In these verses we have,
I. Christ’s eating the passover with his disciples, the night before he died, with the joys and comforts of which ordinance he prepared himself for his approaching sorrows, the full prospect of which did not indispose him for that solemnity. Note, No apprehension of trouble, come or coming, should put us by, or put us out of frame for, our attendance on holy ordinances, as we have opportunity for it.
1. Christ ate the passover at the usual time when the other Jews did, as Dr. Whitby had fully made out, and not, as Dr. Hammond would have it, the night before. It was on the first day of that feast, which (taking in all the eight days of the feast) was called, The feast of unleavened bread, even that day when they killed the passover, Mark 14:12.
2. He directed his disciples how to find the place where he intended to eat the passover; and hereby gave such another proof of his infallible knowledge of things distant and future (which to us seem altogether contingent), as he had given when he sent them for the ass on which he rode in triumph (Mark 11:6); “Go into the city (for the passover must be eaten in Jerusalem), and there shall meet you a man bearing a pitcher of water (a servant sent for water to clean the rooms in his master’s house); follow him, go in where he goes, enquire for his master, the good man of the house (Mark 14:14), and desire him to show you a room.” No doubt, the inhabitants of Jerusalem had rooms fitted up to be let out, for this occasion, to those that came out of the country to keep the passover, and one of those Christ made use of; not any friend’s house, nor any house he had formerly frequented, for then he would have said, “Go to such a friend,” or, “You know where we used to be, go thither and prepare.” Probably he went where he was not known, that he might be undisturbed with his disciples. Perhaps he notified it by a sign, to conceal it from Judas, that he might not know till he came to the place; and by such a sign to intimate that he will dwell in the clean heart, that is, washed as with pure water. Where he designs to come, a pitcher of water must go before him; see Isa. 1:16-18.
3. He ate the passover in an upper room furnished, estromenon—laid with carpets (so Dr. Hammond); it would seem to have been a very handsome dining-room. Christ was far from affecting any thing that looked stately in eating his common meals; on the contrary, he chose that which was homely, sat down on the grass: but, when he was to keep a sacred feast, in honour of that he would be at the expense of as good a room as he could get. God looks not at outward pomp, but he looks at the tokens and expressions of inward reverence for a divine institution, which, it is to be feared, those want, who, to save charges, deny themselves decencies in the worship of God.
4. He ate it with the twelve, who were his family, to teach those who have the charge of families, not only families of children, but families of servants, or families of scholars, or pupils, to keep up religion among them, and worship God with them. If Christ came with the twelve, then Judas was with them, though he was at this time contriving to betray his Master; and it is plain by what follows (Mark 14:20), that he was there: he did not absent himself, lest he could have been suspected; had his seat been empty at this feast, they would have said, as Saul of David, He is not clean, surely he is not clean, 1 Sam. 20:26. Hypocrites, though they know it is at their peril, yet crowd into special ordinances, to keep up their repute, and palliate their secret wickedness. Christ did not exclude him from the feast, though he knew his wickedness, for it was not as yet become public and scandalous. Christ, designing to put the keys of the kingdom of heaven into the hands of men, who can judge only according to outward appearance, would hereby both direct and encourage them in their admissions to his table, to be satisfied with a justifiable profession, because they cannot discern the root of bitterness till it springs up.
II. Christ’s discourse with his disciples, as they were eating the passover. It is probable that they had discourse, according to the custom of the feast, of the deliverance of Israel out of Egypt, and the preservation of the first-born, and were as pleasant as they used to be together on this occasion, till Christ told them that which would mix trembling with their joys.
1. They were pleasing themselves with the society of their Master; but he tells them that they must now presently lose him; The Son of man is betrayed; and they knew, for he had often told them, what followed—If he be betrayed, the next news you will hear of him, is, that he is crucified and slain; God hath determined it concerning him, and he agrees to it; The Son of man goes, as it is written of him, Mark 14:21. It was written in the counsels of God, and written in the prophecies of the Old Testament, not one jot or tittle of either of which can fall to the ground.
2. They were pleasing themselves with the society one of another, but Christ casts a damp upon the joy of that, by telling them, One of you that eateth with me shall betray me, Mark 14:18. Christ said this, if it might be, to startle the conscience of Judas, and to awaken him to repent of his wickedness, and to draw back (for it was not too late) from the brink of the pit. But for aught that appears, he who was most concerned in the warning, was least concerned at it. All the rest were affected with it. (1.) They began to be sorrowful. As the remembrance of our former falls into sin, so the fear of the like again, doth often much embitter the comfort of our spiritual feasts, and damp our joy. Here were the bitter herbs, with which this passover-feast was taken. (2.) They began to be suspicious of themselves; they said one by one, Isa. it I? And another said, Isa. it I? They are to be commended for their charity, that they were more jealous of themselves than of one another. It is the law of charity, to hope the best (1 Cor. 13:5-7), because we assuredly know, therefore we may justly suspect, more evil by ourselves than by our brethren. They are also to be commended for their acquiescence in what Christ said; they trusted more to his words than to their own hearts; and therefore do not say, “I am sure it is not I,” but, “Lord, is it I? see if there be such a way of wickedness in us, such a root of bitterness, and discover it to us, that we may pluck up that root, and stop up that way.”
Now, in answer to their enquiry, Christ saith that, [1.] Which would make them easy; “It is not you, or you; it is this that now dips with me in the dish; the adversary and enemy is this wicked Judas.” [2.] Which, one would think, should make Judas very uneasy. If he go on in his undertaking, it is upon the sword’s point, for woe to that many by whom the Son of man is betrayed; he is undone, for every undone; his sin will soon find him out; and it were better for him that he had never been born, and had never had a being than such a miserable one as he must have. It is very probable that Judas encouraged himself in it with this thought, that his Master had often said he must be betrayed; “And if it must be done, surely God will not find fault with him that doth it, for who hath resisted his will?” As that objector argues, Rom. 9:19. But Christ tells him that this will be no shelter or excuse to him; The Son of man indeed goes; as it is written of him, as a lamb to the slaughter; but woe to that man by whom he is betrayed. God’s decree to permit the sins of men, and bring glory to himself out of them, do neither necessitate their sins, nor determine to them, nor will they be any excuse of the sin, or mitigation of the punishment. Christ was delivered indeed by the determinate counsel and fore-knowledge of God; but, notwithstanding that, it is with wicked hands that he is crucified and slain, Acts 2:23.
III. The institution of the Lord’s supper.
1. It was instituted in the close of a supper, when they were sufficiently fed with the paschal lamb, to show that in the Lord’s supper there is no bodily repast intended; to preface it with such a thing, is to revive Moses again. But it is food for the soul only, and therefore a very little of that which is for the body, as much as will serve for a sign, is enough. It was at the close of the passover-supper, which by this was evangelized, and then superseded and set aside. Much of the doctrine and duty of the eucharist is illustrated to us by the law of the passover (Exod. 12:1-36); for the Old-Testament institutions, though they do not bind us, yet instruct us, by the help of a gospel-key to them. And these two ordinances lying here so near together, it may be good to compare them, and observe how much shorter and plainer the institution of the Lord’s supper is, than that of the passover was. Christ’s yoke is easy in comparison with that of the ceremonial law, and his ordinances are more spiritual.
2. It was instituted by the example of Christ himself; not with the ceremony and solemnity of a law, as the ordinance of baptism was, after Christ’s resurrection (Matt. 28:19), with, Be it enacted by the authority aforesaid, by a power given to Christ in heaven and on earth (Mark 14:18); but by the practice of our Master himself, because intended for those who are already his disciples, and taken into covenant with him: but it has the obligation of the law, and was intended to remain in full force, power, and virtue, till his second coming.
3. It was instituted with blessing and giving of thanks; the gifts of common providence are to be so received (1 Tim. 4:4, 5), much more than the gifts of special grace. He blessed (Mark 14:22), and gave thanks, Mark 14:23. At his other meals, he was wont to bless, and give thanks (Mark 6:41; 8:7) so remarkably, that he was known by it, Luke 24:30, 31. And he did the same at this meal.
4. It was instituted to be a memorial of his death; and therefore he broke the bread, to show how it pleased the Lord to bruise him; and he called the wine, which is the blood of the grape, the blood of the New Testament. The death Christ died was a bloody death, and frequent mention is made of the blood, the precious blood, as the pride of our redemption; for the blood is the life, and made atonement for the soul, Lev. 17:11-14. The pouring out of the blood was the most sensible indication of the pouring out of his soul, Isa. 53:12. Blood has a voice (Gen. 4:10); and therefore blood is so often mentioned, because it was to speak, Heb. 12:24. It is called the blood of the New Testament; for the covenant of grace became a testament, and of force by the death of Christ, the testator, Heb. 9:16. It is said to be shed for many, to justify many (Isa. 53:11), to bring many sons to glory, Heb. 2:10. It was sufficient for many, being of infinite value; it has been of use to many; we read of a great multitude which no man could number, that had all washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb (Rev. 7:9-14); and still it is a fountain opened. How comfortable is this to poor repenting sinners, that the blood of Christ is shed for many! And if for many, why not for me? If for sinners, sinners of the Gentiles, the chief of sinners, then why not for me?
5. It was instituted to be a ratification of the covenant made with us in him, and a sign of the conveyance of those benefits to us, which were purchased for us by his death; and therefore he broke the bread to them (Mark 14:22), and said, Take, eat of it: he gave the cup to them, and ordered them to drink of it, Mark 14:23. Apply the doctrine of Christ crucified to yourselves, and let it be meat and drink to your souls, strengthening, nourishing, and refreshing, to you, and the support and comfort of your spiritual life.
6. It was instituted with an eye to the happiness of heaven, and to be an earnest and fore-taste of that, and thereby to put our mouths out of taste for all the pleasures and delights of sense (Mark 14:25); I will drink no more of the fruit of the vine, as it is a bodily refreshment. I have done with it. No one, having tasted spiritual delights, straightway desires sensitive ones, for he saith, The spiritual is better (Luke 5:39); but every one that hath tasted spiritual delights, straightway desires eternal ones, for he saith, Those are better still; and therefore let me drink no more of the fruit of the vine, it is dead and flat to those that have been made to drink of the river of God’s pleasures; but, Lord, hasten the day, when I shall drink it new and fresh in the kingdom of God, where it shall be for ever new, and in perfection.
7. It was closed with a hymn, Mark 14:26. Though Christ was in the midst of his enemies, yet he did not, for fear of them, omit this sweet duty of singing psalms. Paul and Silas sang, when the prisoners heard them. This was an evangelical song, and gospel times are often spoken of in the Old Testament, as times of rejoicing, and praise is expressed by singing. This was Christ’s swan-like song, which he sung just before he entered upon his agony; probably, that which is usually sung, Ps. 113:1-118:29.
IV. Christ’s discourse with his disciples, as they were returning to Bethany by moonlight. When the had sung the hymn, presently they went out. It was now near bedtime, but our Lord Jesus had his heart so much upon his suffering, that he would not come into the tabernacle of his house, norgo up into his bed, nor give sleep to his eyes, when that work was to be done, Ps. 132:3, 4. The Israelites were forbidden to go out of their houses the night that they ate the passover, for fear of the sword of the destroying angel, Exod. 12:22, 23. But because Christ, the great shepherd, was to be smitten, he went out purposely to expose himself to the sword, as a champion; they evaded the destroyer, but Christ conquered him, and brought destructions to a perpetual end.
1. Christ here foretels that in his sufferings he should be deserted by all his disciples; “You will all be offended because of me, this night. I know you will (Mark 14:27), and what I tell you now, is no other than what the scripture has told you before; I will smite the shepherd, and then the sheep will be scattered.” Christ knew this before, and yet welcomed them at his table; he sees the falls and miscarriages of his disciples, and yet doth not refuse them. Nor should we be discouraged from coming to the Lord’s supper, by the fear of relapsing into sin afterward; but, the greater of our danger is, the more need we have to fortify ourselves by the diligent conscientious use of holy ordinances. Christ tells them that they would be offended in him, would begin to question whether he were the Messiah or no, when they saw him overpowered by his enemies. Hitherto, they had continued with him in his temptations; though they had sometimes offended him, yet they had not been offended in him, nor turned the back upon him; but now the storm would be so great, that they would all slip their anchors, and be in danger of shipwreck. Some trials are more particular (as Rev. 2:10; The devil shall cast some of you into prison); but others are more general, an hour of temptation, which shall come upon all the world, Rev. 3:10. The smiting of the shepherd is often the scattering of the sheep: magistrates, ministers, masters of families, if these are, as they should be, shepherds to those under their charge, when any thing comes amiss to them, the whole flock suffers for it, and is endangered by it.
But Christ encourages them with a promise that they shall rally again, shall return both to their duty and to their comfort (Mark 14:28); “After I am risen, I will gather you in from all the places wither you are scattered, Ezek. 34:12. I will go before you into Galilee, will see our friends, and enjoy one another there.”
2. He foretels that he should be denied particularly by Peter. When they went out to go to the mount of Olives, we may suppose that they dropped Judas (he stole away from them), whereupon the rest began to think highly of themselves, that they stuck to their Master, when Judas quitted him. But Christ tells them, that though they should be kept by his grace from Judas’s apostasy, yet they would have no reason to boast of their constancy. Note, Though God keeps us from being as bad as the worst, yet we may well be ashamed to think that we are not better than we are.
(1.) Peter is confident that he should not do so ill as the rest of his disciples (Mark 14:29); Though all should be offended, all his brethren here present, yet will not I. He supposes himself not only stronger than others, but so much stronger, as to be able to receive the shock of a temptation, and bear up against it, all alone; to stand, though nobody stood by him. It is bred in the bone with us, to think well of ourselves, and trust to our own hearts.
(2.) Christ tells him that he will do worse than any of them. They will all desert him, but he will deny him; not once, but thrice; and that presently; “This day, even this night before the cock crow twice, thou wilt deny that ever thou hadst any knowledge of me, or acquaintance with me, as one ashamed and afraid to own me.”
(3.) He stands to his promise; “If I should die with thee, I will not deny thee; I will adhere to thee, though it cost me my life:” and, no doubt, he thought as he said. Judas said nothing like this, when Christ told him he would betray him. He sinned by contrivance, Peter by surprise; he devised the wickedness (Mic. 2:1), Peter was overtaken in this fault, Gal. 6:1. It was ill done of Peter, to contradict his Master. If he had said, with fear and trembling, “Lord, give me grace to keep me from denying thee, lead me not into this temptation, deliver me from this evil,” it might have been prevented: but they were all thus confident; they who said, Lord, is it I? now said, It shall never be me. Being acquitted from their fear of betraying Christ, they were now secure. But he that thinks he stands, must learn to take heed lest he fall; and he that girdeth on the harness, not boast as though he had put it off.