Dear Christian friends,
Baptism and the Lord’s Supper are sacraments. The word “sacrament” is an invented word much like “Trinity” to describe something referred to in the Bible. Trinity means three in one – God is one but three persons Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
Sacrament simply means something holy. Originally “sacrament” signified an oath or a solemn engagement. A Roman soldier gave his “sacramentum,” his oath, to be faithful to Caesar and the Roman Empire. In the early church when an adult was baptized, he promised to renounce the devil and all idols and swore allegiance to Jesus Christ. That vow was their “sacramentum.” Eventually the term applied to Baptism itself and later to the Lord’s Supper. Today we would say that a sacrament is “a visible means of spiritual blessings instituted by Christ.” The Sacraments are Baptism and Lord’s Supper.
A sacrament must be distinguished from a sacrifice. In a sacrifice man deals with God. In a sacrament God deals with us. In fact, he makes a promise, an oath, to forgive. We define a sacrament as having four characteristics: 1) It is instituted by Jesus; 2) It has earthly elements; 3) The word of God is used with the earthly elements; 4) With the sacrament forgiveness of sins is assured and conveyed to those who receive the sacrament.
The Roman Church has seven sacraments. Four of the seven aren’t even found in the Bible. Protestant churches except Lutheran churches call Baptism and Lord’s Supper ordinances. An ordinance is a law. That word puts the emphasis on what a people do and not what God does in the sacrament. That’s why we need to review again and again what God intends for us to have when he gives us the sacraments. Basic Training Lesson for this week is all about the Lord’s Supper – “Oh, What a Meal!”
Lord’s Supper was indeed instituted by Jesus. Paul refers to that. “The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed.” This was the night in Gethsemane, the night Jesus was in the Upper Room, the night before Good Friday. We call it Maundy Thursday.
What did Jesus institute that evening? He instituted a most unusual but holy meal intended to bring blessing to his Church until the end of time. He took the bread from the Passover meal and said, “This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.” He took wine from the Passover Feast and said, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.”
There is a guy who calls himself the “Bible answer man”. He said that it is vitally important that there are doctrines that we must understand and agree upon. However, when it comes to the Lord’s Supper, he said that it’s okay for us to agree to disagree about the Lord’s Supper because it isn’t as important as some other doctrines. When Jesus said to his disciples and to his church until the end of time, “And teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you,” do you really think he said it was okay to ditch the Lord’s Supper? Or when Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples; you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free,” did Jesus say that the Lord’s Supper is not important? Every teaching of Scripture is important to believe.
Jesus took the bread and said: “This is my body [given] for you.” So, how are we to understand what Jesus said, “This is my body given for you?”
In chapter 10, one chapter previous to our sermon text, Paul referred to what we receive in the Lord’s Supper in very clear terms. He said, “Is not the cup of thanksgiving for which we give thanks a participation in the blood of Christ? And is not the bread that we break a participation in the body of Christ?” He is speaking about the Lord’s Supper. He uses a rhetorical question, a question that has an obvious answer. The answer is “of course it is!” When we drink from the cup in this Holy Supper we are participating not only in the wine but also in the blood of Jesus. When we eat the bread we are receiving not only the bread but also the body of Christ. As part of the rhetorical question it is like saying everyone knows that or at least should know that.
How can this be? Some say the bread is only symbolic of the body of Jesus; the wine is only symbolic of the blood of Jesus. That’s not what I Corinthians 10:16 says - the passage I just quoted. Very simply to believe that the bread and wine and the body and blood of Jesus are received is no harder to believe than God creating the world in six days, or a flood in which only Noah and his family survived, or that Jesus was born of a Virgin, or that Jesus’ rose from the dead on the third day. Don’t let your puny mind get in the way of what God can do and what he promises to do – to give us Jesus body and blood along with the bread and wine in the Lord’s Supper. We call the Bible’s teaching the Real Presence.
Think what that really means. The writer to the Hebrews says, “Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body…let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith.” The writer to the Hebrews takes us back to the temple as a picture of our relationship with God. In the temple there was the far room called the Most Holy Place, the place where God dwelt by pillar of fire by night and a cloud by day as Israel made their way through the 40 years in the wilderness. A heavy curtain kept people from entering the Most Holy Place.
That curtain symbolized the barrier that exists between God and us because of sin. Jesus offered up his holy body on the cross and shed his blood. When he died the curtain was torn. His body and blood offered payment. We now have access to God. It wasn’t bread and wine that won forgiveness but the body and blood of Jesus, the same body and blood Jesus gives us in the Lord’s Supper.
Paul then moves on and writes significantly about the wine and the blood. He says, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.’” Jesus says ‘this cup is the new covenant.’ A covenant is a promise. The Bible speaks about an Old Covenant and a New Covenant. The Old Covenant is God’s Law given at Mount Sinai. God promised that if Israel they kept the commandments they would be his people and he would be their God. They were dead in the water from the start. No one can or does keep the Commandments.
The wine in the cup he is holding out to them he says is “his blood.” What sort of blood is it? It’s ‘new covenant’ blood. It is the covenant where he says: “Their sins and lawless acts I will remember no more.” The body and blood Jesus said and is received in this meal made that a reality. Martin Luther explains it this way: “For this reason we go to the Sacrament: there we receive such a treasure by and in which we gain forgiveness of sins.”
So, does Paul approach the Lord’s Supper the same way as the Bible answer man? Is it a minor doctrine that we can agree or disagree on? Absolutely not! It’s an important doctrine because in the Lord’s Supper we receive the forgiveness of sins.
One more point. “We do this in remembrance of Him.” There are basically two ways we remember – accidentally and deliberately. For example, you have a big interview for a new job. You are nervous and you perspire above your upper lip. You wipe the sweat away and you accidentally are reminded of your lunch when you had lots of garlic. You could kill a cat with your breath. You remember what you had for lunch by accident.
That is not the sort of remembering Paul is talking about here. “In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.” For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.” A couple of days ago I had trouble remembering how many years Judy and I were married. It drew a penalty flag from Judy. I remember the date - June 19, 1977 - but I had problems doing the Math.
Paul tells us what we need to remember when we come to the Lord’s Supper. Verse 26 says, “For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.”
When you come to the Lord’s Supper remember that you are preaching. When I stand here before you as one who preaches there are two main conclusions we reach. 1) I am doing this publicly. 2) I am doing this with preparation. In other words, I didn’t just throw these words together here by accident. I researched, I planned, I prepared, and now I present.
So, when you come forward to the Lord’s Supper you preach. But what is it that you preach? “You proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.” Now, if you are a faithful preacher, as soon as you say ‘Jesus died’, there are a number of questions we need to answer. Why did he die? He died because of our sin. In fact that was why he came into the world - to be the Savior of the world. When you come to this altar you are preaching Christ’s life and death and resurrection were for you and all others. Only through Christ are we acceptable to our Heavenly Father. This is the Christ that gives us of himself in this holy meal.
This is a special meal. This is not to be taken carelessly. The very reason included this section in his letter to the Corinthians was because they were not treating it seriously. That needed to change. In the ancient Christian church they wouldn’t even let visitors see the Lord’s Supper? Even today people are invited only after a good solid instruction class. We take our young people through two or three years of Confirmation class that leads up to being invited to the Lord’s Supper for the first time. They can say, all can say, “Oh, what a meal!” In it the Lord Jesus conveys to us forgiveness of sins by giving me the body and blood that earned forgiveness. He gives each of us an opportunity to proclaim his death for me and all through our participation.
Dear Christian friends,