(This is an additional post this week to commemorate Maundy Thursday and Easter. See the Monday, March 25 post—just previous to this one—for the continuation of my story.)
He said to them, "But who do you say that I am?"
Peter answered and said, "The Christ of God."
On Thursday, March 28, much of the Christian world will remember or gather in churches to commemorate the last supper Jesus had with his 12 disciples before being crucified the next day. We might recreate the significant foot washing by Jesus of his apostles; and we will probably celebrate Communion—where we eat of the bread (representing Jesus’ body) and drink of the wine (representing Jesus’ blood) to remember His sacrifice: His body broken and His blood shed for the forgiveness of your sin and mine.
Gentile Christians know this meal as the Last Supper. But Jesus’ Jewish disciples simply knew it as the Passover, a meal they’d been celebrating for centuries.
But what did Jesus, a Jew, really say to His disciples—and, to us—that special Passover night? What did his Jewish disciples understand Him to be saying?
What is He saying to you when He hands you the bread and the cup of wine?
First, to fully understand Jesus’s words, we need to understand the Passover meal. If you are a believer in Christ, you have been grafted onto the vine and so the Passover becomes your precious heritage too. It is a feast many scholars think we will continue to celebrate in heaven.
In a nutshell, Passover is the commemoration by the Jews of God’s protection and salvation from slavery in Egypt. And although during the Passover celebration the Jewish people remember each of the nine plagues they did not have to suffer, it focuses on the “passing over” of the tenth plague—the plague of death—from which everyone needed protection. Yet as much as it commemorates what God did in the past, it also pointed forward to (prophesied) a time of final redemption: a time when Messiah would come with a new (fulfilling) covenant; when a final sacrificial lamb, provided by God, would shed His blood for not only the salvation of the Jews, but for the salvation of the world.
There is much preparation before the actual Passover, with the wife preparing not only for the Passover but also for the Feast of Unleavened Bread, which starts the day after Passover. Because yeast, or leaven, always represents sin, the house must be thoroughly cleansed of any leaven or yeast, including any food containing yeast.
The table is elaborately set, and a sumptuous meal is served. But before that meal is enjoyed, there are special foods that are recognized and eaten. Along with these special foods, four cups of wine are blessed and drunk during the meal. During the celebration, the narrative of The Exodus is told and prayers are offered up to God for His loving protection.
There is a special place set for the prophet Elijah, with a cup of wine, as an invitation and hope that on that special night, he would return. In fact, at a special point in the meal, the youngest member of the family may go to the door to open it and look for him to enter. The Jews knew that Elijah was to come again prior to the Messiah’s coming, so they still, ceremoniously, look for his return in hopes that this might be the day Messiah would come. This may be why the Jews asked John the Baptist if he were Elijah, and why Jesus said that John the Baptist had come in the spirit of Elijah, and why many scholars think that one of the prophets in the Book of Revelation prophesying before the Lord’s return is Elijah.
The leader will have a pillow against which he can recline to signify freedom from slavery, since free men were always able to recline at the low table while the slaves had to stand. During the first Passover, God commanded the Hebrews to stand, with their sandals on and their staffs in hand, so they would be ready to leave quickly. At the time they were eating their first Passover meal, the Jews were still slaves; it was only after the Angel of Death passed over their house and they had left Egypt that they were considered free.
And it is the same with you. When you receive Jesus as your Messiah and Lord, the blood of the Lamb of God seals the doorposts of your heart identifying that you are His. If you believe in the sacrifice of God’s Lamb, you have a second kind of Passover, a spiritual one, where you pass from spiritual death—separation from God caused by your sin—into eternal life, and into an eternal, forever, relationship with your loving God.
As Jesus said in John 5:24: “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears My word and believes on Him who sent Me has everlasting life and shall not come into condemnation, but has passed from death to life.”
And remembering these great miracles helps you trust God. As you remember God’s power in bringing the Jewish people out of Egypt, it will give you courage to rely on Him to bring you out of the troubles you may face today. As one writer put it, “During this God-ordained night, we celebrate the doctrines of our salvation. Thus, like ancient Israel, we are sovereignly brought to the edge of the “sea” with no hope except to trust His deliverance and to follow Him. We marvel at His overwhelming sufficiency. Like ancient Israel, when we trust Him for deliverance and walk through the “sea” with Him, we end up singing and dancing on the other side.”
We know what the original foods were at the first Passover meal because in Exodus 12 God gives directions for the meal. He tells them to pick out a perfect, unblemished lamb from their flock on the tenth day of the month. Evidently the lamb was to be brought into their house for safe keeping until the fourteenth day of the month when it was to be killed and roasted in a special way and eaten with unleavened bread and bitter herbs. The rabbis later added additional foods now eaten at Passover. (Each of the foods symbolizes some aspect of the ordeal undergone by the Israelites during their enslavement in Egypt.)
So, let us “walk” through the Passover. First, we’ll read the accounts of it given to us
in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. Then I’ll describe the elements as they appear in the celebration.
Matthew 26:26-30—And as they were eating, Jesus took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to the disciples and said, “Take, eat; this is My body.” Then He took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you. For this is My blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many for the remission of sin. But I say to you, I will not drink of this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it new with you in My Father’s kingdom.” And when they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.
Mark 14:22-26—And as they were eating, Jesus took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them and said, “Take, eat; this is My body.” Then He took the cup, and when He had given thanks He gave it to them, and they all drank from it. And He said to them, “This is My blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many. Assuredly, I say to you, I will no longer drink of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God. And when they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.
Luke 22:14-20—When the hour had come, He sat down, and the twelve apostles with Him. Then He said to them, “With fervent desire I have desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer; for I say to you, I will no longer eat of it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.” Then He took the cup, and gave thanks, and said, “Take this and divide it among yourselves; for I say to you, I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.” And He took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is My body which is given for you; do this in remembrance of Me.” Likewise He also took the cup after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in My blood, which is shed for you.”
John 13:4:9; 12-17—[Jesus] rose from supper and laid aside His garments, took a towel and girded Himself. After that, He poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet, and to wipe them with the towel with which He was girded. Then He came to Simon Peter. And Peter said to Him, “Lord, are You washing my feet/” Jesus answered and said to him, “What I am doing you do not understand now, but you will know after this.” Peter said to Him, “You shall never wash my feet!” Jesus answered him, “If I do not wash you, you have no part of Me.” Simon Peter said to Him, “Lord, not my feet only, but also my hands and my head.” So when He had washed their feet, taken His garments, and sat down again, He said to them, “Do you know what I have done to you? You call Me Teacher and Lord, and you say well, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you should do as I have done to you. Most assuredly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master; nor is he who is sent greater than he who sent him. If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them”
Now, let’s get deeper into that final Passover meal Jesus ate…
The first item is the first cup of wine, the Cup of Sanctification. It is the cup associated with God’s promise to bring us out from under the yoke of oppression. The leader will say a blessing over the cup, and it will be drunk.
Then the leader will pour water into a bowl and wash his hands. It is required that the hands be washed before dipping any food into any liquid, but now, to the Jewish believer, it is a reminder of when Jesus not only washed His hands, but also washed the disciples’ feet at this point in the Passover. Unless you let Him wash you—with the water of His word (the truth of Scripture and the way to salvation recorded in it)—you can have no part of Him.
The leader then takes the greens (usually parsley) that remind us of the hyssop that was used to apply the lamb’s blood to the doorframes of the Jewish houses. It is first dipped into salt water, a reminder of the tears the Jews shed while in slavery, as well as of the Red Sea the Jews passed through to safety. It also reminds us of the tears we shed when we were in bondage to sin.
Then the matzo “bread” is lifted for all to see. There are three matzo, which now symbolize the unity of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. The middle matzo is removed and held up. The matzo is unleavened bread, and it is pierced and striped, just as our Lord was pierced and striped from beatings. This matzo is then broken with half of it being returned to the middle, and the other piece wrapped carefully in a linen cloth. This broken piece—called the “afikomen”, or that which is left over—is then hidden by the leader until a later time in the meal when the children are sent to find it.
Like Jesus, who was wrapped in linen cloths and laid in a tomb, the matzo is “resurrected” to life, after the child who finds it returns it to the leader. Before the leader takes it, however, he pays a ransom of money to the child who brings it to him. Just as Jesus paid a ransom for you. (This might be stretching things a bit, but I think it’s interesting that a child finds the matzo and Jesus told us that unless we become like little children, we will not enter the kingdom.)
The boiled and toasted egg symbolizes new life.
The lamb bone is then lifted to remind them of the Passover lamb that was slain. The Jews no longer eat lamb at their Passover meal because there is no temple in which to sacrifice the Passover lamb. The empty bone is a reminder to them that they can no longer sacrifice a lamb for their sins. For followers of Christ, it is a reminder that there is no longer a need for a yearly sacrifice!
A blessing is recited over the second cup of wine—the Cup of Deliverance—and it is drunk.
A second washing of the hands occurs, with a blessing, in preparation of eating some of the matzo.
Then the horseradish is consumed to remind the Jews that their lives were made bitter with brick, mortar and sin. (Just as our lives are made bitter with sin and with our attachment and enslavement to this world.) This herb is consumed with a piece of matzo.
The horseradish is then followed by the eating of the charoset—a mixture of apples, nuts, cinnamon and wine—that symbolizes the mortar used by the Jews in building bricks during their slavery. (How often do we mix recipes of bitterness of our own making to stack painful “bricks” in our own lives?) This mixture also symbolizes how the sweetness of Jesus can overcome bitter sin.
A festive meal is then eaten. (This is the meal that is referred to in Matthew 26:26 and Mark 14:22, where both passages begin by saying, “And as they were eating…”).
After the meal, the piece of matzo that was broken and hidden—or “buried” earlier and found by the children—is eaten as dessert. This is the “bread” spoken of by Jesus in Luke 22:19, Matthew 26:26, and Mark 14:22. It represents the sweet body of Christ that redeems.
Then the third cup of wine—the Cup of Redemption—is poured. Grace is recited, a blessing is said over the third cup and it is drunk. (This is the cup referred to in Luke 22:20, Matthew 26:27, and Mark 14:23-24.)
The fourth cup is then poured.
Then the door is then opened for Elijah by one of the children, to see if he has returned and will join them at the table.
Several Psalms of praise are recited, particularly Psalms 113–118, called the Hallel. A blessing is recited over the last cup—the Cup of the Kingdom—and it is drunk. In Mark 14:25 and Luke 26:29, Jesus tells us that He will not drink of the fruit of the vine again until He drinks it anew with us in His Father’s Kingdom.
He is waiting to drink that cup with you—in person—at the wedding feast of the Lamb in the New Jerusalem!
The Passover is completed with songs and Psalms of praise, and with the exuberant phrase: Next Year in Jerusalem! It voices a hope that the Lord will soon come, and next year, we will gather with Him in Jerusalem to celebrate—at the wedding feast of the Lamb!
But let us return briefly to this very special third cup—the Cup of Redemption.
When a young man wanted to marry a woman in Israel, a bride price needed to be decided upon between the young man’s father and the woman’s father. This price was not to “purchase” the young woman, but it was to replace the great loss of a daughter. It would have been a high price, like buying a house.
When the price was agreed upon, the young man’s father would pour a cup of wine and hand it to his son. His son would turn to the young woman, lift the cup and hold it out to her and say, “This cup is a new covenant in my blood which I offer to you.” In other words, “I love you, and I’ll give you my life. Will you marry me?” Will you become My bride?
The woman had a choice. She could take the cup and give it back and say no. Or she could choose to answer by not saying a word, and take the cup from him and drinking from it. Her way of saying, “I accept your offer and I give you my life in response.”
During the last Passover meal Jesus ate with the disciples, as the leader, He first took that third cup—the Cup of Redemption—and blessed it with the traditional blessing: “Blessed are You, O Lord, our God, King of the Universe, for giving us the fruit of the vine.” But then he probably shocked the disciples when He interjected a marriage proposal into the service. Jesus said, in essence: “I love you,” and compared His love to a passionate, pure love of a husband for his wife. The passion and power of Jesus, who said, “I love you, and I’ll pay the price for you.” The price of an agonizing death on a cruel, Roman cross.
And He says the same thing to you today; this is what you should remember and celebrate each time you partake of Communion. First He says, “This is my body, broken for you.” And then He says, “This is my blood, sacrificed for you. Drink of it so that you will be My bride and we may covenant together for eternity.” And when you take the cup of Redemption and drink of it, you are telling Christ that you accept His offer and do give Him your life in response.
It is my personal prayer, that as you partake in Communion this night, or simply reflect on the last Passover meal Jesus ate with His disciples when He initiated this Sacrament, that you do two things: First, remember what God has done for you. Then accept, with great joy and gratefulness, that covenant “marriage” cup that Christ extends to you.
Christ gave everything to make it possible for you to be passed over and saved from the angel of death into eternal life with Him! And He did it because He loves you.
May God bless all of you on this special (celebration) night! And may you rejoice anew on Resurrection morning: that the battle for you was won in Gethsemane and that the tomb is empty!! Christ has, indeed, opened Paradise!! Hallelujah!
Thanks for joining me.
Until next week!
(If you have not yet accepted Christ as your Savior, you can do that now. Simply humble yourself before Him, believe and accept His sacrifice for you, honestly proclaim Him as your Lord and Savior, and ask Him to take up residence in your heart. If you are still unsure, please email me at email@example.com. I’d be THRILLED to converse with you further about Jesus and His wonderful provision of salvation and eternal life!)
Sources for this information come from Jews for Jesus materials and books, and Ray Vander Laan’s Faith Lessons DVDs (formerly "That the World May Know") thru Focus on the Family.