A Banquet Feast for God’s People: The Beauty and Necessity of the Lord’s Supper (1 Corinthians 11:17-34)

How did you feel when you walked into this place this morning? If you receive our newsletter or have attended our church the last few weeks and saw the announcement of the Lord’s Supper, did this make an otherwise important and special day of worshiping together even more important and special? Don Whitney even asked his readers, “Would you ever change your schedule and your priorities in order to be present at a worship service because the Lord’s Supper is to be served there?”[1]

What we observe this morning is not merely a man-made tradition, but what is known as an ordinance—this is something that Jesus Christ himself ordained for the church to do (the other being baptism). If this is all that Jesus ever told us about the importance of this ordinance, that would be enough for us to observe it. It’s of such great importance, that this is referred to in Matthew, Mark, Luke, and 1 Corinthians and alluded to in John.

Gregg Allison reminds us, “Baptism is the initiatory rite of the Christian faith; the Lord’s Supper is the continuing rite.” From earliest times in the church, baptism is a part of this experience of the Lord’s Supper. Baptism is the very basic and very first step of obedience—ordained by Christ himself. And from earliest times, if this basic, primary, and obvious step of obedience is not observed, one was not permitted to partake of the Supper. Clearly, an area of our Christian walk needed to be addressed!

Every fifth Sunday along with Resurrection Sunday and Christmas Eve, we observe and celebrate what many call Communion or Lord’s Supper. Why do we observe it thusly? Does it say in the Bible that we can only celebrate it six times a year? In fact, other denominations only practice it once a year, while others practice it once a week. In talking to some in the past, when it was brought up why we do not have it once a week or even once a month, the response typically went like this: “Well, we don’t want it to lose it being special.”

But the fact is, there is no timetable—only that it be observed. Why? The symbols of the bread and wine stand as a memorial to what Christ has accomplished to redeem his people. They are signs of the real thing.

I love what J. C. Ryle says on the subject:

I make no excuse for including the Lord’s Supper among the leading points of “practical” Christianity. I firmly believe that ignorant views or false doctrine about this ordinance lie at the root of some of the present divisions of professing Christians. Some neglect it altogether; some completely misunderstand it; some exalt it to a position it was never meant to occupy, and turn it into an idol. If I can throw a little light on it, and clear up the doubts in some minds, I will feel very thankful. It is hopeless, I fear, to expect that the controversy about the Lord’s Supper will ever be finally closed until the Lord comes. But it is not too much to hope that the fog and mystery and obscurity with which it is surrounded in some minds, may be cleared away by plain Bible truth.[2]

My aim, like Dr. Ryle’s, is for us not to be ignorant of the subject. Christ called for us to observe it, and observe it we shall. With a gravity, a joy, a simplicity, and a connection—that connects us to all believers everywhere, past and present, 1st world to 3rd world, rich or poor… the ground is level at the foot of the cross! The Lord’s Supper stands as a banquet upon which all of God’s people may feast.

1. Will you recognize whose Supper this is?

17But in the following instructions I do not commend you, because when you come together it is not for the better but for the worse. 18For, in the first place, when you come together as a church, I hear that there are divisions among you. And I believe it in part, 19for there must be factions among you in order that those who are genuine among you may be recognized. 20When you come together, it is not the Lord’s supper that you eat. 21For in eating, each one goes ahead with his own meal. One goes hungry, another gets drunk. 22What! Do you not have houses to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I commend you in this? No, I will not.

They were coming together, but they were not unified. In fact, coming together was not for better but for worse—it would have been better if some of them had stayed home. You see, in those days, they would come together for a full meal, then observe the Lord’s Supper, followed by a sermon.

Paul says that there were divisions among them. The word ‘divisions’ comes from the word schismata  which literally means a tear. The word ‘faction’ in verse 19 is the word where we get the word ‘heresy’ –a faction or party geared around an opinion! So in essence a differences of opinions that lead to heresies that divide the church. In the Corinthian church, there were many divisions, but these types of divisions came from good intentions. At the beginning, it was a division over which preacher they followed (“I follow Paul, I follow Apollos, I follow Cephas, I follow Christ”). Then there was division about Paul himself (he was unimpressive physically as well as in speech).

But there were divisions about problematic issues! There was division about how to deal with blatant sexual immorality in the church (1 Corinthians 5:1-13). There was division about the boundaries of marriage, divorce, and remarriage (1 Corinthians 7). There was division on eating food sacrificed to idols (8-9). There was division regarding women’s roles in the church, spiritual gifts, speaking in tongues. In other words, Corinth was a mess—everyone was bringing forth their opinion, then folks would choose camps, then there would be shouting—and the shouting would turn to shooting their wounded.

But here, there are divisions regarding the Lord’s table. A place where Jesus leveled the playing field so that all may come regardless of race, gender, your past—was now having the rich erecting walls against the poor. Look at v. 21-24:

21For in eating, each one goes ahead with his own meal. One goes hungry, another gets drunk. 22What! Do you not have houses to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I commend you in this? No, I will not.

They were eating this meal beforehand with such selfish, debauched attitudes (attitudes for which Christ died), then they would approach the Lord’s Table. Paul says, “These things among God’s people are not simply to satisfy your desires, but to fellowship with those standing on level ground at the cross.”

As we read this, you may have noticed something startling in how the Holy Spirit inspired the Apostle Paul. In verse 19, we read, “19for there must be factions among you in order that those who are genuine among you may be recognized.” The word ‘genuine’ means those who have been tested and approved. The ones who hold to truth would persevere.

Does this surprise you? It’s amazing how hard many churches work to maintain the peace, keep the unity, smooth over doctrinal differences—all for the sake of harmony in the church. Ed Stetzer one time said to us pastors back in March of last year, “If you don’t have at least 10% of the people mad at you at any given time, you’re not doing what God called you to do.” In other words, as Paul told the Corinthian church, gospel work can be an offensive work! The very nature of it is to offend, because the gospel confronts us right where we live. The Word has an affect that few can quantify, but they know it when it happens.

But divisions have to happen. Issues have to arise, because in this we see where our true hope lies. God brings these crises along to help us identify the idols that need toppling! It’s easy when everything is proceeding smoothly

2. Will you remember why this Supper is celebrated?

Look with me at 1 Corinthians 11:23-26:

23For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, 24and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, “This is my body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” 25In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” 26For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.

Many tourists go to places all over the land to look at historical venue. Friends of mine went to see the monument at Gettysburg and found themselves genuinely moved as they walked over the battlefield. It stood as a memorial so they would remember the fallen men who died for their respective countries. Washington, D.C. has a number of places which are memorials (Washington Monument, the Jefferson Memorial, the Lincoln Memorial, Arlington National Cemetery, etc.) that do not simply serve as historical markers but as reminders—so we may recall the cause, the sacrifice, give thanks, and live under the banner of freedom that they helped provide in this country.

Even though this is recorded in Matthew, Mark, and Luke, chronologically this is the first place to record this. Paul even says, “I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you.” He received this directly from the Lord Jesus. And in turn, he passed it along to the Corinthians (and ultimately to every generation since).

Notice something interesting here. Jesus took this meal on the Passover (we’ll show why this is important later on), the night prior to his crucifixion. Paul writes that the Lord took bread “on the night when he was betrayed” (v. 23). Paul could have written that Jesus broke bread on the Passover. He could have written that he broke bread on the night before his crucifixion. But he didn’t write that. Why?

The Holy Spirit inspired Paul to convey that this beautiful ordinance was established right before the most heinous sin ever committed by any man—that of Judas Iscariot betraying the Lord Jesus Christ. In the midst of great sin by one of his own disciples, this takes place. Why?

Go back to what was said about division. God uses division to show who is truly genuine. Here, he knows what Judas would do in the Garden—so he brought them together to strengthen them. When division hits in the church, God brings his faithful together to strengthen them. How? By reminding them of his work of redemption. He reminds them that they are redeemed through His work, justified thoroughly!

It seems that there was a man in England who put his Rolls-Royce on a boat and went across to the continent to go on a holiday. While he was driving around Europe, something happened to the motor of his car. He cabled the Rolls-Royce people back in England and asked, “I’m having trouble with my car; what do you suggest I do?” Well, the Rolls-Royce people flew a mechanic over! The mechanic repaired the car and flew back to England and left the man to continue his holiday. As you can imagine, the fellow was wondering, “How much is this going to cost me?” So when he got back to England, he wrote the people a letter and asked how much he owed them. He received a letter from the office that read: “Dear Sir: There is no record anywhere in our files that anything ever went wrong with a Rolls-Royce.” That is justification.

So Jesus pulls two items from the Passover meal: the unleavened bread and the wine to institute the new covenant in his blood. Here, a lot of controversy has taken place over what “this is my body” and “this is my blood” means. In Roman Catholic circles, the elements become the actual body and blood of Christ. This came about in a reflection of heretics who were around in the 1100s who did not believe that Jesus actually rose physically and fleshly from the dead. So in RC dogma, by the word spoken by the priest, it turned into the actual body and blood of Christ.

Yet, we understand that the actual body of Jesus from the clear teaching of Scripture is at the right hand of the Father (Acts 1:11). It is a symbol, a sign that signifies a reality.

“I indeed admit that the breaking of bread is a symbol; it is not the thing itself.  But having admitted this, we shall nevertheless duly infer that by the showing of the symbol the thing itself is also shown.  For unless a man means to call God a deceiver, he would never dare assert that an empty symbol is set forth by him.  Therefore, if the Lord truly represents the participation in his body through the breaking of bread, there ought not to be the least doubt that he truly presents and shows his body.”[3]

So while this may not be the actual body and blood, it is not “an empty symbol.” It is a powerful sign of the present reality of Christ. And the body and blood was broken why?

Ephesians 1:7 says that we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins. Romans 3:25-26 says that Jesus was one “25whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. 26It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus” (Romans 3:25-26). We are redeemed through the merits and mercy of Jesus Christ whose body was broken and blood was shed in order to be that Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world! The work is finished—and we are to observe that work to remember and strengthen one another until that day. Doesn’t that sound like Hebrews 10:25?

3. Will you reckon with the Passover Lamb?(11:27-34)

Look with me at 1 Corinthians 11:27-34:

27 Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord. 28 Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. 29For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself. 30That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died. 31 But if we judged ourselves truly, we would not be judged. 32But when we are judged by the Lord, we are disciplined so that we may not be condemned along with the world.

33So then, my brothers, when you come together to eat, wait for one another— 34 if anyone is hungry, let him eat at home—so that when you come together it will not be for judgment. About the other things I will give directions when I come.

This supper connects us to the past and the future. Jesus celebrated the Passover, and while celebrating this, issued a new covenant in His blood! There is a solid connection. God ordained that this be observed on Passover.

In Exodus 12, we read about the people of Israel enslaved in Egypt for over 400 years. God had promised deliverance through Moses, and was about to do that very thing. The last plague on the people of Egypt was the Plague of the Firstborn. You see, for the Egyptian gods, they had placed ownership on the firstborn males of their people. Pharaoh, seeing himself as a god, though he was lord of all he surveyed. So, after nine previous plagues sent by God, there were nine hardenings of Pharaoh. The tenth was the coup de grace . The death angel came and took the firstborn of all the families, all the livestock—everything. Who was spared? The homes that sacrificed the Passover Lamb, who spread that blood over the doorposts. When the death angel saw the blood, he passed over that house.

Do we see the gospel here? Absolutely! Only by the blood of the Lamb, in this case it is the Lamb of God who is Jesus Christ, who was sacrificed for us. As the blood is applied to the doorposts of our hearts to rescue us from the angel of death, we are rescued from the tyranny of sin and being the journey to the promised land!

What does it take to get your attention on a matter? Usually something has to happen that is so far out of your control or so far out of the realm of what you think is possible that is shakes you out of yourself, your routine, your comfort zone. The Corinthians were treating their fellow believers shamefully! They were take the meal prior to the Lord’s supper as an opportunity for selfish, arrogant, divisive behavior—and thus were approaching the Lord’s table in a very unworthy manner (GK: anaxios). The result: being guilty of the body and blood of the Lord!

Given the selfless nature of the sacrifice of Jesus, how could they come to a symbol of that very sacrifice with such a contrary attitude? It was an utter abomination to the Lord—it made him sick. And he shows how seriously we must take his Table and the sacrifice this Table represents. “That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died.”

God exacts justice by warning those who commit the external physical sin of desecrating the Lord’s Supper by giving them physical sickness and, in extreme cases, death. They not only fail to discern their actions before God and others, they do not even see that their actions are even remotely sinful!

Recently, a pitcher from the Chicago Cubs was thrown out of a ball game for protesting (among other things) a blown call. He was so extreme in his actions, that he was suspended six games at a time when his team needed his arm! He did not police himself, and felt no remorse. He forgot that his actions affected his teammates.

How do you, dear Christian, approach the Lord’s Table this morning?

[1]Donald S. Whitney, Spiritual Disciplines Within the Church: Participating Fully in the Body of Christ (Chicago: Moody Press, 1996), 135.

[2]J. C. Ryle, The Lord’s Supper.

[3]John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, 4.17.10, LCC, 2:1371; Quoted in Gregg Allison, Historical Theology, p 654. 


Preached at Arapahoe Road Baptist Church, Centennial, CO on Sunday, July 29, 2012. 

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