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Understanding the Lord's Supper

Matt Carter    /    Nov 24, 2013

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Matt Carter teaches about the Lord's Supper using Mark 14:22-31

Series: The Gospel of Mark

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Sermon Transcript

 

I grew up attending a little church in a small east Texas town. As a little kid, one of my favorite Sunday services was when we did the Lord’s Supper, also known as communion, where we’d eat bread and drink wine in remembrance of the body and blood of Jesus. Because my preacher was long winded, I’d always get hungry, so communion was a snack for me. As I got older, I realized it was more than just a snack. It was actually a time to think about the cross and Jesus. Now, as I’ve studied the scriptures, I’ve begun to understand the Lord’s Supper is even more than that.

 

The Lord’s Supper is a powerful picture God places in the scriptures to help us get our minds around why Jesus had to die.

 

Have you ever wondered that? Why the blood of Jesus was necessary for our sins to be forgiven? Why did He have to die?

 

Straying From Tradition

 

Let me set the scene.

 

Jesus had gathered His disciples in the Upper Room. Judas just left the building on his way to betray Jesus. The only people left in the room were Jesus’ true disciples. As He was sitting around with the remaining eleven, He did something that was very difficult for us, as twenty-first century American Christians, to understand. He did something that was shocking.

 

22 And as they were eating, he took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to them, and said, “Take; this is my body.” 23 And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, and they all drank of it. 24 And he said to them, “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many. 25 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.” Mark 14:22-25 (ESV)

 

As soon as Jesus said those words I can promise you the disciples’ jaws dropped open. They would have looked at each other, then at Jesus and said, “What in the world did He just say?!”

 

By saying those words, Jesus had just broken over a thousand years of tradition, completely rewriting the meaning and order of the Passover meal.

 

If the Jewish leaders had been in the room that night, they would have torn their clothes in half and started screaming at the top of their lungs that He was a heretic.

 

To understand this, why was so radical and how it helps us understand why Jesus had to die, we need to understand the order and meaning of the original Passover meal.

 

The Original Passover Meal

 

For ancient and present-day Jews, the Passover meal is an annual meal that commemorates a defining moment in Israel’s history. Back in the day, the Jewish people were enslaved by the Egyptians. It was a horrible time of oppression for them. The Passover meal was to celebrate and be reminded of God releasing them from slavery in Egypt.

 

That’s what Jesus was doing that night with His disciples. He was about to walk to the cross to die. The disciples didn’t really get this yet, so Jesus stopped and shared the Passover meal with them.

 

There were two things God commanded His people to do at Passover.

 

  1. To do it every year.
  2. To do it the exact same way, every time.

 

Every year the head of the household would stand up and walk his family through the different elements of the Passover meal. Each step was to remind them of all the different elements of the exodus and deliverance from slavery in Egypt. The people of God had been doing this since the first Passover until the night Jesus was in the Upper Room with His disciples.

 

Jesus’ disciples were Jewish and would have known the order and meaning of every part of the meal by heart; they could have led it themselves. Yet on this night Jesus, the head of the house, stood up and for the first time in the history of the Jewish people broke tradition and did Passover completely different than it had ever been done before.

 

The Cups

 

There were four cups. Each one had a meaning and represented one of the four promises from God made in Exodus 6:6-7.

 

  1. The first cup represented the promise of God to the people of God that He was going to rescue them from Egypt.
  2. The second cup represented the promise of God that He would free them from their slavery.
  3. The third cup was the promise of God that He was going to ultimately redeem them, not by their power, but by His power.
  4. The fourth cup was the future promise of God that He would restore relationship with His people once and for all at some point in time in the future.

 

The head of the household would stand and hold up the first cup and remind his family that God was going to rescue them from Egypt and then he would pass the cup around. Each person in the family would drink from the cup and remember this promise from God. Then he would pick up the second cup and do the same.

 

The Bread of Affliction

 

Before he went to the third cup, he would grab some bread. He would hold it up and break it, reminding his family the bread stood for affliction. Each person in the family would get a piece and eat it. When they took it into themselves, they would stop, pause and remember the affliction of their forefathers in slavery in Egypt. Imagine the disciples’ shock when for the first time in over a thousand years Jesus broke from this tradition.

 

22 And as they were eating, he took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to them, and said, “Take; this is my body.” Mark 14:22 (ESV)

 

In the Greek it reads, “Take, because I am myself this bread.” Their jaws would have dropped. From now on the broken bread no longer represented the affliction of their forefathers taken on by the people of God. It now represented Jesus’ body and the truth that He would take on the affliction of the people of God so they wouldn’t have to anymore.

 

The kingdom of God would be established by the breaking of Jesus’ body. He had been telling them for years about the kingdom of God that was coming. The disciples just didn’t get the concept of Jesus having to die to establish this kingdom. They thought they would establish it by breaking the back of the Romans through military force.

 

On this night, in a crazy radical way, Jesus told them they weren’t going to do it that way. The kingdom of God would be established by breaking something, His body. He was going to take on the affliction of the people of God Himself. He was talking about the cross, the nails in His hands and feet, the torture and beatings, the crown of thorns, the nakedness and pain, and the fact that even though he had never sinned, He was about to become sin and be separated from His Heavenly Father whom He’d known for all eternity.

 

The Bitter Herbs & Fruit

 

In the traditional Passover meal, it didn’t stop there. After this, the head of the household would lift up some bitter herbs and they would eat them to remember the bitterness of their slavery in Egypt.

 

Jesus just skipped the herbs. He didn’t even talk about them. He passed right over them. Jesus was saying the new kingdom He was establishing would once and for all take away the bitterness of the people of God.

 

In the original Passover meal, the head of the household would hold up a grey fruit. They would eat it to remember the bricks they made in their toil and slavery in Egypt. Once again, Jesus broke with tradition and completely skipped the fruit to show them, and us, that this new kingdom He was establishing would free us from slavery.

 

The Lamb

 

Finally, the head of the house would stand up and serve the main course. It was the best part, the lamb. As they ate it, the head of the household would tell the story of why they ate it.

 

The lamb, which they had killed that morning, reminded them of the first Passover night when they were still slaves in Egypt. God was trying to loosen the grip of Pharaoh on the people of God. He was sending plagues onto the Egyptians, such as frogs, flies, boils and even turned the Nile into blood. The final plague was the plague of death. In this one final act God would bring His sword of justice on the Egyptians. But God told Moses about this final plague. He would send the angel of death to kill the firstborn son of the Egyptians and the Israelites. I’m sure the people of God were wondering why He would do that.

 

When it came time for God to pass judgment over sin, the Egyptians and the Israelites were equally guilty. The people of God and the Egyptians were both sinners, we’ve all fallen short of the glory of God. At the end of the day, God’s people were just as guilty as the Egyptians. There was a difference however; God provided a way for His people to be saved from this death.

 

He was willing to make an exchange with them. God, is in His mercy, was willing to offer them a substitute. If they would take a spotless lamb, shed its blood and put it over the doorpost of their homes, the angel of death would pass over them. That’s why it’s called the Passover.

 

Not only did Jesus skip the herbs and fruit, but He didn’t talk about the lamb either. Why would He skip the most important part of the Passover meal?

 

Jesus was trying to show the disciples He was the Lamb. They didn’t have to kill a lamb ever again.

 

Jesus is God’s great exchange. He is God’s once and forever substitute. In just a few hours He would walk to the cross and shed His blood.

 

If they, and we, would just trust in His once and forever sacrifice and place the blood of Jesus over the doorpost of our life, the angel of death will pass over us. We will not die; we will live.

 

The Third Cup

 

After breaking the bread, Jesus jumped right to the third cup. It was the promise of God to ultimately redeem His people, not by our power, but by His power.

 

23 And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, and they all drank of it. 24 And he said to them, “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many. Mark 14:23-24 (ESV)

 

Jesus’ blood was going to redeem them, and us. It is His blood that saves us. Not our efforts or work. God saves us through the blood of the Lamb of God.

 

That is why John the Baptist pointed to Jesus the first time He saw Him and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world,” (John 1:29), and why Paul says, “For the wages of sin is death. But, the free gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord,” (Romans 6:23) and why John, the disciple, said, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).

 

I was on the phone this week a friend and we were talking about C.S. Lewis and the impact he had on our culture. My friend told a story about a woman he knew that was older now, but had grown up an atheist. She had been taught to despise Christianity and Christ. Yet, she always loved The Chronicles of Narnia. She loved C.S. Lewis and his brilliance. She loved Aslan; she had been in love with him her whole life. She couldn’t get over this character; the lion that gave his life so his friends could live only to then rise from the dead and make everything new. Only later in life she realized C.S. Lewis was a Christian and it devastated her. She realized that she hadn’t been in love with Aslan her whole life, but she had been in love with Christ.

 

How does Jesus melt the heart of an atheist, a woman who had been taught to despise Him?

 

He does so by being her substitute. He shed His blood and died so that we don’t have to.

 

The Fourth Cup

 

The fourth promise of God in Exodus 6:6-7 was the future promise that one day He would completely renew the relationship He has with His people.

 

Jesus picked up the third cup and stated it was His blood that would redeem His people through the power of God.

 

He didn’t then pick up the fourth cup, but He does say this…

 

25 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.” Mark 14:25 (ESV)

 

God is going to completely renew our relationship with Him. Jesus said He wouldn’t drink that cup then, but will one day. He is going to drink it again in the kingdom when we’re all together.

 

There’s a day that’s coming when all the blood-bought people of God are going to be around the table and the marriage supper of the Lamb and we’ll lift up the fourth cup and drink it anew with Jesus.

 

We’ll say together, “Jesus, here’s to you. It’s all because of you!”