The Lord’s Supper

A.Blake White
Our Lord left his church with two ordinances, Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. This being the case, we had better think through them carefully! I want to take a look at three aspects of the Lord’s Supper: Past, Present, and Future. Past There are five primary ways that God’s past mighty acts inform our present celebration of the Supper. First, we learn from the Gospels that the Lord’s Supper has roots in the Jewish Passover Festival (Ex. 12:24-27), which was instituted to remind the people of God of the exodus where God delivered them from 400 years of slavery and degradation. God heard the cry of his people and sent plagues to Egypt. Due to Pharaoh’s rock-hard heart, it took ten plagues before he finally let God’s people go. The last plague was the death of every firstborn male in Egypt. Since Pharaoh was considered a god, his son would become one too. God takes that son in order to save his own firstborn son, Israel (Ex. 4:22). God provided salvation for the sons of his people through blood. God’s provision is a key theme that will poke its lovely head up again and again as we reflect on the Lord’s Supper. God tells his people to kill an unblemished animal and spread the blood on the door posts and the lintel, and Yahweh would “pass over” that house, sparing the firstborn Son. After giving these instructions, God said, "This day is to be a memorial for you, and you must celebrate it as a festival to the LORD. You are to celebrate it throughout your generations as a permanent statute" (Ex.12:14; Deut. 16:3 HCSB). Yahweh led his people out of Egypt into their own place by a pillar of cloud and a flame of fire at night, which provided guidance, shade, and warmth. He provided bread from heaven (Ex.16:4) and water from the rock (Ex.17:6) for the journey to the Promised Land. The second Old Testament background is the blood of the covenant. Jesus said that the new covenant is established by his blood (1 Cor. 11:25). With these words, Jesus is clearly alluding to Exodus 24:8, where we read, "Moses took the blood, sprinkled it on the people, and said, "This is the blood of the covenant that the LORD has made with you concerning all these words." The blood ratified the covenant. Sinful people only approach the all-holy God through blood. Animal sacrifices restrained God’s wrath, but it is impossible for the blood of bulls, goats, and sheep to take away sin (Heb. 10:4). Something more was needed. The third past event that informs the present is the promise of the justifying work of the suffering servant. In Isaiah 53:11-12, we read that “My righteous Servant will justify many, and He will carry their iniquities. Therefore I will give Him the many as a portion, and He will receive the mighty as spoil, because He submitted Himself to death, and was counted among the rebels; yet He bore the sin of many and interceded for the rebels.” Jesus said “For this is My blood that establishes the covenant; it is shed for many for the forgiveness of sins" (Matt. 26:28). With the language of “many” being forgiven, Jesus is clearly seeing himself in the role of the Isaianic Servant. Jesus is the righteous Servant who gave Himself in the place of His people. Fourth, the Supper alludes to the past promises of a new covenant. The old covenant given at Mount Sinai was a broken one. Directly after the ratification of the covenant, where the Israelites said “We will do everything that the Lord has commanded” (Ex. 24:3), they did the opposite of what He commanded. The second of the Ten Commandments was do not make an idol. Before Moses is even finished receiving the instructions for the construction of the Tabernacle, stiff-necked Israel is at the foot of Mount Sinai melting their jewelry, making an idol, and giving it the credit as the god who brought them out of Egypt

(Ex. 32:1-4)! Israel was taken out of Egypt but Egypt needed to be taken out of Israel. They broke the covenant before it was even fully given, which is akin to committing adultery on one’s wedding night. Something new was needed. Something effective. Something that would fully forgive the people and enable them to obey. The prophets promised a “new covenant” where sin would be definitively dealt with and the Spirit would be universally poured out from on high (Jer. 31, Ezek. 36). Isaiah even describes this new work God would do with language and metaphors that picture a new exodus. God would again lead his people and liberate them from slavery, but this time not from Egypt or Babylon or Assyria but from Satan, sin, and death. Jesus said, “This cup is the new covenant established by My blood” (1 Cor. 11:25). 1 With these words, Jesus signaled the end of the old covenant and the establishment of the new. All of these Old Testament events and institutions find their fulfillment in Jesus. He is the Passover lamb (1 Cor. 5:7). He brings about a new exodus (Luke 9:31). Through being “washed in His blood” we avert death and hell. His blood of the covenant establishes the new covenant where we find full forgiveness and the gift of the Spirit. He is the Suffering Servant. Finally, and most notably, we look back to his victory. We look back to the bloody cross and mighty resurrection. Jesus said twice to do this in remembrance of Him. The Lord ’s Supper is about the Lord. Body broken; blood shed. We celebrate this meal because Jesus died and was raised. Present There are also five aspects in the present to consider in the Lord’s Supper. As mentioned, Jesus left us with two ordinances: Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Baptism symbolizes the beginning of a relationship with God through Jesus Christ, and the Lord’s Supper symbolizes the continuing of that relationship in several ways. First, the Lord’s Supper provides assurance. Some traditions call the Lord’s Supper “the Eucharist,” from the verb eucharistēō which means “I give thanks.” Eu charis = good gift. Jesus said, “This is My body, which is for you” (1 Cor. 11:24). For you. This is a time of remembrance and renewal. To receive the bread and cup is to receive God’s love afresh. This is not about what we do; this is not about what we give to God. Nor is it a sacrifice to him. This is not about what we do, but about what Jesus did. As sure as you are seeing, touching, and tasting this bread and this cup, so sure it is that Jesus is a reality and he is for you. Second, the Lord’s Supper is a proclamation. Here is our divinely-instituted Gospel-drama ministry. We explain and illustrate the body broken and the blood shed. This is about the proclamation of the gospel. Third, the Lord’s Supper is a community-forming practice. Though our English translations hide this, the “you” in 1 Corinthians 11:23 is plural (hymin): I received from the Lord what I passed on to y’all. Think of the Passover and Exodus. God leads them out and gives them his covenant. Passover was a family meal. To be in covenant relationship to God is to be in covenant relationship to His people. Starting with the promises given to Abraham (Gen. 17:3-8) and recurring all through the pages of Scripture we read the standard covenant formula: You shall be My people, and I shall be your God. We are the new covenant family of God. We are bound together and called to unity. First Corinthians 10:17 reads “Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for all of us share that one bread." The 3 one loaf symbolizes and fosters unity. Fourth, the Lord’s Supper brings with it a call to self-examination, but we have really messed up this part of the Supper. The Bible is not calling us here to confess personal sins that we have committed all week. We aren’t Catholic, are we? We believe in the gospel of grace so we confess sin as it happens. This
Gregg R. Allison, Sojourners and Strangers (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2012), 387. Jonathan T. Pennington, “The Lord’s Last Supper in the Fourfold Witness of the Gospels,” in The Lord’s Supper ed. Thomas R. Schreiner and Matthew R. Crawford (Nashville: B&H Academic, 2010), 53-56 3 Allison, Sojourners and Strangers, 408.
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is not a call to make oneself worthy. Sometimes we act like this time is a time to beat ourselves up until we feel sorry enough about our sin that we can now partake in communion. Straight up Romish penance. No, no, no. We are all always unworthy participants, but the warning is that we don’t eat in an unworthy manner. As Robert Murray M’Cheyne said, for every one look at our self we need to take ten looks at Christ. 6 Scripture doesn’t prohibit unworthy participants but unworthy participation. The Bible doesn’t prohibit anyone who has ever danced with the devil to come to the table – because we all have – but you cannot 7 come to the table holding the Devil’s hand. If you are repentant, you come. The primary issue here is that of division in the church. As one Baptist theologian puts it, “The self-assessment is not for searching out remaining sins; these should be confessed and repented of quickly and inconsiderately before sharing in the Lord’s Supper. Rather, the self-examination is specifically for the purpose of detecting broken 8 relationships, division-causing behavior, disrespect, and mistreatment of brothers and sisters in Christ.” The Lord’s Supper is just that – a supper. The word for supper is deipnon and always means meal. We are malnourished today due to the crumbs we’ve substituted. It’s ironic how literalistic we Baptists are about the mode of one of the ordinances, but opt for convenience with the other one. We’ve turned a 9 symbolic meal into a symbol of a meal. Communion in the Bible was part of a larger love feast. There was an actual table they came to. Roman houses could typically fit approximately nine people in the dining area, and thirty to forty people in the atrium. Typically, a rich person was the host. In Corinthian 10 culture, it was normal for the rich guests to be served first and have better food. The problem was that the church was eating like the world. The rich were eating all the food and getting drunk and the poor folk were left out. They were eating their own supper, not the Lord’s (1 Cor. 11:20-21). Rather than focusing on their own appetites, they must examine themselves, and recognize the body of Christ; otherwise, they will be disciplined by the Lord (1 Cor. 11:27-32). So to eat in an unworthy manner is to disregard the needs of others. Discerning the body is recognizing the body of Christ, the community 11 of believers for what it really is. Paul rebukes them: Eat at home if you are going to act selfishly 12 because in doing so you are acting like an unbeliever. The question to ask before the meal is not “Is there any unconfessed sin in my life from last week?” but rather “Is there disunity in the body?” Division? Unforgiveness? The Lord disciplines such divisiveness. Finally, the Lord’s Supper should be a celebration. I have been to way too many communion services where the atmosphere was only slightly more cheery than an unbeliever’s funeral. This is not a funeral. 13 This is not about messing up our faces and pretending to feel sorry for Jesus. Jesus is not dead but alive!


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Ibid., 394, 407.

Memoirs and Remains of M’Cheyne, ed. Andrew Bonar (Edinburgh: Oliphant, Anderson, and Ferrier, 1883), 239. Allison, Sojourners and Strangers, 406. 7 Ray Van Neste, “The Lord’s Supper in the Context of the Local Church,” in The Lord’s Supper, ed. Thomas Schreiner and Matthew Crawford (Nashville: B and H Publishing,2011),387. 8 Allison, Sojourners and Strangers, 407. 9 Ibid., 392. 10 Richard B. Hays, First Corinthians. Interpretation (Louisville: John Knox Press,1997), 196. 11 Ibid., 200. 12 James M. Hamilton, “The Lord’s Supper in Paul: An Identity-Forming Proclamation of the Gospel” in The Lord’s Supper, ed.Thomas Schreiner and Matthew Crawford (Nashville: B and H Publishing,2011), 100. 13 Russell D. Moore, “Christ’s Presence as Memorial,” in Understanding Four Views on the Lord’s Supper, ed. John H. Armstrong (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2007), 33.

The victory has been won. The Lord’s Supper is not an ongoing sacrifice “but a sign that THE sacrifice 14 has been accepted once for all.” It is a celebration because it is about King Jesus. We remember Him. Future The Supper also points to the future. The Christian church has celebrated the Lord’s Supper for over 2,000 years and will continue to do so until Jesus returns. At the Last Supper, Jesus said, "But I tell you, from this moment I will not drink of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it in a new way in My Father's kingdom with you" (Matt 26:29). So this is a celebration of hope – a certain hope. In the supper we see the fulfillment of past promises and are given assurance of future promises. In this sense, the supper is really an appetizer for the great Messianic banquet (Isa. 55:1-3, Rev. 19:9).15 Take. Eat. Celebrate.

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Ibid., 32. Pennington, “The Lord’s Last Supper,” 56.

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