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Bread

Mark 14:22-26

            Pat Novak was a pastor in a church that did not observe the Lord’s Supper.  Some years ago, however, when he was serving as a hospital chaplain intern, he discovered the healing power of Communion.

            Pat was making his rounds when he was called to visit a patient admitted with an undiagnosed ailment. John, a man in his sixties, was wasting away; he had not even been able to swallow for two weeks. The medical people had tried everything.

            When Pat walked into the room, John was sitting limply in his bed his eyes were hollow. But John seemed to brighten a bit as soon as he saw Pat's chaplain badge and invited him to sit down.

            As they talked, Pat sensed that God was urging him to ask John if he wanted to take Communion. John broke down. "I can't!" he cried. "I've sinned and can't be forgiven."

            Pat asked John if he wanted to confess his sin. John nodded gratefully. To this day Pat can't remember the sin John confessed, but he recalls that it did not strike him as particularly egregious. Yet it had been draining the life from this man. John wept as he confessed, and Pat laid hands on him, and told John his sins were forgiven.

            Then Pat got an urging from the Spirit: Ask him if he wants to take Communion. He did. Pat visited the hospital cafeteria, returning with a piece of bread in a napkin, a coffee cup, and a container of grape juice.  He returned to John's room with the elements and celebrated Communion with him. John took the bread and chewed it slowly. It was the first time in weeks he had been able to take solid food in his mouth. He took the cup and swallowed. He had been set free.

            Within three days John walked out of that hospital. The nurses were so amazed they called the newspaper, which later featured the story of John and Pat, appropriately, in its "LIFE" section.

(Adapted from The Body, Charles W. Colson, 1992, Word Publishing, pp. 139-140.)

            When Jesus took the traditional Passover meal and made it about Himself, He demonstrated His authority over the Old Covenant.  Only God would have authority to make a New Covenant, so in His use of the bread and cup, Jesus made the most powerful statement of His divine nature to that date.

Jesus gave New Covenant meaning to Old Covenant symbols.

1. The bread symbolizes His body. (22)

            Mark, along with Matthew and Luke, relate this meal as a celebration of the Passover.  John does not, putting Jesus’ crucifixion while the Passover lambs were slaughtered.  On a practical level, it doesn’t really matter on which day it occurred, as we have no surviving records on how the Passover was observed in Jesus’ time.  The ritual currently used by Jews was formulated in the second century and has been in continuous use since then, but no one can say if it bears any great resemblance to the way Jesus and His disciples observed it.

            That fact relieves us of being required to decide what parts of the Passover symbolism Jesus employed.  Take the Bread for example.  One Passover tradition refers to the unleavened bread as the Bread of Affliction.  Jesus may have used that connection to imply that He would soon suffer physical affliction, which happened at the hands of Jewish and Roman soldiers.

            Another Passover tradition was to leave a piece of the matzo bread untouched for the Messiah to eat when He came.   It is possible that Jesus picked up that piece and used it for His new symbolism.  This indicated He was the Messiah, that He accepted the title.

            Some of our Christian brothers and sisters take Jesus’ statement very literally, teaching that the bread, by supernatural means, actually becomes the flesh of Jesus Christ.  Here at Emmanuel, we understand the Lord’s Supper to be a memorial service, with the Bread and Cup serving symbolic functions.  Here are a couple reasons we believe that.  There is no way Jesus’ disciples took that meaning, nor there is no reason to add that interpretation later in history.  For Jesus to say that His disciples should drink a cup of blood would’ve been especially repugnant to Jesus’ disciples.  The Law of Moses forbade the drinking of blood and the consuming of meat with the blood still in it.

            Jews of Jesus’ time were into symbolism.  The Passover meal was full of symbolism.  For example, nobody thought the salt water into which the bitter herbs were dipped were actual human tears.  Instead, they understood the salt water to be a symbol of tears and the distress of slavery.  Jesus’ use of the bread here is aligned perfectly with His teaching in John 6 that He is the Bread of Life.

2. The cup symbolizes His sacrifice. (23-25)

            Jesus said the Cup was a symbol of the New Covenant, a new agreement between God and human beings.  Like other covenants before, it stipulated the responsibilities of each of the parties, the benefits of covenant-keeping, and the penalties of covenant-breaking.

            In Exodus 24:8, Moses sealed the Old Testament with the blood of a Lamb.  At the Last Supper, Jesus predicted He would create the New Covenant by the shedding of His own blood, A SACRIFICE FOR MANY.  The reason for this is that the life of every creature is in its’ blood (Leviticus 17:11-12), so it was to be treated with special respect.  In the Old Covenant, the only use for the blood of an animal sacrifice was to pour it around the base of the burning altar or sprinkle it on objects, to make them holy.

            Jesus’ words imply an improvement in the New Covenant where the “blood” is ingested, taken into one’s self.  That is consistent with the Old Covenant being primarily about works, the New Covenant about spirit and attitude.  The word MANY looks at the fact that Jesus’ sacrifice is effective only for those who believe (MANY, not “all”).

            Jesus said, “I WILL NOT DRINK WINE AGAIN UNTIL THE DAY I DRINK IT NEW IN THE KINGDOM OF GOD.”  The cup is part of the Last Supper service that is forward-looking.  It looks past the Second Coming of Jesus to the New Heaven and New Earth, where all God’s people are gathered to Him and they celebrate the arrival of God’s Kingdom in its fullness.  That is the next time Jesus will share a cup with His disciples.  (See Isaiah 25;6; Matthew 8:11; Luke 14:15; Revelation 19:9.)

            In the meantime, we in the Church maintain this tradition.  We share the cup with each other, looking forward to the day we share it with Jesus too.  On that day we will celebrate the entire completion of Jesus’ work to establish the Kingdom of God.

Jesus gave New Covenant meaning to Old Covenant symbols.

            V. 26 = THEN THEY SANG A HYMN AND WENT OUT TO THE MOUNT OF OLIVES.  The current format of Passover ends the service with Psalms 113-118.  Jesus and His disciples ended their meal similarly.  The Garden of Gethsemane lay at the foot of the Mount of Olives, that’s why you hear these names being used interchangeably.

            This was an incredibly intimate moment, and a great privilege for the eleven remaining disciples.  With the betrayer gone, Jesus transformed parts of the Passover meal into an entirely new ritual with new meaning to the symbolic elements of the bread and cup.

            Relationship with God suddenly became more personal.  The bread symbolized Jesus’ body and the cup His blood.  Gone were the nationalistic associations with the history of Israel.  Now, Jesus, a man who is God, was front and center.  He inaugurated the New Covenant in their presence and with their assistance.  What an honor!

            Their relationship with Jesus had changed over the entirety of the three years they’d spent together.  At first, He was their rabbi, a teacher of profound truths and a worker of amazing miracles.  Over time, as more and more of those miracles occurred and as He repeated more and more of the religious leaders who dared oppose Him, Jesus took on a more powerful role, their Messiah.  Now, on the cusp of His death and resurrection, He revealed to them one more change of identity.  He would be revealed to them as their Savior.  His humanity would recede, but never disappear, and His divinity would come to the fore.

            We observe the Lord’s Supper for several reasons.

- He commanded us to do so.

- To celebrate the New Covenant Jesus inaugurated at that meal, created at the cross, consecrated at the empty tomb, and will consummate in the New Heaven and the New Earth.

- It reminds us of the times in which we live: we are between history and prophecy.  Living in these “in between” times requires us to keep our focus on Him.

- Celebrating together brings us together.  The eleven men who received the bread and the cup from the very hands of Jesus enjoyed camaraderie and closeness forged over three years of daily ministry.  With the help of the Holy Spirit, we can know a depth of fellowship that befits the name we have given this ritual: “Communion.”

            “A small country church in Wisconsin has a special tradition that they have used at the close of their communion services for several years. It is adapted from an ancient Jewish closing of the Passover meal. Since it is the hope of every devout Jew to celebrate the Passover at least once in David’s city, the Jewish custom is to end the meal with a toast. Passover participants raise the cup and say, ‘Next year, in Jerusalem!’

            “The cup in the Lord’s Supper serves as two reminders: we are to look back to the shed blood of Christ and forward to the Lord’s second coming. In other words, for all Christians, there will be a last sharing of the bread and the cup on this side of eternity: when they meet once again, they will be in Christ’s presence. At the close of communion, the members of this church raise their cups in anticipation and say, ‘Next time, with Christ!’”

(Today in the Word, May, 1996, p. 26)

 

RESOURCES:

            Illustration from The Body found at https://www.sermonsearch.com/sermon-illustrations/979/a-repentant-heart/, retrieved on 1 March 2024.

            John MacArthur, One Perfect Life: The Complete Story of the Lord Jesus, 2012, pp. 410-411.

            Darrell L. Bock, Cornerstone Biblical Commentary, The Gospel of Mark, 2005, pp. 528-531.

            Illustration from Today in the Word, retrieved from https://bible.org/illustration/tradition, on 1 March 2024.

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