The Lord Jesus on the same night in which He was betrayed took bread; and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, “Take, eat; this is My body which is broken for you; do this in remembrance of Me”.
Sometimes the simplest answers are the best. I keep asking why it was, 25 years after the ascension of Christ, long after everything that was “nailed to the cross” was nailed there, that a Gentile church was observing the Passover and the Days of Unleavened Bread that go with it? The simple answer? Because the season is all about Christ. Paul made this plain enough in his letter to the Corinthians. i
According to Paul, the Passover and the seven days of unleavened bread are all about Christ. But what does that mean? I doubt there is a Christian in the world who doesn’t understand that the wine taken at what they call Communion, or the Lord’s Supper, symbolizes the shed blood of Jesus. We all know that Jesus died for our sins.
But there was a question that nagged my conscience for years. I understood fully that Jesus had to die for my sins. I had taken Communion with tears running down my face in deep repentance for what I had done. But what I didn’t understand was why Jesus had to suffer so. Why, I wondered, couldn’t they have just killed Jesus outright? A quick execution would have shed his blood and effectively paid for my sins. Or so I thought.
I knew all the songs about the blood of Jesus. Even today, I can sing from memory, “When I see the blood, I will pass, I will pass over you.” But the wine is only half of the Lord’s Supper. What about the bread?
Even as a teenager, I was profoundly moved by the suffering of Jesus in that long night and day of his Passion. He was despised, spit on, beaten, and a crown of thorns was placed on his head. And then there was the horror of the crucifixion. It took a long time, but finally I made the connection. From Luke:
And when He had taken some bread and given thanks, He broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is My body which is given for you; do this in remembrance of Me.”
And from Paul:
And when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, “Take, eat; this is My body which is broken for you; do this in remembrance of Me.”
So the bread of the Christian Passover represents the body of Christ, given for us, broken for us. Paul felt the Corinthians weren’t getting the point about the Lord’s body. More than once I have given thanks for the obstreperous Corinthians and their problems. Without them, we would not know a lot of things that Paul sees fit to tell us. So Paul went on:
Therefore whoever eats this bread or drinks this cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord. But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For he who eats and drinks in an unworthy manner eats and drinks judgment to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body. For this reason many are weak and sick among you, and many sleep.
It is noteworthy that Paul didn’t say that men fail to discern the Lord’s blood in the wine taken in the service. Like me, it was the body they didn’t get. But what is really surprising is the connection of that failure with sickness and even death.
Now we can consider what we are to make of that. There was an incident in the ministry of Jesus that may shed some light on the question before us. Jesus was teaching in a man’s house, and there were so many people present that no one could even get to the door. Four men came to the house carrying a paralyzed man on a kind of stretcher hoping that Jesus might heal him. They couldn’t get to the door, so they went up on the roof of the house and broke through so they could lower the man before Jesus. It was an act of remarkable determination.
When Jesus saw their faith, he said unto the sick of the palsy, Son, thy sins be forgiven thee. But there were certain of the scribes sitting there, and reasoning in their hearts, Why doth this man thus speak blasphemies? who can forgive sins but God only?
Who indeed? The men who had struggled to let this poor fellow down in front of Jesus may not have had a thought in their heads about getting the poor fellow forgiven of his sins. They wanted him healed of his disease. As for the lawyers, they were scandalized.
And immediately Jesus, aware in His spirit that they were reasoning that way within themselves, said to them, “Why are you reasoning about these things in your hearts? Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven’; or to say, ‘Arise, and take up your pallet and walk’? But in order that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins” – He said to the paralytic – “I say to you, rise, take up your pallet and go home.” And he rose and immediately took up the pallet and went out in the sight of all; so that they were all amazed and were glorifying God, saying, “We have never seen anything like this.”
No, I am sure they had not. But this astonishing example of healing may be the most revealing of all Jesus’ miracles. It reveals an unexpected connection between sin and sickness. This is not to say that a sick person is a worse sinner than a well person. It does not draw a direct line between sin and disease in the individual. But it does suggest that sickness and disease are in the world because of sin and that the healing of disease involves, in some unexplained way, the forgiveness of sin.
Jesus said, “The Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins. Rise, take up your pallet and go home.” How can there be any way of misunderstanding what this means? The Authorized Version says that Jesus has the power to forgive sins, which assumes only that he is able to do so. The NIV follows the Greek in saying that Jesus has the authority, to forgive sins. There is a significant difference between these two ideas.
Jesus had already made it clear to the most casual observer that he had the power to heal. But it was not so clear how he had the right to do it. If it had been, the Jews would not have asked this question:
Then they came again to Jerusalem. And as He was walking in the temple, the chief priests, the scribes, and the elders came to Him. And they said to Him, “By what authority are You doing these things? And who gave You this authority to do these things?”
I found this question incomprehensible. If a man has the ability to say the words and make the blind see, the deaf hear, the lame walk, and demons depart, it would never cross my mind to ask where he got the authority to do it. One would think that the authority is implicit in the act. But there must be more to it than that or the Jews would never have asked this question.
Jesus’ disciples, following conventional wisdom and considering the link between sin and sickness, asked Jesus about a man who had been born blind. “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” (John 9:2). To them, this was a simple cause/effect equation. Someone sinned or this man would not have been born blind. ii Jesus’ answer must have been a surprise: “Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but that the works of God should be revealed in him.” And then there was another occasion when Jesus brushed this idea aside.
Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them, do you think that they were worse sinners than all other men who dwelt in Jerusalem? “I tell you, no; but unless you repent you will all likewise perish.”
This doesn’t dismiss the possibility of dire consequences falling on man as a result of sin, but rather it dumps us all into the same bag. We are all sinners, and just because we escaped this disaster does not mean we are better than those who did not. We need to repent before our own tower falls on us.
I have taken this small digression to point out that there was, in the thinking of the time, a belief that men who suffer a catastrophe are under God’s judgment for sin. That idea persists to this day in that we find ourselves wondering, when a crisis befalls us, what exactly we did to deserve this.
And this is the significance of the question asked of Jesus: “Who gave thee this authority to do these things?” What they were really asking was, “Who has the authority to suspend God’s judgment on sinners, to heal the sick and diseased people who are suffering the results of sin? Who gave it to him? Where does he get the right to do it?” With this in mind, we can think about the Last Supper in a way that is perhaps new to us.
In another place, Paul iii turns to the office of Jesus as our High Priest. We all know he is our Lord, our Master, our Savior. Now we see another role, and in the process, we learn something about Jesus’ suffering.
Seeing then that we have a great High Priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin.
Jesus came to this last Passover with some unfinished business in hand. On this last night, there were ways in which Jesus had not yet been tempted – temptations that are familiar enough to all of us. And Jesus was not merely to die for our sins, he had to suffer for them as well, and in ways we might not understand.
The whole process of suffering began with a despicable act of betrayal. And there is something important here to consider. It isn’t your enemies that betray you. You expect them to do what they can to oppose you. It is only your friends who can betray you, and most of us have had occasion to know how painful that can be.
The story of Judas is familiar enough. He was right there at the Last Supper pretending he was another faithful disciple. But Jesus knew, and he let Judas know that he knew. When he had told the disciples that one of them would betray him, Judas asked, “Rabbi, is it I?” Jesus answered in the idiom of the time, “You have said it.” iv
Knowing what lay ahead of him, Jesus took his disciples with him to Gethsemane to pray. And it is in Gethsemane that we get a dramatic look into the heart and soul of Jesus. And they came to a place named Gethsemane; and He said to His disciples, “Sit here until I have prayed.”
And He took with Him Peter and James and John, and began to be very distressed and troubled. And He said to them, “My soul is deeply grieved to the point of death; remain here and keep watch.”
It may be hard to imagine how the Savior could have been so troubled. He was God. He could do anything he wanted. That is true enough, because he said plainly that he could have called legions of angels to his defense. Therefore, he was in this place voluntarily. That did not mean it was easy for him. The dread of this had been growing in him for days.
And He went a little beyond them, and fell to the ground, and began to pray that if it were possible, the hour might pass Him by. And He was saying, “Abba! Father! All things are possible for Thee; remove this cup from Me; yet not what I will, but what Thou wilt.” And He came and found them sleeping, and said to Peter, “Simon, are you asleep? Could you not keep watch for one hour? Keep watching and praying, that you may not come into temptation; the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” And again He went away and prayed, saying the same words.
Luke adds a detail to the story:
Now an angel from heaven appeared to Him, strengthening Him. And being in agony He was praying very fervently; and His sweat became like drops of blood, falling down upon the ground.
I don’t believe for a moment that Jesus was afraid of death. But death was not all he faced on this night. He faced being betrayed by a close friend, being forsaken by all his friends and being left entirely alone. He faced humiliation and mocking – degradation of the highest order men could devise. He faced false accusations and lying. He faced a terrible beating, a scourging, and long hours on the stake, in agony the whole time. And because it was necessary that he suffer, he would refuse the narcotic they offered him at the moment of crucifixion. The sufferings of Jesus on this day were terrible, and they were voluntary. Now think about the Last Supper:
That the Lord Jesus the same night in which he was betrayed took bread: And when he had given thanks, he brake it, and said, Take, eat: this is my body, which is broken for you: this do in remembrance of me.
On that day when they broke up the roof of the house and let that paralyzed man down in front of Jesus that he might be healed, Jesus knew something that none of those assembled seemed to know. He knew that sin had a terrible price that came with it, and he knew that he was going to have to pay that price. No one present knew what Jesus knew as the man got up and walked – that Jesus would have to pay for that healing with his own body.
It is worth pondering why healing played such a large part in Christ’s ministry. To us, it is a mere conjunction of power and compassion. If we had the power to heal, we would do it out of mere compassion for the sick. But Jesus did not heal every sick person he met. When he healed, it had a purpose, a meaning. And the meaning was that he had not only the power to forgive sin and triumph over it, but the authority as well. Nevertheless, every time he did it, he knew there was a price that he alone must pay.
I asked before why a Gentile church would be observing the Passover and the Days of Unleavened Bread some 30 years after Christ’s ascension. Maybe it was because they knew something we don’t know. Perhaps to them, the Days of Unleavened Bread were not merely about the Exodus from Egypt. The thread led them naturally to the body of Christ and the Bread of Life.
i. 1 Corinthians 5:6-8.↩
ii. There was a similar thought relative to poverty and wealth. The rich have God’s blessing and the poor did not. Compare Matthew 19:24-25.↩
iii. After considerable reflection, and taking into account all the arguments on the issue, I still think Paul wrote the book of Hebrews. Others will differ. Almost any Bible handbook will have a complete discussion of the authorship of Hebrews.↩
iv. Matthew 26:25.↩