In 1 Corinthians 11:23-29, the apostle Paul lays out for the Church what the practice and testimony of the Lord’s Supper is meant to be for all believers until God comes again. Take a moment to remind yourself of Paul’s words here by reading 1 Corinthians 11:23-29 again.
This week, I have written a much longer than normal study in order to give us a thorough overview of what the Lord’s Supper is and what God intends it to mean and to be to us as blood-bought Christians. I pray this is a true help and encouragement to your faith journey.
“The Word of Truth Catechism” gives us a great overview of what the Lord’s Supper is:
112. What is the Lord's Supper?
The Lord’s Supper is a holy, New Covenant ordinance from our Lord Jesus, whereby professing believers gather together regularly to remember, celebrate, and testify of the sacrificial death of Jesus Christ by the eating of bread and the drinking of wine, which symbolize the body and blood of Jesus. This is a regular practice and testimony for those who are saved by God.
To give us a tota scriptura view of the Lord’s Supper today, let’s start by looking at Romans 3.
Romans 3:9-12 … For we have already charged that all, both Jews and Greeks, are under sin, as it is written:
“None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God.
All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.”
Romans 3:23 … all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God
The result of mankind’s sin was God’s judgment and wrath. We have seen God enact His judgment and wrath in many ways throughout mankind’s history as we study the holy Scriptures.
One of the most historic is found in the following verses in Genesis 6, whereby God declares and then executes His judgment and wrath over all of mankind by killing them with a global flood, apart from the family of Noah.
Another one of the critical and pinnacle places we see God exercise His righteous judgment and wrath on deserving sinners is found in the 10th plague that God put over Egypt.
Exodus 11:1 The Lord said to Moses, “Yet one plague more I will bring upon Pharaoh and upon Egypt. Afterward he will let you go from here. When he lets you go, he will drive you away completely.”
Exodus 12:1-14 The Lord said to Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt, “This month shall be for you the beginning of months. It shall be the first month of the year for you. Tell all the congregation of Israel that on the tenth day of this month every man shall take a lamb according to their fathers' houses, a lamb for a household. And if the household is too small for a lamb, then he and his nearest neighbor shall take according to the number of persons; according to what each can eat you shall make your count for the lamb. Your lamb shall be without blemish, a male a year old. You may take it from the sheep or from the goats, and you shall keep it until the fourteenth day of this month, when the whole assembly of the congregation of Israel shall kill their lambs at twilight. Then they shall take some of the blood and put it on the two doorposts and the lintel of the houses in which they eat it. They shall eat the flesh that night, roasted on the fire; with unleavened bread and bitter herbs they shall eat it. Do not eat any of it raw or boiled in water, but roasted, its head with its legs and its inner parts. And you shall let none of it remain until the morning; anything that remains until the morning you shall burn. In this manner you shall eat it: with your belt fastened, your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand. And you shall eat it in haste. It is the Lord's Passover. For I will pass through the land of Egypt that night, and I will strike all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both man and beast; and on all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgments: I am the Lord. The blood shall be a sign for you, on the houses where you are. And when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and no plague will befall you to destroy you, when I strike the land of Egypt. This day shall be for you a memorial day, and you shall keep it as a feast to the Lord; throughout your generations, as a statute forever, you shall keep it as a feast.”
Understand that this event, the Exodus and the provision of God to free Israel from Egypt’s grip, was talked about worldwide for generations and generations. The annual feast commanded by God, Passover, would be the most cherished gathering of the Jews and would serve to point the hearts of His people to the One who would forever set them free.
From the beginning, God has had a plan to redeem His elect from the separation and eternal wrath due them for their sin. To do this, He planned for a royal Redeemer to come and die in our place, so we could be free from the eternal penalty of sin and reconciled to God to enjoy Him forever.
God the Son, Jesus, is this promised Redeemer. The Passover not only became the most cherished Jewish practice to honor God and remember what He did to set them free, but it would be the table at which Jesus would establish a new covenant between God and His people.
The Passover that began at the Exodus would point generations to the truer and better Passover Lamb--Jesus Christ.
John 1:29 The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!”
In our text tonight, “the forerunner of Christ” (John the Baptist) announces Jesus as "the lamb of God," not as "the word of God," not as "the Christ of God," but as THE LAMB. This is so critical because the work of the Lamb of God is the very office in which we stood in deepest need of Him.
Before we get to the official work of Jesus as the Lamb of God, let’s look back on God’s divine plan from the beginning to provide the needed Lamb. God in His providence uses a lamb all throughout history to make it clear that a sinful people are desperate for a Lamb--a Lamb of God.
1. In Genesis 4, we have the Lamb typified as Abel sacrifices a lamb unto the Lord.
2. We have the Lamb prophesied in Genesis 22:8 where Abraham said to Isaac, "God will provide himself a lamb."
3. In Exodus 12, we have the lamb slain on behalf of the people and its blood applied.
4. In Isaiah 53:7, for the first time we learn that the promised Lamb of God would be a man.
5. In John 1:29, we have the Lamb identified as Jesus.
7. In the last chapter of the Bible, we have the Lamb glorified, seated upon the eternal throne of God (Revelation 22:1).
As Hebrews 9:22 says, “… without the shedding of blood, there is no forgiveness of sins.”
The Bible says in Romans 6:23, “… the wages for sin is death.” Sin earns death.
In the Old Covenant system God put in place, the animal dies as a substitute in the place of the sinful people at the hands of the high priest.
Now, here’s the problem: The Bible is also clear that “it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins” (Hebrews 10:4).
So, all of the Old Testament sacrifice and the spilling of the blood of spotless lambs and goats is a foreshadow of the ultimate grace of God that would be provided in Christ alone.
God is pointing to the ultimate Sacrifice--the one true Sacrifice.
The perfect and satisfactory blood of the Lamb of God who would take away the sin of the world.
All throughout the Old Testament, God is making a way for Jesus--the One who would bring grace upon grace.
Oh, how it was the grace of God to give His people this system to point to the fact that He would not just condemn, but He would act in amazing grace!
The whole Old Testament system was pointing forward to what would happen someday in a final sacrifice for sin. Those whom God would save of the Old Testament were putting their faith in the coming Messiah--THE LAMB OF GOD--who would pay the complete and final price for their sin and make atonement for their sin in the only way it could be paid for.
Now, turn to John chapter 2.
Here in John 2, we witness the first miracle of God in flesh, which was turning water into wine at the wedding celebration. It is filled with symbolism of what Jesus has come to bring His people.
John 2:9-11 When the master of the feast tasted the water now become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the master of the feast called the bridegroom and said to him, “Everyone serves the good wine first, and when people have drunk freely, then the poor wine. But you have kept the good wine until now.” This, the first of his signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee, and manifested his glory. And his disciples believed in him.
This miracle demonstrated not only Jesus’ Lordship over creation but was also a picture of what the Messiah would do in His ministry; i.e., take up common elements (like water) and transform them into something special and wonderful for the good of others.
We will see that Jesus’ drinking of the cup for the purpose of celebration with His people is yet to come at this point in His ministry.
Before the celebration can begin, He must also drink of another cup. He has a work to do first to make possible the true enjoyment of wine at the wedding feast, whereby He and His bride (the church) will have fellowship forever.
John 2:3-4 When the wine ran out, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.” And Jesus said to her, “Woman, what does this have to do with me? My hour has not yet come.”
What is on Jesus’ mind is the cup of wrath.
Like God has done from the beginning of time, Jesus is continuing the predetermined rescue mission of His people for the banquet that will outdo all banquets and that will last for eternity!
Before Jesus would drink the wine at the eternal feast with His redeemed, He would have to drink of the cup of wrath on behalf of His people.
Yes, as Psalm 104:14-15 states, God gave "wine to gladden the heart of man." He gave it as a good gift to be enjoyed and eventually to be a part of His eternal celebration, but Jesus came to do a work that we could not do, a work that must be done.
In this, Jesus had to set aside the ceremonial wine and instead drink of the cup of wrath so that we, His chosen people, don’t have to.
All of this is pointing to another wedding feast--a feast where Jesus is the eternal Bridegroom and His redeemed people are His beloved bride. Listen to the language used later in Revelation 21:
Revelation 21:9 … “Come, I will show you the Bride, the wife of the Lamb.”
Jesus is the true Bridegroom! So the Lord is using the stage of His first miracle at the wedding in Cana to point to the eternal wedding by which Jesus, the Bridegroom, will be united forever with His bride--the Church, the redeemed.
Praise God He finished what He came to do. It’s not without real cost that He did this, too.
Turn with me to…
Mark 14:32-36 (NIV) They went to a place called Gethsemane, and Jesus said to his disciples, "Sit here while I pray." He took Peter, James and John along with him, and he began to be deeply distressed and troubled. "My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death," he said to them. "Stay here and keep watch."
Going a little farther, he fell to the ground and prayed that if possible the hour might pass from him. "Abba, Father," he said, "everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will."
Praise God that Jesus was obedient to the Father to the point of death.
Not my will but yours be done. He drank the cup of wrath on our behalf.
This is the gospel of our “Passover.”
2 Corinthians 5:21 … he made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us.
He took on our sin for His chosen ones! He paid our price. He atoned our sin.
Now, we must also understand at that moment, the wrath of God due a particular people was satisfied.
The justice of God was met. The holiness of God was respected.
1 Corinthians 5:7 says … For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed.
This is God’s amazing plan of redemption for us, His chosen people.
What the Passover meant to the Jews for generations pointed to what the Lord’s Supper means to us today.
It is our opportunity to celebrate the Passover Lamb who drank the cup of wrath on our behalf.
Only in Him do we have new freedom from the wrath of God and are reconciled to Him forever.
This brings us to the new ordinance that Jesus gave to the disciples the night before He was betrayed. At the last Passover meal, God the Son gave His people a new tradition and a new remembrance and a new celebration and testimony to the watching world about how the Lord passed over us and all others who believe in Him for salvation.
Luke 22:14-20 And when the hour came, he reclined at table, and the apostles with him. And he said to them, “I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. For I tell you I will not eat it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.” And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he said, “Take this, and divide it among yourselves. For I tell you that from now on I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.” And he took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” And likewise the cup after they had eaten, saying, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.”
To understand the instructions of our Lord, we must understand the context.
They are at the last Passover meal.
In Luke, Jesus expresses the weight of this particular Passover meal and all that it pointed to for all those years. He was about to fulfill it. And He said to them, “I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer” (Luke 22:15).
In verses 16 and 18, Jesus is clear that He will not partake of the ceremonial bread and wine until His kingdom is fulfilled.
At the Last Supper, Jesus gives us instruction as to how we (His bride) are to remember Him, testify of what He has done, and tell the story by celebrating the Lord’s Supper until He comes again. In Matthew we read:
Matthew 26:26-29 Now as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is my body.” And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, “Drink of it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.”
Why is this so significant? Because He was about to substitute Himself. Just as the Lamb that the Jews used to put blood on their doorpost, so the Spirit would pass over them and not kill their firstborn as the 10th plague required. We, who are in Christ whom He substitutes Himself for, are passed over from the wrath of God because Christ, our sacrificial Lamb, takes it on Himself.
This is the gospel. This is the good news. In God’s grace and through Jesus’ costly sacrifice, we are forgiven and made new and given new life in Christ.
Jesus wants us to remember Him (“do this in remembrance of me”).
And He wants us to testify this good news to the watching world with visual physical symbols until He comes again.
Now, to rightly understand how we are to practice this ordinance given to us by the Lord, we must understand the two specific elements the Lord chose to be symbols that represent His body and blood. He took these two symbols from the Passover table and told us to carry them forward as a testimony of what He has done in a new tradition and ceremony!
As we study the whole of Scripture, we need to understand that the two elements that Jesus chose are not without deep meaning and purpose. Let’s look back for a moment at the elements used at the Passover meal table that the Lord chose for us to carry forward for the Lord’s Supper.
The instructions for the Passover meal involved the removal of chametz (sha-mets) from homes and property. Chametz is leaven. The removal of chametz commemorates a few things, possibly, and one is the fact that the Jews left Egypt in a hurry and did not have time to let their bread rise.
Additionally, in the Bible, leaven is almost always symbolic of sin. Even a little leaven will eventually leaven the whole lump, affecting the whole church or the whole world (Galatians 5:9). Even a little permitted sin will lead to other sins and will compromise our testimony in Christ.
So, the grain the Lord instructed them to eat at Passover in place of chametz is called matzah. Matzah is unleavened bread made from simple ingredients like flour and water and cooked very quickly. This is traditionally viewed as the bread that the Jews made for their flight from Egypt.
The Symbolism of Bread and Why Jesus Chose It for the Lord’s Supper Ordinance
First, Jesus’ life substituted for ours is the only way we are set free, forgiven, and unshackled from our bondage to sin.
Romans 6:23 For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Second, in John 6:27-37 and elsewhere, Jesus teaches that He is the true, satisfying bread of life. That bread which symbolizes life and sustenance points to Jesus as the true Bread of Life. That fact that He gave up His body, His life, for ours so that we could have the true bread that is eternal life and satisfaction is the beautiful testimony of the gospel. So, Jesus gave us the symbolism of eating the unleavened bread to remember the breaking of His body and that He who is the true Bread and lasting Life will come again to usher in His eternal kingdom.
Brothers/sisters: Don’t miss the meaning of the bread which symbolizes life.
Jesus’ body was given so that we could be given true and lasting life in Christ.
All of what the Bible teaches us about unleavened bread is helpful and good for us as we partake in the Lord’s Supper and use this symbol to remember His body given for our life.
The Passover Seder included four different cups of wine that were poured and consumed with different emphasis at different points in the meal.
The four cups of wine used at various points during the Seder each has a name:
The first glass is the “cup of sanctification.”
The second is the “cup of judgment.”
The third is the “cup of redemption.”
The fourth is the “cup of praise.”
Sanctification, judgment, redemption, and praise.
All significant meanings for the New Covenant that Jesus’ shed blood would provide for us.
So as Jesus lifts the cup of wine at the Last Supper, He does two amazing things:
1. He promised that the next time He drank the fruit of the vine with them, it would be in the kingdom (Luke 22:17).
2. Later in the Seder, Jesus holds up a cup of wine and declares it to be the symbol of His shed blood, which would bring about the New Covenant between God and His people (Luke 22:20).
In this, Jesus fulfills the Passover symbolism pointing to Himself as the ultimate Sacrifice for us, and He establishes a new ordinance with important meaning for the church until He returns that centers around the symbol of wine.
Understand it is not “the cup” that is the symbol that points to His blood, but what is in the cup that is the symbol of His blood. Jesus uses the phrase “the fruit of the vine” because that is the phrase the Jews used to designate the wine partaken of on sacred occasions such as at the Passover and on the evening of the Sabbath. It is wine that holds the special symbolism God intended and pointed to all throughout Scripture.
Like the bread, the wine has always held significant symbolism and value in God’s economy.
Wine: A Symbol of Blessing
Wine, in Scripture, is a promise from God of the blessings of the covenant.
Psalm 4:7 You have put more joy in my heart than they have when their grain and wine abound.
Though sinful men can misuse and abuse this gift, God Himself uses it as an example of His goodness towards us.
Psalm 104:14-15 You cause the grass to grow for the livestock and plants for man to cultivate,
that he may bring forth food from the earth and wine to gladden the heart of man,
oil to make his face shine and bread to strengthen man's heart.
In fact, wine is a blessing that God specifically promises to those who honor Him with their first fruits.
Proverbs 3:9-10 Honor the Lord with your wealth and with the first fruits of all your produce; then your barns will be filled with plenty, and your vats will be bursting with wine.
As in all things in creation, wine itself is a symbol, a picture, a reflection of something bigger and greater. It is a picture of the blessings that come from a right relationship with God.
Isaiah 25:6 On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wine, of rich food full of marrow, of aged wine well refined.
Wine: A Symbol of Life with God
In fact, it is a picture of the new life we have in Christ.
Isaiah 55:1 Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money,
come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.
Jesus used wine as a symbol of the indwelling Holy Spirit, who cannot be limited by old traditions.
Matthew 9:17 “Neither is new wine put into old wineskins. If it is, the skins burst and the wine is spilled and the skins are destroyed. But new wine is put into fresh wineskins, and so both are preserved.”
These two good gifts Jesus chose for us are used to point to the better gift--an everlasting gift we have only in Jesus Christ.
We honor the Lord in our regular and faithful remembrance of Him and testimony of His death until He comes again by using the symbols He gave us, remembering that the bread and the wine point to Him. He is the prize, He is the point, He is the gospel we testify of and hope in and worship forevermore.
Church: Remember the good news is He did this for us, and He is coming again.
And when He does, that feast will be amazing.
Isaiah 25:6-9 On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wine,
of rich food full of marrow, of aged wine well refined.
And he will swallow up on this mountain the covering that is cast over all peoples, the veil that is spread over all nations.
He will swallow up death forever; and the Lord God will wipe away tears from all faces, and the reproach of his people he will take away from all the earth, for the Lord has spoken.
It will be said on that day, “Behold, this is our God; we have waited for him, that he might save us.
This is the Lord; we have waited for him; let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.”
Until God ordains Jesus’ coming to take us home to the wedding feast He has prepared, He has instructed us to testify with the Lord’s Supper, and so testify we must. This is why the regular practice of the Lord’s Supper is so important. It keeps our minds on the gospel and centered on Christ and it is a public testimony of a tangible symbolism of the gospel for those who are still unbelievers.
Let the Lord’s Supper never become an obligatory routine but one of great symbolism and deep meaning of the gospel that has set us free and that proclaims Jesus’ substitutional death on behalf of deserving sinners, so we can be restored to Him for life eternal.
Three things I want to be sure to touch on before I wrap up this study:
The Lord’s supper is only for those whom God has given saving faith in Jesus alone for salvation and who have ideally been baptized to profess that faith.
This means the Lord’s Supper is not for children who are not saved and baptized and/or friends or casual church attendees who have not yet trust their lives to Jesus. The Lord’s Supper is given to the body of Christ to remember His sacrifice on their behalf. If you are not a part of the body of Christ, then you do not have a testimony of Christ to celebrate and share with the world. The Lord’s Supper stands as a tangible reminder to our unbelieving children or friends or family who see us partake that they have the most serious business to do in being saved before they are a part of the family of God in this most important way.
Repentance from sin must happen to rightly honor the Lord’s Supper.
If a believers are walking in unrepentance or is under Christian discipline, they have no business testifying publically that they belong to Jesus and He has given them the power to overcome sin. It is a contrasting testimony that is not good for the gospel or one’s personal witness. This is why Paul is saying in 1 Corinthians 11:27-29, “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.”
We must examine ourselves. Is there unrepentant sin I have not dealt with? This doesn’t mean perfection. The Lord’s Supper is a wonderful place to be reminded how dependent on Jesus you are to overcome sin. If struggling, eat and drink deeply and be reoriented for who you are in Christ and repent.
But if you are in a season of sinfully avoiding repentance, then you are participating in an unworthy manner. The Corinthian church was guilty of selfish and sinful behavior. Paul is saying, “Take account and repent, so that you do not stand in judgment outside of a true witness and walk with Christ.”
The Lord’s Supper is to be practiced faithfully and regularly by His people until He returns.
1 Corinthians 11:26 For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes.
The Lord’s Supper is a beautiful and wonderful symbol of the grace of God on undeserving sinners. It points us to the sacrifice of the spotless Lamb in our place and testifies to a watching world about what God has done and that He is coming again to claim His bride and provide a wedding feast like no other as we honor and worship the God of all creation.
We are convicted to treasure our time at the Lord’s table and this witness and remembrance the Lord has given. Please make your preparation for the Lord’s Supper a special part of your preparation for Sunday worship and journey with God. Let us be faithful and accountable in our practice of it. For God’s eternal glory and others’ eternal good!