THE DOCTRINE OF THE LORD'S SUPPER

 

Everyone who partakes of the Lord's Supper receives a divine promise that Christís body was "given for" us and that His blood was "shed for" us, "for the remission of sins". That promise is the very heart of the gospel. However, whenever men assume that what is promised comes to us without faith in Christ, the truth of the gospel is obscured. Therefore, before examining what the Bible says about the Lord's Supper, we need to remind ourselves that Godís promise of forgiveness in Christ comes to us only through faith in what Christ did for us on the cross (Galatians 3:6-22). In other words, even though God uses the Lord's Supper (just as He uses preaching) to give us His promise of forgiveness, it is only through personal faith in Christ that we receive what is promised (Romans 5:2, Galatians 3:22). With that fact in mind, let us look at what the Bible says.

TAKE EAT THIS IS MY BODY

Matthew 26:26 ∂ As they were eating, Jesus took bread, and blessed it, and broke it, and gave it to the disciples, saying, Take, eat; this is my body.

Mark 14:22 As they ate, Jesus took bread, and blessed, and broke it, and gave to them, saying, Take, eat: this is my body.

Luke 22:19 And he took bread, and gave thanks, and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, This is my body which is given for you: this do in remembrance of me.

1Corinthians 11:23-24 the Lord Jesus the same night in which he was betrayed took bread: And after giving thanks, he broke it, and said, Take, eat: this is my body, which is broken for you: this do in remembrance of me.

[Comment: While all four accounts (quoted above) include the words, "this is My body," the fact that Christ was physically present with His disciples when He made that statement tell us that He was not giving them His physical body. At the same time, to say that what we receive merely represents Christ's body is to say that it is not Christ's body, and that is the opposite of what Christ actually said. Therefore, Christ's words must have a deeper meaning, which should become clearer as we go.]

THIS CUP IS THE NEW TESTAMENT IN MY BLOOD

Matthew 26:27-28 And he took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, Drink from it, all of you; For this is my blood of the new testament, that is shed for many for the remission of sins.

Mark 14:23-24 And he took the cup, and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them: and they all drank of it. And he said to them, This is my blood of the new testament, that is shed for many.

Luke 22:20 Likewise also the cup after supper, saying, This cup is the new testament in my blood, which is shed for you.

1Corinthians 11:25 In the same way he also took the cup, after he had eaten, saying, This cup is the new testament in my blood: do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.

[Comment: By referring to the cup as the "new testament in My blood," Christ makes it clear that the new covenant consists of His sacrifice (His shed blood) not a new set of rules. His words then tell us that he is giving us the blood that was shed for us, and faith is believing that His blood was shed for us. Thus, the ceremony promises us Christ's body and blood as the atonement for our sins, while faith receives what is promised (Galatians 3:6,22).]

[Note: All who believe that Christís body was given, and His blood shed, for them, are (through faith), "members of his body, of his flesh, and of his bones" (Ephesians 5:30).]

WORTHY OR UNWORTHY

1Corinthians 11: 27-32 Therefore whoever eats the bread, and drinks the cup of the Lord, unworthily, will be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord. But let a man examine himself, then let him eat of the bread, and drink of the cup. For he who eats and drinks unworthily, eats and drinks damnation to himself, not recognizing the Lordís body. That is why many among you are weak and sickly, and many sleep. For if we would judge ourselves, we would not be judged. But when we are judged, we are chastened by the Lord, so that we will not be condemned with the world.

[Comment: Since we are justified by faith, it is faith in Christ (not works) that makes us worthy to partake. Therefore, those who humbly confess their sin and look to Christ for forgiveness are worthy to partake, while those who deny their sin, are not. That truth is illustrated by the parable of the Pharisee and the publican. The publican judged himself, and admitted his sin, while the Pharisee did not (Luke 18:11-13, 1Corinthians 11:31).]

THE DISCOURSE AT CAPERNAUM

John 6:51-59 I am the living bread that came down from heaven: if any man eats of this bread, he will live for ever: and the bread that I will give is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world. The Jews therefore began to argue among themselves, saying, How can this man give us his flesh to eat? Then Jesus said to them, Truly, truly, I say unto you, Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever eats my flesh, and drinks my blood, has eternal life; and I will raise him up on the last day. For my flesh is truly food, and my blood is truly drink. He who eats my flesh, and drinks my blood, dwells in me, and I in him. As the living Father has sent me, and I live by the Father: so he who feeds on me, will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven: not as the manna your fathers ate, and died: he who eats of this bread will live forever. He said these things in the synagogue, as he taught in Capernaum.

[Comment: Since Christ had not instituted His Supper when he made these statements, He was not talking about His Supper. Furthermore, the grammar is entirely different. In these verses, He calls His body "bread" (which is a metaphor), yet in the Lord's Supper He calls bread His "Body" (which is the opposite of a metaphor). In fact, calling bread His "body," is the equivalent of saying, "that door is me" instead of saying "I am the door." Since there is no such figure of speech, such a statement must either be true, or it is absurd.

However, while Christ was not talking about His Supper in these verses, what He said does cast light on that Supper, because He equates faith in His sacrifice with eating His body and blood (compare John 6:40 and 6:54). In other words, all who trust in Him, in effect, receive His body and shed blood (His sacrifice) as the atonement for their sins.]

CONCLUSION

All of God's promises, including those connected with the Lord's Supper, were given for a reason, and those who contradict Christ's words cast doubt on that promise, making His words "of none effect," and hindering the work of the gospel (Mark 7:13). Therefore, it is important to believe exactly what Christ said when He instituted His Supper. In regard to the question of how we receive what is promised to us in the Lord's Supper, Martin Luther had this to say:

Now this treasure is conveyed and communicated to us in no other way than through the words "given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins." In these [words] you receive the double assurance that it is Christ's body and blood, and that it is yours as your treasure and giftÖ And inasmuch as He offers and promises forgiveness of sins, there is no other way of receiving it than by faithÖ that which is given in and with the sacrament cannot be grasped nor appropriated by our body. This is done by faith in the heart, which discerns this treasure and desires it. (Large Catechism)

Gary Ray Branscome