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The Lord's Supper: Kingdom Meal

Series: Matthew

Sermon by J. Ligon Duncan on Oct 31, 1999

Matthew 26:26-29

If you have your Bibles, I’d invite you to turn with me to Matthew 26, if you’ll look at verses 26 through 29. It's appropriate that we look at this passage about the institution of the ordinance of the Lord’s Supper on this, the 482nd anniversary of the Reformation. About 482 years go, a little-known New Testament Professor from Wittenberg, mailed ninety-five propositions on a church door. This was basically a way of wanting to start a debate. He dared anyone to debate him about those disputed points of doctrine, and some enterprising critter got hold of those ninety-five points, and printed them and spread them all over town and all over that part of Germany. And that is usually the incident which is pointed to as marking the beginning of the Protestant Reformation. You just heard Gordon Young’s beautiful arrangement of Luther’s meditation on Psalm 46 which was his battle hymn for his Reformation, as he prayed that the Lord would be his refuge, his shield, his buckler, his defense in time of trouble. The mountains fall into the sea, and though the earth be ruined, he would trust in the name of the Lord. And so as we contemplate Matthew 26, we are thankful for those truths of the Reformation.

This is the institution of the Lord’s Supper. We’ve said all along in Matthew 26, that the whole chapter is a prelude to the death of the Lord Jesus Christ, and especially the passage we’re going to look at today, because in the Lord’s Supper and the institution of that Supper, Jesus is saying to His disciples something very important about the meaning His death. And unless we understand what Jesus is doing on the cross, we’ll never be able to appreciate the cross itself. You have to know what the cross is for before the cross means anything to you in the life of faith. So let’s hear God’s Holy Word here in Matthew, chapter 26, verse 26:

“While they were eating, Jesus took some bread and after a blessing, He broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, ‘Take, eat, this is my body.’ And when he had taken a cup and given thanks, He gave it to them and said, ‘Drink from it, all of you, for this is My blood of the Covenant which is poured out for many for forgiveness of sin. But I say to you I will not drink of this fruit of the vine from now on until the day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s Kingdom.’”

Thus ends this reading of God’s Holy, inspired and inerrant Word. May He write His eternal truths upon our hearts. Let’s pray.

Our Lord and our God, as we bow before You this morning before hearing Your word, we ask that You would open our hearts to receive the truth of Your word. If we come this day skeptical of the Lord Jesus Christ and His work on the cross, having never embraced it, having never trusted in Him, I pray that you would remove the scales from our eyes, and that You would remove the incrustation from our heart, that we might believe and trust. We come this day as believers who do not realize the scope, the intensity of the Savior’s love, or the love of the Heavenly Father. We pray that we would be moved to wonder, love and praise, by this display of God’s love to us in Christ. We ask these things in Jesus’ name, Amen.

I want you to remember two or three things about this passage before we study it together today. Let’s remember first of all where this is that Jesus is instituting the Lord’s Supper. The place where the Lord Jesus is is significant. He’s somewhere on the Temple mount. We know that the early church thought by common tradition that this was John Mark’s dad’s house. Perhaps he was the one who was actually met by the disciples who came into town to prepare for the Lord’s Supper early that morning. But whether that is the case or not, we know that somewhere Jesus is celebrating the Lord’s Supper within the walls of Jerusalem. That was required by law. Somewhere near the Temple mount the Lord Jesus is instituting the Lord’s Supper, and that’s so significant, because that place, that Temple mount was very, very important for several significant events in redemptive history. You remember when God gave the Commandment to Abraham to find His way with Isaac, to the land of Moriah, and to climb up the slopes of a mountain there, and there to sacrifice His Son.

Well it’s interesting, a thousand years after that event, a thousand years after that event, David, the King of Israel, had taken a census. We’re told about this in II Samuel 24. He had taken a census to determine the number of fighting men he had, and God punished David for trusting in his fighting men and in his chariots and horses just as Moses had predicted the King of Israel would all the way back in Deuteronomy. To punish David for trusting in chariots and horses instead of trusting in the Lord, God had sent a destroying angel, a plague upon Israel. And we are told in II Samuel 24 that 70,000 people had died. David was heartbroken, but as the destroying plague and angel came toward Israel, we are told that God instructed the death angel to stop. On that very spot David erected an altar to thank God for sparing Jerusalem, to thank God for sparing Jerusalem because of His sin. How many thousands upon thousands would have died had God not done so. And we are told in the book of Chronicles, in II Chronicles 3, verse 1 that that place where David had erected the altar, which he actually bought from a Jebusite named Ornan, that threshing floor where he had had erected that altar to thank God for sparing Israel, was in fact the place that Solomon purchased and used for the construction of the Temple. And on that site, on the site of Solomon’s temple, thousands and thousands of sacrifices of atonement for the people of God had been offered year after year after year after year. Now think of it friends. Somewhere on the night of his betrayal, within a few yards of the place where Solomon’s Temple had been erected, within a few yards of the place where David had erected the altar of thanksgiving to God, within a few yards of the place where Abraham had rendered up Isaac and the substitute had been found, the Lord Jesus Christ is instituting the Lord’s Supper.

Remember the place from which Jesus is speaking. And remember the time at which He is teaching. This is not any night, this the night of all nights. This is the fourteenth of Nisan, this is the Passover night, the night on which for fourteen hundred and some odd years, the people of God had gathered to celebrate God’s deliverance of the children of Israel out of Egypt. This is the night in which the families all over the land celebrated their deliverance from evil. And let’s remember how they were delivered from Egypt. How were they delivered from Egypt? They were delivered by the blood of the Passover lamb. Had that blood not been smeared on the doorpost, on the lintels of their houses, they would have met the same fate that the Egyptians. What made the difference between Israel and Egypt? The blood of the Passover lamb. And it’s on that night and the Passover celebration that Jesus chooses to institute the Lord’s Supper in such a way to link it as closely as He possibly can to the Passover itself, in all its rich theological background, so that we would recognize that in the Lord’s Supper, everything that had been set forth in the Passover was being fulfilled.

And let’s remember lastly that as Jesus institutes the Lord’s Supper, the disciples themselves still had the taste of the Passover lamb in their mouths. Even as they are chewing the food of the feast of the Passover, Jesus says, “Take, eat, this is My Body.” Notice the first words there of Matthew 26, verse 26, “While they were eating,” he said, “Take, eat, this is My Body.” So remember that as background. And then let’s look at this great passage today.

In verse 26, you’ll see Jesus institution of the bread and His explanation of what the bread means. In verses 27 and 28, you’ll see His institution of the cup of the Lord’s Supper and His explanation of what it means. And then in verse 29, you’ll see Jesus make a glorious pledge. And it’s a pledge that every Christian ought to take to heart and revel in. And I’d like to look at these things with you today.

I. The Establishment of the Lord's Supper and the meaning of the bread.

First, let’s look at verse 26 where we see the establishment of the Lord’s Supper, and Jesus gives the bread, and it’s meaning. And these words here in verse 26, “Take, eat this is My Body,” emphasize what Jesus is going to do tomorrow. And, in fact, those words explain, they pre-explain what Jesus is going to do on the Cross. Jesus is doing several things simultaneously, as He institutes the Lord’s Supper. He is linking the Lord’s Supper with the celebration of the Passover, in order that we might understand that He is accomplishing a greater exodus than the Exodus led by Moses. Luke comes out and tells us that explicitly in Luke, chapter 9, when he’s recording the transfiguration. You remember that he says that when Moses and Elijah were talking with the Lord Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration, that they were discussing the exodus that Jesus was about to accomplish in Jerusalem. Jesus is linking for His disciples now, inextricably, the exodus of Israel, and the exodus that He is going to accomplish. And, furthermore, He is pre-explaining the meaning and significance of His death tomorrow. It is important that His disciples realize that the death that He is going to die is not an accident. It is something which He is embracing which is part of the plan of God, and so He is pre-explaining what is going to happen to them tomorrow for their spiritual ratification. And, of course, He is instituting a new ordinance which all Christians are to observe in all ages until He comes again. And that ordinance itself is designed to strengthen our faith and give us assurance of His love and of the certainty of His benefits.

And so Jesus is celebrating the Passover meal, and if the elements of the Passover that were observed by the Lord Jesus and His disciples that night were like the elements that had been observed by Jews for a number of years, and even centuries before, and a number of years and centuries even afterwards, there would have been four cups at that Passover meal. And apparently, from our best estimation, the cup which He raises is the third cup in that Passover, and the bread which He raises is actually taken from the unleavened bread that would have been used in the process of the Passover meal itself.

But He does something utterly different. He comes to the breaking of the bread and instead of saying the words that normally would have been spoken. When he comes to the breaking of bread, the Jews would have ordinarily said something like this “This is the bread of affliction, which our ancestors ate when they left Egypt.” But the Lord Jesus doesn’t say that. He breaks the bread, and then He says, “This is My Body.” And the disciples would have been stunned. They would have been startled by this dramatic change, and the Passover celebration, and that dramatic change to focus on His body in the bread is a change which is emphasized in all four the gospels.

Have you noticed that in every gospel account, it is emphasized that Jesus broke the bread. This is at the essence of the Sacrament. Why? Because He is pointing to His death as the fulfillment of Isaiah 53. He would be bruised for the iniquity of His people. He would have the wrath of God fall upon Him. The chastisement of our peace would be upon Him. And so this broken bread is of the essence of the sacrament. By His brokenness, He would win our redemption. And He says to them, “Take, eat, this is My body.” What is Jesus saying to them? Is He saying to them that the bread is somehow magically turned into His own flesh? No. He’s saying this bread represents My Body. It explains what I am going to do for you tomorrow. This bread is a symbol of My body given for you. It pre-explains what is going to happen in the next few hours.

We should not understand that this is literally My Body, just as Jesus’ contemporaries did not understand it literally when the Rabbi said “this is the bread of affliction which your ancestors ate when they came out of the land of Egypt.” The Rabbis were not suggesting that the bread was magically transformed into fourteen hundred and forty-four year old bread. The point is the bread represented the bread which their ancestors ate when they came out of Egypt.

No, Jesus is using the bread to point to two very important realities. Look at them in the passage. First, He focuses His attention on His body. And secondly, He focuses our attention on faith. He focuses our attention on His Body by speaking of the bread and identifying it with His Body. This is My Body. This represents My Body. Jesus is saying here that He will give Himself as a sacrifice on behalf of our sin. And He’s furthermore drawing attention to our fate, by saying, “Take it and eat it.”

Now we know that Jesus has used that kind of symbolism in His speaking and preaching before. In John, chapter 6 for example, He talks about eating His flesh and drinking His blood. What is that? That is symbolic language for faith. Faith is spiritual eating. That’s why the metaphor of eating is used here. If you don’t eat, what happens? You die. You need nourishment. How do you get that nourishment? You get it eating. Jesus is saying, “If you don’t believe on Me, if you don’t trust on Me you die” because faith is spiritual eating. And so when He says, “Take, eat, this is My Body,” He’s saying to you, “Believe, trust on what I am going to do tomorrow. It is the nourishment you need for spiritual life. It is the way that you appropriate the benefits of My death.”

Now obviously in this passage there have been many Christians over the years who have seen a magical transformation. They have seen in this passage that Jesus is literally and physically present in the elements of the Lord’s Supper. But let me just say here some very practical reasons for believing that that sort of idea would never have entered either into Jesus’ mind or the minds of the disciples, or the minds of the early Christians. First of all when Jesus says, “This is my body,” He’s standing right in front of them. He’s not suggesting that He sort of magically morphs into the bread: He’s standing before them. That very fact emphasizes that this is representation.

Furthermore, in a moment He’s going to say “this cup is My blood.” Notice He doesn’t say this wine is My blood. He says this cup is my blood. So, if you’re going to take Him literally, you can’t say that the wine turns into His blood. You’ve got to say that the cup in which the wine is turns into His blood. And so Jesus is not talking about some sort of a literal transformation of the elements.

Furthermore, Jesus frequently uses that kind of symbolic language in His earthly ministry in reference to Himself. For instance, you remember back in John, chapter 2, verse 19, where He says, “Destroy the temple, and I’ll raise it in three days.” Now is Jesus saying He had magically transformed into the temple? No, He’s using metaphor for language. Think again in John, chapter 6, verse 51, He says, “I am the bread, the living bread, that came down out of Heaven.” Now is Jesus saying that He was literally the manna that came down out of heaven in the days of the Exodus? No, He is using a representation. Or, think of John, chapter 10, verse 9. “I am the door. If anyone enters through Me, he will be saved. And He will go in and out and find pasture.” Is Jesus saying that He is a door? No, He’s using symbolic representative language. And, of course, this is precisely the kind of language that we see associated with sacraments in the Bible. If you go back to Genesis, chapter 17, verse 10, you’ll see God saying to Abraham, that the sign of the Covenant is the Covenant. The reality is given the name of the sign of the reality.

And, of course, the view that Jesus is physically present in the elements, is actually a very late view. It doesn’t come on early in the Christian tradition. I say this in passing for a very important reason. The importance of this sacrament is not found in focusing on the sign, but in focusing on what the sign wants you to focus on. The sign of the Lord’s Supper is designed to get you to look away from the Lord’s Supper to the work of Christ. When you are traveling down a road and you see the sign that your destination is two miles away, you don’t stop and have a celebratory rally around the sign. You rejoice that your destination is just a couple of miles away, and you head on to the destination. So the function of a sign is not to draw attention to itself, but to point to something else. And that’s the same way the Lord’s Supper functions. The Lord’s Supper is designed to point us to a greater reality. The reality of the finished work of the Lord Jesus Christ.

During the second World War, an acquaintance of mine became engaged to a young woman. And, in fact, as I recall this story, he actually was married to her for a week, and then was sent to Iran for two years. Those were the days when you didn’t just pick up the phone and call everyday and check on one another. You couldn’t even write regularly. And for two years, he had a few letters, and a picture to look at to remind him of his new bride, his wife. And when they were reunited, do you think that what he was most excited about was the picture or the reality? The picture was wonderful. It was the most tangible reminder that he had while she was away. But when she was back, I promise you that he embraced her and not that picture. The Lord’s Supper points us to the reality of our Savior and His work on our behalf. It doesn’t draw attention to itself. It’s designed to focus our faith on Him.

II. The cup links His death with the Old Covenant sacrifices, but it is better.

Secondly, if you look at verses 27 and 28, Jesus takes up the cup now; and He urges His disciples to drink from it, emphasizing the unity of believers in their union with Christ. And these words emphasized that Jesus established the new Covenant and He purchased forgiveness of sins. As He lifts up this cup, and, as we say, our best guess is that this is the third cup, He lifts it up and He says something that had never been uttered in the past several meals before. Luke and Paul tell us that He says, “This cup is the new Covenant in My blood.” Matthew records for us the saying like this: “This is My blood of the Covenant. And in saying this, He is linking His death with Exodus, chapter 24, verse 8.

You need to look at that passage, Exodus 24, verse 8 is the passage where the covenant is established between God and His people in the days after the Exodus. After Sinai, as the people of God are confirmed in the relationship, this grace relationship with they had with God, Moses does something entirely unique in the old Covenant. He takes the blood of the slaughtered animals, and he sprinkles some of it on the altar, and then he sprinkles some of it on the people, symbolically showing that they have been joined with God, as their Savior and Redeemer, symbolically showing that God is with them. And Jesus is quoting almost verbatim Exodus 24, verse 8, which says, “This is the blood of the Covenant.” That’s what Moses said as he sprinkled the blood on the altar and people. Jesus is quoting that verbatim.

Now I’d like you to see three or four things about this brief passage here in verses 27 and 28. First of all, that is the only place where blood and covenant are linked in the Old Testament and the blood is sprinkled on the people. So Jesus is saying, “My death tomorrow is a covenant sacrifice. Just as the book of Hebrews will remind us that the blood of bulls and goats does not forgive sin, Jesus is saying, “That’s right. The blood of bulls and goats does not, has not, will not, never will forgive sins, but My blood does.” He is saying My death is going to be a covenant sacrifice which will actually bring about the forgiveness of sin.

Secondly, notice that Jesus makes one tiny, but very important change to the phrase, “This is the blood of the Covenant.” What is He saying? He doesn’t say “This is the blood of the Covenant.” He says, “This is My blood of the Covenant.” He’s saying to the disciples, “Let me tell you something, My friends, I am the one who through the shedding of My Blood will bring about the forgiveness of sins for all of God’s people.” Then He goes to say. “This is My blood of the covenant which is shed, it’s poured out for many.”

Now that phrase for many is a wonderful phrase, filled with significance, and it goes all the way back to Isaiah 53. Turn with me there. In Isaiah 53, in that great passage that speaks about Christ’s substitution for us, we read – look at the second half of verse 11. Isaiah 53:11, the second half: “By His knowledge, the righteous one, My servant will justify the many.” Now do a study of that phrase the many. It’s a code phrase for the chosen people of God in Isaiah and in the prophets. But even the phrase itself is suggestive. It is not designed to limit in our minds the objects of God’s grace, although this passage, by the way, is a beautiful example of the scriptural support for the doctrine of particular redemption. But the passage is not designed to limit in our minds the concept of the extent of God’s mercy. Rather, the contrast is here: He dies for the many, not for the few. He dies not merely for Old Testament believers but for a multitude that no man will remember from every tribe and tongue and nation; for Jew and Greek, for slave and free, for male, for female. He dies for a multitude no man could number. The Gentiles are going to be brought in, and His death is going to be for them, as well as believers under the old Covenant. So He dies for the covenant people, for the chosen of God, but not for a few, but for the many. Those from every tribe and tongue and nation.

And notice again explicitly, He says, “And He dies.” Why? His blood is poured out. Why? For the forgiveness of sins. And for understanding that, you’ll have to turn over to Jeremiah, chapter 31. In Jeremiah 31, verse 34, we read again, in the second half of the verse: “They shall know me, they shall all know me from the least of them to the greatest of them, to the greatest of them declares the Lord.” Why? Because, “For I will forgive their iniquity and their sin I will remember no more.” Jeremiah had promised that there was going to come a day when the Lord was going to fully and finally forgive our iniquity. The Lord Jesus Christ is saying to the disciples, “By the way, what I am going to do tomorrow is going to bring about the realization of the prophecy that Jeremiah gave over six hundred years ago. When I die, when My blood is going to be poured out, sin is going to be forgiven. Because of My death, sin will be forgiven. So the Lord Jesus Christ says to them, “All of you drink of this cup.”

What’s He saying? He’s saying, “Unless you trust on Me, as the covenant sacrifice who has brought about the realization of the forgiveness of sins, you will not experience spiritual life and reality. Your drinking, your believing, your trusting on Me as the covenant sacrifice is the source of your spiritual nourishment.” Notice again how the practice of the Lord’s Supper points to the greater reality behind it

And then finally, He makes an astonishing pledge. Look at verse 29. He says, “I will not drink of this fruit of the vine from now own until the day when I drink it new with you in My Father’s kingdom.” These words are a pledge from the Lord Jesus Christ. They serve to strengthen the disciples’ hope for future glory. They serve to strengthen our hope for future glory. Remember, the disciples are about to go through one of the greatest trials they would ever experience. For three days, they would be almost without hope. And the Lord Jesus Christ is basically saying to you, “My friends, let Me tell you how serious I am about My promises to you. I am never, ever going to take the cup of this ceremonial meal again until you and I are sitting down face-to-face, and you are on the other side of the fulfillment of the promise. Right now, you are still waiting for them to fulfilled. When we sit down the next time to take this meal together, you will have experienced all the blessings that I purchase for you on the cross tomorrow, and you will be able to say with the people of God and with Joshua, in Joshua 23, that not one of all the good promises of the Lord failed to come to pass.”

In the second World War, when our troops were withdrawing from the Philippines, and as the Japanese troops were taking over that previously U.S. occupied territory, Douglas McArthur gathered the news correspondents and media personnel into his tent, and he said to them, “I want you to write to the folks back home, and I want you to tell them ‘I shall return.’” And some of the correspondents said, “Don’t you want to say ‘we shall return?’” And he said, “No, you write it this way. ‘I shall return.’” Now, McArthur had a little bit of an ego. But he did want to send this message. He wanted to send a message to the folks back home, “We’re going to be back here. We’re going to retake this land. This land is going to be U.S. territory again.” And he wanted to send a message to the men who had been left behind, many of whom would die before U.S. occupation came again. Your death will not be in vain, we will retake this land. And years later, countless lives later, he would walk ashore again, and he would say, “I have returned.”

The Lord Jesus Christ is saying, in this passage, “Let me tell you something. I will not sit down and eat this feast again, until it has been accomplished. I am pledging to you that I will return, and we will sit down, and we will eat the marriage supper of the lamb together.

You may face trials which make you think it will never happen, and the Lord Jesus Christ with His own divine authority is saying, “Don’t you dare think it. Because I will return, and I will sit down, and I will eat this meal with you in glory.”

And my friends, that’s all the more poignant. Do you know that in Matthew 27, verse 48 tells us that the next thing to cross the lips of our Lord was the bitter wine that He was given on the cross. He was absolutely committed to death, to bring about this promise for you. And you and I should never, ever forget that. And even more precious than that, He says, “Until I drink this fruit of the vine with you in My Father’s Kingdom.” And that final word is exceedingly precious to Me, My friends, because the Lord Jesus knew His disciples, and He knows you, and He knows me. He knew that one of His disciples would betray Him. He knew that all His disciples would abandon Him, and that some of His disciples would deny Him. And yet He says, to those disciples in the upper room, “I’m going to sit down with you.” That’s exceedingly precious to me.

You know, sometimes Christians will say something nice to you. You will have done something nice, and they’ll say something like, “What you did was a real favor of Christ to me, it was such an encouragement to me.” You’re a little embarrassed by it, and you don’t know quite how to respond. And you’re thinking, “I’m glad I don’t know all of my thoughts. I’m glad they think that of me.” Jesus knows our heart. He knows it all, the good and the bad. Especially the bad. And still He says, “I’m going to sit down with you.” The marriage supper of the lamb, and we’re going to take that meal. That’s an exceedingly precious thought to me, my friends. My Savior knows me, He knows all the secrets of my heart; and He’s going to sit down with me, and He’s going to raise up that cup again, and He’s going to say mission accomplished.

Let’s pray.

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