John MacArthur’s sermons on Holy Scripture are edifying to read because he has studied the Bible for decades and can provide rich detail which encourages us to stop and look again at the passage.
His 2011 sermon, ‘The New Passover’, lays out what likely took place when Jesus and the Apostles gathered for the Last Supper. The passage is Mark 14:17-26, although MacArthur mentions other Gospel accounts.
What follows are excerpts, emphases mine as are the links to Scripture:
First it began with a prayer of thanks and it was followed by the first cup of red wine, doubly diluted with water… After that first cup, which kind of launches it, there was a ceremonial and an actual washing of hands. They actually washed their hands because they ate with their hands and there was a ceremonial significance to it because it symbolized a need for cleansing and a need for holiness.
So the opening cup and then the cleansing after the prayer of thanks. It seems to me that this might be a good place to assume that while they were talking about the need for cleansing, while they were talking about their unholiness, maybe that is where the Lord pointed out a problem with them because Luke 22:24 says, “A dispute arose among them as to which of them was regarded to be the greatest.” Same ole, same ole, right? It is very likely that at that time as they’re just getting beginning into this and the issue becomes a heart holiness that our Lord confronts that arguing about who is going to be the greatest, that ugly pride, by doing what John 13 says He did. “Jesus rose from supper, laid aside His garments, taking a towel, began to wash the disciples feet. And He gave them a profound lesson on…humility.”
It had to be juxtaposed against their arguing about which of them was the greatest and such an open manifestation of pride. And then He said to them, “I’ve given you an example for you to do as I have done for you.” And then He even said to them, as recorded in Luke 22:25 and 26, “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them.” That’s what Gentiles do. “But not so with you.” He went on to say the greatest of you become as the least, as the servant, the slave. So just getting in to the Passover and they’re already demonstrating their sinfulness, the symbol of the washing would have been a perfect time for them to confront that sinfulness. Our Lord perhaps does that at that interval and then washes their feet to give them a lesson on humility.
This was followed then, this washing, by the eating of bitter herbs. This is when the bread would be broken. It would be flat bread, not a big fat loaf, flat bread broken and distributed and then dipped into a paste made from fruit and nuts. And then after that… first course…they would sing the Hallel. The Hallel, from which we get the word Hallelujah, are series of hymns that praise God from Psalm 113 to Psalm 118. And they sang them all at the Passover. Traditionally they would sing Psalm 113 and 114, and then would come the second cup of wine. And then after that cup would be the eating of the lamb, the eating of the meal. That would be the … main course …
And after the main course was completed would be the third cup of wine and after that they would sing the rest of the Hallel, Psalm 115, 116, 117 and 118. And then they would have a final sip of wine and one more Psalm and leave. That was the evening.
That could have all been done rather in a brief amount of time, however, it was strung out for many, many hours, being interrupted by all the other things that we talked about going on.
Early in this celebration in this sequence, our Lord says something that I think is important for us to hear in Luke 22:15 and16. “He said to them, ‘I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer.’”
The language is very, very strong. Literally He says, “I desire with a desire,” that’s emphatic in the Greek. This is a very strong passion, “I must celebrate this Passover with you before I suffer. This has to happen for all the reasons that I told you.” Not only because it’s right because it’s commanded by God, but because He must make this transition. He must end an era. He must bring to a completion an entire system and launch a new one and He must lay out all the promises upon which every believer through all of redemptive history draws and He must tell them of the coming of the Holy Spirit, and He must confront their sin, and He must give them a lesson on humility and all these things are so compelling. He knows that He can’t die until all of this is clearly delineated to them and the Holy Spirit will bring it back to their memory in the future and they will write it down and it will be inscripturated and we will follow that instruction and cling to those promises. This has to happen before He dies.
He has, like everybody else, lived His whole life seeing animals sacrificed and all of them, He knew, pointed to Him. And now He was eating a meal at which the last legitimate Lamb was sacrificed and would be eaten and in a matter of hours it would be over. And He was the fulfillment of all those sacrifices. And in the view of His imminent suffering, He knows He will die, He knows He will not live to another Passover, He understands the urgency of this hour.
And there’s another component, John 13 begins by saying this, “He loved His own who were in the world, eis telos, to the max, to the limit, to the end. It was not simply a theological demonstration here. What He said to them, what He promised to them, what He pledged to them, and what He called for them to do was all a part of loving instruction.
It was His profound love for them, as well as their profound necessity for the truth He would give them that compelled this to occur. He says in verse 16 of Luke 22, “I say to you, I’ll never again eat this meal with you until it is fulfilled in the Kingdom of God.” And with that statement, we have the end of all legitimate Passovers…this was His last meal before the cross, He ate the lamb and then became the Lamb hours later.
Will there ever be another Passover, legitimate one? Will there ever be? There will, He says that, please notice it. This is not going to happen, He says in Luke 22, until it is fulfilled in the Kingdom of God. Even Passover has not yet reached its final fulfillment. That’s going to happen in the Kingdom.
Paul says, “We do this until he comes.” Matthew 6:29 talks about the fact that it’s going to occur in the Kingdom…when He returns, He will celebrate the Passover meal with His own redeemed people again. He will.