12 On the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread, when it was customary to sacrifice the Passover lamb, Jesus’ disciples asked Him, “Where do you want us to go and make preparations for you to eat the Passover?”
13 So He sent two of His disciples, telling them, “Go into the city, and a man carrying a jar of water will meet you. Follow him. 14 Say to the owner of the house he enters, ‘The Teacher asks: Where is my guest room, where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?’ 15 He will show you a large upper room, furnished and ready. Make preparations for us there.”
16 The disciples left, went into the city and found things just as Jesus had told them. So they prepared the Passover.
17 When evening came, Jesus arrived with the Twelve. 18 While they were reclining at the table eating, He said, “I tell you the truth, one of you will betray me - one who is eating with me.”
19 They were saddened, and one by one they said to Him, “Surely not I?”
20 "It is one of the Twelve,” He replied, “one who dips bread into the bowl with me. 21 The Son of Man will go just as it is written about Him. But woe to that man who betrays the Son of Man! It would be better for him if he had not been born.”
22 While they were eating, Jesus took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to His disciples, saying, “Take it; this is my body.”
23 Then He took the cup, gave thanks and offered it to them, and they all drank from it.
24 “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many,” He said to them. 25 “I tell you the truth, I will not drink again of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it anew in the kingdom of God.”
26 When they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.
The meal Jesus shared with His disciples on the night before His death was no ordinary meal. It was a meal given to God’s people many years before when they were bound in slavery in Egypt. It is also a meal that preaches the Gospel. It speaks of God’s grace, as it signifies the creation of a new spiritual covenant between God and repentant sinners.
We begin this 5 part series that will take us to Gethsemane, Pilate’s court, Calvary and ultimately the empty tomb on Easter morning in the Upper Room today. Why was the Last Supper significant then and what does it mean for our lives today?
The disciples went to Jesus asking where He wanted to observe the Passover meal. The Passover was the main feast of the Jewish religious year, as they were reminded of the night when God “passed over” Israel when the angel of death destroyed the first born of Egypt during the last of ten plagues God sent to judge Egypt. The Passover was also called “The Feast Of Unleavened Bread”, because no yeast or leavened bread was to be used or even kept in the house during the days of the feast.
The regulations for the Passover are found in Exodus 12. They were to choose a lamb, which was to be killed on the evening of the Passover, and take the blood of the lamb and put some on the doorposts of their homes. They then ate the roast lamb with bitter herbs and unleavened bread.
They were to eat this meal dressed for a journey, with their shoes on, their walking sticks in their hands and they were to eat it in as though they were in a hurry.
The unleavened bread symbolised the urgency. There was no time to allow the dough to rise before the journey would begin.
Orthodox Jews today still observe the Passover the same way it has been observed for thousands of years. Sadly, they are oblivious to what it really means, because the whole ceremony and what happened that night in Egypt points directly to Jesus, and what happened immediately after the Last Supper He shared with His disciples.
The feast involved a lamb, but the details as to how the lamb was selected, and the time between its selection and death is important. In Exodus 12:3 they are told to select the lamb for the family on the 10th day of the month, and in verse 6 they were to slaughter it on the 14th day. Most people would agree that there is something rather cute about a little lamb – especially children. Now picture yourself as a parent bringing a cute little lamb home, and your children or grandchildren have 4 days to build up a bond with the lamb, and then you take it into your garden after those 4 days and you slit its throat. And you do that year after year. It’s a detail we often miss in the original Passover meal, but it’s an important one. There would be an attachment that would develop between the family and the little lamb. This was intentional, because God wanted them to see the high cost of sin. He wanted them to understand that salvation is an intensely personal business.
Jesus Christ is not just a Saviour, one among many - He is the Saviour. His saving work is not accomplished in your life until you can say that Jesus is your Saviour. You need to take John 3:16 and personalise that verse. For God so loved me, that He sent His only Son to die for me.”
The only shelter anyone has against the righteous wrath and anger of Almighty God is the blood of Jesus Christ. If you ever hope to be saved, you must come to Jesus Christ by faith and when you do, His blood washes every sin away.
The Passover lamb was to be roasted with fire, another important detail because fire is a picture of judgment and it reminded Israel that the judgment of God was being poured out on sinful Egypt, and the only thing that prevented Israel from being judged along with Egypt was the blood of the lamb that had died to save them. The lamb had been judged in their place, just like Jesus was for us. The lamb also had to be eaten. It did no good to simply select a lamb and kill it. It had to become more personal.
This helps us to understand what Jesus meant by His often misunderstood words in John 6:53-56. “Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in him.”
Just as the lamb was to be eaten physically, Jesus must be received spiritually. He must be internalised by us as individuals. His death on the cross is meaningless for you until you receive Him by faith. His death cannot save you until you turn to Him and receive Him into your heart and life.
There is much more that could be said about the Passover and the lamb. The point though, is that if you do not know Jesus Christ as your Saviour, you will face God in judgment some day. If you are saved by His grace, you will never face the awful wrath of God. His blood has forever turned away the wrath of God from those who believe.
Some people don’t like to talk about the blood. Those who cannot see the truth of the Gospel think it’s just weird to talk about the blood of Jesus, but Hebrews 9:22 says, “without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.” If you were in Egypt on the night of the Passover and there was no blood on the doorpost of your home, death came calling that night. If you reach the end of this life and your name is not written in the Book of Life in the blood of Jesus, then death will come calling. All you will have is eternal death and judgement. Make no mistake, the Christian faith is a bloody religion. You may not like the blood, but it is the blood of Jesus that washes all sin away. The blood of Jesus is the only thing that can reconcile a lost sinner to a holy God. As Ephesians 2:13 puts it, “now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ.”
So Jesus and His disciples gather in the Upper Room for the Passover Meal. John’s Gospel goes into more detail, as he tells how Jesus washed His disciples’ feet before the meal. As if that wasn’t enough, He then dropped a bombshell by announcing that one of them would betray Him later that night and arrange to have Him arrested.
When the disciples hear that one of their group is a traitor, they are filled with astonishment. They begin to look at Jesus and say. “Is it I?” Even Judas, who knows exactly what he was about to do, looked at Jesus and said, “Surely not I, Rabbi?”
We know this part of the story well, but again there are often important details we overlook. In John 13, we are told that Jesus identified the Judas by giving him a piece of bread dipped in a bowl. To be handed this piece of bread by the host at a meal was the ultimate form of respect and love. This is one of the reasons we make the point at Holy Communion that Jesus is the host at the table – not the minister or elders. We’re just waiters serving the host as we serve you.
So what did Jesus really teach His disciples and us in the Upper Room that night?
He took an ancient festival, and gave it not a new meaning, but rather, He revealed to them what it really meant. This is why we call it the New Covenant.
Traditionally the host of the Passover meal would take the bread and say, “Praised be Thou, O Lord, Sovereign of the world, who causes bread to come forth from the earth.” This was the traditional Jewish statement as the bread was taken. But now Jesus added a new meaning to the bread when He said, “Take and eat. This is my body.”
Jesus used the bread that night to teach His disciples what He was about to do. He was on His way to the cross to lay down His life for sin. He wanted them and us to know, that His body offered on that Cross was more important than a piece of unleavened bread. He wanted us to understand that the only way to have salvation was to become a part of Him by receiving what He did on the cross by faith.
That is why He said, “Take, eat...” We must receive what He did for us, and we must internalise what He did for us on the cross.
There were four cups of wine used during the traditional meal, and when the host came to the third one known as the cup of redemption, Orthodox Jews are reminded of the blood of the Passover Lamb. Again, Jesus changed this around by saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is shed for you.”
He equated the wine in the cup of redemption to His own blood, which was about to be shed on the cross for our redemption.
Someone once said that wine is produced through violence. Grapes are torn from the vine and crushed underfoot to extract their juice. Jesus was about to be crushed by the full weight of human sin. In fact, as 2 Corinthians 5:21 says, in a very real sense, He was crushed so severely that He literally became sin. “God made Him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.”
When Jesus was crushed on the cross, His precious blood was shed. And when the blood was shed, God was satisfied, because His righteous anger against sin had finally been satisfied, and now, finally, the way to redemption and eternal life was possible. What an incredible thing Jesus has done for you.
Now we are brought into a new relationship with God through Jesus. He takes the righteousness of Jesus, and applies it to us. He saves the soul because of the shed blood of Jesus.
That is what we remember every time we come to the Table of Grace. We are reminded that we have been made right with God through Jesus’ blood.
Remember what Jesus did for you when He came into this world to die for your sins on the cross. Let Holy Communion today, and the next 4 weeks as we prepare for Easter be a time of worship for you as you look at the Cross.
Before we close I want to go back for a moment to the Upper Room that night.
So much of what we believe about the last supper has been taught to us through Leonardo da Vinci’s famous painting. It depicts Jesus and the twelve disciples seated behind a long table. But this was not how they observed the Passover. A beautiful piece of art it may be, but that picture is historically inaccurate and has caused much confusion about the Last Supper.
In Jesus’ time, the Jews had adopted the Roman style of eating. They reclined on pillows around a low table. Typically, they would lay down with their heads near the table, resting on their left elbow. The left hand would cradle the head and the right hand would be used to eat.
This helps to make sense of John 13:25. We’re told that John was reclining next to Jesus, and prompted by Peter, he asked who was going to betray Him. Verse 25 says, “Leaning back against Jesus, he asked Him, ‘Lord, who is it?’”
John in front of Him on his right and we also know that Judas was behind Him on Jesus’ left. This was how He was able to hand Judas the bread. It is interesting that while John could have leaned back and rested his head on Jesus, Jesus could have leaned back and rested His head on Judas. Judas was as close to Jesus as John was, but Judas was lost.
Many people are close to Jesus – close enough to reach out and touch Him, as it were, but in the words of John 6:53 again, “Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you.” Knowing about Jesus is just the start. You must know Him personally.
The words that Jesus spoke in Mark 14:26 were not just spoken about Judas. “The Son of Man will go just as it is written about Him.” Jesus went to the Cross – He was always going to. Then He continues, “But woe to that man who betrays the Son of Man! It would be better for him if he had not been born.” That’s not just Judas Iscariot He is talking to. He is talking to us. Those words apply to every human being, including each one of us here this morning. Judas would have been better off to have never lived, rather than to have lived and died lost. To live without Jesus is bad enough, but to die without Him is a tragedy greater than the mind can comprehend. The ultimate betrayal is to look at Jesus, look at the Cross and the blood, and say, “I don’t need you.” Judas committed suicide.
It’s been said before that God will not send anyone to hell. The people who are there and who will be going there have chosen to be there. To die without Jesus is spiritual suicide. Hell is a place where God is not, and it is a place you do not want to choose to be.
Just as Jesus reached out to Judas, He reaches out to each of us. He has done everything He can do to keep you from going to Hell.
If you are not saved yet, then you need to know this: The only person keeping you from being saved is you.
We can do this Sunday after Sunday. We can have Communion month after month, and we can observe Good Friday and Easter every year if we want to, but until such time as we decide to turn to Jesus, all of this means nothing.
Have you chosen Jesus yet? Where will you spend eternity? It all depends on what you do with Jesus.
Homegroup Study Notes
Read Exodus 12:1-13
Discuss in your group the many parallels we see in the original Passover Meal and the death of Jesus.
We are told throughout the Bible that God loves us, yet many people simply cannot understand the significance of the blood of Jesus as the way of salvation.
If God loves us so much, why can’t He just forgive us?
Why did Jesus have to die?
Read Mark 14:22-25
The disciples were yet to grasp the significance of how and why Jesus changed the Passover Meal that night, but we have the benefit of knowing how events were to unfold later that night and the next day.
How does Holy Communion remind us of the Passover?
How does it remind us of the Cross?
How does God use this Sacrament to remind us of the promises of eternity?
In which ways have we “become used” to Holy Communion that we easily miss the significance of coming to the Table?
What can we – with the Lord’s help – do to guard against such familiarity?