Why did you come here this morning? For some, maybe it’s because it’s Sunday and you believe that church is where you are supposed to be. For others, maybe it’s because you love the other people in this church and you want to be here with them. Maybe it’s because you are thankful to God and want to worship him. Maybe it’s because you are seeking to receive something: a blessing, a word of encouragement, possibly a good sermon. However, once a month, we all receive something very special. We come together the first Sunday of the month to receive something more than those things.
Last Sunday, we celebrated communion. When we gathered to eat and drink, we received nothing less than God’s grace into our lives. This morning we look at Jesus’ words as he institutes the Lord’s Supper. We look at how he ties the Lord’s Supper in with the New Covenant that God had promised and also at a command Jesus gives to his followers to receive grace. Read Mark 14:12-26.
I. First, let’s look at the command.
Jesus gives a command here regarding the Lord’s Supper and receiving grace. This may sound a bit odd to us. If someone gives you a lavish gift, it is not likely that they would command you to receive it. They may urge you to accept the gift, they may feel hurt if you refuse it, but they would most likely not command you to take it. Jesus commands his disciples to take the bread. He does not say, “If you want some bread; I would really like you to have this.” No, Jesus says, “Take it!” If we were to look at Luke’s account in his gospel, we would read that Jesus also commands His disciples to “Do this in remembrance of me.” Do this! In fact, Jesus literally means, “Keep on doing this.” Celebrating the Lord’s Supper is not an option for followers of Christ.
Why is it so important? Because our Lord knows how much we need God’s grace in our lives. When we think about it, we should be overwhelmed with the pressing need for God’s grace. We are so full of sin that we don’t deserve to be here in the presence of God. 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 in our lives.
II. In these words there are some beautiful promises.
The setting of these words is the Passover meal. The Passover was the meal which the Jews celebrated so they would remember God’s delivering them from slavery in Egypt. God had led the people of Israel out of Egypt and had brought them to the promised land. This meal commemorated that event and was also commanded by God. The meal itself consisted of eating a roasted lamb, bread, wine, bitter herbs and spices. Bitter herbs reminded them of the slavery they had endured in Egypt. The lamb reminded them of the lamb which had been killed. Its blood had been spread on the door posts in order to keep the family safe from the death that swept through Egypt on that first Passover night. Thus, the meal as a whole came to represent freedom from slavery.
So it was very significant that Jesus chose this meal to explain to His disciples about a new meal which would celebrate freedom. This meal would come to symbolize a much deeper freedom than simply a rescue from slavery. This would be a rescue from sin, the very root of all their problems. Now as Jesus speaks and institutes this supper, he chooses new symbols.
First, he 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 until each had some. As they did this, they would silently reflect on God’s gift of deliverance from slavery in Egypt. But now in this meal, Jesus breaks the silence by saying, “This bread is my body! Take and eat!” Jesus here is not only referring to His physical body being broken. The word used means the whole person. In other words, Jesus is saying, “This bread is ME!” And so here Jesus is promising that he will always be with them just as he had promised Abraham. 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, to be with them as in the covenant promise, at all times.
Then Jesus takes a cup of wine. This was a specific cup in the Passover meal recalling God’s rescuing His people from Egypt. This was the salvation cup of thanksgiving; a common cup shared by all. Jesus now gives this cup a new meaning, a fulfilled meaning. Jesus says, “This is my blood of the covenant, poured out for many.” Remember that 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. His blood will be poured out so there can be a new relationship between God and His people. Now in the New Covenant, there is peace and fellowship with God, instead of alienation.
Now let’s think once again of all the covenant promises in the Old Testament Covenant of Grace. God told Eve in the Garden of Eden that her seed would crush the serpent’s head. When Jesus died and rose again, sin and Satan were crushed and destroyed. God told Abraham that he would be with him and be a God to him. Jesus is now with us, God with us, Immanuel! God told Abraham that the covenant would be one in blood, signified by the killed animals and in the rite of circumcision. Jesus shed his blood on the cross so that we could be in a relationship with God in heaven. Moses threw the blood on the people and told them it was the blood of the covenant. These are the words Jesus uses here to signify that the relationship is now possible. And God told David that his son would be king forever. Jesus is King and will be king over all forever!
The whole Old Testament story is the story of God redeeming his people and that would end up here with Jesus dying on the cross. The Old Testament is not a collection of Bible stories, poems and prophecies. The Old Testament is the story of how God is redeeming his people and the Covenant of Grace is the map we need to find our way so that we can understand what God has done.
This supper is the sign in the New Covenant of what God promises to us. What does this sign point to for us? First it means that when we eat the bread and drink the cup, we are reminded that Jesus really did die; the death of Jesus on the cross really did occur in history. Second, it means that by eating and drinking we are accepting it as being true for me; MY sins are forgiven through this real death. Stop and think about that for a moment. The sins that still haunt you and bother you from your past. The sins that you still struggle with and fight against now. All of our sins are forgiven and as we saw last week, forgotten, through Jesus’ body and blood. When we eat the bread and drink the cup, we are assured that our sins are forgiven completely.
III. So what are the blessings of the New Covenant?
We see the blessings when Jesus says, “I tell you the truth, I will not drink again of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it anew in the kingdom of God.” This likely refers to the final cup of wine in the Passover meal. This final cup that reminded the people that someday God would once again live fully and completely with His people. At some point, the relationship with God would be fully restored. Jesus is saying that this cup of fellowship will not be completed until after he comes again and brings all of His followers to heaven. Then He and His followers will be reunited in heaven where they will enjoy full fellowship. Then instead of the Lord’s Supper, there will be the great marriage feast, a victory feast.
But our waiting should not be without hope. Jesus has sent us another counselor, the Holy Spirit as he said he would do in John 14:16-17. So not only do we have the promise of God being with us, we also have the presence of God with us through the Spirit living in our hearts. For you see, when we celebrate communion we are united more and more with Christ. Even though Christ is not here on earth, we are drawn closer to him. As the bread and juice become part of us, so Christ becomes more and more a part of us. And we have that presence of Christ in us through the Holy Spirit. That means our old sinful lives should be dying away and the Spirit is making us more and more like Christ himself. That is more than just trying to do the things Jesus did; we need His Spirit in our lives.
What is the significance of this for us? The Lord’s Supper is not just a memorial service where we eulogize Christ. It is not a time of only looking back 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. 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. The Lord’s Supper brings together the past and the future into our present so that Jesus can fill us with His grace. Jesus commands us to receive this grace. It is given to us 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.