This passage is set on "the first day of Unleavened Bread'. Jesus and His disciples were celebrating the the Feast of Unleavened Bread, which was commanded by God in Exodus 12. It was a celebration for the time when God passed over the sins of the Israelites in judgment, before they left Egypt. It is here that the Passover Lamb is sacrificed, to celebrate and remember God passing over the Israelite camp and sparing the lives of their firstborn. Thus, Jesus and his disciples were celebrating this, and participating in this Jewish ritual. This Feast was to become a statute and part of their law, because it was important enough for them to celebrate it every year. Exodus 12:14, 17 specifically calls for Israelites to remember God in their Exodus. In a way, this is the day Israel became a “nation”, they became independent, and it marked their freedom and deliverance by God.
(A) An Important Dinner (v.12-16)
"Eating the Passover" was considered important, and there was preparation to be done for this. This is not a dinner that was casually entered into, but one where preparation is needed. Jesus gave them a set of instructions in verse 13 to 15. How did the disciples respond? The disciples were obedient and they followed exactly as Jesus had told them (v.16). How would you have reacted? Would you not have questioned if someone had told you these things? In the passage, there was no indication of hesitation. In fact, they knew the importance of this meal, and asked Jesus for what they were to do. Would you follow through with what he told you, or would you wonder if it sounded too good to be true? We could read this and be so familiar with it, assuming that people would just do whatever Jesus told them. But if we read it more closely we realise that Jesus was giving a set of slightly unbelievable instructions (for e.g., men wouldn't usually carry jars).
What does this set of verses teach us about Jesus? Jesus, as we have seen earlier in Mark 11, knew how the events would pan out before they happened. Either this was a miraculous work from God or there was a pre-arrangement, like an elaborate set-up. If we pause for a while and consider, we realise that God was actually the one who actually prepared the meal! Do you get encouraged when you read such things about Jesus’ words, as the Bible shows us that His words get fulfilled completely (in verse 16)? It also teaches us an important lesson, that we are to be obedient, and simply follow what Jesus says, sometimes even without thinking and not caring whether it is logical or not! These things were recorded, because it shows how the disciples heard, obeyed and their faith increased when they saw God fulfill what He said. We need to learn to read and continue to be amazed by this sort of thing in our bibles, for when things come to pass, they are for our belief.
Jesus, and the disciples prepared for this meal, because it was important to them. What do you prepare for today? An exam, a job interview, a special date with your other half, retirement because you got inspired by the “what’s your plan” advertisements from the government?, etc. What is that one thing that you prepared for so much? When something is important, you will plan for it, and so what is important to you? Is it important? For Jesus and His disciples, keeping God’s commandments was important, and as his disciples today, we must desire likewise.
(B) A Sad Dinner (v.17-21)
At the dinner, Jesus revealed that one of them would betray him. We might find this unsurprising as we all know too well that he gets betrayed. But we must remember that this is one of the Twelve who betrays him. These are the ones who followed him in his ministry, they were the ones who gotall the explanations of the parables (Mark 4:34), the ones who more or less saw everything Jesus did. These were the closest to Jesus, people who left their homes and family and lived and ate with them, and yet one of them would betray Jesus. How could they if they had understood him? This is akin to Robin stabbing Batman in the back while he is fighting the Joker.
How did the disciples react? The disciples were sorrowful: sad, grieving, heaviness, uneasy. In fact, isn’t the persecution from outside their circle enough to handle? Now someone inside is attacking them. That would certainly throw them off. Furthermore, the disciples should at this point have seen how whatever Jesus says will come to pass. Peter has already identified Jesus as the Christ. It is natural that they would be worried, sad and burdened by this new revelation. These were people that when sin was revealed to them, sorrow followed almost immediately. How are we “betraying” Jesus today? In our sinfulness in this broken world, surely we have turned our backs on Jesus, for we are just not of this world. We don't seem to fit in, and the things we want to do or are interested in -- things of God especially -- seem so foreign to the world. Why do you go to Bible studies? Why do you bother to read the Bible? Why do you bother if you don't read the Bible? These are common instances in our everyday lives that call on us to make a choice to follow God or walk away ashamed of the gospel. Do we feel sorrowful in those instances, when we see our sin and our sinful nature?
In verse 20, Jesus confirms that is one of them to betray him, and that He must suffer as it is written of him in Scripture. The ESV Study Bible aptly describes it as follows -- “This passage affirms both God’s sovereignty of events and the betrayer’s own responsibility for the betrayal". He also has strong words for the betrayer, pronouncing a strong lament, that "it would have been better for that man if he had not been born" (v.21). This is certainly difficult for us to accept, and we may not be used to seeing God this way. We may have many questions after reading this verse, but we consider the context, and also what we learnt last week about God as a judge, and sin/betrayal of God has it's corresponding judgment, it will make sense. Furthermore, as much as we don’t like to see this part of our God, we have to recognise that this is our God, a just one who would punish sin. Sin is once again to be taken seriously in this context.
(C) A Symbolic Dinner (v.22-25)
As they ate, Jesus gives them bread and a cup (v.22-23). The bread stood for Jesus' body, broken for them, while the cup represented His blood, poured out for them. Jesus also tells them that He makes a new covenant with the pouring out of his blood (v.24), and his blood is described here to be poured out for many, not just for individuals or Israel (as the old covenant was) but for multitudes. Luke 22:19-20 to give us additional ideas on what Jesus is saying here. Like how the first Passover was given to help them remember the first Exodus, Jesus told them to do the Lord's Supper "in remembrance of [him]". The bread and cup were symbolic of His actual body and blood shed on the cross for their sins. The word "gave" in Mark 14:22 has the idea of a sacrifice, taken from the Greek word, and is usually used in a vicarious sense, where one is doing something on behalf of another.
Jesus also speaks of drinking this cup of wine new in the kingdom of God (v.25). He looks ahead to the final fulfillment of the kingdom of God in this passage, where a meal is described (Revelation 19:9). There is a kingdom coming, and this is the same kingdom which he has come to proclaim (Mark 1:14-15). Jesus gives hope to his disciples that his body broken, and his blood poured out is not the end. Likewise for us too, this is what we are to look forward too!
How does this change your view of things the next time you celebrate the Lord's Supper? The Lord's Supper is full of meaning, and should never just be something you do because everyone is doing it, or even taking lightly. The disciples who took the first Lord’s Supper did it sorrowfully. In that same way, when we approach Jesus’ body and blood broken, symbolically for us, we come with heavy hearts, knowing that we have sinned against Jesus as well. But you are called to remember something highly important.
This passage started out with the Feast of Unleavened Bread. Jesus here has started a new feast. Instead of telling us of a great exodus from slavery, this new feast tells us and causes us to remember our salvation in Jesus Christ. Jesus presents himself as the true Passover lamb, and just as the Lord had passed over the sins of Israel when they sacrificed the lamb, we have full assurance of a Passover through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross. The disciples knew the significance of the Passover lamb as the substitute for their sins. Jesus is the true Lamb who was slain and everything about this dinner and this feast could be looked at again in light of His life and death and mission on the cross. He gives us his body and poured out his blood that we may one day drink it new with him in the Kingdom of God.
The passage can be a struggle, because it could seem so familiar. We've heard it so many times that Jesus is the Lamb who was slain for us. It even sounds so simple. But if we pause, we realise that it is so much more, and even changes our life. Isaiah 53:3-6 describes for us what it was like, and it wasn't pretty. It was one of the twelve that was intimate with Jesus Christ who betrayed him. When He was arrested, the other 11 were scattered and hid and did not want to be acquainted and associated with him. Yes, they all turned to their own way. Even though Jesus knew who was going to betray him, he did not shy away from being gracious to him. In fact, this person was with Jesus up till almost the very end of his time on earth. This is the kind of God whom we have. The one who chooses to deal with sinners, rebels, betrayers, etc. The one who chooses to love the very ones who hate him. Today, we call him the true passover lamb, and the one who was killed, crushed, sorrowful, smitten, afflicted, pierced, wounded (Isaiah 53), then the LORD would not only pass over us but invite us in fellowship with him forever in his Kingdom
What about us today? Are we going our own way and turning away from Him? If you are a Christian today, this is the gospel message plainly before you! Believe it and live it out! Are you preparing yourself for the meal in the Kingdom of God, and are you merely satisfied and content with preparing for your next meal in this world? Do you treat tomorrow as exactly the same as today, because if you do, you've not read the last verse in its entirety! There is still another meal that we are to look forward to, one that we will share with the Lamb that was slain.
If you are a non-Christian today, this passage means to show us that Jesus has come to this world, proclaiming his Kingdom, and in giving you this bread and cup, by sacrificing himself for us, by substituting himself for us, he invites you into his kingdom today. In fact, He is a God unlike the others, because He came to be beaten, slain and all for the sake of your sins. Would you answer his call?