The Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper – Part 3
Well, I’m about to preach God’s Word as I’ve never preached it before! Literally…
Let’s just get over the fact that this is awkward. It feels very different speaking to you through a camera. I can’t see your faces when I say something confusing. On the plus side, I also can’t see you nodding off to sleep. This just feels awkward. And it should because Church is not supposed to be this way. However, we have to get over it and move on. God is good! And he can and will use this difficult trial for His glory and our good.
There were two videos previously posted. The first is an introduction to the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper and the second is an explanation of the four major views of the Lord’s Supper. I encourage you to watch those first if you have not seen them already. They help set the stage for today’s message.
Pray & Read Matthew 26:26-29:
(ESV) 26 Now as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is my body.” 27 And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, “Drink of it, all of you, 28 for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. 29 I tell you I will not drink again of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.”
Now, let’s begin by considering…
I. The Institution of the Lord’s Supper
We know they were celebrating the Passover (Matt. 26:17-25). In fact, the meal had already begun (26). Christ institutes something new that is meant to replace the traditional Passover celebration moving forward. Jesus institutes the sacrament as the true Passover Lamb (Exod 12:46; Jn 19:36).
The two elements he used were common staples, bread and wine. Since it was the Passover, we know Jesus used unleavened bread. Notice in v.17, “Now on the first day of Unleavened Bread the disciples came to Jesus.” This represented the haste in which the Israelites had to eat their meal. They did not have time to allow the yeast to leaven the bread. They had to flee Egypt swiftly.
However, the New Testament never attaches such importance to the kind of bread that was used in communion. There seems to be an indifference about it. Some go so far as to suggest that the leaven might have represented the resurrection of Christ or the spread of the church. But that is never made explicit. Leon Morris points out that, “The Eastern Church has always used leavened bread, and this was the case in the West also until getting on toward A.D. 1,000.”
But what about the type of wine? We know that it could not have been juice since it did not exist until Thomas Welch invented it in 1869. But was it red or white wine?
John Calvin, “In regard to the external form of the ordinance, whether or not believers are to take into their hands and divide among themselves, or each is to eat what is given to him; whether they are to return the cup to the deacon or hand it to their neighbour; whether the bread is to be leavened or unleavened, and the wine to be red or white, is of no consequence. These things are indifferent, and left free to the Church…”
Given Calvin’s reasoning, I imagine he would have allowed juice to be another valid option. It is still “fruit from the vine” even though it has not been fermented.
What is far more important than the type of bread and wine that is used, is the meaning they represent. The bread is Christ’s body, given for his people (Lk 22:19). The bread is broken, symbolizing Christ’s death on the cross. Likewise, in reference to the cup, Jesus says “this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins” (28). Blood and pouring out are sacrificial language that indicates the violent death he would suffer.
Unbelievers must receive forgiveness of sins before partaking of the Lord’s Supper. The blood of Christ was poured out on the cross for all who place their faith in him. That is something you can do on your own. You do not have to wait to gather with the church or meet with a pastor. You can meet your Savior by turning to Him in repentance and faith right now!
But this meal was for believers. Every time we participate in the sacrament it serves as a reminder of our need for forgiveness. We humbly come before the Lord and freely confess our sin. We confess how we daily fall short of the glory of God. This confession should take place privately and corporately. And it should certainly take place at some point prior to taking the Lord’s Supper.
The good news is that Jesus holds the cup of blessing out to you, that you might—once again—be assured of your pardon. You can confess your sin freely knowing that Jesus will not pull the cup away from you. In fact, he already drank the cup of God’s wrath for you, so that you might drink the cup of blessing in communion with him.
He encouraged his disciples with the words, “Drink of it, all of you” (27). This implies the corporate gathering of the apostles which points forward to the corporate gathering of the saints.
Paul could have encouraged the Corinthian Church to partake in the Lord’s Supper from home. But he made a clear distinction between eating and drinking at home and participating in the Lord’s Supper at church. He explicitly states that the Lord’s Supper represents their unity as the body of Christ.
1 Cor. 10:17 “Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread.”
In order to gain a fuller understanding, let’s go ahead and turn to 1 Corinthians 10 and 11. There are a few more passages there that will help us with…
II. The Explanation of the Lord’s Supper
What should we call it? Should we call it “Communion”, “the Lord’s Supper”, or “Eucharist”? Well, to be honest, all of these terms are biblical.:
- Communion (1 Cor. 10:16) – “communion in the blood of Christ.”
- Lord’s Supper (1 Cor. 11:20) – “When you come together it is not the Lord’s supper that you eat?”
- Eucharist (1 Cor. 11:24) – “had given thanks”
We should also point out the difference between a sacrament and an ordinance. Sacrament is defined as “a holy ordinance instituted by Christ” and proper participation brings genuine spiritual benefits, beyond the mere blessing of obedience (WSC Q.92 & 96).
We do recognize that there is a mystery to this. It is not something we can scientifically explain, but we believe there are true spiritual blessings attached to the proper partaking of the Lord’s Supper. To suggest that the Lord’s Supper is merely an ordinance is to remove the intrinsic benefits and blessings from participation. It becomes a mere exercise in obedience, rather than Christ spiritually nourishing his people.
The Lord’s Supper is a command: “Do this in remembrance of me” (1 Cor 11:24), but it is also good for you, “The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ?” (1 Cor. 10:16). There is a unique blessing attached to the fellowship and communion that we enjoy with Christ in the Lord’s Supper. I believe it was Ligon Duncan who explained, “In the sacrament, we receive the same Christ, but we receive more of him.”
Paul was discouraged by the corrupt practices of the Corinthian church who were making a mockery of the Lord’s Supper. Some were going hungry, while others got drunk. After describing the proper order, he warned them not to participate in an unworthy manner, “For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself” (1 Cor. 11:29).
Whenever we celebrate the Lord’s Supper it is important that a minister properly “fence the table”. That means that we explain the potential of taking it in an unworthy manner. What is meant to be a blessing can actually become a curse if you partake improperly.
This is why the author’s of the Westminster Confession say that the one administering the sacrament should be “a minister of the Word lawfully ordained” (WCF 27.4). This is consistent with the examples we find in Scripture. It is the minister’s duty to teach and edify the saints through the proclamation of God’s word. And that proclamation is very much a part of the Lord’s Supper.
“For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes” (1 Co 11:26). We often talk about the Lord’s Supper as being a visual proclamation. In the preaching of God’s Word we hear the gospel, but in communion we “taste and see” that the Lord is good.
Under the Mosaic Covenant, animals had to be sacrificed. Their blood was shed, and then Moses confirmed the covenant with the people by throwing the blood on them (Exod. 24:8). It was a bit gruesome. And it was supposed to be. It represented the curse of disobedience.
However, under the new covenant, Jesus Christ became the sacrificial Lamb. He endured the wrath of God when he died upon the cross. He became a curse on our behalf. “But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8)! In this way, Christ took the curse that we deserved upon himself, guaranteeing our inheritance of the covenant blessings.
The Westminster Confession teaches us that the sacraments are both a sign and seal of the covenant of grace (WCF 27). As a sign, the visible bread and wine represent the invisible benefits of our union with Christ. As a seal, the elements of the Lord’s Supper confirm our interest in Christ. They testify of our belonging to him.
We simply cannot take these truths lightly! We ought to relish the celebration of the Lord’s Supper knowing that they are truly a means of grace. I believe the early church celebrated communion weekly. We read in Acts 20:7, “On the first day of the week, when we were gathered together to break bread…” This is the same language of the Lord’s Supper, which means they did this regularly on “the first day of the week”.
We celebrate communion weekly at Grace Clovis because of the immeasurable spiritual benefits it brings. Why would we want to limit all of these benefits to once a month or quarterly? If we truly believe there are genuine spiritual benefits attached to the Lord’s Supper, we ought to desire to participate frequently.
The Spirit of Christ is at work in and through the sacrament as we partake in faith. We cannot neglect our duty, nor would we ever want to forsake the privilege of gathering together for this purpose. We take the elements with all due reverence and sober mind recognizing the serious warning given by Paul. But we also celebrate the sacrament joyfully with a faith that looks forward to the return of Christ.
Let us conclude with that thought which comes from v.29.
When we take communion we ought to have in mind the future anticipation of the heavenly banquet. John, in Revelation, describes this as the marriage supper of the Lamb (Rev. 19:6-10). On that day, the bride of Christ will be clothed in the righteousness that he has accomplished for and through her—with the washing of his word. All the sacramental meals that we enjoy in this present age, are a mere shadow of the reality that we will enjoy for all eternity!