The Penultimate Passover

Matthew 26:26-30

And while they were eating, Jesus took some bread, and after a blessing, He broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is My body.” And when He had taken a cup and given thanks, He gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you; for this is My blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for forgiveness of sins. “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 after singing a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.

We take things too literally, literally speaking. For instance, is this scene in Matthew the penultimate Passover? It depends on one’s translation and interpretation of Passover. Literally, “penultimate,” means; “second-to-last in a series.” For example, Lord willing, we will soon be in the penultimate chapter in the Gospel According to Matthew. Concerning today’s text, my Bible has a heading, added much later than the original composition, “The Final Passover.” I agree, to a certain degree, for this is the end of the Passover as they know it. Yet, Jesus, Himself, is the true Passover and the true Israel and temple and altar and manna and water; we’ve been over this a thousand times, I don’t mean to beat the proverbial dead horse, however, in order to get the full picture, we must see how all the festivals and feasts and sacrifices and blood of bulls point to Jesus. We must also see ourselves in ancient Israel, following what we feel to be the letter of the Law but our hearts wander far from Jesus. Jesus is the absolute focus but not to literal extremes based upon the precepts of men.

As an aside, the thing that I enjoy most about going through a book like Matthew, at our own pace, is that we can celebrate Maundy Thursday on a Saturday night in late June. Christmas in July anyone? Which makes me think, we are almost done with the book of Matthew. The best and worst is yet to come, however. We still have much to see in the context of Matthew but Lord willing, it will soon be ending. My question is, then what? When we have finished with the book of Matthew, which will be soon, Lord willing, what should we consider the context of next? It’s been a little shy of a year since we began in Matthew, though we had a hiatus, and I don’t know what to study next; I am up for requests. Nevertheless, we are not done yet, we have much context left to consider.

“And while they were eating, Jesus took some bread, and after a blessing, He broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, ‘Take, eat; this is My body.'”  Was this particular Passover, penned by Matthew completely chronologically? Mark and Matthew recorded the predicted betrayal before the “first communion,” yet Luke and John have the betrayal prediction immediately following the “first communion.” The question is, did Judas partake in the first communion? Although Matthew writes fairly chronologically, and John hardly writes in a chronological fashion at all, I believe that Judas was present for the first communion. It seems silly to believe this based upon the writing styles of Matthew and John but we have to consider the context and lack thereof. First, John’s is a much more detailed discription and more importantly, John clearly portrayed Judas as present and Matthew doesn’t tell us when Judas left, and according to Matthew, both events happen while “they were eating.” My point is, we have a lot of misconceptions about communion, the first being, who is invited?

Secondly; is the bread literally the body of Christ? This one is easier to answer–a grossly understated utterance. It should be simple but our minds are clouded by traditions and the teaching of men.IMG_20190414_110207274_HDRThis is me, with my friends. Problem; this is not me with my friends, this is a picture representetive of me with my friends. This is a facsimile of the reality that happened in April. I am not there posing for a picture, I am here writing about a picture but I am there in spirit. Just as Judas was physically present at the first communion yet did not Spiritually receive it, there are communions held without the presence of Christ. Bountiful bread blessed by the best brothers doesn’t bring the blessings without the baptism of belief. This is my biggest concern about the dogmatic doctrine of transubstantiation–it is not about the bread blessed by clergy but the heart of the believers. My friends, who live in a certain communist country in the Caribbean, find food in short​ supply, and one of the most difficult foods to find is, you guessed it, bread. Now I know them and love them dearly but they are nothing if not legalistic. I am sure that they hoard bread, buying it on the black market, so that they will have enough bread for communion. But bread is not the focus, the body of Jesus being broken is. 

We have two traditions, religious rites, as it were, of which we should participate, and yet we manipulate and distort them. One is baptism and the other is the Lord’s supper. Israel was baptized into the Sea of Reeds, Jesus in the baptism of John at the Jordan and we, while inwardly baptized by the Spirit, outwardly should be physically baptized in water to represent the death and resurrection. Some sprinkle, others immerse but the literal meaning of baptism is, “to dip.” Therefore, if one is sprinkled and not dipped, their baptism is invalid, or is it? Problem; a certain saint is saved in the Sahara and only an ounce of water is available and it is poured in his head. Does this invalidate his baptism because he wasn’t immersed? Say no water was found but in front of witnesses he was buried in the sand then arose symbolic of Jesus and the new birth. Is this physical act Spiritually nullified because there was no water? Jesus used water because he is good to us. It’s much easier to be dipped in water than buried in the sand. Nevertheless, it’s not about the water but the outward proclomation and confession of what Jesus has done in the inner-man; circumcision of the heart, rebirth of the soul, deeds of the flesh put to death and a new creation in the Spirit, by his death on the cross and resurrection into life.

Back to the first communion where physically Jesus gave the morsel to Judas. That morsel and the “dipping” into the bowl certainly signified Jesus’ body being broken. The participation of Judas didn’t signify communion with Christ but betrayal. Much in the same way we understand that there exists false churches of Christ that bless the bread, believing that it has literally become his body but because the bread is blessed, doesn’t make it so. Jesus, himself, the actual focus of the bread, blessed the bread that was given to Judas. Did Judas receive the same Spiritual blessings as the other 11 disciples did? Of course not; “it would have been better if he was never born.” But again, that was based on his betrayal, not his participation in communion in “an unworthy manner.”

We are all familiar with the phrase Paul wrote to the church in Corinth; “Therefore whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner, shall be guilty of the body and the blood of the Lord.” Notice Paul didn’t write, “he who eats the body or drinks the blood.” What does the context say? “Therefore when you meet together, it is not to eat the Lord’s Supper, for in your eating each one takes his own supper first; and one is hungry and another is drunk. What! Do you not have houses in which to eat and drink? Or do you despise the church of God, and shame those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I praise you? In this I will not praise you.”

They thought they were gathering to eat the Lord’s Supper, but in fact, were eating their own suppers and the suppers of their brothers who showed up after them. I find it funny that they were getting drunk off the blood of Jesus; you probably don’t–my mind works differently. Follow my logic; if the wine becomes the literal blood of Christ, should it then not be able to inebriate the partaker if one is not to get “drunk with wine.” Or are we to take the blood of Christ in moderation? Many pastors and preachers, theologians and teachers would say that this is Paul’s aspiration to his audience. Although I agree, somewhat, I think we have a bit of over-correction in our churches. I can’t stand these Corinthians (hyperbole, they are a type of me), they ruin everything​. Can you imagine the feasts we could have if they would have waited for their brothers and not ate all the food and drunk all the wine? But their correction is our correction as Israel’s correction was their correction and it all leads to our over-correction. Tiny cups of grape juice and a chunk of white bread alone should be proof that it isn’t about the the substance of the elements, which were originally unleavened bread and wine, but the Spiritual presence of Christ and not in the flesh, in communion with the believers as they remember what Jesus did for them, together.

Paul wrote to the drunkards and the dry, the plastered and parched, the packed and the peckish; “For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus in the night in which He was betrayed took bread; and when He had given thanks, He broke it, and said, ‘This is My body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of Me.’ In the same way He took the cup also, after supper, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in My blood; do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.” For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes.” Jesus doesn’t say, “this Holy Grail contains the Covenant in My Blood.” He was not being overly literal–he was talking like a human to other humans. Have you ever had someone show you their classic car, or their dog, or their 15 year old granddaughter and say, “that’s my baby?” Was your reaction to give them a box of diapers? We are reminded of what Jesus said to the disciples in Matthew 20; “But Jesus answered and said, ‘You do not know what you are asking for. Are you able to drink the cup that I am about to drink?’ They said to Him, ‘We are able.'” Metaphor or literal to the letter? Much like when Jesus said, “beware of the leaven of the Pharisees,” and the disciples remembered that they forgot bread.

Martin Luther, a man who had his faults, is nevertheless a man I admire because he was one of the first people in a thousand years to yell, “consider the context!” I am paraphrasing but his ninty-nine, nailed thesis was about considering the context. Nevertheless, Martin Luther, during a debate, carved into a table, “This IS my body,” indicating his strong belief in transubstantiation, where the bread becomes the body, blood from the wine. This is one of those secondary doctrines that can, ironically, cause division, because it’s about communion. It would be easier for me to write, “believe what you want” but better to explain why I don’t believe in the literal bread becoming literal body. Ironically, Martin Luther, it’s because of your ninty-nine, nailed thesis.

Consider the context, “this is my body.” Consider the picture of me and my friends. “This is me and my friends,” is a perfectly acceptable account even though it is not literally me and my friends but rather a picture. Factor in the literary language of the metaphorical Master along with his explanation to Paul. “For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus in the night in which He was betrayed took bread; and when He had given thanks, He broke it, and said, ‘This is My body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of Me.’ The bread being broken is an obvious analogy of his beaten body in the flesh for sin (the disciples were about to witness this) The bread and wine represent this for them to remember and it is passed down to us.

It is no coincidence that Jesus was betrayed that night, nor is it coincidence that 1 Corinthians 11 follows 1 Corinthians 10. Ignore the chapter breaks and see the sublime string. “For I do not want you to be unaware, brethren, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea; and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea; and all ate the same spiritual food; and all drank the same spiritual drink, for they were drinking from a spiritual rock which followed them; and the rock was Christ. Nevertheless, with most of them God was not well-pleased; for they were laid low in the wilderness. Now these things happened as examples for us, that we should not crave evil things, as they also craved. And do not be idolaters, as some of them were; as it is written, ‘THE PEOPLE SAT DOWN TO EAT AND DRINK, AND STOOD UP TO PLAY.’ Nor let us act immorally, as some of them did, and twenty-three thousand fell in one day.” We go to extremes. First, getting drunk at communion, which is bad, but what’s worse is while some were getting drunk, others went without. Doesn’t this mean that the wine is literally the blood and the bread his body, if it was wrong for those to go without? That’s circular reasoning– in that case, the ones who were drunk had an extra helping of the blood. It’s wrong and utterly wrong, for some to have and others to have not, concerning the context of communion–that is why we call it communion. If transubstantiation is true, what makes the elements change from unleavened bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ? Finally, we have come back to the beginning found in the penultimate Passover and the implementation of the Lord’s supper.

John and Luke have Judas, the betrayer, present at the penultimate Passover and superlative supper of the Lord. Matthew and Mark do not say that he left, therefore, without a shadow of a doubt, Judas physically received the broken bread but blessing he received not. Not because Jesus changed the bread of the eleven into his body but not the bread of Judas, but because the bread is a picture of his body used as a tool for the believer to remember–to the eleven, it foreshadows his death and then as a reminder, and to Judas, the betrayal. And herein lies the rub. “‘Take, eat; this is My body.’ And when He had taken a cup and given thanks, He gave it to them, saying, ‘Drink from it, all of you; for this is My blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for forgiveness of sins.'” Dogmatically, taken literally, Judas had his sins forgiven. Paul expounded on this, Christ Jesus told him; “This cup is the new covenant in My blood; do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.” This is the New Covenant, where sin is eradicated, once for all, but only to the believers, not necessarily to the dogmatic observing a religious rite and certainly not to Judas.

Notice also in today’s text; “‘Drink from it, all of you; for this is My blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for forgiveness of sins. “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 after singing a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.” Therefore we have to sing a hymn after partaking of the body and blood of Christ. Many pastors and preachers, theologians and teachers actually teach this. But you know me, ever the legalistic one, for I say that we also need to go up to the Mount of Olives as well. Do you see where I am going by following what Christ said and did and by considering the context of what Paul wrote? Notice also Jesus says​ he will not drink from the fruit of the vine until the Kingdom comes. Wine is for the believers on earth–why would Jesus drink his own blood in the Kingdom? I will ask again, if transubstantiation is true, how does it change from literal unleavened bread into the body of Christ? The answer is best found by considering examples. The first being the drunkards in Corinth and the second our modern-day meetings. Paul told them that they were in fact not partaking of the Lord’s supper, not because the elements weren’t changed but because they didn’t share. In modern context, there are those dogmatic denominations who hold to the literal bread becoming the literal boby by way of the blessing from a priest or pastor, reverend or minister, deacon or elder. Problem; if one is present with an unbelieving, unrepentant heart, does the body change back to bread because of this? Dogmatically it has to because the body and blood are for the forgiveness of sins. We could save the world by force-feeding the masses blessed bread and wine if transubstantiation were true, dogmatically speaking. Just as the Jews should have found, it’s not the literal letter of the Law but the Spirit. The bread and wine are a picture and a tool for us so that we remember what Jesus did for us, and we will soon see its severity. For the first communion, it was a foreshadowing but now it is for remembering. God is good to us, giving us enjoyable elements to use as a tool to remember what Jesus did. It should be a solemn situation that errupts in overwhelming joy and praise to the Son of God for taking our place.

I can’t help but notice the context, I am not sure why. Different denominations go in different directions–some shake and shimy, some are solemn and somber. When it comes to music in the church, I see three trends. Many sing loud yet light songs with high energy but lacking any real Spiritual substance. Others slow it way down and are soft and somber, thinking that to be worshipful but lack the enthusiasm of true praise. The final trend is the sappy, love-song ballads sung to Jesus like he’s our boyfriend. He is the bridegroom but these songs don’t consider the cross. Way back Jesus said, “Bring your worthless offerings no longer, Incense is an abomination to Me. New moon and sabbath, the calling of assemblies— I cannot endure iniquity and the solemn assembly. I hate your new moon festivals and your appointed feasts, They have become a burden to Me. I am weary of bearing them.” What was the context? People going through the motions based upon the letter of the Law and how they felt. The Lord’s supper is supposed to be a cure for this but like Israel and the church in Corinth, we have distorted it as we have our music and meetings. What is the purpose of the Lord’s supper? “Do this” eat and drink, “in remembrance of me.” In remembrance of him, we would certainly remember our brothers. It’s time to cure our over-correction and consider the context. The Passover became the Lord’s supper. Remember the Passover in Exodus 11+12, where they roasted the meat on the fire? That’s a barbecue brethren. Can we grow up and celebrate that of which the Lord has done and understand the goodness of God in which we are to remember the high price he paid for us with wine? I know, we can’t believe that Jesus commanded us to drink wine in remembrance of his death, but he did. So we come up with dogmatic doctrines demanding that the bread is literally his body and the wine his blood, because we feel unworthy to celebrate–which we are–that is the point. What kind of great God is he that he not only dies a horrible death on our behalf but then instructs us to remember it with food and drink; together?

We don’t celebrate Christ enough. Kill the fat calf and roast it on the grill, invite the neighborhood, if they eat in an unworthy manner that’s on their head, not your’s. But be sure to wait for your brother. Nevertheless, don’t be late brother. But in all things, give God the glory and remember that you were bought with a price. Give thanks, give praise, remembering the severity of the situation but burst out of the somber sorrow into joyous thanksgiving. If you think I am wrong, consider the context; “for this is My blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for forgiveness of sins.” David wrote, “Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord will not take into account.” Be blessed, see the severity of sin, but burst out in praise over the completeness of the cross! I don’t mind pointing the proverbial finger; I have seen some brethren leap to their feet in applause over a minor-league home run. How much more is the home run that Jesus hit?

To my friends in a certain communist country in the Caribbean, we pray for you to have bread but more importantly, food in general. If you have no bread, be blessed with what you do have. It’s not about the bread, but the remembrance of Jesus who has prepared provisions. Let the government keep bread from you, let them be dogmatic about the bread. You celebrate with the bountiful plantatoes (an inside joke; mashed plantains that look like mashed potatoes but are sweet). But everyone, remember Christ’s betrayal, condemnaton and death on the cross for the forgiveness of sins and your brothers and sisters, celebrating Jesus.

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Amen?

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