2020-1-05 Eating with the Lord

Eating with the Lord
Mark 14:22-25
January 05, 2020

Our Scripture this morning is Mark 14:22-25. We return to our study of the Gospel of Mark. We’ve been studying it for the past year. We took some time off in December for Advent. But this morning we are returning to Mark. We pick up not quite where we left off. When we were last in Mark, we saw Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane. There he submitted to the Father’s will and taught us to pray during our times our trials.

This morning we’re picking up right before that; we’re picking up not long before Jesus and the disciples go to the garden. This morning we’ll be looking at the celebratory meal Jesus shares with the disciples.

Prayer for Illumination:

Loving God, you provide for our every need. You feed our bodies and our souls, yet we hunger to know and love you more and more. Nourish us with your Word today. Through Jesus Christ and in the power of the Holy Spirit we pray. Amen.

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.[1]

This is the Word of God for the people of God. Thanks be to God.

This past week we gathered to celebrate Christmas. Many of us sat around tables, eating and drinking with friends and family. I was back in Ohio, and the table in my parents’ house was surrounded by cousins, aunts, uncles, my brother and his girlfriend. It was a wonderful moment. Sharing a meal is often a powerful moment. It can strengthen the bond between people. It can help restore a relationship. Meals can be powerful moments.

Our God knows that. He knows the power sharing a meal can have. That is why the last thing that Jesus does before he is betrayed and crucified is share a meal with his disciples. In Luke’s Gospel Account, Jesus says, “I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer” (Luke 22:15). Jesus “earnestly desired to eat this Passover” with the disciples. Why? Because he knows that meals are powerful moments. And this is a powerful moment for him to explain that Passover is ultimately fulfilled in him.

As we examine this passage, we’ll see what the Passover meal is, the meaning of the bread, the meaning of the cup, and the great feast to come.

The Passover Meal

And as they were eating.

Why are they eating? Is this just a meal between friends? No. This is the Passover meal. This is the meal that commemorates Israel’s redemption out of slavery in Egypt. The story is found in Exodus. We read a little bit of it a few moments ago.

About 2000 years before the birth of Jesus, Israel went down to Egypt. At this point, Israel was 70 people. It was Jacob, his sons, their wives, and children going to Egypt where Joseph was the right-hand man of Pharaoh. They traveled there because there was a famine in the land and even though the famine affected Egypt as well, there was grain. About twenty years before the famine, God in his wisdom ordained for Joseph to be sold into slavery in Egypt. While in prison he interpreted the dreams of Pharaoh’s chief baker and cup bearer correctly.

One day, Pharaoh dreamed a dream that scared him. In his dream he saw seven plump and fat cows coming out of the Nile; then he saw seven thin and deformed cows who ate the seven plump cows up. It scared him. No one could interpret the dream. The cup bearer remembered Joseph.

After Joseph showered and shaved, he went before Pharaoh and interpreted the dream. The dream was that there would be seven good years of harvest followed by seven years of severe famine. With the wisdom that God gave him, Joseph collected 20% of all the grain so that there would be grain during the years of famine.

Pharaoh was grateful. He made Joseph his right-hand man as a result. When Israel arrived in Egypt, Pharaoh gave Israel the land of Goshen.

As time went on, Pharaoh forgot Joseph. “There arose a new king over Egypt, who did not know Joseph.” This Pharaoh didn’t know what Joseph had done to save Egypt and he was afraid of the size of Israel. Israel had grown from 70 people to over a million people. Pharaoh was worried about the size of Israel so he enslaved them.

It was during this time of slavery that God redeemed his people. God because of his covenant with Abraham redeemed Israel out of slavery. And he does so in a mighty and powerful way. He initiates various plagues. We read them, or if you’re of a certain generation you saw them enacted in Charlton Heston’s The Ten Commandments, and we often wonder, “What is going on here?” We see the plagues and are often confused.

What God is doing is showing that he alone is God. The various plagues attack the so-called gods of Egypt. God was showing that he is the only God. YHWH is the only true and living god. Despite the nine plagues, Pharaoh hardened his heart. He was still intent on keeping Israel enslaved.

But the final plague was the one that freed Israel. The final plague was the death of the firstborn. This plague was not just confined to Pharaoh’s house. The death of the firstborn affected Pharaoh and down to the slave girl who milled grain and even the animals.

But God said that each and every house that slaughtered a lamb and put some of its blood on their doorposts and lintel, God would pass over them. The lamb would die in the place of the firstborn. That is how God redeemed Israel.

God then instituted a meal to commemorate the Passover and redemption from slavery. In Exodus 12:43-51 we read:

 And the Lord said to Moses and Aaron, “This is the statute of the Passover: no foreigner shall eat of it, 44 but every slave that is bought for money may eat of it after you have circumcised him. 45 No foreigner or hired worker may eat of it. 46 It shall be eaten in one house; you shall not take any of the flesh outside the house, and you shall not break any of its bones. 47 All the congregation of Israel shall keep it. 48 If a stranger shall sojourn with you and would keep the Passover to the Lord, let all his males be circumcised. Then he may come near and keep it; he shall be as a native of the land. But no uncircumcised person shall eat of it. 49 There shall be one law for the native and for the stranger who sojourns among you.”

50 All the people of Israel did just as the Lord commanded Moses and Aaron. 51 And on that very day the Lord brought the people of Israel out of the land of Egypt by their hosts.

This was a meal to commemorate God’s redemption of Israel and it was for everyone who worshiped God. But before they could partake in the meal, they needed to be circumcised and make a profession that YHWH is God. This requirement still stands today. That’s why we fence the table. That’s why we require that anyone who comes to the table be baptized and have made a public profession of their faith. We’re not trying to be mean. We want to be faithful to the word of God and obey his commands. So we fence the table for only those who are baptized, professing believers in good standing.

I know some have struggled and wondered why before we celebrate the Lord’s Supper I say, “We invite all baptized, professing believers in good standing to come to the table”. This is why.

This is the meal that Jesus and the disciples are eating. They are keeping the command to remember the Passover and celebrate. And as they celebrate, Jesus does something amazing. Jesus says that the Passover and redemption they had been told about was just a shadow of a greater Passover and redemption. Jesus explains the Passover was just a foretaste of a greater and more wonderful redemption.

The Meaning of the Bread

He took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to them, and said, “Take; this is my body.”

These words that should have united Christians have sadly divided them. As a former president said, “It depends on what the definition of ‘is’ is”. Should we take the word “is” in the most literal sense, as Roman Catholics do and insist that even though this looks like bread, feels like, bread, and tastes like bread it’s really Jesus’ body? Or should we take the word “is” to mean represents? Or should we take “is” to mean that Jesus is somehow in, with, and under the bread?

This is sadly one of the great tragedies of the Protestant Reformation. While the Protestant Reformers rightly disregarded transubstantiation, they couldn’t find agreement themselves. During the Colloquy of Marburg, the German Lutherans and the Swiss Reformed gathered together to see if they could unite and form one Protestant church. Sadly, during the discussions they couldn’t agree about how to take the word “is”.

The Westminster Confession of Faith says this:

Worthy receivers, outwardly partaking of the visible elements in this sacrament, do then also inwardly by faith, really and indeed, yet not carnally and corporally, but spiritually, receive and feed upon Christ crucified, and all benefits of his death; the body and blood of Christ being then not corporally or carnally in, with, or under the bread and wine; yet as really, but spiritually, present to the faith of believers in that ordinance, as the elements themselves are to their outward senses.[2]

Westminster makes clear that Jesus is speaking figuratively. The bread does not somehow become Jesus’ physical body. The bread is a symbol; it is memorial. But there is more to this than a simple memorial. This is a sign and seal.

It’s a sign that Jesus has been afflicted in our place. During the Passover Seder, the host would have said “this is the bread of affliction”. This was bread that reminded the people that they were slaved and suffered greatly.

Jesus says “this is my body”. He is saying that the affliction that the Jews suffered in their slavery is a glimpse of the affliction he will face. He was afflicted. On the cross, Jesus Christ bore the sins of each and every believer. On the cross, Jesus Christ was afflicted for his Church. That’s why Isaiah says:

Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all (Isaiah 53:4-6).

We have all sinned. We have all turned away from God; rebelling against God and his ways, asserting our wills over him. That is sin. And by nature we are enslaved to sin. We willingly choose to sin and are unable to choose not to sin.

This is a sign that the affliction of slavery to sin and death have been born in the person and work of Jesus Christ. When you come to the table, this is a sign that Jesus Christ has died in the place of sinners. This is the Passover that the first Passover points us to. God passes over the sin of those in Christ because he has died in their place just as the lamb died in the place of those at the first Passover. This is a sign that Jesus Christ bore the punishment that each and every one of us deserve.

But this is also a seal. A seal confirms the authenticity of a document. In the ancient world, mail was not entirely reliable. Kings and other important persons would seal their letters and official documents with their own seal. Even today we use seals. Our birth certificates have seals. Our driver’s licenses have seals. Why? It confirms that they are official.

The bread is a sign that Jesus was afflicted with our sin. But it is also a seal. It is confirmation that God has been gracious to us.

Historian R. Scott Clark writes this. He writes, “A sealed document is not magic but it is a promise to the person who, by grace alone, through faith alone, has what the document testifies.” He continues the Lord’s Supper is a guarantee “to the believer, one to whom the Lord has already given new life and true faith, that what the sacraments declare and promise really are true for the believer.”[3]

So that is what the bread means. It means Jesus has been afflicted for us. It is a sign of his sacrificial death and a seal of grace to us.

The Meaning of the Cup

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.

The other gospel writers tell us that this cup came after dinner. That would be the third cup in the Seder. That is the cup of blessing.

The meaning in the cup is this: we receive the blessing of fellowship with God because of what Jesus has done. Jesus has atoned for the sins of believers by dying in their place. He died in the place of the many.

To confirm that Jesus has actually accomplished this redemption, his blood was shed. In the old covenant, Moses confirmed the covenant was in effect by shedding the blood oxen. He sacrificed the oxen and then he threw some of the blood against the altar. That was confirmation that the covenant was in effect. Jesus’ blood sealed the new covenant. The new covenant is that the sins of all who believe have been laid on Jesus.

We need the sign of the Lord’s Supper. It is a visual expression of the gospel to us. We have the bread to remind us that Jesus was afflicted for us. We have the cup to remind us that we have fellowship with God through Jesus.

Because this helps to remind us of the gospel and helps to seal the promise of salvation on our hearts, we should partake of this regularly. Sometimes I hear people say, “This is special so we shouldn’t do this often so it doesn’t lose its special character. We should do this only occasionally”. Telling your spouse that you love them is special. Husbands, ask your wives if you should tell them you love them only occasionally so it doesn’t lose its special character. They will tell you no. They will say tell me you love me daily.

The Lord’s Supper is undoubtedly special. But because it is special, it is a sign of the gospel to us and it seal’s God’s promises in us, it should be celebrated often. That’s why John Calvin wanted to celebrate the Lord’s Supper weekly. That way the congregation had a visual representation of gospel as well as a verbal proclamation of it.

When we drink the cup, we have a sign that helps us to see and know more fully that we because of Jesus’ sacrificial death we have fellowship with God.

The Great Feast to Come

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.

These might be the most overlooked words in this section. Jesus promises to return and when he returns there will be a great feast.

We just finished the season of Advent where we remember Christ’s first coming. But we live in between the two advents. Christ has come. But Christ will come again. We are awaiting Christ to come in glory, majesty, and power. When he comes, the Kingdom of God will be fully established.

The Kingdom of God is breaking in and already here. But it is not yet fully here. The Kingdom of God won’t be fully here until Jesus returns. And when he returns, the dead in Christ will arise and be given their glorified bodies, he will separate believers from non-believers, and creation will be remade. Then the Kingdom of God will be fully here. On that day, there will be a great feast.

One of my favorite passages in all of Scripture is Isaiah 25. In that passage, Isaiah has a glimpse of the feast that will happen when the Kingdom of God is fully realized. There he writes:

On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wine, of rich food full of marrow, of aged wine well refined. And he will swallow up on this mountain the covering that is cast over all peoples, the veil that is spread over all nations. He will swallow up death forever; and the Lord God will wipe away tears from all faces, and the reproach of his people he will take away from all the earth, for the Lord has spoken.

Does that passage not just warm your heart? Does it not comfort you? Jesus Christ will return. On that day there will be a great feast. We will eat the best food. We will have the best steak, the best lamb, the best desert; we will drink the best wine. If you think we have good food now and good wine now, just wait until Jesus returns. The food will be infinitely better.

Just imagine, when Jesus returns we will gather around the table and feast with fellow believers and with our God. That is why we call this communion. We have union with God and with one another. We experience that now. But when the Kingdom of God is fully realized, it will be more intimate and more wonderful.

We will eat with saints who have been asleep in Christ for years; saints we’ve never met; saints from other parts of the world. We will be gathered around the table with them and be able to commune with them. We’ll be gathered around the table and the Apostle Paul will be two seats down telling about his time in Spain. John and James will be making jokes. St. Augustine will be next to the pastor who confirmed you. Luther will be swinging his glass as he sings the praises of Christ.

And Jesus will be there eating and drinking with us all. He will be at the head of the table, feeding us just as he fed the disciples two thousand years ago. What a wonderful comfort this is to know that Jesus Christ will return and we will feast with him.

When we partake in the Lord’s Supper, we get a little foretaste of that day. We get a little sample of the heavenly feast when we come to the table and eat this bread and drink this cup. Isn’t that amazing? When we take this bread and cup, we get a little foretaste of the great feast that we will partake in when Christ returns.

When we eat this bread and drink this cup, the Holy Spirit nourishes our souls. He reminds us of the good news that Jesus has borne our afflictions and that we receive the blessing of fellowship with God in Christ. He actually takes our spirits up to the heavenly places where Christ is seated and enables us to eat from Christ’s hand just as we will when he returns.

This meal is a sign and seal to us. It is a sign that Jesus has borne our affliction and died in the place of all who believe. It is a seal confirming God’s grace to us. The cup is the cup of blessing allowing us to fellowship with God. And this is all just a foretaste of the meal we’ll enjoy when Christ returns.

[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Mk 14:22–25). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[2] Westminster Confession of Faith, XXIX.7

[3] http://heidelblog.net/2018/07/what-do-we-mean-by-sacrament-sign-and-seal/