Title: The Lord’s Supper
FCF: We often struggle balancing our understanding on the Lord’s Supper
Prop: Because the Lord’s supper is a sign of a spiritual reality, we must by faith participate in the body and blood of Christ.
[Slide 1] Turn in your bible to I Corinthians chapter 11. Once again, this week we will look into a topic rather than a passage of scripture. The Lord is working through these messages, first and foremost in my heart. Over the last few weeks I have been absolutely blown away at the depth and wealth and power and majesty of the atonement of Jesus Christ for the glory of God. And that wonder at learning more and more about the atonement, has only heightened the truths I have discovered about our topic this morning.
If you are a member of our church and received our newsletter and/or you attended our last business meeting, you know that there has been a specific item of church practice that has been absent from our church since June of this year. We as a church have not formally practiced communion or the Lord’s Supper since then. As we addressed in the meeting and the newsletter, it is not because we think it should be cut from our worship and practice or that it is unimportant. Quite the opposite. The deacons and I agree that we must take a closer look. And through study of the Word of God, I have shifted my understanding of the Lord’s Supper and what it means for us to practices it.
The sermon today is by no means the end of the conversation. In fact, I think it is really only the beginning. As I have searched the scriptures first, comparing what it teaches to how the broad visible church has practiced the Lord’s Supper over the 2000 years since Christ, and then compare all of that against how we practice the Lord’s Supper – I have to tell you that I have found our practice to be insufficient.
My goal for today is to open the scriptures up to you in such a way as to think holistically about the nature of Christ, the atonement, and what all that means when applied to the Lord’s Table.
But at first, this isn’t going to seem like a sermon on the Lord’s Supper at all. But I hope that in all this you will quickly understand why we started where we did.
Our study of the scriptures recently has revealed that we desperately need to need Christ. And I hope that by the end of this sermon we will not only better understand the Lord’s Supper, but that we will get a clearer understanding of why we desperately need to need Christ.
But let us first go to the Lord in prayer before we dive headlong into this conversation.
After completing my deep dive into several passages of scripture and their various contexts, I came away with a complex web of truth. I felt like I understood where it was going, but did not necessarily know how to get there. So I began with the conclusion and worked my way backward to try to explain all of this the best way I could. And I think it is best explained by asking questions that lead to that conclusion. The first question I have for us to consider is…
I.) [Slide 2] How do we become what God wants us to become?
a. We have studied much together over the last 3 and a half years. What we have found is absolutely true, that God has not saved us simply for heaven one day, but has saved us to be His Kingdom Ambassadors today. We grow, and become more and more what God wants us to be. We continue to repent of our sin and depend on Christ to raise up faithfulness in us.
b. So the question, “How do we become what God wants us to become?” assumes that God wants us to become something. That in our justification, sanctification, and glorification, God has a goal for us. And I think we saw some of that in our study on the atonement. God has great plans for those who are in Christ.
c. So we are not asking if God wants us to change, but rather, how is it accomplished?
d. [Slide 3] -READ Eph 2:4-10 – Following the context and not pulling out trope phrases or well-known verses, we understand all of Paul’s thought here.
i. God’s mercy and love acted toward us even when we were in our sinful state
ii. God’s grace made us alive together with Christ
iii. That living is our salvation. Not heaven, but living in Christ.
iv. And then we ascend with Christ to heavenly realms so God can demonstrate that grace in kindness toward us forever.
v. Now why would He have an eternity’s worth of grace to demonstrate?
vi. For by grace you are saved – which literally, if we would translate it with all the implied tenses in the Greek would say something like – for by grace you are being having been saved ones through faith. Smoothing that over, he is saying, it is by grace that you have been and are continuing to be saved through faith.
vii. But lest we think that faith is our faith generated from our own trust or belief – we must understand that this faith, along with grace and our salvation as a whole, is a gift from God. Hebrews 12 says that Jesus is the author or the source and the perfecter or completer of our faith. Our faith comes from God as a gift through Christ.
viii. So that, even the faith to receive God’s grace is a gift. Why? Because if it was our faith that earned God’s grace, then our salvation would be our work in which we would boast.
ix. Rather faith becomes the way we receive the gift of grace. God gives us faith to believe and in belief He gives us grace.
x. But remember that this salvation is not simply past, or present, but is ongoing. You are saved and are continuing to be saved by grace.
xi. How do we know that?
xii. Because we are His (God’s) workmanship, his product, his craft, his earthen pot – that He has created or rather, recreated or remade, in or united to Christ, for what purpose? Good works. Good works that God Himself has designed, foreordained for us. So that WE may do them.
xiii. So according to Ephesians 2, How do we become what God wants us to become? He supplies grace received through gifted faith to perform Good works that He has planned for us – and we do them.
xiv. Now, let’s test that theory against other passages of scripture.
e. [Slide 4] Phil 2:12-13 –
i. We see that it is our responsibility to work out, perform, or finish our salvation with fear and trembling. Why so much terror and quaking over finishing our salvation?
ii. Because God is effective in us to not only to will or desire His good pleasure but also to be effective in accomplishing His good pleasure. That sounds an awful lot like Ephesians 2.
iii. Are there more passages of scripture?
f. [Slide 5] Ephesians 1:3 – every spiritual blessing is transmitted from God through Christ
g. [Slide 6] READ Titus 2:11-14 –
i. God’s grace saves. That much is true.
ii. But it also trains us to reject sin
iii. It trains us to live godly lives
iv. See how Paul connects Christ’s death to the effect of grace?
h. [Slide 7] Jn 1:17 – grace and truth come through Jesus Christ
i. [Slide 8] Romans 5:21 – Grace reigns through righteousness to eternal life through Christ
ii. [Slide 9] John 14:6 – Jesus is truth
1. [Slide 10] John 1:1 – Jesus is the Word of God!
2. John 17:17 – Sanctify them by truth, you word is truth
i. [Slide 11] Summery: So pulling all this together, we can answer this question. How do we become what God wants us to become? Jesus. That was easy. If we want to explain it a bit further, we might say this, “We change by depending on God’s grace and truth which we are given through Christ.”
Ok. So that was simple enough. So far so good. The only way we change is by depending on God’s grace and truth given through Christ. But let’s not be settled with that answer. What are the mechanics of that? How does God transmit grace and truth through Christ? How does that work? Is He like a delivery man that rings our doorbell “Delivery! Fresh hot grace from God here!.” How does God do this?
II.) [Slide 12] How does God transmit grace and truth through Christ?
a. We kinda already talked about it last week.
b. Last week, as we were going over the atonement theories, one particular phrase kept coming up. And it is interesting that it kept coming up, because it does the same thing throughout the New Testament.
c. The phrase is “Union with Christ”
d. Throughout the New Testament, every writer mentions this concept of being united with Christ. Sometimes it is that we are in Him. At other points He is in us. And at some points, it is both. The following list is borrowed with clarifying modification from Anthony Hopkema’s book Saved By Grace. We won’t read the scripture passages but I have underlined the parts he is drawing the conclusion from.
i. [Slide 13] We are initially united with Christ in regeneration (Eph. 2:4-5)
ii. [Slide 14] We appropriate and continue to live out of this union through faith (Gal. 2:20).
iii. [Slide 15] We are justified or declared righteous in union with Christ (Phil. 3:8-9).
iv. [Slide 16 and 17] We are sanctified through union with Christ (John 15:1-5; Eph. 4:15-16)
v. [Slide 18] We persevere in the life of faith in union with Christ (Rom. 8:38-39).
vi. [Slide 19] We die and are raised spiritually in Christ (Romans 6:5)
vii. [Slide 20] We die physically in Christ (1 Thess. 4:16).
viii. [Slide 21] We shall be raised physically with Christ (1 Cor. 15:22-23).
ix. [Slide 22] We shall be eternally glorified with Christ (Col. 3:4).
e. When we are united with Christ we receive by faith supernatural gifts. And these gifts. Every good and perfect gift is given by God to us who are in Christ.
f. [Slide 23] So when we talk about the changing power of God to transform us into what He wants us to be, that is when we are being sanctified. Going back to the John 15 passage. Unity with Christ, drawing from Him on the vine, is what produces fruit in us.
g. And so, this changing power, to be what God has meant us to be, this grace and truth given through Christ, is given by our union with Christ.
h. [Slide 24] So, how does God transmit grace and truth through Christ to us? By making us one with Christ.
i. [Slide 25] Summery: So putting all we’ve learned together – The only way we change is by depending on God’s grace and truth given through Christ as we are united with Him.
So since we are united with Christ – does that mean we sit and wait for that grace to come? Well, no the bible tells us that we work out our salvation. So does this mean we need to be more united with Christ?
III.) [Slide 26] Is it possible to become more united with Christ?
a. [Slide 27] Colossians 3:1-16 – Union with Christ does not mean that there is no room for you to be more like Christ.
b. [Slide 28] Ephesians 3:16-19 – We can be strengthened to comprehend more and more so that we may be filled up with God.
c. [Slide 29] John 15:1-2 – While abiding in Christ we can be pruned to produce more.
d. [Slide 30] I Peter 3:17-18 – We can grow in grace and knowledge of Christ.
e. [Slide 31] Ephesians 4:15 – Practicing truth in love we grow up into Christ. Some versions say speak – but conversation or speaking can be used to refer to life practice. And that is the case in this passage.
f. [Slide 32] And this is the key verse for me that really crystalizes this. Our working out our salvation in love, practicing the truth, exercising our living faith – that produces a greater union with Christ.
g. [Slide 33] Summary: Again, putting this all together. The only way we change is by depending on God’s grace and truth given through Christ as we are united with Him and are growing in that unity through a living faith.
So this is all well and good. But what does all this have to do with the Lord’s Supper? Well let’s first ask ourselves a question. What is the Lord’s Supper?
IV.) [Slide 34] What is the Lord’s Supper?
a. Shockingly, there isn’t that much in scripture about the Lord’s Supper. So we should make sure we squeeze all we can out of the ones we have.
b. The gospel accounts, for the most part, do not add much to what Paul reveals in I Corinthians. So for today and for time, we will stay in this context.
c. [Slide 35] READ I Corinthians 11: 23-26
i. First of all we must notice that the Lord’s Supper is a Christ ordained practice.
ii. He clearly states that we are to do this and specifically that we are to do this in remembrance of Him.
iii. Remembrance is a term that could be misunderstood. Remembrance does mean to remember… but it is more than simply recalling something that has happened.
iv. Remembrance means to reawaken or renew a reality.
v. In Hebrews he uses this word to say that in the yearly sacrifices there is a reminder for sins year after year… meaning that there is a shocking and stark reminder of the reality of sin in their lives.
vi. So Christ says to do this in order to reawaken, renew the reality of what?
vii. Of Him. And what specifically of Him?
viii. The bread is His body and is for us. His body IS for us. That is curious that he does not say “was” for us, but that His body IS for us.
ix. The cup is the new covenant in His blood.
d. So we need to ask ourselves how exactly is Christ’s body for us and how exactly is the New Covenant in Christ’s blood?
i. [Slide 36] Hebrews 9:15-28 - So Christ mediated a new covenant with God by entering heaven itself (the highest tabernacle there could be) and offers a one time sacrifice to put away sin forever. Which is… His blood.
ii. [Slide 37] Hebrews 10:19-22 – Christ inaugurated for us a new and living way to access God, whereby we can draw near to him, which we can do confidently because we have been sprinkled clean by blood and washed in pure water. And what is that new and living way to draw near to God? His body. A torn curtain into the holy of holies.
e. [Slide 38] Putting all this together – how is Christ’s body for us? In that through His incarnation, obedience to God, death, and resurrection, all in His body, we have access to draw near to God.
f. [Slide 39] And we can do so because His blood has ratified a new covenant whereby we can truly and completely be forgiven once for all time.
g. [Slide 41] He continues by saying that every time we eat and drink in this way- every time we reawaken the reality of what His body and blood have done for us, we proclaim the Lord’s death. We preach the gospel. We announce the truth of the atonement of Christ and how it has present day impact on our lives. When we reawaken this reality in our observance of this meal, we renew ourselves in the truth of the gospel.
h. All of this is an exercise of faith.
i. Faith is God’s empowering to trust Him and obey Him. We trust Christ’s word is true about His body and blood and the present and future hope it holds for us, and we obey by eating and drinking this meal to reawaken its reality in us and how it still has impact on us today.
j. [Slide 42] Summary: So what is the Lord’s Supper? It is an opportunity for us to exercise faith to reawaken the reality of the gospel in our hearts – that we have access to God to receive from Him all we need.
So what did all that talk about growing in our union with Christ have to do with this? Before I connect that dot, let me ask one question. Why the sign of a meal?
V.) [Slide 42] Why the sign of a meal?
a. Jesus could have chosen anything. He could have said get a tattoo to reawaken the reality of the benefits of the body and blood of Christ. He could have said slaughter a chicken (and in fact, God had sacrifices before which were shadows of this). I probably could think of several other ways that we could reawaken the reality of the benefits of Christ’s body and blood. Why did Christ choose a meal?
b. What happens when we eat? We are sustained. The components of what we eat and drink are literally broken apart to do what? To give us energy. To keep us going. We are sustained by our food. How? Through a process by which the food is irrevocably changed and the beneficial components are unified with our body.
c. Perhaps, even now, you are starting to wonder if perhaps this Lord’s Supper is more than just a time that we commemorate the death of Christ.
d. The context of I Corinthians 11 is an interesting one. Paul is attempting to confront a lot of problems in the Corinthian church, most of which can be summarized by disunity and division. In chapter 1 Paul says that they have every spiritual gift. As a church of 60ish members with 90-100 on a Sunday – I can tell you that to have EVERY spiritual gift would be amazing!
e. Sadly they were squandering what they had because they were not operating as a unified body. It is no surprise that unity and disunity become the backdrop of most of the conversation that follows.
i. For time we will skip to chapter 8
ii. In chapter 8 he broaches the topic of food that has been sacrificed to idols. After it had been sacrificed, the temple priests would sell it as a meal for a lower price than you could get in the market. So Jews would go in and eat from the temple food, knowing that there was no god there. But Gentiles having been idol worshippers before being regenerated, would have difficulty disassociating the food with the idol. So Paul advises the Jews to be careful of their Gentile brothers.
iii. In Chapter 9 Paul gives an example of his own life. He being an apostle may have the freedom to demand payment, but instead he doesn’t for the sake of the gospel. So just because you are free to eat, doesn’t mean you should.
iv. So he comes back to the topic in chapter 10 – He shows that even though the children of Israel did eat the spiritual food, drink the spiritual drink, and partake even of the water of the rock which was Christ – they ultimately became idolaters. He is saying that freedom can lead to idolatry.
v. Paul then brings all of this home to essentially advise against eating food offered to idols in a few instances, one of which being in the idol’s temple. And his decision is interesting because he bases it on a theological truth about the Lord’s Supper. What is that truth?
f. [Slide 43] READ I Corinthians 10:16-18
i. In the Lord’s Supper –
i. When we drink the cup – we share. This word is used in Acts 2 when the church shared all things in common. It means to share, fellowship with, partner with, or become unified with. And so we are unified with the blood of Christ.
ii. When we eat the bread – we share in, fellowship with, partner with, or become unified with the body of Christ.
iii. He goes on and says that because there is one bread (Christ) we who are many are one body – why – because when we all take of the same bread and are united with that bread we also are united to one another.
ii. He goes on from there to explain how even the Israelites benefited from the sacrifice because they became partners in the altar. They became partners with the sacrifice and with the one that it was being sacrificed to.
iii. This theological point is then used to understand that demons are being worshiped behind these idols and eating the meat there in their temple makes them partners or unites them to not only the altar but the demon itself.
iv. Then he continues and concludes the matter by saying that if you know it will cause someone to stumble – don’t do it, but if you don’t you are free to do it as long as you glorify God with whatever you choose.
v. And after dealing with another other matter regarding head coverings, Paul then goes into instruction on the Lord’s Supper in which he is not pleased with them because they are not actually doing the Lord’s Supper because they have corrupted it. It isn’t chapter 10 Lord’s Supper of union with Christ and one another – it is false.
g. [Slide 44] Summary: Jesus chooses a meal not only as an opportunity for us to exercise faith to reawaken the reality of the gospel in our hearts – but as an opportunity to unite us to Himself and to all the benefits of the atonement – namely access to God.
So what is the Lord’s Supper?
[Slide 45] The Lord’s Supper is a physical sign of a spiritual truth.
· What is that Spiritual truth? That we are, by faith, spiritually fed by Christ and what the body and blood of Christ has accomplished. That through His body we enter the Holy of Holies and can draw near to God. Through His blood we have been sprinkled clean. By spiritually feeding on this, by being reminded, encouraged, and growing in that unity with Christ we can grow up into Him, we can gain grace and truth both of which are what we need to gain help and power. We then are sustained by this spiritual food, by the very word of God, so that we may grow up into Christ. You are what you eat. And Spiritually we feast on the reality of Christ’s incarnation, obedience, death, resurrection, and ascension, and all His atonement accomplished, so that we may continue grow up into Him, being fully mature, into the full stature of Christ.
· So the Lord’s Supper symbolizes that reality. When we take the cup – we share, partner, participate, and fellowship in His blood. When we take the bread – we share, partner, participate and fellowship in His body. And when we all share in His body and His blood together, then not only are we united with Him and GOd – but we are united to one another. The bread and grape juice has no effect on us at all. But spiritually, the body and blood of Christ has profound impact on us.
· So we are to remember Jesus as we eat and drink. We remember in the sense that we by eating the bread we are spiritually sustained by the access to God His body continues to grant. We remember in the sense that by drinking the juice we are spiritually sustained by the mercy and forgiveness his blood continues to apply.
· And not only do we remember this as if it is past, but we proclaim its present truth. We preach the death of Christ presently. This is still our spiritual sustenance. We do not eat or drink once but continue to feed on the atonement of Christ. It continues to be the fresh and living way inaugurated for us by which we can draw near to God. A way accessed by trusting God. By Faith. A faith that comes from and is completed by Christ. We have been given grace to believe and in belief we are given grace.
· And we will continue to be sustained by Christ’s atoning work until He returns and we eat with Him at our marriage supper, where we are truly and completely united to Him. Forever.
The sign and the thing signified are married at the Lord’s table and the officiant at that wedding is faith. Believing and obeying God.
But because of the various teachings on this subject, I have a few cautions. A few caveats we must understand.
1. [Slide 46A] We are in no way eating Jesus’ flesh or drinking His blood. Jesus employs clear metaphorical language here. And as close as we have come to suggest unity with Christ, and sustenance in Christ – this in no way means that we are physically, or even spiritually eating Him.
2. [Slide 46B] A person cannot be converted by only taking the Lord’s table. It is the opportunity for receiving by faith sanctifying grace that is available at the Lord’s table.
a. A person cannot perform the sign of a spiritual truth that is not a reality for them and expect to benefit from the truth.
b. Besides, performing an action to get grace is impossible.
c. It is Christ’s action already performed that we celebrate, remember, preach, and participate in at the Lord’s table. And those who are not regenerated are not equipped to do any of that.
d. But lest we think that performing the sign without the reality has no consequence, Paul affirms that God does not take that lightly.
3. [Slide 46C] A person truly converted must see the Lord’s table neither as the only opportunity, nor as a disposable opportunity for growth. Neither is true.
a. We have opportunity to receive union with Christ, feasting on the reality of His atonement, and finding grace, at all times in our walk with Christ.
b. We have continual access to the throne of grace through our High Priest.
c. Therefore, you need not see this as the only opportunity. The Word of God is the opportunity generally.
d. However, to think that the Lord’s table is optional, or disposable is also incorrect.
e. Christ commanded to have this meal. He commanded that as often as we do, to do so in celebratory remembrance and present proclamation with future hopefulness.
f. Just as we should not forsake the assembling of ourselves, nor the ministry of the word to our hearts, nor the baptism of our bodies, we should neither forsake the table of the Lord.
4. [Slide 46D] A person truly converted may not always receive sanctifying grace from the Lord’s table for several reasons.
a. They are harboring unrepentant sin.
b. They are not truly observing the table by faith for what it is.
c. They are not truly converted.
[Slide 47] So what does that mean for us at CBC?
The Lord’s Supper is not a ritual that can be accomplished in 10 minutes after a service.
The Lord’s Supper is not just a memorial reminding us what Christ did.
The Lord’s Supper is a worship service, giving opportunity for us, through faith, to spiritually be united with Christ renewing ourselves to the understanding of the access to grace and forgiveness we have available to us in Christ.
[Slide 48 (end)] In Short – the Lord’s Supper is an opportunity for us to grow. To defeat sin. To gain victory. And to be united to one another. With all the necessary caveats and misunderstandings aside – this truth remains.
And as your pastor – I repent to you and to God for missing this. I repent because at times I may have represented this event as a ritual. I repent because at times I may have represented this event as mere memory.
Again, this is the start of the conversation. I am open to critique and adjustment from the word of God. If you find an error in my reasoning or a scripture passage that opposes my conclusions, I am ready to learn. But assuming that all that we have seen stands – The Lord’s Supper here at CBC will be quite different from here on out. And I can’t wait to share the details with you when they are firmed up.
Please pray for your church leadership as we seek the Lord on this ordinance and continue to understand what it is and how we can do it properly.