Thursday, August 14, 2014

What Does the Lord's Supper Mean?

I recently preached from Matthew 26:17-35 which chronicles the Last Supper of our Lord. As a result, I spent a lot of time studying this wonderful ordinance. In his systematic theology textbook, Wayne Grudem provides a helpful list of reasons explaining what the Lord's Supper means:
1.    Christ’s Death
When we participate in the Lord’s supper we symbolize the death of Christ b/c our actions give a picture of his death for us. (989)
2.    Our participation in the Benefits of Christ’s Death 
Jesus commanded his disciples, ‘Take, eat; this is my body’ (Matt. 26:26). As we individually reach out and take the cup for ourselves, each one of us is by that action proclaiming ‘I am taking the benefits of Christ’s death to myself.’ When we do this we give a symbol of the fact that we participate in or share in the benefits earned for us by the death of Jesus. (990)
3.    Spiritual Nourishment
Just as ordinary food nourishes our physical bodies, so the bread and wine of the Lord’s Supper give nourishment to us. But they also picture the fact that there is spiritual nourishment and refreshment that Christ is giving to our souls – indeed, the ceremony that Jesus instituted is in its very nature designed to teach this. [See John 6:53-57] (990)
4.    The Unity of Believers
When Christians particpate in the Lord’s Supper together they also give a clear sign of their unity with one another. [See 1 Cor. 10:17] (990)
5.    Christ Affirms His Love for Me
The fact that I am able to participate in the Lord’s Supper – indeed, that Jesus invites me to come – is a vivid reminder and visual reassurance that Jesus Christ loves me, individually and personally. When I come to take of the Lord’s Supper I thereby find reassurance again and again of Christ’s personal love for me. (991)
6.    Christ Affirms that All the blessings of Salvation are Reserved for Me
When I come at Christ’s invitation to the Lord’s Supper, the fact that he has invited me into his presence assures me that he has abundant blessings for me. In this Supper I am actually eating and drinking at a foretaste of the great banquet table fo the King. I come to his table as a member of his eternal family. When the Lord welcomes me to this table, he assures me that he will welcome me to all the other blessings of earth and heaven as well, and especially to the great marriage supper of the Lamb, at which a place has been reserved for me. (991)
7.    I Affirm my Faith in Christ
Finally, as I take the bread and cup for myself, by my actions I am proclaiming, ‘I need you and trust you, Lord Jesus, to forgive my sins and give life and health to my soul, for only by your broken body and shed blood can I be saved.’ In fact, as I partake in the breaking of the bread when I eat it and the pouring out of the cup when I drink from it, I proclaim again and again my sins were part of the cause of Jesus’ suffering and death. In this way sorrow, joy, thanksgiving, and deep love for Christ are richly intermingled in the beauty of the Lord’s Supper. (991)
In his systematic theology, Charles Ryrie offers much of the same (492-93):
1. It is a remembrance of Christ (1 Cor. 11:24).
2. It is a proclamation of His death (1 Cor. 11:26).
3. It is an assurance of Christ's second coming (Matt. 26:29; 1 Cor. 11:26).
4. It is a time of fellowship with Christ and His people (1 Cor. 10:21).
In their book Doctrine, Mark Driscoll and Gerry Breshears write:
The real issue is not the name but the fourfold meaning of the sacrament itself. It is a dramatic presentation that (1) reminds us in a powerful manner of the death of Jesus Christ in our place for our sins; (2) calls Christians to put our sin to death in light of the fact that Jesus died for our sins and compels us to examine ourselves and repent of sin before partaking; (3) shows the unity of God's people around the person and work of Jesus; and (4) anticipates our participation in the marriage supper of the Lamb when his kingdom comes in its fullness. (326)
In the end, though at risk of oversimplifying it, I like to emphasize the past, present, and future aspects of communion. We look back and find our identity in He who put on flesh and died in our place. We are, today, who we are because of Him and He has called us to be a people of the cross. In the meantime, we anxiously and patiently await His return when we will enjoy a much more glorious meal - the marriage supper of the Lamb.

Come Lord Jesus quickly!

For more:
"Christian Theology": Blogging Through Erickson - Ecclesiology 1
"Christian Theology": Blogging Through Erickson - Ecclesiology 2
"Christian Theology": Blogging Through Erickson - Ecclesiology 3
"Christian Theology": Blogging Through Erickson - Ecclesiology 4
"Christian Theology": Blogging Through Erickson - Ecclesiology 5
"Christian Theology": Blogging Through Erickson - Ecclesiology 6
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