In a post some time ago, we wrote about Communion, or The Lord’s Supper, or what some call the Eucharist. We said that it’s a picture only of the Lord Jesus and His death on the Cross. That by itself it has no power to save. That there is only salvation by faith in the person and work of the Lord Jesus. We’ll probably say it again. It bears repeating.
There is no requirement in the New Testament as to how often the church celebrates Communion. In 1 Corinthians11:23-25, the Lord only said, “As often” as we observe the Supper without saying “how often.” Some churches only observe it yearly, some monthly. It seems to me that if it’s done too often, it just becomes another part of the service, done without proper regard for what it is. Thus, it becomes a curse, not a blessing, cf. 1 Corinthians 11:27-30.
Just once a year, on the other hand, is far too seldom. The Lord gave His church two visual pictures of Himself, to teach who He was and is, and what He did for men and women: baptism and communion. Both have been misinterpreted. Both have been misused.
Communion was given to us to remind us of the cost of our redemption, as well as its source. It itself is not a source; it was only meant to be a visual aid, not an additional way to be saved, or to add to it.
The Lord Himself told us something of what the elements, the parts, of the Lord’s Supper mean, the bread and the fruit of the vine.
Of the bread, He said, “This is My body.” Four times it’s repeated in the NT: Matthew 26:26; Mark 14:22; Luke 22:19; 1 Corinthians 11:24.
What did He mean? Did He mean that, through some sort of priestly incantation, the bread becomes His actual body? A large part of professing Christendom believes that it is actually transformed into the body of our Lord. Another large segment believes that it is present in some mystical way. Is either of these so?
It’s true that, in the sacrificial system of Old Testament Israel, parts of some of the sacrifices were indeed eaten by the officiating priest or by the one offering the sacrifice. Did that somehow carry over into the church?
Or, as we believe, did He mean that the bread simply represents His body?
I think that the idea that the bread actually becomes His body discounts the fact that the sacrifice of the Lord Jesus Himself was the actual sacrifice that atones for sin. All those earlier animal sacrifices, while indeed providing a covering for sin, could never actually remove sin or atone for it, Hebrews 10:11. That’s why there was the need for continual repetition.
But the Lord Jesus died once to atone for sin. That was all that was necessary. Ever. There is no need for any kind of additional sacrifice, even an “unbloody” one. To say that there is, it seems to me to be the highest kind of blasphemy, even if it is “religious”.
As we partake of The Supper, the bread is a visual symbol of and a reminder that the body of our Lord was a real body, a human body, given in sacrifice on the Cross. He wasn’t just a phantom or a mirage. He wasn’t an angel sent from heaven. He was a real, live human being. The fact that the bread is unleavened, that is, without yeast, is a reminder that He was a sinless human being.
This leads us into remembering who He was. He wasn’t just another Jew, like the two men who died with Him that day on Golgotha. He wasn’t conceived like every other human being since Cain and Abel. He was unique. Bethlehem wasn’t the beginning of His entire existence. As a human being, yes, John 1:14. In and of Himself as God, no, John 1:1. He is the image [the visible representation] of the invisible God, and it pleased the Father that in Him all the fullness should dwell, Colossians 1:15, 19. (All Scriptures from the NKJV). As the God-man, He was sinless.
That word “fullness,” what does it mean? The ancient pagans believed that the gods were so far removed from human existence that they could never get down to our level or we up to theirs. So, to get around this difficulty, they created an almost unending hierarchy of lesser “gods” from themselves down to humanity. This entire series of “gods” was known as “the pleroma”: “the fullness”. It was how the gods were able to interact with humanity.
In contrast to this imagined “bureaucracy,” Paul taught that the Lord Jesus Himself is the bridge between heaven and earth, between sinful man and holy God.
No priest, no preacher, no saints, no Mary, no routine or ritual, no church, no denomination, no this, that or the other.
In my reading, I’ve been in Leviticus. One of the first requirements for any animal sacrifice was that it must be without blemish, Leviticus 1:3, 10; 3:1, 6; 4:3, 23, 28, 32; 5:15, 18; 6:6; 9:2, 3; 14:10; 22:19; 23:12, 18. I didn’t really realize until I made this list just how often that requirement was laid down. There are 17 references in Leviticus. In the other books of the Pentateuch, there are 10 additional references, as well. It was important.
This gives us the necessity for the virgin birth of our Lord. It was the only way He could be born without blemish.
That little piece of bread is a reminder of all that.
John 6 is the source for the Lord’s main teaching on this subject and it is a very difficult chapter. In it, among the other things the Lord Jesus told the Jews as He was teaching in the synagogue, v. 69, He said this, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you,” v. 53, a teaching which resulted in many of His disciples rejecting Him, v. 66. When they complained about this hard saying, v. 60, He said to them, “It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing, v. 63. By this, we understand that He wasn’t referring to actual flesh and blood. By faith, through the symbols of Communion, believers commemorate the blessings of redemption in much the same way as the Israelite commemorated his redemption, or deliverance, from Egypt as remembered in the Passover. To this day, the conservative Jew remembers that deliverance. The Christian has so much more to “remember” in Communion.
The Lord Jesus gave His life on the Cross as a sacrifice, an atonement, for sin. He is the Christian’s Passover, 1 Corinthians 5:7, just as the yearling lamb or goat was the Passover sacrifice for Israel, cf. Exodus 12:5.
As we said above, the bread is a reminder of what it cost our Lord to come into this world in order to become our Passover.
He had to be born.
The fruit of the vine, the other element in Communion, is a reminder that He had to die.
It’s sometimes charged that Biblical Christianity is a “bloody” religion. I remember a lady years ago who was upset by all the references to “blood” in the Old Testament. She is not alone.
The Lord God told Israel that “the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it to you upon the altar to make atonement for your souls; for it is the blood that makes atonement for the soul.”
Hebrews 9:22 says that without the shedding of blood there is no remission, or forgiveness of sin.
Without the shedding of our Lord’s blood, there is no atonement.
There is one other thing about the blood of the Lord Jesus which makes it different.
Under the Old Testament law, there were some things for which there was no forgiveness. Murder and adultery were two of them. In his dalliance with Bathsheba, David was guilty of both of them. Though the Lord “put away” those sins, 2 Samuel 12:13, David suffered consequences almost immediately with the death of the child conceived from this illicit union, as well as throughout his own life in the actions and lives of his other children. His life was never the same. Further, Samuel told him that he had given great occasion, great opportunity, for the Lord’s enemies to blaspheme – to speak against the Lord – this “man after God’s own heart,” 1 Samuel 13:14.
And people have spoken against Him, for choosing a man like that to be king! He was no better than the people in his kingdom. In effect, they think, “Shame on God”!
In contrast to the incomplete atonement of the Old Testament sacrifices, the blood the Savior shed covers and atones for all sin. Scripture tells us that if we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness, 1 John 1:9.
How can that be?
He has made Him who knew no sin, to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him, 2 Corinthians 5:21.
The chief priests and Pharisees weren’t just getting rid of Someone whom they thought was a threat to their continued well-being, John 11:48.
The Romans weren’t just getting rid of Someone who had been claimed to be a threat to Caesar, John 19:12-15.
This was all part of the purpose and intention of the Father, Ephesians 3:11. The Jews and the Romans were just His means to the end that Jesus would be “the lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” John 1:29.
That is why He shed His blood.
So that you and I can be forgiven!
Oh, do you know this One who died on a Roman cross, at the hands of Jewish accusers, for the sake of a Gentile world? There is no forgiveness in the rite of communion. No priest or anyone else can make it effective that way. There is no salvation in a crucifix or in pictures of the crucifixion. There is no salvation in rote or ritual.
There is forgiveness only in the One Who died on that Cross.
Oh, that His death might be the means and blessing of your life!
“Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved,” Acts 16:31.