“Given for You”
April 6, 2014
He sacrificed himself for the forgiveness of our sins.
I. The Passover Celebrated (Matthew 26:17-19)
II. The Betrayal Acknowledged (Matthew 26:20-25)
III. The Sacrifice Memorialized (Matthew 26:26-29)
Many of you saw ‘A Tale of Two Cities’ two weeks ago when Selah Academy performed it in this room. It was an awesome production of Charles Dickens’ novel and Michelle Murray and her students worked incredibly hard to pull it together. I don’t think it’s a spoiler to say that the high point is the self-sacrifice of Sydney Carton who dies so Charles Darnay may live in peace with the family he loves. We weren’t allowed to record the whole thing, but I did take a few brief videos. I missed the part where Carton seems to reach out in faith, reciting Jesus’ words “I am the resurrection and the life.” But I did catch the final moments of his sacrifice: “It is a far, far better thing I do than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest I go to than I have ever known.”
I believe mankind, in the midst of the fall, retains an instinctive understanding of the value and moral perfection of self-sacrifice. We don’t do it often ourselves, we don’t do it well, we don’t always do it for the right cause, and even when we do we may not achieve anything by it. But Jesus, who shares our innate knowledge of the value of sacrifice is also the one person in human history whose sacrifice carries real meaning. By his sacrifice we are set free from the bondage of sin and death. He receives judgment that we deserve, and we receive forgiveness we have by no means earned. Jesus sacrificed himself for the forgiveness of our sins: that’s what we will celebrate and remember today.
Since last fall we’ve been walking with Jesus in Matthew’s Gospel. We’ve heard his call to the kingdom, his incomparable teaching, seen his conflict with those who prefer external appearances to a heart relationship with God and the growing desire of those same Jewish leaders to put him to death. Now we are reaching the climax of Matthew’s account. Last week we heard about the last teaching Jesus did in Jerusalem during the week before his crucifixion. Next week we’ll step back a few chapters and think about his entry into Jerusalem. But this week, since it is a communion Sunday, we’re going to look at the first Lord’s Supper, Jesus’ command to remember him with bread and wine. We remember the truth that he sacrificed himself for the forgiveness of our sins.
He shared this truth with his disciples during the celebration of the ancient feast of Passover. Matthew 26:17-19: Now on the first day of Unleavened Bread the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Where will you have us prepare for you to eat the Passover?” 18He said, “Go into the city to a certain man and say to him, ‘The Teacher says, My time is at hand. I will keep the Passover at your house with my disciples.’” 19And the disciples did as Jesus had directed them, and they prepared the Passover.
The feast of Unleavened Bread began, according to Exodus 12, on the evening of the fourteenth day of the first month of the Jewish calendar. This month is called Nisan, and fits roughly with March and April in our calendar. On that day the Jews were to begin eating unleavened bread to commemorate the escape from Egypt. The Passover feast was celebrated that night, but since the date changed at sunset, it was actually celebrated on the fifteenth of Nisan.
So on the fourteenth you would prepare – ridding your house of leaven, purchasing a lamb which would be sacrificed that afternoon, purchasing or making unleavened bread, wine and the many other elements of the Passover meal. In fact, waiting until the day of these preparations to ask was probably unusual. This was the big feast of the year, Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter all rolled into one, and just as you may have already thought about who will be at your table next Thanksgiving, in the same way the Passover feast was anticipated all year in Palestine. But this band of itinerant disciples and their teacher would not, apparently, have been in a position to make such plans.
Well, it turns out their teacher has thought about it, he simply hadn’t yet revealed his thinking to the disciples. Now he says “Go into the city to a certain man and say to him, ‘The Teacher says, My time is at hand. I will keep the Passover at your house with my disciples.’” Mark gives more detail on how the disciples were to find this upper room, but both accounts give the impression Jesus had made an arrangement to use this room. It may be the arrangement is purely supernatural, but there is no reason why Jesus shouldn’t have spoken to one of those who listened to him in the Temple to arrange this meal. Tradition says the upper room belonged to the father of John Mark, the author of Mark’s gospel, but this can’t be proven from the text. In any event, the disciples go and there they make the elaborate preparations for the Passover meal.
The Passover feast was established by God to commemorate his rescue of his people. When they were slaves in Egypt God chose Moses and sent him to Pharaoh to say “let my people go out to worship.” But Pharaoh hardened his heart against this call, and God brought ten plagues on the nation of Egypt: blood, frogs, gnats, flies, the death of their livestock, boils on their skin, hail, locusts, darkness, and finally the death of the firstborn. God knew that this last plague would be so devastating to Pharaoh that he would finally relent and let the people go, though he would soon change his mind and follow them to the shore of the Red Sea, where God miraculously allowed them to escape.
But it is the last plague that became the way of remembering and celebrating God’s rescue. On that night in Egypt the angel of death went throughout the land, and the firstborn of every family and even of the livestock was taken in death.
But God told each Israelite household to take a spotless lamb, kill it, and take its blood and smear it on the doorframes of their houses. The blood would be a sign and would cause the Lord to “pass over” them, not allowing death to come to their firstborns. The people of Israel obeyed and God spared them.
But, as Ginger and Greg O’Brien say in the companion handbook to Caroline Cobb’s Passover Song, “That night every house in Egypt was a house of death and judgment – either of a lamb, or a firstborn. The blood of the lamb absorbed that judgment for the Israelite households. . . . Two Hebrew words in Exodus 12 have been translated as “passover:” ābar and pāsah. The first is the action of God passing over the land to bring judgment. The latter is used to describe God’s action in preventing the destroyer from entering homes with blood on the doorposts. “For the Lord will pass through (ābar) to strike the Egyptians, and when he sees the blood on the lintel and on the two doorposts, the Lord will pass over (pāsah) the door and will not allow the destroyer to enter your houses to strike you.” The word pāsah is probably best translated as ‘hover over, or cover over.’ God did not simply see the blood of the lamb smeared on the doorway and harmlessly pass over their homes. Instead, he shielded them from death. When he saw the blood of the lamb He Himself “covered over” the house, interposing Himself between the destroyer and those inside.”
Thousands of years later, we find ourselves in the same story. We are slaves not to Egypt, but to sin. We, like Egypt and Israel, all deserve death because of our rejection of God, our choosing of our own way. That first Passover lamb did not bring the Israelites ultimate salvation: it did not cleanse them of sin. It was a shadow, a type, of the true Passover Lamb. Jesus, the Son of God, the cover-over for the sin of His people. Jesus himself received death’s inflicting blow on the cross, absorbing God’s judgment. Thereby, he covered over those who trust in Him, shielding them from that judgment. The cross of Christ became the doorposts on which the blood of the Lamb was spilled.
That’s the picture that Jesus will use to frame the Lord’s Supper. The great rescue from Egypt becomes the model for our great rescue in Him. But Jesus’s use of that model is given in the context of his awareness that he will be betrayed. Verses 20-25: When it was evening, he reclined at table with the twelve. 21And as they were eating, he said, “Truly, I say to you, one of you will betray me.” 22And they were very sorrowful and began to say to him one after another, “Is it I, Lord?” 23He answered, “He who has dipped his hand in the dish with me will betray me. 24The Son of Man goes as it is written of him, but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been better for that man if he had not been born.” 25Judas, who would betray him, answered, “Is it I, Rabbi?” He said to him, “You have said so.”
The Passover meal could not be eaten till after sundown; and for those living within Palestine, it had to be eaten inside Jerusalem. At some point, probably early in the meal, Jesus solemnly says, "one of you will betray me.” The Greek word translated ‘betray’ literally means ‘to give over’ and is the same word Judas used when he went to the chief priests to set it up. So Judas would immediately know Jesus was speaking of him. But one after another the rest of the disciples, as the enormity of the charge sinks in, respond "Is it I, Lord?"
Verse 23, Jesus says “He who has dipped his hand in the dish with me will betray me.” It’s hard to translate this without being misleading: most translations give the impression that a singular person is in view, when in fact most if not all those present would have dipped into the same bowl as Jesus, given the customs of the day. If the main course, the lamb, was being eaten, the "bowl" would contain herbs and a fruit puree, which would be scooped out with bread. Jesus' point is that the betrayer is a friend, someone close, someone sharing the common dish, thus heightening the enormity of the betrayal.
Verse 24 “The Son of Man goes as it is written of him, but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been better for that man if he had not been born.” Here the Son of Man is simultaneously the glorious messianic figure who receives a kingdom and the Suffering Servant who dies to win forgiveness for the subjects of the kingdom He will do what has been prophesied of him in passages like Isaiah 53 and Daniel 9, and yet Judas’ evil in being the human means of that sacrifice is enormous. As Don Carson says “The divine necessity for the sacrifice of the Son of Man, grounded in the Word of God, does not excuse or mitigate the crime of betrayal . . . divine sovereignty and human responsibility are both involved in Judas's treason, the one effecting salvation and bringing redemption history to its fulfillment, the other answering the promptings of an evil heart. The one results in salvation from sin for Messiah's people, the other in personal and eternal ruin.
Verse 25, Judas responds ‘Is it I, Rabbi?’ He knows what he’s doing, but silence at this point would be a kind of confession. So to keep this from the others and maybe, in his mind, to keep it from Jesus, he joins in the question, though he uses the honorific ‘rabbi’ and not ‘Lord.’ The way the question is nuanced, in Greek, looks for a negative answer. But Jesus doesn’t give him the negative answer; he says the same thing he later says to the high priest ‘you have said so.’ This is an affirmative answer. It can be taken to mean ‘You have said it, not I’; yet in fact it is enough of an affirmative to give Judas a jolt without removing all ambiguity from the ears of the other disciples. It is likely, at this point, that Judas leaves. Matthew doesn’t mention him again until he leads the crowd and the temple guards into the Garden of Gethsemane to arrest Jesus.
Now, as the meal continues, Jesus begins to expand the Passover remembrance into a remembrance of his sacrifice for our sins. Verses 26-29: 26Now as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is my body.” 27And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, “Drink of it, all of you, 28for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. 29I tell you I will not drink again of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.”
Jesus takes a loaf, the unleavened bread of Passover. He gives thanks. When we do a Passover Seder at Trinity, which we’re not doing this year but may do next, we say together “Baruch Atah Adonai Eloheinu Melech Ha-olam Hamotzi Lechem min Ha-aretz.” “Blessed are you, O Lord our God, King of the universe, who brings forth bread from the earth." Those are probably the same words Jesus said. Though he wasn’t using a written Haggadah like we do, he was following a set form of words, songs and actions, more than a thousand years old. The next thing would be to break the bread and distribute it, which he does. The next thing would be to say ‘Take and eat.’ Which he does.
Then he changes it up. He says ‘This is my body.’ These words had no place in the Passover ritual; as an innovation, they must have had stunning effect, an effect that would increase after the crucifixion and resurrection. The sacrificial meaning is clearer in his discussion of the cup, the blood, but not absent here.
There has, of course, been endless debate about the word ‘is.’ In what sense is the bread Jesus' body? The plain sense of the passage is that the bread represents his body. If you’re sitting at a table with someone and he picks up a loaf of bread and says ‘this is my body’ and then breaks it, you get the idea that the bread symbolizes his body and that his body is going to be broken.
The Roman Catholic view says that every time you celebrate this meal in the mass, the bread miraculously becomes the body of Jesus, without changing any of the physical aspects of the bread, and he is sacrificed again in a bloodless but real way for our individual sins. But Paul’s fuller account of the Lord’s Supper includes the phrase ‘in remembrance of me:’ it’s a remembrance, not a repeat. There is no indication anywhere that Jesus needed to be sacrificed over and over again in order to obtain forgiveness of our sins. In fact Hebrews tells us that he was sacrificed once, once for all, and that it doesn’t need to be repeated.
So I believe the bread is a symbol. But that doesn’t mean that nothing happens when we take communion. When God’s people remember what he has done, God’s Holy Spirit is present to apply the results of Jesus’ cleansing sacrifice to our hearts; it binds us together as his body and nourishes our spiritual lives.
In verse 27 the meal has moved along, and Jesus takes a cup of wine. There are four cups in the Passover meal, meant to correspond to the four promises of Exodus 6:6-7. The third cup, the "cup of blessing" is linked to the promise of redemption. Jesus takes this cup and gives thanks, "Blessed art thou, O Lord our God, King of the universe, creator of the fruit of the vine." But then he again changes things up, verse 28: “for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.” Jesus’ words look back to Exodus 24:8, one of the few places where ‘blood’ and ‘covenant’ are found together in the Old Testament. But the idea of a covenant is also strongly seen in Jeremiah 31:31-34, and the idea of a sacrifice is found in the sacrificial system and especially in the Suffering Servant passages of Isaiah.
Jesus understands the violent, sacrificial death he is about to undergo as ratification of the covenant he is inaugurating with his people, even as Moses in Exodus 24:8 ratified the covenant of Sinai by the shedding of blood. Said another way, the event through which Messiah saves his people from their sins, Matthew 1:21, is his sacrificial death, and the resulting relation between God and the new community is defined by a covenant, an agreement with stipulations, brought here into legal force by the shedding of blood.
Further, the disciples would hear in ‘blood which is poured out’ a clear reference to the Passover sacrifice in which so much blood was ‘poured out.’ The Mishnah, the record of early Jewish interpretation, uses Exodus 24:8 to interpret the Passover wine as a metaphor for the blood that seals a covenant between God and his people. In the Gospel of John Jesus is called the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, and Paul says “Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed for us.” As the people of God in Egypt celebrated the first Passover even before their escape from the bonds of slavery, so the disciples celebrate their deliverance from sin and bondage before the sacrifice is made.
In calling his blood a covenant, Jesus is linking the Passover remembrance to Exodus 24. But Luke and Paul record that Jesus further called this a ‘new’ covenant, in a direct reference to Jeremiah 31, where God promises a new covenant, a heart covenant to his people. God says of that covenant that by it he will “forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more.” This blood is poured out for ‘many’, which underscores the immeasurable effects of Jesus' death: the one dies, the many find their lives "ransomed, healed, restored, forgiven." Jesus’s substitutionary death is payment for sin and results in forgiveness for the whole of God’s eternal people. This is the same way the term is used in Isaiah 53: “by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant, make many to be accounted righteous, and he shall bear their iniquities. . . yet he bore the sin of many, and makes intercession for the transgressors.
His sacrifice is "for the forgiveness of sins," a theme that runs through Scripture, from the sacrificial system, to the words of the prophets, the confessions of David, the theology of the New Testament: “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24and are justified, freely, by his grace, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25whom God put forward as a sacrifice, making atonement by his blood, to be received by faith.”
All have sinned. Jesus’ sacrifice makes no sense unless we see this. Communion makes no sense unless we recognize this. I’ve been talking recently about ‘theories of atonement.’ What was happening on the cross? A lot of things were happening there, including the example of sacrifice and the defeat of Satan, but if you take this one away, the payment of our debt of sin, I believe the core meaning of the cross crumbles. We need forgiveness. Each of us has put ourselves ahead of God and placed ourselves in rebellion against him. Each of us has hurt others with our words and our actions. These things result in separation from God and his righteous anger. But God chose to shield us from that anger in the person of His Son. His wrath was poured out, but his son hovered over us on the cross, his blood was our Passover, and he pays the price of our sin so that we can receive forgiveness through faith.
Jesus concludes by telling his disciples that “I will not drink again of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.” Just as the first Passover looks forward not only to deliverance but to settlement in the land, so also the Lord's Supper looks forward to deliverance and life in the consummated kingdom. The disciples will keep this celebration till Jesus comes, but Jesus will not participate in it with them till the consummation, when he will sit down with them at the messianic banquet in his Father's kingdom, which is equally Jesus' kingdom. This is similar to the way Paul ends his account of communion: “For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.”
So what have we seen? As Jesus participates in the Passover meal he changes it, from a remembrance of God’s rescue in Egypt through the blood of a lamb to a picture of his rescue of all who put their faith in Him, his forgiveness of our sins through his body broken, his blood shed, his life given on the cross.
I mentioned earlier The Passover Song by Caroline Cobbs and Sean Carter. It beautifully depicts the meaning of communion in the imagery of Passover. I’d like to play it as we close out the message and transition toward communion.