Title: Our First Lord’s Supper
Text: I Corinthians 11:23-26
FCF: We often struggle to comprehend the nature of the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper.
Prop: Because we have failed in the past, we must correct course for the Lord’s Supper.
[Slide 1] Turn in your bible to I Corinthians chapter 11. Today is going to be a different kind of message for a lot of reasons. First, you already know that this is not going to be a sermon from our I John study, although we will reference what we have learned from I John because it is quite appropriate to what we are talking about. Second, you notice that this sermon is again dealing with the Lord’s Supper. And you might be thinking – wait – didn’t we have a Lord’s Supper Sermon recently? You’d be right. Hence the reason that this sermon is going to be quite different today.
The last message on the Lord’s Supper was primarily a polemic. It was a sermon designed to advocate and or prove a different way of understanding the Lord’s Supper. In fact, it was a different way of viewing grace and how God gives grace to us. In that sermon, from scripture, we established that God gives us mercy (forgiveness and removal of sin) and grace (power of God and passion from God to do His will) through the completed work of Christ, which is perpetually applied to us through faith. This alone may have been somewhat radical for you to consider. That God continues to apply the benefits of the atonement to us actively. But we have since seen this very truth presented in I John.
In the sermon from October 27th, we saw from scripture that God has established a sign of a spiritual truth. The spiritual truth is that Christ sustains us as we are conformed into the image of Christ. The sign of this truth is the Lord’s Supper. That not only can we be united with Christ - but there is a physical sign of that truth that God has arranged, to offer His children more grace. We saw how the sign not only symbolizes our being sustained by Christ, but the sign also helps to sustain us.
At the end of this sermon, I concluded by asking you to pray for the
leadership as they consider what was spoken and potentially challenge my
interpretation. Well, at our deacons retreat – there was no objection. There
was consensus that as the Lord revealed to me, so the Lord revealed to them.
The church leadership and I are in agreement. That theologically we must change
our perspective on the Lord’s Supper.
So if you are looking for a strong scriptural message proving the way that we have come to view the Lord’s Supper, then you need to go back and listen to the message from October 27th.
So what is our message for today?
Today will be a hybrid of teaching and preaching. Today we will pull from church history, CBC church history, and scripture to answer one question that may be on your mind. That question is… “What’s the big difference?”
It occurred to me as I was looking over the previous sermon, that it may be beneficial to have a message that directly compares how we at CBC have traditionally viewed the Lord’s Supper or Communion and how we are coming to view it now. It is my hope that in such a direct comparison, we can truly see what the big difference is and know exactly what is changing and what to expect from the gathering tonight.
So this may be a tad unconventional but let me begin with prayer and ask for the Lord’ to help us.
So the first question I think we need to answer to explore all this is simply …
I.) [Slide 2] What was our view of the Lord’s Supper (Communion)?
a. There is shockingly little information regarding the Lord’s Supper in our constitution. Only a few line items that primarily relate to when it is practiced and who prepares it.
b. Therefore, we rely primarily on experience and observing how we have always done it.
c. I think the best summary of how we viewed the Lord’s Supper previously was that it was a memorial service.
d. It was a service designed to remember what Christ did on the cross. In some of our more creative services we would even draw attention to the fact that the bread was mangled in our mouths and the grape juice spilled freely.
e. We would even have recognized how the blood was the beginning of the New Covenant for us.
f. We would praise the Lord for what He had done through His Son.
g. You might be thinking… well all of this sounds pretty good. I’m not sure what’s wrong with the way we had things.
h. You’d be right. There was nothing really inherently “wrong” or sinful with what we were doing before.
i. But what if I offered you a legally binding agreement to give you 10 million dollars. And I gave you two options. The first, is to receive the 10 million up front, minus taxes, minus fees. So it translates into around $6 million in one day. Now without listening to the second option, you take that one. Is there anything wrong with getting a check for 6 million dollars? Of course not. That is great. But 30 years after this event, you are getting up in years, what is the likelihood that that the 6 million is still having a significant impact on your life? I can tell you that statistically it is very unlikely. In fact, most people who inherit such cash have it spent within 5 years. But if you had waited for the second option, the second option was to receive the 10 million tax free in $8,000 monthly installments for the next 104 years. Not only would you have been given the full 10 million, but you also would have been completely and perpetually sustained by the money for the duration of your life and probably even your children’s lives. I mean you can probably get by on spending 8,000 a month, right?
j. The way we viewed The Lord’s Supper before is like receiving the lump sum. We are always looking back at what Christ has done for us. Always remembering what He gave. And there is nothing wrong with remembering what He did. We are going to continue to do that. But perhaps… it is more than that?
II.) [Slide 3] Where did we come up with this memorial view?
a. It is a view derived from scripture. I Corinthians 11 if you are there, starting in verse 23 reading through verse 26.
b. Here we see Jesus specifically say to remember. To do this in remembrance of Him. And while we can dig deeper to find more there, it certainly would still include looking back and remembering what He accomplished.
c. We also have to understand church history on this. Coming out of the Medieval period, there was only one organized global visible church. The Roman Catholic Church. While there were dissenters, they were fairly small pockets.
d. And the view of the Roman Catholic Church regarding the Lord’s Supper is one that is quite different than both what we believed and what we are moving toward. They would say that Christ is brought down from heaven at the command of the priest. That Christ is actually, and really, sacrificed again for the sake of believers. That his literal flesh and literal blood are fused with the bread and wine themselves. So that when they eat and drink, the person eating and drinking receive a locally present and corporeally real body and blood of Christ. That although all 5 senses may consider it bread or wine – it is actually, in substance, Christ’s literal human body and blood.
e. Through this, the believer is given grace. But the grace received in Roman Catholic Communion is not the grace we have been and will be discussing. At baptism, within the Roman Catholic Church, a person has their original sin washed away. Meaning that the sign of baptism does not point to the spiritual reality of being baptized with Christ, nor does God use the sign to accomplish the washing, but rather it is the means by which a person is washed and able to believe. It is literally regeneration by works. Getting baptized regenerates them to a state of grace.
f. However, when a Roman Catholic sins, they lose that state of grace. If they commit lesser sins, then they lose a little bit of ground in their grace state… if they commit a serious sin, they lose that grace entirely. They are then required to perform the sacraments to earn grace back. These include among others, penance and the Eucharist or the Lord’s Supper.
g. Therefore, taking of mass, or the Lord’s Supper, restores them to a state of grace, actually forgiving any lesser sins outright, and helping to offset penance they may need for greater sins. And as long as they are in that state of grace or close to it when they die, they will endure little purgatory and be ushered into heaven.
h. I hope you can see the differences in what we are learning in I John. The work of God is on display in I John when we sin… but in the Roman Catholic faith, it is primarily the work of man that is on display.
i. Luther – broke from this view to say that Christ’s presence was with, under, around the elements. Like a sponge soaked in water. A sponge is not water, nor water a sponge, but they are linked. So Christ’s body and blood are linked to the bread and wine although they remain bread and wine. Luther still would view the Lord’s Supper as a way to forgive sin.
j. In reaction to both of these views, Ulrich Zwingli put forward the memorial view, to deny any real presence of Christ in the elements themselves and only in the gathering together of the people of God.. The Lord’s Table for Zwingli was a symbol or a memorial of what Christ’s body. Even still, Zwingli did not deny the presence of Christ at the table in His people, nor did he deny the concept of God using the table to grow His people, although he staunchly opposed the mere eating and drinking earning God’s action.
k. So, traveling back in time in church history we see that CBC held to a heavily modified and paired down version of what Zwingli taught. I’d like to think that if Zwingli were alive and observed what we were doing, he might have pulled me aside and told me to get my theology right.
III.) [Slide 4] What are the problems with this and why are we changing?
a. As we’ve already said… the raw or simple memorial view is absolutely true. It is wholly biblical.
b. However, in viewing the Lord’s table as a raw memorial, there are some unfortunate side effects. Side effects that I can confirm were present in our practice of the Lord’s Supper.
i. If it is simply a reminder of what Jesus has done in the past, why is it repeated? This is something I thought often. In fact, most of the time, although it was scheduled for the first of the month, I admit, I forgot it was happening. I didn’t forget Christ died for me, and I had been drawn to that very fact from the pages of scripture during that very week. But I needed a reminder to remember the reminder service. If it is only a reminder of what Christ did – I found… at the risk of sounding arrogant… I didn’t really need it.
ii. If it is simply a reminder of what Jesus has done in the past, why are unbelievers excluded? Should we not remind them also of what Christ did? Isn’t that what Evangelism is? Should we not illustrate Christ’s death vividly by having them eat the symbol of what He went through? It seems like this is a vivid evangelistic illustration that we are missing the opportunity to have. And yet scripture forbids unbelievers from partaking.
iii. As is typical with other memorial events – it is easily absorbed in ritual and tradition. Memorial day has become get the boat out day. July 4th has become fireworks and hotdog day. Christmas has become a great many things besides celebrating Christ’s birth. When we have an event to remember something only – it tends to devolve into something less than what it was. And so for me, it was far easier to read the passage, take the cracker and juice, pray, sing, and be done with it than it was to be creative and try to come up with a unique way to present the same thing we have known for some time.
iv. If it is only a memorial, we structure it like a memorial. 1 person delivering a eulogy. Everyone participating in one way or another. Remembering how the dead person affected them. We all leave. One wonders how the Corinthian church was able to make it a drunken party from a raw memorial? And don’t we serve a risen savior? Why are memorializing His death only? Does He say to do it in remembrance of His death, or in remembrance of Him?
v. Finally, since it is only a memorial of something that has happened. We might be convinced that there is no longer anything we need but what has been provided. In one way that is true. We need nothing else. But the truth is that we need the reality of Him every day of our lives.
IV.) [Slide 5] What is different about the new way we understand the Lord’s Supper?
a. The Lord’s Supper is a way that God has prepared to give grace to His children. It is a means of grace.
b. Now I must confess that I absolutely hate that terminology. I hate it because it can be misunderstood.
c. By saying this, we are in no way talking about the Roman Catholic view of grace. We are not talking about returning to a condition of no original sin. From John’s epistle, we know, that that is not actually possible. All have sinned. All are sinners. We cannot erase that fact. We are not talking about doing good works to earn grace from God.
d. The Lord’s Supper is not a way that we can earn God’s favor by eating His Son.
e. Instead, The Lord’s Supper is a way that God gives grace to His children by uniting them to Christ spiritually by the bread and the juice. So linked is the symbol and the thing symbolized, that by faith, one who is truly of Christ, is given God’s power to grow through this event, which is a special expression of how His power is always given – through Christ. We are spiritually fed by the very words of God, and Jesus is the Word – therefore we are spiritually fed by the benefits of the atonement of Christ. Namely His body and His blood. Not by the bread and juice alone, nor by Christ’s actual human flesh or human blood, but by the effect His body and blood produced.
f. In Hebrews 9 and 10 as we saw last time – His body secures us a new and ongoing way to access the Father and His blood sprinkles us clean as we enter that presence, inaugurating for us a New Covenant. We are free of the guilt of sin and we can enter His throne room as a child. Receiving mercy because that is always offered and finding grace because that is a gift we may not have expected, but that God freely gives through Christ. We don’t see the Lord’s Supper as a way to forgive our sin. Our sins ARE forgiven. Rather, we see the Lord’s Supper as a way that God has promised to further unite us to His Son and dispense to us grace to conform us to be more like Him.
g. Before we saw the Lord’s Supper as a raw memorial of what Christ has done. Now we see The Lord’s Supper as a way to be united to Christ by faith through all 5 senses participating in realizing our real plight – that we are perpetually sustained by Christ alone. In this faith, in believing this very truth, while partaking of the Lord’s Table, God gives grace which is the strength to do His good pleasure and the passion to do His good pleasure.
h. In short, God uses this memorial to nourish and grow His dear children.
i. There is the difference.
j. This is no raw memorial. It is not a ritual. It is a sermon we all get to preach. It is the gospel encapsulated, It is sanctification on display. And it is a sign that we have – only until our Lord returns. For when He does we will no longer need to be sustained by Him – for we will be with Him and we will be like Him.
k. The sign signifies the truth of God sustaining us in Christ and God actually sustains us with Christ as we partake in the sign. It is like a husband’s kiss. Wives – does your husband’s kiss symbolize the truth of his love for you, or does his kiss give his love to you? Are you merely convinced of the truth or do you partake in the truth when he kisses you? Both! Right? The same is true of the Lord’s Supper. It is a sign of a deeper spiritual truth that is communicated to us when we who are His children observe the sign.
l. The Lord's Supper then, is a celebration of God's grace, not human achievement. The power of it is not found in our ability to meditate deeply, but rather on the way in which God's Spirit uses this celebration to nourish our hearts.
m. Going back to our illustration from before. Christ’s death is that 10 million dollar gift. But he did not pay that to us in a lump sum. Instead he has paid it once, and continues to support us with that one-time payment. The atonement itself is the $8,000 monthly check. We are not sustained by Him in one lump sum but rather, we continue to draw spiritual life from Him. And there is more there than we alone could ever use. The Lord’s Supper then, is one way, a special way by which God delivers that monthly check. If I can be so crude, The Lord’s Supper is a direct deposit. Giving us immediate life and grace by spiritually feasting on Christ’s atonement, together. Communally.
[Slide 6 (blank)] So when we have the Lord’s Supper together… it is a chance for all of us to come together and be nourished by the grace of God. We all lack the power and desire to do what God wants of us. We know this is true. How does that change? Through Christ, exclusively. And in the Lord’s Supper, God offers us Christ. Not physically or in some cannibalistic sense. But spiritually in the benefits of the atonement sense.
Tonight we will observe the Lord’s table this way, for the first time. It will be the first time for many of you. May it comfort you to know that it will be for the first time for me too. We are doing this together, for the first time.
[Slide 7] When it comes down to it- in function what will be different?
1.) It is not during our morning service but rather at night. The time of this may fluctuate as we go on, but we will probably always try to disconnect the morning service from the Lord’s Supper to bring a level of importance to the event.
2.) It will be longer. Most of time, we were able to complete the Lord’s Supper segment in our service within 10 minutes. This will no longer be the case. Tonight – for many reasons – we will be keeping it cut to about 30 minutes. But as we move forward we may be expanding that to an hour or beyond.
3.) It will include more than just eating the bread and drinking the juice. There may be songs, scriptures read, prayers prayed, reminders of the meaning of the event and warnings not to partake lightly. There are many forms it could take – and we will try to make it our own as we go.
4.) Expect the event to be much more intimate, facing one another, and even leading to confession of sin to one another and prayer for one another.
Ahead of this though, let me give you a “do partake” and “don’t partake” list. Let me start with the don’ts.
[Slide 8] “Don’t partake if”
1.) You are not a believer. You can come and observe if you like. You can come and see what we do. But do not come to partake in the elements. Why?
a. Because there is absolutely nothing there for you. Because the benefits of the Supper are only given to those who are believing, there is no benefit for you.
b. There are actually warnings for those who partake in an unworthy way. If you are not of Christ, this is included in that list. God has, and continues to actually cause sickness and even death of those who partake of this event in an unworthy way.
2.) You are a believer who is harboring sin. The Corinthians were being selfish and treating the event as another meal. As we saw in I John, it is our agreement with God about our sin that proves that God is faithful and just with the result of forgiving and cleansing. If you are disagreeing with God about your sin, you are lacking the evidence that you have the faith necessary for this meal. And the sin in question matters little. It is the heart that matters. If you will not give up a sin, even if it is something like unforgiveness or even pride. If you do not wish to crucify that sin, and have no intention of forsaking it, you should not partake of this meal. Instead you should repent. And turn from your sin. Turning does not imply victory over the sin. If you turn from it and it is nipping at your heels – come to the table and find grace to defeat it.
3.) You are a believer who holds to any view of the Lord’s Supper other than what scripture suggests. If you do not believe that you are partnered to Christ’s body and blood in this event. If you do not believe that God sustains you by grace through Christ. If you believe that your partaking earns God’s grace or forgiveness. I would encourage you not to partake also. I would not say with certainty that you would be guilty of the unworthy manner, but you certainly would not be united with us. Please take time to square this teaching in your head. Only partake if you are convinced of what scripture teaches.
Perhaps in these three, you have discovered that you should not partake. If you are worried that we will notice you are not there – well that is probably true. We are a fairly small church. We will notice you aren’t there. We will notice if you are there and don’t partake. But you don’t need to fear that. There will be no judgment. There may be someone coming to you to try to help you. But it will be with a heart of love – I guarantee it. It is far better to be asked why you did not eat from a person who loves you than to be guilty of the body and blood of Christ and endure punishment from God.
[Slide 9] “Do partake if”
1.) You are a believer struggling to get victory over a sin.
2.) You are a believer feeling disconnected from Christ
3.) You are a believer feeling disconnected from other believers
4.) You are a believer who desires to live a life more like Christ
5.) You are a believer who wishes to obey Christ
6.) You are a believer who desires to proclaim Christ’s atonement with your life.
7.) You are a believer who wants to celebrate the mercy and grace of God as He gives it.
Why? Because that is what the Lord’s Supper is for. It is for you. His body is for you. His blood is for you. The Lord’s Supper is a gift to us… His people. So that we may remember our Lord, commune with Him and with one another, and hope in the day when we will eat the marriage supper with Christ.
With that in mind, go home this afternoon and examine your life for the evidence of this covenant of grace that God has made with you. Examine as a family. Examine your heart for any harbored sin. And if after examination, you are in that “Do partake” list – then joyfully come and celebrate with us.