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THE LAST SUPPER

Hebrews 9:25-28
The Jewish High Priest goes into the Most Holy Place every year with the blood of an animal. But Christ did not go in to offer Himself many times, for then He would have to suffer many times ever since the creation of the world. Instead, now when all the ages of time are nearing the end, He has appeared once and for all, to remove sin through the sacrifice of Himself. Everyone must die once, and after that be judged by God. In the same manner Christ was also offered in sacrifice once to take away the sins of many. He will appear a second time, not to deal with sin, but to save those who are waiting for Him.

In the following short messages, I examine just three aspects of the most celebrated yet least understood activity of the Christian Church.


WHAT IS THE ADDITIONAL SIGNIFICANCES OF THE LAST SUPPER

    Matthew 26:26-30, Mark 14:22-26, Luke 21:14-23, 1 Corinthians 11:23-25
    also John13 and passages surrounding the above mentioned for other narrative

Much is said about the Last Supper and its significance to the Christian Faith. However, I believe there are certain aspects of this occasion that we have a tendency to either overlook or, at best, gloss over.

WHO ACTUALLY ATTENDED?

We tend to think of it as being some exclusive little feast that involved just 13 men, Jesus and the 12 apostles. If we look closely at the way the gospels are written we can, in fact, draw the conclusion that there were many more present at this celebration. Throughout the gospels the writers tended to refer to the twelve specifically different than the general disciples. All the writings about the last supper refer to the gathering as with His disciples and not specifically with the chosen ones. So the group would have been reasonably large and would have had many other men, women and children, just as might be expected both for the occasion they were gathered for, the Passover, and for the importance of this occasion for the future, Jesus’ last meal as a human being on this earth.

This would make a lot of sense because the significance of the occasion would not, then, be lost on the other followers of the time. More witnesses to the event. It is also significant for us as it showed that no-one was excluded.

It is true that the narratives all centre around those who were at the table with Jesus. Again, this would be supported by the customs of the day for the Jews. This process is not lost in our society at special meals where there are a group of people who get to sit with the guests of honour at the main table. This is important as the significant action and teaching occurred at the main table though, undoubtably, those nearby would have been privileged to hear what was being said (maybe even all in attendance).


WHAT IS THE PICTURE OF PEOPLE WE ARE GIVEN?

I believe that we are given a glimpse of human nature from the narratives. A very good cross sectional view is portrayed of what people can be like. Five of these are:
 
1. Betrayal: This characteristic, represented by Judas Iscariot, needs no deep mention as it is so well known. Even many of the younger members among you have probably experienced this characteristic from amongst your friends.

2. Denial: Again, a characteristic we are well familiar with through the role played out by Peter in the coming period of time following the supper.

3. Arrogance: There is a degree of arrogance shown in some of the apostles as each make statements of the fact that they are so good that they would not be found at fault. Again, Peter is specifically mentioned because of his denial, but others also show this when Jesus talks about the betrayal.

4. Pride: Part of this occasion is marred by the apostles arguing among themselves about who was the best person there. Sometimes I think the narrative surrounding this event (found only in Luke - 21:24-30) actually shows that the apostles sort of knew that Jesus was about to “leave” them and someone would need to take over as leader. Jesus, however, chastises them for this and reminds them of the example He had set with the servant’s role when He washed there feet upon their arrival.

5. Doubt: Whilst not specifically dealt with in the Last Supper narrative, there is an underlying attitude of disbelief about Jesus’ imminent departure. Surely, “Jesus must have got this bit wrong” was the ever present thought amongst those in attendance.

If we look further into the narratives, we can find a wider range of attitudes and characteristics that we can easily recognise in the world around us today.

But of what significance are these to us?

It shows that, despite these characteristics of human nature, we are all welcome at the table with our Lord. Had Jesus excluded such people from the Last Supper there would have been no-one in attendance and there would not have been such an event. Despite our faults, we can allow Him to “wash our feet”, so to speak, and be considered clean and enter into His presence and share with Him in an even greater feast to come.

The key teaching of the Last Supper, I believe, is the washing of the feet. A custom born out of the dusty environment in which they lived, this action made the people “clean” and able to participate in the events being held inside the home. If we allow ourselves to be cleansed by Jesus then we, too, are acceptable in His presence.

Let us keep these things in mind, firstly as we remember His broken body as we eat the bread together and then as we drink this representation of the greatest sacrifice ever made, the blood of Jesus Christ.


THE FEAST AND THE COVENANT


I find it most interesting that the Bible talks about two main covenants and that both of these covenants were introduced in a very similar way.

The first of the covenants is that one which God had exclusively with the descendants of Israel - that group we refer to as the Jews.

This covenant was started with three things. As we read Exodus Chapter 12 vs 1 to 14, we read of the instigation of the feast of the Passover and from it we note the covenant of the Old Testament is started with three elements:

1.    The blood (of a lamb or goat) that was to make them acceptable to God (by being painted on the doorposts so the angel of death would pass over)
2.    The broken body (the animal was killed and cooked)
3.    The celebration meal - the Israelites had to eat the meal as a celebration of what was to come.

There was a lot of significance with all three.

We then take a look at the covenant of the New Testament. God instigates a new covenant open to all people and He does so, through His Son, with the same three elements:

1.    The blood (of Christ), represented by the wine, that would be a sign of being acceptable to God (washed clean in His blood).
2.    The broken body (of Christ, who died for us), represented by the breaking of bread.
3.    The celebration meal: what we now know as the Last Supper, a true celebration meal.

I have often thought about these similarities and just what they might mean. I have concluded that the symbolism is what is important as there are the three elements that God introduces with His agreements:

1.    The cleansing - totally and completely. The shedding of blood is seen as part of the ritual of cleansing in many cultures.
2.    The sacrifice - we must be prepared to give all, in order to receive the blessing
3.    The celebration - once we participate then we can enjoy God’s presence and celebrate accordingly.

When we come before His presence and celebrate the Holy Supper, we must ask ourselves three questions:

1.    Have we accepted the cleansing process in our lives?
2.    Are we prepared to make the required sacrifice that is asked, individually, of us in order to do God’s will?
3.    Can we genuinely celebrate God’s presence in our lives?

Only if we can answer each of these questions in a positive way should we move forward and this is probably the time to pause and examine ourselves to see that we are fully acceptable in His sight. If not, this reflective time, before we partake of the elements, is available so that we can put ourselves right with Him, through repentance.



THE TRUE COST OF THE LAST SUPPER

I really wonder if we have any idea of the cost of that Last Supper. I’m not talking about the financial cost, Judas Iscariot would have had that completely under controlled (some have even suggested that he may have tithed his 30 pieces to pay for the meal).

No, I talk about the emotional cost to Jesus.

Unlike us, Jesus knew exactly what lay ahead of Him for the coming 24 hours. Imagine the worst scenario in your life and ask yourself  “How would I have been able to go on if I had known exactly what was going to happen?” I know, for a fact, that in those situations in my life, there is no way I could have continued on.

Jesus, however, not only continued on but continued to put the needs of others first. That would have to take strength.

Keep in mind that it wasn’t just for the disciples that he continued, that small band of no more than 50 people, but it was for the countless billions of peoples down the ages since - the people like you and me.

Where would we be if we didn’t have this model on which to base our remembrance of Him. If we look around us at where man has been given flexibility to represent events (Christian and secular) we can see the mess that has been made. Even Christmas has so many varieties. Yet the Lord’s Supper remains constant with only the slightest of variations, it is the one thing common across Christendom that is so easily recognised by even non-Christians.

As we pause for a moment, I would like you to think of the price that Jesus paid just for you.

When Jesus blessed the bread at the Last Supper, He gave it to us as a reminder of His broken body that was necessary to pay the price for our sins.

With the cup, we are reminded of the Blood that Christ shed for us to provide for us the only cleansing agent acceptable in God’s sight.

R. J. Burling