Why and how to celebrate the Lord's Supper (John Piper)
After the Bible, which is the infallible foundation of our life and our Church, one of the most important documents in the life of our Church is the Declaration of Faith of the Elders of the Baptist Church in Bethlehem. I encourage each of you to read it. You can find it on the Church website or on Desiring God website. Paragraph 12.4 gives the doctrinal summary of what we believe about the Lord's Supper.
We believe that the Lord's Supper was ordered by the Lord to gather believers, to eat the bread, symbol of the body of Christ sacrificed for his people, and to drink the cup of the Lord, symbol of the New Covenant sealed with the blood of Christ. We do this in remembrance of the Lord, and thus proclaim his death until his return. Those who eat and drink worthily participate in the body and blood of Christ, not physically but spiritually, in that by faith they are nourished by the benefits of Christ's death, and thus grow in grace.
I will try to give you a biblical foundation in order to give you a better understanding of the Lord's Supper. Here are six points: 1) Historical origins; 2) The believing participants; 3) The concrete act; 4) Our intellectual disposition; 5) The spiritual act; and 6) The seriousness of a sacred act.
- The historical origin of the Lord's Supper
The Gospels of Matthew (2626), Mark (14.22), and Luke (22.14) all mention the last meal that Jesus ate with his disciples the evening before his death. Each Gospel describes Jesus thanking God or blessing the bread and the cup, and passing them on to his disciples saying that the bread is his body and the cup is the blood of his covenant, or the new covenant by his blood. p>
In Luke 22:19, Jesus says, “Do this in remembrance of me. The gospel of John is not about the meal, but rather about the teaching and the events that occurred that evening. As far as we know from the documents to which we can access, the Church has done what Jesus said; the Assemblies ate the Lord's Supper in remembrance of Jesus and his death. Paul's letters constitute the first testimony we have, and in 1 Corinthians 11:20 he refers to an event in the life of the Church called "the Lord's Supper" probably because it was instituted or ordained by the Lord Jesus, and because it celebrates by its meaning the memory of the Lord's death. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 11.23-24: "I have received from the Lord what I have transmitted to you. The Lord Jesus, on the night he was delivered, took bread and, after giving thanks, broke it and said: This is my body, which is for you; do this in memory of me. ". “I have received from the Lord” probably means that Jesus confirmed to Paul (who was not present at the last supper alongside the other apostles) that what others told him about the Last Supper actually happened. past.
The historical origin of the Lord's Supper can be found in this last supper that Jesus ate with his disciples the night before the evening of his crucifixion. The facts and significance of this act are all rooted in the words and deeds of Jesus on that final evening. Jesus himself is the origin of the Lord's Supper. He ordered it to continue. Jesus is the object and the content.
- Believers, participants in the Lord's Supper
The Lord's Supper is an act of the gathered family of believers in Jesus, the Church. It is not an act perpetrated by non-believers. Unbelievers can be present, and we welcome them, there is no secret in the Lord's Supper. It has public significance. This is not the ritual of a secret cult with magical powers. It is a public act of worship performed by the assembly of the Church. In fact, in 1 Corinthians 11:26, Paul says: "For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you announce death of the Lord, until he comes. So there is an aspect of proclaiming the gospel in the Lord's Supper. The proclamation implies that this is not a private act.
We do not prevent a single person from having the Lord's Supper in a nursing home or hospital, but this individual celebration is exceptional, and not the biblical standard. Five times in 1 Corinthians 11, Paul speaks of the Church “coming together” to take the Lord’s Supper. Verse 17b: "In making this recommendation, what I do not praise is that you come together , not to become better, but to become worse. Verse 18: "And first I learn that when you come together in assembly , there are divisions among you. Verse 20: "When you come together, it is not to eat the Lord's Supper.Verse 33: " When you meet for the meal, wait for each other" Verse 34: "If anyone is hungry, let him eat at his place, so as not to meet to (draw) judgment upon you. "
In other words, they spoiled the Lord's Supper by considering it too close to an ordinary meal, and some people had a lot to eat while others had nothing. So Paul told them to eat at home and to come together to have the Lord's Supper together.
Notice the use of the word "assembly" in verse 18: "When you meet in assembly. This is the body of Christ, the assembly of those who follow Jesus. Those who have turned away from idols and put their trust in Jesus alone for the forgiveness of their sins, for the hope of eternal life, and for the satisfaction of their souls. They are Christians. The participants in the Lord's Supper are therefore the assembled believers in Jesus.
- The concrete act of taking the Lord's Supper
The physical act of the Lord's Supper is not the eating of a seven-course meal. It is very simple. It is about eating the bread and drinking from the cup. This is what verses 23b to 25 say: "For I have received from the Lord what I have transmitted to you. The Lord Jesus, on the night he was delivered, took bread and, after giving thanks, broke it and said: This is my body, which is for you; do this in memory of me. Likewise, after having supped (he took) the cup and said: This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this in remembrance of me, whenever you drink it. "
Nothing is said about what type of bread to use or how it is broken into pieces. The only allusion to what is in the cup is given in a verse in each Gospel of Matthew, Mark, and Luke: “I tell you, I will not drink from this fruit of the vine henceforth, until the day when I 'will drink it new with you in my Father's kingdom. »(Matthew 26.29; cf. Mark 14.25; Luke 22.18). It is called "the fruit of the vine. "I don't think it's worth arguing between the use of grape juice or wine. Nothing in the text directs or prohibits either.
However, we have to be careful not to playfully substitute them with other foods, like cookies and cola around a campfire. The Lord's Supper is not a game. We must celebrate it solemnly, we will talk about this in the point.
I might also mention in passing that nowhere in the New Testament does it say how often we should eat the Lord's Supper. Some believe it would be good to take it once a week, others do it quarterly. We are in between and we usually celebrate it on the first Sunday of every month. I believe that we are free in this area and the question arises as to: 1) What frequency or lack of frequency corresponds to its importance in relation to the ministry of the Word of God? 2) What frequency, greater or lesser, helps us to grasp its value, rather than hardening us in the face of its meaning? These are not easy judgments to make, and different churches make them in different ways.
- The intellectual disposition towards the Lord's Supper
The intellectual disposition of those attending the Lord’s Supper is to focus their attention on Jesus and especially on the historic work of his death for our sins.Verses 24 and 25 say, “Do this in remembrance of me.” As we perform the act of eating and drinking, we are supposed to apply our intellect to remembrance. That is, we must consciously remind our minds of the person of Jesus who lived and who died and rose from the dead, and what his work means for us the forgiveness of our sins.
The Lord's Supper is a complete reminder, every time we eat it, that Christianity is not a new age spirituality. It is not about coming into contact with your inner being. This is not mysticism. It is based on historical facts. Jesus lived. He had a body and a heart that was pumping blood and he had a bleeding skin. He died in public on a Roman cross in the place of sinners so that all who believed in him could be saved from the wrath of God. This has happened once and for all in all of history.
Accordingly, the intellectual act of eating the Lord's Supper is fundamentally an act of bringing that memory back to memory. Not of imagination, not of reverie, not of channeling energy, not of listening, not of neutrality. It is a conscious orientation of the intelligence to the story of Jesus and what we know about him from the Bible. The Lord's Supper reminds us of our roots, each time, from the details of history. The bread and the cup. The body and the blood. Execution and death.
- The spiritual act of the Lord's Supper
This is of the utmost importance. Unbelievers could do all of the above. In fact, if the devil could become flesh, he could do all of these. Eat, drink, and remember. There is nothing inherently spiritual about this. So, for the Lord's Supper to be what Jesus wanted it to be, there must be something more than just eating and drinking and remembering. Something unbelievers and the devil can't do.
Here is the key phrase from the declaration of faith of the elders of our Church: “Those who eat and drink worthily share in the body and blood of Christ, not physically, but spiritually, in that through faith, they are nourished by the benefits which he obtained through his death, and thus they grow in grace. "
Where did this idea of "partaking of the body and blood of Christ ... spiritually ... by faith" come from? The closest text to this formulation is found in the preceding chapter of 1 Corinthians 10: 16-18. As you read it, ask yourself what “participate” means.
"The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not fellowship [a participation] in the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not communion [a participation] in the body of Christ? Since there is one bread, we who are many are one body; because we participate all in the same bread. Look at the Israelites according to the flesh: are not those who eat the sacrificed animals in communion with the altar? "
This is more than a memory. Here are believers, those who put their trust in Jesus Christ and make him their treasure, and Paul says they share in the body and blood of Christ. They literally experience a sharing (koinōnia) in body and blood. They experience a partnership with Jesus in his death.
Participants in the body and blood of Christ, spiritually, by faith
What does this participation, this sharing, this partnership mean? I believe that verse 18 gives us an idea because it uses a similar word, but it compares it to what happens during the Jewish sacrifices: “See the Israelites according to the flesh: are not those who eat the sacrificed animals in communion [another way of saying participate] with the altar? " What does sharing, participation, partnership with the altar mean? This means that they share and they benefit from what is happening at the altar. They appreciate, for example, forgiveness and the restored relationship with God.
So I take verses 16 and 17 to mean that when we believers eat the bread and drink the cup concretely, we eat and drink spiritually. We eat and we drink, that is, we accept into our life what happened on the cross. By faith, by putting our trust in all that God is for us in Jesus, we nourish ourselves on the benefits that Jesus obtained for us when his blood was shed and he died on the cross.
This is why we lead you with an emphasis on different things at the Lord's table month after month (peace with God, joy in Christ, hope for the future, our liberation from fear, security in the midst of adversity, asking for direction in the midst of hesitation, healing from illnesses, victory over temptation ...) For when Jesus died, his blood was shed and his body was broken, offered in sacrifice for us , redeemed all the promises of God. Paul says, “All the promises of God are this yes in him. (2 Corinthians 1:20). Every gift of God and our communion of joy with God was obtained through the blood of Jesus. When Paul says: The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not a communion in the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not communion in the body of Christ? (1 Corinthians 10:16), he means: When we eat the Lord's supper, do we not spiritually celebrate by faith every blessing redeemed by the body and blood of Christ? No unbeliever can do that. The devil can't do it. It is a gift for the family of God. When we celebrate the Lord's Supper, we are celebrating spiritually, by faith, all of the promises of God redeemed by the blood of Jesus.
- The sacred seriousness of the Lord's Supper
I end the same way Paul does in I Corinthians 11: He warns that if you come to the Lord's Supper cavalierly, heartlessly, casually, without discerning the seriousness of what happened on the cross, you could, if you are a believer, lose your life, not because of the wrath of God, but under the discipline of the Father. Read 1 Corinthians 11: 27-32 carefully:
Therefore whoever eats the bread and drinks the cup of the Lord unworthily will be guilty of the body and the blood of the Lord. Let each therefore examine himself, and thus eat bread and drink from the cup; for he who eats and drinks without discerning the body (of the Lord), eats and drinks judgment against himself. This is why there are many sick and infirm among you, and quite a number have died. If we judged ourselves, we would not be judged. But by His judgments the Lord corrects us, so that we are not condemned with the world. So, my brethren, when you come together for the meal, wait for one another. If anyone is hungry, let him eat at his home, so that you do not come together to (draw) judgment on you.I will settle the others (questions) when I arriveDo not take the Lord's Supper lightly. It is one of Christ's most precious gifts for his Church.