoken to them, He was taken up into heaven and He sat at the right hand of God.” Remember Jesus’ dying words on the cross? “It is finished.” The work of redemption was complete.
After offering His blood He sat down at the Father’s right hand signifying that no sacrifice would ever be needed again. The blood of Christ had accomplished eternal redemption for all mankind.
Had the Old Covenant been perfect and sufficient, there would have been no need for a New Covenant. But the book of Hebrews teaches that as our High Priest, Christ has a much more excellent ministry to God than the high priest under the Old Covenant. Jesus does not offer the blood of bulls and goats as the high priest used to because they cannot take away sin. Instead He offers His own blood and pleads our case to the Father, and He does so on the merit of and in the power of His own blood. The New Covenant is better than the old because it was enacted with the eternal blood of Jesus Christ. Under the New Covenant all believers come into the presence of God at all times. That is why we don’t need a curtain in Christian Churches. The curtain in the temple signified the separation between sinners and a Holy God, but that curtain was torn in two at the moment Jesus died. You’ve heard this before, but there is huge significance in the fact that it was torn from the top to the bottom. This showed that the tearing of the curtain was an act of God and that we have been given unrestricted access to God.
To understand the New Covenant we also need an understanding of the meaning of the Passover meal. Exodus 12:21-27: “Then Moses summoned all the elders of Israel and said to them, ‘Go at once and select the animals for your families and slaughter the Passover lamb. Take a bunch of hyssop, dip it into the blood in the basin and put some of the blood on the top and on both sides of the doorframe. Not one of you shall go out the door of his house until morning. When the Lord goes through the land to strike down the Egyptians, He will see the blood on the top and sides of the doorframe and will pass over that doorway, and He will not permit the destroyer to enter your houses and strike you down. Obey these instructions as a lasting ordinance for you and your descendants. When you enter the land that the Lord will give you as He promised, observe this ceremony. And when your children ask you, “What does this ceremony mean to you?” then tell them, “It is the Passover sacrifice to the Lord, who passed over the houses of the Israelites in Egypt and spared our homes when He struck down the Egyptians.”
The disciples were aware of the implications of this meal, as they had often participated in it. They had grown up hearing the story. The annual Passover was the most solemn and important date on the Jewish calendar. For centuries during the meal the youngest child in each family would ask the father certain questions and he would answer by telling them about how God delivered them from slavery in Egypt and led them to the Promised Land. The Passover meal commemorated Israel’s deliverance from bondage in Egypt where they had lived as slaves. Every type of food on the table had a symbolic meaning, especially the roasted lamb. It reminded them of the lambs’ blood that was smeared on the doorposts of their homes so that the angel of death would pass over them and enter only the homes of the Egyptians. The blood was for their redemption as it signified that the coming judgement had already been carried out on the sacrificed lambs. The Israelites also had to eat every part of the roast lamb before they started their journey into freedom. This meal was for healing and strength. The meal reminded them of God’s salvation and deliverance from slavery in Egypt.
The very first Holy Communion meal – the one we celebrate today – was hosted by Jesus. To the disciples that night, this was to be just another Passover, but then Jesus suddenly changed everything by talking about His own body and blood as the sacrifice. The institution of Holy Communion He gave us that night was to remind us of a rescue immeasurably more significant than freedom from slavery in Egypt. Now it is about a reminder of rescue from slavery to sin and its penalty. As the blood of the lamb saved the Israelites, so the blood of Christ saves us. Here we are partaking of the New Covenant. The wine signifies the blood of Christ shed for our redemption and the bread typifies His body to be eaten for healing and strength. Just as with the Jewish Passover meal God strengthened and sustained the people for their pilgrimage to the Promised Land, so in Holy Communion believers are nourished and strengthened for our spiritual journey.
At the Lord’s Table we celebrate the living Christ in our hearts as we live and share in His divine nature. At the Lord’s Table we enter into an intimate fellowship with God and with our fellow brothers and sisters. Here we demonstrate our unity and our mutual loyalty to and love for Jesus Christ. Holy Communion is a means of grace. When we celebrate it, we are reminded of the victory over sin because of Christ and He strengthens us anew to live for Him and not for ourselves.
This is why we celebrate. Of course, we should never forget the reason for the cross. Jesus died because of me, and because of you. His death is our fault. But He demonstrated His victory over death by walking out of that tomb three days later. This is not a place for remorse and regret. This is a place to say thank you Jesus, for who you are and for what you did for me.
The very sight of the bread and wine should fill our hearts with praise and thanksgiving. Remembering what He did and how He has set us free should fill us with a new desire to love Him more, and each other more. As we take Communion we must be sensitive to our sins, our faults, and our failures, but we should see them in the right perspective. Now we see them in the light of the tremendous price Christ paid for our redemption and this should fill us with a new hope and a new determination to live for Him. In the early Church the congregation shared one loaf that was passed from person to person. Everyone broke off a piece for themselves, and this smaller piece was a reminder that Jesus died for each individual. The larger loaf that was passed on spoke of the truth that they all shared a common salvation and made up one body.
This is where the word ‘Communion’ begins to make sense. Yes, Jesus died for me as an individual sinner, and He died for you as an individual sinner, but as we share in Communion with our brothers and sisters in Christ, we should be conscious of our oneness with those we are sharing this meal with. We all share the wonderful benefits of our Saviour’s atoning work at Calvary. The Communion is a family meal and the Lord of the family wants His children to love one another and care for one another. How can we expect to move closer to God if we refuse to move closer to each other? What right do we have to expect or even demand God’s forgiveness if we refuse to forgive our Christian brothers and sisters? How can we share in this meal and not love one another?
You see, Holy Communion is more than simply remembering what Jesus has done or celebrating our forgiveness. We also have a responsibility here. The Lord’s Table is a place of love, of unity, and of our oneness in the Lord and with our fellow believers.
For the people of the Old Covenant – the Old Testament – the Passover looked back to the past, and the deliverance from Egyptian bondage. It looked at the present and the promise of strength for the journey. And it looked to the future - the Promised Land.
For us, the people of the New Covenant, Holy Communion looks back to God’s deliverance from sin. It looks at the present for strength to lead the Christian life. And it looks to the future by being a foretaste of Christ’s banquet in heaven.
Holy Communion fulfills the prophetic significance of the Passover. Just as the blood of the Passover lamb had to be applied to their doorposts so the blood of Christ has to be applied by truly repenting and asking for forgiveness. When that happens, the blood of Jesus Christ cleanses our hearts by faith and sets us free from the judgment and wrath of God. And just as the Israelites stayed in their houses to be protected from death so we today should spend time in the house of God and stay in fellowship with God and with our brothers and sisters in Christ.
Just as the Israelites ate the lamb to benefit from it so we are to share in the Sacrament of Holy Communion to benefit from it.
Jesus loves His Church. The Church is His bride, and He gave His life for His Church – for us. This is why we celebrate today as His bride, the Church family.
Jesus loves you. He gave His life for you, so you are able to share in this meal today without fear of God, knowing that He has paid the price of your sin. That is why you can celebrate today.
Come to the Table this morning and enjoy fellowship with Him, and with each other.
Homegroup Study Notes
Read Matthew 26:26-30 and Exodus 12:21-27
At the Last Supper, Jesus took the Passover Meal, a tradition which had not changed for thousands of years, and suddenly changed it by giving it a whole new meaning.
Discuss the strong links and similarities between Passover and Holy Communion.
Read Hebrews 10:11-18
What is the significance of the words in verse 12?
Having read this excerpt from Hebrews 10, discuss some of the significant differences between the Passover and Holy Communion.
The crucifixion of Jesus must have been an awful thing to witness, yet when we observe Holy Communion in the Church today, we often use the word ‘celebrate.’
Bearing in mind that the reason for Jesus’ death is our sin, how do you think it is possible to be joyful at the Lord’s Table?
The Sacrament of Holy Communion can mean many different things to different people, as God meets us at our point of need.
There are three main ‘points of focus’ though:
1. A look back at what Jesus has done for us.
2. A look inwards at what He is doing right now.
3. A look ahead to the promises of eternity.
Discuss each of these in your group.