Last week we talked about the ordinance of Baptism. In Baptism, we declare our death to sin and our new life in Christ Jesus. This week, we will see the theology of the Lord’s Supper. The Lord’s Supper is practiced in a variety of ways in our age. In the New Testament, the church would come together for worship. A meal was part of their worship and the Lord’s Supper would usually accompany or follow the meal (Acts 2:42, 46). So, after having communion among the body, they would together have communion with Christ as the body of Christ. In our belief statement we make this profession:
WE BELIEVE that the Lord Jesus Christ instituted two ordinances for the Church as outward, visible expressions of our faith (though our salvation is by grace, through faith, in Christ alone):
(a) full immersion water baptism of believers, and
(b) the Lord’s Supper
(Matthew 28:19; Luke 22:19-20; Acts 2:38; 1 Corinthians 11:23-26; Ephesians 2:8-9)
For those of us who were here last week (or who read the previous sermon), that belief statement seems very familiar. What is the Lord’s Supper? Why do we practice it? What does it mean? What sort of life does it encourage as we strive to live in Christ, having been regenerated and now being sanctified in Him?
1 Corinthians 11:23-34
For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: On the night when He was betrayed, the Lord Jesus took bread, gave thanks, broke it, and said, “This is My body, which is for you. Do this in remembrance of Me.”
In the same way, after supper He also took the cup and said, “This cup is the new covenant established by My blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.” For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes.
Therefore, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy way will be guilty of sin against the body and blood of the Lord. So a man should examine himself; in this way he should eat the bread and drink from the cup. For whoever eats and drinks without recognizing the body, eats and drinks judgment on himself. This is why many are sick and ill among you, and many have fallen asleep. If we were properly evaluating ourselves, we would not be judged, but when we are judged, we are disciplined by the Lord, so that we may not be condemned with the world.
Therefore, my brothers, when you come together to eat, wait for one another. If anyone is hungry, he should eat at home, so that when you gather together you will not come under judgment. And I will give instructions about the other matters whenever I come.
The bread (v. 23-24)
Not long ago, we were in Paul’s letter to the believers in Corinth. When we were in this letter, we were observing the basic identity and work of the Holy Spirit. We saw the context of unhealthiness in this particular local church. In this letter, Paul was addressing some very particular unhealthy habits. Because the church was practicing the Lord’s Supper in an unhealthy manner, Paul needed to define what the Lord’s Supper meant theologically and apply the theological truth of the Lord’s Supper to the life of the local church in Corinth. So, what we know about God through the ordinances of baptism and the Lord’s Supper have implications for all of life and ministry as we seek to be doers of the word and not hearers only and as we submit to God’s sanctifying work, being brought into maturity and made complete creatures in Christ. We get to benefit from this correction in the text of Scripture as we grow in our own understanding concerning exactly what the Lord’s Supper is and why it was a practice ordained by Christ before His walk down the Via Delarosa (name of the path Jesus took to the cross in Jerusalem, meaning “way of suffering”). Paul quotes Jesus as he writes to correct the Corinthian church reminding them that this instruction comes from Jesus and to do anything else is to live contrarily to the very words of Christ.
Before getting into this text, I want to provide some background concerning The Lord’s Supper. It was ordained during Passover (Matthew 26:17, 27-28, Mark 14:1, 22-23, Luke 22:1, 19-20). Passover was a feast holiday on which the Jews celebrated God delivering them from bondage in Egypt (Exodus 12:14-17). According to God, Passover was to be practiced as a permanent statute (Ex. 12:17). Jesus reinstituted this celebration as the Lord’s Supper for those no longer under the Law but under grace. So, we observe this new Passover meal in celebration of Christ’s delivering us from the bondage of our sin. The symbolism of Passover cannot be rightly ignored. According to Jesus, the wine represented His blood and the fulfillment of God’s covenant (Matthew 26:28). In the shedding of His blood, the sins of people under the Law were forgiven and the righteousness of Christ made available to the covenant spiritual people of God. Those who are in Christ, covered by His blood, are free from sin and no longer in bondage to their own unrighteousness. We saw this symbolized in the ordinance of Baptism last week. So, there is a direct correlation between baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Baptism represents regeneration. The Lord’s Supper represents the ongoing process of sanctification, the constant killing of sin, as we are built into complete creatures.
On the night when He was betrayed, the Lord Jesus took bread, gave thanks, broke it, and said, “This is My body, which is for you. Do this in remembrance of Me.”
When we read Paul’s description of the event, we notice a few things about the first element. Firstly, bread was broken (presumably from a single loaf). Secondly, the bread is described by Christ as His own body. Thirdly, when we partake of the communion bread, we do so in remembrance of Jesus. I want to consider carefully the theology and implications of the bread symbolism.
First, each piece was taken from a single loaf. The bread was literally broken by Jesus and handed around the table. Jesus Christ’s body was singular. Jesus’ body would be broken in the crucifixion.
Second, the bread is described as Christ’s body. As we take the broken body of Jesus, as we hold it in our hands, as we place it in our mouths, and as we consume it, we are partaking with Christ in His crucifixion. His sacrificed body is our sustenance. As we partake in Christ’s body, we show that we are the singular body of Christ having communion together as we partake in Christ Himself. So, Christ is present at the table with us. He is present in the elements, though we are not literally eating His flesh.
Third, when we consume the bread in holy communion with Jesus, we do so in remembrance of Him. As the bread is broken, we remember our sin. We remember that we were slaves to our unrighteousness nature. We remember that Jesus was crushed for our transgressions. We remember that He won our freedom by becoming the perfect sacrificial lamb. Our sin was placed on Jesus. His body was broken. This is the image that a literal breaking of the bread from one loaf elicits. This is the image we bear in mind.
The cup (v. 25-26)
Paul continued to explain the simple truth of the Lord’s Supper as instituted by Jesus during Passover.
In the same way, after supper He also took the cup and said, “This cup is the new covenant established by My blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.”
We were washed by Christ’s blood. This is the new covenant. The new covenant does not eliminate the old, but it is its fulfillment. The old covenant is meant to increase the trespass and reveal our unrighteousness (Deuteronomy 31:26, Galatians 3:19, Romans 5:20-21) while the new covenant is meant to forgive sin and bring us into Christ’s righteousness alone. Christ’s blood washes our sin away and by drinking of the fruit of the vine, we signify our partaking together in the righteousness of Christ alone because we cannot become righteous. The old covenant revealed that about us!
It is no accident that Jesus used wine to symbolize and communicate this truth. As I was preparing, I was trying to think of a good illustration. The Lord’s Supper is the illustration! Wine is His illustration of His own cleansing work through the shedding of His own blood for the good of His covenant spiritual people. Consider Christ’s first miracle, the turning of the water into wine at Cana in John 2:1-11,
On the third day a wedding took place in Cana of Galilee. Jesus’s mother was there, and Jesus and his disciples were invited to the wedding as well. When the wine ran out, Jesus’s mother told him, “They don’t have any wine.”
“What does that have to do with you and me, woman? ” Jesus asked. “My hour has not yet come.”
“Do whatever he tells you,” his mother told the servants.
Now six stone water jars had been set there for Jewish purification. Each contained twenty or thirty gallons.
“Fill the jars with water,” Jesus told them.
So they filled them to the brim.
Then he said to them, “Now draw some out and take it to the headwaiter.”
And they did. When the headwaiter tasted the water (after it had become wine), he did not know where it came from — though the servants who had drawn the water knew. He called the groom and told him, “Everyone sets out the fine wine first, then, after people are drunk, the inferior. But you have kept the fine wine until now.”
Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee. He revealed his glory, and his disciples believed in him.
Notice the intentional symbolism as Jesus instructed the servants to bring Him the jars reserved for ritual purification (hand or feet washing). He instructs the servants to fill the basins with water (meant for outward washing, the old covenant). Jesus transformed the water into fine wine (pleasing to the palette and a symbol of inward cleansing, the new covenant). When He did this, his disciples recognized His glory. During Passover, Jesus made it very clear that the cup is the new covenant of grace. This is so intentional. The alcoholic aspect of the Lord’s Supper is of great theological importance. It symbolizes our freedom from the law of works, under which we were dead. Do you see how the pieces fit together? We are not instructed to have wine. Neither are we restricted from wine. We are instructed to use the fruit of the vine. That’s not my point. Do you recognize the great theological significance?
The wine is a purifying agent. When we take the cup, we are reminded of our deep sin and our total depravity and our utter unrighteousness. As we feel the wine trickling down, with its unsweetened and unmasked bitterness, we are led to confess our sin before God who cleanses us and frees us. The wine leads us again to kill our sin as it is washed away and we feel that bitter, but oh so satisfying cleansing as we forsake the things we loved so much so that we may be presented as holy before our God who takes pleasure in us according to His own will. When we partake of the fruit of the vine, we partake again in the cleansing power of Jesus’s perfect substitutionary sacrifice. We do not water it down. We partake in the bitterness of Christ’s sacrifice for our good and God’s glory alone.
This we do in remembrance of Jesus Christ.
If this is what is accomplished in the practice of the Lord’s Supper, I wonder if this ordinance is largely undervalued in the modern church. Baptism is a sign of regeneration. The Lord’s Supper is the continuing sign of sanctification until we have the fulness of fellowship with Christ in His direct presence as we sit as His table.
When Jesus sat with His disciples to have this meal, He said, “I will not eat it again until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God… I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes” (Luke 22:16, 18, Matthew 26:29). While we are still being sanctified, we observe this meal as regularly as possible signifying our longing to be delivered completely from the oppression of our own unrighteousness. When we have this meal with Christ at the full coming of His kingdom, our sanctification will be complete. Every time we partake of this meal, it is both a confession of sin and a resolve to kill that sin. This is the reason Christ’s body was broken and His blood spilled and we are participating with Him in the cross as we come to His table.
If the Lord’s Supper has this sort of symbolism wrapped up in it being practiced and if it is this important, how often should we observe it and in what sort of context? There is no explicit instruction in Scripture on how often this ordinance is to be practiced, only that as often as we observe it we proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes (v. 25-26). So, there is implicit freedom for each local church body to choose how often or even how regularly the Lord’s Supper will be practiced. It seems to me that if the Lord’s Supper is as important as it has been described in the text, our observance of the ordinance should probably be more frequent than never. It also seems to me that the more often it is practiced, the better. The setting, it seems, would need to be during our gathering together as the church body.
Who can rightly observe this ordinance? Because the Lord’s Supper specifically represents our ongoing sanctification in Christ and our being brought into the righteousness of Christ by the killing off of our sin, there are two groups of people who should not partake of the Lord’s Supper. First, those people who do not know Jesus and who do not have regenerate hearts. If we have not experienced conversion and if we have not been given a new nature, if we have not died to self and come to life in Christ as represented by Baptism, then we are not being sanctified. It is, in this case, impossible for us to be killing sin and growing into maturity because we are still desperately enslaved to our own nature, our unrighteousness. Second, those people who are living in their sin and are unrepentant. Last week we observed, in the text, that those who are able to enter the kingdom of heaven bear fruit consistent with repentance (Matthew 3:8). In Matthew 7:17-20 we saw that good trees bear good fruit and are unable to bear bad fruit; bad trees similarly produce bad fruit and are unable to produce good fruit. If you are living unrepentantly in sin, the Scriptures would actually testify that you are not in Christ and that it is because you are not in Christ you are unable to produce fruit that is consistent with repentance. There is only one category, here, and not two. Those who are not in Christ and thus not bearing fruit consistent with repentance should not partake of the Lord’s Supper because they are not participants in the good and profitable sanctification of Christ by the Holy Spirit.
As a clarification, I have to remind us that one sin does not make us unrepentant sinners. Living in sin does. If we cannot claim victory over sin, then we are living in sin. If every problem we have is always everyone else’s fault or we find ourselves trying to justify our nature or the person we once were, then we are living in sin. We prove by the presence or absence of these things that we have either died to self and have been raised to life with Christ or not.
The body of Christ with Christ (v. 27-34)
So, we partake of the Lord’s Supper as the body of Christ submitting to the work of Christ in our sanctification, our growth in maturity and our being brought to completeness by the cleansing power of Jesus shed blood.
There is a danger present in this text, and the Corinthian church fell prey to this danger.
“So then, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sin against the body and blood of the Lord. Let a person examine himself; in this way let him eat the bread and drink from the cup. For whoever eats and drinks without recognizing the body, eats and drinks judgment on himself. This is why many are sick and ill among you, and many have fallen asleep. If we were properly judging ourselves, we would not be judged, but when we are judged by the Lord, we are disciplined, so that we may not be condemned with the world. Therefore, my brothers and sisters, when you come together to eat, welcome one another. If anyone is hungry, he should eat at home, so that when you gather together you will not come under judgment. I will give instructions about the other matters whenever I come” (v.27-34).
There is a very popular misinterpretation of this portion of the text. It goes something like, “If you partake and are not saved or if you have sinned and have not asked for God’s forgiveness concerning that particular sin, you are eating or drinking condemnation on yourself!” That is works based righteousness and it is not at all what the text indicates. Look at the context.
One part of the body was neglecting another part of the body. They were concerned with their own pleasure and satisfaction and position rather than the good of the rest of the congregation. There is a place for self-evaluation and discipline in the context of the Lord’s Supper. Our instruction is to take care of the body and be killing sin.
This is why a huge part of what it means to be a church body is to deal with sin. Sadly, it is the part most often neglected because we care too much about simply making people want to stay or visit again or be catered to so they give more. What does that sort of mentality profit anyone? What we do as the body of Christ has eternal significance. So, we reflect on our insufficiencies and on salvation by grace alone. This is why we must confront sinfulness with urgency and in love- interested in the good of our brothers. This is why we must practice right church discipline. As sin is being killed, we are being brought into the fullness of Christ. We are not just interested in saying whatever it takes to get people in the doors. We want to see you claim true, everlasting victory over your sin. We want to see you come out of the oppression of your unrighteousness to dwell more fully in the grace and righteousness and glory of God our Father! This is the direct application of the instruction we receive to observe the Lord’s Supper, God is sanctifying His people for their good and His glory alone.
We desire that everything we do reflect the glory of God and exalt Jesus Christ. We do not want to be guilty of doing anything merely according to our preferences, following our human traditions, or by trying to fit ourselves into some human definition of progress. The only progress we desire is our growing closer with our Lord through His sanctification so that we might be complete creatures.