Imagine this morning that we are about to celebrate communion. This is a very special time for Christians as we gather around the table of the Lord. But imagine something very unusual happening. Just as we are about to eat the bread, one of you stands up and announces, “One of you is going to do something that is going to hurt or even destroy my life!” Aside from being shocked, we would also be quite irritated. Doesn’t this person know how important and special the Lord’s Supper is? This is not the time, no matter what it is, to say and do that!
In a real sense, that is what Jesus does in these verses. Jesus and his disciples were enjoying an intimate meal of the Passover. It was an especially moving time because Jesus had just told them once again that he would be leaving them and would be killed. The disciples likely didn’t want anything to ruin this special meal with Jesus. But just then Jesus himself “ruins” it for them when he says that one of them will betray him. But it is important to see that Jesus did this for a very clear purpose. The disciples had to learn that they must rely only on him and his death as a basis for their relationship with him. Read Mark 14:12-26.
Jesus sends his disciples to make preparations for their last meal together. Jesus himself had now become a wanted man and couldn’t appear openly. He evidently had arranged ahead of time to have a room made ready. He sent his disciples into town to find a man carrying a water jug which was very unusual since only women would carry the water. The disciples followed this man to the Upper Room, perhaps something like this room, where things were already set up and they could complete the preparations.
Then Jesus said, “It is one of the Twelve, one who dips bread into the bowl with me. This action was the dipping of the bitter herbs into the stewed fruit and, well, they had all dipped during the course of the meal. Jesus wants them to realize that they all could be guilty of such a thing. Then Jesus adds, “It would be better for him if he had not been born.” Life for this person will be worthless because of what he will do. The disciples are now completely devastated! Their sense of communion with each other is shattered. Their sense of communion with Jesus is severely strained as well for they each recognize that he could possibly betray his Lord.
But in making this announcement right at this time, Jesus is teaching the disciples a valuable lesson about the new covenant he is establishing. It wasn’t the Passover meal that would make them have special fellowship. It wasn’t that the disciples and Jesus were close personal friends. Certainly their faithfulness to Jesus will not be the basis. The only basis for anyone’s relationship with Jesus will be Jesus’ death on the cross. The disciples had to realize that it is only through Jesus’ dying that they would be able to have full and complete fellowship with Jesus, the Son of God.
II. And that is what we see next as Jesus gives the command to take the bread.
Jesus doesn’t say, “If you want to you may have some bread;” No, he says, “Take it!” In Luke’s account we read that Jesus also commanded his disciples to “Do this in remembrance of me.” Celebrating the Lord’s Supper is not an option for followers of Christ but a command. Our Lord knows how much we need God’s grace in our lives. We are so full of sin and Jesus knows that we aren’t good enough. That is exactly why Jesus had to die. That is why he says that we need to have his grace because we are so full of sin. If we try to impress God by showing him how much we want to be close to him or how good we think we are, it won’t be enough.
Many Christians run through one door after another trying to be more spiritual or trying to be closer to God or trying to show God how good they can be, but it doesn’t get them anywhere and, in fact, it ends up knocking such Christians out. Jesus says we must simply acknowledge that we can’t save ourselves and then gratefully accept or take the gift of grace that God offers in Jesus. Jesus commands us to be filled with grace for that is the only way to salvation.
III. In these words of the institution, we find the promises linked to these new symbols.
First, Jesus uses the bread of the meal. In the Passover meal, the head of the house would say a blessing and then the bread would be broken and passed to those at the table in silence. As they did this, they silently reflected on God’s gift of deliverance from slavery. But Jesus breaks the silence by saying, “This bread is my body! Take and eat!” Jesus here is not just referring to his physical body being broken, but his whole person. In other words, Jesus is saying, “This bread is ME!”
Here Jesus is promising that he will always be with them. When they would celebrate this supper later on, holding the broken bread would remind them of Jesus’ continued presence with them. Even though Jesus’ body would be broken, he would be able to be near to them and to be with them, as in the covenant promise, at all times.
Then Jesus takes a cup of wine after the main meal. This was a specific cup in the Passover meal, the third of four cups. The head of the household would say: “May the All-merciful One make us worthy of the days of the Messiah and of the life of the world to come. He brings the salvation of his king. He shows covenant-faithfulness to his Anointed, to David and to his seed forever. He makes peace in his heavenly places. May he secure peace for us and for all Israel. And say you, Amen.” This was the salvation cup of thanksgiving or redemption, celebrating God’s saving action for his people in Egypt.
Jesus says, “This is my blood of the covenant, poured out for many.” The Old Covenant was characterized by sacrificed animals whose blood was poured out as a symbol of God’s forgiveness. Now Jesus says this wine represents his blood. Now there can be a new and better relationship between God and his people. His blood poured out for many also means all our sins are forgiven.
IV. So what are the blessings of the New Covenant?
Jesus then said, “Truly I tell you, I will not drink again of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God.” This likely refers to the final cup of wine in the Passover meal which reminded the people that someday God would once again live fully and completely with them. At some point, the relationship would be fully restored. Jesus likely did not drink this cup, but left it unfinished. Why? Jesus is saying that this cup of fellowship will not be completed until after he comes again and brings all of his followers to be reunited in heaven. Then instead of the Lord’s Supper, there will be the heavenly marriage feast. That great celebration is coming, but in the meantime we will have to wait.
And so what is the significance of this for us today? The Lord’s Supper is not just a memorial service where we eulogize Christ. It is not a time of only looking backward and saying what a great thing he did for us back then. Moreover, the Lord’s Supper is also not just a time when we gather together and long for Christ’s return so we can have full fellowship again with him. Now that is important as well, for that gives us hope.
The Lord’s Supper means we have fellowship with the risen Lord today. The bread reminds us that he is here with each of us. The cup is a visible reminder of what Jesus did to bring us not only forgiveness, but a whole new relationship with our heavenly Father. In Communion we have a powerful reminder of our life with our living Lord today!
You see, by celebrating the Lord’s Supper, we are celebrating the new covenant relationship we have with the living God right now. All the blessings of the old covenant are now ours as well through Jesus. God is now our God and we are now his people. God will now care for us and now provide for us as he promised to do for the people of Israel. Above all, Jesus’ death and resurrection bring us forgiveness of sins and new life with our covenant God and Father.
Jesus commands us to receive this grace each time we celebrated Communion. It is to help us remember all that God our Father has done for us in the past. It is given to us as a powerful reminder that we are to be living with God daily in a life of obedience and faith.