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What is the Lord’s Supper?

Posted in Evangelism, Fellowship, Forgiveness, Gospel, Grace, Life in the Church, New Testament, Old Testament, Sermons

By Daniel Baker

In the critical last hours of Jesus’ earthly ministry, he instituted what we call the Lord's Supper at his last meal with the disciples.

As we saw in our Sunday sermon, the Lord's Supper is a simple act, but it has profound meaning. What is the Lord's Supper? We answered that question in four parts.

The Lord's Supper is a New Ordinance

Luke 22 tells us that Jesus celebrated a final Passover with his disciples. This annual Jewish feast had been observed since the Exodus when God’s Angel of Death "passed over" all the Israelite homes with lamb’s blood painted on their doorposts. From that time on, the Jews were to remember this deliverance with an annual feast at which a son was to ask, "What does this mean?" While the meal was eaten, a father would answer, "By a strong hand the LORD brought us out of Egypt, from the house of slavery" (Ex. 13:14).

At his last Passover meal, however, Jesus transformed the meaning of the event. Instead of using the meal to recall Israel's deliverance from Egypt, he used it to prefigure his own coming death and its meaning. The disciples were now to observe the meal “in remembrance of me." Through his actions and words, then, he gave his church a new ordinance. Instead of the Passover, we are to celebrate the Lord's Supper.

As Protestants we recognize two sacraments: baptism and the Lord's Supper. A "sacrament" has been defined at least since the time of Augustine as "an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace." It is something we do which makes internal spiritual truth visible to ourselves and others. The Lord's Supper is more than just a general statement. It is an individual, personal picture of Jesus’ death for you.

The Lord's Supper is a Gospel Remembrance

When Jesus broke bread with his disciples at the final Passover meal, he said, "This is my body, which is given for you"; then, "This cup which is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood" (Luke 22:19-20). These words are the focus of our celebration of the Lord’s Supper. Christ urged his disciples especially to remember his sacrifice, out of all the things they would need to remember to have an accurate view of God, themselves, and their world.

Therefore, we are to regularly recall to our minds, hearts, and souls that Jesus' body was given for us and his blood was poured out for us. We are to go back again and again to that Good Friday when Jesus physically let his blood be spilled to satisfy God’s wrath and atone for our sins: "In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace" (Eph. 1:7). Without his blood, we have no redemption and no forgiveness. With his blood, we know the richest grace imaginable and our lives and eternal destinies are forever altered.

The Lord's Supper is a Covenant Meal

When Jesus spoke of the cup, he called it "the new covenant in my blood" (Luke 22:20). He was referring to the promised new covenant that the prophet Jeremiah spoke of centuries before this final Passover:

"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. And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, 'Know the LORD,' for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the LORD. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more." Jer. 31:31-34

Jesus is telling us that his blood is the means of enacting these promises. Because of his death on the cross, we have his law on our hearts, we are his people in the truest and fullest way possible, we know him, and our sins are forgiven. Just as blood was sprinkled on the people and on the stone tablets to inaugurate the old covenant (Ex. 24:8), so Jesus' blood is shed to inaugurate the greater new covenant.

This means that the Lord's Supper is what we call a covenant meal. It is a symbolic meal testifying that we are his people and have experienced these new covenant promises. We share in his redemptive work, and we are thus participants in it: "the cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ?" (1 Cor. 10:16). It's also a meal that anticipates the "marriage supper of the Lamb" (Rev. 19:9) we will enjoy with Christ in the new heavens and the new earth. Further, this is no private celebration but is to be a corporate meal that the church celebrates when we "come together" (1 Cor. 11:17-34; 1 Cor. 10:17).

The Lord's Supper is a Continual Proclamation

The apostle Paul tells us "as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes" (1 Cor. 11:26). The church's celebration of the Supper is to be a regular proclamation of Christ's death for us. Through it, we remind ourselves that we are sinners but also forgiven. We use the sacrament to proclaim salvation to our children as a way of evangelizing the ones who are not Christians (or of whose salvation we are unsure). And we also use it proclaim Christ’s death to the unbelievers who gather with us on Sundays. We want them to experience the same "invisible and spiritual grace" that we have, and thus to share in the "outward and visible sign" of the Lord's Table.

A Spiritual Banquet

We have only dipped our toes into the ocean that is the topic of Lord's Supper, but we hope these truths can make the celebration of the body and blood of Christ a spiritual banquet for you.

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