By Melvin J. Wise
1 Corinthians 11:23-29
The Lord’s Supper was instituted by the Savior at the last Passover Meal ever observed by Him, which occurred upon the evening of His betrayal. There seems to be an inseparable connection between the Passover and the Lord’s Supper. To get the most possible good out of their connection it is expedient for us to go back and consider briefly the institution of the Passover (Exodus 12), and its history to the time of the institution of the Lord’s Supper. Jehovah had sent nine plagues upon Pharaoh of Egypt, and had now threatened him and his people with the tenth plague– that of destroying the firstborn among children and animals. In order that the death angel might pass over the Isrealites, they were commanded to slay a lamb on the fifteenth day of Nisan and to sprinkle the doorposts and lintels of their homes with the blood of the Passover Lamb. When the death angel saw the blood he passed over their homes without destroying their firstborn. Hence the Passover was commemorative. (Exodus 12:25-27) It was also typical; it was prospective as well as retrospective. In slaying the lamb they were not to break a bone of its body. (Exodus 12:46) When the Roman soldiers came to the body of Christ upon the cross, they did not break His bones. (John19:32-36) Hence the Passover lamb was a type of Christ, who is our Passover now. (I Cor.5:7)
About 1500 years after the Passover was instituted, we find Jesus with His apostles in an upper room in Jerusalem observing with them for the last time the Passover Feast (Matt.26:30; Mark14:22-26; Luke22:19-20) Here He instituted the Lord’s Supper.
After the establishment of the church, we find the early Christians observing the Lord’s Supper (Acts2:42), upon the first day of the week (Acts20:7).
WHAT IS THE PURPOSE OF THE LORD’S SUPPER?
1. It is a memorial service. “This do in remembrance of me.” (Luke22:19)
Memorials are natural, common, and universal. The savage and the civilized, the ignorant and the learned, the poor and the rich, all the relics and memorials.
America has her Independence Day and Memorial Day. Other countries have their days peculiar to their national history. Every tombstone in every cemetary is a monument to two facts: First, that somebody lived and was loved; and, second, that somebody has died and is lovingly remembered.
So is the Lord’s Supper a monument, a memorial service. Those who partake have their minds carried back to that awful night in Gethsemane, to the cruel mob, to the next morning as Jesus stood before Pilate and Herod, to the nails that pierced His hands and feet, to the spear that pierced His side, and to the blood that was shed for you and me.
2. It is a proclamation. (I Cor.11:26)
Not everyone can be an oral proclaimer of the gospel; but every man, woman, boy or girl in the church can preach a sermon in the act of observing the Lord’s Supper. “Actions speak louder than words” is an adage that is everlastingly true. No sermon from the pulpit on this subject, however eloquent it may be, can speak as effectively as the whole congregation in joint participation, when solemnly, faithfully, and discerningly observing this sacred meal.
3. It is a means of spiritual nourishment. (John6:53-56)
Some of the greatest gifts from God to man are the blessings of physical and spiritual life; but both are dependent upon certain conditions. If we would live physically we must have proper food, exercise, sunshine and air. Let a man shut himself away from all light, food, air, and exercise and he will die physically. We cannot hibernate as the animals do. Neither can we hibernate spiritually. Jesus said: “Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, ye have no life in you.” (John6:53) In this Jesus might have had in mind more than the Lord’s Supper, but we do know that He included it in this statement, for the bread is emblematic of His body and the fruit of the vine is emblematic of His blood (Matt.26:26-28). Some will forsake the Lord’s Supper for months and months and still claim to have good spiritual health in Christ. Jesus said: “I am the vine, ye are the branches.” (John15:5) The branches draw their life from the vine, and if they are cut off from the vine they will wither and die. It was the dying request of our Redeemer that we do this in remembrance of Him (Luke22:19); and Paul urges that we not forsake it. (Heb.10:25)
THE ELEMENTS OF THE LORD’S SUPPER
The food used in the institution of the Lord’s Supper was the same as that used in the Passover Feast. There were two elements used in the appointment of the Lord’s Supper. They were:
1. “Bread”(Matt.26:26; Mark14:22; Luke22:19) This was “unleavened bread.” (Exodus12:15; 13:6,7) Unleavened bread was bread without any yeast or leaven in it to make it rise or puff up. Jesus said: “This is my body.” Surely we cannot think of any element that would better picture to us the broken body of the Son of God on the cross, than pale, lifeless, unleavened bread. Bread is grain that has been harvested, crushed, and baked. It has the life taken from it.
2. “The Cup”(Matt26:27; Mark24:23; Luke22:20) Jesus gave us a clear definition of the cup. He calls it “the fruit of the vine” (Mark14:25), and says: “This is my blood” (Mark14:24). Inasmuch as Christ is “the vine” and His disciples are “the branches” (John15:5), certainly we cannot think of any element that would better picture to us the blood of Christ, for the fruit of the vine is the life blood of the vine.
The Roman Catholic church teaches the doctrine of Transubstantiation. “Trans” is a prefix meaning “to change”; “substantia” which means “substance.” Hence the word “transubstantiation” means “a change in stubstance.” The doctrine sets forth the idea that when the priest blesses the literal bread and wine (with them it is not ‘the fruit of the vine,’ but wine), they are immediately and substantially converted into the literal flesh and blood of Christ. But when Jesus said: “This is my body” and “This is my blood,” surely he was using symbolic language only. Jesus said: “I am the door” (John 10:9); and “I am the way” (John14:6); could He have meant that He was a literal door or way? He called Himself “the Good Shepherd,” and His disciples “sheep” (John10:14); but He did not mean the He was literally a shepherd and his disciples were literal sheep. The Savior said: “I am the vine, ye are the branches” (John15:5). No one would understand Him to imply that He was a literal vine and His disciples literal branches. These are only figurative expressions. In the same manner He referred to the unleavened bread and to the fruit of the vine only to represent His body and blood. They are to us His body and blood by faith.
WHO SHALL PARTAKE OF THE LORD’S SUPPER
Jesus said: “And I appoint unto you a kingdom, as my Father hath appointed unto me; that ye may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom…” (Luke22:29,30). According to John 3:3-5, only those who have been born again are in the Lord’s kingdom. Hence only those born again, only the children of God can eat at the Lord’s table. Paul said: “But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of that bread, and drink of that cup.” (I Cor.11:28) While it is true that only those in the kingdom have the privilege to eat, yet the Lord has not appointed any man, or set of men, to determine who are in Christ’s kingdom, and who shall and who shall not eat at His table. It is not a “close communion” with one another, but it is a communion with the Lord (I Cor.10:16).
THE MANNER OF PARTAKING OF THE LORD’S SUPPER
Those in the church at Corinth were corrupting the Lord’s Supper. Some were making out of it simply a meal (I Cor.11:22). While it is hardly possible that we be guilty of such today, yet there is a possibility of our not properly discerning the Lord’s body. Paul said: “Wherefore whosoever shall eat this bread, and drink this cup of the Lord unworthily, shall be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord (I Cor.11:27). This word “unworthily” is an adverb of manner. In the Revised Version it is rendered thus: “In an unworthy manner.” So the term has reference to the manner of the observing and not to the worthiness or unworthiness of the one who is observing. Suppose we were assembled in the house of worship for the purpose of conducting the funeral service of a loved one or a dear friend. Here is the casket and in it lies the lifeless form of that loved one. Could you gaze upon the body in laughter or allow your mind to wander upon unwholesome thoughts? Every thought is given to your memory of that precious friend. At the Lord’s table we have the emblems of the body and blood of the Lord. We should not allow our thoughts to wander from the sacredness and reverence of Christian worship. We should be able to look with an eye of faith back to the cross, and there see the Son of God bleeding and dying for the sins of the world. “For he that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh damnation to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body.” (I Cor.11:29)
WHEN SHALL WE PARTAKE OF THE LORD’S SUPPER?
How shall we decide? Shall we be governed by the opinions of men? If so we could never decide. The early church came together upon the first day of the week. “And upon the first day of the week, when the disciples came together to break bread, Paul preached unto them, ready to depart on the morrow, and continued his speech until midnight.” (Acts20:7) Since the early church assembled upon this day, apostolic Christians were taught to contribute of their means upon this day (I Cor.16:2). Someone might suggest that there is no indication in Acts 20:7 that they came together upon every first day of the week. There is a parallel case under the law of Moses. The fourth commandment of the Ten Commandments was: “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.” (Exodus20:8) This does not say every Sabbath day, but it could imply nothing else. In the cycle of every seven days there came a Sabbath day, and every faithful Jew kept that day holy under Moses’ law. Likewise under the new covenant of Christ, in the cycle of every seven days there comes a “first day of the week” (or “Lord’s Day”); and Christians should break bread upon this day. Note that the purpose of the gathering together was: “to break bread” (Acts20:7). This was the purpose of their assembling. Paul’s preaching was merely incidental. What would one understand from this statement: “On the fourth of July, when the American people celebrate their independence, there is usually much celebrating and speechmaking?” From this language one would naturally conclude that it is the usual practice of the American people to celebrate their independence on the fourth of each July. With the same reasoning we can safely conclude that it was the practice of the early church to meet upon the first day of each week “to break bread.” A faithful Christian will steadfastly remember the Lord upon this day in humble and reverent observance of the Lord’s Supper.
Do you remember the Lord each first day of the week as the early Christians did?