THE LORD’S SUPPER
(See Westminster Confession of Faith chapter 29 paras 1-3)
The psalmist says of the Lord that, “He causes the grass to grow for the cattle, and vegetation for the service of man, that he may bring forth food from the earth, and wine that makes glad the heart of man, oil to make his face shine, and bread which strengthens man’s heart.” Psalm 104:14&15.
Notice the reason the Lord gives man bread and wine. Both have to do with man’s heart. The bread is to strengthen man’s heart. And the wine is to gladden the heart of man. The Hebrew word for ‘strengthen’ has to do with ‘refreshing’ or ‘holding up’ the heart. And the Hebrew word for ‘gladden’ has to do with ‘cheering up’ the heart. Thus it’s by God’s design that bread strengthens and wine gladdens. Thus, it is no accident that the elements in the Lord’s Supper are bread and wine.
Now, the Corinthians were making a farce of the Lord’s Supper because of the divisions among them when they gathered together as a church, (1 Corinthians 11:18). And because of these divisions in their church the Apostle Paul says of them, “Therefore when you come together in one place, it is not to eat the Lord’s Supper. For in eating, each one of you takes his own supper ahead of the others; and one is hungry and another is drunk. What! Do you not have houses to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God and shame those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I praise you in this? I do not praise you.” 1 Corinthians 11:20-22.
The Corinthians had been treating the Lord’s Supper as a common meal. And one person might get nothing, while another might overindulge. So the Apostle then goes on to show the Corinthians how to correctly view and how to properly partake of the Lord’s Supper. He shows them that the Lord Supper is not a common, but a sacred, meal. He shows them that it has a very deep meaning. It’s not just eating bread and drinking wine. Rather it is of the deepest spiritual significance.
The bread and the wine of the Lord’s Supper are more about strengthening and gladdening the heart of the believer spiritually than physically; although we certainly don’t deny the physical benefits. For in the Bible the heart is the spiritual centre of man. It is ‘the citadel of man’ as Charles Bridges refers to it.
Now, Solomon, warns us not to enter the path of the wicked, “For they eat the bread of wickedness, and drink the wine of violence.” Proverbs 4:17. Then he says, “Keep your heart with all diligence, for out of it spring the issues of life.” Proverbs 4:23. Thus, for the believer, the Lord’s Supper is the opposite of eating the bread of wickedness and drinking the wine of violence. For the Lord’s Supper is eating bread and drinking wine that strengthen and gladden the heart out of which spring the issues of life.
As a spring bubbles forth whatever feeds it, so man’s heart bubbles forth whatever supplies it. As Jesus says, “‘Are you thus without understanding also? Do you not perceive that whatever enters a man from outside cannot defile him, because it does not enter his heart but his stomach, and is eliminated, thus purifying all foods?’ And He said, ‘What comes out of a man, that defiles a man. For from within the heart, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lewdness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within and defile a man.’” Mark 7:18-23.
A dead heart produces dead or stagnant waters. A living heart pumps forth living waters. The Lord’s Supper is the main place on earth where people are given opportunity to examine their heart. The Apostle Paul would have us examine ourselves, examine our heart, before we eat the bread and drink of the cup, lest we eat and drink judgment on ourselves – not discerning the Lord’s body.
The Lord’s Supper Defined
The Lord’s Supper is a Sacrament of the body and blood of Jesus Christ. The bread represents His body and the wine represents His blood of the covenant.
Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper on the night He was betrayed by Judas Iscariot. While Jesus and the eleven other disciples were eating and drinking the bread and wine that strengthens and gladdens the heart, Judas was eating the bread of wickedness and drinking the wine of violence. It’s as the Apostle Paul says, “You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons; you cannot partake of the Lord’s table and of the table of demons.” 1 Corinthians 10:21.
Judas Iscariot was eating and drinking judgment to himself – not discerning the Lord’s body. As John says, “…the devil having already put it into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, to betray Him.” John 13:2. As James says, “Does a spring send forth fresh water and bitter from the same opening? … Thus no spring yields both salt water and fresh.” James 3:11&12b. Judas Iscariot was a fountain of death.
At the last Supper the Lord said, “He who dipped his hand with Me in the dish will betray Me. The Son of Man indeed goes just as it has been written of Him, but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been good for that man if he had not been born.” Matthew 26:23&24.
Now, the Lord instituted His Supper on the evening of the very last Passover. And in so doing He changed the Passover Meal into the Lord’s Supper. Therefore, as the Passover was the covenant meal of the Older Testament, so the Lord’s Supper is the covenant meal of the Newer Testament. Thus the Lord’s Supper signifies and seals the Covenant of Grace, as did the Passover Meal before it. The Passover Meal pointed to the same One John the baptiser pointed to when he said, “Behold! The Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.” John 1:29b. The Lord’s Supper is designed to be a continual reminder of Christ’s sacrificial death.
We find the words of its institution in Matthew, Mark, Luke, and in 1 Corinthians 11. The Apostle Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 11:23f., “For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you: that the Lord Jesus on the same night in which He was betrayed took bread; and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, ‘Take, eat, this is My body which is broken for you; do this in remembrance of Me.’ In the same manner He also took the cup after supper, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in My blood. This do, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.’ For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death till He comes.” 1 Corinthians 11:23-25.
So we see then that the bread and the cup are to commemorate and proclaim the Lord’s death. And we see that the bread and wine also has to do with the new covenant in Christ’s blood. Therefore the Lord’s Supper is the new covenant meal and it points to Christ’s death. After the fact, the bread speaks of His torn body on the cross. And the wine speaks of His poured out blood on the cross. Thus the bread and the wine speak of Christ and His cross.
But where’s the strengthening and the gladdening of the heart in being reminded of Christ and His cross? Well, the heart that once was dead, but has been regenerated by the poured out Spirit of God sees in the bread and wine of the Lord’s Supper the benefits of Christ’s cross. For the Lord’s Supper has been designed by the Lord to seal and confirm to the believer the benefits or blessings Christ purchased by pouring out His blood on the cross.
As the prophet Isaiah puts what the LORD did to the Lord on the cross, “Yet it pleased the LORD to bruise [i.e., crush] Him; He has put Him to grief. When You make His soul an offering for sin, He shall see His seed, He shall prolong His days and the pleasure of the LORD shall prosper in His hand. He shall see the labour of His soul and be satisfied. By His knowledge My righteous Servant shall justify many, for He shall bear their iniquities. Therefore I will divide Him a portion with the great, and He shall divide the spoil with the strong, because He poured out His soul unto death, and He was numbered among the transgressors, and He bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.” Isaiah 53:10-12.
By dividing the bread and the wine and dispensing it among the communicants, the Lord is also picturing for us the sharing of the spoil of His victory over sin, misery, death, the world, and the devil. In other words, the Lord’s death has brought us the everlasting bread of strengthening and the everlasting wine of gladness to the hearts of those renewed in the Lord. As David puts in Psalm 23, “The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want … You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup runs over.” Psalm 23:1&5.
Jesus says, “Whoever eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life and I will raise him up the last day. For My flesh is food indeed, and My blood is drink indeed.” John 6:54&55. The Lord’s Supper confirms eternal life to the heart of the believer. And just as food and drink sustain the body, so Christ’s flesh and blood nurtures the soul. It is spiritual food for spiritual people.
Christ is the source and supply of the believer’s heart out of which spring the issues of eternal life. As the psalmist puts it, “He shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that brings forth its fruit in its season, whose leaf shall not wither; and whatever he does shall prosper.” Psalm 2:3.
Also, the Lord’s Supper shows the believer’s increased commitment to the Lord. For those who partake of the Lord’s Supper must be able to examine themselves. And they must be able to discern the Lord’s body in the Supper. Therefore the Lord’s Supper speaks also of those who have grown spiritually in the Lord, i.e., the spiritually mature.
It shows that the believer has been bearing the fruit of the poured out Spirit who waters with His Word. As Jesus says, “I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in Me, he is cast out as a branch and is withered; and they gather them and throw them in the fire.” John 14:5&6. Judas Iscariot was cast out as a branch, a withered branch, that bore no fruit! He did not fulfil his obligations to Christ. Rather he betrayed Him.
The Lord’s Supper is also our bond and pledge of our communion with Christ and with each other as members of His spiritual body. As the body is nourished through its head, so is Christ’s church nourished through Him. Therefore to be in Him is to be part of His spiritual body, which is the Church. And to be of His spiritual body, is to have Him dwell in you by His Spirit who strengthens and gladdens your heart. Thus the Lord’s Supper is a demonstration that we actually do have communion with the Lord and with each other.
It’s a reaffirming of our agreement and promise to serve the Lord and each other. As the Apostle puts it, “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 the one body.” 1 Corinthians 10:16&17.
So the Lord’s Supper is a Sacrament of the body and blood of Christ. It, with the other Sacrament of Baptism, is a sign and seal of God’s Covenant of Grace.
The Lord’s Supper Dispensed
It is bread and wine the communicant is given to eat and drink in the Lord’s Supper. At no point during the communion service do these elements change into something else. Neither is there anything killed or sacrificed during the service. Therefore the Lord’s Supper cannot be a sacrifice for anyone living or dead.
The Lord’s Table is not an altar – a place of sacrifice. Rather it is a place for eating and drinking – a place for fellowship. Communion is fellowship. And just as sitting down to a meal with good company with edifying conversation reinvigorates the heart, so the Lord’s Supper strengthens and gladdens the heart of man. For the Lord is present at His table by His Spirit who enables us to eat Christ’s flesh and drink Christ’s blood by faith.
Jesus Christ’s is in Heaven, but He is present to the faith of believers. For in the Lord’s Supper Christ is commemorating His death on the cross. As the Apostle says, “For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death till He comes.” 1 Corinthians 11:26. Therefore any feeding on Christ is a spiritual feeding because we have to wait till some point future for Christ to come, which is to say that He is not corporally and carnally present as the bread and wine, or in, with, or under the bread and wine. Rather Christ is in Heaven bodily and does not descend bodily whenever we celebrate the Lord’s Supper.
The Lord’s Supper therefore commemorates Christ’s once for all sacrifice on the cross where He said, “It is finished.” John describes Christ’s last moments alive on the cross, “After this, Jesus knowing that all things were accomplished, that the Scripture might be fulfilled, said, ‘I thirst!’ Now a vessel full of sour wine was sitting there; and they filled a sponge with sour wine, put it on hyssop, and put it to His mouth. So when Jesus had received the sour wine, He said, ‘It is finished!’ And bowing His head, He gave up His spirit.” John 19:28-30.
So, the sacrifice was made on the cross. In no way does the Lord’s Supper re-sacrifice Christ, or continue the sacrifice He made on the cross. Rather the Lord’s Supper is done in remembrance of His wonderful sacrifice of Himself.
The Older Testament priest had to offer up continuous sacrifices to God. But now that our great High Priest has come and offered up Himself, there is no more need for sacrifice. As the writer to the Hebrews puts it, “For such a High Priest was fitting for us, who is holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners, and has become higher than the heavens; who does not need daily, to offer up sacrifices, first for His own sins and then for the people’s, for this He did once for all when He offered up Himself.” Hebrews 7:26&27.
This was the great High Priest, Jesus Christ, offering up the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world. Jesus Christ is the Sacrifice as well as the One sacrificing. He is the One laying down His own life. For He says, “Therefore My Father loves Me, because I lay down My life that I may take it again. No one takes it from Me, but I lay it down of Myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again. This command I have received from My Father.” John 10:17&18. On the cross as the great High Priest, He bowed His head, and “He gave up His spirit.” By Jesus giving up His human spirit He was laying down His life. Thus no one sacrificed Jesus. Rather He sacrificed Himself.
The Roman Catholic or Papal Mass is detrimental to Christ’s once for all sacrifice. For Rome sees its Mass as a bloodless re-enactment of Christ’s sacrifice. That’s why there are altars in Roman Catholic churches. But we must not obscure Christ finished work of salvation on the cross. That’s why there are no altars in Reformed and Presbyterian churches.
Again, the Lord’s Supper is about eating and drinking, not sacrificing. It’s about rejoicing in the finished work of Christ. For Christ’s sacrifice on the cross is the sole propitiation for our sins. Therefore the Lord Jesus has in this ordinance of the Lord’s Supper appointed His ministers to declare His word of institution to His people, which is to say that the minister is to declare to the gathered saints the Lord’s words of institution of the Lord’s Supper. That’s why 1 Corinthians 11:23-29 is read out loud whenever we celebrate the Lord’s Supper.
Also, the minister is to pray and to bless elements in order to set them apart. In other words, the minister ensures that all present know that the bread and wine are being set apart from a common to a holy use. Therefore there is no change in the physical properties of the bread and wine. Only their use changes. Therefore the unchanged bread still strengthens and the unchanged wine still gladdens the heart of man.
However, in the Lord’s Supper the whole man is strengthened and gladdened because Christ’s sacrifice has made the believer whole, which is to say that Christ has redeemed the whole man, body and soul. Therefore the bread and wine also supplies spiritual nourishment to the believer. But only to the believer who is spiritually mature enough to be able to discern the Lord’s body in the Lord’s Supper. For the spiritually mature believer’s eye of faith penetrates the physical elements and sees the deeper, even the spiritual meaning of eating and drinking. Thus he understands what the Lord meant when He said, “It is written. ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.’” Matthew 4:4. Christ’s flesh is food indeed, and His blood is drink indeed, for He is the Word of God incarnate – in the flesh.
To eat and drink without seeing Christ in His Supper is to eat the bread of wickedness, and drink the wine of violence. For it is to detach the food and drink from the grace of the One who gave it. However, the believer sees the grace of God in the Lord’s Supper. He knows that the bread and wine come from the hand of God accompanied by the Word of God which comes from His mouth.
Jesus Christ is God’s hand and mouth. In His hand He holds everlasting food and everlasting drink. And He says, “‘Take, eat, this is My body which is broken for you; do this in remembrance of Me … This cup is the new covenant in My blood. This do, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.” 1 Corinthians 11:24&25. God, by His grace, supplies “…wine that makes glad the heart of man … and bread which strengthens man’s heart.” Psalm 104:15.
As the Lord says through His prophet Isaiah, “For as the rain comes down, and the snow from heaven, and do not return there, but water the earth, and make it bring forth and bud, that it may give seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall My word that goes forth from My mouth; it shall not return to Me void, but it shall accomplish what I please, and it shall prosper in the thing for which I sent it.” Isaiah 55:10&11. In order for it to accomplish what God pleases, the Lord’s Supper must not be detached from His Word.
It is the Word of God that gives the Lord’s Supper its meaning and power. Therefore the Lord will accomplish by His Spirit what He has purposed by His Supper. The minister is to make sure the bread and the cup is dispensed to the communicants. The minister himself is also to partake.
However, the bread and wine are not to be given to any who are not then present in the congregation. For that would be to detach the elements from the Word, even the words of institution. And separated from the Word of God the bread and wine will only offer some physical strengthening and gladdening of the heart. But there would be no spiritual strengthening and gladdening of the heart. For the Lord’s Supper is about eating and drinking with the Lord and with His people.
He is the head. We are His body. And since the body is nourished through its Head, the eye, the ear, the toe, etc. cannot be nourished apart from the rest of the body. “For we, though many, are one bread and one body; for we all partake of the one body.” 1 Corinthians 10:17.