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By Rev Charles Seet

Preached at Life BPC 8am & 11am service, 2015-06-28

Text:1 Corinthians 11:20-34

 

 

What’s in a meal? Is it just getting nourishment for our bodies? Is it just the gastronomic pleasure of tasting nice food? No, it is more than that. Meals are often used to mark significant events in life. E.g. Birthday celebrations, Wedding banquets and Anniversary dinners. It is not just the act of eating, but the common enjoyment of the food, and the conversation it fosters at the table.

 

There are many significant meals in the Bible – The first recorded meal was the eating of the forbidden fruit which resulted in man’s condemnation. The Passover meal was held annually to commemorate Israel’s deliverance from slavery in Egypt and from the death of their firstborn. The Feeding of the 5,000 by Jesus with five loaves and two fishes (John 6:35,48) brought an immediate response from the people – they wanted to make Him their king. The Last Supper which Jesus had with His disciples in the Upper Room – This took place on the night before He was crucified. The last meal mentioned in the Bible is the Marriage Supper of the Lamb where the church and Christ will enjoy a fellowship meal together soon after the Rapture (Revelation 19).

 

Against this background, we can understand why our Lord Jesus instituted a very special meal for us to have regularly. It is called the Lord’s Supper. This morning we shall study a passage that teaches us about this meal: 1 Corinthians 11:20-34.

 

We have already seen from the earlier chapters of 1 Corinthians that the church at Corinth was a very problematic church. There was strife, party-spirit, division, pride, and toleration of immoral behaviour. Besides that, there was also disorder in their gatherings for worship, with some women refusing to follow the accepted custom of covering their heads.

 

One problem in their worship that needed correction urgently was the disorderly way in which the Lord’s Supper was being conducted. According to verses 20-22 many were taking too much food for themselves before others could get it and some were having far too much to drink. How did this situation come about? It may have been due to a custom in some churches where the members regularly shared a fellowship meal together and the Lord’s Supper was incorporated into it either at the beginning or at the end of the meal.

 

On Sundays, the Corinthians would bring their own food and wine to church for this meal, but each time it degenerated into a mad rush for food by the hungriest members, and those who were too slow had hardly anything left to eat. Such self-indulgence was already scandalous enough for a church. What made it worse was that it made a terrible mockery of the Lord’s Supper which was conducted as part of the meal. How can the selfless death of the Lord Jesus be remembered meaningfully with such selfish eating and drinking? The outcome of this abuse of the Lord’s Supper was that many Corinthians became weak and ill and some even died (v.30) – and it wasn’t due to food poisoning.

 

The Corinthians were not the only ones who abused the Lord’s Supper. Church history testifies to other abuses – and these often fall into two extremes. On one extreme are those who, like the Corinthians, treat the Lord’s Supper the same way as any natural meal – without discerning the body and blood of the Lord in it. Everyone who merely goes through the motions of taking the Lord’s Supper in a mechanical or ritualistic manner, fall into the same error. This is probably the most common abuse of the Lord’s Supper today.

 

On the other extreme are those who treat the Lord’s Supper as a supernatural meal – believing that the elements are miraculously changed by a priest into the actual body and blood of Jesus to sacrifice Him all over again on an altar. More recently, some have been teaching that eating the Lord’s Supper can bring miraculous healing to the sick. The biblical teaching on the Lord’s Supper as we shall see, is that it is neither a natural meal nor a supernatural meal, but a sacred meal that brings spiritual benefits.

 

As God’s people, we need to know the biblical teaching on the Lord’s Supper because its proper observance is essential for our spiritual health and for the life of the church. In order to observe the Lord’s Supper in a proper God-honouring manner, we must realise that there is more to it than meets the eye. And what cannot be seen matters a lot more than what can be seen. These things can only be seen by faith and we must look at them with spiritual vision. When we partake of the Lord’s Supper the first thing we need to do is to…

 

1. Look Upward

 

The Lord Himself should always be our primary focus in the Lord’s Supper, not the bread nor the cup, not the worshippers around us, and certainly not the pastor who conducts it. To demonstrate this point, I want you to notice how many words in our passage of Scripture are connected with “the Lord”: the Lord’s Supper (verse 20), the Lord’s body (verses 24, 27 & 29), the Lord’s blood (verses 25 & 27), the Lord’s death (verse 26) and the Lord’s cup (verse 27). And besides all that, the place that we come to for this meal is called ‘the Lord’s Table.’ (1 Corinthians 10:21). All this points to our Lord Jesus as the main subject of this Supper. So nothing must distract us from Him.

 

In this sacred meal, Jesus invites His people to come and sup with Him, as He says in Revelation 3:20 – “Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear My voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with Me.” Jesus is our Gracious Host at this meal. He sets its agenda. He plans the menu. He prepares the food. And He determines the manner in which they are to be consumed. Jesus is also the Guest of Honour at this meal. He speaks to us and we listen, responding to Him with reverence and obedience.

 

But the most amazing thing is that Jesus is the meal itself, just as He said in John 6:35, “I am the bread of life: he that cometh to Me shall never hunger; and he that believeth on Me shall never thirst.” This does not mean that Jesus is literally found in the bread and that we literally feed on Him. It means that Jesus is spiritually present and that our souls feed on Him in a spiritual manner.

 

Let this be our first and foremost thought every time we come to the Lord’s Table – We come for that upward look at our Saviour. This is the first step in the proper observance of the Lord’s Supper. The second step is to…

 

2. Look Backward

 

We look back in remembrance of Christ and particularly of the greatest work He accomplished – the redemption of sinners by His atoning death on the Cross! You will notice that the words,  ‘this do…in Remembrance of Me’ are found in verses 24 and 25. You can also find them inscribed here on this table. The words “In remembrance of Me” tell us that the Lord’s Supper is actually a memorial meal, a meal that helps us to remember Him.

 

Why do need such a memorial? It is because we are all forgetful creatures. Our minds are pre-occupied with so many things every day that we are prone to forget the most important things in life. You may remember certain events in your life very well, like your childhood years, your graduation, your first pay check, your wedding day. But all the events we remember cannot compare with the death of Christ 2,000 years ago. This event in history has impacted our life far more than any other event, as it has permanently changed our eternal destiny. How can we then ensure that we will never ever forget what Jesus has done for us on the Cross? How can we perpetuate the memory of this great event?

 

The world perpetuates the memory of its great leaders and its most significant events by building impressive monuments, e.g. the Lim Bo Seng memorial, the Kranji War Memorial and the Benjamin Sheares Bridge. Plans have been made to remember our first Prime Minister in a big way at the National Day celebration this August.

 

But none of these can compare with the memorial which Christ instituted for us nearly 2,000 years ago. No memorial has ever been more effective than the Lord’s Supper. No memorial has ever been so Pure in its Simplicity – No lengthy elaborate rituals needed, no expensive monuments to build and maintain. Just a simple meal shared by a group of believers. The Upper Room where this Supper was instituted was not a grand church building with stained glass windows, ornate furniture and musical instruments. It was only a simple dining room large enough for Christ and His disciples to have their Passover meal together. The Lord’s Supper truly surpasses all other memorials in its simplicity.

 

Besides that, no memorial has ever been so Practical in its Accessibility – Any believer in any part of the world can have it, because the Lord’s Supper can be conducted anywhere. This is unlike most memorials that are located in distant locations and require much traveling to reach them. The Lord’s Supper has been conducted in homes, in hospital wards and in prison cells. It has even been conducted on the moon! In 1969 Buzz Aldrin, an astronaut who also happened to be a Presbyterian elder, conducted the Lord’s Supper just after landing on the moon.

 

Despite its pure simplicity and practical accessibility, no memorial has ever been as Powerful as the Lord’s Supper in its Imagery – The bread aptly portrays the body of Christ which gives life to the world. Bread was the most common staple food for people in the Middle East, much like the rice that we eat today. Bread still sustains the life of millions of people today. The breaking of bread by our Lord’s own hands conveys so well the truth that Jesus willingly laid down His own precious life for us. He went to the cross of His own free will, and no one took His life away from Him (John10:18). Doesn’t this show how much He loves sinners like you and me?

 

The grape juice that we drink in the Lord’s Supper is a most fitting symbol of the blood of Jesus. Just as grapes have to be squashed violently in a winepress in order to yield its red-coloured juice, Jesus had to suffer the greatest mental anguish and the most agonizing torments in order to shed His blood on the cross. How lovingly He yielded His blood to make an atonement for our sins!

 

Besides providing a powerful image of our Lord’s selfless giving of Himself for us, the Lord’s Supper also portrays what it means to truly believe in Christ. When Jesus says, ‘Take, eat: this is My body which is broken for you,’ each of us must respond personally by taking that piece of bread and eating it. Doesn’t this bring out the full meaning of faith: “Forsaking All I Take Him”?

 

This brings us to another unique feature of the Lord’s Supper that is not found in all other memorials: It is very Personal in its Applicability – Through it we are able to experience the personal presence of our Lord Jesus intimately. No other memorial can provide such a sense of intimate communion with a loved one who has died.

 

In May last year my grandfather’s grave at Bukit Brown cemetery was exhumed to make way for a new highway. He had died over 70 years ago, and so all that I knew about him was what my mum and my aunts had told me. The moment came when his grave was exhumed and I gazed at his remains – bone fragments. Then I realised that this was to be the closest contact I would ever have with my grandfather. I wondered what he would say if he knew that his grandson was standing there. But there is no way that his lifeless remains could reach out to me, nor for me to reach out to him. What a sad truth we are confronted with in all earthly memorials – a barrier stands between us and the one we remember.

 

But in the memorial meal that our Lord Jesus gave to us, we can reach out to Him and He can reach out to us in a most intimate communion of His Spirit with our soul, because He is a living Saviour. As we look at the bread and the cup that we hold in our hands we know that these are not His dead remains. They are mere representations of Him and of all that He has done for us! And as we take them into our own bodies they bear a silent but real testimony that Jesus is truly in us and we are in Him. Oh what a great joy it is to look back in remembrance of Him through the Lord’s Supper. But that’s not all. As we look upward and look backward, we also need to…

 

3. Look Inward

 

This is brought out in verse 28 of our text which says, “But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of that bread, and drink of that cup.” When you take the Lord’s Supper there are two things that you need to examine in the light of God’s Word and with the help of the Holy Spirit:

 

The first is your life – Is your life conformed to the image of Christ in thought, word and deed? Or are you still tolerating some sinful habits in your life? If you are, then please ask yourself: How can you tolerate the very same sins that have caused the Lord you love to die on the cross?

 

Verse 23 of our text reminds us that on the night when the Lord’s Supper was instituted there was a betrayer who sat at the table with Jesus. Judas appeared to be no different from the rest of the disciples. He blended so well into the group that nobody knew that he had sins such as covetousness, dishonesty and pride residing in his heart – nobody knew, except the Lord Himself. And when you come to the Lord’s Table, He knows every sin that resides in your heart – nothing is hidden from His sight. If you realise this, please examine your life well, with a sincere desire to put every sin away.

 

The other thing that you need to examine is your love. Do you really love the Lord Jesus? Is your love for Him in word only, or is it in deed and in truth? (1 John 3:18) Do you remember what the Lord Jesus asked Simon Peter as they were having breakfast together by the Sea of Galilee? “Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me more than these?” Are you able to give Him the same answer that Simon gave, “Yea, Lord; Thou knowest that I love thee.” (John 21:15-17)?

 

One way to examine your love for the Lord is to check your attitude to the Lord’s Supper. If you truly love the Lord, you will find great delight in anything that can bring you closer to Him. Therefore how you treat the Supper reflects how you treat the Saviour. The apostle Paul puts it this way in v.27, “Wherefore whosoever shall eat this bread, and drink this cup of the Lord, unworthily, shall be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord.”

 

There are some who avoid the Lord’s Supper because they feel too unworthy and they do not want to become guilty of the body and blood of the Lord. This is not the meaning of this verse at all. Please understand this well: No one is ever good enough or worthy enough to come to the Lord’s Table. In fact, when we think we are worthy enough to take the Lord’s Supper, we partake of it unworthily!

 

Let us therefore come to His Table in worthy, loving manner from now on, not held back by our own unworthiness but constrained by love for our worthy Saviour. Doing this prepares your soul well to produce the right responses when you take the Lord’s Supper. Here are four responses that you can look forward to…

 

1. Contrition: The sight of the emblems of Christ’s body and blood will remind you of how awful your sin must be, if nothing less than the death of God’s own Son could make satisfaction for it, or redeem you from its guilt. This thought will humble you down to the very depths of your being, until you ‘count your richest gains but loss and pour contempt on all your pride.’

 

2. Comfort: The sight of the bread and the cup will remind you how full, perfect and complete your salvation is. You will be most comforted to know that the enormous price for your redemption has been fully paid by Christ, and so “there is now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 8:1)

 

3. Consecration: The bread and the cup will remind you of what a great debt of gratitude you owe to the Lord, and how thoroughly obligated you are to live for Him who died for your sins. The least you should do then is to“present your body a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service.” (Romans 12:1)

 

4. Commitment: Every time you partake of the Lord’s Supper, you renew your commitment to lead a consistent life of faith in Christ and of bearing a good testimony for Him. The renewal of this commitment will have arestraining effect upon you against yielding to temptations to sin and to the world. You will leave the Lord’s Table much stronger and better prepared to live for Christ and to serve Christ!

 

Thus far we have seen three steps in the proper observance of the Lord’s Supper – look upward, look backward and look inward. There is one more step that we must take, and that is to…

 

4. Look Forward

 

We need to look forward to Christ’s return and to all the blessings that will come with it. Verse 26 says, “For as often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do shew the Lord’s death till He come.” Each experience of spiritual communion with Christ during the Lord’s Supper ought to make our hearts yearn more and more for the ultimate communion we will enjoy with Him when He comes again. The Lord has already given us details of this wonderful event in His Word:

 

First, He will raise up all dead believers in new immortal bodies. Then, all living believers will be physically transformed into their new bodies and be caught up with the resurrected saints to meet the Lord in the air, and be led by Him to their heavenly home. This will be followed by the Judgment seat of Christ where the Lord will give crowns to every believer who has served Him well. Then comes the much-anticipated wedding, the ‘Marriage Supper of the Lamb’ (Revelation 19:9) where the Bride, consisting of all believers, will enjoy the sweetest communion with Christ, who is our Bridegroom at the Lord’s Table in heaven!

 

That will be the happiest moment for everyone who loves the Lord Jesus. It will be a million times better than our experience in all the Lord’s Suppers we have had on earth. What we have here is only a wedding rehearsal – but every rehearsal brings us closer to the wedding itself. In fact Jesus Himself looks forward earnestly to this Marriage Supper. He expressed this when He instituted the Lord’s Supper in Matthew 26:29– “But I say unto you, I will not drink henceforth of this fruit of the vine, until that day when I drink it new with you in My Father's kingdom.”

 

Dearly beloved, let us express the same desire in our hearts each time we come to the Lord’s Table – looking forward to the coming of our Lord. This is the blessed hope that motivates us to persevere in serving Him. Let us remember this: The Lord’s Supper is the time for your soul to savour such sweet fellowship with your Saviour that you are spiritually strengthened for service!

 

And though we may face many discouragements and difficult trials as we serve Him, we must be very thankful that the Lord has resolved to do all that is necessary to deliver us and to present us faultless before the presence of His glory. He who has died to save us loves us far too much to let us fall away even through our own sins. This is the reason why many Corinthian believers became weak and sickly and many of them even died (v.30). They were being soundly and lovingly chastised by the Lord to cure them of their sinful abuse of the Lord’s Supper. Jesus said in Revelation 3:19– “As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten…”

 

Now that we know that the proper observance of the Lord’s Supper requires us to look upward, backward, inward and forward, let us apply these steps faithfully each time we come to the Lord’s Table. If we fail to do this we may soon feel the pain of God’s chastising rod, as stated in v.29 – “For he that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh damnation to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body.”

 

The word ‘damnation’ here does not refer to eternal judgement in hell, but to our Father’s loving chastisement. This is made clear in v.31,32 which says,  “For if we would judge ourselves, we should not be judged. But when we are judged, we are chastened of the Lord, that we should not be condemned with the world.”

 

The last part of this verse speaks of the awful judgement that will befall all unbelievers. Unlike us, the world of unbelievers has nothing to look forward to when Christ returns. They will be condemned to suffer forever in eternal death. And so if anyone here has not come to Christ for salvation yet, let me urge you not to delay any more. Without Christ in your life, all that you have is a hopeless end, and your present exclusion from the Lord’s Table testifies to your final exclusion from eternal life.

 

But if you come to Christ, you have an endless hope, and after you have confessed Him to be your Saviour in baptism, each Lord’s Supper you take will strengthen your faith in Him and build up your hope of eternal life. May the Lord speak to our hearts through His Word.

Vision & Mission

 

To build a united church family that is committed to making disciples through Salvation, Sanctification and Service, to the glory of God.

Verse for the Week

October 15 & 22 - The Cost of Discipleship

For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it. Matthew 16:25