February 3, 2019
We have had the same kitchen table for at least fifteen years. It's true that about eight years ago I refinished the top but other wise it is the same table. But while the table remains the same, each day there is a newness as we sit around the table to eat our dinner. There is a newness because of what we bring to the table. Every day we have various experiences that shape our conversation around the table. The table provides a place for us to reconnect with each other.
This morning we want to think about the Lord's Table. Now this communion table has been here for longer than I've been here. The table is the same, but every time we come to the Lord's Table it is a little different because we are a little different. Jesus is the same. His love and mercy continue to be poured out, but because our hearts are inconsistent we need the Table. At the Lord’s Table we renew our participation in the saving life of Jesus Christ.
I. SEE THE NEW ORDINANCE. Mt.26:26-28
On the night that Israel was miraculously redeemed by God from slavery in Egypt, God gave Moses detailed instructions about how their deliverance was to take place. They were to kill a lamb and put some of the blood on the doorposts and lintel of their houses. The lamb was to be roasted and completely eaten that night. On that night the Lord would pass through the land of Egypt and the first born of all the Egyptians would die. But the first born of the Israelites would be spared, protected by the blood of the lamb.
The Passover observance involved other foods. Unleavened bread reminded the people that God’s deliverance was so quick that they had no time to allow the dough to rise. A bowl of salt water reminded the people of the tears they shed as slaves in Egypt, as well as reminding them of their crossing the red sea on dry land. The bitter herbs reminded them of the bitterness of slavery. A fruit puree reminded them of the clay used to make bricks. Four cups of wine drunk during the meal, reminded the people of the promises of God to redeem Israel from slavery found in Ex.6:6-7.
This was meant to be a lasting observance which took place in the first month of the Jewish year. It was Israel’s Independence Day. It is thought that Joshua led the people of Israel into the Promised Land about 1220 BC. So by the time of Jesus, Israel had been observing Passover for over a 1,000 years. It is true that there were seasons during Israel’s history when Passover was ignored because of idolatry and unbelief. But by the time of Jesus, the Passover meal was regularly observed. During the meal the story of Israel’s redemption from Egypt was retold as living history. Not only were those first Jews redeemed, but all Jews were living in the freedom of that redemption accomplished so long ago. Passover is a joyful occasion. So in this passage we find Jesus around the table with his disciples in the upper room. They are eating the Passover meal.
But all was not joyful in the upper room. For one thing in v.21 we learn that as they were eating, Jesus revealed that one of the disciples was going to betray him. They all became sorrowful and each one asked Jesus if he might be the betrayer. Of course we know it was Judas, and in v.25 we see that clearly Judas was at the table with the others.
In v.26-28, it says that, “Jesus took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, "Take, eat; this is my body." And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, "Drink of it, all of you for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.” And suddenly everything changes. You can almost hear the disciples saying, “Wait! What?” In over a 1,000 years nothing like this had ever happened before. What was Jesus doing?
Well, I don’t think Jesus was doing away with Passover. Passover was still a very important observance for the nation of Israel. But Jesus was establishing a new observance for all his followers and it had everything to do with himself. Just as Passover was meant to convey to all Jews for all time, a living participation in the redemption accomplished in Egypt, so the Lord’s Table is meant to be for all followers of Jesus, a living participation in the redemption provided by Jesus. Participating at the Lord’s Table is not the means of receiving that redemption, but I do believe it is the way established by Jesus in which we regularly affirm and renew our participation in the life of Jesus.
Is it optional for the believer? Well in one sense, since our salvation does not depend upon our participating in the Lord’s Table, it is optional. We are not more or less saved by observing communion. But in another sense, it is not optional because Jesus commanded us to regularly do this in remembrance of him. Is Jesus more present with us at his table than at any other gathering of his people? I don’t think so. But he is surely not any less present at his table. We eat and drink in the presence of Jesus. It is his table.
II. REJOICE IN THE NEW COVENANT. Mt.26:28
In v.28, Jesus takes the cup and says, “this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.” Now, this is fascinating. Jesus is not just pulling words out of the air. These words come from the Old Testament. The words, “blood” and “covenant” are found together in only two verses in the Old Testament. Most scholars believe Jesus is alluding to Ex.24:8. In Ex.24, Moses and the people of Israel are ratifying the covenant made at Mt. Sinai. We are no longer thinking about Passover. Rather Jesus is alluding to the old covenant of law, sometimes called the Mosaic Covenant. In Ex.24:8 we read, “And Moses took the blood and threw it on the people and said, "Behold the blood of the covenant that the LORD has made with you in accordance with all these words."
But this isn’t the only passage Jesus is thinking about. Jesus also alludes to a verse from Jer.31:34. There we read, “And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, 'Know the LORD,' for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the LORD. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more." In Jer.31 we are reading about the New Covenant that God was going to establish in the future. In fact, it is the covenant that Jesus is referring to here in Mt.26. The old covenant of law was given to regulate the lives of the people of Israel living in the Promised Land. It was a gracious gift of God. In Ps.147:19-20 we read, “He declares his word to Jacob, his statutes and rules to Israel. He has not dealt thus with any other nation; they do not know his rules. Praise the LORD!” The covenant of law was a gift of God’s grace but Israel used it as a point of pride. Gentiles were excluded because they did not have the law.
When Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper in the upper room that night, he was announcing the imminent arrival of the New Covenant. Like the Old Covenant, the New Covenant would be ratified with blood. Unlike the Old Covenant, the New Covenant would bring about the forgiveness of sins through the death of Jesus on the cross. Under the Old Covenant, Israel was called to be a light to the Gentiles, living in such a way as to draw the Gentiles to God. Israel excluded the Gentiles, looking down on them in baseless pride. The death of Jesus in our behalf was a very physical event. He gave his body. He shed his blood. And to all who embrace Jesus by faith as their Savior, Lord and King, he gives the forgiveness of sin and eternal living in the kingdom of God.
I find all this fascinating because the words of Jesus help to show us how deeply connected Jesus and Christianity are with the Old Testament. For us, the relevance of the Old Testament finds it fullness in Jesus. But more than that, I find the words of Jesus at the Lord ’s Table to be wonderful. You see, God did not give the law to Israel because Israel was worthy. God does not give his gifts on basis of our worthiness. God gives his gifts because he is good, merciful, and gracious.
This is so important. In the world, we are all specialists in maximizing our own worth and value, while diminishing the worth and value of others. In fact diminishing the worth and value of others is one of the ways we maximize our own sense of worth. Unfortunately many never come to a place where they see the depth of sin and guilt in their lives. Many do not consider the fact that they are accountable to God our Creator. Many do not agree that our sins separate us from God. They think that God will extend his grace on the basis of their worthiness. But no. God extended his grace in the person of his Son, Jesus Christ who died in our place on the cross in order to establish a new covenant, a new agreement between God and man. It is a covenant which grants forgiveness and life through faith in the death and resurrection of Jesus.
We see this at the Lord’s Table. We reaffirm our participation in his death and life as we eat and drink.
III. DRINK TO OUR NEW FUTURE. Mt.26:29
In v.29, Jesus says, "I 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." I mentioned earlier that four cups of wine were drunk during the Passover observance. In v.28 most think that Jesus was using the 3rd cup, the cup of blessing corresponding to the promise of redemption found in Ex.6:6. The fourth cup is called the cup of consummation, which corresponds to Ex.6:7, where God promises to take Israel to be his people and he will be their God. Perhaps Jesus refrained from drinking this fourth cup until that day when he will drink it anew with his followers in the new heaven and earth. But first he must go to the cross and drink that cup of suffering for our redemption from sin.
But while Jesus waits to drink the cup of consummation, we eat the bread and drink the cup in anticipation of that day when we will drink it anew with Jesus. I hope no one is offended in my saying, "Drink to our new future." I certainly mean no offense. But in drinking the cup we are looking forward to that wonderful day. In the Passover dinner, the bowl of salt water reminded the people of the tears they shed in slavery, but it also reminded them of the miraculous crossing of the red sea. Likewise this cup reminds us of Jesus' death and also of our wonderful future with him. So yes, we are drinking to our future with Jesus, even as we are reminded that our glorious future cost Jesus his very life. So this bread and cup are a memorial even as they are a foretaste of our future with Jesus.
So here we are at the Lord's Table. The disciples may not have fully understood what Jesus was saying because it was all new to them based on events that had not yet happened. But I wonder if our appreciation of the Lord's Table is not dulled due to thoughtless repetition. Or perhaps our appreciation of the Table is dulled because we have little sense of renewing our participation in the life of Jesus. We may not be even thinking about Jesus as we eat the bread and drink the cup. We are just going through the motions.
If you realize that you are mailing in your participation at the Lord's Table then it is important to open your heart and mind to Jesus and ask him to help you renew your gratitude for your salvation. And if you have not received his salvation then this is as good a time as any to repent of your sins and call upon the name of the Lord to be saved. Amen