Many years ago, my wife and I visited Alcatraz Prison in San Francisco, CA. Let me emphasize visited! We toured the prison via a recorded tour which we heard through headphones. This tour took us step-by-step through the prison. As we walked through, we stopped in certain spots to hear about the events which took place there.
For example, we stopped at the cells of people who escaped. We heard the stories associated with these cells which remain untouched since the escapes. Then we went to the cafeteria, the yard, and solitary confinement. With each stop there is a detailed description of events and you hear people tell their stories of those places. Because of their personal stories the prison comes back to life. It is a fascinating tour, but you are glad when its over because you can get back on the ferry and regain your freedom.
In this series, we will participate in a tour covering a very powerful, historical, and life-changing event that took place two thousand years ago. We will follow the footsteps of our Savior during his final days on earth. There will be two parts to this tour. In the first part we will walk with Jesus to the cross and to the grave. Our guide for this first part of the tour will be the Gospel of Matthew. Along the way we will stop and listen to Matthew tell us what took place in each location as Jesus made his way to the cross.
During the second part of the tour, we will listen to eyewitness accounts of people who communicated with the risen Lord, proving Jesus rose from the dead. The tour will end on the Mount of Olives as Jesus gives a final instruction before ascending into heaven. We will be challenged to consider how this event can change lives today.
Just like many tours, there is often an initial presentation that prepares the person for what they will see. At the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington DC, the tour guide gives people information about the tour on an elevator. At the Billy Graham library in Charlotte, NC, your tour begins with an animatronic cow set to resemble the dairy farm Graham was raised on. Whatever the venue, there is often some details given about a tour before the tour begins.
Therefore, before we walk with Jesus on his final days, we are given some information that sets the stage for the dramatic events to follow. We find ourselves in the palace of the high priest listening to the Jewish leaders discuss how they can arrest Jesus. They want to be as sneaky as possible so they do not alert Jesus to their plan, and they do not want to arrest Jesus during the Passover, which would cause an uproar in the city. As we listen to the conversation, Judas comes to the leaders and offers to betray Jesus into their hands, but it will cost them thirty pieces of silver. Judas is now on a mission to find the best way to hand Jesus over to the Jewish leaders (Matt. 26:3-5; 14-16).
With this information our tour gets started. We begin in the city of Jerusalem. We are in Jerusalem because we are required to celebrate the feast of Passover here. We are a couple days away from this celebration and people are making final preparations for the Passover.
(Read Matthew 26:17-25)
The Final Passover Identifies a Betrayer
The first stop is to observe the amazing events that transpire on the final Passover Jesus will have with his disciples. For the disciples, this is nothing out of the ordinary, but the celebration meal will be very different than the previous Passover celebrations they enjoyed together. Jesus is about to make a stunning announcement.
The disciples ask Jesus about finding a place so the Passover can be prepared. The disciples did not know where this might be. Jesus tells them to go into the city where they will find a certain man. They are to approach him and ask for his house to prepare. Mark’s gospel tells us that this man will be carrying a jar of water on his head. This was typically how a woman carried water, therefore making the man very noticeable for the disciples.
The disciples go into the city, find the man carrying the jar of water, and they prepare a large upper room for their celebration of the Passover. But this Passover will have a stunning revelation. One that will catch all by surprise, except for maybe one person. Jesus says that his time is at hand. This is reference to the imminent crucifixion and that his mission is about to commence.
Ever been in a situation where you thought the timing of event was not right? Either it was too early or too late? When something is too early, we learn from mistakes we have made, and when its too late we believe we may have missed an opportunity. Ever had a moment happen in your life that was perfect timing? You were patient to make a decision, you knew when the time was right, and you acted.
When God works in our lives he is never early, never late, but always on time. We know that the time is right because we get a sense of peace that overwhelms our heart and we act. Jesus is operating on God’s time. Everything we read about from Matthew 26 on, happens at the precise time in which it is supposed to happen, during Passover season. As Jesus will ultimately become the, Passover Lamb that will perfectly atone for our sin.
Jesus and his disciples recline at the table and enjoy the Passover meal. They would have had this meal about half-way into the Passover celebration and as they eat Jesus makes this statement: “One of you will betray me.” As Jesus makes this statement, the men are sorrowful and one by one they ask Jesus: “Is it I, Lord?” Jesus explains that he must go to the cross as it is written about him, which includes one of his own disciples betraying him.
This is key to all that is happening. While this is a sad event, it’s a necessary event. Jesus must be betrayed into the hands of those who will crucify him. As we move around the table, with each disciple asking if they are the one who will betray Jesus, we eventually come to Judas who has already struck a deal with the leaders. He asks Jesus, “Is it I, Rabbi?” And Jesus affirms his betrayer’s identity.
Ever have someone close to you betray you? This is probably more common than we talk about. No one likes betrayal, not even our Lord, which is why he said his mission involved a betrayal of someone close to him. If you are going through a betrayal, remember that Jesus knows what you are experiencing because he experienced it in his own life. Jesus understood that the betrayal, although hurtful, was necessary and part of God’s plan. This might sound crazy, but God knows fully the betrayal you may be going through, and he can use that to make your faith in him stronger.
(Read Matthew 26:26-29)
The First Communion Institutes the New Covenant
As we sit in the corner of this room there is a weight that impacts the environment of the Passover. This should be a time to remember God’s deliverance of the Israelites from bondage in Egypt, but Jesus has just stated that one of his own disciples will betray him to the religious leaders who will ultimately suggest his crucifixion.
Just as that statement impacts the room, Jesus continues the Passover following the meal and institutes the Lord’s supper. We listen to how Jesus teaches his disciples about this reverent observance.
Jesus takes the unleavened bread from the Passover meal and explains what the bread represents. After Jesus has broken the bread and given it to the men, he tells them that the bread represents his body and he instructs them to eat. This is a simple and straight forward explanation. Jesus then takes the cup. In a Passover Seder this is the cup of sanctification. Jesus says that the wine represents the blood of Christ which ratifies the new covenant. Covenants were sealed with the blood of a sacrificed animal. The blood that seals the new covenant is not from an animal but is in fact the blood of Christ. This blood not only seals the covenant but is the means by which we are forgiven from sin. As the writer of Hebrews says, “without the shedding of blood there is no remission of sin” (Heb. 9:22).
Jesus institutes the Lord Supper from the Passover Celebration. They are intricately connected. Passover is a picture of what the perfect Lamb of God accomplishes on the cross. He delivers us from bondage and perfectly atones for our sin. Maybe you have never experienced a Passover Seder, you should, because through the Passover the Lord’s supper becomes even more powerful when we engage in the bread and cup. Just as the Passover was a ceremony designed to remind people of God’s Word, the Lord’s Supper is a ceremony to remind people of Jesus’ work on the cross. As we listen to Jesus’ words in the upper room, we are listening to him sharing with us a new method of celebration.
In this single moment Jesus brings the new covenant (Jer. 31:31-34) into play. The high priest under the Levitical system was responsible for conducting the old covenant and representing the people before the Lord. However, this old covenant paved the way for a new covenant that was a better and more permanent covenant (Heb. 8:5-7, 13), because Jesus himself is the perfect high priest of the new covenant. The disciples understood what the new covenant was because this covenant is promised to the Jewish people as spoken by the prophet Jeremiah. However, it is not a celebration for only the Jewish people, but for all people who put their faith and trust in Jesus the Messiah.
As the celebration comes to an end, Jesus and his disciples left, singing a hymn as they went out to the Mount of Olives. I would guess that at this point Judas left the group and went to the Jewish leaders. They assembled Roman guards and prepared to arrest Jesus in the Garden near the Mount of Olives.
What it would have been like to be in the upper room in real time! First to hear Jesus say that someone will betray him, and then to institute the new covenant sealed by his blood. We see that Jesus goes to the cross exactly as its been written about him and that God replaces one ceremony with another to remind us of Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross. The first leg of this journey will end at the cross, but the second leg will take us on the other side of the resurrection.
Maybe your church celebrates the Lord’s supper once a month. Perhaps you celebrate communion every Sunday. Whatever our practice might be, the Lord’s supper is a solemn and reverent moment we share individually and corporately as a body of Christ. For without the cross, there is no faith and without the resurrection there is no hope. So, the next time you find yourself at church and see the elements of communion set on the table at the front of the sanctuary, may that set your mind for worship as you remember the amazing sacrifice of Jesus on the cross whose blood paid your penalty for sin.
The death of Christ was not an unfortunate event in history, it was necessary for redemption. To show the importance of this historical event, God instituted a ceremony designed to remember the sacrifice of Christ for our sin. In fact, Paul told the Corinthians that every time we engage in the Lord’s Supper, we proclaim the Lord’s death until he returns (1 Cor. 11:23-26).
On the first stops of our tour of Jesus journey to cross, the betrayer has been identified, the new covenant is set in motion and we now have a ceremony instituted to remind us of Christ’s sacrifice for our sin. Our tour moves on and we leave the upper room with Jesus and head to the Mount of Olives.
David Karn is the Senior Pastor at Grace Community Church in Goldsboro, NC.