The Lord's Supper Is a Blessed Means of Grace!
Heavenly Father, as we worship this evening help us to meditate with great blessing upon our dear Savior and His passion. Lead us to a sincere repentence over our sins and to a joyful reception of the Lord’s Supper, which bestows upon us Christ’s own body and blood and confirms for us Your love and forgiveness. Move us as we pray to place ourselves in Your hands, even as Your Son who prayed, “Not my will, but Yours be done.” Finally, sustain us in our faith and increase our love and hope. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.
Lovelessness rather than love characterized the Corinthian congregation’s celebration of the Lord’s Supper. Paul, therefore, reviewed for these Christians the institution of the Lord’s Supper and urged them to examine themselves before participating, so that they would receive it with blessing rather than in judgment.
Jesus washed His disciples’ feet in the upper room on Maundy Thursday evening. He did so to illustrate to us the attitude He desires us over against our fellow believers. We are to love and serve one another, even as Jesus has commanded. As we are led by the Spirit to do so, Jesus says, we will find true happiness!
Text: 1 Corinthians 10:16-17
The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ? For we, though many, are one bread and one body; for we all partake of that one bread.
In Christ Jesus, who cares about us individually but who calls upon us to be united in our common faith and confession, dear fellow redeemed:
Later in our worship service this evening and again tomorrow in both of our Good Friday worship services we will celebrate the Lord’s Supper? What is the Lord’s Supper? Is it a means by which we through our participation can merit God’s grace and forgiveness, as the largest visible Christian church in our world today suggests? No, it is not in spite of the large number of professing Christians who believe this, for to think of the Lord’s Supper in those terms is to turn salvation by God’s grace into salvation by man’s works and to make the Lord’s Supper, which is gospel, into a law. Is the Lord’s Supper merely a meal of remembrance—a symbolic affair, in which we eat bread and drink wine in remembrance of the sacrifice Jesus once made for our redemption, as many other professing Christians believe? The apostle Paul, after all, as we heard in our Epistle Lesson recorded Jesus’ command, “do this in remembrance of Me” and his own observation, “as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death till He comes.” Once again, we must say, no it is not merely a meal of remembrance, for to reduce it to that again turns gospel into law—our compliance with a command of Jesus. Yes, we are called upon to participate in the Lord’s Supper to remember our Lord’s sacrifice and its meaning for each of us, and, yes, we do proclaim the precious results of our Lord’s death each time to join in this precious meal, but the Lord’s Supper is much more than a mere meal of remembrance.
My dear friends, what is the Lord’s Supper? If you turn to the back of your bulletins this evening, you will find Luther’s explanation of the Lord’s Supper? What is the Sacrament of the Altar? Luther writes on the basis of Scripture, “It is the true body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, given to us Christians under the bread and wine to eat and to drink, as it was instituted by Christ Himself.” Notice how Luther emphasizes not what we do in the Lord’s Supper, but what God is giving us in this precious sacrament—the true body and blood of Jesus Christ, our Savior! What is the benefit of this eating and drinking? Again, Luther writes, “The words, ‘Given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins,’ show us that God gives forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation through the Sacrament. For where there is forgiveness of sins, there is also life and salvation.” How can such eating and drinking do such wonderful things? Luther responds, “Eating and drinking actually do nothing. It is the words, ‘Given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins’ which do this. These words, together with the bodily eating and drinking, are the main part of the Sacrament. Whoever believes these words has exactly what they say: forgiveness of sins.” Thus Martin Luther in very simple terms lays out for us what our blessed Savior intended through His supper. Let us consider then this truth— THE LORD’S SUPPER IS A BLESSED MEANS OF GRACE, through which we share the true body and blood of Christ, and by which we express our unity of faith in Christ!
Confessing Christians within the external Christian church have disagreed for centuries over the Lord’s Supper and, in particular, what you receive when you partake of the Lord’s Supper. Does the problem lie with God’s Scripture, or with man’s interpretation of Scripture? Is the Bible so unclear, that it cannot be properly understood? The answer to that question is no, it is not. The Scriptures are quite clear. The problem lies, rather, with man’s interpretation. Instead of listening to and believing what God says, man allows either his traditions or his reason to alter the clear meaning of the Scriptures. Satan, of course, is interested in blinding man to the truth in this matter, for he loves to change gospel into law.
What is the exact nature of the disagreement? The professing Christians within the Roman Catholic Church have been led by their traditions to believe that the bread and the wine within the sacrament are changed into the true body and blood of Christ, which the priest then offers in every mass in an unbloody manner to merit God’s grace and forgiveness. Consequently, these professing Christians are taught that they only receive the body and blood of Jesus when they commune and do not receive bread and wine—this in spite of the apostle Paul’s direct statement to the contrary that every communicant is eating “bread” and drinking wine—the contents of “the cup” (1 Corinthians 11:27). They are also taught that by the priest’s action and through their participation God’s grace is merited, rather than the forgiveness of sins simply bestowed upon those who believe. Grace is turned into merit—gospel into law and the basis of our certain hope of salvation is swtiched from the love of Christ for us to our own efforts and those of a priest to please Him.
In contrast, the professing Christians within the Reformed tradition have been led by reason to reject the thought that Jesus’ true body and blood are really present with the bread and wine when the communicant receives them within the sacrament. In spite of Jesus’ clear words, “This is my body” and “this is the new covenant in My blood” (1 Corinthians 11:24-25), these believers have been instructed to believe that Jesus’ word “is” really means “symbolizes” or “represents,” for Christ’s body, they say, occupies only so much space, as all other human bodies. It resides at the right hand of God, not here among us, they say—which in effect divides the human and divine natures of our dear Savior, denying Him the full glory due Him as the God-man and suggesting that He cannot do, what He clearly says He is doing. This unfortunate use of reason denies the Lord’s Supper its appropriate role as a means by which God would bestow upon us His grace—the special assurance of the forgiveness of our sins through the reception of the very body and blood of Jesus shed for us and reduces the Lord’s Supper to a mere meal of remembrance. In this way, again, the Lord’s Supper is changed from gospel to law—the mere fulfillment of our Savior’s command.
Consider how Paul’s word confirms the truth that within the Lord’s Supper Jesus does indeed give us both His true body and His true blood in, with, and under the bread and wine. Paul writes, “The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ?” The word “communion” means “sharing” or “participating” in something. Paul says that Jesus’ blood is “sharing” or “participating” in the wine of the sacrament, even as His body is “sharing” or “participating” in the bread. How this can be we must leave to our Lord Himself. We cannot understand how He can give us His true body and blood in, with, and under the bread and wine, any more than we can understand the nature of the Trinity or how Jesus Christ can be both true God and true man at the same time. Yet, because this is what Jesus says He is doing, we in faith are to believe it and rejoice in the fact that God wants us to be so sure of His love and forgiveness—the gifts of His grace for Jesus’ sake—so sure of our Savior’s presence in our lives, that He will give us His Son in this special way. Jesus’ presence and God’s forgiveness, consequently, are just as real as the bread we eat and the wine we drink. Yes, THE LORD’S SUPPER IS A BLESSED MEANS OF GRACE, through which we share the true body and blood of Christ!
It is also A BLESSED MEANS OF GRACE by which we express our unity of faith in Christ! The apostle writes in our text, “For we, though many, are one bread and one body; for we all partake of that one bread.” God’s original intention for our personal relationships with Him and with others was one of a blessed integration—He would walk and talk with us, His creatures, while we would work together to accomplish all that God set before us to do. Sin changes that original intention. When God came to walk and to talk with man after sin entered the world, man hid from God with fear and in shame. When confronted with their sin, man and woman turned on each other, shifting blame and refusing to accept responsibility. The divisions caused by sin continue to arise and fester within all of our relationships. Those divisions were certainly obvious within the congregation in Corinth to whom the apostle wrote the words of our text.
The Corinthian Christians were divided in their support of various pastors; they were divided over how to handle sin within their midst; they were divided socially and economically; they were divided in connection with their God-given gifts and self-centered ambitions; they were even divided in their understanding of the basic truths of their faith, including a proper understanding of Jesus’ resurrection. Consequently, Paul urged them at the very beginning of his epistle, “Now I plead with you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment” (1 Corinthians 1:10). Notice Paul’s emphasis on the unity of faith and confession that he desired for the Corinthian Christians. They were to “all speak the same thing;” they were have “no divisions” among them; they were to “be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment.” How different this is from the attitude so prevalent in our day, which suggests it is both impossible and unnecessary to agree in our faith and confession!
God desires unity of faith and confession—a faith and confession based upon the truths of His Word. He desires this, for it is through the preaching of that Word that the Spirit of God wins the hearts and souls of men and women everything, bringing them out of darkness and into the precious light of His gospel love and forgiveness. A divided faith will inevitably lead to an unclear confession, which cannot but hinder the Spirit’s work and endanger the souls of individuals redeemed by the blood of Christ.
Consequently, having urged the Corinthians to listen carefully to God’s instruction, Paul reminded these Christians that their unity of faith and confession is illustrated in a powerful way as they communed together. As they partook of the “one bread” they illustrated their unity in spite of their individuality. They were very different in many ways, but in Christ they were unified under His grace and were to proclaim a singular truth for the salvation and edification of all people.
Dear friends, in our day there is a decided shift in many churches away from maintaining a clear and unified confession within the church, which reveals itself in part in the practice of open communion. The practice of open communion permits people of differing confessions to commune together, while the practice of close communion requires a unity of faith and confession among those who commune. The latter, our practice here at Immanuel, takes Paul encouragement to be united in our faith and confession seriously, while the former suggests unity of faith and confession is unnecessary, if not impossible. The latter rejoices in a Spirit-wrought unity based upon a study of God’s inspired word, while the former trades that unity for an agreement to disagree agreeably. May we ever remember that God’s word is indeed His word—a word to be treasured, honored, and followed for thereby the Spirit of God works within our hearts. Let us listen carefully when God in His word speaks of the Lord’s Supper, for THE LORD’S SUPPER IS A BLESSED MEANS OF GRACE, through which we share the true body and blood of Christ, and by which we express our unity of faith in Christ! Amen.
Soli Dei Gloria!
—Pastor Paul D. Nolting