The last supper

Read Matthew 26:26-28 and John 13:21-38

Judas Iscariot probably had several reasons for betraying Jesus into the hands of the religious leaders. When Mary poured perfume worth one year’s salary over Jesus’ feet (John 12:3), it was a clear indication to Judas that the longed-for kingdom, that he was relying on being part of, was not going to be a physical or political kingdom but a spiritual one. We saw in a previous study ("Dying to live and living to die") that Judas was greedy for wealth and status and did not hesitate to steal from the collective funds used by the disciples - something made easy by the fact that he was their treasurer. (John 12:6) Judas could now see that his opportunity to be a significant figure in Jesus' kingdom might not lead to to the favour and wealth that he had anticipated. When Satan "entered him", Judas closed his heart and rejected Jesus’ loving appeal at the last supper (John 13:26-27). It is apparent that, at this point, he decided to betray Jesus and sell Him out to the authorities.

In doing so, Judas made one of the biggest mistakes in history, but this does not mean that he was God’s puppet or, indeed, under Satan’s exclusive control. Judas made the choice himself. In his heart, he rejected the relationship that he had previously enjoyed with Jesus. Neither he (nor the enemy) realised that Jesus’ death was actually a vital part of God’s plan for the salvation of mankind. Judas certainly makes us take a second look at our commitment to God. Are we true disciples and followers, or uncommitted pretenders? We can choose despair and death or we can choose repentance, forgiveness, hope and eternal life. Judas’ action sent Jesus to the Jewish authorities and then to execution by the Romans, but Jesus' death proved to be our guarantee of a second chance: our only opportunity of finding eternal and abundant life. Will you accept Jesus’ free gift or, like Judas, betray Him?

Equal opportunities

By contrast, Peter was very vocal about his love and commitment to Jesus Christ: “I will lay down my life for You.” (John 13:37) No one, except Jesus, thought that Peter would deny his Lord through fear, any more than they thought that Judas would betray Jesus through greed and deceit. But, when Peter (after his fall) chose repentance and humility, the final results for Judas and Peter, were entirely opposite, demonstrating that God has no favourites. Jesus treated them both the same, knowing what each would do. He loved them unconditionally and gave each of them a way out.

Judas was later overcome with remorse and tried to return the money that he had taken for betraying Jesus. (Matthew 27:1-10) But he had not really understood the true nature of the kingdom of God, about which Jesus had taught so much. He could see no future for himself and, in despair, took his own life. Peter, on the other hand, never let go of his faith in Jesus, the one he loved so dearly. He was still there when Jesus was raised to new life and was later re-instated by Jesus. (John 21:15-19) His life ended as a successful follower of Jesus, having a place with Him in eternity.

A new covenant

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.'” (Matthew 26:26-28)

Jesus is celebrating the Passover meal with His disciples, knowing that He Himself is about to be the final Passover Lamb. (1 Corinthians 5:7) Review lesson four on John 2:13-25 (“Who has BSE - Blood-Soaked Entry?") to remember the power of Jesus' blood. Jesus has spent His ministry working towards this point and preparing His disciples for the time when they would have to continue the work. He has longed to show people the love of His Father, who has been working for thousands of years to reveal His amazing love to human beings and has consistently made covenants with them, whenever He has wanted to reveal Himself. Here are some examples:

  1. With Adam, God makes an initial covenant and, later, renews it with Adam and his wife, Eve, killing an animal to make clothes that cover their shame. (Genesis 2:15-17; Genesis 3:14-21)
  2. With Abraham, God made a covenant of love. (Genesis 15:1-8)
  3. God made a covenant of blessing with Moses and the "People of Israel". (Exodus 24:1-8)
  4. David made a covenant of love with Jonathan and, later, renewed it with his son, Mephibosheth. (1 Samuel 18:3-4; 2 Samuel 9:1-13)

A biblical covenant or agreement was commonly:

  • a total giving of oneself to another;
  • based on an imbalance of strengths and weaknesses, rather than things in common;
  • never entered into lightly;
  • a commitment for life with no way out, apart from death; (Isaiah 54:10)
  • reliant upon God as the main witness to the covenant (Genesis 15:17-18);
  • comprised of promises made by both sides.

God now makes a new covenant but, this time, the human race is represented by Jesus Himself. On our behalf, Jesus forges a covenant of love with God to make us free and whole. A covenant is made when two people (or groups) come together and, after much thought and discussion, resolve to be in a formal relationship with one another, marking this in some recognised way. In the Old Testament, such agreements were generally sealed with the sacrificial blood of animals. This was because the blood represented the animal's life and shedding its blood resulted in death. (Leviticus 17:11) The death of an animal served as a reminder to those involved in making the covenant that breaking the covenant would result in death. As a graphic illustration of this, the animal was cut in two and those making the covenant would pass between the two halves. (For an example of this, read Genesis 15:7-21.) A similar idea was applied in marriage covenants, with each partner's thumb being cut and the blood mingled together. When the cuts had healed, there was a constant reminder of a covenant which could never be broken.

We see in these examples that, from the very beginning of God's relationship with His human creation, He was seeking to teach them that "sin" (disobedience to God or rebellion against His nature) was extremely serious. Sin always resulted in death; either the death of the sinner of a substitute, such as an animal. Throughout the Old Testament times, human sin had to be "covered" by the sacrifice of an animal as a substitute for a human death. The New Testament (or "new covenant") represented a significant advance in this relationship. Instead of being "sealed" with an animal sacrifice, Jesus offered Himself as a human sacrifice. His blood paid the penalty for sin but, because Jesus was also divine and without any sin of his own to be paid for, His death (represented by His blood) covered the sin of every human being who ever had or ever will live upon the earth. (John 1:29)

A better covenant

The new covenant, made by Jesus with His own blood, is infinitely better than what went before. Jesus took on the punishment for sin that all of us richly deserve. As a result, we can live our lives to the full, knowing that we are forgiven, both now and in the future. “Without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sin.” (Hebrews 9:22) God has given us His best. He sacrificed His own Son to make this new covenant with us. Jesus’ broken body and shed blood, as the Lamb of God, are the eternal proof of God’s love to all of us.

Under the terms of this new covenant, we are no longer servants, but sons and daughters - heirs of God through Jesus. (Galatians 3:26) Everything that is mine is His and everything that is His is mine. It means that all the blessings promised to Abraham (Deuteronomy 28:1-14) and all the blessings of the new covenant are for me! (Galatians 3:29). In our covenant with the living God, the following great exchanges have taken place:

  • He took our sin and gave us His righteousness. (Isaiah 53:6-11)
  • He took our place for judgement and gave us His righteousness. (Isaiah 53:8)
  • He took our fear and gave us His faith. (Psalm 34:7)
  • He took our weakness and gave us His strength. (Titus 3:4-7)
  • He took our sickness and gave us His health. (Isaiah 53:4)
  • He took our poverty and promised to meet all our needs. (Philippians 4:19)
  • He took our turmoil and gave us His peace. (Hebrews 13:20)
  • He dispossessed Satan and became our Lord. (Colossians 2:13-15)

Making it personal

We can each have a revelation of God’s amazing love for us, personally, by meditating on this covenant that He has made with us. Why not get out the bread and the cup now, go before the Lord with them and commune with Him, remembering what happened to His body and blood? This is what enables us to be a "blood covenant" member of the family of Almighty God. Try reading out loud the passage in 1 Corinthians 11:23-31. Use it to consider thoughtfully where you stand with God and others. Really judge yourself, repent and then celebrate deliverance from sin!

Let's remember all that has been provided for us in the covenant, recognising that we have only brought our weaknesses to it, but its benefits are guaranteed by God's enduring strength and love. There is nothing that we can do to change or improve the covenant. God is totally committed to us for ever. There is nothing that we can do to change that. Let's look to the body and blood to settle for ever the question of God’s love for us. We can never again doubt His promises for our lives, as we see His amazing love. Let's also look ahead to the promise that Jesus is coming again to this earth and will take us to be with Him for ever. (1 Corinthians 11:26)

Remember where Jesus is today: interceding at the right hand of the Father in heaven for us. (Romans 8:34) The celebration of this new covenant that takes place when we share "the Lord’s Supper" is not to be taken lightly because it cost Jesus His life. We need to take part, remembering where we have come from, in order to strengthen our faith for the future.

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