The “Last” Supper
Welcome to River City – my name is Rodney, and it is great to be with you here this morning. If you’re new, we are going through the book of Luke verse by verse, chapter by chapter, and we are in Luke 22, so I invite you to open your copy of scripture, and we’re going to dive into this passage today.
For some context to help set the scene for where things are headed today, let’s start back in verse 1. The Festival of Unleavened Bread, which is called Passover, was approaching.
We’ve talked about Passover before, but I want us all on the same page, so I’m going to briefly explain it again. This meal celebrates a very specific moment in Israel’s history. They had been slaves in Egypt for 400 years, God had heard their cries, saw their situation, and moved to do something about it. He raised up a man named Moses to be the “deliverer.” At God’s command, Moses approached Pharaoh, the king of Egypt, and asked that he would let the Israelites go into the wilderness so they would worship Yahweh.
If you’re familiar with the story, you know that Pharaoh wasn’t about to lose his entire workforce, so he said no. In response to his hardness of heart, God began to carry out 10 plagues on Pharaoh and all of Egypt, one at a time, beginning with turning all of the water in the rivers, lakes, streams, etc, into blood.
9 times Moses asks him to let God’s people go, and 9 times Pharaoh refuses. Each time, Yahweh showed his power by unleashing a unique plague on the Egyptians that their own gods or magicians could not deal with. For the tenth and final plague, God was going to show that he alone is Lord over life and death.
And for this, God required the Israelites to share a meal together. But God was very specific about this meal. The main course is unleavened bread… you don’t have time to wait for the bread to rise… and a pure, spotless lamb. It must be killed on the 14th day of the month Abib, eaten after dark, and you need to eat with your suitcase in hand, coat on, ready to move…eat it quickly, your deliverance is very close. Anything left over from the lamb after supper… burn it.
God told them that the angel of death was coming into Egypt that night to bring judgment by killing every firstborn son, whether it was humans or animals, slave or free. However, anyone who trusted Yahweh’s instruction to paint some of the lamb’s blood on the doorposts of their house, would be spared. No death would come to that house. The angel would see the blood and pass over. Hence the name of the meal, the Passover.
That of course is exactly what happened. Not a house in Egypt was without someone dead, Exodus 12 says. Pharaoh lost his own firstborn son, the heir to his throne, and in desperation, told Moses to take the people and get out of here.
God instructed that in the future, the Passover meal on the 14th of Abib must be followed by a 7 day festival called the Feast of Unleavened Bread, during which the only work anyone was allowed to do was to make more food. The sole purpose of this Feast was to remember. In fact a huge part of this is that your kids will wonder what in the world you’re doing, and it gives you a chance to tell them… “By the strength of his hand Yahweh led us out of Egypt, out of the place of slavery. When Pharaoh stubbornly refused to let us go, Yahweh killed every firstborn male in the land of Egypt. Son, Daughter – don’t forget…Yahweh brought us out of Egypt by the strength of his hand.”
That’s the holiday Jesus and all the others are in Jerusalem to celebrate. The name of the month was changed over time, but it’s the 14th.
The chief priests and the scribes were looking for a way to put [Jesus] to death, because they were afraid of the people. Quite specifically, they were afraid that the people would abandon them for Jesus, so they wanted him gone.
3 Then Satan entered Judas, called Iscariot, who was numbered among the Twelve. 4 He went away and discussed with the chief priests and temple police how he could hand him over to them. 5 They were glad and agreed to give him silver. 6 So he accepted the offer and started looking for a good opportunity to betray him to them when the crowd was not present.
These religious leaders now have an insider, a mole, a traitor, who knows Jesus’ routines and his schedules inside and out, and he is offering to give Jesus up to them the first chance he gets.
7 Then the Day of Unleavened Bread came when the Passover lamb had to be sacrificed. 8 Jesus sent Peter and John, saying,“Go and make preparations for us to eat the Passover.”
This was not simply asking them to go set the table. One of the disciples would have already been toting around a clean and pure white lamb for a couple of days, ever since they came into Jerusalem, and so preparing the meal (as verse 7 says) meant taking the lamb to the temple between 3:30 pm and 5:30 pm, standing in crowds of thousands of worshipers there to do the same thing, which was: slit the lamb’s throat in front of the altar, collecting it’s blood into a bowl and having one of the priests throw the blood on the altar, and the whole time you are singing Psalms 113-118 about God’s power to deliver. Then, you would skin and field dress the lamb, throw its fat and kidneys on the altar to burn, wrap the carcass in the hide, and out you go, making room for the person behind you.
Then they would go to a home or a room in the city that would have been reserved or pre-arranged for the Passover meal. Peter and John would have this lamb with them – they would give the hide to their host, and then in the courtyard of the home, the lamb would be roasted in a clay oven on a spit pole. None of the lamb’s bones were allowed to be broken, so it was roasted completely intact.
For them to find the room completely furnished meant it was set up with the table just above the floor and cushions around it for people to recline on. There would have been other food items to spread out as well, bitter herbs, vegetables, salt water, etc, every bit of which was a symbolic part of the story of God’s rescuing them from Egypt (Wilson, 244-245).
Each person who came to the Passover feast would dress in white, and was expected to come with the mindset that they themselves were one of the people set free from slavery in Egypt. They were to act as if they had been a slave who was released. This was a very joyful and festive time!
And if you’re thinking, okay this sounds very ritualistic, uh, we aren’t that far off when we celebrate July 4. Guests are invited. The place is carefully prepared. Our main course is often brats and burgers, grilled on the patio or the deck… the ritual clothing we wear is some version of the American flag or at least some combo of red/white and blue, and then we all join the masses in one city or another to watch fireworks. It’s a ritual we perform on the same day every year.
But I’ve never been to a 4th of July party where the host got everyone quieted down halfway through the brats and the beers and said, let me read about the War for Independence. Or let me read about how the founding fathers met secretly to write up the documents that became the constitution and the declaration…and while I do, I want you to treat this day like you were one of the colonists.
But that’s where the Passover really came to life. Every element of the entire meal told part of the story of rescue from Egypt. Salt water represented tears. The unleavened bread represented affliction. Horseradish represented the bitterness of slavery. Peter and John would have had to gather up all of those items, as well as mix some water and wine together. So that’s what they are up to all afternoon while Jesus is teaching at the temple and Judas looks for a chance to betray him.
Verse 14 – When the hour came, he reclined at the table, and the apostles with him. 15 Then he said to them,“I have fervently desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer.
Literally translated, this means, “With desire I have desired” to eat with you. Jesus has strongly been looking forward to this exact meal before he suffers, because he’s going to show them how this meal has pointed to him all along, and how he is ushering in the kingdom they’ve all been waiting for. But he’s looking forward to this one because it’s his last one for a while. Then he said, 16 For I tell you, I will not eat it again until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.”
Jesus then takes the lead as the host of the meal, which traditionally begins with the first cup of wine. 17 Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks, he said,“Take this and share it among yourselves. 18 For I tell you, from now on I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.”
Traditionally, that first cup is the cup of sanctification, of blessing, of joy. Jesus’ prayer of thanks would have gone something like this:
“Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the universe, who has chosen us from among all people, and raised us above all nations, and made us holy through His commandments. And You, Lord our God, have lovingly given us festivals for happiness, feasts and festive seasons for rejoicing! The day of this Feast of Unleavened Bread to be called holy, the Season of our Freedom to be called holy, commemorating the departure from Egypt. For You have chosen us and sanctified us from all the nations, and You have given us as a heritage Your holy Festivals in happiness and joy. Blessed are You, Lord, who sanctifies Israel and gives us the festive seasons.”
Then they would drink the first cup. After this cup, they would have all jumped up, and headed for a bowl of water to wash their hands. Even if you washed them before dinner, you’re doing it again here, because the next thing you’ll do is pick up a small vegetable off their plates or their table, and dipped it in salt water as they said another blessing.
Up next is one of the main players in the meal: the bread. Recalling the unleavened bread of the original Passover, there were three pieces of flatbread on the table. At this point in the meal, the host picks up the middle piece of the three, and rips it in half, leaving the smaller half there, and then taking the larger half, wrapping it in a linen cloth, and hiding it or putting it aside for later.
This is probably what Jesus is doing in verse 19 when he took bread, gave thanks, broke it… But instead of putting one half back and hiding the other, he gave it to them, and said,“This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.”
I’m guessing there would have been some confusion here, like, hold up, this isn’t how we’ve always done things. But Jesus knows what they don’t know… that middle piece of bread that you break and hide some of it for a while, and no one is really sure why – Yeah, the middle person of the Trinity, Father/Son/Spirit, is going to be broken for you like that bread. Just like you wrap that piece in a linen cloth and hide it until later, his body is going to be wrapped in a burial cloth and hidden away in a borrowed tomb for a short time too! Just like this dough is punctured to keep it from rising, his body will be punctured with nails through his hands and feet.
At this point, the group would have rehearsed the story of God delivering the Israelites from Egypt. It’s very detailed and precise, and covers the history of how they ended up in Egypt in the first place, how they became slaves, the bitterness of slavery, the feelings of despair and hopelessness, God’s provision of Moses and his brother Aaron, and Pharaoh’s stubbornness. And when they got to the part about the 10 plagues, they would have filled up cup #2, which was the cup of judgment, or the cup of plagues.
Only for this one, you didn’t drink the full cup. You spilled it out, little by little, into a bowl, as you recited the plagues and recalled God’s judgment and his wrath poured out on those stubborn and hard-hearted Egyptians.
When you were done speaking of God’s judgment, you stopped spilling the wine, and whatever was left over, they blessed again by singing two Psalms. At this point, they would finish what was left of that cup, open up the unleavened bread, bring out the lamb and piece of bread they had hidden away earlier, and eat the meal together.
When the meal was over, they would have filled the third glass of wine, which seems to be the one in verse 20, where Luke writes, in the same way he also took the cup after supper and said, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you.
This third cup is the cup of Redemption. This would be the cup where they would recall God’s miraculous salvation, where they got out of Egypt, and God led them across the Red Sea to safety showing his rescuing power all along the way. But Jesus again re-purposes one of the elements of the meal. Just like he did with the bread, Jesus now holds up this cup of redemption and assigns it a new meaning.
The Old Covenant was based on obedience to the Law. However, the Law didn’t save anyone – it just revealed how often they sinned (Romans 3:20). These sins had to be atoned for with death – but in his mercy, ever since the Garden of Eden, God had accepted an animal sacrifice as a substitute for the person who should be dying for their own sin. The old covenant was marked by the priests throwing the lamb's blood on the altar, just like Peter and John would have done earlier in the day.
The blood of a lamb, or a bull, or a dove covered over the sins of the people until a right sacrifice could be made. Which meant that the Passover meal wasn’t just remembering that one night in Egypt. It was also a yearly reminder that God continued to pass over all of their sins until a right sacrifice could be made.
But even Yahweh himself knew that this old covenant was temporary. In Jeremiah 31:31-34, God told about a new covenant that was on the way. 31 “Look, the days are coming” — this is the Lord’s declaration — “when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah. 32 This one will not be like the covenant I made with their ancestors on the day I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt — my covenant that they broke even though I am their master” — the Lord’s declaration. 33 “Instead, this is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after those days” — the Lord’s declaration. “I will put my teaching within them and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. 34 No longer will one teach his neighbor or his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they will all know me, from the least to the greatest of them” — this is the Lord’s declaration. “For I will forgive their iniquity and never again remember their sin.
Jesus holds up that cup of redemption and says, it’s happening NOW! This cup now marks the new covenant, a new deliverance, the true salvation, which is about to be sealed with my blood, which is poured out on the cross for you. In other words – Redemption and a new covenant is going to be yours now, not because of a lamb’s blood, but because of mine. Redemption will come to you through a substitute, but this time it won’t be an animal – I will be the substitute.
Jesus doesn’t say this is A new covenant… he says this is THE new covenant. This is what Yahweh was talking about in Jeremiah! You are the new covenant people of God under my blood, where your sins are forgiven and never brought up again. Your sins are no longer Passed Over – they are taken away, as far as the east is from the west!
So from now on, Jesus says, in verse 19, when you take the bread and break it, let it point you to me. Verse 20, when you take the cup of redemption, let it point you to me.
Being fully God, I think this is what Jesus was looking forward to when he said I have eagerly desired to eat this meal with you…he couldn’t wait to hold up that cup of redemption and say, as excited as you guys are now to celebrate the old old story of God’s deliverance, I can’t wait for you to see the chapter that’s being written tonight.
Being fully human, even as Jesus was fired up about this moment, he also began to experience the uneasiness of what he was about to suffer. John’s gospel adds that Jesus was troubled in his spirit, and then he let everyone in the room know 21 But look, the hand of the one betraying me is at the table with me. 22 For the Son of Man will go away as it has been determined, but woe to that man by whom he is betrayed! ” 23 So they began to argue among themselves which of them it could be who was going to do it.
At some point here, again according to John’s gospel, Jesus would have looked at Judas and said, “Do what you’re going to do, and do it quickly,” and at that, Judas would’ve got up and got out of there to go tell the religious leaders where Jesus would be after the meal.
Jesus knew what Judas was about to do, and he didn’t stop it, because, as verse 22 points out, this is what was determined before God said “let there be light” in Genesis 1. John the Baptist was the first one to call Jesus “the lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world”, and Revelation 13:8 calls Jesus “the lamb who was slain before the foundation of the world,” and refers to him as the Lamb over and over. In other words, this was the plan that the Father and the Son worked together to come up with, where Jesus became the Passover lamb, and heaven still has not stopped singing about it and praising the Lamb who was slain.
For the Israelites, putting blood on their door frames was an act of faith, trusting God’s word that the blood would spare them. For you and me today, Jesus’ blood is applied to our hearts by faith, trusting that God’s word is true, and that in Christ, he has actually, really done what he said he has done. Our sins really are forgiven. Jesus really did live and die, and rise again on the third day, and he really does reward those who seek him.
I’ll close with this – Look at verse 16. I will not eat this Passover meal again until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.
The Passover will one day be fulfilled.
- It appears that Jesus never finished the meal. There were only three cups at the Lord’s Supper, when normally there would have been four. The fourth cup is the cup of praise, the cup of consummation, the cup of approval.
- Jesus implies in verse 16 and verse 18 that there is another meal coming in the new kingdom, which is not another lamb supper, but the Supper of the Lamb. At this table, we again will celebrate deliverance, salvation and redemption, but this time it won’t be temporary – we’ll be living it full throttle. We will celebrate the death of tyranny and sin and deception and lies. We will celebrate the death of death. No more pain, no more sorrow, no more tears. We will celebrate the king’s approval, not because we earned anything or met a certain quota, but because Jesus earned it all for us. We will celebrate the new life of eternal Sabbath rest, and being the dearly loved children of God that he has adopted us to be, we will tip back that fourth cup of praise and consummation and acceptance with Jesus himself as our delight!
So, as the Lord Jesus instructed his disciples on the night he was betrayed, as his new covenant disciples, we take the bread and the cup in Communion. And as we do, just like those first disciples, we look backward and we look forward.
- We look backward to God’s history of deliverance and redemption and salvation, fulfilled in the person and work of Jesus.
- We look at God’s present redemption and salvation, where he is still redeeming broken lives, still transforming sinners into saints, still calling people out of bondage to evil spirits and into freedom in Christ, still - by the presence of the Holy Spirit, giving believers power over sin and Satan and the ability to bear good fruit for the kingdom of heaven here on earth.
- AND we look forward to that glorious day when those who have been redeemed will drink that last cup with him in the new kingdom, the new heavens and the new earth, where we will delight in him and with him forever and ever.
The Apostle Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 11, that when we eat and drink this small meal together, gathered with fellow believers, we proclaim the Lord’s death until he returns.
In Egypt that first Passover night, there was death in every home except those who had blood on the doors. Today, there is spiritual death anywhere Jesus’ blood has not been applied. Everyone in this room started out our lives dead in sin (Eph 2). There was no hope for us. Dead people can’t give enough money, or feed enough homeless people, do enough good things, or go to church enough times to be reconciled for sin. Just like those Israelites were powerless to free themselves, the same was true of us.
But by God’s mercy, he is still calling people to life. He’s still opening blind eyes to see Jesus as the Passover Lamb, whose blood alone forgives your sin and makes you a new person. I pray that God would do that for someone here this morning.
There is no bypass around the blood of Christ. Not only is he the blood on the door – he is the door. Communion is how we remember our deliverance, our salvation, our redemption. This meal is how we celebrate what Jesus has done for us, so if you have already placed your faith and trust in Christ, you’ve given yourself to love him and serve him, if you’ve seen evidence of the Holy Spirit in your life, and you are in right relationship with other believers – this meal serves to remind you just how committed Jesus is to inviting you to know God as your Father. We don’t eat this in order to be saved, we eat because we already are!
If you are currently not trusting Christ, maybe you never have and you’re not really interested, or you would have to admit that although in your head you believe God exists, you haven’t been trusting him with your life… We are glad you are here, we pray that you’ll keep coming back, but when the trays come to you, we encourage you to pass them on by, and reflect on why you haven’t trusted Christ yet. You can even pray to him right now and ask him to help you trust him. You can call out to him to paint Jesus’ blood on your heart right this moment.
As the team comes around to hand out the bread and the cup, consider these things on the screen:
- What have I been feeding on? Ask the Lord to search your heart and show you this… has it been media, entertainment, something in the news? Has it been a regret from the past? A memory that I can’t let go of, someone or something I can’t forgive? Hatred or bitterness? A word that was said to me or about me that cut deeply? Maybe you’re feeding on something good – a ministry or a relationship or even your family.
- Or kids, you can pray God, is there something that I want more than I want to know about you?
- What have you been feeding on?
- Then #2, if you aren’t already… Feed on Jesus. Open your eyes and look at what is in your hands, or if you aren’t taking communion today, look at what is in someone else’s hand – the bread and the cup. This is God’s grace toward you. This is God’s open invitation for you to know him! To have your sins forgiven and a right relationship with God restored! This is the greatest news in human history. It’s the greatest word that could ever be said about you… you are loved! God has chosen you to be adopted into his family! Your sins are forgiven, past-present-future, His promises are true, and you belong to him right now.
Parents, if you have young children with you who have made a credible profession of faith – meaning they understand the nature and consequences of sin, and they have received Jesus as Lord and Savior, and you have seen evidence of the Holy Spirit at work in them, they are welcome to participate as well.