The Last Supper was meaningful to the disciples not just because it was their last meal with Jesus before his crucifixion, but because Jesus dropped two bombshells that changed everything.
In the same way, after the supper Jesus took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you. Luke 22:20
When Jesus says, “This cup . . .” the disciples should have stopped him and said, “Jesus, we know what the cup represents, we’ve been celebrating it for 1500 years now, let’s not change the script.” But before they could, Jesus finishes his statement and says, “This cup is the new covenant.”
Now, we don’t really have context for what the word covenant meant to first century Jews, but it meant everything. Covenant was the agreement that God made with the Israelites on Mt Sinai when God gave the 10 Commandments. The covenant God made with Israel on Mt. Sinai had guided their relationship with God and the world for the last 1500 years, and now Jesus is saying that something brand new is coming.
Now, the way you would ratify an ancient covenant would be through the spilling of blood. You would kill an animal and slice it in half, and then the parties making the covenant would walk through the two halves of the animal. By walking through the two halves of the animal they were saying, “May my fate be like this poor dead animal if I break this covenant.”
The blood of animals was used to seal a covenant. But an animal wouldn’t spill its blood for this covenant. Jesus said this covenant would be sealed with his own blood. All the way back at the beginning of his ministry, when John the Baptist baptized Jesus at the Jordan River, John gave the crowds a preview of what Jesus was coming to do.
The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” John 1:29
So, Jesus just dropped that bombshell in front of the disciples: after 1500 years, the Passover would now be celebrated because of him, and oh by the way, God was establishing a covenant with Israel, that Jesus would secure by his own blood, and oh by the way, this covenant wouldn’t just be for Israel. This covenant would be for the entire world.
Bombshell #1: A new covenant.
But it wasn’t just a new covenant, it was a new type of covenant. Think about it as the difference between being a spouse and being a parent. When you marry someone, you make a covenant with someone and they make the same to you. It’s a covenant between equals, but as we know too often, it’s a covenant that either side can back out of.
A different type of covenant is between a parent and a child. Parents, the first time you hold your child, they capture your heart and you vow to love them the rest of your life. They didn’t do anything to deserve it. You don’t love your kids because they’re good, you love your kids because they’re yours.
The old covenant was a conditional covenant: I will if you will. If you obey, I will protect you. If you disobey, all bets are off. He made it very clear. He gave them commandments. We normally think of the big ten, the 10 Commandments, but in all there were over 600 commandments the Jews had to keep. If they obeyed, God would protect them. If they didn’t, God would punish them. It was a conditional covenant.
This new covenant Jesus was about to institute would be an unconditional covenant, like a parent with a child. It doesn’t matter how amazing or how awful your kid is, you’ll always love them because they’re always yours. This new covenant would be an unconditional covenant, where Jesus secured freedom for all who would believe. He wouldn’t need to do it over and over and over again. He did it once and for all. That’s why we celebrate the cross and the empty tomb. Jesus accomplished once and for all what we never could!
As great as all of that is, this next part is even better, because with a new covenant Jesus gives them a new command. And this new command will free many of you from what has made religion, even Christianity, so frustrating. Here’s what John records:
“My children, I will be with you only a little longer. You will look for me, and just as I told the Jews, so I tell you now: Where I am going, you cannot come. A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” John 13:33-35
That’s it. Jesus didn’t give his disciples 600 new commandments, he didn’t even give them 10 new commandments. In fact, the command to love each other wasn’t really new. So, what’s the big deal? Well, in the previous covenant with Israel that Jesus had come to fulfill and replace, the 600+ commandments were how you kept on God’s good side. It’s how you ensured that He would protect you and bless your crops and expand the borders of the nation. It was a conditional covenant: if they obeyed, God would bless them. If they didn’t, God would curse them.
If you read the Old Testament, and I hope you do because it’s a fascinating history of God’s interaction with humanity before Jesus, you’ll discover that humans, even religious ones, have a really bad track record of obeying God. No matter how hard we try, we can’t. We can’t be good all the time. We can’t be good enough on our own to stay on God’s good side.
And for some of you, that’s what’s made religion, even Christianity so exhausting. You try your best to do what you’re supposed to do. You try to get up every morning and read your Bible, you pray as often as you can, you stay away from bad stuff and bad people, you try your hardest to be nice to your family all the time. You come to church every time the doors are open, you give to the church and go on mission trips, all trying to stay on God’s good side. You assume that if you obey enough, if you work hard enough, God will bless you and protect you. The problem is, working to stay in God’s good graces is exhausting. Religion is absolutely exhausting. And at the end of the day, you’re still not going to be good enough.
So, Jesus unveils this new covenant with not ten new commandments but only one new commandment: love each other.
Bombshell #2: A new command.
What’s fascinating is that this one new commandment has nothing to do with God. It has to do with each other. Did you catch that? If Jesus was introducing a new religion you would expect him to give in fine detail exactly all things we should do to earn God’s favor and blessing. How much are we supposed to pray? How much are we supposed to read our Bibles? How much do we have to go to church? How much money are we supposed to give back to God? Is it really 10% or is there a loophole in there somewhere?
The disciples wanted to know, just like we want to know: how can we be made right with God? How can we earn God’s favor? What do we need to do? Jesus gives them the one commandment and it doesn’t even mention anything about God. Jesus would say: you’re missing the whole point. I’m taking care of everything between you and God. I’m the sacrifice, once-and-for-all. Once I do what I’m about to do, you’ll never have to worry about being good enough for God again. I’ve done the hard work. I’ll make the sacrifice. Just believe in me!
So why did Jesus give his disciples only one commandment, which had nothing to do with God, but with each other? Because Jesus was trying to get his disciples to understand, “Don’t worry about your relationship with God. Don’t worry about obeying God to earn His favor or blessing. I’ve got you covered. Don’t worry about your relationship with God. You’re good! Go love each other.”
Wow! What a message. If you read the New Testament letters, you’ll discover that early Christians struggled with this revolutionary concept. If you read the book of Galatians, it’s the Apostle Paul reminding Christians that they don’t have to earn God’s favor anymore. Jesus took care of that! You can’t earn God’s favor any more than you can earn salvation.
Jesus took care of it all! Don’t worry about your relationship with God. You and God are good through Jesus! Love each other.