The Passover Feast was a high and holy event for the Jewish people. It celebrated the memory of the great day of salvation in Jewish history. Fifteen hundred years before Jesus came to earth, God set His people free from the horrible oppression of the Egyptian Pharaoh. He made Israel into a mighty nation under the leadership of Moses by establishing a covenant with them that honored His covenant with Abraham (See Genesis 12:1-4; Genesis 15).
By the time of Moses, Abraham’s descendants had grown to a multitude that was like the stars in the sky. The time had come for them to introduce God’s high and holy Law to the world so that it would be blessed with a new understanding of God’s ways (See Exodus 19:1-9). The Lord gave them these Laws to show them how to live in a way that honored Him. He ordered a beautiful sacrificial system so that when they failed, they could bring their repentance to their Lord and cleanse themselves and their nation from sin. He ordered their society in a way that taught them to treat each other with dignity, compassion, and respect, and protected them from the shameful degradation and horrors of the nations around them. The abuses of power, the murderous sacrifice of children to idols, the rampant practices that spread diseases and disloyalty among marriages…these were to be cut off. The people of God were to bring the bright, ringing beauty of God’s goodness into the Land of Promise and live as a people set apart for holiness…an example and blessing to a cursed world…showing the way for another way to live.
As they honored the holy ways of the Most High God, they were meant to create a sacred space for God’s holy, intense presence to rest on earth in a special way. According to the Lord’s specific instructions, they built the golden ark of the covenant whose lid was the Mercy Seat, the footstool of God’s earthly throne. Their tabernacle in the desert and then their Temple in Jerusalem functioned as the great halls for God’s throne room. A massive, thick curtain of deepest blue was hung between the presence of God in the Holy of Holies and His people to protect them from the intensity of His holiness. While they were truly His treasured possession, but they were still marked and tainted by the filth of the Fall. The toxic power of sin utterly weakened their ability to bear the Presence of God, and God provided a gracious protection so that He could come near them.
As the people faced their sin, they brought sacrificial offerings to the priest in repentance. The priests of Israel took the animal sacrifices to the altar of God. God had ordained that the blood would be the cleansing agent that purified His sacred space from the toxic pollution of the people’s sin. The cost of sin is death…it is an inherent rejection of the life that God gives. This blood represented the true price for the failures of humanity. Day after day, week after week, the people brought their sacrifices to the priests as they constantly checked themselves against God’s high and holy Law. For every failure, for every transgression, there was a public declaration and confession through the sacrificial system. As the people learned to take an honest assessment of their great weakness and selfishness, they were learning how deep their sin truly was. As God’s Law taught them to hold up their bent souls against His straight, whole, righteousness and love, they eyes became able to see how to become more like Him in their day-to-day lives. They also saw how impossible it is for human beings to honor the beautiful goodness and perfection of the Most High God. As they followed God’s Law, the seriousness of their sin became more clear, the high holiness of God was revealed, and the tremendous goodness and grace in His desire to purify them became more apparent. The realities of eternity were being revealed in the life of the nation on earth.
The nation of Israel was called by God to purify itself so that it could act as a priestly nation to the world. Yet through all of the nation’s centuries, they proved to be a massive failure. They sinned against the Lord, they rejected His ways, and they waged ungodly wars. Their kings set up idols in rebellion against the One who put them on the throne and trusted in the power of other nations more than the power of God. They fell into horrific moral sin, offered their own children up as sacrifices to false gods, and forgot the ways of God’s compassion and justice. Ultimately, the nation split in two, and these were finally crushed and sent into exile.
This story is no mere myth…it is grounded in the reality of human history. The ten tribes of the North were attacked and decimated by the Assyrian Army. The two tribes of Israel in the South were taken into captivity by Babylon. They were the only ones who would ever return to the Promised Land, and it was their descendants who lived in the nation of Israel at the time of Jesus.
In the midst of the cataclysmic flaws of God’s holy nation, there were always a few among them that were faithful. There were always those who continued to offer themselves to God and seek His holy ways, coming to Him with their sacrifices and honoring him with their devotion and obedience. They were called the remnant, and their response of love to God was the same love that Jesus was requiring of His own disciples. The heart of God’s remnant has always been the same. Through the long years of Israel’s history, their sincere sacrifices of repentance pointed to the sacred, glorious, devastating sacrifice that Jesus was about to make. In their obedience to what God had revealed to them in their own time, they were looking forward to the hope of God’s mercy that would be fulfilled completely in Jesus. The salvation that belongs to us belonged to them as well.
It was no mistake that Jesus’ life would be offered up at the Passover Feast. His life was the outgrowth and the highest purpose of the nation that the Passover had established. The nation of Israel was created so that there would be a people on earth that was set aside to await the Messiah. There had to be some group that would be ready for when God Almighty sent the Cure in the form of His own Son.
Now Jesus had come, and He was making a New Covenant for a new era. His own blood would be the final sacrifice, the true sacrifice that all the other sacrifices pointed to as a symbol for the epic moment when the Son of God would break the power of sin and death. His victory was based on the power of His indestructible life, smashing all the requirements of the Law for everyone who believes in Him.
The rituals of the Passover celebration had been kept by the Jewish nation for 1500 years. The memory of God’s saving work was fresh on the minds of the entire nation as they gathered in Jerusalem. Every part of the Passover feast was a symbol of God’s faithfulness. Now, as Jesus and His disciples honored that tradition, Jesus gave them a new ritual. It was a new command from God. It was given to remember and worship Christ in the new era that He would bring through His sacrifice.
The old Law would no longer be in force. A new Law was coming in the power of the Holy Spirit, and it would be written on the hearts of everyone who had faith in Jesus. There were whispers of this in the Old Testament.
The prophet Jeremiah spoke of it:
“‘Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the Lord. But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the LORD: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. And no longer will shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the Lord. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.’”
Ezekiel declared it as well:
“For I will take you out of the nations; I will gather you from all the countries and bring you back into your own land. I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities and all your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws. Then you will live in the land I gave your ancestors; you will be my people, and I will be your God.”
The Spirit of Christ would be the seal of salvation for everyone who believed. The intensified presence of God on earth that hovered over the golden ark would now be found in every heart that had been purified by the blood of Jesus, the spotless Lamb of God. The Spirit would make every believing heart His home.
These were the grand and epic things that were going on in human history through the life of Jesus. And now He sat in the Upper Room with His remnant, the eleven faithful disciples who would carry on the message of this Good News in the decades after His ascension into Heaven.
As they sat around the table, Jesus took some bread, thanked His Father, and broke it. He passed it to His disciples and said, “‘This is My body which is given for you; do this in remembrance of Me.’”
Then the Lord took a cup of wine and gave thanks to God. He passed it to His disciples, saying, “‘This is My blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. Drink from it, all of you. Do this in remembrance of Me.’”
What a solemn, beautiful moment. What an elegant, quiet ritual for Jesus to give His followers to join in together as they remembered the work of their Savior. Jesus was a King like no other. He was about to give His blood and His body for the salvation of everyone who belongs to His Kingdom. He was going to become the True Passover Lamb. This new ritual was to become a powerful symbol for the people of God’s Kingdom to remember His breathtaking, beautiful sacrifice for thousands of years.
The men who reclined with Jesus in the room that evening would be His heralds, declaring the victory He was about to win on the cross to the world. As they built His Church, they would remember this night. They would take these commands of Jesus and teach it to each new believer. Two thousand years later, the chain of their teaching has reached down to us. We still remember the sacrifice of our Savior together by sharing the bread and the wine. His presence is still with His Church in a special way as they honor his commands. Our sacred communion threads all the way back to the night before He died for us.