Jesus’ time with His disciples was rapidly drawing to a close. But a few hours remained and they were to be spent for the benefit of His beloved disciples. This was the setting, and it was under these circumstances that Jesus initiated that very first communion service.
Jesus knew that in just a few hours he would make the supreme sacrifice. There were many things on Jesus’ heart that he longed to share with His disciples, but before He could say this meaningful good-by, he saw a need to prepare their hearts for the things he was about to say.
“Jesus knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that He was come from God, and went to God; he riseth from supper, and laid aside His garments; and took a towel, and girded Himself. After that he poureth water into a basin, and began to wash the disciples’ feet, and to wipe them with the towel wherewith he was girded.” John 13:3-5
These words are rich in meaning. When Jesus laid aside His garments that he might serve his disciples, it was not the first time he had done so. When Jesus was in heaven, he took the great step of condescension in laying aside His kingly robes, the robes of deity, and came down to this earth to be robed in the robes of a servant. Jesus laid aside His kingly robes, but more than that, he put on the vestments of human flesh, sharing in our human nature in the fullest sense.
Who was Jesus? Was he some created being? No, He was one with the Father. “For….his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace.” Isaiah 9:6. It was this everlasting Father who laid aside the robes of deity and came down to this earth, taking upon Himself the vestments of fallen human nature.
“But thou, Bethlehem Ephratah, though thou be little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of thee shall he come forth unto me that is to be ruler in Israel; whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting.” Micah 5:2. Jesus was everlasting, just as was His Father.
Paul also compared Him to Melchisedec, who was a type of Christ. “Without father, without mother, without descent, having neither beginning of days, nor end of life; but made like unto the Son of God; abideth a priest continually.” Hebrews 7:3. Paul is using this to say that Christ is without beginning of days—not a created being, but one with the Father.
In that upper room when Jesus laid aside His garments to serve, he was but demonstrating that which He had literally done in order to become one with us.
“Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: but made Himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men.” Philippians 2:5-7
Christ did not just look like a man. His humanity was not like a veneer or some costume that is put on the outside, but He was really made just like we are. That is what it means when we are told that He was made in the likeness of men—he partook of the same fallen, sinful nature.
We do not spend time enough contemplating the great step that Christ took when he became one with the human family. The Holy Spirit gives us glimpses, but we still see it as through a darkened glass, and even the clearest glimpses we see are nothing as compared to the glory He laid aside to come down to this earth. When we reach the kingdom of glory and we see unveiled all of the glory he laid aside to come down to this earth, then we will marvel.
“This was a voluntary sacrifice. Jesus might have remained at the Father’s side. He might have retained the glory of heaven, and the homage of the angels. But He chose to give back the scepter into the Father’s hands, and to step down from the throne of the universe, that he might bring light to the benighted, and life to the perishing. Nearly two thousand years ago, a voice of mysterious import was heard in heaven, from the throne of God, ‘Lo I come.’ ‘Sacrifice and offering Thou wouldst not, but a body hast Thou prepared Me….Lo, I come (In the volume of the book it is written of Me) to do Thy will, O God.’ Hebrews 10:5-7.In these words is announced the fulfillment of the purpose that had been hidden from eternal ages. Christ was about to visit our world, and to become incarnate. He say, ‘A body hast Thou prepared Me,’ had he appeared with the glory that was His with the Father before the world was, we could not have endured the light of His presence. That we might behold it and not be destroyed, the manifestation of His glory was shrouded. His divinity was veiled with humanity,—the invisible glory in the visible human form.” The Desire of Ages, 23.
Can you grasp it?
That night in the upper room, as Jesus was about to leave His disciples, though he knew he would see them again, he saw evidence that the devil was working among the brethren. There was strife among them as to who would be the greatest, and this pained the heart of Jesus. He had spent three and a half years with them, and yet, as he was preparing to leave this world, their minds were wrapped up in self. Somehow he had to get the message through to them that this was not the spirit which must be among those who would walk in his footsteps and finally enter the kingdom of heaven. Though he might have given them a very scathing rebuke, he laid aside the opportunity of using words and he set them an example. Taking the place of a servant, he began to wash His disciples’ feet. This demonstration had an effect that the most eloquent sermon Christ might have preached or the strongest rebuke could not have equaled.
“This action opened the eyes of the disciples. Bitter shame and humiliation filled their hearts. They understood the unspoken rebuke, and saw themselves in altogether a new light.” The Desire of Ages, 644. In other words, they saw themselves in the real light. They needed to see themselves in this light or else they were not qualified to enter into the Lord’s supper. Jesus saw that it was necessary that they receive this rebuke through His example to prepare their hearts, minds and spirits for what was to come next. Seeing the King of kings and Lord of lords condescend again to become a servant, broke their hearts.
“When Jesus girded himself with a towel to wash the dust from their feet, he desired by that very act to wash the alienation, jealousy, and pride from their hearts. This was of far more consequence than the washing of their dusty feet. With the spirit they then had, not one of them was prepared for communion with Christ. Until brought into a state of humility and love, they were not prepared to partake of the paschal supper, or to share in the memorial service which Christ was about to institute. Their hearts must be cleansed. Pride and self-seeking create dissension and hatred, but all this Jesus washed away in washing their feet. A change of feeling was brought about. Looking upon them, Jesus could say, ‘Ye are clean.’ Now there was union of heart, love for one another. They had become humble and teachable.” The Desire of Ages, 646
There cannot be unity among God’s people while there is a striving for supremacy and while pride and selfish ambition still lives in the heart. Though we may deny these things, placing over them a cover of piety and sincerity, the Lord sees through it all, and until we are cleansed from them, we are not prepared to take of the meaningful emblems.
As the disciples submitted to be cleansed through the means the Lord had provided, so must we.
“Like Peter and his brethren, we too have been washed in the blood of Christ, yet often through contact with evil the heart’s purity is soiled. We must come to Christ for his cleansing grace. Peter shrank from bringing his soiled feet in contact with the hands of his Lord and Master; but how often we bring our sinful, polluted hearts in contact with the heart of Christ. How grievous to Him is our evil temper, our vanity and pride. Yet, all our infirmity and defilement we must bring to Him. He alone can wash us clean. We are not prepared for communion with Him unless cleansed by His efficacy.” The Desire of Ages, 648,649
Having washed His disciples feet and prepared them for communion, He then gave them the following charge: “Ye call Me Master and Lord: and ye say well; for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Master, have washed your feet; ye also ought to wash one another’s feet.” John 13:13,14. This is the charge that the Lord has given to us as well—that we should wash one another’s feet just as He washed the disciples feet, thereby setting us an example.
“This ordinance is Christ’s appointed preparation for the sacramental service. While pride, variance, and strife for supremacy are cherished, the heart cannot enter into fellowship with Christ. We are not prepared to receive the communion of His body and His blood. Therefore it was that Jesus appointed the memorial of His humiliation to be first observed.
“As they come to this ordinance, the children of God should bring to remembrance the words of the Lord of life and glory: ‘Know ye what I have done to you? Ye call Me Master and Lord, and ye say well; for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Master, have washed your feet, ye also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that ye should do as I have done to you. Verily, verily, I say unto you, The servant is not greater than his lord; neither he that is sent greater than he that sent him. If ye know these things, happy are ye if ye do them.’ There is in man a disposition to esteem himself more highly than his brother, to work for self, to seek the highest place; and often this results in evil surmising and bitterness of spirit. The ordinance preceding the Lord’s supper, is to clear away these misunderstandings, to bring man out of his selfishness, down from his stilts of self-exaltation, to the humility of heart that will lead him to serve his brother.” The Desire of Ages, 650
The opportunity of serving one another, of following the example of Christ, is a very special one. Where there are differences, it is a time of making reconciliation, of putting things right, being brought into full unity with one another and with Christ, as we receive this very special cleansing.
When this service is completed, because we have faith in Jesus and believe by faith that we have been cleansed by Him, we are not to come around the table with mourning and solemness, even though it is a very sacred and solemn time. The Lord wants us to come with a spirit of thankfulness and rejoicing.
“But the communion service was not to be a season of sorrowing. This was not its purpose. As the Lord’s disciples gather about His table, they are not to remember and lament their shortcomings. They are not to dwell upon their past religious experience, whether that experience has been elevating or depressing. They are not to recall the differences between them and their brethren. The preparatory service has embraced all this. The self-examination, the confession of sin, the reconciling of differences, has all been done. Now they come to meet with Christ. They are not to stand in the shadow of the cross, but in its saving light. They are to open the soul to the bright beams of the Sun of Righteousness. With hearts cleansed by Christ’s most precious blood, in full consciousness of His presence, although unseen, they are to hear His words, ‘Peace I leave with you, My peace I give unto you; not as the world giveth, give I unto you.’ John 14:27.” The Desire of Ages, 659
You cannot buy that peace with a million dollars. It cannot be purchased with all the treasures of this earth; but the Lord Jesus Christ has given us that peace that passes all understanding, and we can rejoice in that peace as we come around the table and partake of the very precious emblems.
Jesus told His disciples that He would not drink of the fruit of the vine until He came for them, took them back to the kingdom of glory and sat down with them in heaven; then He would drink of the fruit of the vine again. Do you believe that Jesus is longing to drink of the fruit of the vine again? Not that He misses drinking grape juice, but He misses His faithful children and He is longing to gather them in that glad reunion that will take place when He comes. As we partake of the emblems He has given us, He wants us to look forward with rejoicing to that time, believing that through His grace, we have been forgiven and cleansed.
Remember that Jesus became a servant. He came to give Himself for us, linking Himself with us by ties that are never to be broken; He will retain His humanity forever. We are linked to the Deity, and He loves us because He not only laid down His life for us, but He has entered into the human experience. We are very precious and very special, and when He ascended to heaven, we meant everything to Him.
Jesus wanted assurance from the Father that through His efficacious sacrifice it would indeed be possible for Him to take His children into the kingdom of heaven so they could sit down with Him and drink again of the fruit of the vine. I like the way Ellen White portrays the scene in the very last chapter of The Desire of Ages.
“All heaven was waiting to welcome the Saviour to the celestial courts. As he ascended, He led the way, and the multitude of captives set free at His resurrection followed. The heavenly host, with shouts and acclamations of praise and celestial song, attended the joyous train.
“As they drew near to the city of God, the challenge is given by the escorting angels,—‘Lift up your heads, O ye gates; and be ye lift up, ye everlasting doors; and the King of Glory shall come in!’
“Joyfully the waiting sentinels respond, ‘Who is this King of Glory?’
“This they say, not because they know not who He is, but because they would hear the answer of exalted praise, ‘The Lord strong and mighty, the Lord mighty in battle! Lift up your heads, O ye gates; even lift them up, ye everlasting doors; and the King of Glory shall come in!’
“Again is heard the challenge, ‘Who is this King of Glory?’ for the angels never weary of hearing His name exalted. The escorting angels make reply, ‘The Lord of hosts; He is the King of Glory!’ Psalm 24:7-10.
“Then the portals of the city of God are opened wide, and the angelic throng sweep through the gates amid a burst of rapturous music.
“There is the throne, and around it the rainbow of promise. There are cherubim and seraphim. The commanders of the angel hosts, the sons of God, the representatives of the unfallen worlds, are assembled. The heavenly council before which Lucifer had accused God and His Son, the representatives of those sinless realms over which Satan had thought to establish his dominion,—all are there to welcome the Redeemer. They are eager to celebrate his triumph and to glorify their King. But he waves them back. Not yet; he cannot now receive the coronet of glory and the royal robe. He enters into the presence of His Father. He points to His wounded head, the pierced side, the marred feet; he lifts His hands, bearing the print of nails. He points to the tokens of His triumph; he presents to God the wave-sheaf, those raised with Him as representatives of that great multitude who shall come forth from the grave at His second coming. He approaches the Father, with whom there is joy over one sinner that repents; who rejoices over one with singing. Before the foundations of the earth were laid, the Father and the Son had united in a covenant to redeem man if he would be overcome by Satan. They had clasped their hands in a solemn pledge that Christ should become the surety for the human race. This pledge Christ has fulfilled. When upon the cross He cried out, ‘It is finished,’ he addressed the Father. The compact had been fully carried out. Now he declares, ‘Father, it is finished. I have done Thy will, O My God. I have completed the work of redemption. If Thy justice is satisfied, I will that they also, whom Thou hast given Me, be with Me where I am.’ John 19:30; 17:24.
“The voice of God is heard proclaiming that justice is satisfied. Satan is vanquished. Christ’s toiling, struggling ones on earth are ‘accepted in the Beloved.’ Ephesians 1:6. Before the heavenly angels and the representatives of unfallen worlds, they are declared justified. Where he is there his church shall be. ‘Mercy and truth are met together; righteousness and peace have kissed each other.’ Psalm 85:10. The Father’s arms encircle His Son, and the word is given, ‘Let all the angels of God worship Him.’ Hebrews 1:6.
“With joy unutterable, rulers and principalities and powers acknowledge the supremacy of the prince of life. The angel host prostrate themselves before Him, while the glad shout fills all the courts of heaven, ‘Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power, and riches, and wisdom, and strength, and honor, and glory, and blessing!’ Revelation 5:12” The Desire of Ages, 833-834
As we partake of the emblems of the communion service, let us do so looking forward to that time when Jesus will take us home and again we will sit with Him around the table. Once again, who will be the servant? It will be Jesus.
As the disciples in the upper room recognized that Jesus was the Son of God, though they had never seen his full glory, and yet marveled at His condescension, how will we marvel as there in heaven we see Him crowned. When we see the awesomeness and glory of Christ, the great God, and now, not withstanding all of this, He serves us again, little wonder we will cast our crowns at His feet, exclaiming before all the angels, “Worthy is the lamb that was slain, to receive power and riches and wisdom and strength, and honor, and glory, and blessing.” Revelation 5:12.