SERMON TITLE: The Lamb That Was Slain
TEXT: Matthew 26:17-30 (ESV)
SPEAKER: Robert Tansill
Watch the sermon here
Good evening, Gateway Church! I'm Robert Tansill, the Pastor of Care and Counseling. And, as always, it is a pleasure and joy to worship with you. This evening, we are going to look at a passage in Matthew 26 that we should all be familiar with. In fact, our passage is so crucial to the story of the Bible that all four gospels include it (Matthew 26:17–30, Mark 14:12–26, Luke 22:7–39, John 13:1–17:26). However, if you are like many who read this passage, you might miss how it connects to the bigger picture of what God is doing as his plan to redeem humanity unfolds throughout the Bible and history itself.
So, tonight we want to think about the significance of the Lord’s Supper and how this simple act is vital to fulfilling a promise made by God thousands of years prior to deliver his people. Where do we see it? We first see it in Exodus 2:23-25 where it tells us, “Years passed, and the king of Egypt died. But the Israelites continued to groan under their burden of slavery. They cried out for help, and their cry rose up to God. 24 God heard their groaning, and he remembered his covenant promise to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. 25 He looked down on the people of Israel and knew it was time to act.”
These words, leading to an incredible act of God for his people, would reverberate throughout generations. The impact is not just felt by us here and now but will be for eternity. And they have a special significance to our passage tonight. Why?
Listen to Matthew’s words in Matthew 26:17-30.
“Now on the first day of Unleavened Bread the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Where will you have us prepare for you to eat the Passover?” 18 He said, “Go into the city to a certain man and say to him, ‘The Teacher says, My time is at hand. I will keep the Passover at your house with my disciples.’” 19 And the disciples did as Jesus had directed them, and they prepared the Passover. 20 When it was evening, he reclined at table with the twelve. 21 And as they were eating, he said, “Truly, I say to you, one of you will betray me.” 22 And they were very sorrowful and began to say to him one after another, “Is it I, Lord?” 23 He answered, “He who has dipped his hand in the dish with me will betray me. 24 The Son of Man goes as it is written of him, but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been better for that man if he had not been born.” 25 Judas, who would betray him, answered, “Is it I, Rabbi?” He said to him, “You have said so.” 26 Now as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is my body.” 27 And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, “Drink of it, all of you, 28 for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. 29 I tell you I will not drink again of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.” 30 And when they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives."
To understand the significance of Matthew’s words, we need to remember the people of Israel in the Exodus story because these two events are connected. How did God respond when his people cried out for deliverance in Egypt? By instructing Moses to do the following in Exodus 12:21-23, “Then Moses called all the elders of Israel together and said to them, ‘Go, pick out a lamb or young goat for each of your families, and slaughter the Passover animal. 22 Drain the blood into a basin. Then take a bundle of hyssop branches and dip it into the blood. Brush the hyssop across the top and sides of the doorframes of your houses. And no one may go out through the door until morning. 23 For the LORD will pass through the land to strike down the Egyptians. But when he sees the blood on the top and sides of the doorframe, the LORD will pass over your home. He will not permit his death angel to enter your house and strike you down.”
At the very core of this command that God gives the people of Israel is the slain lamb. The sacrifice of the lamb’s body and blood is the instrument God would use to protect his people from his judgment. And we see this same story played out in Matthew where the first thing he wants us to see is that …
Listen to Matthew's words again in verses 17-19, “Now on the first day of Unleavened Bread the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Where will you have us prepare for you to eat the Passover?” 18 He said, “Go into the city to a certain man and say to him, ‘The Teacher says, My time is at hand. I will keep the Passover at your house with my disciples.’” 19 And the disciples did as Jesus had directed them, and they prepared the Passover.
In these verses in Matthew, we see the “Passover” referred to three times which should tell us that this is significant. In the Passover, God promised to do three things through the lamb's sacrifice that we need to keep in mind. First, he vowed to protect his people from judgment. This promise was the reason his people put the blood on doorposts and lintel in Exodus 12:21-23. God would “pass over” all the households that relied on the blood of the lamb, in faith, to deliver them from the judgment of death he would wield against all of the firstborns of the Egyptians. And as we take the Lord’s Supper together tonight, we must remember that judgment is an important theme in both the Passover and the Lord’s Supper. And it is carried out through God's promise to his people and the lamb that is slain.
A second thing we see is that, in the Passover, God frees his people from slavery. As I mentioned earlier, in Exodus 2:25, God had heard the cry of his people, and He looked down on them and knew “it was time to act.” How long were they in Egypt? Exodus 12:40 says explicitly, “The time that the people of Israel lived in Egypt was 430 years.” However, not all of that time was spent serving the Egyptians. Many commentators believe their time as Egyptian slaves could have been no more than 150 years, which is still a very long time! And it is this slavery that God promised his people he would free them from through the lamb's blood.
And a third thing God promised his people in the Passover was that he would lead them to the Promised Land (Exodus 23:20-33). Where is that? For Israel, that was the land of Canaan. This land was described as “a land flowing with milk and honey (Exodus 3:8, 17; 13:5; 33:3).” Listen to what God says in Exodus 3:7-8, “Then the LORD said, ‘I have surely seen the affliction of my people who are in Egypt and have heard their cry because of their taskmasters. I know their sufferings, 8 and I have come down to deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey, to the place of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites (ESV).”
For Israel, the Promised Land represented a picture of agricultural abundance, along with fertile soil and the perfect climate required for crops. Moses’ description describes it best, “The LORD your God is bringing you into a good land, a land of brooks of water, of fountains and springs, flowing forth in valleys and hills, a land of wheat and barley, of vines and fig trees and pomegranates, a land of olive trees and honey (Deuteronomy 8:7-8, ESV).” In short, it was a land of safety, abundance, blessing, and peace where God alone would be worshiped.
And the disciples had all this in mind when they asked Jesus in Matthew 26:17, “Where will you have us prepare for you to eat the Passover?” As one commentator says, “For centuries, the families of Israel had gathered on Passover to eat the meat of a slaughtered lamb, along with bitter herbs and unleavened bread, and to relive the night when the sacrificial blood shielded them from God’s wrath (Exodus 12:7–13, 42). God had swept his arm through Pharaoh’s land, judging his enemies and rescuing his people through a marvelous exodus deliverance. Annually, then, Israel was to remember that though they once were slaves, they now were God’s redeemed” (Scott Hubbard, https://www.desiringgod.org/articles/why-bread-and-wine).
And just as God the Father looked down on the people of Israel in their suffering and knew it was time to act, Jesus echoes a similar thought in verse 18 when he said, “Go into the city to a certain man and say to him, ‘The Teacher says, My time is at hand.” Even though the disciples did not fully understand the significance of Jesus’ words as they prepared for the Passover meal, they knew he expected to be crucified. He had said so earlier, which Matthew records in Matthew 26:2, “You know that after two days the Passover is coming, and the Son of Man will be delivered up to be crucified.”
And this is one reason why we shouldn’t take the Lord’s Supper lightly or view it as an isolated event based only on the New Testament. In the Lord’s Supper, Jesus is reaching back into history to remind all of God’s people that God is a God of promise, protection, deliverance, and even overwhelming blessing at the appointed time. And all of this is because of the lamb that was slain. But that is not all.
Another thing that Matthew wants us to see in verses 20-25 is that…
After the disciples had prepared the Passover meal, Matthew writes…
20 When it was evening, he reclined at table with the twelve. 21 And as they were eating, he said, “Truly, I say to you, one of you will betray me.” 22 And they were very sorrowful and began to say to him one after another, “Is it I, Lord?” 23 He answered, “He who has dipped his hand in the dish with me will betray me. 24 The Son of Man goes as it is written of him, but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been better for that man if he had not been born.” 25 Judas, who would betray him, answered, “Is it I, Rabbi?” He said to him, “You have said so.”
What was meant to be a day of celebration as Jews traveled to Jerusalem for Passover from faraway places to remember God's faithfulness by delivering them from the hands of the Egyptians, for the disciples turned into a day of sorrow. As Jesus and his disciples reclined at the table, he made a very pointed statement that surprised them all. He says, “Truly, I say to you, one of you will betray me.” This statement, which clearly catches the disciples off guard, does not surprise Jesus in the least. Why?
Because this has been the plan all along. Since the fall of man, God has put into place a plan to redeem humanity (Genesis 3:15). In numerous places throughout the Old Testament, Jesus’ arrival and death were prophesied. One of the most famous is Isaiah 53:7, where the prophet writes about Jesus, “He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he opened not his mouth.” In the gospels, God’s plan to redeem the world through the death of his son is seen most clearly in a passage we are all familiar with, John 3:16-17, which says, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”
And again in the book of Acts, as the Apostle Peter looks back at the crucifixion of Jesus when speaking to the Jews, he says in Acts 2:22-23, “Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know— 23 this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men.”
And how do the disciples each respond to Jesus’ statement? By asking if they were the ones who would betray him. I find that interesting. Why would they each ask Jesus if they were going to betray him? I believe it’s because they knew their hearts well enough to know it was possible. In fact, a few verses later, as Jesus is handed over to the authorities, Matthew writes, “At that hour Jesus said to the crowds, ‘Have you come out as against a robber, with swords and clubs to capture me? Day after day I sat in the temple teaching, and you did not seize me. 56 But all this has taken place that the Scriptures of the prophets might be fulfilled.’ Then all the disciples left him and fled (Matthew 26:55-56 ESV).”
Folks, as I read this, I found these words comforting for two reasons. First, it reminds me of God’s sovereignty. Not only is he in control of things, but more than that, he is carefully orchestrating everything that happens for good (Romans 8:28). Neither Judas’ betrayal nor Jesus’ arrest and crucifixion caught God off guard. It went exactly as he had planned. As hard as it must have been for the Father to watch the Son writhe in pain for hours on the cross, it was the only way he could accomplish his goal of reconciling humanity with himself once and for all, which was the plan all along. There was no other way.
As we each face trials and struggles that come our way now and in the future, we can take comfort in knowing that we don’t have a God who just controls things. Our God carefully directs and guides our situations to an intended goal for his glory and our good, even in the most painful situations. And why does he do this for us?
That’s the second reason I find comfort in this. Despite my sin, God still loves me. In fact, he loves all of us so much that he provided the sacrificial lamb for us that takes away all of our sins and makes us holy and righteous before him once and for all, which we accept by faith alone. Again, as the Apostle Paul reminds us in Romans 5:6-9, “When we were utterly helpless, Christ came at just the right time and died for us sinners. 7 Now, most people would not be willing to die for an upright person, though someone might perhaps be willing to die for a person who is especially good. 8 But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners. 9 And since we have been made right in God’s sight by the blood of Christ, he will certainly save us from God’s condemnation (NLT).” This is what God’s love has accomplished for us through the slain lamb in which we should all find comfort.
However, I am not only comforted by these words, but they also convict me. Why? Because even though God was sovereignly working out his plan through Judas’ betrayal of Jesus, Judas was still held responsible for his actions. And so are we. Periodically, I have conversations with Christians who think they can do whatever they want without repercussion because God is sovereign. But that is a dangerous way to live. It’s not right, and it’s not biblical. The doctrine of man’s responsibility and God’s sovereignty is an incredible mystery. And yet both are true. As author Jerry Bridges says so well, “We must not misconstrue God’s sovereignty so as to make people mere puppets, so we must not press man’s freedom to the point of limiting God’s sovereignty” (Jerry Bridges, “Trusting God”).
What did Judas do after dipping the bread into the dish with Jesus? Matthew doesn’t say. But the gospel of John does in John 13:30, “So, after receiving the morsel of bread, he immediately went out. And it was night.” The plot to kill Jesus was now underway. For some, Jesus is just a man who made false and blasphemous claims to be God in the flesh who would take away the sins of the world. For others, like the disciples at this point, Jesus was the long-awaited Messiah who would come and deliver Israel from the tyranny of Rome and establish his rule on earth. And both were wrong, which is the final thing Matthew wants us to see and which we’ll sum up this way…
In the final section of our passage, Jesus’ crucifixion and death are now imminent. The process of falsely declaring him guilty of blasphemy against God and treason against Rome begins, with the final destination being the Cross. Or so it would seem. For many who had placed their hope in Jesus along the way, including the disciples, the days ahead would feel like a complete loss, a sham, shattered dreams of what should have been. But God has different plans, which we hear in these words of Matthew in verses 26-30 when he writes…
26 Now as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is my body.” 27 And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, “Drink of it, all of you, 28 for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. 29 I tell you I will not drink again of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.” 30 And when they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.
What, up to this point, had been a Passover celebration commemorating God’s deliverance of Israel and entrance into the promised land through the blood of the lamb would now take on new meaning. The old covenant, which was confirmed by Moses taking blood from the altar basin and splattering it over the people (Exodus 24:8) and required animal sacrifices by a priest on a regular basis, is now being revised. Why? Because the lamb who would come to take away the sins of the world once and for all has finally arrived as the glory of God is on display like never before (John 1:14, 29). How? In the bread and the cup.
In the bread, we see God’s glory displayed as he gives his Son, Jesus, to die for you and me so that our relationship with the Father can be fully restored. The bread, representing the body of Jesus, is given to atone for all of our sins, iniquity, rebellion, grief, and shame. Jesus took the loaf and broke it in order to picture the violent tearing of his body that was to take place with whips, thorns, nails, and a spear. It is, in a way, terrible to think of. It is, in some sense, shocking to consider that this bread symbolizes Christ's torn body and then to put it into our mouths and chew it. But that is the horror of sin. Because of this act, our sins are now completely forgiven because Jesus willingly sacrificed his body on the cross for us. And all he requests of us is the simple command to “Take and eat.” By doing so, we acknowledge our sins before God, accept the forgiveness that comes from what Jesus has done for us through his sacrifice, and live accordingly.
In drinking the cup, God’s glory is displayed as all the wrath we deserve for our rebellion against him is now “poured out” onto Jesus once and for all. This cup, often represented in Scripture as God’s wrath (Isaiah 51:17), Christ willingly takes on himself through the violent and painful death on the cross that awaits him. In fact, the word “poured out” used in the original language means just that, “to cause the death of someone by violent means.” Perhaps he poured the wine in front of the Twelve, to picture his blood pouring out. It is not pleasant to remember that the wine symbolizes his spilled or splattered blood, and then to drink it. But that is how horrible sin is. When God made a covenant to save us, that blood was always in view. It required a real man and a real death. When Christ commands us to remember his sacrifice, it is no mere principle we are to remember. We are to remember our Savior's death.
Why is the blood so important? Doesn’t that seem extreme? Leviticus 17:11 gives us a clue in these words, “For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it for you on the altar to make atonement for your souls, for it is the blood that makes atonement by the life.” Just as the lamb's blood protected those at Passover from God's wrath, the cup represents God's wrath poured on His Son Jesus for the sins of those covered by his blood. And, once again, all that he requests of us is the simple command to “Drink of it.” By doing so, we willingly accept the forgiveness offered through the blood of Jesus and seek to live accordingly with grateful hearts.
Finally, we see God’s glory as we anticipate his coming kingdom. After offering the bread and the cup, Jesus says in verse 29, “I tell you I will not drink again of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.” Once again, all part of God’s plan, Jesus sees past his death to the day when all sin and death will be eliminated entirely, and his people will dwell with him and the Father in the promised land that awaits. The “fruit of the vine” that Jesus mentions symbolizes complete and everlasting joy and blessing as the Kingdom of God is finally and fully realized and experienced by his people.
As I was studying this passage, I was reminded how often I overlooked this last point. So often, when I think about the Lord’s Supper, I focus on what Christ has done for me and my sin that caused his death. But the bread and cup are not just pointing to the death of Jesus, but more importantly, why Jesus died in the first place. Jesus died to restore our relationship with the Father so we could spend eternity with him.
And in Revelation 19:6-9, we see what that will look like in these words, “Then I heard again what sounded like the shout of a vast crowd or the roar of mighty ocean waves or the crash of loud thunder: ‘Praise the LORD! For the Lord our God, the Almighty, reigns. 7 Let us be glad and rejoice, and let us give honor to him. For the time has come for the wedding feast of the Lamb, and his bride has prepared herself. 8 She has been given the finest of pure white linen to wear.’ For the fine linen represents the good deeds of God’s holy people. 9 And the angel said to me, “Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the wedding feast of the Lamb.” And he added, ‘These are true words that come from God.’” (NLT)
When Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper on the Passover the night before his crucifixion, he did so to show that “he is the fulfillment of all that was foreshadowed by the Passover lamb. His blood, the blood of the new covenant, averts the wrath of God for those who place their faith in him. Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper on this night to signify that this new exodus was about to begin. This act indicated that the time of redemption had come.” (Keith Mathison, https://www.ligonier.org/learn/articles/why-institute-lords-supper).
So, in the end, we find that the words of Pastor and scholar, N.T. Wright, best sums up the meaning of the Lord’s Supper when he said, “When Jesus wanted to explain to his disciples what his death was all about, he didn't give them a theory, he gave them a meal.”
Let's pray together.
Father, words cannot express how grateful we are to you for giving your Son's life on our behalf. Through his blood shed on the cross, which we claim by faith alone, we are forgiven for our sins, protected from your judgment, and promised an eternity with you. As we prepare to eat the bread and drink the cup, may we not take this act lightly but see it as part of the bigger story you are writing to reconcile humanity with yourself. Thank you for forgiving us for our sins and for the promise in 1 John 1:9 that “If we confess our sins, you are faithful and just to forgive us and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” Taking you at your word, in a moment of silence, we quietly confess our sins to you now. Hear our silent prayers of confession.
Father, all praise, glory, and honor belong to you, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. We long for that day when we will stand before you face to face, worshiping you in all your glory. Until that day, continue to strengthen us in our faith, help us endure trials and struggles, and protect us from the evil one who seeks to destroy us. And may we rest in the finished work of Christ alone, the Lamb that was slain, for our salvation. For to you and you alone belongs all the glory. - Amen
“Now all glory to God, who is able to keep you from falling away and will bring you with great joy into his glorious presence without a single fault. 25 All glory to him who alone is God, our Savior through Jesus Christ our Lord. All glory, majesty, power, and authority are his before all time, and in the present, and beyond all time! Amen.” (Jude 24-25)
Brothers and sisters, you are sent!
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