The Lord’s Supper
[Message: Kobus van der Walt (Three Rivers Baptist Church – 27 October 2019)]
- SCRIPTURE READING:
1 Cor.11:17-34 (ESV) ~ “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. 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. 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. 31 But if we judged ourselves truly, we would not be judged. 32 But when we are judged by the Lord, we are disciplined so that we may not be condemned along with the world. 33 So then, my brothers, when you come together to eat, wait for one another – 34 if anyone is hungry, let him eat at home—so that when you come together it will not be for judgment. About the other things I will give directions when I come.”
Social status played a large role in Corinthian banquets. People of status could invite peers (friends) and/or social subordinates to their banquets, but peers had to receive the “best” places (nearest the host) to recline (lean or lie back in a relaxed position with the back supported) and the highest quality food and wine.
Dinners of private associations, or clubs, were also common; trade guilds, e.g., often met once a month to eat together in the name of their idol/god/patron deity (e.g., Silvanus for woodcutters, Bacchus for bar owners). People sometimes brought their own food and drink. Such trade guilds would usually include people of the same social class, but they could meet in the home of, or at the sponsorship of, a wealthier patron, or sponsor.
The early churches met primarily in homes (1 Cor 16.19), including in Corinth (Acts 18.7; Rom 16.23), but in more spacious homes; the largest of these would have been in Corinth’s richer residential area. Although more spacious villas existed, an average wealthy home could recline 9-12 people on three large couches in the dining hall; if needed, more people (even as many as 40) could be accommodated in the larger dining hall. Whatever the particulars, the wealthier minority of the congregations (1 Cor 1.26) probably hosted the rest of the members spatially; perhaps they also provided some or all of the food and wine.
In contrast to typical Corinthian banquets, the Jewish Passover meal (1 Cor 5.7) on which the Lord’s Supper was modelled was an intimate matter of one or two families.
Let’s look at our Scripture reading for today, under the following five main points:
- The Perversion (11:17-22) – (In this case, we will be looking at the mockery that the Corinthians made of the Lord’s Supper or Communion – “Perversion” means: behaviour that is considered abnormal and unacceptable and which is in contrast to th original meaning of the Lord’s Supper);
- The Institution (11:23-25) – (Meaning, How the Lord told the disciples, how the Communion must be executed or how it should be done);
- The Purpose (11:26, 28) – (Meaning: What was the original reason why the Communion was instituted by the Lord);
- The Penalty (11:27, 29-30) – (Meaning: What will happen to the partakers of the Lord’s Supper and who don’t celebrate in the way the Lord intended it to be) and
- The Profit (11:31-34) – (Meaning: What is the benefits for believers, who observe the Lord’s Supper).
- The Perversion (11:17-22): Unfortunately, things in the Corinthian church weren’t right, because theywere making a mockery of the Lord’s Supper, that is why Paul says to them in vs.17b ~ “…when you come together it is not for the better but for the worse.” What happened here in the church of Corinth – why this serious perversion (“the process of improperly changing something that is good” – Merriam-Webster)?
There was a terrible division in this church. There were people that followed people rather than Christ ~ “What I mean is that each one of you says, “I follow Paul,” or “I follow Apollos,” or “I follow Cephas,” or “I follow Christ” (1 Cor.1:12). There were people who differed from others in the church over food offered to idols; there were social status differences between the rich and the not-so-rich (1 Cor.11:21). There were even people who got drunk while partaking in the meal (1 Cor.11:23). The church was in a bad state and badly splintered, and these differences made their times of worship and fellowship so negative, that Christians went away in a worse state spiritually than when they arrived (1 Cor.1:17).
Paul could not call the gatherings of the church at Corinth ‘the Lord’s Supper’, because they were not under the Lord’s authority; there was hardly any awareness of the Lord’s presence. It seemed as if they didn’t even thought of Jesus’ death on the cross. How could such an occasion be ‘the Lord’s Supper’? Each person was far more concerned with satisfying his own hunger and thirst (1 Cor.14:21). If the purpose of coming together was to satisfy physical appetites, why not stay at home? “Do you not have houses to eat and to drink in?” (1 Cor.14:22).
What Paul wants to convey to the church in Corinth, is that they were not approaching the Lord’s Supper in the right manner but were nullifying its spiritual meaning and therefore, made an absolute mockery of the Lord’s Supper.
- The Institution (11:23-25): Paul now reminds the Corinthians what the Lord’s Supper was originally meant to be. He recalled the actual institution by the Lord Jesus Himself on the night when he was betrayed. Paul’s anonymous reference to Judas (1 Cor.11:23 when he writes… ~ “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”) may have been a challenge to the Corinthians in their own behaviour.
We see in vss.23-25 that the Lord did two things and said two things when He instituted the Communion (i.e. when Jesus introduced, or for the first time used the Communion with His disciples and showed them how it should be done):
- What the Saviour did (11:23, 25a):
- He took the bread (11:23).
- He took the cup (11:25a).
- What the Saviour said (11:24, 25b):
- Concerning the bread (11:24)
- Concerning the cup (11:25b)”
Let us look in a bit more detail at these four points:
- What the Saviour did – He took the bread (11:23): First, Jesus took the bread (11:23) ~ Although Jesus was God, according to Phil.2:6-7, He… ~ “…unselfishly given (Himself) on the cross for the benefit of others.”What does this “benefit to others” mean? ~ “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich” (2 Cor. 8:9) and Phil. 2:8 ~ “And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”
What Paul therefore is saying in these two verses, is that the Corinthians (and for that matter, us as well) must remember that Jesus, although He is God, he unselfishly laid His life down by dying on the cross for our sakes – He became poor (dead), in order for us to become rich (be saved and inherit eternal life). Jesus, as God-man could have prevented His crucifixion, because He is God-almighty, but He became our slave, so that we can be saved from eternal life. According to 1 Cor.8-13, Paul also urges us to always keep this fact in remembrance.
Why did Jesus brake the bread? We find the answer in Matt.26:26b ~ “…Jesus took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is my body.” After Jesus thanked His Father for the bread, He broke the bread in order to demonstrate what was about to happen with His body on the cross.
The bread will show the manner in which His body will be broken, and thus will serve to recall His dying sufferings to their and our remembrance. What must we remember when taking the broken bread and eat it? The Bible says the holy God created earth and man perfectly. But Adam and Eve fell to the temptation of Satan (original sin) and disobeyed God. Ever since Adam’s sin, sin has infected the human race. Each person is guilty ~ “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom.3:23). Because we have sinned against God, we deserve His punishment. A judge who pardons lawbreakers isn’t a good judge. Likewise, God will not overlook sin. He pours out His righteous wrath against sinners (Rom.2:1-11). Unbelieving sinners pay for their sin by suffering eternal death in hell ~ “For the wages of sin is death” (Rom.6:23a). Taking the sin of the world as the sacrificial Lamb of God, is why Jesus had to die. He came to take the punishment for sin – death on the cross. At His death, He cried out, “It is finished” (John 19:30b). Jesus finished paying the punishment for sin as the perfect Lamb of God – His work was perfectly done – it was finished.
- What the Saviour did – He took the cup (11:25a): Second, when Jesus took the cup after the supper, He said something strange in 11:25, namely ~ “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” What was this all about? In the later ritual (Jesus’s time) of the Passover, the cup of wine was passed round three times in the course of the supper. One such cup had been passed round early in the evening (Luke 22:17). After the meal, a third cup was passed round and this cup represented God’s declaration of redemption out of Egypt ~ “…I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great acts of judgment…” (Ex.6:6). When Jesus lead the Passover meal and when He presented this third cup, the wine was a representation of the blood of Christ, which was to be shed on the cross during the Jewish Passover.
- What the Saviour said – Concerning the bread (11:24): When Jesus took the bread, He said in 1 Cor.11:24b ~ “This is my body, which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.”
During the Jewish Passover meal, the person presiding at the meal (or leading the ceremony – usually the father in the Jewish household) would take up the unleavened bread – the “bread of affliction” (Deut. 16:3) – and make a statement about it, recalling the Exodus from Egypt, by saying: “This is the bread of affliction which our fathers ate in the land of Egypt; let all who are hungry come and eat.” Jesus, who lead proceedings at this Passover meal thus transformed the words that the Jewish fathers usually used and applied those words to Himself. The act of remembrance at the Passover of the Exodus (the Israelites leaving Egypt for the Promised Land – Exodus meaning: “the mass departure of the Israelites from Egypt) was now applied to the exodus of Jesus, i.e. Jesus’s upcoming death, resurrection and ascension (the ascent, or the going up of Christ into heaven on the fortieth day after the Resurrection), “…which He was about to bring to accomplish at Jerusalem” (Luke 9:31).
When Jesus said “This is my body…” (1 Cor.11:24b), the word “this” most naturally means in the context “this bread” that Christ was holding in his hand as a symbol to represent his body; the bread was not Christ’s body itself.
The breaking of the bread was therefore, symbolic of Christ’s bruised body (Isa 53:5), “given for you” (Lk 22:19). This “bread of Life,” which Jesus gave to the disciples to eat, pointed towards His body that was going to be broken for them in order to obtain eternal redemption for them.
- What the Saviour said – Concerning the cup (11:25b): The New Covenant of grace between God and humanity was ratified (or making it officially valid) in the blood of Christ – In other words, the New Covenant that replaced the Old Covenant was now officially in place and established, because of the shedding of Christ’s blood on the cross and the meaning of this New Covenant, is that the promise that God made with humanity is that He will forgive sin and restore fellowship with those whose hearts are turned toward Him. Jesus Christ is the Mediator of the New Covenant, and His death on the cross is the basis of the promise ~ “And likewise the cup after they had eaten, saying, ‘This cup that is poured out for you is the New Covenant in my blood” (Luke 22:20).
The cup containing the symbol of that blood is therefore the pledge and witness of that covenant. This was a New Covenant in blood (Rom.3:25) as contrasted with the Old Covenant in blood (Ex.24:8). After Jesus has taken the cup, He said in Matt.26:27-28 ~ “Drink of it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.”
The main word Paul uses to describe what has happened, during the institution of the Lord’s Supper, is the word “covenant” (1 Cor.11:25b). Through the shedding of the blood of Jesus, the Paschal Lamb (5:7), it is now possible for Jews and Greeks, rich and poor, men and women to know the glorious freedom of forgiveness and to have personal knowledge of God. Those who enter into this personal relationship, this covenant-relationship, with the Lord naturally enter at the same time into a covenant-relationship with one another. Thus, the covenant community is established – and that is precisely what the Corinthians were undermining by their behaviour. For them the death of Christ was not central; the return of Christ was not dominant; the love of Christ was not in control. It was, in a word, not ‘the Lord’s Supper.’
- The Purpose (11:26-28): We find a threefold purpose for the Lord’s Supper:
- It serves as a backward look to the cross.
- It serves as an inward look to the conscience.
- It serves as a forward look to the crown.
- The Lord’s Supper serves as a backward look to the cross (11:26a) ~ “For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup...” The Lord’s Supper was a visible sermon that proclaimed “the message of the Cross” (1:18, 23; 2:2, 8). The message of the cross is the reality of the Lord’s death, and also the certainty of His return (until He comes) (Joh.14:1–4). In the beginning there was no prescribed schedule for the observance of the Lord’s Supper, whenever it was celebrated its message of humiliation and subsequent exaltation (Phil. 2:6–11) went forth. This was a needed reminder to all saints, especially those in Corinth, but also for us today (1 Cor.4:8–13).
The second purpose of the Lord’s Supper:
- It serves as an inward look to the conscience (11:28) ~ “Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup.” If we are to participate in a worthy manner, we must examine our own hearts, judge our sins, and confess them to the Lord.
The Corinthians neglected to examine themselves, but they were experts at examining everybody else. When the church gathers together, we must be careful not to become “religious detectives” who watch others, but who fail to acknowledge our own sins. If we eat and drink in an unworthy manner, we eat and drink judgment to ourselves, and that is nothing to take lightly
Chastening is God’s loving way of dealing with His sons and daughters to encourage them to mature (Hebr.12:1–11). It is not a judge condemning a criminal, but a loving Father punishing.
The third purpose of the Lord’s Supper:
- It serves as a forward look to the crown (11:26b) ~ “…you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes.” We observe the Supper “’till He comes.” The return of Jesus Christ is the blessed hope of the church and the individual Christian. Jesus not only died for us, but He arose again and ascended to heaven; and one day He shall return to take us to heaven. Today, we are not all that we should be; but when we see Him, “we shall be like Him” (1 John 3:2).
- The Penalty (11:27, 29-30): We find a stern warning in 11:27 to people who partake in the Communion in an unworthy manner. Paul defines his meaning of the word, “unworthiness” in 11:29. He does not say or imply that we ourselves must be “worthy” to partake of the Lord’s Supper. No one would ever partake on those terms, because no-one will ever be worthy or perfect enough in themselves.
To come to the table with unconfessed sin in our lives is to be guilty of Christ’s body and blood, for it was sin that nailed Him to the cross. If we will not judge our own sins, then God will judge us and chasten us until we do confess and forsake our sins. This judgment is not God’s eternal judgment but some temporal judgment such as sickness and death. Disobedience in the ancient world was often linked to disease and death (e.g. – Ananias and Sapphira Acts 5:1-11).
- The Profit (11:31-34): It is however, also important to understand the following:
- Judging Ourselves (11:31-32): If we exercise self-judgment (or an inward look to the conscience), it will not be necessary to so punish us. We must never forget that God is dealing with us as with His own children. He loves us too dearly to allow us to go on in sin.
- Giving Ourselves (11:33-34): Paul concludes his heartfelt plea to the Corinthians about two aspects of their life as a worshipping community. He was so disturbed about the way they were exposing themselves to the judgment of God in their approach to the Lord’s Supper, that he underlines its nature as a love-feast ~ “…wait for one another … if anyone is hungry, let him eat at home…” (11:33–34a). The Lord’s Supper, was not to be mistaken for a common meal. To disregard its sacred character would be to come together for judgment.
Paul’s final comment, when he says in 11:34b ~ “About the other things I will give directions when I come,”suggests that there were other irregularities regarding worship and the Lord’s Supper, but they were not sufficiently urgent for him to deal with at this time.
Beloved, let us make sure that we don’t make a mockery of the Lord’s Supper. Let us always take the imagery of the elements of Communion seriously and let us always look backward, inward and forward and let us always remember that the Lord loves us dearly and that He always forgives His children’s sins. Let us see the Lord’s Supper as a love-feast, but that we also do not disregard the sacred character of the Lord’s Supper.