He didn’t choose the lamb

There is a wonderful tie-up between Passover and the Lord’s Supper—the whole Exodus is God’s giant illustration, painted in real time and history, of what Jesus’ salvation is like. It’s all there, especially in the Passover—deliverance from slavery, sheltering under the blood of the perfect lamb slain so that judgment would fall on the lamb not on God’s people, the cups of wine symbolising aspects of redemption, etc.. Yet as a preacher, preaching through Exodus and observing the Lord’s Supper when we studied the Passover, I found myself wondering why did the Lamb not choose the lamb to make his point when he instituted the Lord’s Supper at a Passover meal? Why bread?

It seemed as if it would have been so much clearer: “Behold the Lamb of God which takes away the sins of the world”, “Not one of his bones shall be broken”, the parallel of judgment falling on the lamb, during darkness, so that the people’s sins would be atoned for and they could go free. It was all there. The lamb had been on the table for the Passover meal. It wasn’t as if Jesus suddenly thought up the idea of a sacrament to ‘remember his death until he comes’ at the last moment and found the lamb was already finished.

So why did he not choose the lamb? All the symbolism was there. The lamb was there. But he chose the bread. Or more particularly he didn’t choose the lamb. I grant that bread has a lot of history and symbolism in scripture too, but this seems more deliberate. Why?

The answer came in a off the cuff comment from the speaker at a ministers’ conference. He mentioned the Lord’s Supper and said in passing “He takes the bread because there would be no more sacrifice.” The scales fell from my eyes—maybe you had figured this out!—but I was so surprised by it and its wider implications I accidently let out a long loud whistle as I exhaled in surprise!

Think of it. He could have chosen the lamb, but he didn’t choose the lamb, because he wanted it to be clear to us that there was no more shedding of blood required. That this was a never-to-be-repeated sacrifice. This was a once-for-all sacrifice.

For all the symbolism of the lamb already established, there was a greater, more significant over-riding factor. And that had to be made clear: No more sacrifice, no more death for sins.

How significant to the believer to remember at the table—He didn’t choose the lamb, because there would be no more bloodshed, even in remembrance. That’s how final his sacrifice is. That’s how complete his forgiveness is. All the ugly work of death and substitution has been done. No more! It is finished!

But more than that: I live and work in Ireland, where most of my neighbours and friends are from a Catholic background. It was through this lens too I saw the implications. That’s what struck me the most and why I was so surprised—what had been a minor theological puzzle (why the bread, not the lamb), now fitted into a much bigger apologetic picture. Surely Jesus’ deliberate eschewal of the lamb and choice of the bread speaks into the age-long debate about the Mass. If Jesus had wanted it to be understood as a sacrifice all he had to do was choose the lamb. But he didn’t.

 

26 Comments

  1. Jeremy Sarber December 3, 2016 at 10:25 am #

    A couple of years ago, I preached about the Lord’s Supper and the same thought occurred to me. Why not the lamb? It was right there on the table. What a perfect representation of the Lamb.

    “There would be no more sacrifice.”

    It’s just that simple. Thank you for sharing this insight, brother.

    • Mark Loughridge December 3, 2016 at 5:34 pm #

      ’tis that simple indeed!

      Thanks Jeremy

    • Andrew McQuillan December 5, 2016 at 1:29 pm #

      Simple and profound. I had never really thought about it in that way before but it is a beautiful emphasis on the “one sacrifice for sins forever”. I really enjoyed this thought and it gives a new appreciation of the breaking of bread! Thank you!

  2. Steve December 5, 2016 at 7:09 am #

    Does the same logic explain why Jesus died on Passover, not on the Day of Atonement?
    That is the question that has made me scratch my head at times.

    • Sandra December 6, 2016 at 7:30 am #

      This is such a great post! I’ve often heard preachers speak on the significance of the ‘bread’ and its links to ‘life’, – not least that long before the Upper Room, Jesus had said he is the ‘bread of life’ -, and this post just brought it all together – the Passover was not just about rescue from death (and what was required for that in the lamb sacrifice), but also the entry into new life. He didn’t even choose the lamb to represent his shed blood – he chose the wine. Our focus is meant to be on more than the cross, its meant to be on the resurrection too and we don’t keep that emphasis enough. Like the butterfly, it is true, is a caterpillar that ‘died’, but it lives as a total new identity with a new life. There is no butterfly without a caterpillar death, but though we are aware of it, a caterpillar death is not primarily on our mind when we watch a butterfly. Though the caterpillar, lamb, and cross are important, our focus is meant to be more on the butterfly, the bread, the resurrection and the new life. And its that new life in Christ that is to be our primary source and goal.

      • Mark Loughridge December 6, 2016 at 8:02 am #

        Hi Sandra,

        I agree that we don’t focus enough on the resurrection. Spurgeon made it a cornerstone of his preaching. Yet we are to preach Christ crucified (which I understand to be shorthand for the whole package of life, death, resurrected and ascended; yet nevertheless it is ‘crucified’ that is highlighted). So I would agree wholeheartedly with “Our focus is meant to be on more than< the cross" but want to be careful with "our focus is meant to be more on the butterfly, the bread, the resurrection”

        We certainly need more focus on the resurrection. But overall our focus must be on the entire life/death/resurrection/ascension event.

        Blessings and thanks for the reminder!

    • Mark Loughridge December 6, 2016 at 7:55 am #

      Hi Steve

      Another question to scratch the head on! I’m not sure the same argument holds – both days are days of bloody sacrifice. So that can’t be the determining factor. Only one, though, has a personal commemorative aspect–i.e. the Passover. Perhaps that made it much more suitable at which to institute the Lord’s Supper at.

      But your question is “Why die at Passover and not on the Day of Atonement?” Here’s some initial thoughts:

      The symbolism is in multiple layers at Passover with it’s origins in Exodus: the redemption from slavery, the darkness of judgment, the sheltering under the blood of the perfect lamb, the building of the tabernacle (think of the curtain being torn), the beginning of the journey to the promised land etc..

      That multi-layeredness gives the Passover a richer significance that looms large in the mind. The Crucifixion happening at Passover anchors it in that story which is much wider than atonement/forgiveness. It is the storyline of complete redemption, rescue, setting apart of a holy people, the journey home. Could we say Passover captures more?

      Just a few thoughts…

  3. Foppe VanderZwaag December 5, 2016 at 10:20 am #

    Beautifully simple. Thanks. Same reason why now (water) baptism instead of (blood) circumcision!

  4. Herman Grobler December 6, 2016 at 1:35 am #

    Thank you Mark for this clear and simple explanation of such an important aspect. I thoroughly enjoyed it .
    God bless

    • Mark Loughridge December 6, 2016 at 9:23 am #

      Thanks Herman

  5. Lane January 6, 2017 at 12:24 pm #

    That’s a great insight which I haven’t noticed before. Yes, Jesus could have chosen the lamb, however He is the lamb. He is the final sacrifice.

    However, as a Catholic, I don’t really understand your apologetics angle at the end of the article. You say: “If Jesus had wanted it to be understood as a sacrifice all he had to do was choose the lamb. But he didn’t.” Right, however Jesus is the sacrifice and the last supper is Jesus as the High Priest offering himself as the Lamb who takes away the sins of the world. Jesus even says: “‘This is my body which is given for you.” But Jesus hasn’t died yet, His body hasn’t been given up yet. His death the next day is the completion of the sacrifice the High Priest started during the Last Supper, otherwise His death isn’t a sacrifice but simply an execution.

    But I thought Protestants view the crucifixion as a sacrifice, so I’m a little confused at your statement. Catholics don’t sacrifice a lamb, or use a lamb during the mass. Obviously, we use bread and wine like Jesus did, like most Protestants do during their Lord’s Supper.

    I assume the problem you see isn’t simply the belief in the real presence of Jesus in the sacrament, since sacramentally minded non-Catholics share similar beliefs: Eastern Orthodox, Anglicans, and Lutherans (to lesser degree Presbyterians).

    Do you think that Catholics think we are re-sacrificing Jesus? We do speak of the mass in sacrificial terms, but we aren’t re-sacrificing Jesus. He isn’t suffering and dying again – how would we even do that? Jesus is God. God is eternal. Jesus’ sacrificial act is an eternal act, which is presented to us, made present to us. We weren’t there when Jesus sacrificed Himself. The mass is us being brought to the once for all sacrifice and partaking in it. The Eternal and the temporal being brought together in the mass, the divine and the human, Jesus Himself, and Jesus and us by partaking in the true bread come down from heaven. This is what we believe.

    • Andrew Kerr January 7, 2017 at 11:44 am #

      Interesting Lane, and thank you for clearing that up. But, on the other hand, is the Roman position on the sacrifice of Jesus more complex than that – does it not have to do with the heavenly representation of the sacrifice of Christ? Or is there a more subtle distinction I am missing.

      • Lane January 7, 2017 at 6:51 pm #

        There are entire books reflecting on the mystery of Eucharist. Are there specific aspects you find in serious error? And how would correct them?

        • Mark Loughridge January 21, 2017 at 8:06 am #

          Hi Lane,
          Thanks for your interaction. Sorry for not replying – things have been a little busy of late – and I’ve been away from my desk.

          Yes, Jesus’ death is a sacrifice. But the last supper isn’t a sacrifice. I would add a word to your sentence: “the last supper is Jesus as High Priest symbolizing offering himself as the Lamb”

          It is not the sacrifice, otherwise he would not have needed to have been crucified. I cannot see any data that allows us to see the last supper as a sacrifice. Hence my whole point—that if he had wanted it, and all subsequent iterations of it, to be construed as a sacrifice, he would surely have used the lamb.

          I understand that you aren’t re-sacrificing Christ. But there is a sense in which the Mass is a repeating of the sacrifice—or a re-presenting of the sacrifice as sacrifice to the people. Therein lies our difference. I think you allude to as much in your last paragraph—“The mass is us being brought to the once for all sacrifice and us participating in it”. Therein lies the crux of my problem. We are united to Christ-in-his-death in faith, not by participation in the Lord’s Supper. It is not a sacrifice, and contains no salvific content/power. My participation in Christ’s death is by looking in faith to his death, believing that it was for me—not by taking part in the Lord’s Supper, which is what your sentence seems to imply.

          It is absolutely true that Christ is really present to bless, feed and nourish his people at the Lord’s Supper. But that is not because we are somehow directly participating in his death, but because we are remembering his death, and looking to him in faith to bless us because of his death.

          That probably raises as many questions/rebuttals as if answers!

          Blessings

          mark

          • Lane January 23, 2017 at 4:03 pm #

            Real quick, I don’t have a ton of time.

            I think the last supper is clearly connected the sacrifice. It is on the Passover. Christ is the Passover Lamb. You said we are feed and nourished by the Lord’s Supper. In John 6, Christ says He is the bread of heaven that feeds and nourishes us onto eternal life. Christ refers to His body during the last supper. Even saying that it is given up for you, sacrificial language.

            I think it is a huge stretch to try to disconnect the sacrifice from the last supper. It seems obvious.

          • Mark Loughridge January 23, 2017 at 5:56 pm #

            Hi Lane

            Thanks for your response. I wonder if we are talking past each other slightly. Maybe I am not making my point as clearly, or maybe I’m misunderstanding you. Let me try to clarify!

            I am not arguing that LS is disconnected from the events at Calvary.
            I understood you to be saying that the LS is more than connected to the sacrifice–that it is in some sense part of the sacrifice.
            This I deny.

            I am saying that the LS is not a sacrifice–it illustrates one–but it is not one.
            I believe that the LS symbolises/illustrates Christ’s death–but it is not in any way salvific.
            It is a looking back to something that has happened. Not a taking part in some perpetual on-going sacrificial event.

            I hope these sentences do not come across as terse–I am trying to state my point succinctly for clarity’s sake.

          • Lane January 23, 2017 at 8:21 pm #

            You have been polite.

            You say “It is a looking back to something that has happened. Not a taking part in some perpetual on-going sacrificial event.”

            But doesn’t St. Paul say in 1 Cor 10:16:
            The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ?

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