By J.R. Miller
Jesus left the temple for the last time on Tuesday evening, and spent Wednesday in retirement. He gave instructions to two of His disciples on Thursday morning, concerning preparations for the Passover. "Go into the city to a certain man and tell him, 'The Teacher says: My appointed time is near. I am going to celebrate the Passover with my disciples at your house." The man was to be known by a certain sign--he would be carrying a pitcher of water (see Mark 14:13; Luke 22:10). As women carried the burdens in those days, the sight of a man carrying water was uncommon. Hence the identification would be easy. Evidently secrecy was intended in the choosing of the place for the Passover. It is thought that the reason for this secrecy was to keep from Judas the knowledge of the place, as he was watching for an opportunity to betray Jesus. The Master is always coming to people and saying, "I am going to celebrate the Passover at your house." He wants to be a guest in every family. Blessed is the home that opens to Him and gives Him its upper room as His guest chamber.
It was a sad announcement that Jesus made to the disciples that night when they had gathered about the table. "Truly I say unto you--that one of you shall betray Me." Judas himself was at the table, and possibly one reason why Jesus made this announcement was to give him an opportunity to repent even at he last moment. It is remarkable that not one of the disciples seem to have suspected anyone as the traitor to whom Jesus had referred. They did not begin to say: "I wonder which of us it is? Do you think it can be Andrew? Do you suppose it can be Peter?" Instead of suspicion, each one shuddered at the possibility that he himself might, after all, be the one. "Is it I, Lord?" they all began to say. "Surely not I, Lord!" is the more accurate rendering. We should examine ourselves rather than look at others for sins we find condemned.
It is very much easier to see faults in our neighbors than in ourselves; and to think others capable of doing evil things, rather than suppose it possible that we should do them. But our business is with ourselves alone. We do not have to answer for the sins of our neighbors. Then it is not enough to ask merely whether we have done such and such things; we should ask also whether we are in danger of committing them. "Let him that thinks he stands--take heed lest he fall" (1 Corinthians 10:12). We do not know the dark possibilities of evil which lurk in our hearts. We dare not say, when we learn of someone who has fallen into terrible sin, that it would have been impossible for us to have done the same thing. What any man has done--any man may do!
The answer of Jesus, "He who dips his hand with Me in the dish, the same shall betray Me," was not meant to point out any individual as the traitor. He merely meant to indicate the greatness of the crime--that one of those who had eaten at His table, and enjoyed the familiarity of closest friendship--and they all had--was now to betray Him. In the East, those who ate together, by that very act pledged to each other loyal friendship and protection. This made the crime of Judas all the darker and blacker.
What Jesus said about the traitor is very suggestive. He said, "The Son of Man will go just as it is written about him. But woe to that man who betrays the Son of Man! It would be better for him if he had not been born." It is a great privilege to live. It is a great thing to be able to stay in this world for a certain number of years and leave our impress upon other lives. It is a great thing to sow seeds which may bring multiplied harvests of blessing in the future. But there are those who live, who perhaps, it may have been better had they never been born. Judas had a magnificent opportunity. He was chosen to be an apostle. He would not have been thus chosen if it had not been possible for him to be a faithful and worthy apostle. He might have gone forth to help bring the world to Christ's feet, and his name might then have been written in heaven. Now, however, the face of Judas is turned to the wall and the place is blank which might have been filled with a story of noble deeds. He wrecked all the possibilities of his life by rejecting the Divine will. He left only a black shadow and then passed to his own place in the eternal world. It would indeed have been better for him--if he had not been born!
The story of the Lord's Supper is told very briefly in Matthew. We may notice, however, that Jesus sets aside the ancient Passover and substitutes in its place for Christian observance, this memorial supper. "Jesus took bread, and blessed, and broke it; and gave it to the disciples." Bread is a fit emblem of Christ's body. By it our bodies are nourished and strengthened. Christ is food to our spiritual life. Unless we feed upon Him--we must perish. The giving of the bread to the disciples signified the offer to each one, by Christ Himself, of all the benefits and blessings of His love and sacrifice. Thus Christ ever stands with outstretched hands holding out to every human soul all the precious things of His salvation.
The use of the words, "This is My body," "This is My blood," ought not to occasion any difficulty. Jesus often spoke in a similar way. When he said, "I am the door," no one supposed that He meant He was literally changed into a door, or when He said, "I am the vine," no one ever thought that He meant to say He had become an actual vine. Here it is just as plain that He spoke figuratively, meaning that the bread was an emblem of His body.
We should notice also that the disciples themselves had a part in this supper. Jesus offered Himself to them as bread--but they must voluntarily accept His gift. "Take, eat; this is My body." It is not enough that God loved the world and gave His Son for its redemption. It is not enough that Christ offered Himself as a sacrifice for men. These stupendous acts of love and grace alone will not save anyone. We have a responsibility in the matter. We must reach out our hands and take what is graciously offered to us. Bread must be eaten before it can become sustenance, so Christ, as the bread of life, must be received into our lives before it can become the food of our souls. Much of the failure of Christian life is at this very point--we do not take what Christ offers and even presses upon us. We pray for blessing, while all the time the blessing is close beside us, waiting only to be received and appropriated.
After giving them bread, Jesus took a cup from the table and gave it to them, too. "He took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, Drink from it, all of you." A little later that same evening Jesus Himself too a cup from the hands of the Father and drank it to its bitter dregs. Into that cup there had been poured, as it were, all the world's sorrow. Yet full as it was of the very gall and bitterness of human guilt, He pressed it to His lips and drank it, saying, "The cup which the Father has given Me, shall I not drink it?"
This cup, however, which Jesus handed to His disciples, was a cup of blessing. Into it He Himself poured, as it were, the concentration of all heaven's joy and glory. Again, however, we must notice the words, "Drink from it, all of you." It is not enough that the cup shall be prepared and then offered to us. Unless we accept the blessing of Christ's atonement, we shall not be helped.
Jesus said that this cup represented the covenant. "This is My blood of the New Testament (new covenant), which is poured out for many for the remission of sins." In ancient times covenants were sealed by the blood of animals. The covenant of redemption was sealed by Christ's own blood. Christ's dying was not an accident--it was part of the great purpose of His life, that for which, above all else, he came into the world. We are saved, not merely by being helped over the hard places, not merely by being taught how to live, not only by having a perfect example set before us--but by having our sins remitted. No one can be saved until he is forgiven, and no man's sin is put away except through the blood of Christ.
Jesus announced to the disciples that this was the last time He would eat with them at an earthly table. "I will not drink henceforth of this fruit of the vine, until that day when I drink it new with you in My Father's kingdom." In telling them this, He gave them great comfort in the assurance that He would sit down with them again, by and by, in the heavenly kingdom. The earthly supper was only a symbol; the heavenly would be a glorious reality.
Jesus left the upper room with a song on His lips. "When they had sung a hymn, they went out into the mount of Olives." He knew where He was going--and to what. Just before Him was Gethsemane, with its agony. Beyond this experience would come His trial, and next day His death. Yet He went to these terrible experiences, with a song of praise.