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The Lord's Supper (Part 1)

The Voice of Sovereign Grace / Doug Agnew
The Truth Network Radio
September 19, 2022 2:00 am

The Lord's Supper (Part 1)

The Voice of Sovereign Grace / Doug Agnew

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September 19, 2022 2:00 am

Join us as we make our way through Paul's first letter to the church at Corinth. This sermon is a summary of the doctrine of the Lord's Supper.

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If you would please turn with me to the 11th chapter of the book of 1st Corinthians, we'll be considering verses 23 through 34 tonight as we continue Paul's instruction and rebuke to the church at Corinth concerning the Lord's Supper. 1st Corinthians 11, beginning at verse 23. For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus, on the night when he was betrayed, took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, This is my body, which is for you.

Do this in remembrance of me. In the same way also he took the cup after supper, saying, This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me. For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes. Whoever therefore eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord. Let a person examine himself then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body, eats and drinks judgment on himself. That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died. But if we judged ourselves truly, we would not be judged. But when we are judged by the Lord, we are disciplined so that we may not be condemned along with the world. So then, my brothers, when you come together to eat, wait for one another. If anyone is hungry, let him eat at home, so that when you come together, it will not be for judgment about the other things I will give directions when I come.

Pray. Lord, we could never have lifted ourselves up to reach you, but you reached us. You condescended to us in order to draw us to yourself and lift us up to heaven. Lord Jesus, you are the resurrection and the life. You are the lifter up of our heads. You're the one who sees us and knows us and is with us.

You are Emmanuel. And Lord, you've even stooped to our level in how you've revealed your presence to us and assured us that your presence is real and constant and guaranteed. You've given us signs and seals, symbols and promises of your love. So we pray that you would take this word before us tonight and teach us to take full advantage of the sacrament of communion, teach us to approach you in a manner that is fitting and becoming of sinners who have been redeemed by your blood. Lord, make us one in our union with you. Make us one in our fellowship with each other and all for the glory of your name we pray.

Amen. You can be seated. I'd like to approach our text tonight somewhat topically in that I intend on bringing in some other texts outside of 1 Corinthians that address the subject of the Lord's Supper so that we can arrive at as a full and exhaustive and understanding of this doctrine as we can, at least as exhaustive as 30 minutes will allow. We will walk through our text and dissect each phrase as it relates to the Lord's Supper. But along the way, I'm going to supplement Paul's words here in 1 Corinthians with several relevant passages, mainly from the Gospels.

And then after we've established hopefully a full-orbed theology of the Lord's Supper, we will close with some reflections on how practically to approach the Lord's Table. Now it's important that we read verses 23 through 34 in context. Paul, as you'll remember from last time, is addressing a problem in the Corinthian church. He's addressing a problem of disunity that manifested itself in how they observed the Lord's Supper. The previous verses describe Corinth's practice of gathering for a meal, a love feast, prior to corporate worship and at the end of that meal observing communion.

The problem, however, was that in their feasting, certain people were being overlooked while others were indulging themselves to the point of gluttony and even drunkenness. And this negligence was so bad, in fact, that Paul scolded them by saying, what you pretend to be doing after your meal can hardly be called the Lord's Supper because it makes a mockery of everything that this sacred supper is intended to convey. So the context of these verses, verses that we read virtually before every communion observance here at Grace Church, the context is one of correcting a problem, an imbalance, a misunderstanding. In order then to correct this problem, Paul must first establish the true meaning and intent, the right observance, if you will, of the Lord's Supper, and he does this in verses 23 through 26. He begins by acknowledging that this sacrament is not something that originated with Paul. It came from Jesus himself. Paul says, for I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you. A sacrament, by definition, is an ordinance, a religious command that is instituted, that is commanded by Christ.

It's not manmade. It's not some mere tradition that we just do. It is established and defined and commanded by Jesus himself. So what does the right observance of this sacrament involve?

Well, Paul describes it for us. He says, the Lord Jesus, on the night when he was betrayed, took bread and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, this is my body, which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me. These same words, or at least very similar words, appear in all three of the synoptic gospels, Matthew, Mark, and Luke, and allusions to these words appear in John's gospel. So let's zoom in on these verses for a few moments tonight and begin to let them shape our understanding of communion. First notice that Christ commands that we do what he did in the upper room.

Do this, imperative, in remembrance of me. In other words, Jesus's words and actions with his disciples there in the upper room give us the liturgy, if you want to call it that, the liturgy of communion that we are to follow. We are to do and say what Jesus did. Jesus also gives us the reasons for doing these things. So he gives us the form and he gives us the substance. He gives us the liturgy and the meaning behind the liturgy.

So let's consider all these things. First of all, what did Jesus do and say? Scripture says, first, that he took bread.

He took bread. He took this common, everyday element and turned it into a symbol, a sign that represents his body. Now it's very important as we build a theology of the sacrament of communion that we include in that theology nothing more and nothing less than what Jesus includes. There can be a temptation, I think, to get carried away with symbolism and with mystical significance or the other direction to neglect the symbolism and significance that we ought to include.

We don't want to be negligent in either direction. It says Jesus took bread. And this means that bread is essential.

We're not at liberty to substitute some other element. This isn't because of some intrinsic value in bread. Bread is just bread. But it's because Jesus used bread and commanded us to do likewise. By the same token, though, we also have to acknowledge that Scripture doesn't strictly define what kind of bread. Does communion bread, for example, need to be unleavened?

Let's take up that question just for a moment here. Some well-meaning Christians insist that the bread of communion must be unleavened because the Lord's Supper was instituted in the context of a Passover meal in which unleavened bread was required. I want to address that in just a minute, but some folks go even further and suggest that since Jesus occasionally compared leaven to sin, that leaven must always represent sin. And that's why we should avoid leavened bread in communion. Now, things could get pretty crazy if we started interpreting Scripture by that rule.

Think about it with me for just a moment. For example, Jesus compared the Pharisees to whitewashed tombs. Does this mean that we should not bury our dead in tombs?

No, of course not. Just because the Bible makes a metaphor or draws an analogy between a neutral thing and a bad thing doesn't mean the neutral thing is always, and in every case, bad. Leaven is like sin in that it spreads quickly and thoroughly. But sometimes, church, the gospel is like leaven.

The gospel can spread quickly and thoroughly. So we don't need to hate on leaven. We need to hate sin and its insidiousness. But leaven is just an analogy. So the better argument then against using leaven in communion bread is the Passover connection. The question then becomes one of how much continuity or discontinuity should we be looking for between Old Testament Passover and New Testament communion. Historically, Protestants have not made the lack of leaven an essential part of the symbolism of the Lord's Supper. They've not required that the bread be unleavened.

That's not our tradition. And I think that's right because Jesus, by leaving out any mention of leaven in his words of institution, did not make the lack of leaven an essential part of the symbolism. Most certainly, the bread that they were eating there in the upper room was unleavened. There's no question there. But equally certain is the fact that they were wearing robes and reclining at table and eating late in the day. The question is, are all of those circumstances also essential to a proper observance of communion?

I think not. And if we're going to require all of that, then we need to be consistent all the way through. So when Jesus referred to the cup of blessing, he was referring to a cup of wine, not grape juice. If we're going to die on the hill of unleavened bread, then by the same rationale, we need to die on the hill of drinking wine, not Welch's. I think the principle to keep in mind here is that the symbolism of the meal ought to be carefully confined to what Christ emphasized when he instituted the meal. If Jesus makes no mention of unleavened bread, we don't need to insist on unleavened bread. On the other hand, if Christ does do something of symbolic significance, then we need to acknowledge that and not overlook that. There is something that in my studies this week, I think I have been remiss in.

I have overlooked. Scripture says that after taking bread, Jesus gave thanks, which we do, but then it says he broke it. He broke the bread in front of the disciples, and he said, this is my body, which is given for you. This raises the question in my mind, why don't we break the bread in the sight of the communicants, since that's how Christ instituted the meal. I would argue that breaking the bread is far more essential to the meaning of the supper than the unleavened-ness of the bread, and that's because we want our understanding of the meal to neither add to nor take away from the meaning that Christ ascribed to it. Well, what did Christ do with these elements of bread and wine?

He gave them to the disciples, and he commanded them to take and eat. Now, various views of communion have dominated the church landscape throughout its history, and my purpose tonight is not to go into the details of those differences. We could be here all night explaining all the ways in which communion has been nuanced or incorrectly understood.

I don't want to do that. However, I do think it is necessary, at least to some extent, to correct some faulty understandings of communion, because those misunderstandings can sometimes get mixed into our thinking without our even realizing it. Knowing the errors can sometimes help us avoid the errors. One way of looking at the differing views of the sacrament is to ask the question, is a sacrament something God does for us, or is it something we do for God, or is it a combination of both? The official teaching of the Roman Catholic Church is that a sacrament is something God does entirely and automatically when the sacrament is administered.

It's 100% objective, regardless of the response or status of the recipient. At the other extreme is what is often called the memorialist view. The memorialist sees a sacrament primarily as something the believer receives rather than something God gives, and so the benefit or value of the sacrament lies entirely in the quality with which the believer receives it. There's no inherent value in the sacrament itself. The value lies only in the recipient's understanding of or appreciation for the sacrament. It's only about remembering what Christ has done. The elements of bread and wine, or in the case of baptism of water, are really just incidental.

It's mainly about the act of experiencing the remembering of the event, entirely subjective, hence the name memorialist. Well, the reform view, and we are a reformed church, seeks to strike a balance between these two extremes. It seeks to emphasize both the giving aspect on the part of God and the receiving aspect on the part of the believer, and so a reformed view of the Lord's Supper acknowledges inherent value in the elements themselves insofar as they represent the body and blood of Jesus, but it also acknowledges that that benefit is of no value unless it is received with faith.

So it's a both-and. The Westminster Confession puts it like this, there is a spiritual relationship between the sign and the thing signified, between the sign and the thing the sign points to, so much so that the names and effects of the thing to which the sign points, that spiritual reality behind the sign, are attributed to the sign itself. And so, for example, when Peter says, baptism now saves you, he means that there is such an inseparable connection between the act of baptism and the spiritual reality to which baptism is pointing that verbally we can say, baptism saves, or the Lord's Supper forgives. But at the same time, the Confession acknowledges that apart from faith, this connection between the sign and the reality is useless because it is ineffective without faith.

Westminster says, the grace which is exhibited in the sacraments is not conferred by any power in them, nor even by the intention of him that administers it, but upon the work of the Spirit as the sacrament is received by faith. So the thing that makes the sacrament effective is the fact that God connects the sign to the spiritual reality and that the Holy Spirit then enables the believer to receive that in faith. Rome, the Roman Catholic Church, puts the emphasis on the sign, irregardless of the faith of the one receiving the sign.

The Memorialist puts the emphasis on the faith of the recipient, irregardless of the inherent value of the sign. The Reformed view emphasizes both the giving of the sign on the part of God and the receiving of the reality on the part of the believer. Well, as Christ gave the elements to his disciples, he said, this is my body, this bread is my body, and this cup is my blood. This was an identification of the symbols with the things they symbolize. These symbols point to Christ, and our eating of the symbols identifies us with Christ. His death is our death. His satisfaction of God's anger is our satisfaction of God's anger. His resurrection is our resurrection.

There's an identification. Well, after saying and doing these actions with the bread, Jesus does the same thing with the cup. Paul says in the same way also, he took the cup. Let's just stop for a minute and ask if you ever wondered why there are two elements, bread and wine. Wouldn't just bread or wine suffice to get the point across?

Couldn't we save time and maybe just dip the bread in the cup and call it good? Well, we could do that if that's what Jesus had done, but he didn't. So we might ask, what is the significance of two separate elements making the same point?

I came across an answer last week that I had never thought of before. Louis Burckhoff, in his well-known systematic theology book, suggests that the presence of two elements rather than just one seems to emphasize the reality that Christ's flesh and blood were separated from each other. This highlights the fact that the death of Jesus was a real death and it was a severe death. Perhaps the presence of two elements rather than one is intended to heighten our sense of the severity and the actuality of the death of Christ for sinners. Well, the liturgy given to us by Jesus concludes with a command, do this as often as you drink it in remembrance of me. And then Paul adds in verse 26, for as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes. This means that the sacrament was to be repeated over and over again until the second coming. Why would we repeat this meal over and over again? Well, because every time we observe the sacrament, we are doing several things. Most Protestant and Reformed theologians identify four or five things that are happening when the Lord's Supper is observed. So let's consider for a few moments what is happening in communion. First, we are remembering the Lord and his atoning sacrifice for sin. Now, when Jesus says, do this in remembrance of me, he means so much more than mere mental recollection.

This is where I think the memorialist seriously airs. Young people, has your mother ever said to you, remember to clean your room or remember to take out the trash? When she says that, does she mean that she wants you to go sit on your bed and spend a few moments in quiet contemplation of what a clean room might look like or how sweet the house would smell if the trash were only taken outside? No, that's not what she means. She means for you to go and do something about it, right? She means let the reality of a clean room or an empty kitchen trash can inform your decisions and your attitude and your behavior.

Go and let it play an active role in your life and worldview. To remember Christ in the way in which we are being called to remember him means far more than just thinking about what Christ did in the past. It means to receive in the present moment the effect of what he has done. It means to be convinced through these elemental reminders that Jesus' body and blood really do forgive me of my sin. They really do restore me to peace with God. They really will culminate in an eternal life in his presence with joy unspeakable and full of glory. That's what we're doing when we remember.

It's highly active. Not only are we remembering Christ's work every time we take communion, we are also participating in Christ's atoning work. 1 Corinthians 10, 16 says this explicitly. 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? When we commune with him, we are actually identifying ourselves with him. We are dying with him. We are being buried with him. We are being raised together with him. It's a participation in his atoning work.

I've got to share this with you because I just found it to be very rich. If you study the Passover liturgy that would have corresponded to the point at which Jesus said, this is my body, what the Jewish disciples would have been expecting Jesus to say was this. This is the bread of affliction which our ancestors ate when they came from the land of Egypt.

This is the bread of affliction which our ancestors ate when they came from the land of Egypt. That's what the disciples would have expected Jesus to say at that point in the meal. The Jews eating Passover would not have thought that the point of that statement was that the bread they were eating was identical to the bread that their ancestors ate, nor would they have thought that the connection between their bread and their ancestors bread was merely a memorial. No, that statement was a clear identification with the suffering and the subsequent deliverance of their ancestors from Egypt. They were declaring that they were one with them. So when Christ interrupts this centuries-old connection by saying this bread is me, the disciples wouldn't have thought, oh, Jesus is becoming bread. That's the Roman error. Nor would they have thought, ho hum, Jesus wants us to simply think about him when we eat bread.

That's the memorialist error. No, they would have understood that Christ was saying this bread symbolizes the union that you all have with me. I will die tomorrow and in dying will absorb God's wrath against sin. When you eat this bread, you are remembering that as you are declaring with confidence that you died with me and that you therefore are raised with me. You and I are one by faith and this bread demonstrates that union beyond a shadow of a doubt. When we observe the Lord's Supper Church, we are not merely thinking about Christ's atoning work. We are participating in that work and insofar as we participate in faith, we are receiving all of its benefits. This brings us to the third effect or reason for observing the Lord's Supper. When we commune with the Lord, we are in fact nourishing our souls.

We're nourishing our souls. This is the point of John 6. Jesus says in John 6, Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life and I will raise him up on the last day. For my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me and I in him.

Whoever feeds on this bread will live forever. What does it mean when we say our souls are nourished through this sacrament? I think this is where modern-day Protestants begin to get nervous because this is where the whole sacrament thing seems to get uncomfortably mystical. Here's something I found to be helpful in thinking about the benefits of a sacrament. Sacraments work in the same way that the Word of God, the Bible, works. Sacraments work in the same way that the Bible works. We don't seem to stumble over saying things like, the Bible saves, or the Bible nourishes my soul. And yet when we say those things, we know that the mere reading or quoting of the Bible doesn't automatically save anyone, does it? The Bible isn't a magic spell book that automatically works. We have an unspoken assumption when we speak of the power of the Word of God that its effectiveness requires the power of the Holy Spirit and faith in the recipient for it to be of any saving value.

We know these things but we typically don't feel the need to verbalize these qualifications for fear of making too much of the Bible. When it comes to the sacraments, however, all of the same factors are still present. The sacraments are effective but that effectiveness never works apart from the power of the Holy Spirit or apart from faith in the recipient. But we do, don't we, have a fear of making too much of the sacraments to the point, I'm afraid, that we often downplay the efficacy of the sacraments. That hesitancy probably has as much to do with the abuses of the Roman Catholic Church regarding the sacraments as it does with anything else.

But we ought not let an apostate church rob us of that which God has truly given for our spiritual nourishment. Now to be sure, don't misunderstand, there are some significant differences between the Word of God and the sacraments of God. For example, and Louis Berkhof points this out, the Word can exist and is complete without the sacrament but the sacrament cannot exist or be complete without the Word. The Word is indispensable while the sacraments are not. In other words, you cannot be saved without hearing the Gospel but you can be saved without receiving the sacraments.

And I think the thief on the cross makes that point as good as any. Another difference between Word and sacrament is that the Word of God generates faith and strengthens faith while the sacraments only strengthen faith. They don't generate faith. A helpful analogy might be an engagement proposal. The proposal itself, that would be the Word, establishes a promise. It establishes an intention of marriage. The ring then merely confirms that. The couple is engaged with or without the engagement ring by virtue of the verbal promise. So the ring doesn't create or establish the engagement but it certainly goes a long way in confirming and reassuring and strengthening the engagement.

Ask any young lady who's betrothed, it matters. Perhaps all of this raises a question, if the sacrament is not necessary for salvation, why is it necessary at all? You know, ultimately the answer to that is not experiential or pragmatic or subjective. The sacrament, even though it's not necessary for salvation, is necessary as a means of Christian growth and health and joy because God says it's necessary. Not because my reason tells me it's necessary. The sacrament is beneficial because God says it's beneficial, not because my emotional response to it makes it beneficial. For the sake of time, let me just read a quote from John Calvin's Institutes that I think helps guard us against making too little of the nourishing power of the Lord's Supper. Calvin says, by the showing of the symbol, the thing itself is also shown. For unless a man means to call God a deceiver, he would never dare assert that an empty symbol is set forth by him. And the godly ought by all means to keep this rule whenever they see symbols appointed by the Lord to think and be persuaded that the truth of the thing signified is surely present there. For why would the Lord put in your hand the symbol of his body except to assure you of a true participation in it?

And I would just add this. I think the primary sort of nourishment that the Lord's Supper brings to the soul of the believer, as I see it, is the nourishment of assurance. Assurance of salvation.

A deepening of the assurance that what God promises in his word regarding salvation is true for me and will always be true. Well, we see a fourth effect or reason to observe communion in verse 26. Not only do we remember Christ and participate in his atoning work and nourish our souls every time we receive the Lord's Supper, but we also proclaim the Lord's death until he comes again. As we assemble and go through these meaningful acts of blessing and breaking and distributing and eating and drinking the body and blood of our Savior, we are visibly proclaiming, preaching, heralding the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ. We're preaching it to ourselves.

We're preaching it to our children. We're preaching it to the lost unbeliever who was watching the bride of Christ, nourishing itself by feeding on her Savior. Brothers and sisters, our taking of communion is nothing less than an act of bearing witness to the world that Jesus Christ saves. Now, there is one final effect of the sacrament of communion, and it is in fact the one that Paul is most interested in emphasizing in his letter to the church at Corinth.

The effect has to do with the unity that is displayed within the church whenever the sacrament is rightly observed. In the case of Corinth, they were failing at this very point, and so Paul spent several verses correcting their failure. Now, I really didn't want to have to do this, but I'm afraid I'm going to have to divide this sermon into two parts. So we're out of time, and I don't want to rush through this part of our text, especially since it's so central to Paul's message to Corinth. So we'll leave things here for tonight, and the next time we're on this series, we'll take a look at the warning and the correction that Paul gives to Corinth in verses 27 through 34. But in God's providence, it just so happened that we would be thinking about the meaning of the Lord's Supper on the very night on which we are scheduled to observe the Lord's Supper.

And so as we prepare our hearts now to receive the very elements we've just been thinking about, let me exhort us to approach the table tonight with a renewed and honed focus on the meaning of these signs. This meal is for you, church. If you're a disciple of Christ, if you're united to him by faith, then come to this table and remember what Jesus has done for you. He gave his body and blood that you might escape hell and be welcomed with open arms into heaven forever and ever. As you come to this table tonight, not only are you remembering what Jesus has done, you are participating in the atoning work of Christ.

In his death, we die to sin. In his resurrection, we are raised to walk in newness of life. That gives us each a fresh start tonight, at the beginning of a new week, to go from this place, zealous to live up to the status that Christ's atoning blood gives to us. As we come to this table tonight, we come to nourish our souls. This is God's engagement ring, his promise that he will not leave us or forsake us.

He is with us still and will always, always be with us. And as we come to the table now, our coming is a proclamation of the most incredibly good news that could possibly be heralded, that the dwelling place of God is with man, and that sons and daughters of Adam have now been forgiven and made right with God and have been invited to his kingly hall to feast and to celebrate and to enjoy his unchanging, infinite favor. The church come and feast upon the Lord Jesus Christ. Lord Jesus, we thank you for the promises that are ours in you. We thank you that we have the hope of eternal life, the forgiveness of sin, the healing of all our diseases. We have the promise that your Holy Spirit will indwell us and sanctify us. We have the hope, the certain hope of an eternity with you apart from temptation, apart from sin. We have the sweet anticipation of a day when our flesh will not be constantly tempting us and pulling us away from you, or the world will not be constantly making a mockery of our God and trying to sway our affections, where Satan will be openly defeated and silenced. Lord, we know that the victory of that day is so sure that we can affirm tonight on September 18th in this building that that victory is already ours in Christ. So, Lord, help us to overcome our doubts. Help us to run to you and find rest for our souls. And we thank you for the sweet privilege of this meal. In Jesus' name I pray, amen.
Whisper: medium.en / 2022-12-23 08:59:47 / 2022-12-23 09:12:09 / 12

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