Spirit and Sacraments –
Spirit and Sacraments by Andrew Wilson is a great book. I appreciate his focus on the sacraments of the church and the Holy Spirit. A while back, I took the three categories – the Lord’s Table, baptism, and the Holy Spirit – and created a short sermon series at Redemption Hill Church. My goal was to highlight the significance of the sacraments and the Spirit in the local church. In the coming days, I’ll bring these three areas into focus in blog format. Let’s first begin the Lord’s Table.
Not So Evangelical
The Lord regenerated my cold dead heart in my early twenties. Through a local church, which had a twinge of Pentecostalism, I learned the vibe of an evangelical church. It was a far cry from Catholicism and the mass. Of all the differences, one stood out more than the others. The church practiced the Lord’s Table once a month. Maybe. It felt more like once a quarter. Nonetheless, this pattern and practice of the Lord’s Table in this church are familiar among most non-liturgical evangelical churches. Yet, I think biblical precedent and church history suggests the Lord’s Table should have a greater focus in the local church. I am not advocating for the Catholic Mass and transubstantiation, but I certainly do not want to instantly react against something because it is “Catholic.” Persuaded by the importance of communion, one of the changes I made when planting Redemption Hill Church was to make it a regular rhythm during every Sunday gathering.
Few issues have wrought division in churches, denominations, and friends throughout church history than how the Lord’s Table is understood. In 1054 the Eastern Orthodox Church split from the Roman Catholic Church. One of the contentious issues (among many) was whether the bread used during the Eucharist should be leavened or unleavened. Fast-forward to the 16th century, the Reformers all agreed that they disagreed with the Roman Catholic Church’s view of the Eucharist. The bread and wine do not turn into the actual body and blood of Jesus (transubstantiation). However, the Reformers disagreed with each other on the theological nature of bread and wine. Here is an excellent story handed down to me, which I now will hand down to you.
In October of 1529, a debate about the nature of the Lord’s Table took place between several big-time reformers. I am talking about the GOATS of the Reformation. In one corner was the German Martin Luther. Most of you have heard of his name. In the other corner was the Swiss reformer, Ulrich Zwingli. Previously the two of them had each written forcefully against the other’s position regarding whether the actual body of Jesus Christ was present in the Lord’s Supper. Now it was time to settle the debate with a real in-person debate. The host of the debate was Marburg Castle in Germany. CNN, FoxNews, MSNBC, ABC, etc were all present to record the moment.
The debate began without Luther in the room. His horse must have received a flat. But without cell phones, everyone had to wait. The group of theologians waited and waited. Until finally, Luther arrives. When Luther arrives, he walks into the room recognizes his table. He looks at all the books on the table and then sweeps the books off and onto the ground. Dramatically, Luther writes on the table with chalk, Hoc est corpus meum, which means in Latin, This is my body. Here is the point the petulant Martin Luther was trying to make. While he disagreed with the Catholic Church on how the bread and wine become the body and blood of Christ, he still believed there was a physical presence of Jesus in the communion elements. Instead of transubstantiation, he believed in consubstantiation. The story seems to be more of folklore, but it helps make the point about the significance of the Lord’s Supper. The regular practice of the Lord’s Supper is a big deal.
So who won the debate? In my opinion, neither (*cough* – read John Calvin). But that is another story for another blog post.
The Bible and the Lord’s Supper
No one who takes the Bible seriously denies its place in God’s redemptive plan, in particular the emphasis Jesus gives the Lord’s Supper days before dying on a cross. Here is Matthew 26.
Now as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is my body.” 27 And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, “Drink of it, all of you, 28 for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. 29 I tell you I will not drink again of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.”– Matthew 26:26–29
Teacher but not Lord
We read in Matthew 26:26-29 Jesus giving instructions at the first communion table. The other Gospel writers, Mark, Luke, and John, also account for Jesus celebrating communion for the first time. What I find fascinating about Matthew’s account is what comes before Jesus celebrates communion. Right before Jesus celebrates communion (vv. 17-25), he tells his disciples that one of them will betray Him. We all know that man is Judas. Jesus knew it was going to be Judas. Judas knew it was going to be Judas. However, everyone else in the room would have been shocked by the prophetic words of Jesus. Here is a redacted version of the dialogue between Jesus and His disciples:
Jesus: “Truly, I say to you, one of you will betray me.” – Matthew 26:21
Every Disciple Not Named Judas: “Is it I, Lord?” – Matthew 26:22
Judas: “Is it I, Rabbi?” – Matthew 26:25
In the exchange, we see the difference between Judas and the other 11 disciples. The other disciples respond by calling Jesus Lord while Judas calls Jesus Rabbi, which means teacher. Unreal. Consider all Judas witnessed.
- Judas was a man who walked with Jesus.
- He witnessed the miracles of Jesus.
- He heard the teachings of Jesus.
- He saw lives changed because of Jesus.
Yet, he never truly believed Jesus was the Son of God. He never believed Jesus was Lord. Perhaps he thought he was a good teacher, but never the Son of God. Jesus even says of Judas, without calling him out by name,
. . .woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been better for that man if he had not been born.”– Matthew 26:24
These are strong words of judgment by Jesus against Judas. Remember, all of this took place moments before the Lord’s Supper.
I Am Judas
As I was pondering these strong words from our Lord, I asked myself the question, what is the difference between Judas and me? Ya know, we can come to this passage and write off Judas as a maniac who was bent on his greed. We know Judas gave Jesus over for 30 pieces of silver. We can look at Judas and say, I would never do that! However, here is the truth. We are all like Judas. I’ll speak for myself for a moment. Here is the only difference between Judas and me. Faith. God gave me, and many of you, faith to believe Jesus is Lord despite my sin. Without faith, I am precisely like Judas! The story of Judas should be sobering for us. It should cause us to see the depths of our sin because, in this sense, we are still like Judas. However, we can also rejoice because God has given us the faith to see that Jesus is Lord. Therefore, we do not only call Jesus a teacher, but we also call him Lord and Savior. Our sin and the sacrifice of Jesus, should flood the mind when participating in the Lord’s Table.
A primary reason why the Lord’s Table – communion – should be celebrated every single Sunday is because it highlights the death of Jesus. We celebrate the Lord’s Table every Sunday to remember everything God accomplished on our behalf through the death of Christ. And there is more to the story.
The Passover and the Lord’s Supper
The first Last Supper took place on the Jewish Passover. The gospel writers were well aware of the significance of the Last Supper taking place on the Passover. The Passover (Πάσχα, Pascha) is a sacred holiday in Judaism that commemorates the 10th plague in the book of Exodus. When Yahweh punishes Egypt by killing all the firstborn but “passing over” (Πάσχα; Pasach) the firstborn of Israel (Exod 12:12–13), God was delivering Israel from slavery in Egypt (Exod 12:14–17). God passed over homes that had sacrificed a lamb. The blood of the lamb was placed over the doorframe of the house. Long story short, the Passover is about remembering what God did to lead the Jewish people out of slavery from Egypt. The Jews remember God’s faithfulness.
In the Gospel of John, Jesus is called the Lamb of God (John 1:29), and in the book of Hebrews, we read:
But as it is, he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself. 27 And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment, 28 so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him.– Hebrews 9:26–28
When Jesus broke the bread and drank the cup during the Passover, he said and did something radical. He declared that the days of sacrificing a lamb were coming to an end because he would become the ultimate lamb sacrifice. 1 Corinthians 5 says,
For Christ our Passover lamb has been sacrificed.– 1 Corinthians 5:7
The disciples did not quite know at the time, but we know Jesus was sending a message. He was foreshadowing what was going to happen. Jesus was showing how the Lord’s Table includes several symbols that point toward His death.
When Jesus celebrated the Passover with his disciples, the moment was packed with biblical meaning and human emotion. Instead of God killing the firstborn male of the Egyptians to free Israel, God now sends His only Son to the death so that spiritual Israel could be set free. Jesus was fully aware of the road ahead when he blessed the bread and cup before his friends.
So, yeah. The Lord’s Table is a big deal. I disagree with Luther’s theology on the matter, but I appreciate his zeal.
How often should a church practice communion? Once a quarter? Once a month? Once a week? The answer from the Bible is straightforward.
On the first day of the week, when we were gathered together to break bread, Paul talked with them, intending to depart on the next day, and he prolonged his speech until midnight.– Acts 20:7
On the first day of the week they gathered to break bread. They gathered to remember the sacrifice of the Lord. In one of the most well-known passages on the topic, we read in 1 Corinthians 11,
For, in the first place, when you come together as a church…– 1 Corinthians 11:18
In 1 Corinthians 11, Paul corrects the church at Corinth for making a mockery of the Lord’s Table, but then he gives instructions on how to practice the sacrament. The point is that a regular rhythm was created. It was a rhythm that took place whenever the church gathered together.
Between the theological meaning of communion and the plain teaching of Scripture, I pose the question, why wouldn’t a church practice communion as often as possible?
I have mentioned to the saints of Redemption Hill Church, for some reason, I do not preach the gospel during my sermon; you will hear it during the Lord’s Table. By the power of the Holy Spirit, you will remember what Christ accomplished for you at the cross.