When the Lord brought Israel out of the land of Egypt he took them through the Red Sea in order to demonstrate (and indeed to finalize) their complete deliverance from Egypt. He also gave them the Passover meal. His instruction to them in Exodus 12:42 was,
"It is a night to be observed for the Lord for having brought them out from the land of Egypt; this night is for the Lord, to be observed by all the sons of Israel throughout their generations." But when he delivered them from Egpyt at the shores of the Red sea, it was a deliverance he did only once. Exodus 14:30 reads "thus the Lord saved Israel that day from the hand of the Egyptians…"
Israel only passed through the Red sea once. Never again would Egypt pursue them to enslave them, and never again would they pass through the Red Sea.
These two events in Israel's history pass on to us with a new sense of meaning in the ordinances of Baptism and the Lord's Supper.
Just as Israel passed through the Red Sea only once, and in that passing they were separated from the Egyptians who wished to enslave them, so too a Christian who first comes to Christ undergoes Christian baptism and there proclaims his allegiance to Jesus Christ as well as symbolically tells the story of the death, burial and resurrection of the son of God. Baptism serves as a testimony of the cleansing that God has done.
Baptism is a one time event. It is not in and of itself salvific. Despite the oft told heresy of "baptismal regeneration" nobody is saved by undergoing baptism. Baptism is a testimony of the cleansing Christ has given us.
The passover also came down to us in a new form; for on the night that Jesus was betrayed he sat down with his disciples for a final passover meal. During that meal he took two of the main items at the table and infused them with new meaning. The bread of passover which once symbolized the haste with which the Israelites were driven from the land became the symbolic reminder of the wounded body of Jesus. The glass of wine which was customary at Jewish meals became an eternal symbol of the lifeblood of Jesus given in complete substitutionary death. Contrary to Catholic dogma, taking communion is not a path to salvation. Instead it is the continued visible retelling of the story of the gospel.
Baptism occurs only once but Communion continues throughout our Christian lives. Here at Fame, we've decided to celebrate Communion on the first Sunday of every month. Because communion is such a vital part of our lives, I want to take this morning to remind us again of the value of the Lord's Supper.
There are two extremes we have to watch out for. On one hand we can load ourselves up with the technical meanings of communion and yet miss the spiritual application and benefit of it thus robbing ourselves of the benefit. As one man stated, "it is not sufficient to comprehend what it means. We must also experience what it means." (Erickson. P. 1108)
On the other hand we can pursue communion as a purely spiritual experience and miss it's blessing by not understanding the truth of it. We cannot experience the full spiritual benefit of communion without first comprehending it's true theological meaning. To try and obtain a spiritual experience without knowledge gives you first of all no assurance that your experience is valid and second of all opens you up to error and heresy.
Any spiritual experience must be built upon the foundation of true and accurate doctrine. We need both truth and experience. This is exactly what Jesus meant when he told the woman at the well (John 4) that true worshipers are those who worship the Lord in Spirit and in Truth.
So let's learn the truth about Communion as we prepare to partake of this Spiritual Meal.
Communion comes from Jesus
The value of the Lord's supper comes first from it's origin. It was described and initiated for our benefit by our Lord Himself. Matthew (26:26-29), Mark (14:22-25), Luke (22:17-20) and Paul (1 Corinthians 10:16; 11:23-25) all pass on the story of how Jesus began the commemoration of his impending death.
Many of the church rituals we hold in high esteem were created by men to help the church service flow. For instance, playing the organ prelude at the beginning of the service is done to help get our minds and hearts in the mode for worship. Other rituals we have like having a special music selection every week, or taking up the offering at the same time during the service. All of these are rituals without any scriptural call. God never said, "You must have a piano." But the communion is different. The celebration of communion was instituted by Our Lord Jesus Christ himself.
We are free to forgo special music, or even to skip a prelude but we are not free to ignore the Lord's supper.
Communion is meant to be repeated
Even though Jesus started communion, we are never told how often we are to partake of it, but it is undeniable that the Lord's supper is meant to be repeated with some degree of regularity.
It is Luke who includes Jesus' words, "do this in remembrance of me." but even before any of the gospels were written out Paul hinted to the Corinthians (ca 55 AD) that they should repeat the Lord's supper with a degree of regularity. 1 Corinthians 11:26 says, "for as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup'…"
The idea that the repetition of communion should continue until Jesus comes back certainly indicates that we should ourselves repeat the communion with some regularity. Now since Jesus instructed us to repeat it, the communion must have some applicational benefit to us. Look in your Bibles please to 1 Corinthians 11.
Communion helps us move away from sin and towards Holiness
(1 Corinthians 11:27-34) It causes us to eliminate sin in our lives through repentance and confession. The very fact of taking communion is intended by God to benefit us by motivating us to check our lives to see if we are harboring sin in our lives. If we check our hearts and we find sin there, than communion has done us a favor by helping us to eliminate that sin.
Communion proclaims the sacrifice of Christ
Backing up one verse, 1 Corinthians 11:26 says that as often as we take communion, we "proclaim the Lord's death." The elements of communion themselves serve as poignant reminders of the death of Jesus Christ. But it also serves to remind us of the reason and effect of his sacrifice. The reason Jesus had to die on that cross is because sin demands the death penalty. On the day God commanded Adam not to eat the forbidden fruit, he said: "On the day that you eat of it you shall die." Because God did not wish for us to pay that penalty he paid it for us on the cross.
So in this sense proclaiming the death of Jesus is a proclamation of the gospel. Whenever we take communion it clearly points back to the death of Jesus as the means of our salvation. For in the death of Christ our own death penalty was paid and we receive the righteousness of Christ by grace through faith.
Communion proclaims our own faith
By that token it also proclaims our own faith in that sacrifice as being sufficient to save. Every time we take communion we are re-enacting the gospel story and more than that by taking communion we are declaring that we believe in and accept the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on our behalf. In Matthew 10:32-33 Jesus said:
"Therefore everyone who confesses Me before men, I will also confess him before My Father who is in heaven. But whoever denies Me before men, I will also deny him before My Father who is in heaven." (Matthew 10:32-33 NASB)
Taking communion in this public setting in someway proclaims your trust in Jesus and so helps to assure our hearts of salvation.
Communion helps assure us of our salvation
It is clear enough that Communion is restricted to believers only. We're told in 1 Corinthians 11:28 that "a man must examine himself, and in so doing he is to eat of the bread and drink of the cup…." In that sense, communion affords us an opportunity to investigate our own heart. First it forces us to check our faith to see if it is real. Second it forces us to consider the true meaning of communion as a testimony to the sacrifice of Jesus.
If we were to take communion without meaning or accepting it than we are making a mockery of Christ. But as we take communion with faith in Christ it serves just the opposite to proclaim and reinforce our faith in Him.
Communion Helps us anticipate the return of Jesus.
Remember that Paul said we proclaim his death "until he comes". This not only helps us to know that God intends that we celebrate communion up until the return of Christ, but being reminded of the sacrifice of Christ also helps us look forward to the day when he will arise at his Father's bidding and come to bring us to himself. The very fact of communion looks forward to the return of Jesus. It is therefore a declaration not only of Jesus' death but also of his resurrection and his victory.
If communion proclaims the death, burial, resurrection and soon victory of Christ. And if our partaking in communion serves as a public decree that we are trusting in Jesus as our savior, than Communion serves to benefit us with assurance of our own salvation as well.
In just a few moments we will together join our hearts in the celebration of communion. Today, let the full benefits of taking the Lord's supper come to you. Let it challenge you to turn away from sin and confess it. Let it's proclamation of the death of Christ remind you of your own faith in Jesus – assuring you of your salvation. And let it serve to increase your eager anticipation of the coming return of Christ in victory.
Now, let's turn our hearts to celebrating the Lord's supper.