Of all the things that we are thankful for, tonight we’re going to celebrate that which is at the very highest point on our list: the sacrifice of Christ on our behalf. And so when we have a Thanksgiving service—and we’ve been having them for as long as I have been here—we always end those evenings together around the Lord’s Table, because this is the point at which all of our thanks begins. We stand at the foot of the cross, redeemed by the sacrifice of Christ, given life through His death and resurrection; and this is to be remembered. You may have come to us in the last year or so, last couple of years, or even the last few months, and you might wonder what exactly Communion is about, what is really going on here. And you may have the sense that this is a rather one-dimensional—important, but rather one-dimensional kind of ordinance in the church. But I want to help you to understand something of the richness and something of the breadth and length and depth and height of coming to the Lord’s Table.
Jesus instituted this table. In the upper room, the night of His betrayal and before His arrest, He was having the final authorized Passover celebrating the exodus from Egypt—God’s delivering the children of Israel from four hundred years of bondage—and He was enjoying that Passover meal, but He transformed it. There were cups, and there was bread at the Passover meal. But that was the last official Passover because the Lord transformed it into what we know as Communion, or the Lord’s Table. In the future, the cup would not any longer represent the blood of an animal sprinkled on the door, and the bread would not any longer remember the unleavened bread of Egypt, celebrating God’s deliverance from Egypt. But from now on, the cup would represent the blood of Christ, and the bread would represent the body of Christ, and all of it would speak to a far greater deliverance than the deliverance out of Egypt, as great as that was; and it was monumental.
You remember reading, don’t you, what God did by way of plagues to free up His people from Pharoah, and how He even drowned Pharoah and the entire Egyptian army as they pursued His people on their way out of Egypt. It was no small deliverance. The final plague, of course, was the death of the firstborn in every house where the blood was not placed on the door, the blood of the sacrifice on the door, so that the angel of death would pass by. It was a massacre by the angel of death, a divine agent that night in Egypt.
But those who had put their trust in God and obeyed Him and made a sacrifice and put the blood on the door were delivered from that angel of death, and they were delivered from Egypt, and they were sent on their way, protected by God, to the Promised Land. God told the Jews at that time that they were to remember that event, and to do so every year. And Jewish people still celebrate Passover even today. But after the upper room, on that Friday in Jerusalem when Jesus was crucified—the upper room prior to that—there never has been an authorized Passover. God transformed the Passover into the remembrance of a greater deliverance: the deliverance that He wrought for us on the cross, not delivering us from an earthly enemy, but from sin and judgment and death and hell.
So that’s why we celebrate this way. And the Lord commanded us to do it. The early church was so drawn to this, they did it every week. Some churches still do it every week, although most churches do it less frequently so that it doesn’t become nothing more than a routine.
But what are we really doing when we come to this table? I think Paul helps us to understand that in 1 Corinthians 10 and 11. If you want to look with me at those two chapters, we’re going to look at a number of Scriptures in those two chapters that help us define the very experience of the Lord’s Table that we are about to enjoy. And I’m just going to give you what the apostle Paul lays out, as well as our Lord, as to the significance of this wonderful ordinance.
First of all, if you’ll look at chapter 11 of 1 Corinthians, the apostle Paul in giving this instruction about the Lord’s Table, which occupies these two chapters, says this, starting in verse 23: “For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus in the night in which He was betrayed took bread; 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.’” And then in verse 25, “In the same way He took the cup also after supper, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in My blood; do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.’” Paul is reflecting back to what our Lord said.
The first feature of the Lord’s Table is it is a table of remembrance. We come to this table to remember Christ’s work on the cross because in that work on the cross, in His death, He provided for us forgiveness. He provided for us deliverance from sin, rescue from Satan, power over death, and eternal heaven. All of that is wrought by Christ on behalf of those for whom He died, in His dying. Paul says we actually died in Him, and we rose in Him. Our salvation would not exist apart from the sacrifice of Christ, in which He paid the penalty for our sins.
That is probably the most common understanding, and it is the foundational understanding of the Lord’s Table. We come to remember what Christ has done for us. And what should be our response, and what should be our attitude? Obviously thanks and humility, thanks and humility, as we realize that we had nothing to offer God to merit Christ dying in our place. It was God’s free, sovereign grace on our behalf. We couldn’t do this too much, could we? We certainly couldn’t remember too frequently the work of Christ. Remembering the work of Christ reminds us of what we were and what we would be apart from saving grace and the death of the Savior.
So that is well known to all of us. This is a time of remembrance. And you might assume that that’s sort of the primary point of this, but there is much more. Let me give you a second passage. Go back to chapter 10, where Paul is also talking about the Lord’s Table, and look at verse 16: “Is not the cup of blessing which we bless a sharing in the blood of Christ? Is not the bread which we break a sharing in the body of Christ?”
More than Jesus doing something for us, the Lord’s Table expresses the fact that we participate in the cross. That sixteenth verse takes this to a completely different level than just remembering something. We share in His blood. We share in His body. We are in Christ in His dying. The fact here is that there is a real presence of Christ not just in our lives now, but a real presence of Christ on our behalf in His dying, in His dying. That level of sacrifice for us leads me to point you to verse 14: “My beloved, flee from idolatry,” as if to say if you actually are a partaker in the blood of Christ and a partaker in the body of Christ, then it assumes that you offer to Him total devotion—right?—total devotion.
So this is where you remind yourself of the uniqueness of your union with Christ. And there’s a third aspect, if you look in chapter 10 down at verse 17: “Since there is one bread, we who are many are one body; for we all partake of the one bread.”
Now this takes us to another aspect. We come to the Lord’s Table to remember what Christ did. We come to the Lord’s Table to celebrate the reality that we were there in the mind of God in His blood and in His body. We were there. He was dying actually for us. It’s not just history that we remember, it was our spiritual reality. But it’s more than that because all of us who are in Christ were in His dying. We are, verse 17 says, one bread, one body, “for we all partake of the one bread.” When we come to this table we celebrate not only our union with Christ, but our union with each other. We’re reminded of that here because we are one in Christ.
There’s a fourth feature to the richness of this. Follow down to verse 20: “I say that the things which the Gentiles sacrifice, they sacrifice to demons and not to God; and I do not want you to become sharers in demons. You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons; you cannot partake of the table of the Lord and the table of demons. Or do we provoke the Lord to jealousy? We’re not stronger than He, are we?” You don’t want to provoke the Lord to jealousy, and that means you can’t go from the Table of the Lord to the table of demons.
We come to this table to remember Christ’s saving work on the cross. We come to this table to remember that we were there in His dying. We come to this table to remember that we are all one as Christ’s body. And consequently, we come to this table to reaffirm our separation from all other powers. This becomes the holiest place. There is no place for mixed loyalty. There is no place for worshiping Christ and worshiping demons. You say, “Well I wouldn’t do that overtly.” If you worship anything in the domain of demons, you have split your loyalty. Christ is Lord, our worship to Him is singular, and there is no place for a mixed loyalty.
So we are reminded here not only of a historical fact of the death of Christ, not only of the spiritual reality that we were there and that we are one with each other, but we are reminded that we are called to live separated lives. The message of sanctification comes through powerfully here. Apparently in Corinth some of those who had been converted out of paganism were going back to their pagan activities. You couldn’t separate the culture from its religion; and so perhaps because of friendships and family and familiarity, some who were coming to the Table of the Lord were then going to the table of idols, which are nothing but demons. That’s what verse 20 says. If you go to an idol, you are sacrificing to demons and not to God. You’re sharing with demons.
So this is a point at which we then reaffirm our complete loyalty to Christ. That leads to another very important aspect of this table. If we’re going to affirm our loyalty to Christ, turn to chapter 11 and verse 28. Here is a warning: “But a man must examine himself, and in so doing he is to eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For he who eats and drinks, eats and drinks judgment to himself if he doesn’t judge the body rightly. For this reason many among you are weak and sick, and a number sleep. But if we judged ourselves rightly, we would not be judged. But when we are judged, we are disciplined by the Lord so that we will not be condemned along with the world.”
There’s a certain danger in the Lord’s Table. When you come here you had better examine yourself so that you don’t eat and drink judgment to yourself, which is defined down in verse 32 as the discipline of the Lord. There’s danger in the Lord’s Table. In fact, verse 30 says treating the Lord’s Table lightly has caused some to be weak and sick, and some to die. You mean to say that the Lord might literally take the life of a believer who treats His table lightly? That’s what it says, and that is exactly what happened in Corinth. There were those who were abusing the Lord’s Table, literally coming to it drunk.
So again, when we come to this table, it starts out as a point of remembrance. It fast moves to a celebration of our unity in Christ in His dying, our unity with each other, our separation from the world, and calls for the purification of our hearts. So as we come to the table tonight, you need to examine yourself and make sure that you don’t come to this table while holding onto cherished sin; that’s very dangerous. You would pay a physical penalty, even to the extent of the Lord actually taking you home. It’s that serious.
So we come to this table with contrite hearts, with a sense of our unworthiness, with an attitude of confession and repentance, as well as celebrating all that is true about the cross in its history, in our union with Christ, in our union with each other, in our confession of Him as Lord. We understand the back side of that is to examine our hearts. That’s the sobering part of the Lord’s Table. It’s only for those who are in Christ, and those who are in Christ and not holding onto sin.
Now there’s a sixth reality about the Lord’s Table. Look at chapter 11, verse 26: “As often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes.” So this is also an object lesson. This is a propagation. This is a sermon in sacrament, you could say, a sermon in elements. We are proclaiming through the bread and the cup the Lord’s death. The church should be always doing this because it should be always proclaiming His death; and we do it until He comes.
There’s one other thing to add to this, and it’s back in the gospel of Matthew, for a full understanding of the significance of the Lord’s Table. Matthew 26:29. Listen to what Jesus said: “I say to you, I will not drink of this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it new with you in My Father’s kingdom.” So bound up in this Lord’s Supper is the anticipation of the kingdom, when we’ll do it with Christ.
What do we find in the Lord’s Table? Thanksgiving for what He has done; total devotion to the one who united us with Himself in His dying, that our sins might be paid for; fellowship and communion with the saints; separation from all that is evil—confession, repentance, proclaiming of the gospel, and anticipation of the day when we do this with Christ, the ultimate realization of our salvation.
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