As Jesus and His disciples celebrated the Passover in Jerusalem, Christ instituted a new meal. In this sermon, R.C. Sproul continues his series in the gospel of Mark by speaking on the significance and meaning of the Lord’s Supper.
This morning, I will be reading again from the gospel according to Saint Mark. I will be beginning at Mark 14:10-26. Please stand for the reading of the Word of God:
Then Judas Iscariot, one of the twelve, went to the chief priests to betray Him to them. And when they heard it, they were glad, and promised to give him money. So he sought how he might conveniently betray Him.
Now on the first day of Unleavened Bread, when they killed the Passover lamb, His disciples said to Him, “Where do You want us to go and prepare, that You may eat the Passover?”
And He sent out two of His disciples and said to them, “Go into the city, and a man will meet you carrying a pitcher of water; follow him. Wherever he goes in, say to the master of the house, ‘The Teacher says, “Where is the guest room in which I may eat the Passover with My disciples?”’ Then he will show you a large upper room, furnished and prepared; there make ready for us.”
So His disciples went out, and came into the city, and found it just as He had said to them; and they prepared the Passover.
In the evening He came with the twelve. Now as they sat and ate, Jesus said, “Assuredly, I say to you, one of you who eats with Me will betray Me.”
And they began to be sorrowful, and to say to Him one by one, “Is it I?” And another said, “Is it I?”
He answered and said to them, “It is one of the twelve, who dips with Me in the dish. The Son of Man indeed goes just as it is written of Him, but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been good for that man if he had never been born.”
And as they were eating, Jesus took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them and said, “Take, eat; this is My body.”
Then He took the cup, and when He had given thanks He gave it to them, and they all drank from it. And He said to them, “This is My blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many. Assuredly, I say to you, I will no longer drink of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God.”
And when they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.
This is the inspired, infallible, and inerrant Word of God Almighty. Please be seated. Let us pray.
O Lord, we ask for the help of Your Spirit, that He may visit us both to prepare our hearts this day for the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper and that we may understand the record of its institution as we have just heard it. For we ask these things in the name of Christ. Amen.
I mentioned last week that chapter 14 began the record of the great passion of Jesus, or His entering into the suffering that He was sent by the Father to accomplish in this world. We saw, after the brief introduction of chapter 14, the interlude of the woman who came and poured precious perfume upon Jesus’ body. After that interlude, Mark returns to the record of the Lord’s Supper and Judas’ agreement to betray Jesus.
We read in verse 10, “Then Judas Iscariot, one of the twelve, went to the chief priest.” Notice that it is at Judas’ initiation that this transaction takes place. He went out of his way to visit those whom he knew were taking counsel to find a way to get rid of Jesus. He went to the chief priests to betray Jesus to them.
When the chief priests heard this, they were glad. They were delighted, and they promised to give him money. The other Gospels make it clear that the amount of money was thirty pieces of silver. Last week, we mentioned the value of the perfume Mary poured out on Jesus’ body, and that precious gift was at least two times the value of thirty pieces of silver. In other words, Judas was prepared to betray Jesus for half the money the devoted woman spent to honor Him and give Him glory. In this sense, Jesus’ life was sold at a relatively cheap price.
Notice a detail that Mark goes on to tell us. Mark does not simply say, “Judas sought how he might betray Him,” but rather, “He sought how he might conveniently betray Him.” It was not enough that he intended to deliver Jesus into the hands of those who would kill Him, but at the same time he undertook this deed for monetary gain, he wanted to carry it out in such a manner that he would not be inconvenienced.
When murders are committed in our culture today, and investigators begin to seek the guilty party, they immediately ask a couple of questions. One, Who profits? And two, How can we follow the money? It is not that every murder is committed out of the motive of self-enrichment, but so many are that investigators certainly follow that trail. Further, when murder is committed, it is important to discern in the courtroom whether the murder was committed in an act of sudden anger or was planned and premeditated.
When we look at Mark’s account, we know that every one of the Twelve who sat with Jesus at the Lord’s Supper would flee out of fear, weakness, or the pressure of the moment in the hours to come, but only one of them betrayed Him by premeditation. Judas’ betrayal was premeditated treason against the King of kings.
Mark goes on with the record of the actual Passover. He says, “Now on the first day of Unleavened Bread, when they killed the Passover lamb, His disciples said to Him, ‘Where do You want us to go and prepare, that You may eat the Passover?’” Notice the similarity between the instructions Jesus gave His disciples on this occasion and those He gave them on Palm Sunday for His triumphal entry into the city, when He sent them to look for a person with a donkey that was never ridden before. He said: “Go into the city and look for a man carrying a jug of water, and follow him. Wherever he goes in, that’s where we will celebrate the Passover together. That’s the place that has already been prepared for us to meet and eat.”
We could read over this very quickly and miss the significance of the directive Jesus gave His disciples. In the first instance, Israelites considered the carrying of water jugs to be women’s work. The only time you would see anybody but a woman carrying a jar of water would be if that male was a slave, with one exception. We read a lot today about a group of ascetics that lived in the desert and became famous with the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls: the Essenes. It was a sect of the Jews who divorced themselves from the mainstream of Israel, and some have even tried to say that Jesus was influenced by the Essenes. This text has fostered even more speculation because the Essenes had no women among their company. So, if you saw a man carrying a jug of water in Jerusalem who was not a slave, then in all probability he would have been an Essene.
In any case, Jesus said: “Go into the city, and a man will meet you carrying a pitcher of water; follow him.” Even if it were an Essene, as remarkable as it would be to find a man carrying a jar of water, it would be even more remarkable to be able to find and identify somebody like that in the city of Jerusalem at this time of the year.
When Jerusalem was destroyed in AD 70, according to the Jewish historian Josephus, 1.1 million people perished in that holocaust. We wonder how Jerusalem could have 1.1 million people in it. Well, 1.1 million people did not live in Jerusalem, but during Jewish feasts, Jews from all over the area would go up to Jerusalem to celebrate the feast. The only place it was lawful to celebrate Passover was in Jerusalem. Josephus tells us that in AD 66, over two million people were crowded into the city of Jerusalem to celebrate Passover.
So, Jesus said to His disciples, “Go into the city and look for a man carrying a bottle of water amidst two million people.” This was not an easy task, but one that had been prepared by the providence of God from all eternity. Jesus said: “When you see the man, say that the Teacher wants to know where the guestroom is in which He may eat the Passover. He will show you a large upper room, furnished and prepared. Go there and make ready for us.”
One of You Will Betray Me
Mark tells us that the disciples went out, came into the city, and found it exactly as Jesus said to them, and they prepared the Passover feast. Then: “In the evening He came with the twelve. Now as they sat and ate, Jesus said, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, one of you who eats with Me will betray Me.’”
The disciples were gathered around Jesus, reclining, celebrating the most sacred feast of the Jewish nation, and Jesus interrupted the mood of worship and celebration and said: “I want to tell you something. Beyond a doubt, one of you who is eating with Me right here is going to betray Me.”
You can imagine the pall of horror that descended over the disciples. They were terrified. They looked at Jesus, and one after another, they asked about their involvement. They asked Jesus, “Is it I?” Another said, “Jesus, is it I who will betray You?” One by one, they went around, each one asking whether he would be the one.
At first, Jesus answered in general terms. He said, “It is one of the twelve.” Presumably, there were others gathered in the room that night. Jesus said: “It is one of the twelve, who dips with Me in the dish. The Son of Man indeed goes just as it is written of Him, but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been good for that man if he had never been born.”
The other accounts we get in the Gospels say that when Judas said, “Lord, is it I?” Jesus looked at Judas and said, “Thou hast said. Yes, Judas, you’re the one. What you must do, do quickly.” It was as if Jesus were saying to Judas: “God forbid that I should inconvenience you. Go out into the night and finish your transaction.”
Redemption from Treachery
Jesus said about Himself, “The Son of Man indeed goes just as it is written of Him.” Jesus was aware of the messianic prophecies regarding the servant of Yahweh. He knew that He was destined to be betrayed. He knew His betrayal was not a sudden invention of Judas at the last minute in Jesus’ ministry; the betrayal of the Son of Man had been ordained by God from the foundation of the world. Jesus said: “It’s working out. It’s going exactly as the Father ordained it from the beginning of the world.”
Here we see the intersection between the secret counsel of God and the machinations of the human will. Many read this text and leap to the conclusion, “If God predestined the betrayal of Judas, how could He possibly justly hold Judas responsible for this evil deed?”
You can hear Judas on the day of judgment saying: “Lord, I was only carrying out Your will. In fact, if it weren’t for me and for my betrayal, the atonement would never have taken place. Your people would still be in their sins. But You used me to bring Jesus to the cross, through which His people were redeemed. Therefore, pin upon me the heavenly medal of honor.” No, no, no.
We look back to Joseph and his betrayal in the Old Testament and his later meeting with his brothers when they feared the wrath of Joseph upon them, and Joseph said, “You meant it for evil, but God meant it for good.” Is it not incredible that in the mystery of God’s providence, we see what we call the mystery of concurrence, wherein the two streams of the sovereign will of God and the earthly will of human flesh come together and meet?
It is not as if God in His sovereignty coerced or forced Judas to perform this evil act. Rather, the divine Savior and divine sovereign One works His will in and through the choices of His creatures. Judas was doing exactly what Judas wanted to do. He cannot stand up at the last judgment and say: “The devil made me do it. Blame him. You made me do it. Blame Yourself.” Judas did according to Judas’ own intentions. That is the wonder of how God brings good out of evil and redemption out of treachery, as He did in the case of Judas.
Jesus remarked then, “The Son of Man indeed goes just as it is written of Him, but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed!” “I’m going according to God’s foreordination, but curses are upon the man by whose hand I am betrayed. It had been better for that man if he’d never been born.” There have been those in the history of the world who have cursed the day of their birth. If there was any human being with reason to curse the day of his birth, it was Judas Iscariot.
This Is My Body
Then Mark turns his attention to Jesus’ changing of the Passover liturgy to the institution of the Lord’s Supper. We read, “And as they were eating, Jesus took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them and said, ‘Take, eat; this is My body.’” If He spoke these words in Aramaic, which He probably did, basically what He would have been saying is, “Eat this, My body.”
It is difficult to imagine the number of theological disputes in church history there have been regarding how to interpret this single line of the New Testament. One of the great tragedies of the Protestant Reformation is that the Reformers under the leadership of Calvin and Zwingli could not come to an agreement with Luther and the German Protestants on the issue of the Lord’s Supper.
The issue was whether the human nature of Jesus was physically present in the Lord’s Supper. Calvin insisted that the human nature is confined by space and time and cannot be in Orlando, Chicago, Saint Louis, and Beirut all at the same time. The divine nature can be, but the human nature cannot. The human nature is always limited by the attributes of humanity.
Luther insisted that the divine attributes of ubiquity or omnipresence are communicated to the human nature, making it possible for Jesus in His humanity to be in all these places at the same time. He insisted that the presence of Jesus in the Lord’s Supper is in some way, physical or corporeal, based on the words of institution.
At one point of discussion, Luther, like Khrushchev at the United Nations—remember many years ago when the Soviet Premier took off his shoe and banged it on the table at the U.N. and said, “We will bury you”—so Luther at this colloquy pounded his fists on the table saying: “Hoc est corpus meum. Hoc est corpus meum. This is My body.”
The Reformers thought: “Jesus said, ‘I am the door.’ You don’t take that in a literal sense to mean, ‘My flesh is mahogany veneer, My navel is a doorknob,’ nothing so crass as that.” So, some wanted to say what Jesus meant was, “The bread and wine represent My body.” But Luther said: “No. It’s far more than that.”
The truth is somewhere in between. If you make an identification, an equation between the bread and the wine and the physical body of Jesus, you have Christological problems of great difficulty. Yet at the same time, Calvin understood that in the mystery of the Lord’s Supper, there was something going on. What Jesus was saying was not just, “This is My physical person,” but, “This is My person.”
There is a reality involved in the celebration of the Lord’s Supper that goes beyond a memorial. Yes, Jesus, touching His humanity, is in heaven, but touching His deity, He is not restricted by time and space, so we can have full assurance when we come to the table this morning, dear friends, that we come to be in His real presence. He is here.
You might say: “But He’s always here. Every time we worship, every time we gather, He’s with us.” Yes, that is true. What is the difference? The difference is what He is doing. He is inviting us to a situation of intimacy at His table. He invites us to feed on Him, to be nurtured by Him, to be strengthened by Him. He said to His disciples, “I won’t have this with you again until I drink of the vine in My Father’s kingdom.”
This transcript has been lightly edited for readability.