The Chronology of the Supper
April 7th, 1985 @ 7:30 PM
THE CHRONOLOGY OF THE SUPPER
Dr. W. A. Criswell
4-07-85 7:30 p.m.
I thought tonight, before I read the institution of this sacred supper, I thought tonight I would do something I have never done before; namely, follow the context in which this memorial supper was first instituted. Strange thing, isn’t it? The first record we have of it is in 1 Corinthians. You would think because when we read the Bible we have Matthew, Mark, and Luke first, you would think therefore that the first recounting of the Lord’s Supper was in Matthew or Mark or Luke. The first written recount we have is by Paul in 1 Corinthians [1 Corinthians 11:23-30]. And then in those days, the Gospels also presented this beautiful and holy memorial. But tonight, as I say, I thought I would speak of the context, the historical circumstances that surrounded the chronological story in which the memorial supper is placed.
As the Lord came to the last year of His earthly ministry, He made a long journey with His face set toward Jerusalem [Luke 9:51]. He made a long journey from Galilee, crossing over on the eastern side of the Jordan River, and then walking down with His disciples through a country they call Perea, the land on the eastern side of the Jordan. Over there somewhere in that walking pilgrimage to Jerusalem, as He was walking through one of those cities, the rich young ruler met Him and bowed before Him in open daylight, where everyone could see [Mark 10:17]. Nicodemus came to Him by night; he was afraid, or ashamed to come before the Lord by day where people could see him, so he sought out the Lord by night [John 3:1-2]. Not so this young man: he came before Jesus where the whole world could see him and bowed before Him and said, didaskale agathe, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” [Mark 10:17].
And the Lord, looking upon the young fellow kneeling before Him, a young man, a rich man, a ruler of the Jews, though youth, said to him, “Why do you call Me agathe? There is none agathe but one, that is God” [Mark 10:18]. Are you kneeling before Me as before the Lord? Then the Lord said to him, “You know the commandments?” [Mark 10:19].
The lad replied, “All these have I observed from my youth up” [Mark 10:19-20]. You couldn’t help but love and admire that young fellow. And Jesus did. The Bible said Jesus, looking upon him, loved him, and said just one thing, just one thing, “You love what you have more than you love God. Put God first, and then all these things God will add to you and above, the kingdom of heaven.” The young fellow was sad at that saying and went away, for his heart was in the world and not in the will of God [Mark 10:21-22].
Then the Lord, journeying on, crossed over the Jordan and came to the city of Jericho on this side, on the western side of the river. And as He entered the city of Jericho, there came a blind man with a companion, Bartimeus, crying that the Lord would heal him [Mark 10:46-52]. And the Lord opened his eyes; and he praised God for such a gift of sight. Sometimes I think do we do that? Lord, Lord, what a benedictory remembrance that we can see, we have eyes that can see. Blind Bartimeus could see, and he praised God for that city.
There was gathered such a crowd around the Lord Jesus that a small-statured business man named Zaccheus couldn’t look at Him, couldn’t find Him, couldn’t see Him, couldn’t behold Him through the crowd. So he climbed up in a tree to look at the Lord. And the Lord came to that place and to that tree and spoke to that man [Luke 19:2-5]. I believe God does that: He comes to you, He knows your name, He knows all about you, and He calls us by name [John 10:3]. You have heard His name; you have heard your name called by the Lord. There was a time in your life when you answered the call of the Lord Jesus. Zaccheus did that. And the Lord said, “Zaccheus, I have come to spend the day at your house” [Luke 19:5]. And that day, Zaccheus not only met the Lord, but opened his heart and his home to the blessed Savior and became a beautiful disciple and follower of the blessed Jesus [Luke 19:6-10].
From Jericho, the Lord made His journey up to Bethany, and the next day, from Bethany, He entered Jerusalem in that triumphal march. Everyone shouted, everyone glorified God; “Hosanna in the highest. Blessed is the Son of David, the King of heaven, and the Lord of earth” [Matthew 21:9]. It was a glorious and beautiful Sunday. We call it Palm Sunday, as last Sunday. “If these hold their peace,” said our Lord, “the very stones will cry out” [Luke 19:40]; for Jesus the Messiah has come.
The week that followed was in such a different cacophony, not symphony. It was brutal and confronting. It began with the Greeks, who had come from afar, saying to these in Jerusalem, “We would see Jesus” [John 12:20-21]. And it brought to the mind and remembrance of our Savior, “If I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto Me” [John 12:32]. That included us, the preaching of the gospel to the nations and languages and tongues of the earth. Then in the temple courts, those brutal and vicious and vituperative confrontations between Jesus and the rulers of the people, trying to catch Him in His word so they would have wherewith to condemn Him [Luke 11:54, 20:20].
First, the Sadducees: the Sadducees were the priestly people; they controlled the temple. All of the revenues were in their hands, and they were secularists, they were materialists, and they were anything but spiritual men. Consequently, they made fun, they ridiculed and mocked those great spiritual tenants of the faith that had to do with resurrection, and with heaven, and with the world, the better world that is yet to come. So the Sadducees accosted Jesus concerning the resurrection of the dead [Matthew 22:23], and told Him that old story that they had been saying for hundreds of years that stupefied and stumped and dumbfounded all the other people who had any hope of a resurrection and a life to come: that old story about the man and the woman, and the woman’s husband died, and by the Leverite law of the Talmud [Deuteronomy 25:5], his brother had to take his wife and raise up children to his brother; and he died, and the next one died, seven of those brothers married to that same woman died, and left no issue; “Now, in heaven, ha, ha, ha,” said the Sadducee, “whose wife is she in heaven, in the resurrection of the dead?” [Matthew 22:25-28].
And our Lord replied, “You mistake, not knowing the Scripture” [Matthew 22:29]. For in heaven, there is no sex. We are sexed here in this life; but in heaven we are not sexed. I will not be sexed in heaven. You will not be sexed in heaven. There is a part of our life that will not rise with us in the world that is to come. But you will be you, as Gabriel is Gabriel; you will be you, as Michael is Michael; you will be you, as Rafael is Rafael; you will be you, as Jesus is Jesus; only, we won’t be sexually conditioned in heaven.
Then the Lord said something that I think is one of the greatest affirmations of the verbal inspiration of the Word of God that mind could imagine. Our Lord based the doctrine of the resurrection of the dead upon the tense of a verb. Not only the Word is inspired, but the very tense of the verb is inspired. He said, “Have you not read where God avowed, ‘I Am, I Am’?” [Exodus 3:14]. That’s the song you sing up here: “I am, I am the God of Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob.” And the Lord Jesus said, “He is not the God of the dead, but of the living. I am the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. They live,” said our Lord. “I am their God” [Matthew 22:31-32]. And on that He based the resurrection of the dead. He does not preside over death, and corruption, and the cemetery, and the hopelessness and the helplessness of the grave, defeat, and disaster. Our Lord is the God of triumph and glory: “I am the God of the living, of the resurrected, of those who praise the name of Jehovah in heaven” [Matthew 22:32].
Then He had the confrontation, after this Sadducean, He had the confrontation with the Pharisees. And they had a question that would surely entrap Him: “Is it lawful,” they said, “to give tribute to Caesar, or not?” [Matthew 22:12]. If He says, “No,” then they could accuse Him of sedition, insurrection, rebellion; if He said, “Yes,” it would infuriate the people because they hated the Roman yoke. And the Lord said, “Bring Me a tribute money,” and they brought Him a denarius. And He said, “Whose image and superscription?” and they said, “Caesar’s,” and the Lord said, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s” [Matthew 22:19-21].
Then, last, the scribes and the doctors of the law, they confronted Him. For uncounted ages—and you can read it in the Talmud—they discussed in rabbinical debate, “What is the great commandment of the law?” And the Lord answered just like that: He said, “The great and the first commandment is this: Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, with all thy mind, and with all thy soul; and the second commandment is like unto it: Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.” And the scribes and the doctors of the law said, “Lord, You have answered right. To love God with all your heart and to love your neighbor as yourself is above all the traditions and commandments and precepts of the scribes and the elders” [Matthew 22:34-40; Mark 12:28-33].
That scene in that week in the temple closes with the awesome denunciation of the hypocrisy of the spiritual leaders of the people [Matthew 23:1-36], the twenty-third chapter of the Gospel of Matthew, and that ends with a sob. After the denunciation of the hypocrisy of the leaders of the people, the Lord cries and weeps and leaves the temple for the last time, never there again [Luke 19:41-44]. He is now back in Bethany, and He is seated on the Mount of Olives. And as they look out over the Holy City, the Lord delivers the great eschatological discourse on the end of the world and the destruction of Jerusalem that then lay before Him [Matthew 24:1-51].
And after this eschatological discourse, in Bethany, in the house of one Simon the leper [Matthew 26:6], He is anointed with spikenard, costing a year’s wage. He is anointed by Mary of Bethany, whose brother Lazarus He had raised from the dead [John 11:43-44], and when Judas sees the waste of that ointment, he murmurs and repines and laments over the loss, of such a waste. And John the apostle says, this he said, not because he lamented over the waste that could have been sold and given to the poor, but, John says, he was the treasurer, and he had the bag, and he stole what was in it. And the Lord rebukes Judas for his castigation of Mary in breaking the spikenard over His body, saying, “This she has done for My burial. And wherever this gospel is preached, this will be said in memory of her” [Matthew 26:6-13; John 12:1-6]. And I am helping fulfill that beautiful prophecy tonight in speaking of the lavish gift, the poured-out gift of love of Mary of Bethany.
Then two things happened out of that scene. First, Judas: Judas, stung by the rebuke and reprimand of the Lord Jesus, goes into the city, there to covenant with the Scribes and the Pharisees and the Sadducees how he could deliver Jesus into their hands that they might crucify Him, deliver Him at a time when the throngs who loved the Lord were not present: do it at night [Matthew 26:14-16; Luke 22:1-6]. The others who were sent into the city were Peter and John, and they were sent to make preparation for the Last Supper, the Passover [Luke 22:7]. And those two groups, Judas and the other two disciples, go into the city: one on a vicious and pernicious journey to deliver Jesus unto death, and the other to make preparation for the observance of the sacred Passover meal.
While Judas then is working out with the scribes and the Pharisees and the Sadducees and the leaders how he might deliver the Lord into their hands, away from the great multitudes who love the Savior, while Judas was doing that, the disciples gathered in the upper room, and Judas, back with them, having made arrangements to betray Him.
As they are seated they begin to quarrel among themselves as to who would be greatest in the kingdom [Luke 22:24-30]. Apparently, the quarrel arose over their seating arrangement: who would be next to the Lord? Who would sit on His right hand and on His left hand? [Matthew 10:35-37]. And while they were quarreling over who would be greatest in that messianic kingdom that they expected to come down from God out of heaven [Luke 22:24], while they were quarreling, the Lord disrobed Himself [John 13:4]. I can tell you something that is universal: there is nothing more humbling to any man than to disrobe, nothing. He may be a great man and look the part dressed up; but when he’s undressed, somehow he’s just all the same. That’s a strange, humbling experience. The Lord disrobe Himself and He girt Himself with a towel, and pours water in a basin, and began to wash the disciples’ feet. The humblest of the assignments of a slave: washing feet, washing feet. If I knew how to do it, we would do that in our church. I just don’t know how. I think it would be one of the sweetest experiences any one of us could ever, could ever know, to wash one another’s feet. He washed feet; our Lord. You know, when He came to Simon, “No, Lord, You will never wash my feet.”
“If I wash thee not, you have no part with Me.”
Then Simon impetuously replied, “Lord, not my feet then, but my hands, my head, all over wash me, if I thus can belong to Thee” [John 13:4-9].
After the washing of feet, they assumed their places. And John, leaning over, asks through Peter, “Who is it, Lord, You say is betraying You?” And the Lord replies, just to John, “He to whom I give the sop.” And He took the bread and dipped it in the broth of the paschal lamb, and gave it to Judas Iscariot, and said to him, “What you do, do quickly.” And Judas went out. And the Bible says, “It was night” [John 13:21-30]. Isn’t that a strange observation? “And it was night.” It’s always night when we deny the Lord, when we cease to love and follow our blessed Lord, it is night. He went out into the night. And then the Lord’s memorial supper was instituted [1 Corinthians 11:26].
May I take just a moment to follow it to the end? After the institution of the supper, which I shall read in this moment that remains, after the institution of the supper, you have those discourses in John 14, 15, and 16, in the upper room. Then you have the high priestly prayer of our Lord, somewhere toward Gethsemane [John 17:1-26]. Then you have the agony of Gethsemane [Luke 22:41-44]. And while He is praying, Judas comes with that band of officers and leaders of the temple, and he kisses the Lord [Matthew 26:48-49; Mark 14:44-45; Luke 22:47-48]. All of us think that he kissed the Lord on His face. No, you did not kiss your Master like that. He kissed him, bowing, on His hand. “This is He. Seize Him, and take Him.” And they arrested the Lord Jesus that night, that night; took Him first to Annas, who he and his four sons bought the high priesthood, and at that time his son-in-law Caiaphas was high priest. They took Him first to Annas [John 18:13]. Then they took Him to Caiaphas and the Sanhedrin [John 18:24], who condemned Him to death; but not having the power to execute the sentence, they took Him to Pilate [John 18:28-29], and Pilate condemned Him to be crucified [John 18: 29-40], and they led Him away, nailed Him to a cross [Matthew 27:11-50; John 19:1-34]. I can’t believe, I can’t fathom, that He did that for you, for me, for us, the atoning Lamb of God for our sins, and there He died. And that is the memorial of the Lord’s Supper: “This do in remembrance of Me” [1 Corinthians 11:24, 25]. And Paul wrote it like this:
For I have received of the Lord that which also I delivered unto you, That the Lord Jesus the same night in which He was betrayed took bread:
And when He had given thanks, He brake it, and said, Take, eat: this is My body, which is broken for you: this do in remembrance of Me.
After the same manner also He took the cup, when He had supped, saying, This cup is the new covenant, the new promise, the new life, the new glory in My name: this do ye, as oft as ye drink it, in remembrance of Me.
For as often as you eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do show the Lord’s death till He come, till He come, till He come, till He come.
[1 Corinthians 11:23-26]
And that is our appeal: between now and the day that He comes, God has given us grace, given us an open door into His love and mercy, into His goodness, into His very presence and heaven. And that’s the appeal before we share in the memorial, that’s appeal to your heart tonight.
I’m going to be standing right there, on that side of the memorial table. And to give your heart to the Lord Jesus, or to put your life in the fellowship of our dear church, or to answer God’s call from heaven, come and stand by me. Make the decision now in your heart: “Pastor, God hath spoken to me tonight; and I’m on the way,” and when we stand in this moment to sing, on that first note of that first stanza, come. If you’re in the balcony, there’s time and to spare. On this press of people in the lower floor, there’s time and awaiting; come, I’ll be right there. Give me your hand. “Pastor, I’ve given my heart to Jesus, and I’m coming tonight,” or “I’m putting my life in the church,” or “I’m answering God’s call to my soul,” and may angels attend you in the way as you come, while we stand and while we sing.