“The Passover Meal”

Matthew 26:17-30

We have been reading through the Gospel According to Matthew and we are currently at the last week of Jesus’ life. He and His disciples traveled to Jerusalem to celebrate Passover. Jesus entered the city with a parade and the fanfare of a king, riding on a donkey and acting like He owned the place. He immediately went to the most important place, the temple and began throwing His weight around and enraging the religious leaders. However, the people were happy to have someone finally reveal the corruption. 

Throughout this week Jesus has been telling His disciples that He is going to be killed. He has been predicting His death and giving the disciples details in order to explain that His dying is part of His plan. 

Today’s Scripture tells what is happening just hours before His arrest, trial and execution. If you recall, a couple of weeks ago we read how Jesus had been showered with a vial of expensive perfume, while at a dinner party. This was to prepare Him for His burial. Then we read how Judas had had enough and snuck off to meet with the religious leaders and plan to turn Jesus over to them. Today, we have Jesus and His closest followers getting ready to participate in the Festival of Unleavened Bread. The disciples come to Jesus and ask Him where they should go to get things ready for them to celebrate the Passover meal, or Seder. 

Check out Jesus’ response to His disciples, verse 18,

“He replied, “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.’” 

It’s like they are in a spy movie. Revealing the man’s name that owns the house was too dangerous so Jesus provides certain code phrases to determine the correct place to go. 

The disciples do exactly what Jesus says and things go exactly as planned. 

Let’s try to picture what is happening at this point in time. Jesus has been one of the most controversial figures for the past week. There were over a hundred thousand Jewish people packed into this small city. People were everywhere and they all had heard about Jesus. Anonymity was not an option. Jesus knows He is but hours away from being taken and put on trial. He has managed to find a place to get away and celebrate the Passover meal before everything breaks down. It’s night time and He puts His cloak over His head and walks down some side streets to a secret room where the disciples have been preparing for this meal. 

Jesus knows He has but a couple of hours left before the storm with His disciples and instead of giving them a sermon or lecture He chooses to transform the meaning of the Passover Meal so they can have a grasp of what will be happening in the next twenty-four hours. 

Here’s where Jesus demonstrates His ingenuity. Think about it. For the past three years Jesus has been teaching and explaining what life in God’s Kingdom should be like. He has also been letting His followers know that in order for this to happen He will have to die. 

Now Jesus could have done the collegiate thing and written this all down for His disciples to remember, but instead, He connected it to something they had already been doing for thousands of years. 

The Festival of Unleavened Bread was a celebration the Jewish people practiced once a year to remind them of the story when God saved their people from slavery in Egypt. Jesus takes the symbols they had been using to tell that story and gives them new meaning. 

Okay, so Jesus has arrived and we read that He was reclining at the table with them. 

How many of you have a visual image of this? 

Thanks to Leonardo diVinci. 

Well, try to erase that image from your mind. 

Actually, in Jesus’ day, the tables were only a few inches off the ground and they would sit on the floor, or pillows, instead of chairs like we do today. To demonstrate this, I have set up a mini Passover table right here. 

[Invite two people to join you.]

Now remember, if you were Jewish at the time of Jesus, you would have participated in this Passover Meal ever since you could remember. It was a big deal. 

One of the major points of this event was repetition. This was their story. It was the oldest, living, religious meal in history. This meal has been happening for over 3500 years, every year, without a break. This meal is crucial for not just the Jewish faith but also for Christianity because it explains why we participate in communion. 

A traditional Seder meal takes around two hours. So we won’t be going through the whole thing today. How many have participated in a Seder meal before? Odds are when you did it was a modernized version, much like our celebration of Christmas today looks much different then it did a thousand years ago. However, in Jesus’ day it would have been very simple. We begin with the common denominator for any Jewish feast, good wine. 

However, as a good Baptist I have brought with me Welch’s grape juice. 

The meal is divided into four parts, in which we will drink from our glass. Before each drink the father would say a blessing

“May you be blessed, Lord our God, king of the world, who creates the fruit of the vine.”

[Take a drink]

Okay, Jesus has sat down with His disciples, it was wee hours in the night, and Passover is starting. They are having a good time and leave it to Jesus to destroy the mood by saying, verse 21,

“Truly I tell you, one of you will betray me.”

We are told the disciples become sad and each one of them started to say one after the other, verse 22, 

“Surely you don’t mean me, Lord?”

Think about what is about to happen in the story in a couple of hours, when they get to the garden. Who is going to bail on Jesus?

All of them. 

There is an irony here, because in a way they all abandon Him. However, the story has been preparing for us the incident with Judas. Jesus actually goes on to say in verse 23, 

“The one who has dipped his hand into the bowl with me will betray me.

You would think this would be some sort of signal to give away who would betray Jesus. Again, irony, because all of them dipped their hands into the bowl with Him.

The meal would continue with the dipping of the “karpas,” a green vegetable into salty water. The traditional meaning behind this gesture comes from the story of Joseph, the favored son of Jacob. If you remember the story, Joseph was a punk of a brother to 11 other brothers and spoiled by his father which was demonstrated by his father giving him a special coat of many colors. The brothers decide to kill him but think better of the idea and sell him into slavery. They then had to create a story to tell their father so they slaughter a lamb and dip Jacob’s coat into the blood and tell their father that a wild animal killed Joseph. Thus, the beginning of the Jewish story in Egypt. 

The dipping of the vegetable in salty water tastes similar to if you had bit your lip and tasted blood. 

Throughout the meal children would would participate by asking questions, 

“What makes this night different from all other nights?

“Why do we eat only unleavened bread tonight?”

“Why do we eat bitter herbs tonight?”

“Why do we dip the vegetable tonight?”

“Why do we all recline at the table tonight?”

At this point in the meal we would open the Torah and read three long chapters in Exodus. We are not going to do that but I will give the version that is in Deuteronomy chapter 26. 

“Our ancestors come from the family of Abraham. He was a wandering Aramian. God gave Abraham a promise that he would be used by God to be a blessing to the nations and would somehow draw all of the nations back to God. Abraham makes it to this promised land and has a family, a son, Isaac, who then has a son Jacob, who then has a dozen sons, one of which we just talked about. And then there comes a famine. So Jacob’s family was forced to travel to Egypt to find food but who else do they find, second in command of Egypt? Why it’s Joseph the brother they thought of killing. He forgives them and invites the family to move to Egypt where there is food and lots to eat. As the decades go by, the family of Abraham becomes enormous. Then the story takes a turn, one that occurs quite often whenever you have an immigrant group that moves to another culture and land, for work and opportunity and they flourish and become more numerous. 

So the powers at be freak out and in the name of national security, the pharaoh orders a genocide of these people. An entire generation of male babies were ordered to be thrown into the Nile to drown. Then the pharaoh ordered those who were able to build more bricks. The Israelites called out to the God of Abraham to make good on His promises to Abraham. God raised up a deliverer, Moses, who confronted pharaoh’s evil, with ten acts of justice. Moses would ask pharaoh to stop and he wouldn’t so God would provide a punishment. This meal is the result of the final judgment. It is the story of restoration and the freedom from oppression. So at the conclusion of the rescue story from Exodus, we would raise the glass again and read progressively: [on the back of your bulletin]

Psalm 113

LEADER: Praise Yahweh!

ALL: May the name of Yahweh be blessed now and forever. 

LEADER: From the place where the sun rises, to the place where it goes down, 

ALL: May Yahweh’s name be praised. 

LEADER: For Yahweh is high above the nations.

ALL: His glory is higher than the heavens. 

LEADER: Who can be compared with Yahweh our God, who is enthroned on high?

ALL: He stoops to look down on the sky and the land. 

ALL: He lifts up the poor from the dust and the needy from the slums.

ALL: He sets them among princes, even the princes of his own people!

“May you be blessed, Lord our God, king of the world, who creates the fruit of the vine.”

[Take a drink]

Rabbi Gamaliel, the teacher of the law for Apostle Paul stated that in order to have celebrated Passover correctly you must have at least three items: the unleavened bread, the bitter herbs and lamb. 

The unleavened bread was a symbol of how the Israelites ate their last meal in Egypt, with their backpacks on, ready to go at a moment’s notice, Exodus 12:39

“With the dough the Israelites had brought from Egypt, they baked loaves of unleavened bread. The dough was without yeast because they had been driven out of Egypt and did not have time to prepare food for themselves.”

This is where Jesus steps in and makes it personal, verse 26,

“While they were eating, Jesus took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to his disciples, 

The disciples are eating this and then Jesus drops a bomb, by

saying, “Take and eat; this is my body.”

That’s kind of gross, don’t you think? 

What did Jesus mean? 

Well He knew that in just a few hours, just like bread that is kneaded and shaped and placed into a fire to cook, the Roman leaders would knead and break his body and He would be thrown into the fire of execution. And yet both bread and the crucifixion are what give us life. The bread provides sustenance or fuel for us to live and Jesus’ sacrificed body provides our soul with life. 

The next requirement is the bitter herbs. 

The children at the seder would certainly ask, 

“Why do we have to eat this?”

[Eat the horseradish]

ANSWER: Exodus 1: 14-17

11 So they put slave masters over them to oppress them with forced labor, and they built Pithom and Rameses as store cities for Pharaoh. 12 But the more they were oppressed, the more they multiplied and spread; so the Egyptians came to dread the Israelites 13 and worked them ruthlessly. 14 They made their lives bitter with harsh labor in brick and mortar and with all kinds of work in the fields; in all their harsh labor the Egyptians worked them ruthlessly.

This Passover meal is supposed to be a way for the Israelites to participate and relive what happened to their ancestors. And how God needed to redeem His people. The bitter herbs were supposed to make you cry.

We cry because of the tragedy of the human condition.

We cry because of the innocent deaths of our ancestors. We cry because even our own people, like Solomon, Ahab and Manassah, became as bad as pharaoh and killed innocent people. Every generation is subject to pharaohs and behaves like pharaohs. 

The last item necessary according to Rabbi Gamaliel was the lamb. We definitely have an abbreviated description from Matthew of this last supper, however, there was no lamb. Even the absence of this symbol was significant for Jesus. Because the lamb was extremely significant in the Egypt story. 

For the last act of judgment against Egypt given by God was that a messenger of death would sweep across the land and every first born of every house would die. This was an act of God’s justice on Egypt in response to pharaoh’s killing of the male Jewish babies. 

But, God provides something pharaoh never provided, a way of escape through the symbol of the passover lamb. So anyone, Hebrew or not, could take a spotless one year old lamb, and slaughter it for the meal, but would also take the blood and paint it around the frame of their front door. The angel of death would passover those doors.

As far as we can tell, Jesus’ Passover meal has no lamb, instead we read in verse 27, 

Then he took a cup, and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you. 

May you be blessed, Lord our God, king of the world, 

who creates the fruit of the vine.

[Take a drink]

Then Jesus drops another bomb, 

This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. 

Jesus was projecting what would occur in just a few hours where His blood would be seen all over the place, on Him, on the ground, on the cross. Jesus was calling His blood, the blood of a lamb. This would become the seal for the new covenant for His family. The blood of the lamb is the substitute and absorbs the consequences of human evil. 

Also notice, this is not the end of the story, for Jesus said there is another passover coming, when everything is new. 

Jesus reveals that there is something coming on the other side of His death that will be the reunion of His people.

I tell you, I will not drink from this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.”


These symbols are what Jesus gave His disciples for them to make sense of the horror that was about to happen in the next twelve hours. 

What an amazing twist and use of a practice that was already embedded into the culture of the Israelites. Jesus takes an event that already had established symbolic meaning and uses it to create meaning for what He had planned. It’s not just something you read to understand, but it is something that you continue to participate in, to remember. 

Every generation saw itself as relating to the people who came out of Egypt, just as every generation after the Last Supper sees itself as relating to those that were there with Jesus. It’s not enough to understand it, Jesus wants us to participate in it. We’ve distilled it down to cubes of bread and juice cups, but that is what we are doing. Just like the Israelites who participated in Passover in order to remember their roots, we too set aside time each month to participate and remember what has been done for us. 

And what has He done? Jesus was dying to rescue people. Connected to Passover story we have 

Through the lamb

Yahweh rescues the Israelites

From slavery to Pharaoh

Jesus changes the key figures in this story to:

Through Jesus

Yahweh rescues the world

From slavery to sin and death

When we look back at what Jesus has been doing we recognize that His focus truly has been the world. While on earth he healed a Roman soldier, the enemy of Israel. He welcomed tax collectors, prostitutes, Pharisees and children. Jesus did not have any political, economic, or cultural boundaries. For Jesus it was a matter of a person’s heart, which is in slavery to sin and selfishness. That is why He chose to take it all on at the cross and die. However, before doing so, He provided us with this ceremony for us to remember. If you remember, I said the meal is divided into four drinks. We have had three, the fourth one we will all take together. 

Lord’s Supper: 


It is the story of restoration and the freedom from oppression. 


Every generation is subject to pharaohs and behaves like pharaohs. 

The last verse of today’s Scripture reads,

“When they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.”