Communion

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Matthew 26:26-30

INTRODUCTION: Today is the last message in our series called “Why Do We . . .?” where we have been looking at why we do certain things in the church. Over the past four weeks we have looked at baptism, church membership, giving and singing. And today we will finish up by looking at why we do communion in the church. [Read Matthew 26:26-30 and pray.]

So why do we celebrate communion? Why do we share some bread and juice together on a regular basis? What is it all about? When we began this series we talked about baptism, and we said that Jesus gave the church two ordinances while he was still here on earth – baptism and communion. Baptism is a one time event in a person’s life, whereas communion is a repeated event. We sometimes call communion the Lord’s Supper as well. The word “communion” emphasizes the fellowship we have with Christ and with each other, whereas the name, “the Lord’s Supper” emphasizes that this is a meal that Jesus instituted for his followers to share.

This morning I would like us to look at a number of Scriptures that speak about communion and hopefully answer some questions along the way.

I. What do the bread and the cup represent?

The first question is probably the most obvious one. What do the bread and the cup in communion represent? Well, they represent a number of things.

   A. The bread and the cup represent the broken body and shed blood of Christ. (Matthew 26:26-28)

First of all, the bread and the cup represent the broken body and shed blood of Christ. Let me re-read from Matthew 26 again, verses 26-28: “While they were eating, Jesus took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to his disciples, saying, ‘Take and eat; this is my body.’ Then he took the cup, gave thanks and offered it to them, saying, ‘Drink from it, all of you. This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.’” (Matthew 26:26-28)

     1) The broken body refers to Christ’s sufferings.

You will notice that Jesus broke the bread before he gave it to his disciples. The breaking of the bread refers to the breaking of Christ’s body or the sufferings of Jesus. It is important to know that Jesus not only died, but that he suffered. Before going to Jerusalem, Jesus stressed to his disciples that he must suffer and die. (Mark 8:31) Why? Because Jesus was going to pay the penalty for our sin, and the punishment for sin involves both suffering and death.

And so Jesus suffered horribly before he even went to the cross. He was arrested and taken away, spit at, blindfolded, mocked, struck in the head, flogged mercilessly, stripped of his clothing, and had a crown of thorns pressed down into his skull. He suffered at the cross. He was nailed to the wooden beams, endured further mocking; he was insulted; he suffered thirst and suffocation. But I believe that the worst of Christ’s sufferings were hidden from us. The greatest suffering Jesus experienced was spiritual suffering. As he suffered the penalty for sin, he experienced God’s wrath and was forsaken by God his Father.

We could not see Jesus’ spiritual suffering, but we can see his physical sufferings. And the physical sufferings were bad enough. The breaking of the bread reminds us that Jesus suffered in his physical body for our sins.

     2) The shed blood refers to Christ’s death and the new covenant.

The shed blood refers to Christ’s death for us on the cross and the new covenant given to us by his death. People were prohibited from eating blood in the Old Testament, because the life was in the blood. The blood was a symbol of life, and so the shedding of blood meant death, and not only death, but violent death. If you do a word study of the phrase “shedding blood” in the Bible, you will find that it always refers to violent death, not just dying but dying as a direct result of violence.

This is why animal sacrifice was required in the Old Testament, the taking of an animal’s life, because the Bible says, “Without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.” (Hebrews 9:22) You could not sacrifice an animal that had already died. There was no sacrifice there. It was not just the death of the animal that mattered, but the violent death of the animal, the actual taking of the animal’s life.

It is the same with Christ. It was not enough for him to bleed. He had to die. It was not enough for him to die, but he had to die a violent death. When we talk about the shed blood of Christ, we are not so much talking about the fact that Jesus shed his blood for us, although that is also true, but that Jesus’ blood was shed by others; not just Christ dying, but that Christ was put to death. This is why in Matthew 26:28 Jesus called his blood: “my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.” (Matthew 26:28) Jesus did not die a natural death. Jesus’ blood was poured out in violence as he was put to death on the cross.

Notice that Jesus called his blood “the blood of the covenant.” We read about the blood of the covenant earlier this morning from the book of Exodus. After sacrificing a number of animals, Moses took half the blood and put it in bowls, and sprinkled the altar with the other half. He read the Book of the Covenant to the people of Israel who pledged obedience to God’s Word. Then he took the blood in the bowls and sprinkled it on the people saying, “This is the blood of the covenant that the LORD has made with you in accordance with all these words.” (Exodus 24:8)

The Old Covenant was based on the obedience of the people. This was a covenant which they were never able to keep because of sin. But the New Testament makes it clear that Jesus’ blood represents a New Covenant, a covenant based on Jesus’ obedience and our faith in him. This New Covenant was prophesied by Jeremiah in Jeremiah 31:31-34.

“The time is coming,” declares the LORD, “when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah. It will not be like the covenant I made with their forefathers when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt, because they broke my covenant, though I was a husband to them,” declares the LORD. “This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after that time,” declares the LORD. “I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. No longer will a man teach his neighbor, or a man his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest,” declares the LORD. “For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.” (Jeremiah 31:31-34)

When Jesus’ blood was shed on the cross, Jesus fulfilled all the demands of the Old Covenant and opened up the way for us to the New Covenant in his blood which results in the forgiveness of our sins and knowing the Lord in our hearts.

   B. The bread and the cup reflect the unity of the church in Christ. (1 Cor 10:16-17)

And so the bread and the cup first of all represent the broken body and shed blood of Christ. Secondly, the bread and the cup reflect the unity of the church in Christ. We find this in 1 Corinthians 10:16-17. “Is not the cup of thanksgiving for which we give thanks a participation in the blood of Christ? And is not the bread that we break a participation in the body of Christ? Because there is one loaf, we, who are many, are one body, for we all partake of the one loaf.” (1 Corinthians 10:16-17)

In these verses Paul says that communion is a participation in the body and blood of Christ. We participate in Christ’s blood because as believers we are united with Christ in his death. We participate in Christ’s body because we share in Christ’s sufferings, but also because the church is the body of Christ. And so Paul says, just as there is one loaf, so we who are many are one body in Christ. The bread and the cup reflect the unity that we have in Christ for we have all been united with Christ and each other through his death, and together we form one body as the church of Christ.

   C. The bread and the cup point forward to Christ’s return. (Matthew 26:29; 1 Corinthians 11:26)

And then thirdly, the bread and the cup point forward to Christ’s return. In Matthew 26:29, after giving his disciples the bread and the cup, Jesus told them, “I tell you, I will not drink of this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it anew with you in my Father’s kingdom.” (Matthew 26:29) Jesus looked forward to the day when he would return and take his disciples, and us, to be with him forever in glory. In instituting the Lord’s Supper with his disciples, Jesus specifically pointed forward to the time of his return. This is why Paul also wrote in 1 Corinthians 11:26: “Whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.” (1 Corinthians 11:26) There is a forward look to the communion table as we anticipate Christ’s return and sharing with him at the great feast in heaven.

What do the bread and the cup represent? They represent the broken body and shed blood of Christ. They reflect the unity of the church in Christ. They point forward to Christ’s return.

II. Why should you examine yourself before taking the bread and the cup? (1 Corinthians 11:27-31)

A second question I would like to address this morning is this. Why should you examine yourself before taking the bread and the cup? Paul spoke about this in 1 Corinthians 11:27-31:

“Therefore, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord. A man ought to examine himself before he eats of the bread and drinks of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without recognizing the body of the Lord eats and drinks judgment on himself. That is why many among you are weak and sick, and a number of you have fallen asleep. But if we judged ourselves, we would not come under judgment.” (1 Corinthians 11:27-31)

   A. You should believe in Christ.

There are a number of reasons why you should examine yourself before taking the bread and the cup. First of all, you should examine yourself to make sure that you are in the faith. You should believe in Christ before you participate in communion. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 11:29: “Anyone who eats and drinks without recognizing the body of the Lord eats and drinks judgment on himself.” (1 Corinthians 11:29) Part of recognizing Christ’s body is recognizing that he suffered and died for you and that you have put your faith in him.

This is similar to what we said about baptism. A person should become a believer before they are baptized, not after. You are not baptized in order to be saved. You are baptized as a sign of your salvation. In the same way, you do not eat the Lord’s Supper in order to obtain forgiveness. You eat the Lord’s Supper as a sign that you have already been forgiven. You do this in remembrance of him who died for you that you might know God’s forgiveness in your life.

Communion is a meal that reflects the special fellowship that Christians have with each other and with the risen Lord. If you are not a follower of Christ, then this meal has no real meaning for you. The meal will not help you in any way if you are not a believer. In fact, the meal will work against you if you do not know Christ. Paul says, “Anyone who eats and drinks without recognizing the body of the Lord eats and drinks judgment on himself.” (1 Cor11:29)

   B. You should be reconciled to each other.

Another part of recognizing Christ’s body is recognizing our unity as a church. Therefore, a second reason why you should examine yourself before taking the bread and the cup is to examine your relationships with other believers. You should be reconciled to each other before taking communion. Jesus spoke about this in the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5 in the context of worship. Matthew 5:23-24: “Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift.” (Matthew 5:23-24) If you are out of fellowship with another believer, then taking the bread and cup which represent the unity of believers would be an act of hypocrisy. You should either go and be reconciled first, or you should not participate in communion until you have done so.

   C. You should confess sin.

And then a third reason why you should examine yourself before taking communion is to confess sin. Back to 1 Corinthians 11, Paul said: “Whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord . . . . If we judged ourselves, we would not come under judgment.” (1 Corinthians 11:27,31)

Notice that Paul does not speak about unworthy persons refraining from communion, but rather that we should refrain from taking communion in an unworthy manner. If unworthy persons were barred from communion, none of us could participate. None of us are worthy. We do not earn our salvation, but we receive it as a free gift from God. But we should not take communion in an unworthy manner. “If we judged ourselves, we would not come under judgment.” Paul is talking about confessing sin. You should examine yourself and confess any sin in your life before taking communion.

There were some in the Corinthian church who ate and drank judgment on themselves, because they ate the bread and drank the cup in an unworthy manner. Why should you examine yourself before taking the bread and the cup? You should believe in Christ. You should be reconciled to your brother or sister. You should confess sin.

III. How do we approach the Lord’s Supper here at PCC?

Finally, this morning I just want to speak briefly on how we approach the Lord’s Supper here at PCC. There are many different ways of celebrating communion, and one way is not necessarily better than another. But we should be careful that all that we do has a biblical basis, and so here are some of the things that we do and why we do them.

   A. Regularly – once a month

First of all, we celebrate communion regularly. For us, that means once a month. Some churches celebrate communion every week, others only a couple times a year. Some churches do not celebrate communion at all. Jesus never said how often to observe communion. He just said, “As often as you do it, do so in remembrance of me.” (1 Corinthians 11:25) We have found that once a month works well for us. It is often enough to keep it regular, but not so often that it becomes routine.

   B. Open communion – open to all believers; children participate at parents’ discretion

Secondly, we practice what is called an open communion. You do not need to be a member of our church in order to share communion with us. If you are a believer in Jesus Christ, we consider it a privilege and a joy to share in fellowship with you through communion. Some churches practice a closed communion in order to protect persons who may not be in Christ from participating. We have decided to leave that responsibility in your hands. And we always give instruction about this before actually serving communion. What about children? We allow children to participate at their parents’ discretion, but always advise that they should first know Jesus as their Savior and understand what the Lord’s Supper means. Do we ever bar anyone from communion? On occasion we may need to withhold communion from someone who does not know Christ or from a believer who is refusing to repent of known sin. But mostly communion is open to all who know and believe Jesus Christ.

   C. Time of preparation – time to examine yourself and prepare

Thirdly, we practice a time of preparation before communion. This is a time to examine yourself before partaking of the elements. As a believer in Jesus Christ, you should turn away from and confess any known sin to the Lord, and you should make sure that you are reconciled to your brothers and sisters in Christ. As you receive communion you should do so knowing the full joy of forgiveness as you remember what Jesus did for you at the cross.

   D. Deacons serve – servant leadership

Fourthly, we usually have our deacons serve communion. That is not because they are spiritual hotshots or more important than others in the body of Christ, but rather because the Bible teaches servant leadership. The leaders in the church do not lord it over those in the congregation, but rather we are to serve those in the congregation. Serving communion is one way we demonstrate servant leadership in the church.

   E. Individual portions but partake together – portray the unity of the body

Finally, although we have individual portions, we wait for each other and partake together. Ideally, we would all share from one loaf and one cup in order to demonstrate the unity of the body of Christ. However, logistics and health concerns prevent that. So, we have the common loaf and cup up front as a reminder of the unity of the body. And then as we distribute the elements, we partake together as a sign of our unity together in the body of Christ.

CONCLUSION: We have a very appropriate application of today’s message. We are going to share communion together. And as we share the Lord’s Supper, I trust that this meal will have even greater significance for you today and in the future, as we have spent some time reflecting on these truths from Scripture concerning communion.

© Ray Fowler

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