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The Nature and Meaning of the Lord’s Supper (Part 1 of 2)

Truth for Life / Alistair Begg
The Truth Network Radio
January 26, 2023 3:00 am

The Nature and Meaning of the Lord’s Supper (Part 1 of 2)

Truth for Life / Alistair Begg

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January 26, 2023 3:00 am

You may take part in Communion at your church, but what does this expression of faith actually mean? Are you really eating and drinking Christ’s physical body and blood? Take a closer look at the Lord’s Supper along with Truth For Life with Alistair Begg.


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You may regularly take part in communion in your local church.

What does this expression of faith really mean? Are we eating and drinking Christ's physical body and blood? Today on Truth for Life, Alistair Begg takes a closer look at the Lord's Supper. Baptism and the Lord's Supper are communion. Whatever other important ends may be intended for both of them, they were appointed as a mode for publicly professing our faith in the gospel. That by means of our celebration of the Lord's Supper, by means of our participation in the opportunity of baptism, both contexts are an opportunity for the public profession of our faith. If people would come around and say, Why do you celebrate this meal as you do? The answer is, because of who Jesus is and because of what he has done.

Why are you going through water in this way? Why are you undergoing this ceremony or this rite? The answer would be the same thing, because of who Jesus is and because of what he has done and because of what he has asked me to do. Both of the ordinances of the church do this for us. Augustine defined them as outward and visible signs of an inward and spiritual grace. In each case, the sign is a visible display that points to a reality different from and more significant than itself. For example, you may know that there is a sign somewhere up on the freeway that points to Chicago. You may know the sign, you may actually have parked your car underneath the sign. You may have actually pointed the sign out to other people. And you could be very familiar with the sign without ever having visited the place to which it points. There is a Chicago, you know, because there is a sign.

Apparently, there are people there, but you do not know, because you've never been. So the potential for being familiar with the sign without having ever embraced the reality to which the sign points is clear in these trivial illustrations, but it is equally so when it comes to the matter of communion and the Lord's Supper. Since it is possible to participate in what is merely an outward display without knowing the inward reality to which the display points, it is therefore very, very important for us, as individuals and as a church, to pay the most important attention to these matters. What we have in the New Testament in these ordinances are there not as a result of men getting together and thinking up a ceremony or an institution, but they are there by divine appointment. If you turn to Luke chapter 22, which I suggested you might have your finger in, you find there that Jesus, in verse 19, takes bread on the occasion of the Last Supper, he gives thanks and breaks it and gives it to his disciples, saying, This is my body given for you.

And then notice, Do this in remembrance of me. Why, then, do we have baptism and the Lord's Supper? Because they were instituted, ordained, if you like, by Christ, who is the head of the church. Now, a number of you that are here this morning will, of course, have come out of a background in which you have been led to believe that there are really seven sacraments or seven ordinances. And if you have been catechized in your own tradition properly, as many of you I'm sure have, then you will have been believing always that you must add to baptism and to communion or the Eucharist penance, confirmation, marriage, ordination, and final unction.

To you I say this. Take all of your seven sacraments or ordinances, and then take your Bible and look for all seven. Retain all that you find and discard all that you do not discover. When you have completed the exercise, you will discover that as an ordinance or as a sacrament, if we choose to use that word, there are only two given by Christ and underscored by Scripture. Not that the issue of marriage or some of these other things is not addressed in the Bible but simply that it is not given to us in the way that baptism and the Lord's Supper is given.

These things emerged in the development of Christendom and largely in the Middle Ages. By the time of the Reformation, the confusion concerning sacraments was far more about the nature of the sacrament itself than it was about how many sacraments there were supposed to be. The issue was, what is happening in the Lord's Supper? The issue was, what does baptism really mean, and who should it be that is participating in it? And I think this morning in a congregation like this, if we're honest, the real discussions that we ever find ourselves having do not really and ultimately relate to the numbers involved but relate to the very issue of what is involved. Because as time went by, baptism and the Lord's Supper came to be regarded not simply as signs of grace—as Augustine pointed them out, outward and visible signs of an inward and spiritual grace.

Augustine's statement was representative of a fourth-century understanding of things once you had had the development of the apostolic church under the Neronian persecution. But once you go forward from there, you discover that the signs of grace are now actually being thought of as containing grace and conveying grace. You understand the difference? So, it's not simply that the sign says, There is Chicago. Suddenly, the sign is Chicago. It is not that the bread and the blood are representative of a sacrifice in the first century on a Roman hill, but it is now that the bread and the blood are the actual body and blood of the Lord Jesus Christ.

The symbol has become the reality. And as a result of that, we are then told, it conveys the very grace that the penitent require. Now, these notions are firmly embedded in the minds of not a few within our Parkside congregation. And when they are embedded in the mind, then it's very difficult to unlodge them.

And why would I even try to? Certainly, it would be far more sensible for me and a far easier journey for me simply to leave it alone. But I can't leave it alone, because if, for example, original sin is not removed as a result of the baptism of a child, then every grown-up child that sits and listens to me preach and hears me call for a response to the gospel processes that call in their mind, saying, Ah, but this is for people who haven't been where I've been or come through what I've been through, because where I come from, I know that I've already had that matter of original sin dealt with because the priest dealt with it when I was baptized. And I have already dealt with the issues of communion when I took my first communion, and I am able to deal with the results of sin within my life as a result of what is contained in and conveyed to me in the celebration of the Mass. Now, there's hardly a week passes but that I get some mail from Roman Catholic people essentially saying, We really like you, Alistair Begg, but when it comes to the matter of Catholicism, you're full of hot air, and we wish that you wouldn't talk about it, because you clearly do not understand. And you're always quoting old books, and you never quote what people believe contemporaneously about these things. And so you set up a straw man, and you trash it. And every time I have to write back and say, This is not my intention.

I never planned to do this. If you think that's what I'm doing, I apologize. I have no interest in doing anything other than trying to help my congregation understand what baptism and the Lord's Supper are all about as a result of looking in the Bible. I mean, that's my job, right? That's my calling. But I have a compelling burden to make sure that sensible people would read the Bible for themselves and would weigh what they're told against what the Bible says and determine whether they're going to allow the Bible to adjudicate over what others say or whether they're going to let other people tell them what the Bible means.

So that's why I say to you all the time, Don't take my word for it. Go read your Bibles. Read your Bibles. The Holy Spirit will work in your heart. You didn't have to use me to get to you.

This is just a privilege you gave me and an opportunity for you. But you can read your Bible. And at the same time, you need to consider what others are saying regarding these things. When the ordinances or the sacraments of the church are made to teach us other things than what the Bible teaches us, then we have to be very, very careful. What you have in the Bible is the truth of God verbally. What you have in the ordinances or the sacraments is the truth of God visibly. And the truth of God visibly conveyed by means of symbols does not contradict the truth of God verbally conveyed in the truth of the Bible. So when you find a teaching that grants to the visible elements that which calls in question what we have verbally in the testimony of Scripture, then you're gonna have to make a decision. Are we going to embrace the cry of the Reformation sola Scriptura, so that this is our authority for understanding what the church is to be and how the church is to operate?

Or is the Scriptures just one of another source by which we may make our pilgrimage through our spiritual existence? If you have children—and I've used this illustration with you before—if you have children, tiny ones, and you draw a horse for them on a pad of paper, and then you take them out through Jogga County, then they look out the car window, and they'll be going, Horsey, horsey, horsey, everywhere, right? Most of the time, they're not horses at all.

They're cows. Because you failed in your instruction. Because in drawing a horse and telling them what a horse is, you failed to tell them what it's not.

And if you don't tell them what it's not, then any time they see anything closely resembling it, they will call it a horse. So if I tell you that you meet Christ when you gather at the Lord's Supper, unless I tell you what that does not mean, then you will bring to that phraseology all of the background of your life by which you have a legitimate right to say, Well, I'm sure that what he really means is this. Unless, of course, I tell you, No, I don't mean that. So we teach by the negative as well as by the positive. Let me quote to you from the catechism, 1992 Roman Catholic catechism, blessed by the pope for the instruction of Roman Catholic people and produced in light of Vatican II. Let me give to you what is your contrast here, and probably thirty or forty percent of this congregation has come out of or remains within the framework of Roman Catholicism.

That's the only reason I do what I do. The Eucharist, says the catechism, is the source and summit of the Christian life. In other words, it is there in the Mass, in the Eucharist, that the Christian life is crystallized, discovered, and truly experienced. For in the Eucharist, and I quote again from section 1330, is contained the whole spiritual good of the church. In the Eucharist, I quote, 1324, it is the sum and summary of our faith. Now, you understand, then, when you participate or observe the services taking place, you understand why it is that there's hardly any Bible at all and why the preponderance of the time is given to this.

There is a logic to it. It is true to the doctrine being professed—namely, that this is the sum and substance of the Christian life, here is contained the embodiment of all truth. This is the absolute apex and imperative experience that must be known by all of the faithful. And in the course of that, the presence of Christ is there bodily.

And again, my friends always write to me and say, Well, you don't understand. We haven't believed that for a long time. Well, then I write back to them and say, Well, you're not a very good Roman Catholic, because the Roman Catholic church still believes it. If you choose not to believe it, then you ought to get a kick in the seat of your pants from your local priest. Christ's presence is a substantial presence brought about through the conversion of the substance of the bread and the wine. It is fittingly, quotes, and properly called, transubstantiation. The body and blood of Christ are there. In fact, it says the bread and the wine become Christ's body and blood, and they do so at the anaphora, the prayer of thanksgiving and consecration, which is, as I've just said, the heart and summit of the celebration. Well, people say, Well, does this really matter?

Why would it even matter? I mean, if that's one way of looking at it, there's other ways of looking at it, and surely we can all just look at it in different ways. Well, no, there are two dramatic consequences that emerge from that. The first is—and I'm not sure that most people understand this, or frankly even care about it on both sides of the divide. The first is that when you say that transubstantiation has taken place and that you have the real presence of the real Christ in these elements, then it is expressive of the fact that the mass itself is a sacrifice in which the sacrifice of the cross is represented to God and applied to the people.

Oh no, say, my friends. Well, here's the catechism, section 1366. Quote, The Eucharist is thus a sacrifice, because it represents, makes present, the sacrifice of the cross. So the cross and the mass share the presence of Christ, they are identified. So the offering of Christ by the priest is therefore the same as the offering by Jesus made himself on the cross.

Oh no, say, my friends, we don't believe that either. So let me give you your catechism. Quotes, The victim is one and the same. The same now offers through the ministry of priests, who then offered himself on the cross. So what Christ did upon the cross as a sacrificial offering for sin is now represented in the offering of the priests in the transubstantiated elements of the Eucharist. And as a result of what the priest offers up, there is then atoning for the sins of the penitent who are present in the mass.

Now, there is a logic to that. And the doctrine adheres. The question is, is that what the New Testament teaches? And for those of you who are tempted to say, Well, it doesn't really matter, let me simply remind you that the Reformers died fiery deaths because of this. That they were burned at the stake all over England and Germany and France and Scotland because of this issue. The fact that the twenty-first evangelical church thinks that it's a sideline and who really should get himself upset about this—after all, let's do sermons on how to be a better father—the fact that that is the case does not overturn the record of history nor the demand of the Bible. Are you still with me?

One or two of you, fortunately. Furthermore, as a result of what is said to happen, the sacrifice is also made for the faithful who have died. Quotes, who have died in Christ but are not yet wholly purified. By means of this sacrifice, quotes, it enables them to enter into the light and peace of Christ, section 1371. In other words, the action of the mass speeds those in purgatory on their way to heaven.

Now, you're a sensible people. You've read the Bible. You read the book of Hebrews. And day after day the priest offers up a sacrifice which can never take away the sins of the people. He offers it again and again and again, because he has to. He himself is a sinner, and he offers first for himself, and then he offers for the sins of those who follow him.

But then when he who himself had no sin came as the perfect sacrifice for sin, he made a once and all atoning sacrifice for the sins of the people. Done! Finished!

Jesus said. Not partially finished. Finished! Tetelestai!

Done! I need no other sacrifice. I need no other plea. It is enough that Jesus died and that he died for me, and he died for me once. And on the basis of his one-time sacrifice on the cross, he has provided a propitiation for the sins of all who believe.

And he has left to us in the symbolism of communion the very emblems that may remind us of the wonder of the fact that by his blood and with his body he bore up our sins on the tree. Therefore, I do not have to run into someplace in order to keep my salvation topped up, in order to keep my sins down on the register, in order to make sure that a religious professional can convey to me that which he holds in the container of the church, which alone is able to dispense salvation to those who seek it. This is not two ways of looking at one thing. This is two totally different views of the gospel.

Now, let me give you two things, and I'll move on. You said, There's no way you're doing baptism this morning. I understand that, but that's all right. In the doctrine of transubstantiation, there is the worship of the host—and I do not mean in any sense to denigrate the sincerity, the love, the devotion, the commitment, the earnest longing that is represented in the hearts of many, many people for whom this is their standard pattern through life. Nor do I wish to call in question that there are those who genuinely believe within the framework of all of that stuff. No one has any right to make those determinations. What I'm talking about is the formal teaching of an entity in direct relationship to the clear teaching of the New Testament.

Listen to what it says. It is right to worship the Eucharist, quotes, genuflecting or bowing deeply. Why? Well, it's logical. Because when they carry that thing down in veneration and in procession, they are not doing what I think is happening, merely carrying signs and symbols, but they are, according to the doctrine, carrying the real presence of Christ under the bread and the wine. And it is for that reason that they are to be reserved for veneration and carried in procession. Section 1378. John Paul the Second in the Catechism, Let our adoration never cease.

Okay? Now let's just go back to Exodus again, the Ten Commandments. You shall not make for yourself an idol. Well, there is an idolatry in this. And you shall not bow down to them or worship them. So we just blew out the first two commandments.

Communion is a sacrament ordained by Jesus to remind us to marvel at his provision. We're listening to Truth for Life with Alistair Begg. One of the things Alistair talked about in today's message is why it's so important for us to read our Bibles for ourselves and to weigh what we're taught against what the Bible says. An easy way to have a Bible handy, no matter where you go, is to add the Truth for Life mobile app to your smartphone or your tablet. If you're not listening through the app today, the app is entirely free.

You can take a minute and download it. Just search for Truth for Life in the app store or visit app. The app is a convenient way to hear the program, read the daily devotional, the blogs, as well as have access to the complete ESV Bible. And if you haven't yet requested a copy of the book Corporate Worship, How the Church Gathers as God's People by hymn writer Matt Merker, you'll want to do that soon.

This is a great supplement to our current series. The book explores the main elements of a local church service, including the importance of baptism and the Lord's Supper. Request your copy of the book Corporate Worship today when you give a donation at slash donate.

I'm Bob Lapine. We learned today that communion isn't the physical body and blood of Christ, and it isn't a repeated sacrifice to top up our salvation. So what does happen when we take the Lord's Supper? We'll hear the conclusion tomorrow. The Bible teaching of Alistair Begg is furnished by Truth for Life, where the Learning is for Living.
Whisper: medium.en / 2023-01-26 05:23:42 / 2023-01-26 05:32:23 / 9

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