A second symbol of new life is the Lord’s supper.
Our focus verses come from Matthew 26:26-28:
“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.’ 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.’”
This meal involves two elements: receiving the bread and the cup. So we will look at what each of these mean so that we understand what we are doing when we partake. We begin with . . .
The meaning of the bread
To understand this we have to look at the Passover background. That’s because the bread that Jesus uses comes from the Passover meal – Luke 22:15. This is what he and his disciples were eating together in our focus verses.
Exodus 12:6-13 describes the instructions for the original Passover meal:
“. . . The whole assembly of the congregation of Israel shall kill their lambs at twilight. Then they shall take some of the blood and put it on the two doorposts and the lintel of the houses in which they eat it. . . . In this manner you shall eat it: with your belt fastened, your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand. And you shall eat it in haste. It is the Lord’s Passover. For I will pass through the land of Egypt that night, and I will strike all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both man and beast; and on all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgments: I am the Lord. The blood shall be a sign for you, on the houses where you are. And when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and no plague will befall you to destroy you, when I strike the land of Egypt.”
First of all, the Passover is about God delivering Israel from slavery. It was celebrated just before their deliverance; they were to be dressed and ready to go; and afterwards they were set free.
Second, this deliverance is connected to a sacrificial death – the lambs. In fact, the Passover was the means of their deliverance. While the Egyptians were judged, the blood of the lambs protected the Israelites. God passed over their homes. And when the Egyptians saw this they wanted the Israelites to leave.
The bread, coming from this meal, calls to mind deliverance from slavery through sacrificial death.
Jesus on the bread: In v. 26 Jesus says of the bread, “this is my body.” This is a figurative way of talking about his body. (The reason we know it is figurative is that Jesus’ body was still a part of him, with the disciples in the room.) What he is saying is that just as the bread was broken as it was distributed to be eaten, so the bread represents his broken body on the cross. He is saying that through his sacrificial death, we are set free from slavery – to the world, Satan, our sin and death. And in keeping with the symbolism, we commit to leave all this behind.
The meaning of the cup
Here we need to look at the background of the covenant ceremony. This was when Israel, after passing through the Red Sea, went to Mt. Sinai and entered into a covenant with God.
Jesus connects the cup to this event when he uses the phrase “my blood of the covenant” (v. 28), which comes from this event.
Exodus 24:5-8 talks about this:
“And Moses sent young men of the people of Israel, who offered burnt offerings and sacrificed peace offerings of oxen to the Lord. And Moses took half of the blood and put it in basins, and half of the blood he threw against the altar. Then he took the Book of the Covenant and read it in the hearing of the people. And they said, ‘All that the Lord has spoken we will do, and we will be obedient.’ 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.’”
First, this has to do with entering into a new relationship with God: God forgave them (Hebrews 9:20-22), and they agreed to obey God. “All that the Lord has spoken we will do, and we will be obedient.”
Second, this new relationship is connected to sacrificial death. The blood of the oxen was sprinkled on the altar and the people. It was the “the blood of the covenant.” (Exodus 24:5-8).
The cup, connected to this, brings to mind a new relationship with God through sacrificial death.
Jesus on the cup: In v. 28 he says of the cup, “this is my blood.” Like with the bread, this is a figurative way of talking about his blood. Jesus is saying that just as the cup was poured out as they drank from it, so the cup represents his blood “poured out” (v. 28) on the cross. He is saying that through his sacrificial death, his “blood of the covenant,” we have a new relationship with God; a new covenant. Our sins are forgiven (v. 28). And in keeping with they symbolism, we commit to do all that Jesus commands us.
Here are two graphics as a summary of this:
When we partake . . .
1. We acknowledge the symbolism as true in our lives:
- When we eat the bread we are saying that “through Jesus I am set free. I am delivered from the world, Satan, sin and death and I choose to leave all this behind.”
- When we drink the cup we are saying that “through Jesus I have a new relationship with God. My sins are forgiven and I commit to do all that Jesus has commanded.”
These are the very things that we acknowledged at the time of our baptism. And each time we partake of the Lord’s supper we renew this baptismal testimony and commitment to God.
2. We remember Jesus. In speaking of his meal, Jesus said, “Do this in remembrance of me” – 1 Corinthians 11:24, echoing the command with regard to Passover (Exodus 12:14). We remember Jesus and his death for us and the salvation he has given us – deliverance and new relationship with God. We remember his sacrificial love for us.
3. We offer thanks. Just as Jesus gave thanks for the bread and cup, and after the meal they sang a hymn of thanks (Matthew 26:30), so we give thanks for the salvation that we have in Jesus. For deliverance, forgiveness and new life.
4. We look forward to the Messianic banquet. This is that great feast and celebration that will happen at the end of the age.
Jesus says in Matthew 26:29, “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.” He is speaking of this celebration. So every time we partake, we anticipate the day when we will feast with Jesus in the Kingdom.