THE LORD’S SUPPER
Dr. Charles F. “Chuck” DeVane, Jr., Pastor
Lake Hamilton Baptist Church
Hot Springs, Arkansas
MAY 1, 2016
26 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.” 27 And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, “Drink of it, all of you, 28 for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. 29 I tell you I will not drink again of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father's kingdom.” 30 And when they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.
— Matthew 26:26-30, ESV
Our Lord Jesus Christ began His public ministry with baptism and ended it with the Lord’s Supper. Ever since, Christians and Christians’ children have passed through the waters of baptism as an entry rite into the church. But while two baptism traditions consistently mark the beginning of life in the family of God, the church has a myriad of methods of handling the second sacrament, the Lord’s Supper.
Furthermore, while baptism is the singular name for the first ordinance, the second goes by different names in different contexts: Lord’s Supper, Holy Communion (koinonia, fellowship), the Eucharist (giving thanks, blessing), the Mass (the end, it is finished), and an uncommon but scriptural term, Breaking Bread. Our oldest Christian tradition claims that the bread and wine turns into the literal body and blood of Jesus Christ (transubstantiation). The oldest Reformed tradition offers bread and wine which is mingled with the real body and blood of Jesus (consubstantiation). Others claim Christ is merely present at, but not in, the elements. Still others stress the bread and wine are totally symbolic, but sometimes change they symbols.
So what should we call it, how shall we observe it? Let’s begin at the beginning, with the first mention of it found in the New Testament near the end of Matthew’s Gospel. It was inaugurated by the Lord, and it was offered at a supper, so for consistency’s sake, and with due respect to the other scriptural and historical names, we will refer to it as “the Lord’s Supper.”
The Passover Supper
Before it was the Lord’s Supper, it was the Passover supper. When Jesus reclined at the upper room in Jerusalem with His disciples, it was for the express purpose of celebrating the sacred Jewish tradition of the Seder, or Passover Supper. The meal made use of several elements, chief among them were lamb, matzah (unleavened bread), and wine.
The Passover commemorates Israel’s exodus from the slavery of Egypt to the freedom of the promised land. At the time, the bread was unleavened because of the haste in which the children of God obeyed the word of God to exchange slavery for salvation. The wine, a constant symbol of joy after sorrow and life after death, marked the transformation from slavery to salvation. The lamb was slain to provide the way from slavery to salvation. The blood of the lamb was placed on the top and sides of the doors, foreshadowing a cross. Death had to “pass over” every home and every heart that was covered by the blood of the lamb.
In transitioning the Passover Supper to the Lord’s Supper, the Lord only took the bread and the wine. Where was the Lamb? The lamb, or the Lord, was in their midst. For it was the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world, who served them the bread and the wine.
The Passover Supper was rich in symbolism. So is the Lord’s Supper. The lamb is the sacrifice. Bread and wine mark the safe passage from sin to salvation. Devout Jews, like Jesus of Nazareth, took the Passover to heart. Devout Christians, followers of Jesus, should take the Lord’s Supper to heart.
The Last Supper
Before it was the Lord’s Supper, it was the last supper. The Old Covenant was being fulfilled and passing away. The New Covenant of the kingdom of God had arrived to take its place. It had come in the virgin birth of the Messiah, in His perfect life and ministry, and it would be sealed by His sacrificial death and glorious resurrection. The gospel of the New Covenant takes followers through the waters of Jordan in baptism and to the upper room for the last supper.
This last supper was the last thing Jesus did with His disciples before His betrayal, arrest, trials, and crucifixion. It put His whole life and ministry in perspective. In the beginning, at His baptism, John declared Jesus to be the Lamb of God. At the apex of His popularity, the feeding of the five thousand, Jesus declared Himself to be the Bread of Life. His admonition at that time to eat His flesh and drink His blood turned unbelievers away and caused some confusion among true believers, confusion which lingers even to this present day.
Jesus did plainly say, “This is my body” and “This is my blood.” He also said, “I am bread,” “I am water,” and “I am the door” among other metaphors. We do not think Jesus to be a literal piece of wood, so there is no need to think He meant that the bread and wine of the last supper was His literal flesh and blood. Many dietary laws did change from the Old Covenant to the New Covenant, but the prohibition against drinking blood did not.
So, the last became the first. The last Passover Supper became the first Lord’s Supper. Goodbye, Old Covenant, welcome, New. Goodbye, Israel, welcome, church. Goodbye to Judaism and the annual Seder, hello to the church and the regular serving of the Lord’s Supper.
The Lord’s Supper
Three days after the first Lord’s Supper, Christianity came full circle, on a Sunday. Christ arose from the grave and, among His other activities, traveled along the Emmaus Road with two of His disciples. They did not recognize Him at first. In order to open their eyes, to make them understand who He is and what He has done for His people, this happened: “When He was at table with them, He took the bread and blessed and broke it and gave it to them. And their eyes were opened, and they recognized Him” (ref. Luke 24:30-31).
Throughout Acts, Luke continues to chronicle the work of the Spirit and the sacred activity of the church, noting how they gathered particularly “on the first day of the week” and on these occasions always “broke bread” (ref. Acts 20:7). The Apostle Paul, chief theologian and church planter, taught the bread and wine of the Lord’s Supper is of immense importance and should be shared “as often” as we worship, or at least as often as possible. A few things now come into focus.
The elements of the Lord’s Supper are easy to see. They should be unleavened bread and genuine wine. This is what Christ offered to His first followers. This is what the Apostles, the church fathers, the Catholics and the early Protestants offered to their adherents. These elements are consistent with the Passover Supper, the Last Supper, and the Lord’s Supper, and clearly represent the sinless sacrifice of Christ, the urgency of accepting Him, the blood He shed for the forgiveness of our sins, and the new life in the Spirit He gives by grace alone through faith alone in Him alone.
The best interpretation of this an other key texts is that the bread and wine are symbolic. He suffered once for sins then sat down at the right hand of God the Father. To send Him back again and again into the communion elements seems unnecessary and overly literal. Instead, we should marvel that Christ is always in the midst of His worshiping people, and nothing makes us more aware of this than the presence of Lord’s Supper.
This divine presence should be seen “as often” as we worship, which means virtually every Lord’s Day, or Sunday. Charity compels me to concede alternatives to other churches and traditions, but the Lord’s Supper is too meaningful, too beautiful, too filled with the gospel to commemorate less frequently. Christians need it burned into our hearts, and those present in worship who are not yet Christians need to have their hearts burned by the bold image of the sacrificial love of God.
Finally, in Scripture and in history, only baptized believers partake of the Lord’s Supper. Remember, Christ was baptized at the beginning of the gospel, then offered the Lord’s Supper to true disciples at the end. Prayers were offered. Hymns were sung. Biblical teaching was given. The Lord’s Supper immediately became a central part of the worship service of believers. Unbelievers are always welcomed to worship, they should never be ostracized nor embarrassed, but the Lord’s Supper is reserved for those who have made and maintain a credible profession of faith, including a walk with the Lord through the waters of baptism.
If you attend a Catholic church today, they might give you the bread unless you are non-Catholic or divorced. Only the ordained priests can drink the cup. Though this is weak theology, at least they have a weekly, even daily, observance.
If you attend most Protestant churches today, you will not experience the Lord’s Supper. The church of my youth held it so seldom I can recount on one hand the times it was served. It seems too expensive and messy for most churches to put too much emphasis on it. I’m sure Calvary was expensive and messy for Jesus, but He fully paid the cost.
If you attend a typical Southern Baptist church today, and if they happen to be holding their rare observance (they have business meetings much more often than the Lord’s Supper), they will not allow you to partake unless you are a member of their particular church, in which you would have had to be re-baptized into if your original baptism was not in a Southern Baptist church. If you are going to hold the sacraments hostage in this way, you might as well be Roman Catholic.
But, in our church on Sunday, every Sunday, the Lord’s Supper is in our midst, along with our Lord. God is your judge as to whether or not your should partake. We typically offer it in the middle, not the end, of the service to separate ourselves from Catholics and Anglo-Catholics, to stress that the main part of the service is not the symbols, but the actual preaching, hearing, and obedience to the word of God. But where it is in the service is not the important thing to us, the important thing is that the Lord’s Supper is in the service, and Christ is in the Lord’s Supper, and by partaking of it, you are in Christ.
“Come to the table and see in His eyes,
The love that the Father has spoken.
And know you are welcome, whatever your crime,
For every commandment you've broken.
For He's come to love you and not to condemn,
And He offers a pardon of peace.
If you'll come to the table, you'll feel in your heart,
The greatest forgiveness, the greatest release.”
— Michael Card
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