A Visible Sermon
August 7, 2022 Preacher: Kevin Godin Series: Growing in Grace
Topic: The Lord's Supper Scripture: 1 Corinthians 11:23-26
Ideas are powerful but when we can experience something with all our senses it becomes uniquely ingrained in our minds. God created us and nobody knows how we think and learn better than he does. He primarily teaches us through words, which is the most precise way to communicate truth but in baptism and the Lord’s Supper, he also gives us powerful illustrations that engage all our senses as well as the fellowship of other believers.
Today we continue our series, Growing in Grace, working our way through 1 Corinthians but before we move on to chapter 12, I would like to spend a bit more time reflecting upon the Lord’s Supper. We have already looked at the specific concerns Paul has with the Corinthians in relation to it but today I want us to reflect upon it more broadly. I also hope that it will help explain why we celebrate it every week.
I should also give credit where credit is due. Last year, I helped pastor Josh as he was studying for a sermon on Lord’s Supper and now, in a sense, he is helping me because the message I am preaching today is a reworking of his message which I am preaching with his blessing.
The fact is that you and I have a problem. Basically, we are leaking vessels. Just like a pipe might leak or a roof might leak, we also leak. And here’s what I mean by that. Those who are Christians must know some very important truths about the gospel, but we have an unfortunate tendency to lose sight of those truths as we go about our daily lives. I guess you could call it “gospel amnesia.”
For example, we might know that God loves us and accepts us as his children because of the merits of Christ, but we can easily lose sight of that when we have a bad day spiritually. We might even slip back to the way of thinking that God’s love and acceptance are based our own performance or on how good of a Christian we manage to be rather than on the Christ’s perfection. And that’s just one example among many that we could point to of our “gospel amnesia”. We might know the gospel and be able to sincerely affirm key gospel truths, but a lot of that knowledge sort of leaks out of us as we go about our lives.
Interestingly, we see in the Bible that the Israelites had the same problem. That’s why God instructed them to celebrate so many different feasts and festivals in the Old Testament. There was the Feast of Firstfruits, the Feast of Weeks, the Feast of Trumpets, the Feast of Tabernacles, and finally Passover. These feasts were all designed to be regular and much-needed pointers for the Israelites of important truths about God and what God had done for them. And it was while Jesus and his disciples were enjoying the last feast I mentioned—the Passover—that Jesus instituted what we commonly call the Lord’s Supper. It’s also sometimes called Communion or the Eucharist.
This is what Paul is talking about in chapter 11 and we also read the account in Matthew 26:26-29: 26 Now as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is my body.” 27 And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, “Drink of it, all of you, 28 for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. 29 I tell you I will not drink again of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.”
Now one reason Jesus instituted this Supper is because he knew that we easily forget some really important things about God and what he has done for us. As I phrased it a few moments ago, we leak. And because we leak, we need some way to get refilled or recharged. Kind of like an air conditioning unit that’s been leaking refrigerant might need to be refilled or recharged, we need the spiritual equivalent of that. And the Supper is one way God gives us to do that.
The Lord’s Supper complements baptism as the second of the two ordinances Jesus has given us. He gave us baptism as visible sign of our entrance into a covenant relationship with God, and he gave us the Lord’s Supper as a visible means of regularly renewing that covenant relationship.
Kind of like the way it works with a wedding and then the subsequent renewal of the couple’s wedding vows. Baptism is kind of like the wedding that symbolizes entering a relationship with God, whereas the Lord’s Supper is like what a couple sometimes does in reaffirming their commitment by renewing their vows.
There are several different facets of the Lord’s Supper that all come together to make it one of the most meaningful experiences in the life of the church. In fact, there are seven of them that I’d like to examine this morning—seven facets of the Lord’s Supper that make it an incredibly powerful and meaningful experience for believers.
These facets are much like the facets of a diamond. Each one of them is distinct, yet they all contribute to the beauty of the whole. And as we go through these, we’re going to see that the first three speak of what the Lord’s Supper symbolizes, while the latter four speak of what it proclaims. So the Lord’s Supper is a symbol of some truths and a proclamation of others.
The first facet of the Lord’s Supper is that it symbolizes the death of Jesus on the cross. That’s its first and most basic meaning. The Lord’s Supper symbolizes the death of Jesus on the cross. We saw in Matthew 26 how Jesus links the bread and wine of the Supper to his body and blood and here in our main text in verses 23-25 Paul says,
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.”
Therefore, the bread of the Supper symbolizes Jesus’ body that was broken, and the wine or juice represents his blood that was shed. And the reason his body was broken and the reason his blood was shed was to pay for our sins. Jesus suffered the penalty for sin that we deserved. His death satisfied the justice and appeased the wrath of God the Father.
We can trace that idea back to the roots of where the Lord’s Supper came from. You’ll remember that the Lord’s Supper started as Jesus and his disciples were celebrating the Passover. We learn back in the Old Testament book of Exodus that the Passover was a celebration of God rescuing his people from slavery in Egypt. God sent various plagues on the Egyptians to convince Pharaoh to let his people go.
The last and greatest of those plagues was the Angel of Death going throughout the land of Egypt one night killing the firstborn male child of each household. Yet God gave his people a way to be spared from that severe judgment. He told them to have each household sacrifice an unblemished lamb and smear that blood of that lamb on the doorposts of their homes. The result would be that the angel of death would “pass over” that home and spare that family.
The sacrifice and blood of those perfect lambs spared God’s people from his judgment. Likewise, the perfect blood of Jesus spares us from God’s judgment as well. That’s why Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper during the Passover meal. It’s kind of like a new Passover—or “Passover 2.0” we might say. The elements symbolize Jesus’ death on the cross—his body and his blood.
Now, it’s important to understand that contrary to what some groups believe, the elements of the Lord’s Supper don’t actually turn into or contain the body or blood of Jesus. There’s no physical transformation of these elements taking place here. Instead, the elements are symbols.
All this should lead us toward a deeper and more profound for what Jesus has done. By the way, I am going to give a brief application for each of these seven facets. So, if you’re taking notes, feel free to write that down. The application is that the Lord’s Supper should lead us toward a deeper and more profound gratitude for what Jesus has done. It should lead us to a state of awe and wonder as we consider the magnitude of the grace we’ve been shown.
Then the second facet of the Lord’s Supper is that it symbolizes the nourishment Jesus provides for our souls. Just as we depend on physical food and drink to sustain our bodies, we depend on the spiritual food and drink of Jesus’ sacrifice to sustain us spiritually. He’s the one who gives us spiritual life and strength.
What happens when we don’t eat for most of the day? We feel weak, right? I know that I have trouble concentrating and sometimes can get a little irritable. We need to partake of food to nourish our bodies and to give us life and strength. Likewise, we need to partake of Jesus for spiritual life and strength. In John 6:35, Jesus says,
“I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.” Then later in the chapter, in John 6:54-55, he continues,
54 Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. 55 For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink.
Jesus is talking here about our faith in him to sustain us. As we take bread and juice of the Lord’s Supper, those elements provide physical nourishment for our bodies and remind us of the spiritual nourishment Jesus provides for our souls. He is our source of spiritual life and strength. Just as animals or plants die to provide us physical nourishment, so too did Christ die to provide us spiritual nourishment.
As a result, the Lord’s Supper should lead us toward a greater dependence on Jesus for his sustaining grace each day. That’s the application. The Lord’s Supper should lead us toward a greater dependence on Jesus for his sustaining grace each day.
Then the next facet of the Lord’s Supper is that it symbolizes the unity of the church. The Lord’s Supper symbolizes the unity of the church. In 1 Corinthians 10:17, Paul writes,
“Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread.”
When we take the Lord’s Supper together, it reminds us that even though we might be different in many ways, we share a common identity in Christ that is more important than all of those differences. We’re joining together in the Supper as one body united in Christ. What a wonderful thing. Right now it is fashionable to highlight divisions between different groups and to pit different groups against each other. But the Lord’s Supper is wonderful symbol for us of the shared identity that we who are Christians possess—an identity that runs deeper than anything else about us and that therefore transcends whatever differences might exist among us.
We come together as one body of believers to partake of this Supper. And not only are we joining together with our brothers and sisters in this local church, we’re also joining together with all Christians everywhere and from every period of time. We’re joining together with our Christian brothers and sisters throughout the world and throughout the centuries as a reminder that we are one in Christ.
The one meal that we share reminds us of the one body that we are. And as we take that meal, it should encourage us to pursue that unity in very practical ways as a church. That’s the application. The Lord’s Supper should encourage the healing of divisions within the church. It should encourage us to love each other and to overlook offenses and to forgive wrongs among those for whom Jesus died.
The Lord’s Supper not only symbolizes certain things, it also proclaims certain things. So having looked at the first three facets of the Supper which symbolize certain truths, let’s now look at the latter four which proclaim certain truths. The fourth facet of the Supper is that it proclaims the gospel to the world. The Lord’s Supper proclaims the gospel to the world.
We see this in 1 Corinthians 11:26, where Paul writes “For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.” Notice in that verse that there are two truths we proclaim. One of them is the death of Jesus and the other is found in those last three words “until he comes.” So, in addition to proclaiming his death, we proclaim the resurrection, because dead men don’t come back. In the Supper, we proclaim the death, resurrection, and coming return of Jesus.
The Bible teaches Jesus is going to return to this earth one day to rescue his people and judge his enemies. And unlike his first coming, in which we saw Jesus in his humility and meekness, this second coming will feature Jesus in his power and majesty.
The Bible also teaches that when Jesus comes again, we will enjoy something called the “marriage supper of the Lamb” with him. We find that supper described in Revelation 19. And that supper is partly what our current observances of the Lord’s Supper point to.
We celebrate the Lord’s Supper now in joyful anticipation the supper that we’ll get to enjoy face-to-face with Jesus then. In fact, Jesus predicted this back the very first passage of Scripture we looked at. He said to his disciples in Matthew 26:29, “I tell you I will not drink again of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.” That’s what we celebrate in anticipation when we take the supper.
As we take the supper together, we are proclaiming these glorious gospel truths. We’re proclaiming to each other and to the world that Jesus has died, is alive, and will one day come again. It’s like we’re all preaching a sermon together. In fact, the early church father Augustine referred to the Lord’s Supper a “visible sermon.” Think about that.
The Lord’s Supper is a visible sermon. We’re, in a sense, lending our own voices to the preaching of the gospel in a very visible way. Just by participating, each of us are sending a message, even if we do not say anything with our mouths. The result of that should be that that the Supper should give us great boldness in sharing the truths of the gospel in other ways. That’s application of this facet. The Lord’s Supper should give us greater boldness in sharing the truths of the gospel in our actual conversations with others.
Next, not only does the Lord’s Supper proclaim the gospel, it also proclaims God’s invitation. That’s the next facet. The Lord’s Supper proclaims God’s invitation to sinners to enter into fellowship with himself. That’s why it’s sometimes called “communion.” God’s inviting all who will believe and trust in Jesus to commune with him—to experience closeness with him and a relationship with him through faith in Jesus.
We were created to commune with God and to enjoy sweet and satisfying fellowship with him—a fellowship that’s pictured in the meal of the Lord’s Supper. By taking the Supper, we’re in effect proclaiming the hope God offers to everyone—his free offer of forgiveness and rescue to all who will receive these things through faith. Therefore, as we reflect on the Supper, it should give us a greater heart of compassion for those who haven’t yet accepted God’s gracious invitation. The Lord’s Supper should give us a greater heart of compassion for those who haven’t yet accepted God’s gracious invitation.
Next, the Lord’s Supper proclaims our participation in the unfolding story of God’s grace. That’s the sixth facet of the Supper. In 1 Corinthians 10:16, Paul writes, “The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ?” By taking the Supper, we’re proclaiming that we, personally, are participants in Jesus and in the grand story of the Bible that centers around him. We’re not just saying that the story of the Bible is an interesting story or even that it is true.
We’re saying that we ourselves are a part of that story. We’re saying, first of all, that it was my sin that made it necessary for Jesus to be crucified. It was my sin that resulted in his body being broken and his blood being shed. I am the sinner who needed to be saved. And I’m also the one who has benefited from what Jesus has done. I’ve received his forgiveness, I’ve received his life, I’ve been united with him, I will be with him when he returns. I’m a part of the story. That’s what we’re proclaiming. As we make those proclamations in the Supper, it should give us a deeper sense of our identity in Christ. That’s the application of this sixth facet. The Lord’s Supper should give us a deeper sense of our identity in Christ. His life and ours are connected. His story is ours, and ours is his. He is in us, and we are in him.
The seventh and final facet we will consider is that the Lord’s Supper proclaims the wisdom and power of God. In 1 Corinthians 1:23–25 Paul says,
23 but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, 24 but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25 For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.
Having been made in the image of God, we human beings believe that we can somehow raise ourselves up to heaven. We think that if we simply work harder, gain more knowledge, or have more discipline we can roll back the effects of sin in our own lives and in our society. We think that we can look at the things around us and trace the hand of God. But the Lord’s Supper, with its celebration of Christ’s broken body separated from his blood proclaims to all sinners that God’s wisdom is higher than our own.
We cannot see clearly. We cannot discern our own way. Jesus upon that cross appeared to all the world as a failure. A broken man, despised by God. Humiliated, and abandoned. To the natural eyes the cross is a symbol of foolishness and defeat. But through this humiliation the glory of the salvation of God is made known. When we celebrate the Supper together, we are proclaiming by faith that God is trustworthy, powerful, and wise so though the world counts us as fools, we can confidently walk by faith and not by sight.
As we celebrate the Supper, we proclaim the wisdom and power of God in using the weak and broken things to bring him glory. That is our final application, that the Lord’s Supper should give us greater confidence in trusting God. Brother or sister Christian, your situation and your life may appear to have very little glory and blessing, but do not despair. God knows what he is doing. The sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing to the glory that is to be revealed in those who trust in him. If you have any doubt, remember that his greatest blessings came through the broken body and shed blood of his only begotten Son.
So, as you can see, the Lord’s Supper is an incredibly meaningful ceremony that’s rich and overflowing with all kinds of symbols that point to the truths of the gospel. Even in outlining these seven facets, we still haven’t come close to exhausting the ways in which the Lord’s Supper is meaningful. We have not run out of facets, but we have run out of time. It is because the Lord’s Supper is such meaningful ceremony, and because it allows us to participate in a deep reflection and proclamation of the gospel, that we celebrate it every week.
It’s also worth noting that a weekly observance of the Lord’s Supper seems to have been the practice of the New Testament. Let’s look very briefly at 1 Corinthians 11. And I want you to notice how Paul uses the phrase “when you come together.” Keep an eye on that phrase “when you come together” and how it’s used. In 1 Corinthians 11:17-19, Paul writes, 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. So that phrase “when you come together” seems to refer to their weekly worship gatherings, right?
It refers to their gatherings on the Lord’s Day. And that’s very important, because look at how Paul uses that same phrase in the subsequent verses—specifically in verse 20 and then down in verses 33-34: 20 When you come together, it is not the Lord’s supper that you eat….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.
The phrase “when you come together” is inseparably intertwined with the Lord’s Supper. It seems clear to me from these and other passages that the earliest church observed the Lord’s Supper every Sunday on the Lord’s Day.
Understand that the Bible never gives an explicit command for us to follow that pattern. We are not required to celebrate it every week, but we seek to be a gospel-saturated church. What better way to keep the gospel central to our time together than to direct our attention to the gospel through the Lord’s Supper each time we meet? Every service has a clear presentation and illustration of the gospel both in words and in symbols. Every week there is a proclamation of the death, resurrection, and return of Jesus by both the preacher and the congregation.
No person should ever worship with us and be able to say the gospel was not presented no matter how weak my sermon may have been. God is holy and it is impossible for any sinner to earn his favor. We have all sinned and the wages of our sin are death and punishment. But God sent his perfect Son to take that death and punishment upon himself so that justice could be satisfied, and salvation could be offered. He was crucified, died, and was buried. But three days later, he rose from the dead, proving that his sacrifice was sufficient. Now he offers salvation and new life to all who forsake themselves and instead put their faith in him alone as their savior.
Brothers and sisters, the gospel is true. The blessings are real. We should celebrate them. Should we not look with anticipation to celebrating together the glory of Jesus and the salvation he brings? We should do it often because the reality is that we leak. As I mentioned at the beginning, we need constant reminders to redirect our attention lest we lose sight of the gospel. I pray that as we take the Lord’s Supper this morning, the Holy Spirit will refill our leaky tanks to overflowing joy in Christ. I pray it will help all who participate in faith, find rest and joy in the finished work of Jesus and the promise of his coming.
You have heard a great deal about the Lord’s Supper this morning. I think it is time for us to experience it together as we consider the truths is symbolizes and proclaims.
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