Devoted To The Breaking of Bread
Topic: Lord's Supper Passage: 1 Corinthians 11:23–32
We are continuing our series called devotion. We are looking at four of the key ingredients that the early church was devoted to, which made them so healthy and strong. I am taking my queues from Acts , “and they continually devoted themselves to the apostle’s teaching, the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. Today, I want to look at that phrase “the breaking of bread”, which I take to mean the Lord’s Supper. Listen to how some have described the Lord’s Supper. Steven Charnock:
There is in this action more communion with God than in any other religious act. We have not so near a communion with a person by petitioning for something we want, or returning him thanks for a favor received, as we have by sitting with him at his table, partaking of the same bread and the same cup.
Thomas Goodwin said,
Of sermons, some are for comfort, some to inform, some to excite; but here in the Sacrament is all you can expect. Christ is here light, and wisdom, and comfort, and all to thee. He is here an eye to the blind, a foot to the lame; yes, everything to everyone.
If we are not careful, this can just be a religious exercise without much meaning. We can just go through the motions, mindlessly doing what we’ve always done. We can view it as something we simply tack on at the end of a service once a month. And as we will see later, this is dangerous. Paul says that is eating and drinking in an unworthy manner. We don’t want to do that!
So what do we need to know to stir up, solidify, deepen our devotion to the Lord’s Supper? Seven things. We take the supper:
1) out of sincere obedience to Christ, 2) in the presence of Christ, 3) in remembrance of Christ, 4) to proclaim His death, 5) together, 6) with reverence, 7) and gratitude.
1. We take the supper In sincere obedience to Christ
This is something that Christ has commanded us to do. The Lord’s Supper is one of two ordinances (the other is baptism) given by the Lord Jesus Christ. This is something that is so very important to the Lord Jesus Christ. Verse 23 says, “The Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread.” If a man knows his death is imminent, what he talks about is usually pretty important to him. Well, on the night of his death, one of the last things Jesus did was to establish this ordinance for all time (until he returns), for his people. Do you think this is important to the Lord of heaven and earth? We are commanded to keep this ordinance “until he comes”. Notice the commands:
Do this in remembrance of me... (verse 24)
Do this as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me… (verse 25)
2. We take the supper In the conscious presence of Christ
Not only is the supper to be taken in obedience to Christ, but also in the presence of Christ. This is so important. The Lord Jesus is the Host of this supper. I am not. As a church, we are not. Christ is. Who was the One who broke the bread and passed the cup? It was Christ. He sent his disciples to make the preparations for the Passover, but it was the Lord Himself who hosted the meal - he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and said, “take and eat…”. And it is the Lord himself, the Host, who invites us to His table even today. We must always remember that! In the eating of the bread, we are feasting on Christ, the bread of life. In drinking the cup, we drink in Christ.
Now, of course we need to understand in what manner the presence of Christ is to be experienced. During the time of the Protestant Reformation, the Reformers (the three big guns: Zwingli, Luther and Calvin) were united in their rejection of the Roman Catholic teaching on transubstantiation - that Christ was physically present in the supper. Where there was disagreement in how they considered Christ present among us. Ulrich Zwingli believed that the supper was nothing more than a memorial in which there was no special sense of the presence of Christ to be experienced. Martin Luther held the words of Jesus literally when he said “this is my body.” Calvin took the approach that Christ is truly present in a unique and special way in the supper, yet it is the spiritual presence of Christ that we experience by his Spirit. Calvin said, “Dwelling in us by His Spirit, [Christ] raises us up to heaven to himself, transfusing into us the vivifying vigour of his flesh”. I think of Hebrews 12:22-24 which tells us an explosive thing about worship - which if you are in Christ speaks of you. It says,
You have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the saints made perfect, and to Jesus, mediator of the new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.
In worship, so much more is going on than we perceived with our senses. And when we do it by faith, it is potent! It is powerful! And it’s the same with the Lord’s Supper (which is an act of worship). In the supper, there is a sweetness of communion with Christ available to us that is unparalleled.
In the Lord’s Supper, we are invited into the presence of Christ the Host, to sit at his table, commune with him, hear his voice (“This is my body…”), and partake of him for the nourishment of our souls.
3. We take the supper In remembrance of Christ (v. 24-25) We see the phrase repeated twice
Do this in remembrance of me...
The activity of taking the bread and the cup is to be done in remembrance. This is a memorial. We are to remember something. This is NOT a mindless exercise! Don’t do that - if you do it’s like walking through a landmine field. So this is key. What is the focus to be on? The word “remembrance” is used in only four places. Twice here (v. 24, 25). Once in Luke 22:19 in Luke’s account of the Lord’s Supper, and once in Hebrews 10:3 which tells us of the insufficiency of the repeated sacrifices of the old covenant for sin in which there was a “reminder [remembrance] of sins year by year”. Insufficient because the failure of our sin is highlighted.
Beloved, the emphasis of the supper is not on our sin. Of course, I may recall that “it was my sin that held him there” as the hymn says. And we will get to it a bit later, there is a place for self-examination so that we don’t come to the table with our cherished sins in our hands as we take the bread and cup. But the emphasis is not on my sin, but on the One who bore my sin - on the sin-bearer, who bore them once for all. Here’s what Jesus said after he gave thanks and broke the bread,
This is my body, which is for you, do this in remembrance of me.
When we take the bread, we are to remember the body of Christ which is for us. The body of our Lord Jesus Christ which was a real, physical body that could feel pain, could be physically nailed to a tree, and experience death. And it was. That body, in accordance with the scriptures, in obedience to the Father, was offered to us. But then come these two words - so precious!
I love these two words - a galaxy of meaning in these two words “for you” or “on behalf of you”. This is the language of substitution. Christ was our substitute. He took our place. It is not that Jesus was nailed to the cross as our example, that we may learn the lesson of obedience to the Father. No! This is about substitution. Christ our substitute gave himself for us, on our behalf, in our place. Paul put it this way in Galatians 3:13-14:
Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us; for it is written “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree.”
Do you hear substitution? He became a curse for us - he took what I deserved! And how do we know that? Because he was hanged on a tree. Peter is in total agreement with Paul.
He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree that we might die to sin and live to righteousness, and by his wounds we are healed. (1 Peter 2:24)
Our Lord Jesus himself (the greatest authority) affirmed this: “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh [body].” (John 6:51)
This is what we are to remember. The self-giving Son of God who gave his body to be hanged on a tree for us. And then verse 25 says we are to remember what his blood has obtained for us,
This cup is the new covenant in my blood, do this as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.
Christ poured out his blood, gave up his life in order to procure for us the new covenant and every blessing found in it. 1 Corinthians 10:16 calls it “the cup of blessing”. How big is that cup? Oh, I don’t know - it’s big enough to satisfy us fully for all eternity! Christ died in order that we might be united to him and receive every spiritual blessing in Him (Ephesians 1:3-14 - encourage them to read!). And this remembrance is of the single offering of Christ, once for all to remove sin.
I remember visiting with one of my cousins several years ago who is a practicing Roman Catholic. Roman Catholic understanding (real presence, prayer of consecration, unbloody sacrifice that atones…). There is NO satisfaction for sin!
Hebrews 9:26 says it so decisively: “he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself.”
We take the supper by faith, remembering the richness and fullness of what Christ has accomplished for his people, for us. “Do this in remembrance of ME.”
4. We take the supper to proclaim the death of Christ (v. 26)
For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes
To proclaim means to announce, to declare, to publish, to make known. Now of course, the way we make known the death of Christ in the Lord’s Supper is not with words, but in the action of taking the bread and cup. John Owen called the Lord’s Supper a “sanctified dramatization” in which “we show forth the sacrifice of Christ unto death”. Isn’t that amazing? The gospel is proclaimed with the lips in the hearing of preaching. And the gospel is proclaimed in visible signs and action of taking the Lord’s Supper.
Here’s a question? Who are we proclaiming the Lord’s death to? Well certainly to a watching world. Not that we are to broadcast it on television or FB necessarily, but it is to be done publicly. But we also proclaim the Lord’s death to the whole unseen, spiritual realm. To Satan and his demonic hosts as a reminder of his defeat and coming doom. But here is something else and this is probably what’s in view here - it’s certainly worship to God, but the proclamation is to one another. We are to proclaim the Lord’s death to each other. We announce the sufficiency of the one sacrifice of Christ to each other in the taking of the bread and cup. There is something so rich when I see you feast on Christ and his finished work “by faith”. When you take in a worthy manner, you are proclaiming, “I believe! This is true!”
One thing that is powerful about singing, is that it’s a way to preach truth through song to our souls. It is so encouraging to hear you sing loudly of the unsearchable riches of Christ. In the same way, we show forth and make known the death of Christ to each other - with each other in the Lord’s Supper. We take the bread and cup and proclaim “worthy is the Lamb who was slain!”.
5. We take the supper TOGETHER
This is an ordinance that is to be done publicly, as the gathered church. It is to be done as a body. people of Christ. Not off in a corner by ourselves. This is not a time to close your eyes and imagine it’s just you and the Lord. If anything, this is a time in which you should open your eyes and look at those around you. In the verses preceding verse 23, Paul says a couple of times, “When you come together…” And in the verses just following verse 29, Paul says, “When you come together.” The Lord’s Supper is to be taken together. It’s not a snack you take while watching church on TV and checking Twitter. This is one thing that was so disturbing about government crackdowns in some places in which they said, “no Lord’s Supper”. The Lord commands us to! What should we do? I hope it’s obvious.
We often approach the Lord’s Supper, church, worship, and almost all of life, but especially our spiritual lives as Christians in an individualistic sort of way. But Paul is writing to the entire church at Corinth. In verse 23 when Paul says, “For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you”, “you” is plural. In verse 24, when Christ says, “this is my body, which is for you”, “you” is plural. And when paul says in verse 26, “You proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes”, it is in the plural. We proclaim the Lord’s death together.
We should recognize that this was written to the church at Corinth as a correction, because they were taking part in the Lord’s Supper in a wildly sinful way. Gorging themselves, some were getting drunk, while others were completely left out. There was no regard for one another. Now, we are not in danger of that kind of individualism. But we may be in danger of overly privatizing by acting as though it is “me and Christ” instead of “us and Christ”. So let us be more mindful of each other and with open eyes remember the Lord and proclaim his death with those around us.
6. We take the supper with reverence. Look at verses 27-29:
27 Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord.28 Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. 29 For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself.
It is not insignificant how we approach the Lord’s table. It matters to Christ, and it should matter to us as well. We are told that we can take the bread and cup in such a way that actually incurs guilt concerning the crucifixion of Christ, if we don’t take it in a worthy manner. We can take the bread and cup and in such a way that we eat and drink judgment upon ourselves. That’s not popular to say!
We need to understand why Paul says this. What is Paul concerned about? We hear the word examine and think that we need to do a deep dive into our hearts to see if there is hidden sin. You know what? If you look for sin, it won’t be hard to find. So I don’t think that is what Paul has in mind. Of course, if there is obvious, unrepentant sin - deal with that! If you came to church today harboring cancerous bitterness and unforgiveness, confess it; turn from it! Repudiate it! But the issue here, I think, is the phrase in verse 29 of “discerning the body”, meaning the body. In context, I think this refers to the physical body of Jesus being nailed to the cross. We are to discern the work of Christ on the cross.
7. We take the supper with gratitude.
What did Jesus do when he took the bread? He gave thanks. We should too. When we consider the presence of Christ and remember the perfect, finished work of Christ on our behalf, what more can we do than give thanks. There probably is no more accurate thermostat indicating your spiritual temperature than thanksgiving. A grateful heart that overflows into the giving of thanks. We come to the table with thanksgiving!
And so what are we to do? Paul says clearly, “let a person examine himself, and so eat and drink…” Examine yourselves: Are you a Christian - are you trusting in Christ alone? Is your hope in Him exclusively? Do you believe that through his sacrifice, your sins have been buried in the sea of forgetfulness? Are you grateful for that? Examine yourself. Are you following Christ in a life of humble, repentant obedience? The Lord’s table is for sinners, but it is for repentant, believing sinners. Examine yourself.
And if you can say an enthusiastic “YES AND AMEN!”, then the invitation is “come and welcome to Jesus Christ…” You are most welcome to come to the table and dine with Christ…