What I am choosing to write about today didn’t actually happen on the final Thursday of Jesus’ earthly life, but it did happen on a Thursday of yours. Well … possibly not. I would love to believe that some of our readers are Jewish, and if you are, you know that what I am writing about today actually happened on Friday, but you can also understand why I might find it appropriate to write about today. Confused yet?! The reason for all this is simply that the Jewish day begins at sundown, while ours begins at midnight. So the events of early Friday are actually our Thursday evening.
Earlier in the day, Jesus sent a few disciples ahead to prepare a room for a special meal. He had plans to share the central meal of the Passover celebration with all of his disciples before continuing on to the garden, where He would willingly give Himself up to those who sought to kill Him. Every step was intentional for Jesus, and no detail was random.
As night fell, the time had arrived, the guests were all seated, and John’s gospel says it so beautifully…
It was just before the Passover Feast. Jesus knew that the time had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he now showed them the full extent of his love.
John 13:1 (NIV 1984)
In showing them the “full extent,” Jesus gets up, wraps a towel around His waist, pours water into a basin and begins to wash the feet of the disciples. This was: a Messiah born in a manger, a Savior who had “no place to lay his head” (Luke 9:58), a King riding on a young donkey, and a Deliverer crucified in the manner of a common criminal. Jesus took the place and posture of a servant and showed them “the full extent of his love.”
The meal they would share that night was the central meal of the central festival, which celebrated the central story that defined Jewish identity. This was Seder. To understand it, you had to know the story: of God’s miraculous and epic deliverance of His chosen people after 400 years as slaves in Egypt; of the ten plagues that caused Pharaoh to release God’s people; the plagues that might appear odd and random, but that each specifically targeted an Egyptian deity; the final plague where God did not distinguish between Egyptian or Jew, and provided a way of escape only through the sacrifice of a perfect lamb. This was the story of the meal Jesus was sharing with his disciples that night.
There is not adequate space to note it all, but suffice it to say there is great significance in each of the elements, and the very specific order of Seder. At the top of the list were the central elements, the bread and the wine. In the midst of the Seder that Jesus shared with his disciples that night, He would take these two central elements and make them new in Himself. He did not replace them, as He did not come to abolish the law. He made them new in Himself, just as He fulfilled every letter of the law.
And as they were eating, he took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to them, and said, “Take; this is my body.”
Mark 14:22 (ESV)
The bread Jesus took was without yeast. It signified the haste with which the Israelites were to eat their last supper in captivity. Yeast took time to rise, and God was clear that the one thing the people didn’t have was time. Yeast is also an integral symbol in the preparation for Seder. Jewish people take GREAT care to rid their house of even trace amounts of it beginning weeks prior to Passover. Yeast is a symbol of sin to the Jewish people.
There was only one without sin, and that One had just taken the first of the two most central elements in this central meal and made it new in Him. The bread is no longer just a symbol of the haste in eating the meal before the exodus; it is His own body which is about to be willingly sacrificed for the sins of all.
And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, and they all drank of it. And he said to them, “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many.“
Mark 14:23-24 (ESV)
“And he took a cup…” Notice that Jesus says a cup, not the cup. There are four cups in the Seder meal. They are based on the four promises God gave to Moses to share with the people in response to their cries for deliverance (Exodus 6:6-7). They are…
I will bring you out …. CUP OF THANKFULNESS (start of Seder)
I will free you ………. CUP OF JUDGEMENT (before meal begins)
I will redeem you …… CUP OF REDEMPTION (Grace after the meal)
I will take you ………. CUP OF COVENANT (end of Seder)
“… and when he had given thanks he gave it to them,” This cup that Jesus takes (when he had given thanks) in the very specific order of the Seder is which cup? Yes … the third cup, the cup of REDEMPTION. “This is my blood of the covenant which is poured out for many.” Jesus has now taken the second central element of this central meal and made it new in Him. The wine is no longer just a symbol of the redemption of the Jewish nation in the story of their great deliverance; it is His own blood which is about to be willingly shed for the sins of all.
I think it’s also important to note the very next thing that Jesus says. “Truly, I say to you, I will not drink again of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God.” (Mark 14:25 ESV) Cups three and four are Jesus’ unfinished work. The cross is still before Him, and one day He will return to take His people … all His people. What an incredible day that will be, but until that day, He will not drink of these very purposed cups.
Every step was intentional for Jesus, and no detail of His life or this week has been random. Jesus has just taken the central elements of the central meal of the central festival that celebrates the central story that defines Jewish identity and makes them new in Himself. He does not replace them; He makes them new. And in so doing, He invites EVERYONE to the table.