We believe that the Lord Jesus has commanded the church to observe two ordinances. One is baptism, which is unrepeated and signifies the beginning of life in Christ by symbolically burying a believer in water and raising him up again to signify new life in Christ. And the other is the Lord’s Supper, which is repeated and signifies many things and we have been trying to understand what it represents in more depth on the first Sunday of every month.
I call them “ordinances” rather than using the word “sacraments.” By ordinances I simply mean that they were especially “ordained” or instituted by Christ. The reason I avoid the word “sacraments” is that it tends to carry connotations that I don’t believe are Biblical. When you call baptism and the Lord’s Supper “sacraments,” it gives the impression that participating in these rites is a means of conveying grace in themselves. The only way that grace is conveyed or transferred or understood is faith. Faith is the only means of grace. You believe in Christ and his finished work on the cross, you place your faith in Him, and through that faith, grace is conveyed and you receive grace as a gift.
The use of the word “sacrament” leans toward treating the bread and cup as transferring grace to the recipient through the bread and wine themselves in a material or physical sense when the accent should be on transferring grace spiritually through our faith. The use of the word “ordinance” leans toward treating the bread and the cup as means of helping the recipient to feed his soul on Christ spiritually, by faith, and in this way, grace is appropriated.
You may say, well, if faith is all that is needed, then why bother observing these ordinances? Baptism, I can understand because it’s once in a lifetime ceremony, but why partake in communion every Sunday for some, or monthly in our case? Another way to put it–do believers receive an extra or a special grace by eating the Lord’s Supper? I believe we do.
First, according to 1 Corinthians 11:26, the Lord’s Supper is a proclamation of the gospel. In fact, it is a re-enactment of the gospel. “26 For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes.” Every time we eat the Lord’s Supper we proclaim or re-enact the gospel. We proclaim it to ourselves to sustain faith, and we proclaim it to unbelievers, who may be watching, to awaken faith.
Also, it says, we proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes, until He returns. Implicit in the Lord’s Supper itself is the resurrection of Christ.
1 Cor 11
23 For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: On the night when He was betrayed, the Lord Jesus took bread, 24 gave thanks, broke it, and said, “This is My body, which is for you. Do this in remembrance of Me.”
Let’s focus on a few of the key words in these verses. The first word is “Lord.” Jesus is the Lord of lords, the King of kings. He is the Prince of Peace, the Author of Life, He is none other than the Son of the Almighty God sent in human form to redeem us from sin.
What happened to this Lord? This Lord was “betrayed.” This word calls to mind the fact that at the Last Supper Jesus knew who would betray him as well as the timing of the betrayal. And the crucifixion the following day. Jesus was not caught off guard. Everything was going according to plan. Things were not falling apart, they were coming together. Jesus could endure the betrayal because he had confidence that the sovereign God of the universe had not planned to leave Jesus in the grave. Jesus knew in the certainty of the resurrection.
Third, the word “thanks.” Verse 24: When he was betrayed [he] took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it. Jesus was giving thanks, not just for physical bread broken in his hand, but for what it signified–his own broken body. How could he be thankful to God for his own broken body on a bloody cross? Because Jesus knew he would rise from the dead in resurrection.
Fourth, the word “broke.” Verse 24: When he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, “This is my body which is for you.” Notice who is doing the breaking. Judas didn’t break it. Pontius Pilate or a Roman soldier didn’t break it. Jesus broke it himself. In the same way that he just broke the bread in his hand. And tomorrow I will break my body. What would that mean? It means what Jesus said in John 10, I am laying down My life so I may take it up again. No one takes it from Me, but I lay it down on My own. How can he take up his life when he has already laid it down and he is dead? He can do this only because he already knows of the resurrection.
When Paul says in verse 26, “For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes,” the words, “until he comes” don’t come out of nowhere. They assume and are built on the resurrection which is implicit in the Lord’s Supper itself. Let’s partake in the Lord’s Supper this morning proclaiming the certainty of our own resurrection until Jesus returns and fulfills his promise.