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Monday, February 4, 2013 | Comments (4)

by John MacArthur

At the time of Christ’s death, Passover was the oldest of the Jewish festivals—in fact, it was older than any other celebration of the Lord’s covenant with Moses and Israel. It was established before the priesthood, the Tabernacle, and even before the law. It was ordained by God while Israel was still enslaved in Egypt, and it had been celebrated by His people for more than 1,500 years.

Why does that matter in a discussion about communion? Because in the intimacy of the upper room, with His closest followers by His side, Christ celebrated the last legitimate Passover, transformed its meaning, and replaced it with a new ordinance for the people of God.

For centuries, the Passover celebration was the Israelites’ commemoration of their deliverance from four hundred years of bondage to Egypt. It was their national memorial of God’s faithful provision and protection for His people.

The principal lesson of the Passover was that deliverance from judgment requires bloodshed, and that the shed blood could come from a substitute—in the case of the Passover, the substitute was an unblemished lamb. From that point on in Israel’s history, its entire sacrificial system reinforced the substitutionary nature of judgment and deliverance. The sacrifices themselves didn’t accomplish anything (cf. Psalm 40:6, Mark 12:33)—they foreshadowed God’s ultimate provision.

Sitting in the upper room, Jesus was only hours away from fulfilling those centuries of foreshadowing. He was prepared to be the sacrificial Lamb that Israel had waited so long for. And in His final, private moments with those closest to Him, He established a new memorial to God’s provision and protection, not from temporary judgment in Egypt but from eternal judgment in hell.

We’ll save a more detailed discussion of the significance of the last Passover and the first communion for another time. What’s pertinent to this discussion is the collective nature of those two celebrations. Passover was no small event in the lives of the Israelites. It was a symbol of their national unity, bound together in the protection and provision of the Lord.

In the same way, observing communion, or the Lord’s Table, is a collective reminder of God’s provision through Jesus’ death. It unites us as people who have been rescued, transformed, and grafted into God’s family—all made possible through the sacrifice of Christ.

It doesn’t have some deeper spiritual significance—celebrating communion doesn’t re-offer Christ as a sacrifice. His death was God’s once-for-all provision for our sin, and any desire for another sacrifice is an implicit rejection of Christ’s death. Also, Christ does not inhabit the elements in some mystical way—they’re simply reminders of the body and blood He sacrificed to secure our salvation.

For our sakes, the Lord instituted a new memorial—one that points us back to His life and death, unites us in love for our common Savior, gives profound testimony to His sacrifice to the unsaved world, and builds in us an anticipation of His return (1 Corinthians 11:26). If you’re a Christian, these reminders should spur you to greater love for the Savior and the church He died to redeem.

The Lord’s Table also helps guard the church against the presence of unchecked sin. The apostle Paul exhorted the Corinthians to thoroughly examine themselves before they celebrated the Lord’s Table to be sure they weren’t inviting punishment or even death (1 Corinthians 11:27-30). Along with church discipline, communion works to guard the purity of Christ’s bride until His return. Regularly celebrating the Lord’s Table provides positive reinforcement to confess and repent; it forces us to consistently weed out and destroy our sin.

If that’s not happening—if sin is allowed to fester and take root in our lives—the Lord has a plan for dealing with that sin through church discipline. That’s where we’ll pick it up next time.


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#1  Posted by Chris Young  |  Monday, February 4, 2013 at 10:28 AM

I really like that you mentioned how it "works to guard the purity of Christ's bride". I know that in my life it has been just that. I am blessed in my church that our pastor always warns us of the dangers of taking communion with unrepentant sin in our lives. We take communion once a month and everytime it comes up I am challenged to seriously and sincerely repent and ask the Holy Spirit to cleanse my heart. As humans who easily forget we need that reminder of our Lord and Savior.

#2  Posted by Traian Boyer  |  Monday, February 4, 2013 at 11:40 AM

I'm very concerned during communion service. There are two couples

Who have been coming to our church for a few months and partake

In communion. They both are living together and don't seem the least

Bit concerned about what appears to be sin. Being in a large church

Previously I wouldn't know who was doing what but in a smaller context

It's hard not to notice.

Talking with the new pastor about it, he seems to want to wait for the

Right time to address it.

Any thoughts?

#3  Posted by Lois Begly  |  Wednesday, February 6, 2013 at 7:15 AM

This blog on church life is so helpful. These are areas we take for granted sometimes not understanding, fully, their significance. I wish we would delve into them deeper in our church. We celebrate the Lord's Table monthly but in the evening service. Quarterly we observe it in the morning service. I don't know how it is in other churches, but we have considerably less attendance in the evening service. If communion is so important, why would we have it this way? And when we do observe this ordinance, we usually don't bring up the subject of self- examination. We are a Bible- believing group of people, but this is troubling to me. It would be interesting to know more about what a communion service should be like. I wonder if John's church has ever aired any of it's communion services. Maybe that would be inappropriate, given the intimate nature of this occasion. The way ours is conducted, it would be no different than any other service, it's merely attached at the end.


#4  Posted by Karen Reid  |  Wednesday, February 6, 2013 at 5:10 PM

I'm responding to comment #2, about the couple living together and partaking in communion, and the pastor wants to wait until the right time to address it. I suggest that the pastor reads 1 Corinthians 5.

A man was living with his father's wife, and Paul said "When you are assembled in the name of our Lord Jesus and I am with you in spirit, and the power of our Lord Jesus is present, hand this man over to Satan, so that the sinful natur e may be destroyed and his spirit saved on the day of the Lord...Don't you know that a little yeast works through the whole batch of dough?...I have written you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people--not at all meaning the people of this world who are immoral, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters. In that case you would have to leave this world. But now I am writing you that you much not associate with anyone who calls himself a brother but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or a slanderer, a drunkard or a swindler. With such a man do not even eat.

What businenss is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? God will judge those inside. 'Expel the wicked man from among you.'"