The day of Unleavened Bread arrived, when it was necessary to sacrifice the Passover lamb. 8 Jesus sent Peter and John, saying, “Go prepare the Passover for us, so that we may eat it.”
9 They said to him, “Where do you want us to prepare it?”
10 He told them, “Just as you enter the city, a man carrying a jar of water will meet you. Follow him into the house that he enters. 11 Tell the owner of the house, ‘The Teacher says to you, “Where is the guest room, where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?”’ 12 He will show you a large, furnished upper room. Make preparations there.” 13 They went and found things just as he had told them, and they prepared the Passover.
14 When the hour had come, Jesus reclined at the table with the twelve apostles. 15 He said to them, “I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer, 16 for I tell you, I will not eat it again until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.”
17 He took a cup, gave thanks, and said, “Take this and divide it among yourselves, 18 for I tell you, from now on I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.”
19 He took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” 20 In the same way, he took the cup after the supper, saying, “This cup is the new testament[a] in my blood, which is being poured out for you.
I’m certain that all of you can think of meals which you’ve really looked forward to eating in your lives. And, no doubt, the reasons behind your anticipation for those meals has varied. You’ve really looked forward to some meals because of the occasion being celebrated at the meal: a wedding or an anniversary, for example; maybe a retirement celebration comes to mind. Other meals you’ve looked forward to because of the people with whom you’re going to share that meal. Maybe you were anticipating dinner where you were going to meet up with old friends or you looked forward to eating with extended family at a long-awaited family reunion. And sometimes, you just look forward to a meal because you know the food is going to be top notch. All of us can think of meals we’ve greatly anticipated for all of those different reasons.
On Maundy Thursday night, Jesus gathered with his disciples in an Upper Room in Jerusalem to celebrate the great Jewish festival called Passover. And that was a meal which all faithful Jews looked forward to celebrating in the spring of each year. In fact, by this time in Jesus’ life, Israelite families had been gathering to celebrate this festival meal for almost 1500 years. Passover was a staple of the Old Testament religious life, one of the focal points of Old Testament worship. However, when Jesus gathered with the Twelve for this Passover celebration, he made it clear that this particular Passover meal had special significance. Jesus said to his disciples in that Upper Room, “I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer, for I tell you, I will not eat it again until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.”
You know, Jesus had been celebrating the Passover every year for the 33 years of his life. Why was this one special? Why was Jesus especially anticipating this Passover meal which he was sharing with his disciples? To answer that question, we really need to remember what the Old Testament Passover Festival was all about. I said before, by Jesus’ day Passover had been celebrated annually for 1500 years. The Passover started back in the days when the Israelites were enslaved in the land of Egypt. You may recall how the Lord sent Moses and his brother Aaron to Egypt’s leader, Pharaoh, and Moses and Aaron gave Pharaoh the Lord’s message: “Let my people go.” But Pharaoh wouldn’t let God’s people go. He hardened his heart against the Lord. So the Lord sent the 10 plagues against Pharaoh and the Egyptians. Plagues like the Nile River turning to blood, the plague of flies, the plague of darkness covering the whole land, and so on.
And the tenth of those ten plagues was the plague of the firstborn. It was the plague of the Passover. The Lord commanded the Israelites, through Moses, to select a year old male lamb, a lamb which had no blemishes or defects. They were to set that lamb aside and then, on the morning before the Passover started, the Lord commanded the Israelites to kill that lamb, to slaughter it. And the meat of the lamb was eaten that evening during a special meal. But the most striking and attention-grabbing detail of the Passover had to do with the blood of the Passover lamb. The Lord commanded the Israelites to take the blood of that Passover lamb which was slain and to paint it on their doorways. Can you imagine what that must have been like? To walk through the doorway of an Israelite house in Egypt and see that lamb’s blood smeared all over the entrance? It’s a pretty grizzly, gruesome picture, isn’t it?
But God had an oh-so-important reason for having the Israelites do such a thing. See, that night, the Lord passed through Egypt to bring his judgment upon unbelieving and hard-hearted Pharaoh and the Egyptians. He punished the Egyptians when he passed through by putting to death all the firstborn in Egypt. All the firstborn males died in Egypt that night-man and animals. All of them….except the firstborns from the homes of those who had the blood of the lamb painted on their doorframes. When the angel of the Lord saw the blood of the lamb on one of the Israelite doorframes, he passed over that house. That’s why it’s called Passover. The Lord and his righteous wrath passed over the people in that home. Those people were saved because they were covered by the blood of the lamb, so to speak. And when Pharaoh saw the judgment and the destruction which had been brought upon his people the next morning, he let the Israelites go. They were freed from their slavery. And so, for this reason, every year the Israelites were to commemorate how the Lord released them from the oppression of slavery to go to the Promised Land by celebrating this Passover meal and sacrificing a Passover lamb-a lamb which was a symbol of how God desired to save his people from their enemies.
My friends in Christ, it is no coincidence that our Savior Jesus died on the cross on the very day that the people in Jerusalem were celebrating the Passover festival. Because he is the true Lamb of God, who came to take away the sins of the world. Jesus is the New Testament fulfillment of the Old Testament Passover meal. Jesus came as our Passover Lamb because we were prisoners-but not in Egypt. We were spiritual slaves. We were people imprisoned by our sins, held captive by our arch enemy the devil. And there was no hope for us on our own. We rightly should have perished eternally under God’s righteous wrath. The destroying angel of the Lord should have struck us down, just like the firstborn males in Egypt were in Moses’ day.
But your doorframe has been painted with the blood of Jesus, God’s Son, who purifies us from all sin. Do you struggle with sins of self-righteousness and self-pity? Then remember how God the Father selected a choice male lamb without blemish or defect and set him aside to fulfill his plan of salvation. Do you find your heart darkened with thoughts of lust and thoughts of revenge? Then draw near to this Passover Lamb and watch him pour out his life for you. Are you burdened by how quickly you end up abandoning God’s way in your life and you end up going your own rebellious way? Then stand in that doorway smeared with Christ’s blood and watch God’s destroying angel pass over you. The Lamb of God died to take away your sins. God’s wrath has passed over us because Jesus made the once-for-all sacrifice.
And that’s why Jesus, on this night on which he was betrayed, told his disciples that he so eagerly desired to eat that Passover meal with them. Because, really, the Passover festival was something which the Lord established for those 1500 or so years from the time of Moses to the time of Christ to teach people about Jesus. And here, with his death on the cross, Jesus was about to bring the Old Testament Passover to fulfillment. That’s why we don’t celebrate Passover today. Because the reality of the Passover lamb-the New Testament reality- is found in Christ.
And that is why Jesus has given us a New Testament meal. You know, when Old Testament worshipers ate the meat of this lamb in this Old Testament Passover meal, they were eating something symbolic. The lamb which was slain and whose meat was eaten and whose blood was painted on the doorframes….that all was a symbol of Christ and the sacrifice he would make on the cross. But on this Maundy Thursday night, just before Jesus made our forgiveness a reality at the cross, Jesus gives us a New Testament meal which replaces the Old Testament Passover meal. And in this New Testament meal, Jesus doesn’t give us a mere symbol of the salvation he won for us. In the Lord’s Supper, Jesus gives us that reality.
As Jesus was celebrating that Passover meal with his disciples in the Upper Room, it says, “He took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, ‘This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.’ In the same way, he took the cup after the supper, saying, “This cup is the new testament in my blood, which is being poured out for you.” This is the new testament in my blood, Jesus says. A testament is a promise-a one-sided promise at that. And in this new testament meal which we call our Lord’s Supper, Jesus makes an amazing promise to us. He tell us that when we eat that piece of bread, we are also receiving his true body. His body is there in, with, and under the bread. And when we receive that sip of wine, Jesus is giving us his true blood in, with, and under that wine. His true body and blood are really there, truly present: the real presence. Our human reason stumbles over it. Our intelligence is baffled by it. And you just gotta’ say, So what? This is a miracle. And it’s true, because Jesus makes a testament to you-a promise, and Jesus doesn’t break his promises.
And he gives you this miraculous and amazing meal because he wants to assure you of a reality. Your sins are paid for. God’s wrath has passed over you. Heaven’s yours. You’re a child of God. You wanna’ know how certain Jesus wants you to be of those realities. He gives you the very body which he gave up on the cross to win your salvation. He gives you the very blood he poured out for you for the forgiveness of all your sins. That’s real forgiveness and real salvation that is for you. That’s real comfort for a reeling conscience and real rest for a troubled soul. So receive this Lord’s Supper with joy, tonight and always. And keep on eagerly receiving this New Testament meal of Christ’s body and blood until it finds its fulfillment in the wedding supper of the Lamb in our heavenly home. Amen.