- Text: I Corinthians 11:23-26, CSB
- Series: Individual Messages (2019)
- Date: Sunday, September 29, 2019 – AM service
- Venue: Trinity Baptist Church – Seminole, Oklahoma
- Speaker: Jared Byrns
- Download Audio: mp3
My plan is, Lord willing, that we’ll return to our study on the Kingdom next week. But we took a detour last Sunday morning to study the meaning of baptism as we prepared to baptize some new followers of Jesus Christ. This morning, I thought I’d take a similar opportunity to explore the purpose of the Lord’s Supper as we prepare to participate in that. So if you’ll join me this morning in I Corinthians 11, we are going to take a look at a passage of Scripture that is vital to helping us understand the significance of what we’re about to do.
I Corinthians was written by the Apostle Paul—as the Holy Spirit inspired him—and he was writing to a church that had a lot of problems. Throughout this letter, he was trying to correct these problems and show the church how they ought to be. By the time he got to the latter part of I Corinthians 11, he was dealing with the shameful way they carried out the Lord’s Supper.
The issue wasn’t about whether they broke up one loaf of bread or used pre-cut pieces; it wasn’t about whether they drank from one cup or individual cups; instead, the issue was a problem with the motivations of their hearts as they went about the Lord’s Supper. This section on the Lord’s Supper covers the latter half of I Corinthians 11, from verses 17-34, and it breaks down into three parts. Verses 17-22 deal with their mistakes in the way they were taking the Lord’s Supper, verses 23-26 deal with the proper motivations for observing the Lord’s Supper, and verses 27-34 deal with examining ourselves before coming to partake of the Lord’s Supper.
Time won’t permit me this morning to lead you through a thorough examination of all eighteen verses. I want to focus on that middle section, but to understand it, we need to summarize the other parts. Let’s start with what they were doing wrong. They had turned it into a showcase for sin and division. For some, they had twisted it into a drunken party that resembled the festivals of their pagan pasts more than a meaningful time of worship dedicated to Jesus Christ. They treated it as an excuse to return to wild behavior that had no place in their Christian lives. Others treated it as an excuse for gluttony. Your wife can’t get mad about you pigging out if you’re doing it for Jesus, right? They were treating it as an opportunity to stuff their faces—feasting, while totally ignoring the fact that some of their less-fortunate brothers and sisters in Christ were going hungry.
A gathering for worship was repurposed and transformed into an opportunity to satisfy the desires of the flesh. So Paul needed to set them straight about the proper motivation for participating in the Lord’s Supper. I don’t know of any church where these kinds of things are going on, but Christians today can still struggle with doing the Lord’s Supper in the right way and for the right reasons. If we want to practice the Lord’s Supper in a way that honors the Lord, we should take to heart the things that Paul had to say about it.
Let’s read verses 23-26: “For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: On the night when he was betrayed, the Lord Jesus took bread, and when he had given thanks, broke it, and said, ‘This is my body, which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.’ In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, and said, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.’ For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.”
Now, before we dive into this, I need to say something about variations in the text because some of you may be looking at different translations. In some translations contain a different set of words in verse 24, because some of the Greek manuscripts contain different words. Some of your Bibles may say something like, “Take, eat. This is my body, which is broken for you,” instead of simply, “This is my body which is for you.” Sometimes we can get nervous about these differences, and I bring it up in case you think I just skipped part of the text. We have over 20,000 ancient manuscripts of the New Testament books, allowing us to have the highest possible confidence that the Bible hasn’t been tampered with over time. Among so many manuscripts, there are a large number of variations, but the texts are in full agreement 99.9% of the time. Even when there’s some question, the theologian Ron Rhodes has written that “no doctrine of the Christian faith or any moral commandment is affected by them.”1Ron Rhodes and Marian Bodine, Reasoning from the Scriptures with the Mormons (Eugene, Oregon: Harvest House Publishers, 1995), 164-165.
In this case, specifically, some ancient manuscripts say, “Take, eat. This is my body, which is broken for you.” Some others say, “This is my body, which is for you.” But with or without the phrase “Take, eat” and the word “broken,” the meaning does not change. The context tells us that as Jesus used the bread to represent the offering of His body, that bread was broken. And it was distributed for them to eat because they were attending a Passover supper. I bring this up, because someone is bound to notice the slight difference in the wording, and you need to know that you can trust the Bible. They may translate from different manuscripts, but the meaning is the same.
Now, as we look at the text, we can see that Paul was explaining to the church at Corinth that the Lord’s Supper was not their celebration to tamper with. They didn’t have the right to change it into something else. By turning it into some kind of drunken, gluttonous party, they had ceased to celebrate the Lord’s Supper. It was only the Lord’s Supper if it was done according to the Lord’s will.
There are some things the church does that are human inventions. A lot of our methods and programs are human inventions. They can be used to the glory of God, but they’re not explicitly taught in Scripture. Wednesday night services, Sunday school, and Vacation Bible School are examples of this; they’re tools we can use to advance the Kingdom, but they’re human inventions, so we can adjust them as needed. In our worship services, some things are human inventions that we can adjust as needed. For example, we have a greeting time where everyone shakes hands. During flu season, we’ve been known to do away with that altogether. And all the introverts said, “Amen.” And we can make adjustments like that because God didn’t give a specific command either to do these things or to do them in certain ways. But there are some things that we don’t get to adjust because they’re God’s designs, not ours.
When the Lord commanded us to baptize new believers as a public profession of their faith in Jesus Christ, we don’t get to turn that into a baby dedication or a cultural rite of passage for young people who show no evidence of being born again. When the Lord told the church to gather together for worship, teaching, and mutual accountability, we don’t get to turn the church into a country club that caters to our every preference and makes us feel good. When it comes to the commands of God, we don’t get to redesign them to suit our purposes.
So Paul told them in verse 23 that the Lord’s Supper was not a human invention that they could adjust and repurpose as they saw fit. He wrote, “For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you.” They had learned about the Lord’s Supper from Paul, but Paul was quick to point out that it wasn’t his idea. Galatians 1 records that Paul went out to the deserts of Arabia following His conversion and was taught by direct revelation from God. He only taught the Corinthians the things that God had taught him. So he was trying to get them to understand that this wasn’t their idea to tamper with; it wasn’t even Paul’s. It was God’s idea, so they didn’t get to change it.
That goes for us as well; we don’t get to change it into a party, a show, or anything other than what God intended it to be. A church can change some things, but the Lord’s Supper isn’t one of them. To be clear, I’m not talking about sticking rigidly to a ritualistic order. Even that would run the risk of changing it from a time of worship to an empty ritual. I’m not talking about not changing the schedule. We could take the Lord’s Supper at the beginning of the service, we could move it to Sunday night or a Tuesday night, or we could start having it once a week. When I say we can’t change it, I mean to tell you that we can’t change its meaning or purpose.
Our church traditionally takes the Lord’s Supper any time there’s a fifth Sunday in one month. There’s often a fifth Sunday between Christmas and New Year’s Day when everyone is distracted by all the busyness of the holiday. A couple of years ago, I came in before Sunday school on such a morning, and we had all forgotten about the Lord’s Supper. We had all the stuff to go ahead with it, but we hadn’t prepared ourselves. I consulted with several others in leadership, and we decided to wait a week. We did that because we didn’t want to change the Lord’s Supper into another event that we just get through because it’s on the calendar. It’s not just a human invention that we can change into something else. It’s something God gave to us, and we need to do it according to His purpose.
That purpose is to draw our attention back to Jesus Christ. If we’re not focused on Jesus Christ while preparing for and taking the Lord’s Supper, then we’re doing it wrong. Paul showed the centrality of Christ in the latter part of verse 23, when he wrote, “On the night when he was betrayed, the Lord Jesus took bread.” Paul’s message to the Corinthians was that they should look to Jesus if they wanted to get this right. By the way, if you want to get anything right, looking to Jesus is always good advice.
So, at the end of verse 23, he turned their attention to what Jesus did and how Jesus instituted this practice. Verses 24 and 25 summarize what He did: He took bread, “and when he had given thanks, broke it, and said, ‘This is my body, which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.’ In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, and said, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.’”
Paul drew their attention to the Upper Room in Jerusalem, where Jesus sat with His disciples on the night before His crucifixion. As they went through the meal, everything He did was designed to prepare them for what He would do for them and us the next day. It was all a picture of His sacrifice.
Jesus’ body was broken for us, and His blood was shed for us. This doesn’t mean that the elements we eat and drink are the literal body and blood of Jesus. I believe in interpreting the Bible literally—which simply means according to the normal use of language. When things like the six-day creation, the virgin birth, and the bodily resurrection are presented in the text as actual history, we interpret them as actual history. But when the text presents something as a metaphor—like Jesus gathering Jerusalem under His wings or the bread and wine being His body and blood—we interpret them as metaphors. The bread and wine must be understood as symbolic of the body and blood, or we’re looking at the repeating of Jesus’ sacrifice in contradiction to everything the New Testament teaches.
The bread symbolizes how His body was broken for us. None of His bones were broken,2John 19:36. which fulfilled a prophecy from the book of Psalms,3Psalm 34:20. but His body was undoubtedly broken as He suffered through the torture of scourging and crucifixion. And His body was broken as He bore the full weight of God’s wrath toward sin. Then, according to Jesus, the wine symbolized His blood and the New Covenant that it ushered in. His blood was spilled so that we could be reconciled to God.
Everything in the Lord’s Supper points to the sacrifice that Jesus made on the cross. Earlier I said that if we’re not focused on Jesus Christ while preparing for and taking the Lord’s Supper, then we’re doing it wrong. But I want to go a step further and say that our focus should be on what Jesus did for us. If we can eat this bread and drink from this cup without remembering the lengths to which Jesus went to pay for our sins—if we can do it without a sense of amazement toward the love and mercy that would drive our Savior to the cross on our behalf, then we’re doing the Lord’s Supper wrong. Everything about the Lord’s Supper is designed by God to bring to mind the nature of Jesus’ sacrifice, and we don’t have to go any further than Jesus’ own words to understand the purpose of that sacrifice. It was for us.
Everything He did on the cross was to make atonement for us. He said the body was for us, and He said the blood was for a New Covenant. What He did meant that we were no longer bound to suffer the eternal penalty for our sin: separation from the love of God in Hell. Instead, because Jesus paid for our sins on the cross through His broken body and shed blood, we can be forgiven, be reconciled to God, and have eternal life with Him.
God forbid that we should ever forget what He did for us! So the Lord’s Supper was set up as a reminder. Human beings are visual creatures, so God designed it as a picture that will stick in our minds. In verse 24, Jesus said of the bread, “Do this in remembrance of me.” In verse 25, Jesus said of the cup, “Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” It was made for us to remember. For how long? Paul wrote in verse 26, “For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.”
That’s why we do this. Until Jesus returns, we do this as a powerful reminder of the body that was broken and the blood that was shed for us. It’s so that we never forget what He did for us. It’s so we never forget that He died to save sinners like you and me.In a few moments, we’ll come together, and those who are believers in Jesus Christ will eat the bread and drink from the cup as a reminder of the sacrifice that Jesus made for us. But before we do that, I need to address those of you who have never trusted Jesus as your Savior. Jesus died to pay for your sins. This sacrifice we’re commemorating was for you too. You can’t be at peace with God on your own because you’ve sinned—we all have. You can’t be forgiven or be reconciled to Him by going to church, giving money, being a good person, or doing religious things. The only reason you can be forgiven is that Jesus died to pay for your sins. If you realize you can’t do anything to bring yourself closer to God and you know you need a Savior, then this morning you need to believe that Jesus died to pay for your sins in full and rose again. If you believe that, you can pray to God right now and ask God for His forgiveness, trusting in Jesus Christ to provide it through the body that was broken and the blood that was shed for you.
Sermon audio and text, © 2019, Jared Byrns. All rights reserved.
Unless otherwise indicated, Biblical references are taken from The Christian Standard Bible. Copyright © 2017 by Holman Bible Publishers. Used by permission. Christian Standard Bible®, and CSB® are federally registered trademarks of Holman Bible Publishers, all rights reserved.