Mark 14:22-25 “While they were eating, Jesus took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to his disciples, saying, ‘Take it; this is my body.’ Then he took the cup, gave thanks and offered it to them, and they all drank from it. ‘This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many,’ he said to them. ‘I tell you the truth, I will not drink again of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it anew in the kingdom of God.””
The Lord Jesus Christ instituted the Lord’s Supper during the Passover in the Upper Room, and Matthew, Mark and Luke all record the details, but it is interesting to note that there is no record of the event in John’s gospel. The apostle John was there at the Table but he makes no mention of it. The fourth gospel is considered to be the most considered and theological of all the gospels, but there is not one reference to the ordinance of the Lord’s Supper in all its 21 chapters. We have had this powerful sacramentalist movement in the professing church during the last 150 years, seeking to move the focus of our worship away from the Bible to the Table, but that movement has no support from the apostle John in either his gospel or his letters. It has become fashionable in new nonconformist churches for the pulpit to be put one side of the church while the Table to be set in the centre of the auditorium, but such a theology of worship would find no support from any of the Gospels. There are a mere four verses in the entirety of Mark’s gospel describing the Lord’s Supper, and again four verses in Matthew’s gospel of 28 chapters, and also four verses in Luke’s 24 chapters, and that is all. There is much preaching, and a great emphasis on praying, but most of all it is the person of the living Jesus Christ who is presented to us constantly in the gospels, and so it must always be when we meet together. The focus is not to be on a ceremony and a ritual; it is the presence of the living Saviour who is all in all, and anything that detracts from that must be resisted severely. Most of the letters of the New Testament, except the first letter of Paul to the Corinthians, have no reference to the Lord’s Supper. Think of the comprehensiveness of the letter to the Romans; there is a pretty full gospel in those sixteen chapters, but it contains not a mention of the Lord’s Supper. The Acts of the Apostles is full of preaching, and evangelism, and the baptisms of converts, but there few references – after the early chapters – to Holy Communion. So perhaps our own emphasis on a monthly communion just about reflects its significance in the New Testament. Certainly our emphasis on the infallible Word of God, which we have received from the Son of God himself, is a faithful reflection of true Christianity.
What we see in our text is the Lord Jesus Christ, our Prophet-Priest-King, introducing a new element into the Passover feast. I suppose he stood up and taking the cup in one hand and the bread in the other and saying to his disciples, “I’m instituting these signs as something new that will henceforth point to me; I want you to take such set-apart bread and wine from now on in remembrance of me.” In other words what we have is our Saviour creating a unique memorial for himself. He was saying, “I don’t want you to forget me; don’t put me out of your mind; remember me carefully, who I am and what I’ve done; don’t let your thoughts about me grow faint, and to help you do this I want you to continue breaking this bread and drinking this cup at a special church supper until I return.” Within hours he was going to be rubbished by the world. Men were going to utterly humiliate him. They were gong to whip him and strip him and crucify him. He was going to die in shame on Golgotha between two killers. Here he is asking that they always remember him and how he had died. “Don’t push my dying out of your minds,” he says.
You know that Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper not as a man amongst men. Members of the royal family have fountains and gates erected in their honour. They’ve had streets and states and waterfalls and ocean liners and mountains named after them. The Lord Jesus wants none of that. Death will rob the throne of its king. The assassin’s bullet will terminate a presidency, and the world will seek to keep his memory alive by a so-called ‘eternal flame’ or by giving an airport or a space-launching area his name. Despots ensure that each town in their countries erects a statue to themselves, and that photographs hang in every office and post office. Apart from that many people wouldn’t remember the names of their politicians or what they look like. But even death failed to extinguish the person or the work of the Lord Christ. The Lord’s Supper is not some feeble attempt on our part to keep Christ’s memory alive. The Lord’s Supper has been instituted by our Saviour as a rite of communion with the living Christ. He continues to meet with us and bless us in this special way.
What do we see in the institution of the Lord’s Supper? We see here,
1. THE LORD’S SUPPER IS A GOD-CENTRED FEAST.
The people of God in the Old Testament were surrounded by mighty nations whose rulers sought to perpetuate their own names for ever. They built huge tombs like the pyramids; their bodies were carefully embalmed and wrapped in cloth before being put in painted caskets. These men wanted to be known for ever. King Nebuchadnezzar looked at Babylon and said, “Is not this the great Babylon I have built as the royal residence, by my mighty power and for the glory of my majesty?” (Dan. 4:30). These absolute monarchs had the power of life and death, but they were terrified of dying. Would they be forgotten? Their only hopes of immortality lay in being kept alive in the memories of their people.
God the Creator chooses a nation and he gives Israel a huge liturgy of sacrifices and feasts and dress and buildings which are all to be kept meticulously. He binds the people to them. God creates such an elaborate memorial by which the world will remember the name of the Lord. He underlines its permanent inviolability by continually sending them prophets; he gives them his word that they may not forget him. That is the purpose of Israel’s busy, colourful, public worship for everyone to know that God’s name dwells there.
They would move slowly across the desert on their way to their future home in Canaan and they’d find a new place for their camp. At its centre they would place the tabernacle and they would call that spot, ‘the place where God will cause his name to be remembered.’ So when they saw the smoke rising from the altar as they were busy collecting wood in the desert they would think, “that is where God is causing his name to be remembered.” When they saw a neighbour taking a lamb to be sacrificed at the tabernacle they would think, “He is going to the place where God causes his name to be remembered.” Later on the temple was erected in Jerusalem and that had the same function, and even those altars built by the patriarchs and prophets were dedicated by God as a place which would be a memorial to his name. Who can read about Mount Carmel and the altar Elijah built there and the fire that fell from heaven and consumed the bull and the very water in the trench around the altar without thinking that Jehovah is the God who hears and answers prayer? He was the one living and true God, not the Baals. God creates a memorial in remembrance of his name.
In the Upper Room we see the New Covenant being installed and Jehovah Jesus has that same purpose in mind in instituting the Lord’s Supper. He is causing his name to be remembered for ever. It is not that the disciples talked together on that happy evening and said, “We must do this every year. Let’s get together like this at the Passover.” It is not that they suggested to Jesus that they would be able to remember him if he commenced a simple ceremony of bread and wine. No. They took no initiative in this whatsoever. He did this all by himself; it was his decision, and he did it for this reason, that his name, not theirs, would be remembered in perpetuity. “You are to remember me for ever and ever,” he is saying.
In the Old Testament there was a special commandment given to Abraham when circumcision was instituted. Also the Passover was also introduced at the express commandment of the Almighty, but neither of the New Testament ordinances were instituted by a voice from heaven. There had been voices from heaven speaking to Christ, but not in the Passover room. It was not needed. The institution was all his own, by his authority as God the Son. He could have said to underline its significance, “Verily, verily I say unto you break this bread and drink this cup” but he simply speaks with his own infallible certainty. He picks up bread from the table, and by blessing it he separates it from every other piece of bread in the world. He takes the wine from the table, gives thanks to God for it, and lifts it above all the liquors of the world. He is accepting bread and wine as a means which God will use until the end of the world to reveal Jesus his Son to his people.
How meagre seem the two ordinances of the New Testament compared to those of the Old. Basic food, and a bath! How unexciting! How weak! You can understand the thinking of Rome in wanting to pump them up, making the simple Supper a sacrifice where they offer again and again the Son of God to the Father. They elaborate the Supper into hour long masses with gorgeous costumes and choirs and orchestras and choreography and bells and carved altars and swinging censors full of incense. There were actually seven of these masses in Rome last week-end in the funeral of the Pope. But this simple broken bread and poured out wine speak of the incarnate Son of Man in his self-emptying weakness humbling himself to the death of the cross. That is all the salvation the world ever needs, all accomplished by Jesus only. It needs no approbation from costumes and choirs and magnificent buildings and elaborate liturgy. It was not in that way we were saved from hell. One little man dying alone in darkness on a cross saved us, and the simple bread and wine show this to every believer.
“Do this,” Jesus said and he instituted it in all its simple particularity. Now this creates a great moral dilemma. He puts himself in the centre of our gathering. We are to think about him, and never forget him whenever we meet, and that is not our decision. It is his will that we think of him. Is that idolatry? There is but one name in the world that may create a memorial for itself, and that is the holy name of God. Throughout the Old Testament the God – from whom are all things and to whom are all things – created an elaborate memorial for himself. He sounds a trumpet in Israel that Babylon and Egypt and Assyria and Greece and Rome may know that there is but one true and living God, and he has revealed himself in Israel. Salvation is of the Jews. Only the God of the Scriptures is without beginning. Only he can exist in and of himself. Only he is love and light. Only he can redeem and prepare sinners for heaven. The Lord is his name, and so all thoughts are to be directed towards him, and all praise is to be given to him. Let all that has life and breath remember him.
Our God is a jealous God; he is anxious for his own honour; he gives it to no man. He will not allow angels and men to gather and discuss and suggest some memorial for him. He does this himself. Jehovah Jesus sits there in their midst and he says, “Do this in remembrance of me.” And if he is not God then doing such a thing is satanic; it is the incarnation of godlessness for Jesus to do that if he is not God, to create a memorial for himself. The meal would be the food of dragons if he is not divine. Communion with Jesus Christ would be like fellowship with demons if he is not God incarnate. Our Saviour requires all mankind to remember him. There’s not a man or woman, boy or girl, who may forget him. To all the 6,000 million inhabitants of this planet Christ is saying, “Never forget me.” This is what he is instituting, and it is either right for him to do that, or it is utterly wrong. This is an issue of black and white. I insist that it is all or nothing; either he is the servant of God doing this or he is a rebel. “I want all mankind to become my disciples and honour and serve me, and whenever they gather together in every place they are to break bread and drink the cup to remember me.”
It is an action of incredible self-consciousness on Jesus’ part. It reflects an amazing personal faith that he is the Son of God, and that he is the only Saviour. Either he is right, and so we worship him as God, or he is a devil. There is no alternative. You notice that no lightning strikes Jesus when he says these words. He is not annihilated by God as an Antichrist, in fact three days later God raises him from the dead. God vindicates his beloved Son in whom he is well pleased. God exalts him to his right hand and gives him a name that is above every name.
The Lord Christ is here instituting a memorial in which he, the head of his people, holds communion with them and so sustains their relationship to God, of which relationship he alone is the Mediator. This is to be done until he comes again. Until the end of the world he meets with every Supper-celebrating congregation. But then on that last day he will rend the heavens and come again and all his holy angels with him, and he will set fire to the last Supper-table, and walk over its ashes to his Father as he gives up the kingdom into his Father’s hands, so that God may be all in all. So this Supper is only “Until he come.” That is why it is particularly the Lord’s Supper; it is not the Father’s Supper, and it is not the Holy Spirit’s Supper. It is the Supper of Christ our Mediator in which he, Jesus, is to be remembered. His name is the one we remember there. Later he institutes the ordinance of disciples’ baptism and there it is in the one name of Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Christ establishes a memorial for the name of the true Triune God in baptism.
Of course the Father’s blessing is on everything that Jesus does, and the Spirit too is compliant to all of this. Think of it! Christ has instituted something that unbreakably secures the Holy Spirit to it until the end of the world. Wherever two or three gather in the name of Christ and break bread together, the Holy Spirit will come and join himself to that feast. Think of that in a million gatherings today how joyfully the Spirit of Christ comes and strengthens the faith of all who eat and drink. He shows to them more clearly the dying love of the Saviour and draws them closer to God. The Lord Jesus from his throne above sends the Spirit to bless the ordinance which he has instituted. “Go to Aberystwyth, and work faith and love in the hearts of all my people as they gather round the table and break bread together.” The Holy Spirit comes here and to every other congregation which obeys the Saviour who says, “Do this in remembrance of me.”
What confidence the Lord Jesus has. This is the confidence of God. He dares to put his own broken body and poured out blood at the centre of the world’s attention, right under his Father’s eyes. He is saying, “Father I desire the Holy Spirit to work with this body and this blood until the tremendous day. I spread my brokenness before you and pray that this weakness will become the strength of all your people everywhere.” So we see in the Lord’s Supper Jesus Christ in his relationship with God.
2. THE LORD’S SUPPER POINTS TO JESUS CHRIST.
Remember that all that takes place in the Upper Room is during the Passover feast, and the first sight greeting our Saviour is the dead lamb before him. He is the Lamb of God who is about to take away the sin of the world. The divine Archetype is the host at the table and lying before him dead is his own ‘type’. Then Jesus removes the lamb from the table. It has done its duty and Jesus has given it full respect, but now its purpose is complete. A cultural tradition will live on for a few more years but the Passover is henceforth only a shell. Its life is over. Christ our Passover Lamb is to be slain for us. Then Christ lifts up the bread and blesses it and the wine too, and in that action the Old order passes away and the New order begins. No more judges and kings and priests and prophets; no more holy city and holy country; no more temple and feasts and Saturday Sabbath. Their purpose was strictly limited and has all been fulfilled; from now it is Christ Jesus the Lord.
Until Jesus was born every eye was looking forward to the seed of the women coming, to Abraham’s seed coming by whom the nations of the world would be blessed, to great David’s greater Son coming, to the suffering servant of Isaiah coming to bear our sins, to the coming of the Messiah. All the lambs slain were pointing forward to him the Lamb of God. Every eye, I say, was looking forward to his coming, but then from his coming onwards every eye would be looking back to him and his glorious achievements. There Jesus stands on the line between B.C. and A.D. all of history dated around him – and let the politically correct try to dismantle that! Now in the centre of the world’s time, now at the end of the beginning of God’s time Christ has come, and that is why Jesus removed the lamb and puts himself on the table, and put there the bread and wine. “I am the crowning climax of the Old Testament” he is saying, and he is the power of the New Covenant. The Passover Lamb was a mere thing. The costumes and ceremonies of the mass is mere stuff, and true religion cannot get its support from stuff. We need a living person, not stuff. We dare not go back to the shadows of the reality, to the badger-skins and the blood of calves, to the veil of the temple and a box made of shittim wood. The Son of God has died and risen and so we remember him only!
All roads do not lead to Rome. All roads lead to him! All the ways of the world meet in Christ. Here is focused the mockery of the pit. In Jerusalem the blood of a 100,000 lambs reeks the very heavens themselves. The true lamb of God has stood incognito in Jerusalem in the midst of all that slaughter and no one has noticed and so hell laughs. Everybody in Jerusalem was totally focused on the lambs, had they been killed right, and cooked right, and did they taste right, while he who was the absolute symbol of those lambs was passed by and hell chuckled in delight. The hundreds of priests and Levites checked the lambs that they were the right age, and without blemish and tender. It was all utterly superficial. They had no idea of what they were doing. They couldn’t see they were examining the type while longing for the great promised antitype to make his appearance. Here he is now in Jerusalem the holy, harmless, undefiled, spotless innocent Lamb of God, but no one sees him. There are so many lambs they can’t see the Lamb.
So Christ stands and he says, “This is my body; this is my bread, take, eat, do it in remembrance of me.” If all the world is ignoring him he will still speak out. He will force himself on the attention of his disciples. This is his right. So we see here Jesus Christ in relationship to himself. Then we see something else;
3. THE LORD’S SUPPER ADDRESSES THE WORLD.
The Lord’s Supper did not take place in a cave on a lonely mountain in Galilee. It did not take place in a ravine by the Dead Sea. It took place in the upstairs room of a home in Jerusalem. We believe we know the identity of the woman in whose house it happened, Mary the mother of Mark. In other words this holy meal was not like the gatherings of the mystery religions, with blindfolded initiates going down stairs into a cellar into total darkness and hearing strange sounds and being coated with blood. There is nothing like that here. Everyone in the room sees exactly what is happening. Judas can see; servants coming in and out with water and clean plates can listen to whatever Jesus is saying. His actions are all open and above board. Three gospel writers describe what he said for all the world to read. Only once did he take the Supper, and then he handed it over to his disciples for them to take and distribute to others. This wasn’t done in a corner. Jesus explains what he is doing. The broken bread is a symbol of his broken body and the poured out wine a symbol of his poured out blood, and this is what we remember – the cost of our redemption. This Supper is not a sacrifice; Jesus did not say, “Sacrifice this”, he said, “Do it.” This is a breaking of bread; the church has not been asked to repeat Jesus’ sacrifice.
“Once, only once, and once for all
His precious life He gave;
Before the Cross in faith we fall,
And own Him strong to save.
One offering, single and complete,
With lips and hearts we say;
And what he never can repeat
He shows forth day by day” (William Bright, 1824-1901)
It is exactly because the Lord’s Supper was so public that it affects the world. The world today worships men, sportsmen, media people, singers and Hollywood stars. In Christ’s time it also worshipped men. Roman Caesars allowed themselves to be worshipped as gods. They were considered divine mediators. The very coinage of the Roman Empire was inscribed with the image of the Caesar who was then in power and his divine titles of Lord and God were written. The world heard King Herod speak as he was dressed in sumptuous clothes and they cried, “The voice of a god, and not of a man.” That was a common response of flattering peasants who wanted money from their kings.
The apostle Thomas falls before Christ and says to him, “My Lord and my God.” He used the same title the world used of Caesar but Thomas was ascribing divinity to the Lord Jesus. So at the Supper again Christ introduces into the world a new concept of kingship. The world had never seen a king like this. Their kings were adorned with splendid garments because they were divine; they had to be strong and beautiful. Here is Christ from Nazareth, a one horse village on a dry and dusty hillside. He comes from a carpenter’s home. Soon he’ll be arrested and blindfolded and beaten up and spat on and whipped. A mob will bay for his blood; he will be crucified and taken down and buried in a borrowed grave. But he knows that he is King. He requests that a memorial be created for him by his people. Nero will have no memorial save that which Hollywood’s tinseltown provides, but Christ will have one. “Do this,” he tells them. “If you love me keep my commandments.” He doesn’t make a sort suggestion to them. They have no options in this matter. “Do this!” says the King. “Remember me in my brokenness. That is the symbol of my reign.”
You understand that he doesn’t warn them about making too much of his sufferings. He doesn’t say to them that if they do carve a memorial cross to be sure they carve a crown at the top of it, or if they are going to make a Christian flag to be sure that a wreath of victory is there at the centre. Though he knows that soon he will be back with his Father and the gates of heaven, even the everlasting doors, will be flung open for the King of Glory to enter in and he’ll take his position in the midst of the throne, the head over all things to the church – still he accepts the way there is via Golgotha. “Remember my broken body. Never forget my poured out blood,” he says. “Keep this at the heart of your message to the world for ever.”
The world loves power and fame and money, and it is fascinated with all who have power and fame and money, but Christ is holding before us another kind of kingly rule. Here is a king who did not come to be served but to serve. He is a king who patiently teaches and instructs his servants, who kneels and washes the feet of his disciples, who lays down his own life that they might live. He shows that in being broken and crushed and abandoned he delivers and saves his own people. “O world,” the Lord’s Supper cries, “O world, behold true greatness.”
So Christ initiates this ordinance of brokenness and far from putting it in the hands of a priestly class of celibates he puts it in the hands of Galilean fishermen, and that simple decision will influence the whole world. This message displayed in the Supper is preached and explained to mankind
4. THE LORD’S SUPPER ADDRESSES THE CHURCH.
“Eat!” he says to us. “Drink!” he commands. Eating and drinking are the actions of living people. The funeral director doesn’t say “Eat!” to the bodies he is preparing for burial. The object of eating and drinking is to be strengthened and refreshed, and that is the aim of the Lord’s Supper, and those who take the bread and wine are lively holy Christians. The Supper prepares us to live as those disciples of Jesus should live in tough times as well as on mountain tops.
You will remember that Jesus was crucified under Pontius Pilate, in other words, he was officially put to death as a criminal, condemned by Roman law, and yet here Jesus is drawing us into his life and death, to celebrate him and remember him, never, never forgetting him, in fact to proclaim this criminal’s death until he comes again. Do not spectate, participate, even though this Holy Supper was a violation of Roman law. By celebrating him they were acknowledging that a condemned criminal is the Lord, not Caesar, nor anyone else, but the Saviour, Jesus Christ. The Lord’s Supper draws us into communion with the sufferings of Christ. The Lord’s Supper makes the church a martyred church.
The Lord Jesus knows what he is doing. He comes here to our little town with his bread and wine and seeks for his disciples here. He sends out his fishers of men; he gives his great commission; he sent humble shopkeepers into Antioch, and traders in purple dye into Philippi, and wherever they went and established a fellowship of believers the bread was available and the wine could be obtained. Jerusalem is no longer the holy city; the temple is no longer the holy building; the altar is no longer needed, and this table is not static. Jesus didn’t say that people would have to make a pilgrimage to this special table in the Upper Room in Jerusalem from this time onwards. No, it was just any table – even a Formica topped table, or a plank resting on some breeze blocks – holding ordinary bread and ordinary wine that had been set apart to the Lord for this ordinance in order to remember him.
In the Old Testament there were just a few altars and one great Temple where God prepared a memorial for himself, but today we have a portable table, a movable feast, bread that can be baked anywhere. You couldn’t build altars in the catacombs of Rome but you could set up a table in a catacomb with bread and wine on it. That is the blessing that God has given to the church in the institution of the Lord’s Supper. Today in prisons all over the world the suffering church meets around the word and in prayer and then at this table. There they proclaim the Lord’s death saying his work of redemption is finished.
In the Old Testament heaven was never satisfied with the amount of lambs’ blood that was shed. You shed some yesterday? Then you shed more today, and you’ll shed some more tomorrow, every day shedding blood, gallons and gallons of blood, saturating the earth, soaking the clothes of the priests, reeking the heavens with the blood offered day by day and almost hour by hour. The earth couldn’t get enough of it, and even the heavens couldn’t get their fill.
Today heaven is satisfied! Jesus has once and for all shed his blood and made full redemption. It is finished!
“Finished all the types and shadows of the ceremonial law,
Finished what our God has promised, death and hell no more shall awe.
It is finished! It is finished!
Saints from hence your comfort draw” (Jonathan Evans, 1748-1809)
Heaven looks on Christ and says, “Enough!” Jesus chooses bread – that which has no blood – and wine – wine too has no blood in it. He takes bloodless symbols as his signs. No more scapegoats wandering around in the heat of the desert, parched, tongues hanging out, longing for water or death, and collapsing in pain. It is finished! By the shedding of his blood once and for all those flooding streams of blood are turned off never to be opened again. Jesus takes ordinary food and drink and he says, “You see that the pain has all been fulfilled, and now at my table I give myself to you to sit down and hold communion with you, and assure you of my love for you. All your sins are forgiven sins. Take and eat with me and remember me.”
So as our Lord took a cup of wine in his hand, and he knew what it stood for. Did he think that soon that cup wouldn’t be big enough to hold all the blood that would come from his head and hands and feet and back and side? And in the poured-out wine and in the broken bread he could see himself bleeding in the Garden, bleeding under the lash, bleeding on the cross, his body broken under the weight of our guilt and the judgment of a sin-hating God.
Yet though these two events were so close, the symbol and the reality, yet they were distant enough for him to explain the one in the light of the other. “This bread is my body soon to be broken for you; this wine is my blood soon to be poured out for you.” What anguish was symbolised there, yet so dearly, dearly did he love his own that he could speak of the sacredness to them, and he could command them as their King to always do this until the end, and as their Priest pray that the Spirit would help them so to do until the end.
So we celebrate the Holy Supper. It is ancient and it is utterly contemporary. It blesses the poorest and it crushes the proudest. Schilder says that “it represents love and wrath, tenderness and force.” What darkness we would be in unless the Son of God had made the meaning of his terrible dying clear to us, yet we can live without light. We could live without warmth. We could live without friends. We could live without sleep, but we could not live without Jesus, and there is now no need.
17th April 2005 GEOFF THOMAS