Why We Eat the Lord's Supper, Part 2
We believe that the Lord Jesus has commanded the church to observe two ordinances. One is baptism, which is unrepeated and signifies the beginning of life in Christ by symbolically burying a believer in water and raising him up again to signify new life in Christ. And the other is the Lord's Supper, which is repeated and signifies . . . What? That is what last week's message and this week's message are about.
I call them "ordinances" rather than using the word "sacraments." By ordinances I simply mean that they were especially "ordained" or instituted by Christ. The reason I avoid the word "sacraments" is that it tends to carry connotations that I don't believe are Biblical. Let me read a few sentences from a dictionary of theology to show what I mean:
The [Latin word] sacramentum meant both "a thing set apart as sacred," and "a military oath of obedience as administered by the commander." The use of this word for baptism and the Lord's Supper affected the thought about these rites, and they tended to be regarded as conveying "grace" in themselves, rather than as relating men through faith to Christ.1
The problem is in how grace is mediated to the recipient. The use of the word "sacrament" leans toward treating the bread and cup, when duly consecrated by a priest, as mediating grace to the recipient in and of the bread and wine themselves more materially, not spiritually through faith. But the use of the word "ordinance" - at least the way I am using it - leans toward treating the bread and the cup as means of helping the recipient to feed his soul on Christ spiritually, by faith, and in this way appropriate grace.2
Someone asked me, "Do believers receive an extra or a special grace by eating the Lord's Supper?" Let me try to answer that in a moment in the right place as I give you a very brief review.
"This Is My Body"; "This Is My Blood"
I gave three Biblical meanings of Jesus' words, "This is my body," and "This is my blood." So I will restate those meanings of the Lord's Supper and in this message today mention three more, but only deal with one of them today and save the last two for the next time we are together.
Proclaiming the Gospel
First, according to 1 Corinthians 11:26, the Lord's Supper is a proclamation of the gospel. "For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes." Every time we eat the Lord's Supper we proclaim the gospel. We proclaim it to ourselves to sustain faith, and we proclaim it to unbelievers, who may be watching, to awaken faith.
I promised last time to explain why I think the resurrection of Jesus - which is essential to the gospel - is implicit in the Lord's Supper itself. It's because of four words in verses 23 and 24.
First, the word "Lord." Verse 23: "I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread." When Paul calls Jesus Lord, it carries the meaning of his absolute authority and deity. We saw this in Romans 10 where Paul sees an Old Testament reference to Yahweh, the Lord, as a reference to "the Lord Jesus" (Romans 10:13). So when Paul says that the Lord's Supper was ordained by "the Lord" and represents "the Lord," it is clear that this one must rise from the dead and did rise from the dead. It was impossible that death should hold the Lord.
Second, the word "betrayed." Verse 23: ". . . the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread . . ." This word calls to mind mainly the fact that at the Last Supper Jesus knew who would betray him, and when. "It is he to whom I will give this morsel of bread when I have dipped it" (John 13:26). Therefore, Jesus was aware that this night and the crucifixion the next day was going exactly according to plan. Things were not falling apart, they were coming together. And the Planner had not planned to leave Jesus in the grave (Mark 8:31; 9:31). Jesus knew that. And we know it, and enjoy it, in the eating of the bread.
Third, the word "thanks." Verse 24: When "he was betrayed [he] took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it." This calls to mind that Jesus was loving and trusting his Father who had planned it all. Jesus was giving thanks, not just for physical bread broken in his hand, for what it signified - his own broken body. How could he be thankful to God for his own broken body and bloody death? Because he would rise from the dead and be praised forever by those for whom he died. His thanks to the God who bruises and breaks shows his confidence in the resurrection.
Fourth, the word "broke." Verse 24: "When he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, 'This is my body which is for you.'" Notice, Judas didn't break it. Peter didn't break it. A Roman soldier didn't barge into the room and break it. Jesus broke it. And then he said, in effect, I just broke this bread. And tomorrow I will break my body. What would that mean? It means what Jesus said in John 10:17-18, "I lay down my life that I may take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again." If he lays down his life, he takes it again. If he breaks his body, he will mend it. He will rise.
Conclusion: The Resurrection Is Implicit in the Lord's Supper
So I conclude that the resurrection of Jesus is implicit in the words of the institution of the Lord's Supper. Therefore, when Paul says in verse 26, "For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes," the words, "until he comes" don't come out of nowhere. They assume and are built on the resurrection which is implicit in the Lord's Supper itself.
The second meaning of the Lord's Supper I mentioned last time is that it reminds us of Jesus. Verse 24 "Do this in remembrance of me." Let the Supper as proclamation become the Supper as recollection. Remember me sitting with you in fellowship, betrayed willingly, giving thanks to my Father who planned it all, breaking the symbol of my body, pouring out my blood, sealing a new covenant, singing with you that last song, crying in Gethsemane, etc. etc. Oh, how much there is to remember!
Feasting on Christ
The third meaning of the Lord's Supper is feasting on Christ spiritually by faith for the satisfaction of the hunger and thirst of our souls. John 6:35, "I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst." In the Lord's Supper feed your soul on all that God is for you in Christ. Nourish your heart on all the blessings that he bought for you with his body and blood (see 1 Corinthians 10:16).3
In other words, the Lord's Supper as a proclamation of the gospel which brings about a deep remembrance of the Lord Jesus himself does not stop with intellectual awareness of historical facts. But in the act we really feed our souls by faith on what the broken body and spilled blood achieved for us - a justified and sanctified fellowship with the risen Christ.
Do Believers Receive a Special Grace in the Lord's Supper?
Now here is the place to ask the question I mentioned earlier: "Do believers receive an extra or a special grace by eating the Lord's Supper this way?" I answer like this. God has provided many means to sustain and strengthen the souls of his children by faith. Each means is a gracious gift from God, mediating sustaining grace to our needy hearts. So yes, the Lord's Supper is one of those - a very precious and important one. But I do not see the grace, mediated through the Lord's Supper, as essentially different from the grace mediated by other means.
Grace strengthens my soul by faith when I meditate on the Scriptures (Psalm 1:3). Grace strengthens my soul by faith when I see saints love each other sacrificially by the power of Christ (Matthew 5:16). Grace strengthens my soul by faith when I see the heavens declaring the glory of God (Psalm 19:1). Grace strengthens my soul by faith when I fulfill my ministry with God's help (1 Timothy 3:13). Grace strengthens my soul by faith when fellow-Christians pray for me (Ephesians 4:16). Grace strengthens my soul by faith when a brother or a sister exhorts me or admonishes me or hears my confession of sin and comforts me (Hebrews 3:12-13). And fresh grace strengthens my soul by faith when I remember Jesus in the eating of the bread and drinking of the cup, and feast on his risen life.
Now we turn to three more meanings of the Lord's Supper. The first three are: The Lord's Supper as proclaiming the gospel, the Lord's Supper as remembering Jesus; the Lord's Supper as feasting on Christ. Now I would add: The Lord's Supper as savoring the new covenant; the Lord's Supper as a call to love the church, especially the poor; and the Lord's Supper as a call to self-examination.
Savoring the New Covenant
Consider the Lord's Supper as a savoring of the new covenant. 1 Corinthians 11:25, "In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, saying, 'This cup is the new covenant in my blood.'" Jesus did not say that out of mere historical interest. He said it because he wanted us to taste the sweetness of the new covenant when we put the cup to our lips. He wanted us to savor the pardoning and purifying power of the new covenant. So let me sketch for you what it is.
The key text is Jeremiah 31:31-34. Listen for the four precious promises in this covenant.
Behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, 32 not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt [the Mosaic Law], my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the LORD. 33 But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the LORD: [first promise] I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And [second promise] I will be their God, and they shall be my people. 34And [third promise] no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, "Know the LORD," for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the LORD. For [fourth promise] I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.
In the new covenant God promises to do four things.
God Promises to Forgive Sins
First, he promises to forgive sins (v. 34). This is why the cup is called "the new covenant in my blood" (1 Corinthians 11:25) - because Jesus had said in Matthew 26:28, "This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins." The blood of Jesus - the death of Jesus by his blood-shedding - is the basis of our forgiveness. So the foundation of the new covenant is God's pouring out the blood of his Son in our place for the forgiveness of our sins. When we drink the cup of the Lord's Supper we savor the promise and the purchase of the forgiveness of our sins by the blood of Jesus.
God Promises to Write the Law on Our Hearts
The second promise of the new covenant in Jeremiah 31 is that he will write the law on our hearts. In the old covenant - the law of Moses - the law was written on stone and could not justify or sanctify (Romans 8:3). It was external and powerless. God ordained that in its place would come a new covenant. By it he would put the law of God not before us on stone, but in us by his Spirit. And by his Spirit he would make his will our delight, not just our duty.
Paul described his whole ministry like this: "[God] made us competent to be ministers of a new covenant, not of the letter [written on stone outside of us] but of the Spirit [at work in us]. For the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life" (2 Corinthians 3:6). What we savor at the Lord's Supper, when we drink the cup, is that by his blood Jesus purchased not new law, but new life. By the blood of the new covenant he purchased not just our forgiveness, but also our transformation; not just our justification, but also our sanctification; not just our pardon, but also our purity. Not just our God's favor, but also our faith. Oh, if you understand the all-embracing grace of the new covenant, you will taste the sweetness of this cup when you drink. Indeed you will taste it, and live in it, all the time.
God Promises That All of the Covenant People Shall Know God
The third promise of the new covenant is that all of the covenant people shall know God from the least to the greatest (Jeremiah 31:34). Everyone in the new-covenant people knows the Lord. The church, the true Israel, is the gathering of those who personally know the Lord. The covenant people are no longer defined as all the people born to covenant members. The covenant people know the Lord. That is, they have a relationship with the Lord. They trust the Lord. All of them. Not some of them. This is why the first sign of belonging to the new-covenant people (the first ordinance), namely, baptism, is not given to the children of covenant people. It is given only to those who give evidence of knowing the Lord. And the other ordinance - the ongoing ordinance of the Lord's Supper - is the savoring of glorious truth that the blood of Jesus purchased our personal relationship with the Lord. When Christ shed his blood he secured the personal knowledge of God for all his people. We savor that great grace when we drink this cup.
God Promises That He Will Be Our God and We Will Be His People
Finally, the fourth promise of the new covenant is "I will be their God, and they shall be my people" (Jeremiah 31:33). When our sins are forgiven, and the will of God becomes our delight, and we know him personally (not just about him), then we have become his people and he has become our God. All of his infinite wisdom and all of his unlimited power is on our side and works for us. All of his greatness and beauty comes to us for our enjoyment. He is our all-satisfying God. And we are his satisfied people. When we drink the cup of the new covenant we savor this - that God is our God and we are his people.
And in doing that we love Jesus because it was his blood that
- bought our forgiveness, and
- bought our delight in God's law, and
- bought our personal relationship with God, and
- so that God could stand over us as a church and say, "I am your God and you are my people."
Live by faith in the great gospel, new-covenant truth of the Lord's Supper all the time. By faith your sins are forgiven. The will of God is becoming increasingly your delight (and not just your duty). You know him personally. And he is your God. Savor this when you drink the cup. And make this truth the means by which you love each other and point others to it. Amen.
1. Everett Harrison, et. al., eds., Baker's Dictionary of Theology (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1960), pp. 465-466.
2. Consider how the Westminster Confession, Chapter XXIX, vii, "Of The Lord's Supper," expresses this:
Worthy receivers, outwardly partaking of the visible elements, in this sacrament, do then also, inwardly by faith, really and indeed, yet not carnally and corporally but spiritually, receive and feed upon, Christ crucified, and all benefits of His death: the body and blood of Christ being then, not corporally or carnally, in, with, or under the bread and wine; yet, as really, but spiritually, present to the faith of believers in that ordinance, as the elements themselves are to their outward senses.
3. 1 Corinthians 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?"