Text: 1 Corinthians 11:17-34
Location: Park Community Church South Loop
Date: Sunday March 19, 2023
On the night of Christ’s betrayal and arrest. He sat in an upper room with his 12 disciples. One of them, Judas Iscariot, left that room early to go betray Jesus to the authorities. But in that room, on that evening, Jesus began by leading his men in a song of worship. He then shared the historic Passover Meal with them, breaking bread, and sharing wine. All through the Bible, and throughout Church history, Christians have taken bread and wine in commemoration of that evening of Christ with his disciples, as well as in obedience to Jesus’ instructions to practice it regularly. Why did Jesus instruct the Church to take what we call the Lord’s Supper? What is the significance of it? What is supposed to occur in our heart as we gather and eat the bread and drink the wine?
As we continue in our study through 1 Corinthians we come to the lengthiest passage in the Bible with instructions on the Lord’s Supper. If you recall anything from today it should be that The Lord’s Supper is a holy mystery to be cherished and embraced by the Church. I’ll show you that through three separate observations from the text.
Observation 1: The Lord’s Supper is a Significant Symbol of a Church’s Unity in Christ
The first observation I would like to make is that the Lord’s supper is only to be taken by those who are in unity with their Church.
1 Corinthians 11:17-22 “17 But in the following instructions I do not commend you, because when you come together it is not for the better but for the worse. 18 For, in the first place, when you come together as a church, I hear that there are divisions among you. And I believe it in part, 19 for there must be factions among you in order that those who are genuine among you may be recognized. 20 When you come together, it is not the Lord’s supper that you eat. 21 For in eating, each one goes ahead with his own meal. One goes hungry, another gets drunk. 22 What! Do you not have houses to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I commend you in this? No, I will not.”
Notice the context of this passage. Verse 17 he begins by saying that there is a problem with the way they are “coming together”. Verse 18 says it again, “When you come together as a Church.” He’s speaking to a local body of Christians that call themselves a Church family. And, just as we do, they came together weekly to hear teachings from Scripture and celebrate the Lord’s Supper.
In order for this passage to make sense we must realize that the way we take the Lord’s supper, with a little bread and a little wine, is not wrong per se, but its not how the Corinthians practiced it. The Lord’s Supper was a meal. In fact, in the 1st century, Christians were known for these meals that they called ‘Love Feasts.’ This whole meal that had a moment where they all broke bread together and drank the wine together symbolized their love for one another.
Paul expresses that somehow this love feast had degraded into the exact opposite of what it was supposed to represent. The custom in those days when a large group or association shared a meal together, the wealthy & prominent ate first. And the lower in status you were, the less likely you were to get any of the good food or even any food at all. And part of the symbol for Paul of this entire meal was that people of different social rungs all ate the meal together. The ways the world divided each other, did not happen inside the Church. It was supposed to be a miraculous oneness. But Paul says, “You’re behaving in here, like they behave out there.” There are two sins present. We reveal that we despise God, and we humiliate others.
This meal serves as a regular unifying principle for the Church. If you are a Christian, and in any way there is disunity or discord between you and a brother at your Church, you cannot take this meal. And that reality, should shake a Christian to their core. If they come to a Sunday, and realize they are harboring anger or bitterness or sowing seeds of division in their Church, and in their conscience they are unreconciled, they cannot take the meal, they must refrain as we see in verse 28. Do we have this level of sacred responsibility with this sacramental meal.
Observation 2: The Lord’s Supper is a Sign & a Seal of our Faith
Second observation. The Lord’s Supper is a sign and a seal of our faith. Okay those words are going to need some definition around them, but let’s read this part of the text again together. Paul writes
1 Corinthians 11:23-26 “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, 24 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.” 25 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.” 26 For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.”
Let’s consider the context. The Passover Meal is a meal full of deep symbolism. Nearly every element of the meal contains signficance. Jews continue to practice the celebration of the Passover annually even today. It is an annual reminder of the moment that the Lord’s judgment “Passed Over” the people of Israel in the book of Exodus, and delivered them from their slavery in Egypt. Every year Passover was celebrated to remember that great deliverance.
All of the elements are deeply symbolic. As an example, during the Passover every bit of bread with leaven in it was removed from the home. They only ate unleavened bread. Why? It was a picture for them of the immediacy with which they finally left Israel, they did not have even enough time to allow their bread to rise.
Similarly, at one point in the meal, the family would eat bitter herbs. The bitter herbs would taste bitter in the mouth and would remind the Israelites of the bitter life they lived while in slavery, and how God had redeemed them from it. There’s much more, but what’s important that you understand is that everything in this meal was symbolic.
So Jesus gets to the part of the meal where they break bread and drink wine. And rather than applying the old incomplete meaning of these elements of the Passover Meal. He looks to his disciples and he applies utterly new meaning to these two elements. With the bread he says, “This is my body.” With the wine he says, “this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.” Jesus is looking forward to what is about to happen to him on the cross, and he is saying, “I want you to commemorate my death on the cross for the forgiveness of sins through this ceremony forever.”
Biblically and historically, we often refer to the Sacraments as signs and seals. That language is very important and I would like you to really work to remember these two functions of the Sacraments. They are signs and seals. As a sign, they signify something, they symbolize a truth. And a seal, it is a public authoritative declaration of the authenticity of your faith, much like King’s Seal on a letter.
What is a sign? A sign is an outward display that appeals to the senses that signfies some deeper meaning. The sign signals something, both the elements themselves (the bread and the wine), and the procedure of how we are to prepare and take the meal are all signs for us. Let’s consider the elements, the bread and the wine. What do they stand for?
First of all, they are a sign of the Lord’s death until he comes. We read this in 1 Corinthians 11:26.
1 Corinthians 11:26 “26 For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.”
The bread which Jesus said represents his body which was broken. And the wine which Jesus shared represents his blood that was poured out. The whole meal is asking us to deeply reflect on the reality of Christ’s death for us on the cross. [wine not juice] I will note here that I have been convinced through my study that when Jesus established the sign he did not intend for us to tinker with it. He said, “bread and wine,” not “bread and juice.” Now, that might seem like a minor thing, and historically I have thought of it as a minor thing. But over the last few years we have switched to wine as the primary element that we offer for communion specifically for this reason.
Secondly, the bread and the wine are a sign for us of the full hope of the New Covenenant.
1 Corinthians 11:25 “25 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.””
Whenever we take the Communion Meal Together we are reminded that God has made a New Covenant, not like the old covenant. It is a New Covenant. Christ is the mediator of that new covenant. His blood is the ratifying element of the promises of that new covneant.
Jeremiah 31:31-33 “31 “Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah… For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people.”
The communion meal is a sign that we are living under the new covenant, where God remembers our sins no more. All because of the Blood of the Lamb. Hallelulah. Every time we take this meal we are declaring all of the promises of the New Covenant. The whole of Christ, with all of its benefits and power and strength. All of that in this bread and this wine.
Thirdly, the bread and the wine symbolize Spiritual Nourishment. We read in John 6,
John 6:56-57 “56 Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him. 57 As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever feeds on me, he also will live because of me.”
Now that verse was not directly connected to the Communion Meal, that verse came in the midst of completely different teaching from Jesus. But his point is important. He of course was not teaching that his disciples needed to eat him. Jesus was saying that you must nourish your soul on Christ daily. You must go to him as nourishment for your life and soul. You see the Bread and the Wine are a symbol for us of that nourishment. All through the week we feast on Christ when we engage in His Word and cherish his nearness in the Holy Spirit, and pray ceaselessly. And then regularly we come to this table and take the bread and the wine and swallow the elements and it is a sign of nourishing our souls on Christ.
Those are the elements, the bread and the wine and what they are a sign for us elementally. But what about the ceremony itself of preparing and eating the elements. What is being signified then?
We read in Matthew 26:26 that the first thing Jesus did was say a blessing. Historically the Lord’s Supper is always begun with a brief prayer of blessing. This blessing acknowledges our communal guilt before God, and thanks him for the provision of his son and his death on the cross, and then sets these elements (the bread and the wine) apart as appropriate elements to take this Communion Meal. When the Elders of a Church bless the elements in preparation for receiving them as appropriate elements to fulfill the Lord’s command, we are remembering how Christ did the exact same thing. He said a blessing.
Next we see that Jesus physically broke the bread. He took a loaf and broke it. He actually says that the meaning of the sacrament is in the breaking of the bread. That breaking symbolizes his body which was broken for us. And so, traditionally when the bread is broken by the Elder of a Church in the presence of the Church family, that breaking is meant to draw your attention to Christ’s body hanging on the cross.
Thirdly, the Church comes forward and the elements are distributed, just as Jesus did. In your personally receiving the elements you are signifying your personal decision to make Jesus the Lord of your life.
As you can see, there is deep significance behind this ceremony. The Lord’s Supper is a sign, but it is also a Seal. That word might be lost on us but it is so important. The Sacraments of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper are Signs and Seals. In the old days when a letter was sent, the sender of the letter would place their seal on the envelope. It authenticated it in someway to everyone around you. The letter does not become legitimate because of the seal. But its an outward display of its authenticity. In the same way, taking this bread and wine, if it is done in faith in Christ, is like having the Lord seal you with his signet ring. God is telling us, “Yes you are a participator in all the wonderful blessings of the New Covenant.” It should function to assure us of our salvation.
When you take the Communion Meal in full faith in Christ, it as if the Lord Jesus is handing you a letter with his seal on it declaring your righteous standing before His throne. Imagine that for a moment. Imagine if the King of Kings walked into this room right now, and handed you a letter with his royal seal on it, declaring your forgiveness of sin and your eternal place in his court. What would that do you to your soul to receive such a letter. That’s what the Communion Meal. It’s a seal strengthening you. Oh – this is lost on so many of us, but it is for this reason that I wanted to preach this message today. Many of us practically forget that this is a seal. But this Communion Meal is meant to strengthen you for the battle. It’s an outward public proclamation that you belong to the Lord. You already belong to the Lord by grace through faith, but when you take this bread and wine you say it to the whole world, “Here I stand.” And the Lord uses this seal to strengthen you.
Observation 3: The Lord’s Supper is to be Cherished & Guarded
The second thing I would like to address are Common Misunderstandings with the Communion Meal. I have shown you what the Communion Meal is and what the Scriptures intend for it to be. Now let us address what it is not.
First, let me begin with the most common misunderstanding and that is the Roman Catholic view. Now I must say up front, my aim is never to be bash Catholics. There are however a number of very clear differences between our faith systems and the Communion Meal and its significance is one of those differences. The Roman Catholic Church believes in a doctrine called transsubstantiation. That is the Catholic belief that the bread and the wine, after the priests preparations, physically and literally become Jesus flesh and blood in your body. Not symbolically, but they physically turn into flesh and blood. This is a false belief that arose around the 12th century. On a surface level, it is easy to see how came to be. After all, Jesus said, “This is my body.” A very wooden and overly literal interpretation of that sentence leads one to believe that the bread supernaturally becomes flesh in your stomach.
The problems are many with this view. Everything in the Passover Meal had significant meaning. The bitter herbs were the sufferings of the Jews. The unleavened bread was the hasty exit from Egypt. In very similar way, the bread and the wine are the body and the blood of Christ. This is similar to how Jesus said, “I am the true vine,” or, “I am the bread of life.” We understand that Jesus is not literally a vine or a loaf of bread, but he was speaking a deeper truth. Secondly, Jesus this rigid view of interpretation
1 Corinthians 11:25 “25… “This cup is the new covenant in my blood...”
Jesus said, “the cup is my blood” not the wine. Of course no one would believe that’s what Jesus meant, but you can see how an overly wooden rigid interpretation of Jesus’s words is not helpful.
This Catholic Doctrine has been the source of incredible division over the years. Because Catholics see the the bread and wine as literally and physically his body and blood, they bread and the wine are to be worshiped. And in a typical Catholic service, they are worshiped. This is idolatry, and we shouldn’t hesitate to say that.
A second common error is the false belief that taking the Communion Meal is a “Means of Grace.” Some people will approach this meal as if once they receive the elements they are forgiven, or they are restored to right standing with God. No. The meal symbolizes something that is already true of a Christian. The only “Means of Grace” is placing your faith in the Lord Jesus. Once you have done that you are in righteous standing with the Lord period. The Lords Supper is not a Means of Grace, rather it is a Sign and a Seal of that faith. Faith is the requirement.
Martin lloyd Jones tells the story of a woman at his Church. As the elements were being disstributed he looked out in the congregation and saw a woman breaking down in tears violently in her seat, she refused to take the elements. He pastorally approached her and asked what the matter was. She said, “I am far too vile a sinner to take these elements.” He looked at her affirmed that her repentant heart was the exact requirement necessary to receive the Lord’s Supper properly. Repentant Sinners who know of their sin? Yes. Unrepentant sinner casually living in sin? no. The Communion Meal must not be taken by professing Christians who are unrepentantly living in sin. This leads to the final error.
Lastly, the most common error I see in the modern Church today is that the Communion Meal simply does not matter. It’s unimportant. It’s just something you do at Church, but it has very little meaning for you in your overall walk with God.
Two thoughts to address here: Now let me ask you a question to get you to think about this. If I were to ask you, how would your walk with God be any different if we as a Church were to suddenly altogether stop taking the Lord’s Supper?” If in all honesty, your answer is, “Well – I pretty much wouldn’t notice,” we have a problem. This sacrament is designed to strengthn your resolve and proclaim the Lord’s death, it’s not only a sign, but a seal.
But secondly consider the Lord’s words in 1 Cor. 11:27-30.
1 Corinthians 11:27-30 “27 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. 28 Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. 29 For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself. 30 That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died.”
Why is this? Well this outward sign, is depicting an inward reality. It’s an image of your Union with Christ, of your feasting on the goodness of Christ in you. There is a deeper spiritual reality taking place, the food is an image pointing to that reality. And we just trample over the food, it signifying that we are content to trample upon the spiriutal reality as well. And God will not leave us in that state with him. We must not take this irreverantly, or unrepentantly, we bring judgment on ourselves.
What does Paul when he writes that some have died. I know this much. God will do whatever it takes to get a hold of you. And if you someone is playing with holy fire, treating the Church, and the Lord’s Supper like it means nothing, God has any number of tools at his disposal to get a hold of you. He can use sickness to cause you to come you to come to your knees. Does that mean every sickness, no? But some. This is why we must examine ourselves first. Am I taking this in an unworthy manner. Am I treating this as if it means nothing.
The Lord’s Supper is a holy mystery to be cherished and embraced by the Church
Repeated twice in verse 24 and 25 is the phrase, “In Remembrance of Me.” How are we to take this meal? In remembrance of Christ. This meal is a solemn remembrance of our Lord and Savior. For that reason it is only those who know Jesus personally, who have entered into covenant relationship with him who can participate. To know Jesus Christ is eternal life! Friends, if you have heard anything from me this morning, may it be this. Many will take this meal around the world, believing the delusion that by going through some religious motions, God is pleased. No, this meal cannot save a person. You must be born again. You must place your faith in Jesus. You must receive the forgiveness of sin, free of charge, by repenting of sin and trusting in Christ. Then, you will be saved in full. And if you have done that work between you and God, you may freely participate in this meal of remembrance.
John Calvin once wrote the following words about the Lord’s supper.
Whenever this matter is discussed, when I have tried to say all, I feel that I have as yet said little in proportion to its worth. And although my mind can think beyond what my tongue can utter, yet even my mind is conquered and overwhelemed by the greatness of the thing. Therefore, nothing remains but to break forth in wonder at this mystery, which plainly neither the mind is able to conceive nor the tongue to express.John Calvin