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.” Then he took the cup, gave thanks and offered it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you. This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. — Matthew 26:26-28
Over the next 24 hours, many Christians all over the world will be commemorating the Last Supper of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Today, I shall continue this year’s Holy Week posts by featuring another sermon from the Reformed (Calvinist) pastor, the Revd P G Mathew of Grace Valley Christian Center in Davis, California, ‘Passover and the Lord’s Supper, Part Two’. Mr Mathew takes his text from Matthew 26:17-30. Emphases mine below.
The Lord’s Supper is taught in four places in the New Testament–Matthew 26, Mark 14, Luke 22 and 1 Corinthians 11 … In this text we see how our Lord Jesus ended the old covenant and established the new covenant by abolishing the Passover celebration, which was based on the sacrifice of prescribed animals, and instituting the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper.
The Lord’s Supper is known by various names, the origin of which Mr Mathew explains:
In 1 Corinthians 11 we find the phrase kuriakon deipnon , meaning the Lord’s dinner or the Lord’s supper. God is the host and we are the guests, and when we come to his table, he feeds us that which nourishes our life. This sacrament is also called the breaking of bread, as we read in Acts 2, and holy communion, meaning a time when we commune with the triune God and his church. It is called the Lord’s table and the eucharist, which comes from a Greek word, eucharisteo , meaning to give thanks, as found in Matthew 26:27. When Jesus took the cup, he gave thanks.
As we know, this supper occurred during Passover week. Today’s Jews prepare for and celebrate this festival the way their ancestors did during Old Testament times and Christ’s lifetime. The women spend days cleaning their houses of leaven. Today, that may even mean moving certain home appliances to the garage, as I saw in a documentary a few years ago about the orthodox Jews in Manchester. It is a busy time and a prayerful one.
The main dinner is the seder, led by the male head of the household. Below, Mr Mathew describes it and how Jesus shaped His supper with the apostles for the people of the New Covenant:
certain elements were assembled, including an unblemished lamb, sacrificed and roasted, unleavened bread, wine, green vegetables, bitter herbs, and a bowl of salt water.
When the meal was ready, the father or master would pronounce a blessing upon the festival and on the first cup of wine. All would drink from the first cup, and then the youngest person would ask “What does this ceremony mean to you?” The father would explain how the Passover commemorated the Israelites’ redemption from Egyptian bondage by the Lord through a blood sacrifice. Next, all would drink the second cup of wine, and sing Psalms 113-115, the first part of the Hallel psalms (Psalms 113-118).
When the meal was served, the leader would bless the bread by blessing God: “Blessed art thou, O Lord our God, King of the universe, who brings forth bread from the earth.” The third cup of wine would be drunk after the leader pronounced a blessing through a prayer of thanksgiving which went something like this: “Blessed are thou, O Lord our God, King of the universe, Creator of the fruit of the vine.” This is where we see the word eucharist, or thanksgiving, used. Then the participants would sing the rest of the Hallel psalms, Psalms 116-118, and drink the fourth cup of wine.
The idea of drinking four cups of wine is based on the fourfold blessings found in Exodus 6:6-7. There we read, “Therefore, say, to the Israelites, ‘I am the Lord,'” and then we read the first blessing, “‘and I will bring you out from under the yoke of the Egyptians. . .'” The second blessing was, “‘I will free you from being slaves to them. . .'” The third blessing was “‘I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with acts of judgment.'” We must note here that the third cup represented redemption, and this was the cup in the Lord’s Supper that Jesus Christ blessed and gave to his disciples. The fourth blessing was, “‘I will take you as my own people and I will be your God.'” This speaks of the presence of God with his church. Of this cup Jesus said, “I will not drink of it until I drink it anew in the kingdom,” meaning when he comes again. When Christ comes again, the fourth blessing of having God with us will be realized fully.
Mr Mathew describes exactly how the Last Supper unfolded between Jesus and His apostles. This also explains the priest’s or minister’s prayer of consecration which he recites during today’s services:
In Matthew 26:26 we are told that Jesus acted “while they were eating,” meaning during the Passover meal. Jesus took a piece of bread, probably a thin sheet of bread like that commonly found in the Middle East. Having blessed God, he broke it, and as we already noted, the usual prayer of blessing for the bread was “Blessed art thou, O Lord our God, King of the universe, who brings forth bread from the earth.” Here we see that blessing the bread did not mean blessing the inanimate substance of bread, but rather, blessing God who gave the bread.
Next, Jesus broke the bread into pieces. We assume here that Judas, the son of perdition, had already left. Some scholars say he was still present, and if that is true, he was incurring judgment on himself as he partook of the Holy Communion. After breaking the bread, Jesus gave it to his disciples. In this action we see salvation coming from Jesus Christ. In the act of his giving the bread, we see the idea of grace, and in giving it to each one, we see particular salvation, that Jesus loves and died for each one of us.
Therefore, Holy Communion is not to be taken lightly, nor is it to be given to everyone who attends as a sign of hospitality. Holy Communion is not akin to snacks and soda. The minimum requirements should be Baptism and being of the age of reason (Catholics would say this was age 7, but many Protestants would counter that a child should be older in order to fully understand the importance of the Sacrament). However, many churches rightly restrict Communion to members of their own denomination. You can read more on the reasons why in ‘A case against universal Communion’. People who receive the Sacrament when they should not — because of unbelief or serious sin — are putting themselves at risk.
St Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 11:27-34:
27 Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord. 28 Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. 29For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself. 30That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died. 31 But if we judged ourselves truly, we would not be judged. 32But when we are judged by the Lord, we are disciplined so that we may not be condemned along with the world. 33So then, my brothers, when you come together to eat, wait for one another— 34 if anyone is hungry, let him eat at home—so that when you come together it will not be for judgment.
Christians have heard many times Jesus’s words pronounced over the bread: ‘This is My body’. But what was Jesus telling the apostles and how do we interpret Him through Holy Communion today?
What Jesus Christ was really saying was that the Passover was fulfilled in him. This was a surprising statement for the disciples, because this statement was not part of the Passover ritual. But in saying this Jesus was announcing that the Old Testament was ended, that the old covenant was coming to a close, and that the new had begun.
What did Jesus mean when he said, “This is my body”? The Roman Catholic church would say that because of the use of the copula estin , meaning “is,” Jesus was identifying his body with the bread. They say that when he spoke of the bread, he was speaking about his literal body. This is the doctrine of transubstantiation. It means that when Jesus said “This is my body,” the bread became his literal physical body. So today the church teaches that when a priest says, “This is my body,” during the Mass, the bread converts into the literal, physical body of Jesus Christ …
Jesus made similar statements in the Bible. In John 10:9 he said, “I am the gate.” Now it would make no sense to insist that there is identity here. Jesus is not saying that he is a literal, physical gate. In John 15 he said, “I am the true vine.” Again, we do not insist there has to be identity that Jesus Christ is vine. He is not a literal, physical gate or a literal, physical vine. In John 6:35 he said, “I am the bread of life,” but he is not literal bread. In Revelation 22:16 we read, “I am the root and offspring of David,” but we do not literally believe that Jesus Christ is a root. So you see, it makes no sense to interpret Jesus’ words to mean that the bread becomes his literal body. There is no magic, yet the Roman Catholic church has maintained this idea of transubstantiation for many years.
In Luke 22:19 and 1 Corinthians 11:23 it says, “Do this in remembrance of me.” This phrase also ought to tell us something. Would Jesus say to do this in remembrance of him if he was physically, literally being consumed by the worshipers? No, the reason we ought to remember him is that the Son of God took upon himself a physical body, and in that physical body Jesus Christ is now on the right hand of God the Father. He is not with us physically; he is away, and that is why we remember him. Not only that, when you read other passages we are told to continue observing this sacrament of holy communion “until he comes” (1 Cor. 11:26). That should tell us that Jesus Christ is not physically present …
The Holy Spirit causes us who are believers by faith to commune with the risen Christ, and there is real presence of Christ that we experience through the ministry of the Spirit–by faith.
What, then, of the cup — the wine he gave to the apostles? Historically:
It was called the cup of redemption, the cup of salvation, the cup of blessing, the cup of the new covenant. Jesus gave thanks to God for the cup, gave it to each disciple and said, “Drink from it, all of you.”
Then Jesus said, “This is my blood of the covenant. . .” What does that “blood of the covenant” mean? We find this expression in Exodus 24:6-8: “Moses took half of the blood and put it in bowls, and the other half he sprinkled on the altar. Then he took the Book of the Covenant and read it to the people.” He told people that they should obey God and keep the terms of the covenant. What did the people say? “They responded, ‘We will do everything the Lord has said; we will obey.’ Moses then took the blood, sprinkled it on the people and said, ‘This is the blood of the covenant that the Lord has made with you in accordance with all these words.'”
The blood of the covenant was sprinkled on the people. We find this idea of sprinkling with blood also in the book of Leviticus. When the priests were consecrated, they were sprinkled with blood. When lepers were cleansed, they were to be sprinkled with blood. So the idea of sprinkling with the blood of the covenant means cleansing and consecration to the service of God. When Moses sprinkled the blood on the people, he was consecrating and cleansing them on the basis of their affirmation that they would obey the covenant.
Jesus came to institute a New Covenant with the people of God:
In the parallel passage in Luke 22 we read in verse 20, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you.” What is the new covenant? In Jeremiah 31:31-34 we read, “‘The time is coming,’ declares the Lord, ‘when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah,'” and we see that happening in the institution of the Lord’s Supper in Matthew 26 …
God said he would make a new covenant in which his own Son would obey God’s law perfectly. He would accomplish redemption for us and give it to us freely. This is called the covenant of grace, the new covenant, as we read in Luke 22 and 1 Corinthians 11. The new covenant was accomplished by Christ himself who fully obeyed God’s law. And in anticipation of his death on the cross, Jesus Christ offered his disciples the bread and the wine, symbolizing salvation.
Christ came to save sinners. He offered His body and blood as the perfect atonement. Mr Mathew explains why the Reformed do not believe it to be a universal one. This does not, incidentally, imply it is insufficient, but that it is not efficacious for all:
Jesus said the blood of the covenant would be “poured out.” He was speaking about the violent death that he was about to experience. Within twenty-four hours of saying this, Jesus Christ was buried. After he was arrested, beaten and crucified, there came a mighty flow of blood poured out in behalf of many. He was speaking about substitutionary atonement, which is at the heart of Passover–salvation through the death of an animal whose blood is sprinkled upon the doorposts. Jesus said his blood would be poured out “for many.” This refers to particular redemption. In other words, Jesus Christ did not die to save everyone. Universal redemption is a popular idea but it is not a biblical idea. Christ loved the church and gave himself for her, meaning there is particular redemption for many, but not all. That does not mean the number of people saved will be small. No, Jesus said many. All the elect of God shall be saved. From all tribes and nations, the redeemed of the Lord shall come.
Mr Mathew closes with practical reflections on Holy Communion. Sometimes, in the rush of daily life, we find it difficult to focus fully on what we are about to receive at the Lord’s Table. Below are good points which are easy-to-remember reflections in the moments before we partake of His Body and Blood:
First, Christ is the host—this Christ to whom is given all authority in heaven and on earth, as we read in Matthew 28:18. It is his table. Now, if that is true, aren’t we glad that he invited us? It is he who invited us individually … We can come to his table and eat with him.
Second, Christ is the mediator of the new covenant. If that is the case, he has made us partners to whom his blessings flow. In John 15:5 he said, “I am the vine; you are the branches” … First we are invited by him, and then he makes us partners with him. What confidence this gives us!
Third, Jesus Christ is the Lamb slain on Golgotha, and his outpoured blood cleanses us from all our sin and makes us whiter than snow. Think about that. In Isaiah 1:18 we read, “‘Come now, let us reason together,’ says the Lord. ‘Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool.'” Jesus died and shed his blood, which has cleansed us.
Fourth, this King of the universe is also our brother and friend. He said, “I call you my friends.” As our brother and friend, he daily shows us how to live for his glory. He is our older brother.
Finally, as the source of all spiritual blessings, it is in Jesus Christ that we have been blessed with all spiritual blessings. Even now he fills us, not with grief, but with joy and gladness by his presence. Did he die to make us miserable? No, he died to make us happy. In Psalm 51 David asked God to blot out all his transgressions and cleanse him, that the bones which God had crushed would rejoice and be glad. We need to understand that Christ died to remove our sadness and misery and to put an end to all our grief. No wonder St. Paul could write from prison to the Philippians: “Rejoice; I say again, rejoice.”
May we look on this holy Sacrament in a new light, not only on Maundy Thursday but each time we have the honour of receiving it. It is our life and sustenance in Him through grace by faith.