June 2, 2024

My Blood of the Covenant

Speaker: Bret Rogers Series: The Gospel According to Matthew

Memory has a powerful effect on our lives. I can smell a warm apple-crumb pie and immediately be taken back thirty years to the comforts of my mother’s kitchen. It’s as if the past is brought into the present. It even shapes my future as I’m eager to eat such a pie.

We make decisions based on memory—things we learned or experienced; something that happened in history that we weren’t even there for, but still live our lives according to the realities those events created. Remembering isn’t just recalling facts without effect. Remembering is transformative—the past re-enters our present and shapes our future. That was especially true for the apostles as they remembered Jesus’ death.

Today, we look at a passage where Jesus explains the meaning of his death. But he connects that meaning to an important meal, a meal that in his day was called Passover but which later becomes known as the Lord’s Supper.[i] We share this meal every Sunday. In this meal, we remember Jesus’ death; and the memory of his death has a powerful effect on our lives. It shapes our identity and our future.

Maybe you’re newer to church and you’ve wondered, “What’s with this bread and cup thing anyway? Why do they come to this table every week? Is it some tradition they’ve dreamt up?” Well, stay tuned. You’re about to find out.

Jesus knows his death is near. We learned it was coming with Passover. Passover has now arrived; and that’s where Matthew’s story picks up in verse 17:

17 Now on the first day of Unleavened Bread the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Where will you have us prepare for you to eat the Passover?” 18 He said, “Go into the city to a certain man and say to him, ‘The Teacher says, My time is at hand. I will keep the Passover at your house with my disciples.’” 19 And the disciples did as Jesus had directed them, and they prepared the Passover. 20 When it was evening, he reclined at table with the twelve. 21 And as they were eating, he said, “Truly, I say to you, one of you will betray me.” 22 And they were very sorrowful and began to say to him one after another, “Is it I, Lord?” 23 He answered, “He who has dipped his hand in the dish with me will betray me. 24 The Son of Man goes as it is written of him, but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been better for that man if he had not been born.” 25 Judas, who would betray him, answered, “Is it I, Rabbi?” He said to him, “You have said so.” 26 Now as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is my body.” 27 And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, “Drink of it, all of you, 28 for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. 29 I tell you I will not drink again of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.”

Jesus Prepares for Passover with His Disciples

Our passage has three parts. Jesus first prepares for Passover with his disciples—that’s verses 17-19. Then, in verses 20-25, Jesus reveals God’s plan for his betrayal. Lastly, in verses 26-29, Jesus explains his death in the Supper.

Let’s start with verses 17-19, Jesus prepares for Passover with his disciples. You’ll notice how verse 17 begins: “now on the first day of Unleavened Bread.” This annual event has roots in the Old Testament. The Feast of Unleavened Bread lasted a week.[ii] But it was kicked off by the Passover meal. Together, it was a time to remember and celebrate God’s deliverance in the exodus. We’ll discuss that more in a minute.

You also should know that verse 17 has generated controversy over the years. Some will argue that when you compare verse 17 with the Passover week in John’s Gospel, the order of events doesn’t match. But I’ve been helped by Craig Blomberg’s book, The Historical Reliability of the Gospels. He demonstrates how the events in Matthew and John fit together, such that Jesus eats the Passover on Thursday night and then dies on Friday afternoon. Our church library has Blomberg’s book, if you want to bolster your confidence in the integrity of God’s word.

So, we’re looking here at a Thursday afternoon, about the time folks would be preparing their meeting places for the Passover meal.[iii] The disciples ask Jesus, “Where will you have us prepare for you to eat the Passover?” Jesus says, “Go into the city to a certain man.” That’s like us saying, “Mr. So and So.” Mark and Luke tell us that it was a man carrying a water jar.[iv] But this “certain man” is an insider.

Even more, he seems to be a committed follower of Jesus. He knows that Jesus is “The Teacher,” for example. And in 23:8 that meant you belonged to Jesus’ family: “you have one teacher,” he said, “and you are all brothers.” This man also knows what Jesus means by “My time is at hand.” Jesus means the time of his death; and this man will act accordingly by allowing his home to serve Jesus and his disciples.

This matches behavior that Jesus commends elsewhere in this Gospel—like when Jesus says, “Whoever gives one of these little ones even a cup of cold water because he is my disciple, truly I say to you, he will by no means lose his reward” (Matt 10:42). This man is giving his house. But also, he’s another unnamed person willing to give whatever is needed to lift high the death of Jesus. In that way, he’s much like the unnamed woman we observed in last week’s passage. Again, discipleship isn’t about having a name; it’s about lifting high the death of Jesus.

Did you also notice how much Jesus controls these events? Sure, the disciples will get things ready. But they do so in obedience to Jesus. “Go into the city…Say to him.” Jesus is in charge. He also determines the timing: “My time is at hand. I will keep the Passover.” And, once the disciples leave, they find everything just as Jesus planned.

I hope you find great comfort in this picture of Jesus. Think of how many things the disciples get wrong. Think of how many things we know are about to go wrong. Judas will betray him. The rest will fall asleep instead of praying. One denies he knows Jesus. The others run away. Yet Jesus stays the course, loving them, planning to eat with them, teaching them. They don’t know what’s going on. But Jesus does.

He’s in charge. He’s got a plan even before things get messy. What a comfort this is. As Jesus’ disciples, we shouldn’t fear the days ahead. There’s no reason to borrow trouble from tomorrow. We shouldn’t spend our days anxious about our next possible failure. Jesus has a plan to save you even before you mess up; and as you follow him, he will tell you what steps to take next. Just be sure to keep coming and asking his help.

Jesus Reveals God’s Plan for His Betrayal

Jesus also reveals God’s plan for his betrayal. We see that next in verses 20-25. Verse 20 has Jesus reclining at table with the Twelve. We had learned in verses 14-16 that Judas was seeking to betray Jesus. Through the guidance of the Spirit, Matthew has put these things together after the fact. But in real time, the disciples don’t yet know that Jesus’ betrayal will come from within their circle.

Verse 21, “Truly, I say to you, one of you will betray me. And they were very sorrowful and began to say to him one after another, ‘Is it I, Lord?’” You can imagine the initial shock of learning how the betrayal will come from inside. But that’s when it dawns on them: the potential for betrayal isn’t far from any of Jesus’ disciples. All of them enter this sober self-examination: “Is it I, Lord?” Thank God, they still call him “Lord.”

In verse 23 Jesus finally answers: “He who has dipped his hand in the dish with me will betray me. The Son of Man goes as it is written of him, but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would’ve been better for that man if he had not been born.” Judas, who would betray him, answered, “Is it I, Rabbi?” He doesn’t call him “Lord,” like the others. Judas’ allegiance has shifted. Jesus then says to Judas, “You have said so.” He reveals the betrayer. Yet it’s also part of God’s plan.

We’re confronted once again with two truths the Bible holds together: God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility. Judas is responsible for betraying Jesus. That’s why Jesus pronounces a woe on him. In Scripture, woes often denounce the guilty and set their punishment in motion. Judas is guilty of betraying the Lord. He will suffer punishment for his sins because he rejects Jesus, the only one who can save people from their sins. Unlike the others, Judas never returns to Jesus after this.

At the same time, none of this diminishes the meticulous sovereignty of God. Jesus says, “The Son of Man goes as it is written of him.” God is not merely a passive permitter.[v] God is not merely bringing about circumstances in which he knows Judas will act a certain way. Rather, God has written the betrayal of Jesus by Judas into his plan. John’s Gospel quotes from Psalm 41:9, “He who ate my bread has lifted his heal against me.” Acts quotes from Psalm 69:25 and Psalm 109:8—King David’s betrayers anticipated Judas’ betrayal of Jesus. Jesus’ betrayal was written into God’s plan.

Does this mean, then, that God predetermined the evil actions of Judas against Jesus? Yes, it does. Acts 2:23 says that Jesus was “delivered up according to the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God.” Is God, then, the author of evil? Not if you mean that God is the actor or agent or doer of evil on the historical stage—James 1:13 speaks against that. But God certainly ordains that evil be. He brings these things about. He writes evil into his story, like C. S. Lewis writes the White Witch into Narnia. Proverbs 16:4 says, “The Lord has made everything for its purpose, even the wicked for the day of trouble.” God did not have to create Judas for this betrayal, but he did. At the same time, Judas is responsible for his actions.

Explaining how those truths fit together philosophically is the harder task. Some things God has chosen not to reveal. But the things he has revealed we must accept. Anyone reading the Bible will encounter these truths. We must hold these truths in tandem: God’s sovereignty over all things, including evil, and man’s responsibility.

So what? What does that help us see here? Well one thing it helps us see is that Judas stands as a warning. Judas was close to Jesus, and yet he walks away from Jesus. Dan Doriani writes: “It is possible to hear Jesus, experience him, and do great things in his name without knowing him, loving him, and belonging to him.”[vi] Woe to the man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed.

But this also teaches us that evil never has ultimate control. God does. Judas and the religious authorities are not in control, God is. Jesus’ death is not the triumph of evil; it is the triumph of God acting in his Son to overcome evil. Everything happens according to his plan. We may not understand why he wrote into this world some of the evils that are present. But we can look at the cross and remember that even in the evilest act of all, God was still on the throne. The betrayal and crucifixion of Jesus—the infinitely worthy Son of God—is the greatest evil ever committed. But in these events God was still working his plan to save. God was still in control.

Likewise, when we suffer evil in the path of obedience, we can trust that God has a plan. God is in control. Even more, we can remember that God is not detached and far off from the evil written into his story; he himself entered the story. He took on human flesh in the person of Jesus. Glorious as he is, Jesus the Son humbled himself, identified with our pain, and experienced an onslaught of evil. Why? What was he going to accomplish? Well, that’s what we turn to next in verses 26-29.

Jesus Explains His Death in the Supper

Jesus explains his death in the Supper. Verse 26, “Now as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is my body.” And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, “Drink of it, all of you, for 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 again of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.”

When Jesus says, “Take, eat; this is my body…Drink of it, all of you, for this is my blood,” he’s not saying the bread and wine become his literal body and blood—though some traditions have tried to argue this way. I mean, his literal body is holding the bread; his blood hasn’t been spilt yet. The bread and cup must be representative, not literal. But also, they’re eating the Passover meal. To eat the Passover was an act of remembering God’s deliverance. To eat was to show your participation in the blessings of all that God achieved for his people. Let’s discuss those blessings more.

Jesus is not simply repeating Passover. He transforms it. He’s giving us a new meal in which we participate in much better blessings. Jesus alludes to the Old Testament no less than five times here; and in doing so he explains the meaning of his death.

One, Jesus’ death fulfills the Passover. Why all the preparation for Passover? Why does Jesus eat the Passover and then interpret the bread and cup? Think Exodus with me (second book of the Bible). God’s people are in slavery. Nine plagues fall, but it’s not till the tenth plague that Israel experiences freedom. That tenth plague is the death of all the firstborn. As part of freeing his people from death, God institutes the Passover.

Exodus 12-13—each household was to take an unblemished lamb and sacrifice it. They had to paint the lamb’s blood on the doorposts. When God passed through the land of Egypt to kill the firstborn—if he saw the blood, he’d pass over your household. Everyone under the lamb’s blood would not suffer God’s judgment in death. And if you escaped death, guess what else happened? You were liberated from slavery.[vii]

That’s what Jesus’ blood does for us, but in a much greater way. Jesus’ blood saves not just from temporary death; he saves from eternal death. Jesus liberates not just from human oppressors; he liberates from the tyranny of sin itself. When you put your trust in Jesus, he delivers you from eternal death; and he liberates you from slavery to sin. We could go around the room right now and hear testimony after testimony of various ways sin once controlled us and dominated our lives. Until someone told us about Jesus, and one by one, the chains of sin began to break loose. Not because we got ourselves together. But because Jesus’ death has the power to set you free.

But that’s not all. Jesus’ death also ratifies a new covenant. Notice his words in verse 28: “for this is my blood of the covenant.” That comes from Exodus 24:8. God delivers his people from Egypt. Then he gathers his people at Sinai to make a covenant. A covenant formally declares the terms of a relationship between two or more parties.[viii] At Sinai, God formally declared the terms of his relationship with Israel. But when it came time to ratify that covenant, to put it in motion, he did it with blood.

Jesus is saying that his death also ratifies a covenant. But it’s a much better covenant than the one Israel experienced at Sinai. That old covenant contained shadows; the new contains the substance. That old covenant was temporary; the new lasts forever. That old covenant could only expose sin and picture what was necessary to remove sin. But the new makes provisions for the full and final forgiveness of sin.

Don’t miss this. Every other religion is about your commitment to God. But Christianity is about God’s commitment to you. How committed is he? Look at the death of Jesus. His covenant resolve is to love you even to the point of death, so that your sins could be forgiven. Which brings us to something else…

Jesus’ death atones for our sins. Notice: “bloodpoured out…for the forgiveness of sins.” That language comes from Leviticus 4-5.[ix] The blood of a sin offering was “poured out” at the base of the altar. And through that act, it says, “the priest shall make atonement for him for the sin which he has committed, and he shall be forgiven.” Because God is holy, he can’t overlook sin. Sin deserves death. Atonement had to do with inflicting the death penalty for sin upon another in your place. It wasn’t just mere blood, but blood “poured out” signifying the death of another in your place. When Jesus died on the cross, he “poured” out his blood like that sin offering. God sacrificed him like those lambs to provide atonement for sin, forgiveness.

For whom did he do this? “For many,” verse 28 says. Which brings us to something else Jesus’ death accomplished: Jesus’ death provides our substitution. We didn’t need a mere sacrifice; we needed a human sacrifice, a human substitute. The words “for many” recall Isaiah 53. God promised to send us a Savior, a special Servant who was glorious but came in a form without majesty. He was faithful to God but despised and rejected by men. He was innocent but treated like a criminal. Even worse, he was led to slaughter like a lamb. But the more we read Isaiah 53, the more we learn that he chose this path to become a sacrifice for the sins of many.

Verses 12-13 put it this way: “Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied; by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant, make many to be accounted righteous, and he shall bear their iniquities. Therefore, I will divide him a portion with the many, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong, because he poured out his soul to death and was numbered with the transgressors; yet he bore the sin of many, and makes intercession for the transgressors.” Jesus is this Suffering Servant. He bore the sin of many. He became our human substitute.

Finally, Jesus’ death secures our future in his kingdom. Did you catch the promise of verse 29? “I will not drink again of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.” By stating things this way, Jesus assures the disciples that his death wouldn’t be the end of things. It was the beginning of new and greater things. On the other side of his death was resurrection life. On the other side was new creation and the promise of a new world.

Perhaps Jesus has in mind that great day promised in Isaiah 25:6, “On this mountain the LORD of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wine, of rich food full of marrow, of aged wine well refined…He will swallow up death forever; and the Lord GOD will wipe away tears from all faces, and the reproach of his people he will take away from all the earth.” Because of Jesus’ death, you who believe in him will find a place in his final kingdom.

As we keep reading in Matthew, it’ll soon become clear that the disciples still don’t get it. Not till after Jesus’ resurrection and ascension do they start putting things together. The Spirit brings to their remembrance all that Jesus taught them. But without question, what they remember Jesus saying here had a transformative effect on their lives. They follow Jesus in explaining his death according to the Scriptures. They preach the cross to others. They center the life of the church on Jesus’ death and resurrection. They even take up a life of sacrifice to see others alive in God.

Remembering Jesus’ death had a transformative effect on their lives. Matthew wants Jesus’ words to have a transformative effect on your life as well. Get this—it wasn’t simply that Jesus died on a cross that led people to follow Jesus. Lots of people died on crosses. Even more, the cross was shameful, ugly. It showed weakness, defeat. Jesus was betrayed by one of his closest followers. He was eventually abandoned by the rest. He died alone, hanging half naked like a criminal on a humiliating cross. Nobody in their right mind would’ve made the death of Jesus the center of their belief system.

To die the way Jesus died was ridiculous…unless it accomplished what Jesus said it accomplished. It was not merely a cross that caused people to follow Jesus; it was the meaning of the cross that caused people to follow. That meaning was proven three days later when Jesus rose from the dead.

One of my favorite parts of the Passover story comes in Exodus 13:8. Every time Passover came and the meal was shared, children would ask, “What makes this Passover night so special?” The parents would then say, “It’s because of what the Lord did for me when I came out of Egypt.” So personal. When we come to this Supper, we are saying, “It’s because of what the Lord did for me, when he ratified a new covenant. It’s because of what the Lord did for me, when he atoned for all my sins. It’s because of what the Lord did for me, when he became my substitute. It’s because of what the Lord did for me, when he secured my place in his Father’s kingdom.”

Have you personalized these truths? It’s one thing to know what Christianity teaches: Jesus Christ died for sinners. It’s another thing to say, “Jesus Christ died for me.” Can you say, “Jesus Christ died for me.” Is it personal? Or let’s use the Lord’s Supper to illustrate. You can still starve to death sitting at a meal. It’s not till you eat and drink that your body is nourished. Same with Jesus’ death for your soul. You can say what it is. But until you appropriate its blessings for yourself by faith, your soul will starve.

Is your conscience riddled with guilt over things you did this week? Over evils you thought this week? Do you have a sense of regret for the way you’ve treated others? Are there dark secrets that leave you undone and hiding from the Lord, hiding from others? Beloved, hide no more. Jesus Christ died to forgive your sins. Look to the cross and see God’s sacrifice for you. A guilt free life is possible only in the cross.

Let your remembrance of the cross shape your identity and future. When the cross becomes part of you are, then you will, like Jesus, love others through betrayal. You won’t leave God because of the sins of others. You won’t abandon love because they treated you badly. When the cross is part of who you are, you will lay down your life in the face of betrayal. You will give yourself wholly to the Father’s will.

When the cross is part of you, you won’t be scrambling to preserve your image or put on a front before others. Why? Because in the cross you know you’re a sinner…you also know that you are loved, and that what you have in God is better than any image you could make for yourself in this life. When the cross is part of who you are, you will also forgive when sinned against—remembering how much God in Christ has forgiven you. When the cross is part of you, you will hold out compassion for others, knowing all that God has redeemed you from and all that he can redeem them from.

When the cross is part of who you are, you will also love your brothers and sisters in the Lord. Jesus poured out his blood not only for you; he poured out his blood “for many.” Whatever differences we share, whatever proclivities we have, whatever annoyances we are, whatever sins we’ve committed against each other—at the end of the day, we all have one thing in common—our need for a Savior. Jesus died for many, and those many become one at the Supper.

Others have said before that “where the gospel is assumed the gospel will be forgotten.” The Lord’s Supper doesn’t allow us to forget the gospel. It proclaims Jesus’ death until he comes again. The Lord’s Supper reminds us of Jesus’ death, but in a way that transforms us. It brings that past act of salvation into the present, in order to shape our future. As you eat and drink today, remember the meaning of Jesus’ death again.

________

[i] 1 Cor 11:20.

[ii] Exod 12:17; 23:15; 34:18; Lev 23:6.

[iii] Mark 14:12; Luke 22:7 both specify that the disciples would have been preparing this meal on the same day the Lamb’s were sacrificed (i.e., Thursday). Also, John 19:13, 41 have Jesus dying on the “Day of Preparation,” which was also Friday afternoon, the day before the Sabbath (see Mark 15:42).

[iv] Mark 14:13; Luke 22:10.

[v] Greg Welty, “Molinist Gunslingers: God and the Authorship of Sin,” in Calvinism and the Problem of Evil (Eugene: Pickwick, 2016), 76.

[vi] Dan Doriani, “Matthew,” in ESV Commentary (Wheaton: Crossway, 2021), 398.

[vii] Exod 11:7; 12:31.

[viii] I am indebted to Wes Duggins for this definition of covenant.

[ix] Paul M. Hoskins, “A Neglected Allusion to Leviticus 4-5 in Jesus’s Words Concerning His Blood in Matthew 26:28,” BBR 30.2 (2020): 231-42.

other sermons in this series

Jun 16

2024

Mighty, Yet Willing to Die

Speaker: Bret Rogers Passage: Matthew 26:47–56 Series: The Gospel According to Matthew

May 26

2024

A Beautiful Thing

Speaker: Bret Rogers Passage: Matthew 26:1–16 Series: The Gospel According to Matthew