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Faith Bible Church, NY
June 11, 1995
The Last Passover
In last week’s sermon I stressed that man’s effort to be autonomous cannot compete with the sovereignty of God. Some of those same elements will again be seen in this morning’s sermon, though the stress this morning will be on Jesus changing the Old Testament observance of Passover and making in into the New Testament observance of Communion.
Turn to Matthew 26:17
Now on the first day of Unleavened Bread the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Where do You want us to prepare for You to eat the Passover?” And He said, “Go into the city to a certain man, and say to him, ‘The Teacher says, “My time is at hand; I am to keep the Passover at your house with My disciples.”‘” And the disciples did as Jesus had directed them; and they prepared the Passover.
Passover was the oldest of the Jewish religious feasts. It was instituted in Exodus 12 as the means by which God would make a distinction between His people and the Egyptians as the last plague came against that nation. God was going to kill the first born of every household that did not observe the sacrifice and feast He was commanding. An unblemished, year-old lamb was to be killed on the 14th of the month with its blood spread on the door post, and lintel of the house, and when the death angel would see that blood he would “Passover” that house. Other elements, such as the manner in which the lamb was cooked and eaten and the type of bread to be eaten, were also detailed. This meal was also commanded to be held again every year as a reminder of the Lord’s deliverance of Israel from their bondage in Egypt.
Passover did take quite a bit of time to prepare. Not mentioned in any of the gospel accounts but required by the Mosaic Law, was that the lamb had to be chosen and brought home on the 10th of the month, which was that Monday, the day of Christ’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem. It is now Thursday, the first day of Unleavened Bread according to our text, and the disciples come to Jesus wanting to know where they were going to eat the Passover meal that evening so they could make preparations.
The feast of Unleavened Bread was closely related to Passover. Both were instituted at the same time, and both were memorial observances of the exodus from Egypt. Passover particularly focusing on escape from the last plague and the feast of unleavened bread the haste in which they left Egypt; so fast that there was no time for the bread to rise (Ex 12:35). The feast of Unleavened Bread began with the Passover meal and lasted seven days, so Passover was often referred to as the first day of Unleavened Bread.
Jesus’ answer is somewhat clandestine: go see a “certain man” yet, Jesus never names the fellow. From Luke we find out that Jesus sent Peter and John to go prepare the meal, and that this certain man would be identified to them because he would be carrying a pitcher of water. It was very unusual for a man to carry water. That was a chore normally left for women and children to do, so this man would stand out in the crowd.
Why be so secretive? Jesus was already aware of Judas’ traitorous bargain with the chief priests, so Jesus answers in a way that only those who are involved in the Passover preparation would find out the location before it was celebrated that evening. Judas would be unable to tip off Jesus enemies until after the Passover meal was over.
Notice what Jesus tells the Peter and John to tell the “certain man” in verse 18.
First, Jesus tells them to identify Him as “the Teacher.” This indicates that this man was already familiar with Jesus, and was probably one of His followers. Jesus may have made arrangements with this fellow earlier in the week to have Passover at his home.
Second, Jesus says that His “time is at hand.” This is not “chronos,” a general space of succession of time, but “kairos,” a specific and often predetermined period or moment of time. Efforts that had been made earlier to kill Jesus were thwarted because Jesus “time was not yet come.” Jesus could not be murdered prior to God’s predetermined time for His death at Passover. Now it was Passover, and His “time was at hand,” and as I pointed out last week, His murder could not be delayed even by those who would commit the crime (cf. vs. 5).
Jesus’ time was at hand, but first He must keep the Passover meal with the disciples. Again this is a statement of God’s sovereignty. No effort of man could keep Him from accomplishing what remained because there were still things He had to teach His disciples, and He had to establish the memorial meal that would replace Passover. The shadow from the past would be replaced by the reality of the present and the hope for the future.
Verse 19 tells us that “the disciples did as Jesus had directed them; and they prepared the Passover.” What other events took place that day the Scripture does not record. We do know that Jerusalem would have been extremely crowded that day. The Jewish historian Josephus records that on a normal Passover of that time, over 250,000 lambs would be slain. Since tradition required 10-20 people for each lamb (enough to eat the whole thing), there would easily be 2.5 to three million people in the city. What Jesus and the other disciples did that day we do not know. We do know that two disciples would have gone to the temple between 3 and 5 o’clock to sacrifice the lamb. Exodus 12:6 required the lamb to be slain “at twilight” or literally, “between the two evenings.” This works out to being between the 9th and 11th hours of the Jewish day, or between 3 and 5 o’clock in our reckoning. Only two people would be allowed into the temple area per lamb to reduce the crowding.
When evening had come, everything was prepared and Jesus brought the rest of the disciples to the place He had been secretive about before. Verse 9, “Now when evening had come, He was reclining at the table with the twelve disciples.”
Contrary to Renaissance paintings which picture the scene with Jesus and the disciples sitting at a European style table with Jesus in the middle, they are instead lying down, reclining, at a low oriental style table. They are reclining around the table in a horseshoe manner with one end of the table left open for the servants to be able to serve the food. John is at the first position on the left with Jesus next, then Judas in the place of honor, then the other disciples around the table finishing with Peter at the last place on the right. This arrangement accounts for the various conversations that take place during the meal.
The meal has started with several events having already taken place by the time our text picks up the account again. The meal starts with a cup of red wine mixed with a double portion of water to ensure no one would even get tipsy during the celebration. A prayer of thanksgiving was offered along with the cup.
Next, the host would ceremonially wash his hands. It would be at this point that Jesus, according to John’s account, also washed the disciple’s feet (John 13). This was an act and an example of humble service to His proud and sometime arrogant disciples.
The next po rtion of the meal involved eating bitter herbs along with a thick mixture of ground raisins, dates, nuts, and apples called, “charoseth.” It was a symbol of the bitter bondage they had in Egypt with the charoseth a reminder of the mud they had used to make bricks.
It would seem that our text picks up the events here – verse 21. And as they were eating, He said, “Truly I say to you that one of you will betray Me.” And being deeply grieved, they each one began to say to Him, “Surely not I, Lord?”
This was a startling revelation to them. Jesus had been telling that He would suffer and be killed and they knew the religious leaders were seeking to kill Him, but they were shocked to learn that one of them would be a traitor. They had been together for two years and been through many things together during that time. How could one of them who was now sharing the Passover meal with Jesus also be a traitor? Sharing a such a meal together was a great mark of friendship, so this compounded the betrayal that would take place. Understandably then, each was grieved.
They were at a loss of who to suspect. Luke tells us that they began to discuss among themselves who it could be, then in complete admission of how wicked and self-deceived their own hearts could be, each one began to ask to the Lord if it was he. They were open to the possibility that they might somehow be ignorantly responsible for betraying the Lord.
Jesus did not relieve their personal fears. Verse 23: And He answered and said, “He who dipped his hand with Me in the bowl is the one who will betray Me. 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.” Every single one of them had dipped into the bowl with Jesus.
At the same time Jesus pointed out again that the betrayal was not obstructing God’s plans, but that God was actually going to use it to accomplish His purposes. Jesus’ warning to His betrayer was stern and sobering, yet an act of compassion even at this time to the one that would be so cruel. It is a warning that no earthly gain would compensate for an end so horrible that it would be better to have never existed.
Incredibly, Judas’ ignores the warning and in brazen insolence responds in verse 25, And Judas, who was betraying Him, answered and said, “Surely it is not I, Rabbi?” He uses a term of respect for Jesus, “Rabbi,” but does not call Jesus, “Lord,” as all the other disciples did. Jesus affirms that Judas was the betrayer and said to him, “You have said it yourself.” Because Judas was next to Jesus, the other disciples did not hear what Jesus had said. John 13 tells us that Jesus also told Judas at this point, “What you do, do quickly,” and Judas left. The other disciples are still confused and do not suspect Judas even when he leaves to complete his dastardly deed. They supposed that because he was the treasurer he was going to get more supplies or give a gift to the poor.
A second cup of wine and singing from the Hallel (Psalms 113-118) followed by the lamb itself. As the meal progresses, matzo, unleavened bread, is passed along with a third cup of wine called the “cup of blessing” because a special blessing was pronounced over it. It would be at this point that our Lord changes Passover into the Last Supper.
Verse 26, And 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.” And when He had taken a cup and given thanks, He gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you; for this is My blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for forgiveness of sins. 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.” And after singing a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.
Jesus took the elements of Passover and changed their meaning. The unleavened bread was baked in large, flat, crisp loaves. Jesus took some of it and broke it into pieces for His disciples. He offered a blessing of thanksgiving for it as He always did for whatever He had to eat and then passed the pieces out to the disciples. Then He said, “Take, eat; this is My body.” Luke adds that Jesus also said, “This is My body which is given for you; do this in remembrance of Me.”
The unleavened bread had been a symbol of the severance of Israel from their bondage in Egypt. It denoted a separation from the pagan or oppressive (the leaven) that would be left behind as they went to the Promised Land where they would begin a new life of holiness and godliness. The matzo would symbolize Jesus Christ Himself who gave Himself up in our behalf that we might be separated from sin and unto godliness.
There had been no confusion among Christians about the meaning of this until about the 11th century. Pagans had accused Christians of cannibalism because they ate bread that was supposedly “Christ’s body,” but the Christians understood perfectly that it was done “in remembrance of [Him]” and defended that position. It could only be symbolic, not literal. Jesus said it was to be in “remembrance of Me.” In addition, Jesus was standing there with His body fully intact when He offered the bread to the disciples. His body and the bread were clearly distinct. And finally, the disciples would have rejected the bread if it was to be considered to actually be Jesus literal body. Cannibalism was abhorrent to the Jews and was considered a sign of God’s judgment when it occurred.
Yet, despite the clearly symbolic language used, the context in which it was said, and the Jewish reaction to cannibalism, transubstantiation (the doctrine that says that the bread and wine become the literal flesh and blood of Jesus after it is blessed by the priest) was declared official dogma of the Roman Catholic Church by the Fourth Lateran Council in 1215. The Roman Church had moved so far away from a foundation in the Bible that the wild speculation of the scholastics and the mystical stories among some of the people prevailed over the clear reading of the Scriptures themselves.
The same is true of the cup. Our text says that when He had taken a cup and given thanks, He gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you; for this is My blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for forgiveness of sins.” The term, “Eucharist” comes from the verb here translated as “give thanks.” The wine here is purely symbolic. Jesus’ blood was still in Him and the wine in the cup was just wine. For them to view the wine as the literal blood of Jesus and then drink it would have been directly against God’s command in Gen. 9:4; Lev. 17:12,14 and Deut. 12:23 not to eat the blood of any manner of flesh. The disciples understood very clearly the symbolic nature of what Jesus was talking about.
The blood symbolized here is significant in three ways. First, a covenant had to be ratified with blood. In the common covenants made between people; some animal (often a dove, a sheep or a cow) would be sacrificed to seal the vows made. The individuals would cut the animals in two, and then walk between the halves. It was in effect saying, “may this be done to me if I break my promises to you.” God did this with Abraham in Gen. 15 with God Himself going between the animal halves. Jesus was going to ratify a new covenant in which salvation is brought by faith in Him and a life of holiness is assisted by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.
Second, there could be no remission of sins without the shedding of blood, for the life is in the blood (Lev. 17:14; Heb. 9:22). Sin brings death and so the sacrifice had to die a bloody death as the payment for sin. Jesus would die the next day as God’s sacrifice to pay for man’s sin.
Third, the setting is a Passover meal which was a memorial of the first Passover in which a lamb had to be slain and its blood spread on the doorposts and lin tel as a covering for the family so that the death angel would “Passover” them and the first born would live. This was now being changed as Jesus pointed out with the cup that it would be His blood that would be shed to deliver man from sin’s judgment. Jesus, the lamb of God would become the final Passover lamb the next day.
A question that does arise for us is how Jesus could celebrate Passover on Thursday, and yet Jesus be crucified as the final Passover lamb on Friday. Matthew, Mark and Luke are all very definite that Jesus and the disciples celebrated a Passover meal. John’s gospel is very definite that Jesus died on Passover itself. As I mentioned earlier, Mosaic law required that the Passover lamb be sacrificed on Nisan 14 between 3 and 5 o’clock by our reckoning. How could both Thursday & Friday be Nisan 14?
I was intrigued by this question myself. Liberal writers just considered that either Matthew, Mark and Luke were wrong, or John was wrong. That is not an option to us who hold to the inerrancy of Scripture. Some more conservative commentators hold that the Thursday meal was held in anticipation of Passover, but that fails to account for Jesus’ statements that it was a Passover meal. Others hold that John’s account refers to the sacrifice made on the day after Passover as part of the feast of Unleavened Bread. This has some merit, but again fails to account for John’s clear language.
The answer seems to be held in the fact that the Jews accepted a dual method of determining dates. The northern Jews, from which Jesus and the disciples were from, and the Pharisees held to a system that counted dates from sunrise to sunrise. The southern Jews, including Jerusalem, and the Sadducees (which included many of the priests) calculated dates from sunset to sunset. This dual system certainly caused some confusion, but it also helped out in very practical ways. On Passover for example, it actually allowed two periods of time over which all the sacrifices could be made. It may have also helped reduce both regional and religious clashes between the two groups.
Jesus and the disciples held Passover according to the Galilean reckoning by which Nisan 14 began at sunrise on Thursday. This is the perspective taken by Matthew, Mark, and Luke. John (who was a priest) takes the perspective of Jerusalem Jews and calculates Nisan 14 as starting on Thursday evening and ending on Friday evening. The result of this is that Jesus celebrates Passover on Thursday and is Himself crucified as the final Passover lamb on Friday. Passover from that time on has been, as John MacArthur put it so well, “a remnant of a of a bygone economy, an extinct dispensation, and expired covenant… a religious relic.” It is the shadow of the reality that came with Christ.
This new memorial meal will not just look back into time to something that was done, but it will also look forward in time to something that will be done. Verse 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.” Those who place their trust in Jesus are also promised that they will one day be with Jesus in His Father’s kingdom and share the cup with Him. The phrase, “fruit of the vine,” is a Jewish colloquialism for wine. What a wonderful day that will be when we are with Jesus in His kingdom. We will not have these frail and failing bodies, but glorified bodies. Our struggle against sin will be ended for our sanctification will be complete. We will even be able to enjoy wine with our savior without any fear of it being abused as it is now.
After the Passover meal was ended they completed in the traditional fashion, with a hymn, probably Psalm 118, the last Psalm of the Hallel. The first four lines of which say, Give thanks to the LORD, for He is good; For His lovingkindness is everlasting. Oh let Israel say, “His lovingkindness is everlasting.” Oh let the house of Aaron say, “His lovingkindness is everlasting.” Oh let those who fear the LORD say, “His lovingkindness is everlasting.” Can you say that this morning?
Throughout the Old Testament we find animals being sacrificed for man’s sin. God did it when He clothed Adam & Eve after their fall into sin. Abel did it and received God’s favor. Job did it for himself and on behalf of his family. Abraham rejoiced when God provided the ram caught in the thicket as a substitute for his son. Israel did it at the first Passover. It was part of the Mosaic Law. But God ended the sacrificial system with Jesus, the final Passover lamb, the final sacrifice.
In a few minutes we are going to celebrate this memorial meal which we call the Lord’s Supper. But before we do we want to give you an opportunity to reflect and examine yourselves as Scripture admonishes us to do. If you know the Lord Jesus Christ as your Lord you are welcome to join in this celebration with us. If you do not, we would ask you to just quietly pass the elements along without taking anything for the would mean nothing to you and you would actually be bringing upon yourself God’s judgment against you. But you can become a Christian right now where you seat if you will use the next few minutes to confess to God that you are sinful, that you want His forgiveness, and that you do believe the death of Jesus, God in human flesh, on the cross is sufficient payment for your sins. Tell God that you want to follow Christ and you want the Holy Spirit to indwell you. He will keep His promises and answer that prayer.
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