READ : Luke 22:1-13
What was the most important day in human history? There are many contenders, I suppose, but Christians would say it was a Friday, almost two thousand years ago – the day Jesus died.
This is the first of a series of messages entitled Jesus’ Last Day. We will trace the events during the last 24 hours of Jesus’ life on earth – from late Thursday afternoon to late Friday afternoon of what Christians have come to call “Holy Week” – the time when Jesus’ suffering came to a climax and he was put to death on a Roman cross. Christians believe this was the most significant event in all of history. Every moment of this last night and day was important and filled with drama, leading up to the most important moment of all when Jesus bowed his head on the cross and died. At that precise instant he gave his life as the penalty for human sin and accomplished our salvation!
THE GUEST ROOM
The story of Jesus’ last day begins with Jesus and his closest friends, his disciples, together in Jerusalem. It was during the annual Jewish festival of Passover, also called the Feast of Unleavened Bread, a week-long celebration commemorating God’s deliverance of Israel from slavery in Egypt. This festival began with the sacred Passover meal.
Jesus and his followers had a special meeting place in Jerusalem, within the city walls – a large room where they could safely meet without fear of being disturbed. It was probably in the home of one of Jesus’ well-to-do followers. Luke calls it “a large upstairs room with furniture in it.” This could very well have been the same meeting place we read of elsewhere in the gospels and Acts, where the risen Christ appeared to his disciples on Easter Sunday night and where Jesus’ friends were waiting together on Pentecost, the day the Holy Spirit came to them. Jesus didn’t have very many followers. Few would have been wealthy enough to have a house within the city that could regularly accommodate dozens of people. So it’s reasonable to suppose that the Upper Room was this meeting place.
Jerusalem at this point was a very dangerous place for Jesus. He knew that his enemies wanted to kill him, and that he was risking arrest every time he moved openly in the city. So Jesus wanted to be sure he could spend his last evening with his disciples undisturbed, for he still had much to say to them and do for them.
His chief reason for using the room was to share the Passover meal with his disciples. Jesus wanted to do two things: to talk quietly with them, giving them his final instructions, and to eat the feast with them one last time. It’s obvious why this Old Testament sacrament was important to Jesus. It was so rich with symbolism. The Passover spoke of deliverance from bondage through the sacrifice of a slain lamb. The lamb’s blood had to be applied to the house and its flesh eaten with bread and wine. Everything about this ceremony pointed to Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross.
He also spoke there to his disciples at great length. After supper, when he had washed their feet, and Judas, the one who would betray him, had left, Jesus began to share his final words with his closest friends. (This “Farewell Discourse” is recorded by John in chapters 14-17 of his gospel.) There he spoke about his Father’s house, with its many rooms, where he was going to prepare places for them. Jesus called himself the only Way, Truth and Life. He compared himself to the vine in whom they had to abide if they were to live and bear fruit. He told them about the Holy Spirit, the Comforter, whom he would send to be his presence with them. And he gave them a new commandment: to love each other as he had loved them. Finally Jesus prayed in that room to the Father that all of his followers would be one, just as he and the Father were one.
In a sense, we could think of the upper room as the first Christian church building. It was there the first communion service was held. There was the first place the disciples saw the risen Christ. Christians do not believe that any particular place is sacred or mysteriously powerful in and of itself. We don’t revere holy buildings or shrines or temples. For us, the thing that makes a place holy is if we meet with the living Lord Jesus there. What makes a room or a building into a church is the Lord’s presence there with his people. So when we gather in Christ’s name, listen to his Word, celebrate his Supper, the Lord Jesus is there, and that place, wherever it is, whatever it might be – whether it’s a cottage or a cathedral – becomes an upper room, a holy place of communion with Jesus Christ.
THE LORD’S SUPPER
The most important event in the upper room occurred after the Passover feast and before the time of teaching. After sharing the Passover memorial with his disciples, Jesus picked up one of the left-over loaves of unleavened bread. He said a simple prayer of thanks over it, broke it into pieces, and gave it to the disciples to eat. As he distributed those broken pieces of bread, Jesus said to his disciples:
“This is my body. It is given for you. Every time you eat it, do it in memory of me.” In the same way, after the supper he took the cup. He said, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. It is poured out for you.”
In performing those simple, symbolic acts, Jesus instituted a new ceremony of worship. Christians call this the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper.
Participating in this act of worship does at least three things for us.
First, it reminds us of the deepest and truest meaning of Christ’s death. Jesus said the Bread was his body, given for us. Of course, he didn’t mean that literally. The bread of the Supper is not his actual body. It’s a symbol pointing to him, to Jesus’ person, his life. When Jesus broke the bread at the last supper, he wasn’t just making sure that each disciple would get a piece. This was the most deeply symbolic act of all. Jesus was showing us that his body had to be broken in order for us to live. He will save us and sustain us. He will come to us, live in us and be our life. His presence will nourish and strengthen us for eternal life – but only if he dies for us first. First his body must be broken on the cross to pay the penalty for sin, and then he will become the bread of life to all who receive him in faith.
The cup of wine poured out and shared reinforces and teaches the same truth. In the Old Testament the blood of a sacrificed animal had to be sprinkled on the people in order for God to forgive their sins. Why? It seems an odd, even gruesome practice to modern folk. The Old Testament taught that blood represented the life of any creature. That means that the blood which was shed on the altar would symbolize a life offered as a sacrifice. And that was exactly the price of atonement for sin. Forgiveness isn’t free for God. It costs a death. Sin can never be minimized, excused, forgotten, swept under the rug. It can only be paid for with death, and since we can’t pay that, God provides a substitute. That was the meaning of all those lambs, goats, pigeons and bulls offered up in the Old Testament. But in Jesus Christ, the true Lamb of God appears. He is the one to whom all those Old Testament animal sacrifices were pointing.
He takes the cup. Here is another layer of meaning. The prophets in the Old Testament pictured God’s righteous reaction to sin as a cup brimful of bitter wine, the cup which it was not possible for Jesus to avoid, despite his prayers – and he drinks it down, all of it! He, although innocent, accepts the punishment for the guilty, and sheds his blood in place of ours. Every time we see the bread broken and the cup poured out, we are reminded of the true meaning of Jesus’ death for sin and the full extent of his love.
The second thing that happens at the Lord’s Supper is that Christians are able to have fellowship, or communion, with Christ himself. The New Testament word for this is koinonia, which means “sharing in common with one another.” “When we give thanks for the cup at the Lord’s Supper,” Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “aren’t we sharing in the blood of Christ? When we break the bread, aren’t we sharing in the body of Christ?” (1 Cor. 10:16). To come to the Lord’s Supper and take and eat the bread and drink the cup is a physical acting out of what happens to our souls when we put our faith in Jesus Christ. If we trust in Christ, then in receiving the Lord’s Supper we are actually receiving him, for he is there through his Spirit. We are united to Christ and share his benefits by faith. It doesn’t happen just by going through the motions of a ritual; it happens by sincerely believing in Jesus and in his death for our sins. “Faith,” wrote the great theologian John Calvin, “is the mouth and stomach of the soul.” St. Augustine said the same thing: “Believe, and you have eaten.” To eat the bread and drink the cup truly means to put our faith in Jesus and accept his sacrifice for ourselves. And by doing that, we actually experience communion with him.
Jesus is the Bread of Life. He is the Cup of blessing. Trusting, receiving and knowing him is what gives us life and brings us joy. Jesus is to our hungry and thirsty souls the true meat and drink of life eternal.
Finally, when we participate as believers in the Lord’s Supper, we are not only united to Christ and receive him and his blessings through faith; we are also united with our brothers and sisters in Christ. The Bread that is his body also represents us, his body the church. We owe this insight to the apostle Paul. “Just as there is one loaf, so we who are many are one body. We all eat of the one loaf” (1 Cor. 10:17). For Paul, the loaf of bread on the communion table was an eloquent symbol of the unity of all Christians. Everyone who truly partakes of the bread – that is, who has a living and genuine faith in Jesus – is united into one body, the body of Christ.
But what about you? Do you have an upper room, a place where you meet with the Lord and his people? Do you come to his table to share in his Supper, and therefore in his life? Do you know Christ? Do you understand the meaning of his death on the cross? Do you trust in Christ’s death for your forgiveness? Do you love him for what he has done for you? Do you love your fellow believers who come with you as your brothers and sisters in the one, universal body of Christ?
And if you don’t come, if you won’t come, what then? If you do not receive the Bread of Life, the only one who can satisfy you, where will you go to feed your hungry and thirsty soul?