The New Passover

Imagine the excitement, the anticipation, in the homes of the Israelites in Egypt. After numerous changes of Pharaoh’s mind, tonight was to be the night. The blood of the lamb they were about to eat had been sprinkled on the doorposts for their protection. Tonight the angel of death would pass over their house—and tomorrow they would be on the way to the promised land! No wonder the Passover kept being celebrated! That was the setting at which Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper, as Matthew 26:17–30 tells you.

God fed his people in the old covenant. The Passover Feast was the setting for the Lord’s Supper. The original Passover was the great deliverance in the Old Testament. God had repeatedly warned Pharaoh to release the Israelite slaves. Despite the plagues, Pharaoh had refused. Judgment was coming upon Egypt because of its refusal to obey the Lord. Now the firstborn in every home was to die, except in those homes where blood showed that the lamb had been sacrificed. The Exodus, triggered by the Passover, became the great redemptive event in the old covenant. Appropriately, the lamb whose blood had been sprinkled on the doorposts of the house became the meal that strengthened the Israelites as they began their journey out of slavery. Christ used this setting to institute the Lord’s Supper. He ate the last (Passover) supper with the disciples. By his institution, the first Lord’s Supper. He had no need for instructions from heaven to inaugurate this. He acted consciously as the divine Messiah. The Old Testament sacrifices had all pictured the redemptive work of Christ, the work which was about to come to its culmination on the cross.

Blood sealed the old covenant. Christ refers to Exodus 24:6–8 as well as the Passover sacrifice. At Sinai God entered into a covenant with his people, renewing and building on the covenant he had made with Abraham. He had proclaimed his Law from the mountain, and the people had trembled in consciousness of their sin. Sacrificial blood covered sin and sealed union with a holy God—symbolically. Thus the elders could see God, and eat in his presence and not die! Thus sacrifices were offered repeatedly throughout the Old Testament. The old covenant looked forward to something better. Sacrifices of animals could not remove sin, Hebrews 10:4. God promised his people in the Old Testament a new and better covenant, Jeremiah 31:31–34. All that the Old Testament looked forward to comes to its fulfillment in Christ. The theme of sacrifice is related to that of a banquet, of table fellowship with God, in Exodus 12, Exodus 24, Isaiah 25.

Feed on the Christ whose body and blood sealed the new covenant. The body of Christ is for you. The heart of the covenant, old and new, is God’s presence as seen in Genesis 17:7 and Jeremiah 31. In giving bread as his body, Christ is promising to be with you. He is God’s provision for your needs. Just as the Passover lamb, whose blood provided the covering for God’s people, was the nourishment for the pilgrim people, so the great Lamb of God gives his body and his blood for you to eat. He takes off the Passover table the sacrificed lamb, for that picture was to be fulfilled the next day. He replaces the Old Testament elements with himself. He uses strong language in John 6:43–59. Baptism may be an indicator of faith on the part of the person baptized, but like its Old Testament counterpart, it is first of all a seal of union and communion with the covenant God. God has marked you as his people, as those belonging to him. The gospel is presented in visible form. Don’t separate the sign from the Word. The sacrament seals what the Word teaches. Recognize that the Supper is a sign. Christ is not physically present in the elements. But he is present by his Spirit! We don’t bring him down from the right hand of the Father to the communion table, but rather, he draws us up to himself. We need to feed upon him in order to live. The Supper is a means of grace. As you partake by faith the Spirit uses the Lord’s Supper to strengthen your trust in Christ. “Christ not brought down to us; we are lifted up to him…. Away with that calumny that Christ is removed from his Supper unless he lies hidden under the covering of bread! For since this mystery is heavenly, there is no need to draw Christ to earth that he may be joined to us.” “Now, if anyone should ask me how this takes place, I shall not be ashamed to confess that it is a secret too lofty for either my mind to comprehend or my words to declare. And to speak more plainly, I rather experience than understand it. Therefore, I here embrace without controversy the truth of God in which I may safely rest. He declares his flesh the food of my soul, his blood its drink [John 6:53ff.]. I offer my soul to him to be fed with such food.” (John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, IV, 17: 31, 32)

Christ shed his blood for you. The wine represents Christ’s blood. Christ used the Passover cup of wine. Christ’s blood was poured out for many. He echoes the language of Isaiah 53:12. Christ’s blood covers each of the sins of every one of you, his people, of all of those who trust in him. Many includes not only Israel, but the nations as well. The whole sacrament pictures Christ’s redemptive work. The blood sprinkled on the people at Mt. Sinai symbolically covered their sins. The shed blood of the Savior, represented in the cup of the sacrament, actually removed all of the guilt of every one of God’s people. There is a faith response on your part, as the covenant people, as you come to the table fellowship to which the Lord invites you. Prepare to come to the Lord’s Table. This meal is the Lord’s assurance to you, that as you trust in the Lamb, your sins are indeed forgiven. “After he gave thanks, Jesus made a statement about the cup of wine similar in form to what he said about the bread. He said, ‘this is My blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many for the remission of sins.’ There are three primary Old Testament allusion in this sentence. The reference to the ‘blood of the covenant’ points back to the ratification of the old covenant recorded in Exodus 24:8. It indicates that through his own blood, Jesus is ratifying a covenant. The reference to the ‘new covenant’ and forgiveness of sins indicates that the prophecy of Jeremiah 31:31–34 is in the process of being fulfilled, thereby identifying which covenant is being ratified. Finally, the reference to blood being ‘shed’ or ‘poured out’ points back to Isaiah 53:12 and identifies Jesus with the suffering ‘Servant’ of Isaiah 52:13–53:12. The reference points to the vicarious, atoning nature of the sacrifice.” (Keith A. Mathison, Given for You, pages 213–214)

Look forward to Christ’s feast with you. Christ was about to leave his disciples. “I tell you” indicates the certainty of his departure. This meal marks an end. He is not going to celebrate another Passover with his disciples. His leaving is a leaving to suffer and die, to shed his blood for your sins.

Jesus will feast with you in the Father’s kingdom. Christ is speaking of the great final feast of consummation, salvation for his people. See Isaiah 25:6; Revelation 3:20; 19:6–9. As you continue to observe the Lord’s Supper, Christ is reassuring you that he has accomplished his saving work on your behalf. Rest in the certainty of that forgiveness. You have been redeemed as his people. He calls you to trust in him. Your Christian life is a continual turning from sin to the Savior.

The great Passover Lamb, the Lord Jesus Christ, invites you to celebrate his death and resurrection each time you come to his Table. The Passover Lamb gives himself to you as the meal you need. Come, trusting the Lord who gave himself for sinners!

About jwm

I serve as pastor of Trinity Presbyterian Church, Newberg, Oregon.
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