Monday, March 21, 2016

The Last Supper, Part One

The Last Supper
Part One

Today we begin our look at The Last Supper and I feel we can't do it justice without taking some time to discuss the Passover and the eating of the Seder meal and the drinking of the four cups. The disciples obeyed Jesus about finding a room in which to share the Passover and today we find them gathered in the room for the meal. As a Gentile, I had to do some background study on Passover and I hope I have understood these things correctly. In cases like this we have to depend on historians and Bible scholars and Jewish websites to help us.

It appears from the gospels that the evening meal known as The Last Supper takes place on the first day of Passover, which would make this the Seder meal. Right after the disciples find the upper room, these gospels tell us that when evening came, the Lord Jesus had the meal there with the disciples. This meal would include lamb, bitter herbs, and unleavened bread. These three items were accompanied by other foods and there would be four cups of wine. A person would celebrate this meal with their family and we see Jesus celebrating it with His closest family: the disciples. My husband and I have eaten several Seder meals with my mother-in-law at her church and I found it to be very meaningful and spiritual to take part in a dinner our Lord also took part in. The Passover celebrates the rescue of Israel from their slavery in Egypt and the passing over of the tenth plague which killed all the firstborn of Egypt, for the Israelites sacrificed lambs and painted the blood on the doorposts, and then the angel of death passed over their houses. Today, as Christians, we can celebrate Passover because of the new covenant made between God and man with the blood of Christ. We celebrate our rescue from the slavery of sin and our assurance that we will be passed over and saved from eternal separation from God by the blood of the Lamb: the Lord Jesus Christ.
According to the Jewish Virtual Library website and several other sources, I will present the order of the four cups of Passover here. If I make any mistakes, please forgive me, since I am unfamiliar with many of these customs and I may misunderstand some things. We won't be able to study every detail of the meal here but will try and hit the major points about the cups. There woulds be the Kaddesh, a blessing said over the first cup of wine, "Blessed are You, oh Lord our God, King of the universe, who creates the fruit of the vine." Isn't it awesome to know that when the disciples said this blessing, they were saying it with the One who is the Lord and King, the Creator of the universe and the Maker of the fruit of the vine? They then drink this cup and the second cup is poured. 

Here we see why Bible scholars believe John is the youngest of the disciples, for he is next to Jesus and leans upon him. John seems to have taken the position of the youngest son who asks the question of the father, "Why is this night different from other nights?" The gospels don't specifically tell us that John asks this question, but later when Jesus mentions His impending betrayal, Peter motions to John to ask Jesus what He means, because John is closest to Jesus. This is when John leans against Jesus and asks, "Lord, who is it?" (John 13:25) By John's close proximity to Jesus, we can assume that he took the place of youngest son as Jesus took the place of father, and John would ask the questions that would lead to Jesus telling the Maggid, which is the story of the exodus from Egypt and the first Passover. Jesus would answer John by saying, "It is because of that which the Lord did for me when I came out of Egypt." At the end of the Maggid, they recite a blessing over the second cup and then they drink it.

The third cup is poured but not consumed until after the meal has been eaten. This blessing would be said prior to the meal, "Blessed are You, Lord God, who brings forth bread from the earth." Then, after the meal, a blessing would be said over the third cup and they would drink it. Then the fourth cup is poured.

Before the fourth cup they would recite the Hallel, which is comprised of Psalms 113-118, which you may want to read to see the exact Psalms that Jesus and the disciples recite at this point. It is believed that this fourth cup is the one that Jesus does not drink of but says, "I tell you, I will not drink from this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it new with you in My Father's kingdom." (Matthew 26:29) This symbolizes what would be said at the end of a meal, "Next year in Jerusalem!" I had a difficult time trying to interpret the meaning of this. In one sense it represents the Jews who are dispersed thru the world (the Diaspora, a word which means "to scatter seed", indicating the Jews being scattered among the nations) and a looking toward Jerusalem as the holy city of God and their inability to be there to celebrate the Passover feast. It also hearkens back to the times when Israel was captive in other lands and longed to be in Jerusalem. In another sense it's the looking forward to the coming of Messiah and His kingdom. It signifies the hope of Israel that Messiah will come before Passover of the next year. Jesus, in saying that He wont drink of the cup until He drinks it new in the kingdom, is saying that He will share this cup in the New Jerusalem with those who have been redeemed by His blood. We are still waiting to drink the fourth cup with Him in the Father's kingdom. Jesus has reserved that celebratory cup to drink with us there. When Jesus concluded the meal by saying, "Next year in Jerusalem!", He meant the New Jerusalem, not the earthly city. When followers of Christ celebrate the Seder meal, we are looking forward to that new city made by ours Lord.

Luke tells us that, "When the hour came, Jesus and His disciples reclined at the table." (Luke 22:14) This is how we know it's the fourth cup after the meal that Jesus doesn't drink of because they are reclining now. The Passover meal was meant to be eaten standing up, just as the children of Israel ate it standing up before the Exodus from Egypt. They have finished the meal and are reclining at the table now. Jesus presents to the disciples the new covenant of His blood at this Passovee. He uses this final Passover with the disciples to present Himself as the Lamb who takes away the sins of the world. These cups that are consumed during the Passover with His disciples represent two characteristics of God: mercy and judgment. God mercifully rescued Israel from Egypt and mercifully passed over their firstborn sons by passing over those homes that had the blood of the lamb applied to them. At the same time, as a righteous God, He has to judge sin and so we owe a debt for our transgressions. A lamb was used sacrificially on a yearly basis at Passover not just as an observance of rescue from Egypt but as an observance that we are sinners and that no redemption is accomplished without bloodshed. The lambs of the sacrificial system were a substitution for the blood the sinner owed for his sins. Rather than taking our lives as the penalty, God accepted our repentance and the blood of sacrifices in place of our own blood. 

Jesus, as the holy Lamb of God, sacrificed His own blood in our place. He acted on our behalf as High Priest. And just as the High Priest went in once a year to the holy of holies to present the blood of the sacrifice to roll back the sins of the nation for another year, Jesus entered into the holy of holies in heaven to present His blood once and for all to roll back the sins of all mankind forever. Whoever accepts Christ as their Savior can now trust in Him to make them right when they stand before the Judge.

God, in His great mercy, spared the firstborn of Israel at the first Passover. But also in His great mercy He didn't spare His own firstborn Son. God gave His one and only Son, perfect and holy and without any sin, so that we sinners could become the sons and daughters of God. We are joint-heirs with Christ in the kingdom of our God. (Romans 8:17) Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us (1 Corinthians 5:7). The Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world (John 1:29) willingly laid down His life for us and shed His blood for us on a cross like a criminal. We, the true criminals, get into the kingdom of God on grace alone. We will someday bow before the One who took our sins upon Himself. We will behold the nail scars in His hands and feet. We will see the scar where the spear entered His heart which was broken for us. And we will praise the one and only holy spotless Lamb of God forever and ever. We bless Your name, Lord Jesus, that You, the sinless One, gave Your life for us. We were sinners, broken and useless and unprofitable in every way, yet You loved us and allowed Your body to be broken and Your blood to be spilled on our behalf. We glorify and praise Your name for this indescribable gift. Amen.

Next I want to look at the bread that Jesus blesses and breaks, the bread that symbolizes His body broken for us. Then we will look at the cup which symbolizes His blood shed for us.

"And He said to them, 'I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. For I tell you, I will not eat it again until it finds fulfillment in the kingdom of God." (Luke 22:15-16) Jesus wanted to use this final meal with the disciples to show them how it represented Himself, the Lamb of God. They weren't going to understand all the things He said and did at the supper but later on, after the resurrection and the ascension of Jesus to heaven, all these things would become clear. This will be the last time Jesus celebrates Passover until He celebrates it with us, the redeemed, in heaven. 

"After taking the cup, He gave thanks and said, 'Take this and divide it among you. For I tell you I will not drink again from the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes. (Luke 22:17) Jesus doesn't drink the fourth cup after the meal, but He had one more cup to drink on earth. It was the cup of wrath and judgment. We will see later on this week that Jesus, praying in the Garden of Gethsemane, says, "Father, if You are willing, take this cup form Me. Yet not My will, but Yours be done." (Luke 22:42) 

Jesus was about to drink the cup of wrath and judgment so we wouldn't have to. We deserve to drink the cup of judgment for our sins. But Jesus was willing to drink this cup in our place. On the cross, Jesus literally "became sin". (2 Corinthians 5:21) In becoming sin, He took all the consequences and punishment of our sins on Himself. It was a dreadful cup and Jesus, in an agony of sorrow, asked the Father if there was any other way to save mankind. I don't believe it's the cross or its suffering He is speaking of but that Jesus is speaking of the judgment of the holy and righteous Father and the turning away of the Father as Jesus became sin in our place. On the cross, Jesus will repeat the words of the Messianic Psalm 22, "My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?" Sin requires judgment and so the spotless Lamb of God became sin for us, causing the Father to have to draw back and turn His face away. Through all eternity, Jesus had never been separated from the Father. But while drinking this dreadful cup on our behalf, He experienced the withdrawal of the Father's presence. 

God could have rescued Jesus at any time but it would have meant turning away from mankind forever. Jesus could have used His own miraculous strength to come off the cross but that would have sealed our doom. Jesus drank the cup of wrath so that someday we can drink the cup of blessing with Him in heaven. He has reserved a cup of joy for the day when the bride comes home to live with Him forever, the bride He purchased for Himself with His own blood. 

"And He took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, 'This is My body given for you; do this in remembrance of Me.'" (Luke 22:19) We still observe the Lord's Supper when we take Communion. The bread represents the broken body of Christ and the wine or grape juice represents the blood He shed for us. We do these things to remember what He did. Jesus, the bread of life, was broken on our behalf. His body suffered the scourging of Roman whips that tore into His flesh. A crown of wicked thorns was shoved cruelly onto the head of our Redeemer rather than the royal crown He rightfully deserved. Nails pierced His hands and feet. A sword pierced His side. The rough wood of the cross pressed against His wounded back. The bread we take at Communion stands for the suffering that the Lord took for our sake and that is why it is such a solemn occasion, for we know that the just died for the unjust.

We conclude today with a quote I came across while doing background study for today's passage. It was written by a man named Roger Rusk. "Who died on the cross? The Blessed God, the God of splendor of Genesis 5:12-17, who came down teaching that His death would bring comfort to the despairing. Who died on the cross? The smoking furnace and the burning lamp who walked between the pieces of death pledging His life as surety for the promises of Abraham. Who died on the cross? The Husband-Redeemer of Israel, who loved His adulterous wife so much that He desired to transform her into a chaste virgin whom He could marry again. Who died on the cross? The born Child whose name is Wonderful Counselor, the Son given, whose name is the Everlasting Father. Who died on the cross? The Mighty God who bared His strong arm in the eyes of all nations, and all the ends of the earth have seen His salvation. Who died on the cross? The coming Prince of Peace."

Our worship song link is below.
Jesus Messiah

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