Why We Celebrate Communion

// July 14th, 2020 // Sermons

Our Lord Jesus introduced two ordinances… You can listen online or download it and listen later…A1-0001_July 12th – 2020 Or you could use this link to watch the whole service on YouTube: https://youtu.be/TY3shIFQDI4?t=473…and commanded that His church practice these – one is baptism, the other is the Lord’s Supper.

It is about a year ago since our last baptism service – something we do whenever someone indicates that they want to walk in obedience to the Lord, in this.  So, if there are any that would desire this…we would have to use precautions, but would like to facilitate this for you.

This morning it is my intention to address the question: Why We Celebrate Communion?

I would like to start with a bit of Reformation history to help us with the context for the present.  It is commonly known that things came to a head on October 31, 1517, when Martin Luther nailed his 95 Thesis to the door of the Wittenburg Castle Church.  Alongside Luther, there were several other reformers rising up in various places – John Calvin, Ulrich Zwingli, Menno Simons and several others.  Calvin and Luther held to the Roman Catholic position of infant baptism, but Zwingli and Simons would insist on baptism being upon confession of faith.

Some 14 years after Luther’s 95 Thesis, on March 20, 1531, a man was beheaded for being re-baptized as a believer.  The court of Friesland condemned him to be executed because he had been re-baptized.

Another 20 years later, from 1555 to 1558 during the reign of bloody Queen Mary, 288 Protestant Reformers were burned at the stake – the main issue:  The meaning of the Lord’s Supper.

Listen to how John Charles Ryle explained it:  “The doctrine in question was the real presence of the body and blood of Christ in the consecrated elements of bread and wine in the Lord’s Supper.  Did they, or did they not believe that the body and blood of Christ were really, that is corporally, literally, locally, and materially, present under the forms of bread and wine after the words of consecration were pronounced?  That was the simple question.  If they did not believe and admit it, they were burned.”

Luther and the R.C. church believed that Christ’s body was actually present, but Zwingli and Simons taught that the Lord’s Supper was a mere memorial.  Calvin took a middle ground position between the 2 sides.

I mention these things to show that there was once a time when the ordinances of baptism and the Lord’s Supper carried meanings that were very important – worth dying for, and some thought, worth killing for.  In contrast, many today take these ordinances as a “take-it-or-leave-it” kind of thing.

Those who are Baptist and Anabaptist can take courage from the fact that we have never been on the “killing side” of the doctrinal controversy over the 2 ordinances.  However, before we break our arms giving ourselves a pat on the back, there are things in our history that are not worthy to be applauded.

I remember in our church history class at Nipawin – I was horrified to learn of how some of our Mennonite ancestors suffered abuse simply because of their doctrinal stance against infant baptism – believing that a person must first come to salvation through Christ before they are baptized.  And, also, they were fully convinced that it would be cannibalistic to believe that the bread and wine actually becomes the body and blood of our Lord Jesus.

I wondered, are Christians today sufficiently grounded in the Word and do we have a firm enough understanding of what we believe that we would be willing to be burned at the stake, impaled or beheaded for what we believe?

During the 16th Century – when the Reformation was taking place, one of the crucial issues was the relationship between church and state.  If baptism was a voluntary act of a believer, then church would become a free and voluntary assembly. And that would compromise the rule of secular-religious authority over the population as a whole.

Now, with regard to the Lord’s Supper, the issue was more directly theological, but it was also political.  Would England be a Catholic or a Protestant nation?  Both used the sword against the other.  So when the Catholics ruled, any serious attack on Roman Catholic doctrine was an attack on the crown.

And, the Catholics believed there was no more serious attack than the rejection of the heart of the Catholic Mass – rejecting the real physical, material presence of the incarnate body of Christ in the form of bread and wine.

This was an essential point of contention between the two.  The Protestant Reformers believed that the Roman Catholic Church position undermined the gospel of Christ crucified once for all for our sins.

Bishop J. C. Ryle expressed the Protestant conviction in this way:  “Grant for a moment that the Lord’s Supper is a sacrifice, and not a sacrament. You spoil the blessed doctrine of Christ’s finished work when he died on the cross. A sacrifice that needs to be repeated is not a perfect and complete thing. You spoil the priestly office of Christ. If there are priests that can offer an acceptable sacrifice to God besides Him, the great High Priest is robbed of His glory.  You overthrow the true doctrine of Christ’s human nature. If the body born of the virgin Mary can be in more places than one at the same time, it is not a body like our own, and Jesus was not the “last Adam” in the truth of our nature.”

So, did you get that?  I wanted to lay out this foundation regarding the Lord’s Supper so that no one might think, “What’s the big deal?  We are only eating a small piece of unleavened bread and drinking a small cup of juice.”

Rather, we need to humble ourselves and realize that while we may enjoy amazing freedom of religion in this country – no one lives in fear of being burned or beheaded for religious reasons – yet, I believe that we may also have lost all sense of the weight and wonder of what Christ has given us in the ordinances of His church.

It would do us well to admit that if during the time of Reformation and following – if that time was marked by brutality, our time in Church History could be labelled as marked by superficiality.  They may have weighed things differently than we would, but it may be that we have lost the capacity to feel the weight of these truths at all.

Today I want to try to get to the heart of what Jesus meant by “This is my body” and “This cup is the new covenant in my blood” – v. 24 & 25 and also Luke 22:20.  In Matt. 26:28 & Mark 14:24 we read, “This is my blood of the covenant”.  Let’s read 1 Cor. 11:23-26 again – notice Paul says he is passing on the tradition that he received from the Lord:  “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.”

Before we actually partake of the Lord’s Supper this morning, I want to present to you four reason why I believe “This is My Body” does not mean that the bread actually becomes Jesus physical body through a priest’s consecration.  And then, I will present three positive meanings of “This is my body” and “This is my blood.”  First,

  1. Why “This is My Body” doesn’t mean the bread transforms – so, four reasons why “This is my body” doesn’t mean, this bread becomes the physical, material, incarnate body of Jesus. Reason #1:
  2. The Bread Represents His Body

Just think in natural, logical terms – you pick up a piece of bread and say that it is an actual person’s body – that doesn’t make sense.  A good illustration – suppose I showed you a picture of my family and say, “This is my family” – you would all know that I’m not saying that the piece of Kodak paper is my family – that somehow the picture mystically or physically turns into my family.  Nobody has to remind that the picture isn’t actually my family but it contains the image of my family.

This is the most natural way to understand the words, “This is my body” as they were quoted as having been spoken by Jesus Himself.  Jesus is saying, “This bread represents My body.”

I find it interesting and very telling that in the modern Catholic Catechism the word “represents” is used to describe the Eucharist but it is regularly hyphenated as re-presents.  The implication seems to be:  the bread is a real physical re-presenting of Christ.  It’s like they are saying, His physical body is being presented again and again, every time we eat this meal together.  To me this seems like a very unnatural way of reading the words of Jesus.  Reason #2:

  1. The Parallel Between Bread/Body and Cup/New Covenant

If the words, “This [bread] is my body” was intended to mean, “This [bread] has turned into my physical body,” then we would expect the same meaning to apply to the statement about the cup.  In v. 25, Jesus says, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood.”

Here it seems clear to most everyone that the words “This cup is the new covenant” are not intended to mean:  The cup has turned into a covenant as some understand regarding the bread.

Everyone agrees that the phrase – the cup – is speaking about the contents of the cup and not the actual cup; and the blood, which the contents represent are what is needed to secure/purchase/guarantee, the blessings of the covenant.

So if we are willing to let “This cup is the new covenant” mean something more natural than “This cup has turns into the new covenant”, we should also be willing to let “This bread is my body” mean something more natural than “This bread has turned into my body.”  Just a simple parallel of understanding.  Reason #3:

  1. Jesus Says He Is Speaking Figuratively

I want you to turn in your Bibles to John 6:48-63 – Jesus answers this in such a powerful way…follow along as I talk through this passage.

Those who believe that Christ’s physical body is materially present in the form of bread often use these verses.  But, you can clearly see that Jesus foreshadows the meaning of the Lord’s Supper and says publicly in the synagogue (v. 48), “I am the bread of life.”  Then he talks about eating this bread.

In v. 51 He says, “I am the living bread that came down from heaven.  If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever.  And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”  This was shocking revelation for the Jews in answer to the question of how He might give them His flesh to eat (v. 52).

Jesus responds (v. 53), “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.”

In v. 60, Jesus realizes that His own disciples are confused about what He is saying:  “When many of his disciples heard it, they said, ‘This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?'”  So Jesus speaks a key interpreting word in v. 63 to help them avoid the very mistake that the synagogue was making:  “It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is of no avail. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life.”

I understand this to mean:  Don’t get hung up on my references to eating my flesh and drinking my blood.  I am speaking figuratively. I am referring to a spiritual action, not a physical one.  V. 63 was to guard the disciples from the very misunderstanding that we are talking about.

#4. Jesus Says That Eating and Drinking Are Spiritual Acts

With your finger still in John 6, look at v. 35, where He points us to the positive meaning of eating and drinking Christ.  Jesus says, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.”

Here he gives himself to us to be received by eating and drinking. Hunger and thirst will be quenched by this Christ.  We need to catch what this eating and drinking is – It is coming to Christ and believing in Christ. “Whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.”

In other words, the eating and drinking refer to spiritual acts of the person who draws near to Christ, receiving Christ as Savior and Lord, trusts in Christ for daily life, and knows what it is to have the hunger and thirst of his/her soul, be satisfied, quenched.

So, to carry that a step further – if the words, “This is my body,” does not mean that “the physical body of Jesus transforms in the bread” – what do those 2 phrases, “This is my body” and “This is my blood”?

Pastor Ray Pritchard narrowed it down to 3 things we should understand these words to mean – there are more, but these three kind of include the other.  Two are based on 1 Cor. 11 and one on John 6.  First:

  1. We Proclaim – 1 Cor. 11:26

Listen to what that verse says, “For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.”

From that verse we understand that “This is my body” means:  When we use a piece of unleavened bread to represent/symbolize the body of our Lord Jesus, we proclaim His death for sinners – we will do this until He comes back again.  By eating the piece of representative bread, you proclaim the Gospel!

The bread and cup proclaim the saving death and resurrection of Christ – by the way, the phrase “until He come” implies the resurrection – He’s alive and will come back as He said.   So first, we proclaim; second,

  1. We Remember – 1 Cor. 11:24-25

In both of those verses we find the phrase, “Do this in remembrance of me.”  So, the phrase, “This is my body” means:  Whenever we use a piece of unleavened bread to represent/symbolize the body of our Lord Jesus and a cup to represent/symbolize the blood of Jesus we should be able to remember – these emblems should remind us of Jesus.

Jesus says:

  • Remember me…I love being in fellowship with you;
  • Remember me being betrayed – and knowing all along it was going to happen.
  • Remember me giving thanks to Sovereign God who ordained it all.
  • Remember me breaking bread with my disciples just before I willingly gave my body as a sacrifice for sinners.
  • Remember me shedding my blood for you so that you might live because I died.
  • Remember me suffering to obtain for you all the blessings of the new covenant.
  • Remember me promising that I would drink this fruit of the vine – this cup that was before me.
  • O, let the memories of me, in all the fullness of my love and power, flood your hearts and minds as you eat the bread and drink from the cup.

This leads us to the third and final meaning of the words, “This is my body.”  Even though we eat a small piece of bread and drink a small amount of juice….#3…

  1. By Faith We Feast – John 6:35

That verse again, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.”

The phrase, “This is my body,” means, as you eat this bread and drink this cup come to me and believe on me.  Jesus says, sit with me at table and trust me to be your life-sustaining food and drink.  Let the proclamation of my death and remembrance of all that I am for you, awaken faith and draw you into deeper communion with me.

“This is my body,” and “This is my blood,” mean to eat spiritually, to eat by faith, to feed your soul on all that Jesus is for us.  To be nourished, in the inner part of our being, by all the blessings that He has purchased for us with His body and blood.

Faith is a being satisfied in all that God is for us in Christ.  Our Lord Jesus has given us the Lord’s Supper to feed us spiritually with Himself.

So, even though I think it is dangerously wrong to say that the bread and the blood turn into the physical, incarnate body of Jesus – but please understand, I am not saying that what happens in the Lord’s Supper is a mere, intellectual recalling of historical facts.

The Lord’s Supper proclaims.  And faith comes as we hear, see and taste that proclamation.  And so, by faith we enter into a spiritual feasting on the risen, living Christ so that all that God is for us in Him satisfies our soul, it sweetens our love for Him, and breaks the power of sin in our lives.  Have you experienced that?

This morning, let’s love the Lord’s Supper together, and allow it to cause our love for Christ to increase, as we meet Him at the table together.

We have already read 1 Cor. 11:23-26 – we have been reminded of the significance of this ordinance.  Now, we will participate.

Before we do – let me remind you that, only those who have received salvation through Christ, by faith in His completed work on the cross – those are the only ones who should partake of these emblems of remembrance.

We celebrate an Open Communion – meaning it is for all true believers; but if you have never made the decision to become a follower of Jesus, or you are not certain, I would ask that you abstain from taking part this morning.  However, I would challenge you to make sure of your salvation so that next time you are able to eat and drink with the rest of the body.

And again, I believe we need to prepare ourselves to eat and drink in a worthy manner; so we’ll take a few moments of quiet prayer time where we can talk to God, confess our sin and be washed clean.  Let’s do that now…

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