Secrets of the Last Supper

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1 Corinthians 11:23-29

In most Protestant churches, there are two ordinances: water baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Of the two, the latter has been called “the heirloom of the Christian Church.” And that’s a perfect way to think of it. Consider the emblems the Lord’s Supper; they are homey and simple – bread and wine (or juice as a substitute). Bread is the staple of life and together with either wine or juice, can be found in most any home in any part of the world.

Yet as commonplace as bread and wine are, in the hands of our Lord they embody the most profound facts of the Christian faith. The bread becomes His Body and the wine His Blood. In symbolic fashion, they come to represent Christ’s character and His mission.

Most churches when they celebrate the Lord’s Supper or Communion, read this passage of Scripture, which contains words Paul received from the Lord and which he has passed on to the believers in Corinth, and ultimately to us. Let’s consider what Jesus thought of His Supper.

Preamble

For I have received of the Lord that which also I delivered unto you… (1 Corinthians 11:23a KJV)

Part of being a member of the church is understanding the importance of the Lord’s Supper. It may be an observance – a memorial – but it is a significant one. There is a right way and wrong way to celebrate it, and apparently some members of the Corinthian church were observing in the wrong way.

When you come together to eat, it isn’t the Lord’s Supper you are eating, but your own. (1 Corinthians 10:20-21a TLB)

In other words, some in the church were celebrating the Lord’s Supper (a good thing) their own way (a bad thing). It’s all well and good to be obedient to the Lord and to support your church, but it has to be done God’s way, not your own. Nobody has the right to approach God any old way. If you’re going to do what God wants you to do, then you have to do it His way, not yours. That, of course, takes discipline and a commitment to actually knowing what God wants.

Believers are guests at the Lord’s table, and as such ought to behave as guests. It’s a solemn occasion for we are not only remembering what Jesus did for us, we are commemorating the establishment of a new covenant of grace.

The Incarnation

…That the Lord Jesus the same night in which he was betrayed took bread…and said, This is my body… (1 Corinthians 11:23b, 24b KJV)

As an interesting sidelight, Paul used a Greek verb in the imperfect tense to describe the act of betrayal. That whole night was an act of betrayal; what Judas did lit the fuse that ended at the Cross. And in the midst of this betrayal came what have to call, “the Last Supper.”

Jesus said of the bread, “This is my body…” Depending on what denomination you belong to, you either take that phrase literally – that is, the bread mystically turns into the Body of Christ, or you take it symbolically – the bread represents the Body of Christ. Since the days of the Reformation, theologians have discussed  what Jesus meant, and I seriously doubt that I can contribute anything new to that discussion. But I will say this: that piece of bread Jesus held in hand was just that – a piece of bread. It remained a piece of bread that represented His body. This, by the way, is nothing new in Scripture. Think about that dove the descended on Jesus during His baptism. We know the dove wasn’t really the Holy Spirit, it merely represented the Holy Spirit, just as the bread represents Christ’s earthly body. In fact, it represents the Incarnation:

Therefore, when Christ came into the world, he said: “Sacrifice and offering you did not desire,but a body you prepared for me; with burnt offerings and sin offerings you were not pleased. Then I said, ‘Here I am–it is written about me in the scroll–I have come to do your will, O God.’ ” (Hebrews 10:5-7a NIV84)

That’s a marvelous testimony! The Son of God took on, not the body or nature of angels, but the “likeness of sinful flesh.”

For what the law was powerless to do in that it was weakened by the sinful nature, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful man to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in sinful man…(Romans 8:3a NIV84)

Our Lord took the body prepared for Him by the Father so that He could become the visible sacrifice for the sins of the world. And the most marvelous part of this story is that Jesus did it on His own – of His own free will!

...but made himself nothing,taking the very nature of a servant,being made in human likeness. (Philippians 2:7 NIV84)

Notice the words Paul used: [Jesus] made himself… Nobody and nothing forced Jesus to do what He did: not His Father and not even the circumstance of man’s sinful condition. What Jesus did He did based on a decision He Himself made.

The taking of the bread as a symbol of His body was also a voluntary act.

Jesus’ devotion

And when he had given thanks… (1 Corinthians 11:24a KJV)

This is a remarkable thing Jesus did. He didn’t just say grace and pass the food around the table. Remember, the bread He held in His hand – the bread He gave thanks for – was an emblem of His body. In essence, Jesus gave thanks to His Father for a body that was about to be broken and bruised and hung up on a Cross!

Or to put it another way, our Lord thanked God for the privilege of suffering and ultimately dying for a sick, sinful, guilty, and thankless humanity.

Talk about devotion to a cause! This was it! For Jesus, there was no turning back; He knew He was born for this very moment, and He whole heartedly embraced it.

“The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life–only to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father.” (John 10:17-18 NIV84)

His suffering

…he brake it… (1 Corinthians 11:24b KJV)

These three words are pregnant with meaning. Remember, Paul was not in the Upper Room during the Last Supper. What we’re reading here is not an eye witness account but, rather, a direct revelation from the Lord. These three words are of vital importance because they show, among other things, that Jesus was in full control of everything happening during this night of betrayal. He gave thanks, and He broke it. Jesus didn’t give the piece of bread to Judas to break, He broke it Himself. He gave HIMSELF as a sacrifice for our sins.

…Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. (Ephesians 5:2 NIV84)

Jesus did what He did because He loved us. We were unloveable and He still loved us. We were sinners who couldn’t care less about Jesus, and He still loved us.

What our Lord went through in His suffering and death was completely voluntary. He decided what He would do, and when He would do it. He broke the bread.

His substitution

Take, eat: this is my body, which is broken for you: this do in remembrance of me. (1 Corinthians 11:24c KJV)

One the very eve of His death, our Lord spoke prophetically about what was going to happen to His physical body. It would be broken. It would be nailed to a Cross. Notice: it would be broken for YOU. In other words, what was about to happen to Jesus should happen to each of us. He suffered – His body was broken, not accidentally but on purpose – in our place.

But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities;the punishment that brought us peace was upon him,and by his wounds we are healed. (Isaiah 53:5 NIV84)

Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. 8But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
(Romans 5:7-8 NIV84)

Not only His body, but the wine of His blood was shed for our redemption. It signed the New Covenant.

After the same manner also he took the cup, when he had supped, saying, This cup is the new testament in my blood… (1 Corinthians 11:25a KJV)

Again, “He took the cup.” Nobody else took it; He did. His blood was not accidentally poured or spilled out; it was deliberately shed, and because it was, it changed our lives forever.

For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your forefathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect. (1 Peter 1:18-19 NIV84)

When you take Communion, do you ever think about that? The blood of Jesus made us children of God.

His invitation

Take, eat… (1 Corinthians 11:24c KJV)

...this do…in remembrance of me. (1 Corinthians 11:25b KJV)

The Atonement was made by the actions of one Man: the Lord Jesus Christ. He did it all by His suffering and death. But after that, after Atonement had been made, an invitation was issued: take and eat. In other words, sinners must partake of the benefits provided. All the work of Jesus on the Cross comes to nothing unless a sinner partakes of them. The benefits of the Atonement must be appropriated before they can work in a sinner’s life. Jesus doesn’t spoon-feed anybody! That’s our responsibility.

However, there is absolutely no virtue in just eating and drinking. There must be remembering. That’s the very soul of this ordinance. We must remember Jesus and what He did. The elements of bread and wine are merely the symbols. We have to use our minds to remember what Jesus did.

His purpose

So that’s it? The Lord’s Supper is just a memorial service? Not quite. There is a little more to it:

For as often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do shew the Lord’s death still he come. (1 Corinthians 11:26 KJV)

When we observe the Lord’s Supper, we are sitting at a table that looks in three directions:

It is a commemoration. We are doing it memory of Him. We are looking back to the Cross; remembering what it means.
It’s a communion service. We are in communion with Christ through the Holy Spirit, but we are also in communion with each other. That’s the present view of the table.
It’s a commitment. The communion table also looks to the future: Jesus has committed to come again. The Communion service is temporary; it will end the day He comes back.

By eating the bread and drinking from the cup, we are “proclaiming the Lord’s death.” That means we are testifying to what Jesus did; we are remembering it and publicly witnessing to its reality. We are to do this repeatedly and often.

It’s interesting and not insignificant that our Lord took these two elements, bread and wine, that will spoil and rot and He built a monument. It wasn’t a monument to Himself, but a monument to God’s great plan of redemption. The monument to God’s plan of redemption speaks of Jesus and His work, yet it was made of frailest elements on earth: bread and wine.

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