As Gentile members of the church, we are at a real disadvantage to understanding much of what is happening in the New Testament if we are not familiar with the Old Testament. Before us is the feast of Unleavened Bread, and the Passover. In order to see how these things tie into Communion and ultimately, the Crucifixion, we Gentiles must become students of these Jewish things. Let's review together the origin of the feast of Unleavened Bread and the Passover in Exodus chapter 12.
The setting is Egypt, and the Israelites are slaves that God is working to free. He's used Moses in a number of miraculous plagues to get the Pharaoh to let them go. But Pharaoh won't budge.
So the Lord tells Moses to tell the people, "Take an unblemished male lamb, one for each family. Keep it with you for a few days, and then kill it. Pour the blood into the basin built into the threshold of your doors, then take some of the blood and put it on the two doorposts and on the upper doorpost, the lintel, of your house. Then I want you to roast the lamb's flesh in fire and eat the flesh of that lamb with unleavened bread and bitter herbs."
"And when you eat it, I want you to be ready to move - with your loins girded, your sandals on, and your staff in hand. Eat it in haste. Because that night, I'm going to go through Egypt and kill the first-born of every man and beast in every house. But when I see the blood on your house, I will pass over it, and this judgment will not destroy you."
"This is also going to become a holiday to your people, in remembrance of how the judgment passed over you, and how I delivered you out of the land of Egypt. Every year, get the lamb on the 10th day of the first month, Nisan, and kill it on the 14th day of the month. Then from the 14th day until the 21st day, you shall eat unleavened bread. There shall not be any leaven found in your houses at all."
So this is the holiday that the Jews were to practice yearly - the passover beginning the seven days of eating Unleavened Bread. The first day of Unleavened Bread, the Passover, was approaching. That day (and the last day of unleavened bread) was a day during which you could do no work, so they had to make sure everything was ready and finalized before sundown, when the day would start. (Remember that the Jewish day begins at around 6:00pm, not 12:00am like our day does.)
Jesus sends Peter and John to prepare the Passover. They are to look for a man carrying a pitcher of water. This would be a definite sign, since in that culture, the women carried water in pitchers and men carried it in animal skins. In essence, Jesus tells them, "Look for a guy carrying a purse" - something out of the ordinary.
Once everything was ready, Jesus and the 12 apostles reclined at the table together. He had earnestly waited for this evening. Not for the fellowship, not because He was hungry - but because this was the culmination of His walk with them over the last 3 1/2 to 4 years.
He tells them, "This is the last Passover supper I'm going to eat until the big one in heaven - the Marriage Supper of the Lamb."
There were four cups of wine poured during the course of the Passover meal - this was the third, the cup of thanks. Jesus gives thanks to the Lord for delivering the Jews from the bondage of the Egyptians so many years before.
Then Jesus breaks tradition - He begins to explain the prophetic meaning of the Passover symbols. He took bread, gave thanks, broke it, and gave it to them, saying, "This is My body which is given for you; do this in remembrance of Me."
Then he did the same with the final cup, saying, "This cup is the new covenant in My blood. Drink from it, all of you; for this is My blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for forgiveness of sins."
"What is He doing breaking tradition? A new covenant? What's going on?" I want you to notice that they had not kept a lamb with them for the last four days like they were supposed to. Well, not exactly... They'd had the Lamb of God with them for nearly the last four years! It's interesting that in all the gospel accounts of this last Passover supper, none of the writers mention that they ate the Passover lamb. But now they were eating the Lamb of God! They were doing what Jesus had told them in John 6 - what everyone must do to have the final plague, the final judgment, pass over them:
John 6:51 "I am the living bread that came down out of heaven; if anyone eats of this bread, he shall live forever; and the bread also which I shall give for the life of the world is My flesh."
John 6:54 "He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day."
The bread was His flesh - not physically, for Jesus was there with them. But spiritually, in every aspect, it symbolized Him. When we partake of the Lord's Supper at the end of our study today, I want you to notice the bread. It is unleavened. Leaven is a type of sin - it corrupts by puffing up, and permeates the entire lump of dough that it is in. In the cooking process, it is scarred and pierced. So too will we see Jesus, who the Bible says over and over again was sinless, unleavened, was also scarred and pierced.
The wine that they were to appropriate, to internalize, represented His blood. Just as the blood of the lamb applied to the doorposts of the house caused the final plague upon Egypt to pass over their household, so the blood of the Lamb of God applied to our lives causes the final judgment upon the world to pass over us.
We have several names for this: Communion, the Lord's Supper, the Eucharist... What do these things mean? "Communion" comes from the Greek "koinonia", which is a word that means "intimate fellowship or sharing". The "Lord's Supper" is what Paul calls it in 1Corinthians 11:20, and "The Eucharist" is a derivative of the Greek statement meaning "giving of thanks".
How then shall we partake of the Lord's Supper, Communion, the Eucharist, this morning? What should we know going in? Several things:
Jesus gave us only one rule about the Communion Table: "As often as you do this, do it in remembrance of Me." In remembrance of what? Of His death.
1Cor. 11:26 For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until He comes.
We are remembering the crucifixion death of Jesus Christ, and all that it entails.
Paul rebuked the Corinthians for not doing this. In their communion celebrations, they weren't doing it in remembrance of Jesus anymore - it had become an excuse to get stuffed and drunk.
1Cor. 11:20-31 Therefore when you meet together, it is not to eat the Lord's Supper, for in your eating each one takes his own supper first; and one is hungry and another is drunk. What! Do you not have houses in which to eat and drink? Or do you despise the church of God, and shame those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I praise you? In this I will not praise you. For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus in the night in which He was betrayed took bread; and when He had given thanks, He broke it, and said, "This is My body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of Me." In the same way He took the cup also, after supper, saying, "This cup is the new covenant in My blood; do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me." For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until He comes. Therefore whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner, shall be guilty of the body and the blood of the Lord. But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For he who eats and drinks, eats and drinks judgment to himself, if he does not judge the body rightly. For this reason many among you are weak and sick, and a number sleep. But if we judged ourselves rightly, we should not be judged.
Now our cups are not filled with wine - it is grape juice. So unless it's fermented badly, nobody's going to be getting drunk. But the principle for our partaking still applies - be careful that this doesn't become an exercise, a ritual, or anything else besides a time of remembering the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. Make sure that you partake in a worthy manner. Examine yourself, as Paul said. Confess sin and repent of it. Jesus taught that
Matt. 5:23-24 "If therefore you are presenting your offering at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your offering there before the altar, and go your way; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and present your offering."
Paul said that some were weak and sick, and others had actually died by partaking of communion unworthily. Therefore, examine yourself as you come before Him at His table.
Now the blood and the flesh of the Lamb was a family affair - each household was to do it. In partaking together this morning, we are experiencing a unity of family - we are all brothers and sisters in Christ. Once as Jesus was teaching, His mother and brothers came wanting to see Him.
Mark 3:33,35 And answering them, He said, "Who are My mother and My brothers? ...whoever does the will of God, he is My brother and sister and mother."
As we partake together this morning, we are acknowledging and experiencing the unity that we have in Christ.
The Lord told them that this was a celebration, yet they should eat the unleavened bread with bitter herbs. Why would you celebrate a holiday that puts a bitter taste in your mouth? Because at the table of the Lord, we have a dual purpose, a two-fold experience. In remembering the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, we must realize that it was my sin, your sin, that put Him on the cross. That He suffered more than any man ever has or will to pay for our sin. But it should also be a joyful celebration, for in His suffering our sin is swept away, our salvation is sealed - the judgment has passed over us, because the blood of the Lamb of God is applied to our lives!
So the Lord's Table about to be set before everyone who wants to remember and honor Jesus. If this morning, you have applied the blood of Jesus Christ to your life, if the final judgment is going to pass over you, you are welcome and encouraged to partake in communion. If you have not applied the blood of the Lamb to your life, if the final judgment is still going to befall you, I honestly don't know why you'd want to take communion this morning. I would encourage you to right now receive the forgiveness freely available to you in Jesus Christ. Before we partake, just ask the Lord to forgive you and to come into your life. Then you'll have every reason to eat and drink with us this morning.