Sunday Night Live Sermons
THE BLOOD OF THE COVENANT
13th April 2003
Each religion and culture has its own recipes - written down as mementos of ritualistic feasts and fasts, of ancient dietary laws and taboos. From ancient Egyptians and Australian aborigines to modern Jews and Muslims there are taboos in diet. Often they are based on medical reasons. Pork and shellfish are to be avoided as unclean, as are wild carnivorous beasts who lived on carrion and bats, eels and crabs. On the other hand, all grains, berries, apples and olives, honey and salted meat, rosemary and thyme are associated with stories of suffering and redemption.
Of all the foods in the history of religion, the most sacred is bread. In Christian belief bread and wine are potent symbols of God's blessing, the symbols of Christ's presence and God's nourishment. Bread is mentioned more than 100 times in the Bible, a book rich in references to the shared table: lamb, fish, wine and the bread of life. Christians throughout history have solemnly taken bread and wine, reciting the words of Jesus at the Last Supper and offering prayer for the Sacrament.
Similarly, in the Jewish Passover, held every year close to Easter, bread is an intrinsic symbol of remembrance. "It is the central feature of the Passover diet," says senior rabbi Raymond Apple of the Great Synagogue. "Unleavened bread, matzo, (that is, bread made as a flat biscuit without yeast) is eaten with the ritual meal on the first two nights of Passover, beginning this year at sunset on April 16. Bread is important." In the Jewish Passover, roast lamb is also essential. Moses commanded the people:
"Tell the whole community of Israel that on the tenth day of this month each man is to take a lamb for his family, one for each household. If any household is too small for a whole lamb, they must share one with their nearest neighbor, having taken into account the number of people there are. You are to determine the amount of lamb needed in accordance with what each person will eat. The animals you choose must be year-old males without defect. Take care of them until the fourteenth day of the month, when all the people of the community of Israel must slaughter them at twilight. Then they are to take some of the blood and put it on the sides and tops of the doorframes of the houses where they eat the lambs. That same night they are to eat the meat roasted over the fire, along with bitter herbs, and bread made without yeast. This is how you are to eat it: with your cloak tucked into your belt, your sandals on your feet and your staff in your hand. Eat it in haste; it is the Lord's Passover.
"On that same night I will pass through Egypt and strike down every firstborn--both men and animals--and I will bring judgment on all the gods of Egypt. I am the Lord. The blood will be a sign for you on the houses where you are; and when I see the blood, I will pass over you. No destructive plague will touch you when I strike Egypt. This is a day you are to commemorate; for the generations to come you shall celebrate it as a festival to the Lord -- a lasting ordinance." Exodus 12:3-14
Jesus was celebrating this Passover meal with His disciples the night before He was nailed to the Cross. What happened at the table has changed lives in every century and in every country.
"While they were eating, Jesus took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to His disciples, saying, "Take and eat; this is my body." Then He took the cup, gave thanks and offered it to them, saying, "Drink from it, all of you. This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. I tell you, I will not drink of this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it anew with you in my Father's kingdom." When they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives." Matthew 26:26-30 In claiming the bread and wine represented His body and blood, Jesus was claiming to be the fulfillment of the Passover sacrifice. He was "the Lamb of God who would take way the sin of the world." John 1:29
The Apostle Paul understood this and explained: "Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed for us." 1 Corinthians 5:7 Jesus Christ is the fulfillment of the Paschal lamb. This is part of the atonement sacrifice.
1. THE FIRST PASSOVER.
Thirteen centuries before Christ, the Jewish people were slaves in Egypt. When God was delivering Israel from Egypt, He sent Moses to Pharaoh with the demand, "Let my people go!" Pharaoh refused. Following each refusal, God sent plagues of increasing severity upon Egypt, culminating with God's decree that each firstborn son in Egypt would die. Exodus 11:5 But when Moses declared God's word to Pharaoh, he refused to believe it. So God used a weapon of mass destruction, and the eldest son in every family died that night plunging the nation into grief and Pharaoh into giving up his resistance.
To protect the Israelites who lived in Egypt from this plague, God instructed Moses that each household should select a yearling male lamb and slaughter it at dusk on the 14th day of the Hebrew month that corresponds with March-April. "Then they are to take some of the blood and put it on the sides and tops of the doorframes of the houses where they eat the lambs." Exodus 12:7 During the night the angel of death passed through Egypt slaying the firstborn of both men and animals to bring judgment on Pharaoh and the gods of Egypt. "The blood will be a sign for you on the houses where you are; and when I see the blood, I will pass over you. No destructive plague will touch you when I strike Egypt" Exodus 12:13 The Hebrew verb used in these verses is pasach, "to pass over", the merciful passing over of a destructive power that otherwise would end in death.
2. THE PASSOVER LAMB.
The sacrifice of the Passover lamb meant a representative piece of meat was offered before the Lord and to the priests. The rest is eaten by the offerer and his family as a celebration meal of the Passover. Every year since, Jews have celebrated the Passover to commemorate God redeeming them from slavery in Egypt. By Jesus' day, Passover was to be celebrated only within the precincts of Jerusalem, so the city jam-packed with pilgrims during this season. The Last Supper Jesus held with his disciples was a Passover meal. Each element of the Passover meal was blessed and then commented upon by the head of the household, in this case, Jesus. It is helpful for us to know just what happened at this Passover table and what Jesus said.
The unleavened bread was a symbol of past misery and the speed with which the Israelites had to pack and leave before the bread had risen. The bitter herbs represented the bitterness of slavery. The fruit purée was reminiscent of the clay the Israelites used to make bricks in their captivity as slaves in Egypt. The Paschal lamb was a reminder of God's merciful "passing over." This was a very special meal, since neither wine nor meat were common as everyday fare. Jesus explained the bread as His body and the wine as His blood. After the explanation, they would sing Psalm 113.
The Jewish head of the family in the Passover, speaks a prayer of blessing over the bread, breaks it, and distributes it. Jesus did the same with His disciples with the words, "This is my body given for you. Do this in remembrance of me." After the meal of lamb, unleavened bread, bitter herbs, a blessing was spoken over third Cup of wine, called the cup of blessing 1 Corinthians 10:16 Jesus would have blessed the cup and said, "This cup is a new covenant in my blood, poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. Drink of it -- all of you." Then the concluding "hymn", Mark 14:26 Psalms 114-118, was sung.
Jesus' words were intended and interpreted by His disciples to be understood in relation to the Passover and the Passover lamb. That is why the early church thought of Jesus as the Paschal Lamb that had been sacrificed. 1 Corinthians 5:7 So Jesus indicates He will redeem His people from their bondage to sin and save them from death just as the Passover lamb was used centuries earlier to redeem the people of Israel from slavery in Egypt and save them from death.
3. THE BLOOD OF THE NEW COVENANT.
Most striking is the sentence spoken by Jesus: "This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins." The red wine was a symbol of His own blood that was about to be shed upon the Cross. This was done to enable those who believe in Him to enter a new relationship with God. When Jesus asked the disciples to drink it, they were startled. Jews were prohibited from drinking blood. Leviticus 17:10-11 When Jesus used words like this once before John 6:53-57 those words were so offensive that some disciples left Jesus. John 6:66 Now Jesus was asking the disciples to eat bread that He identified as His body. Jesus earlier had asked His disciples to feed on Him. Now He was asking them to unite themselves to Him in His death. How could the disciples forget such a vivid idea? They could not.
Jesus identifies His blood with the institution of a new covenant. The concept of the "blood of the covenant" is found in Exodus 27:7-8, where blood is sprinkled over the people of Israel when they agreed to the original Covenant they were making with God at Mt. Sinai. But the Prophet Jeremiah heralded the coming of a new covenant of forgiveness of sins replacing the Old Covenant made by Moses. "'The time is coming,' declares the Lord, 'when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah... This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after that time, ... they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest,' declares the Lord. 'For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.'" Jeremiah 31:31-34
In this Upper Room Jesus links His death with the Suffering Servant's sacrifice for the sins of many. The phrase "for many" points back to Isaiah 53:11-12, where the Servant "bore the sin of many." Jesus uses the phrase "poured out for many for the forgiveness
of sin." To pour out blood in order to obtain forgiveness for another is clearly the concept of a blood sacrifice. In our day, some are offended by this concept of blood being shed for our sins, but it is in the words of the Lord's Supper. Jesus intended us to remember His death as a sacrifice for sins.
There is one further insight. Jesus indicates that when we remember Him in the Lord's Supper we are also looking ahead to the ultimate Passover in the Kingdom of God when we celebrate our forgiveness of sins and victory over death through the gift of eternal life. "I tell you, I will not drink of this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it anew with you in my Father's kingdom." Matthew 26:29 Here Jesus is referring to the Great Heavenly Banquet alluded to in both the Old and New Testaments. The Jews of Jesus' day saw this as a final or eschatological Passover celebration with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and the other patriarchs and prophets. Luke 13:28-29; 14:15; 22:30; Revelation 19:9 "Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed." 1 Corinthians 5:7 and in the Lord's Supper we are invited to partake not only of His sacrifice for us 1 Corinthians 10:16-18 but celebrate both our redemption through Christ's atonement and His coming again when we shall feast with Him and all the redeemed of all ages. No wonder at Easter, we bow in humility as we remember these events of Jesus Christ, "the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world." John 1:29
- Sydney Morning Herald, 8th April 2003. Good Living P. 12, 13.
- The Lamb Who Took Our Place. by Dr. Ralph F. Wilson