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The Last Supper

March 21, 2011, More from this speaker 更多关于此讲员: Pastor Daniel Tan (Matthew 26:17-30) For more of this sermon series 更多关于此讲道系列: Matthew
Preached at a Bilingual (Mandarin-English, Sunday) service

Tags: Matthew, 马太福音

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About Pastor Daniel Tan: Pastor Tan served as the youth pastor of Jubilee Church till his retirement. He is currently serving actively in missions.
Bible passage (ESV) of the sermon can be found at the bottom of the page.

Sermon on Matthew 26:17-30

Today we begin the sermon series on the passion narrative of Jesus. In the Synoptic Gospels, Jesus’ passion begins from the Jewish plot against His life during the Feast of Unleavened Bread and ends at His burial (i.e. Matthew 26-27; Mark 14-15; Luke 22-23). Among the biblical scenes that artists have tried to portray more than any other is the Last Supper scene, the last meal that Jesus had with His disciples shortly before He was arrested and crucified. The Last Supper has been a favorite inspiration for many works of art, and there are numerous great master painters who addressed this theme in some of their best known masterpieces. Each artist uses his imagination as he paints the scene of the Last Supper to portrait different atmosphere that existed in that ancient dining hall. In fact, as far back as in the times of the early Christians, there were pictorial representations of the Last Supper that could be found in the catacombs of Rome. Of course, by far the most famous ‘Last Supper’ interpretation belongs to Leonardo Da Vinci. But there are other outstanding masterpieces of the Last Supper by various artists as well. Now I will show you the works of the two great artists not so well known by us: Tintoretto and Nicholas Poussin, plus the all time famous Da Vinci’s work.

Of the three paintings shown, the most historically accurate piece of work comes from Nicholas Poussin’s painting. It accurately describes the furniture (‘tricline’) and posture of the Apostles. Tricline is a Roman’s furniture, a square-cornered, U-shaped combination of three cushions. On the exterior of all three sides dinning guests would recline. The open side is for servants to serve food. In this painting the servant is leaving the room on the left side of the room. What made the Last Supper the most favorite biblical scene that inspired many great masters throughout centuries? It is because the Last Supper is one of the most important events in the Christian doctrine of salvation – Jesus Himself institutes it as the Lord’s Supper. So, today we are going to view the Last Supper from the eyes of Matthew as we observe the period of Lent embracing the suffering of our Lord, Jesus Christ. In fact, as Christians we observe the Lord’s Supper every first Sunday of the month. Are you treating it as simply a religious exercise or a routine ritual? Or you really understand the significance of it? It will certainly do you good to deepen your faith if you could grasp the various dimensions of the Lord’s Supper, of which I want to mention only three. First, the Lord’s Supper or the Last Supper is Jesus’ act of deliverance, an inauguration of the new covenant.

(1) The Last Supper is Jesus’ act of deliverance, an inauguration of the new covenant.

Jesus had come up to Jerusalem to celebrate the Feast of Passover. In today’s beginning verse, we read: On the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread, the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Where do you want us to make preparations for you to eat the Passover?” Originally there was probably a one-day festival of Passover (Nisan14, falls in March or April). It then immediately followed by a seven-day festival of Unleavened Bread (Nissan 15-21). But by the first century these two festivals had effectively merged into a single festival lasting a total of eight days. As such, the merged festival might be referred to as a whole either as the festival of “Passover” or as festival of “Unleavened Bread” (R.T. France). In other words, the first day’s festival of Unleavened Bread effectively begins with the Passover feast (Nisan 14 became the Day of Preparation). What is this Passover feast? The word “Passover” derives from Exodus 12:13 where The LORD said to Moses: “When I see the blood, I will pass over you. No destructive plague will touch you when I strike Egypt.” Thus the Passover feast is for the Israelites the celebration of God’s liberation of them from slavery in Egypt. After entering the promise land, the Jews, at God’s command, were to keep the event of Passover as a lasting ordinance. In Jesus’ time, Passover was one of the pilgrimage feasts. Thus, Jesus and His disciples had to travel to Jerusalem to celebrate this festival and to eat the Passover meal there. It was on this occasion, His last Passover meal with His disciples, Jesus had transformed the meaning of this meal for them. As their Lord, He had placed a new symbolic interpretation upon the bread and wine. This Passover will be unlike any other Passover the disciples had experienced.

Knowing that His appointed time of crucifixion is near, Jesus sent His disciples into the city of Jerusalem to secure a room in which they can prepare the Passover meal. Thus, we see Jesus is still taking charge of events leading to His death. He has control over where He will celebrate the Passover, even over the person whose house will hold the celebration. But what are the essential elements of the Passover meal? It involves eating of the roasted lamb, the unleavened bread, bitter herbs and fruit sauce, along with four cups of wine which are passed around at the feast to recall the four promises of Exodus 6:6-7: “I will bring you out…I will free you…I will redeem you…I will take you for my people, and I will be your God.” (Michael Green)

It is the customary practice that the head of the household would preside over the feast. He would begin by speaking the words of thanksgiving for the feast day, and lead saying of grace and singing of Psalms. He would recite the great events of Israel’s redemption with rich symbolism employed by the various elements of the meal. Thus, Jesus naturally assumes this leading role as He eats the Passover meal with His disciples. We read from today’s text that while they were eating, Jesus took bread, give thanks and broke it, and give it to His disciples, saying, “Take and eat; this is my body.” Imaging the startled response of the disciples when the host of the feast, taking and breaking the unleavened bread, He made no mention of the ancient exodus’ event, but instead solemnly declared, “This is my body.” Jesus now invests the breaking of bread with new meaning. It foreshadows His body figuratively broken and literally killed in His upcoming death. In other words, the bread symbolizes the body of Jesus, which is about to be ‘broken’ on the cross.

This redemptive nature of His broken body becomes even clearer when Jesus took the cup, gave thanks and offered it to the disciples, saying, “Drink from it, all of you. This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.” As a tradition, the cup of the Passover meal is filled with red wine, symbolizing the blood of lambs sprinkled on the door posts that enabled Israel’s homes to be passed over by the ‘angel of death’. Again, Jesus gives it a new meaning by proclaiming that the cup of wine now stands for His blood poured out for many in His death on the cross. Just as the blood of the Passover lambs had been a sign of salvation at the beginning of Israel’s history, so Jesus’ blood poured out for many would be the sign of God’s saving work in the end time. By adding the notion that it is His blood of the covenant for the forgiveness of sins, Jesus indicates that the blood of His death will effect the fulfillment of the new covenantal relationship between God and the human race. This new covenant is characterized by a universal knowledge of God and the forgiveness of sins as prophesized by prophet Jeremiah (Jer 31:31-34). We must be clear that the Old Testament sacrificial system could not itself take away sins. It is not as if God decided that the death of animals would atone for sins so that He would change His mind and forgive. Rather, forgiveness is gift and action of God that proceed from Him and benefit human beings. With this new covenant brought to the world by the blood of Jesus, sins would be forgiven. Men and women could also know God personally because Jesus came to make the Father known. It is a priceless blessing of the new covenant. Jesus thus further transforms the Passover meal into a covenant meal. This new covenant between God and human race will be sealed not with the blood of animals but, with the blood of His own Son. Furthermore, the new covenant sealed by Jesus’ blood would bring also the deliverance of human race from slavery. The deliverance will not be like the first exodus; it will deal not with slavery to the Egypt Pharaoh or any other external enemy but with slavery to sin. Thus, we see Jesus has instilled a new dynamic symbolism into the bread and wine, identifying His upcoming death on the cross as His act of deliverance of human race from the bondage of sin. The Last Supper is now the Lord’s Supper, and it becomes the ‘Christian Passover’.

Yes, brothers and sisters, it has been a depressing two weeks since March 11 to watch the news coverage on Japan disaster. On TV we have witnessed the horrified power of Tsunami brought by the major earth quake that hit the North East of Japan. Towns within minutes could just be destroyed totally, and several thousands of lives had been lost with many more reported missing. But would it not be even more terrified to witness the Son of God being crucified on the cross? Jesus Christ, the Son of God, through whom the whole universe is created and subject to His power, willfully allows Himself to be mocked by the religious leaders and the crowd, and be put to death on the cross by the Roman soldiers. Matthew tells us that darkness came upon the land while Jesus was hanging on the cross. And upon His death, the earth shook and the rocks split. But the most significant event at the moment of His death was that the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom, signifying the completion of Jesus’ act of deliverance of human race. Yes, upon His death all is forgiven by the blood of covenant that Jesus has established.

In1973, there was a popular song “Tie a Yellow Ribbon” with 3 million copies sold within 3 weeks, it became a top selling single in both the US and UK. It tells of a man who has been sent to prison. He has served his time and is now coming home on the bus. But he admits that his love one has every right to reject him. He is to blame. So, he has written to tell her that if she forgives him, she should “tie a yellow ribbon round the old oak tree”. If there is no yellow ribbon, he will just go riding by on the bus. As the miles roll by, all the man thinks about is that oak tree. When he gets home, will there be a yellow ribbon on it? The song ends in triumph with the entire busload of people cheering as the man sees not one but a hundred yellow ribbons on that old oak tree! His love one not only forgives him, but she exuberantly welcomes him home. Like the man on the bus, we are fearful of death and what is ahead. We know our own hearts, and we wonder if God will really forgive us, let alone celebrate our home coming (Harold L. Myra). But by instituting the Lord’s Supper the night before His death, Jesus assures us of God’s welcome. Yes, God’s yellow ribbons will be there, for Jesus tells us “Take and eat; this is my body. Drink from it, this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.” We therefore come to the second dimension of the Last Supper: The Last Supper is Jesus’ act of communion, an invitation of sharing His death.

(2) The Last Supper is Jesus’ act of communion, an invitation of sharing His death.

Yes, Jesus reinterprets the traditional event of the Jewish Passover, and transforms the partaking of bread and wine into a symbolic portrayal of His redemptive death. And He invites His disciples to partake of them. Why must the disciples to partake of them, the bread and the cup of wine? It is because before giving Himself over to death, Jesus wants to share in the Last Supper the intimacy of fellowship with His disciples. By their partaking of bread and wine, the disciples are entering into communion with Jesus. In fact, the theme of the close teacher-disciple relationship has already been introduced in the preparation of the Passover meal. In verse 18, it is the first and only time that Jesus refers to His disciples as “my disciples”. This emphasizes the close teacher-disciple bond, the bond Jesus strongly desires to deepen with “my disciples” through the table fellowship of this special Passover meal (John Heil). Thus, the Twelve’s intimate teacher-disciple bond with Jesus reaches its high point in this Last Supper as they eat the bread-body of Jesus and drink the cup of wine designated as His blood of the covenant.

Jesus’ saying that the bread is His body and the wine is His blood has been one of the notorious and divisive problems in the Christian church. But Jesus can hardly mean literally when He is physically present with the disciples at the meal. As the Jewish Passover meal is rich in symbolism, Jesus likewise uses the bread and the cup of wine to instill a new and important symbolism into them, to associate them with His upcoming death. At the meal table, Jesus’ blessing of God and the breaking of the bread recalls for us the miraculous feedings of the five thousands and the four thousands respectively as recorded in chapters 14 and 15. We see Jesus satisfies their hunger with the multiplication of the loaves. And furthermore in the Gospel of John, Jesus declares Himself to be ‘the bread of life’, whoever eats it will never go hungry (John 6:35). So, by identifying the Passover bread to be His body, Jesus is in fact telling His disciples that they are to feed on Him. Just as the Jews feed on the Passover lamb and the unleavened bread whenever they celebrate the Passover, disciples’ partaking of the bread means they are to be nourished continually by Jesus even after His death, for He is the bread that gives life. And by partaking of the cup of wine, the blood poured out from His broken body, we are also reminded of an earlier passage where Jesus spoke about drinking the cup that He is to drink (20:22-23). The cup that Jesus needs to drink is the cup of suffering leading to death. Thus, by drinking the cup that Jesus drinks, the disciples are invited to associate themselves with Jesus’ death, to make His broken body and His poured out blood theirs. Thus, communion with Jesus involves not only maintaining an intimate relationship with Him, but also sharing His fate, and be united with Him into a new covenantal relationship to pledge our loyalty to Him. As Jesus’ followers, we are to continually feed on Him by depending on the death of Jesus. In other words, Jesus’ death is offering to His followers what will meet their basic need, the living bread to feed them, provided they obey His command and associate themselves with His death in close communion with Him. Bread and cup of wine, Jesus’ body and blood, are offered to us; in turn we have to take and eat that bread and drink that cup.

But when the disciples ‘take’ the Passover bread-body that Jesus ‘gives’ them, they are not only to feed themselves. As intermediaries for Jesus, they are to ‘distribute’ it to the people in future celebrations of this new Christian Passover meal, the Lord’s Supper. Again, in the Last Supper the ritual gestures of ‘taking-blessing-breaking-giving’ that Jesus performs in offering the bread that is His body, recall for us the corresponding gestures He used in both the miraculous feedings with the crowds (14:19; 15:36; 26:26). The disciples after Jesus’ multiplication of the loaves are to give them to the crowds. By instituting the Last Supper to be the Lord’s Supper, Jesus likewise commands the disciples to repeatedly celebrate His ‘taking-blessing-breaking-giving’ act of deliverance with His followers. In other words, Jesus has left His disciples a new way to unify all His followers with Him and His saving death. It also becomes a sign of fellowship, of unity among all Christians with Jesus Christ as their Lord. So, we see the Lord’s Supper is far more than a bare memorial of what Jesus did on the cross. It is a means of feeding on Him and associating us with His death. It is also a way of unifying us with Jesus as a corporate identity as His followers. Whenever the Jews as a nation celebrate their Passover generation after generation, they make the rescue acts of God liberating them to freedom real to them. So must Christians! When we come to the Lord’s Supper, the saving death of Jesus is to be enacted. By being made sharers in Jesus’ body and blood, we participate in God’s redemption of the world. We are also partakers of Christ life and the grace of His Gospel. The celebration of the Lord’s Supper should bring us a fresh experience of the grace of God through the forgiveness of sins, a renewed participation in Jesus’ saving death, and also a renewed sense of oneness of the members of the one body of Christ.

(3) The Last Supper is Jesus’ act of promise, a joyful anticipation of the banquet in God’s kingdom for the faithful.

Jesus’ death and sharing of it is also a promise of future that the disciples will share in the feast of God’s kingdom with Jesus. And this is the third important dimension of the Last Supper. With the focus on imminent death, Jesus makes His final pronouncement: “I tell you, I will not drink of this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it anew with you in my Father’s kingdom.” The close teacher-disciple bond will soon be broken by Jesus’ death, but it will be restored. The wine which for the present is the symbol of death will also be the focus of future rejoicing. It will be a new wine that Jesus will drink with them. ‘New wine’ is a powerful Old Testament symbol of joyful well being (e.g. Gen 27:28; Deut 33:28; Pr 3:10; Amos 9:13). Jesus has used it in 9:17 as a symbol of the new life His disciples enjoy in contrast with the old wine-skins of religious tradition (R. T. France). Thus, Jesus is speaking of the life of the kingdom of God. In other words, the imminent death of Jesus will not bring a definitive conclusion of His table fellowship with His disciples. Jesus promises them to be their host again in the kingdom’s feast of His Father when God’s purpose of blessing for His people is ultimately fulfilled.

Amid the betrayal by one of His disciples, Jesus’ promise of eternal heavenly banquet is for those who are faithful to Him, who acknowledge Him as their Lord and obey His command. We see the betrayal marks the event of the Last Supper before Jesus is to die. As they are eating the meal, Jesus tells the disciples that one of them will betray Him. The disciples have followed Jesus thus far throughout His ministry, and they have shared with Him many meals before. They cannot believe one of them will betray Jesus. They are thus very sad and begin to say to Jesus one after another, “Surely not I, Lord?” Jesus indirectly gives the answer: “The one who has dipped his hand into the bowl with me will betray me.” The practice of dipping hand with the bread into a common bowl is part of the Passover ritual. It is therefore not a clear indication of the betrayer’s identity (contrast John 13:26), for other disciples have done the dipping as well with Jesus. But Judas knows well that he is the betrayer. His question to Jesus is therefore hypocritical; “Surely not I, Rabbi?” It seems that he merely echoes the other disciples so as not to appear out of line. Or perhaps he just wants to see whether Jesus really knows who the betrayer would be. Jesus’ answer to him is an affirmation that Judas himself well knew. Notice Judas addresses Jesus as Rabbi unlike other disciples who address Jesus as Lord. Judas, of course, is not wrong to call Jesus Rabbi, title of respect for a teacher. But he should recognize that Jesus is more than the teacher. In the Gospel of Matthew, it is usually Jesus’ opponents or unbelievers who address Jesus as “Master,” “Teacher,” or “Rabbi” (possible exception 8:19). Matthew however reserves the address “Lord” for disciples or potential disciples. Thus, the different title used by Judas to address Jesus underlines his separation from the rest of the disciples (Likewise, in betraying Jesus at Gethsemane, Judas will also hail Jesus as Rabbi, 26:49). He is marked as the traitor while the others are seen as loyal disciples who address Jesus as Lord. Having no proper relationship to Jesus as his Lord, Judas is soon to break the bond with Jesus and betray Him. Here, we also see Jesus’ resolute acceptance and superior foreknowledge of Judas’ betrayal in accord with God’s plan.

Judas has been called to be a disciple of Jesus like the other eleven. He has been with Jesus, heard Him teach, witnessed the healings of the sick, heard Jesus’ disputations with the Jewish leaders, but still he will betray Jesus. Thus, we see the line between commitment and betrayal can be a thin one as the disciples are soon to discover in the very near future, typified by the three time denial of Peter. So, no disciples are immune to exclude the possibility that they might betray Jesus. They cannot be sure whether or not they will betray Jesus. “Surely not I, Lord?” is thus their anxious question to Jesus concerning their loyalty to Him. They need assurance from Jesus’ answer. In this light, Jesus’ giving of bread and cup is to be perceived as providing them with what they need. They need to feed on Him to be His faithful disciples. They need to be forgiven by Jesus’ blood of the new covenant. In other words, faithful disciples are those who see themselves to be in need of receiving from Jesus bread and cup, his body and His blood. They are those who obey His command to eat and drink (Daniel Patte). Only with such an attitude, they will not be betrayers, but faithful disciples. As they remain loyal to Jesus when they will be separated from Him, so Jesus says: “I will not drink of this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it anew with you in my Father’s kingdom.” It is thus the assuring promise that Jesus gives to them, His faithful disciples.

Yes, brothers and sisters, if the twelve, those who had known Jesus so intimately, who had accompanied Him throughout His ministry, had to ask the question of their loyalty to Jesus; how much more soul searching Christians must do to ask the same question today: “Surely not I, Lord?” By instituting the Last Supper to be the Lord’s Supper, Jesus provides His followers the means to satisfy their needs and to remain faithful to Him. The meal that Jesus shared at Passover with His disciples now becomes the meal He continues to share with the church through His resurrection, ascension and the sending of the Holy Spirit. So, whenever the church celebrates the Lord’s Supper, the community must look back to the redemptive death of its Lord. We are reminded that we are no longer under the bondage of sin and death. As we partake of the Lord’s Supper, we are invited to associate ourselves with Jesus’ death, to make His broken body and His poured out blood ours. As we commune with our Lord at His table, we are thus nourished continually by Him and receive His forgiveness for our sins. And as His community, the Lord’s Supper also becomes the meal of unity binding all Christian together through the table fellowship. Lastly, in celebrating the Lord’s Supper we look forward to the joyous heavenly banquet with Jesus and all His followers in the kingdom of His Father. Having such a rich and many important dimensions of the Lord’s Supper, we should now understand why the Lord’s Supper has become the central component of Christian worship. Let me end the sermon with this poem, entitled Observance of the Lord’s Supper (copied from

“Come to this sacred table, not because you must, but because you may;
Come to testify not that you are righteous, but that you sincerely love our Jesus Christ,
and desire to be His true disciple;
Come not because you are strong, but because you are weak;
Come not because you have any claim on heaven’s rewards; but because in your frailty
and sin you stand in constant need of heaven’s mercy and help;
Come not to express an opinion, but to seek a Presence and pray for a Spirit.”

Matthew 26:17–30 (Listen)

17 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?” 18 He 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.’” 19 And the disciples did as Jesus had directed them, and they prepared the Passover.

20 When it was evening, he reclined at table with the twelve. 21 And as they were eating, he said, “Truly, I say to you, one of you will betray me.” 22 And they were very sorrowful and began to say to him one after another, “Is it I, Lord?” 23 He answered, “He who has dipped his hand in the dish with me will betray me. 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.” 25 Judas, who would betray him, answered, “Is it I, Rabbi?” He said to him, “You have said so.”

26 Now 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.” 27 And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, “Drink of it, all of you, 28 for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. 29 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.”

30 And when they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.