On Sunday, we looked at Mark’s account of Jesus’ last passover meal with his disciples and his institution of the Lord’s Supper (Mark 14:22-25), and we made note of two things Christians are meant to do each time they participate in communion.
In verses 22-24, we noticed our need to remember Jesus’ covenantal sacrifice through the elements of the bread and the fruit of the vine. To better understand what Jesus did—and said—as he instituted the Lord’s Supper, we spend some time talking about the fixed liturgy that would have taken place during a Jewish family’s Passover meal.
After the meal was served, but before it was eaten, the platter of unleavened bread would have been lifted by the head of the family, saying the prescribed formula: “This is the bread of affliction which our fathers ate in the land of Egypt. Let everyone who hungers come and eat; let everyone who is needy come and eat the Passover meal.”
Each of the other elements in the meal would have been introduced in similar fashion, all in the context of Israel’s experience in bondage to Egypt:
- The bitter herbs served to remember the bitterness of slavery.
- The stewed fruit, which had the consistency and color of clay, recalled the making of bricks as slaves.
- The lamb evoked a reminder of God’s gracious “passing over” of Israel in the plague of death that came to Egypt.
The entire meal was for the purpose of God’s people remembering their great deliverance provided by God.
After presenting the platter of unleavened bread, the head of the household would have then taken the cake of unleavened bread and recited the prescribed blessing: “Praised be Thou, O Lord, Sovereign of the world, who causes bread to come forth from the earth.” The family-head would have then broken for each person present a piece of the unleavened bread and passed each piece from hand-to-hand until everyone at the meal had their piece.
This distribution of unleavened bread would have taken place in silence. But contrary to custom, Jesus broke the silence by offering his own interpretation of the significance of the bread: “Take, this is my body” (v. 22). In similar fashion, he then took a cup, gave thanks, and directed his disciples to drink from it (v. 23).
There were four cups in a Passover meal. After the meal, the head of the household would have risen from his reclining position, and with his right hand he would have taken the third of four cups—called the cup of blessing or the cup of redemption—and he would have pronounced the prayer of thanksgiving, which concluded with these words: “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.”
But here, Jesus once again adds his own interpretation: “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many” (v. 24).
The reference to the covenant established in Jesus’ blood alludes to Exodus 24:6-8, where the old covenant at Mount Sinai was ratified by the sprinkling of sacrificial blood. It also raises Jeremiah 31:31-33 and Ezekiel 11:17-20; 36:22-32 into view, where God promises to establish a new covenant with his people. The old covenant made with Israel was constantly broken because of Israel’s sin. So, God promised a New Covenant:
- To forgive his people’s sin.
- To give his people new hearts and make them new.
- To put his Spirit within his people.
- To be their God forever.
Jesus’ actions and words, therefore, serve to fulfill the New Covenant in himself. Ultimately, Jesus reinterpreted two of the elements from the Passover meal—which faithful Jews had been celebrating since the days of the Exodus—to point forward to his imminent death and the fulfillment of the New Covenant in his body and blood, which were given “for many” (v. 24), just as Isaiah 53:12 foretold: “He bore the sin of many.”
For us looking back, we can see how the Passover—celebrated since the Exodus—had served to not just recall Israel’s deliverance by the mighty hand of God, but also to foreshadow the deliverance of all of God’s people by the covenantal sacrifice made by the Son of God. So today, we continue coming to his table to be reminded of his covenantal sacrifice on behalf of the many—all who will belong to God.
We are to remember! Whenever we celebrate communion. we are meant to to allow the elements of the bread and the fruit of the vine to remind us of Jesus’ covenant-faithfulness to us
Why are we meant to remember? We are a people who are weak, and in our weakness, we sometimes face doubt, anxiety, and worry in the midst of afflictions and everyday life. The Lord’s Supper, therefore, serves to strengthen our faith as we remember what the Lord has done for us. So no matter what you’re facing, allow the Lord’s table to encourage your weary soul, remembering that Jesus has given himself so that you could be his, forever.
In verse 25, we noticed the anticipation in Jesus’ words: “Truly, I say to 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” (emphasis mine).
Here, we spent some time talking about the fourth of four cups in a Passover meal, each correlating to the fourfold promises found in Exodus 6:6-7:
- I will bring you out…
- I will deliver you from slavery…
- I will redeem you…
- I will take you to be my people…
The third cup, already noted above, served to remind faithful Jews of God’s redemptive work throughout the Exodus. It’s the cup Jesus tied to the fulfillment of God’s New Covenant redemption in himself. But regarding the fourth cup, it is said Jesus abstained from the final cup in his last Passover meal prior to the cross, waiting to drink it together with us when we are finally brought into the fullness of God’s heavenly kingdom. It’s a cup that anticipates the day when all of God’s people will dwell with him forever in heaven. But whether Jesus actually abstained from it or not, the connection is clear: Jesus is anticipating, with deep desire, they day when he will finally drink again of the fruit of the vine with all who belong to him in the fullness of God’s kingdom.
In short, Jesus is anticipating the day when we will finally live with him forever as his people. When that day arrives, he will once again feast with us. And what joyfully glorious day that will be! Notice John’s words in Revelation 19:6-7 as he gets a glimpse of that feast: “Then I heard what seemed to be the voice of a great multitude, like the roar of many waters and like the sound of mighty peals of thunder, crying out, ‘Hallelujah! For the Lord our God the Almighty reigns. Let us rejoice and exult and give him the glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come.'”
My dear Lake Murray: This is what we are meant to anticipate whenever we celebrate the Lord’s Supper together. Why are we to anticipate God’s heavenly kingdom? Just as with our remembrance of Jesus’ covenantal sacrifice, anticipating the fullness of God’s kingdom bolsters our faith and helps us persevere in this world. One day, we will finally live with him as his people without the hindrance of the curses of sin. In the meantime, let’s allow the Lord’s Supper to encourage us in our faith while we wait with great anticipation to be with him in heaven.
And let’s anticipate…
For small group discussion, here is a PDF copy of Sunday’s insert with discussion questions: Mark 14.22-25 Insert.
“Peace be to the brothers, and love with faith, from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Grace be with all who love our Lord Jesus Christ with love incorruptible” (Ephesians 6:23-24).
In Christ’s service,