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Can We Talk About The Lord’s Supper?
I ask us to reexamine our traditions concerning the Lord’s Supper.

Plan not Improv

Celebrating the Lord’s Supper is part of God’s plan from eternity for the Church, foreordained by God, to celebrate the Lord Jesus Christ in the manner of His own choosing. We know this, but how often have we thought about it, much less grasped its import for our practice? It is good to establish this as a true statement. It is good to hold this doctrine firmly in our minds.

First, we have already established the doctrine that God has eternal purposes in the chapter titled “God Planned”. There we saw that He planned salvation before the creation of the world, and this is called His “determinate counsel and foreknowledge”. Peter used this phrase when he spoke to the people gathered in Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost in Acts Chapter Two. Speaking of Christ he said,

Him, being delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, ye have taken, and by wicked hands have crucified and slain: (Acts 2:23)

Peter said the same thing in his first Epistle, we learn how Christ planned in eternity past to win our salvation,

But with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot: Who verily was foreordained before the foundation of the world, but was manifest in these last times for you, (1 Peter 1:19-20)

The Apostle John makes an indirect reference to Jesus and God’s plan in a different context. In this passage he tells how those on earth shall worship the beast. But the fact is brought out that Jesus is the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world:

And all that dwell upon the earth shall worship him, whose names are not written in the book of life of the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world. (Revelation 13:8)

This idea of God planning before creation is also mentioned by Paul when he says,

But we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, even the hidden wisdom, which God ordained before the world unto our glory: Which none of the princes of this world knew: for had they known it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. But as it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him. (1 Corinthians 2:7-9)

“A mystery”, “hidden wisdom”, “ordained before the world”: all applied to the Lord Jesus Christ and Him crucified.

This should refresh in our thoughts that God has planned, and is fulfilling His plan, and that it is a dominant theme throughout the New Testament. And holding this doctrine fast we now move on to establish that the Lord’s Supper is a part of that plan.

This chapter is titled “Plan not Improv”, because too often the Lord’s Supper is treated by the value and place we give it as though it were an improvisation rather than a part of God’s determinate counsel, designed to focus the Church’s worship on Christ and Him crucified, and to provide the substance of our witness in worship.

Jesus often said that the Scriptures must be fulfilled. The things He did were planned by God. Psalms 40 is quoted in Hebrews 10:7, and there we read of the Lord saying:

Then said I, Lo, I come (in the volume of the book it is written of me,) to do thy will, O God.

“In the volume of the book”, the Scriptures, the Bible, it is written of Him, Jesus. As was noted in other places, the volume of the book was written in God’s determinate counsel and foreknowledge, and, Jesus is the author and finisher of our faith (Hebrews 12.2). We have read in Luke’s Gospel that Jesus made this plain,

And beginning at Moses and all the prophets, he expounded unto them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself. (Luke 24:27)

Then He gave us the Great Commission through the Apostles,

Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen. (Matthew 28:19-20)

Our commission is to be a witness, in word and in deed, to our redemption in Jesus Christ. Peter puts it into perspective for us:

Forasmuch as ye know that ye were not redeemed with corruptible things, as silver and gold, from your vain conversation received by tradition from your fathers; But with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot: Who verily was foreordained before the foundation of the world, but was manifest in these last times for you, Who by him do believe in God, that raised him up from the dead, and gave him glory; that your faith and hope might be in God. (1 Peter 1:18-21)

We know that God has planned these things in eternity, having purposes that He is now fulfilling. Jesus, the Creator God, called Counselor in Isaiah (consider this in the light of the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God), fulfilled that plan. It’s very important to state that that doesn’t prove that the Lord’s Supper is also part of His determinate counsel. But it gives us such decent reason to believe that it must well have been, that when we think about it, it seems unreasonable to think that the Lord’s Supper is not a part of that plan. The question is, are we not only convinced that the Lord’s Supper is God’s plan, but are we also strongly moved by this idea? Let’s ask a rhetorical question. Does anyone think it was an improvisation, a sudden brilliant idea presented at the Last Supper? Or who can suppose that when Jesus said, “This do”, what He meant was, "“If you want to, or whenever you want to, but only if you want to and think its a good idea, you can take bread and wine and use it to picture me. You don’t have to, but I think it would be nice if you did.” Who can imagine that Jesus was extemporizing at that last Passover supper, If we think about it we reject the thought completely. I don’t believe that anybody thinks so, especially if it’s proposed to them in that way. When we think about it at all, we have to admit that it definitely must be part of God’s eternal plan. But on the other hand how often do we think about the fact that it is an element of the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God concerning the Lord Jesus Christ. If we do think about it in terms of the eternal purposes of God it must affect our practices; it must have a tremendous impact on our thinking about it, and on our practice. The value and place we give it must befit such eternal planning by God.

But let’s look at this more. We know that Jesus is the “Lamb slain from the foundation of the world”, we know the Gospel is God’s “determinate counsel and foreknowledge (Acts 2:23), planned in eternity, and we know that all things concerning the Christ were foreordained before the foundation of the world, and prophesied in Scriptures. To apply this idea to the Lord’s Supper let’s first look at one major aspect of what The Lord’s Supper is: a celebratory declaration of the the Gospel.

The Gospel declaration, or Christian Kergyma (a message intended to have an effect: preaching) as some call it, is our Great Commission from the Lord Himself. We know that it is God’s plan that the Church have a part in unfolding His salvation to the world, even through the “foolishness of preaching” as Paul once said of it,

For after that in the wisdom of God the world by wisdom knew not God, it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe. (1 Corinthians 1:21)

One way we preach the Gospel, is by celebrating the Lord’s Supper. Think about it, declaring the Gospel is to tell how that Jesus died on the cross for our sins, according to the Scriptures, and how that He was buried and rose again on the third day, according to the Scriptures, as written in 1 Corinthians 15:3-4. What is it we do at the Lord’s Supper but declare the very same thing in a different way. Paul wrote,

For as often as ye eat this bread and drink this cup, ye do shew the Lord’s death til he come. (1 Corinthians 11:26)

That little King James word, shew is a translation of the Greek word, kataggellete. Thayer gives it a range of meaning including to announce, declare, publish, and proclaim publicly. And because it is in the second person it was translated by the KJV as “you do shew”, the sense of the phrase is that this is something all of you are doing by the eating of the bread, and the drinking of the cup. As often then, which should be often not seldom as some read this, as often as we celebrate the Lord in this bread and cup we declare, proclaim His death, burial, resurrection, and imminent return! We declare His faithfulness and salvation! Another word is useful: celebrate. To celebrate something is to make it famous, well known, and joyfully so. We declare and proclaim Jesus Christ, and Him crucified, joyfully to all, we celebrate the Lord before the watching world, before watching principalities and powers, before the watching Father, we give Jesus the preeminence that is His by right.

When we do this we imitate our Lord who said of Himself,

I have not hid thy righteousness within my heart; I have declared thy faithfulness and thy salvation: I have not concealed thy lovingkindness and thy truth from the great congregation. (Psalms 40:10)

We also, declare His righteousness, His faithfulness, His salvation, His lovingkindness, and His truth. Whether through preaching, or acts of Christian love, or the Lord’s Supper. “… I have declared thy faithfulness and thy salvation …” (Psalms 40:10). We must be imitators of our Lord. As we celebrate Him in the breaking of bread we declare His faithfulness and salvation, we, “… shew the Lord’s death till he come.” So we see that this a part of what the Lord’s Supper is.

It was according to God’s determinate counsel and foreknowledge that the Lord Jesus Christ was delivered up to death on the cross. Therefore Jesus is called the “Lamb slain from before the foundation of world”. Both the Passover as a type, and the Lord’s Supper as the celebration, speak of Jesus and that eternal plan. The Passover, is a prophecy of the salvation provided by Christ. The Lord’s Supper, is the celebration of the fulfillment of that prophecy. Just as the cross was not an improvisation to counter unexpected sin, neither did the Lord extemporize in the first Passover, nor in that upper room at that last Passover when He broke the bread and passed the cup saying, “This do”.

Remember He said, “with desire have I desired to eat this supper with you” (Luke 22:15). It is apparent from this passage that Jesus had foreknowledge of this supper, witness the context:

Then came the day of unleavened bread, when the passover must be killed. And he sent Peter and John, saying, Go and prepare us the passover, that we may eat. And they said unto him, Where wilt thou that we prepare? And he said unto them, Behold, when ye are entered into the city, there shall a man meet you, bearing a pitcher of water; follow him into the house where he entereth in. And ye shall say unto the goodman of the house, The Master saith unto thee, Where is the guestchamber, where I shall eat the passover with my disciples? And he shall shew you a large upper room furnished: there make ready. And they went, and found as he had said unto them: and they made ready the passover. (Luke 22:7-13)

We see the plan of the Lord unfold: The disciples ask “where?” Jesus tells them what to do and what will happen, they will meet a man carrying a pitcher of water somewhere in the city …  then when all was ready, “when the hour had come” (Luke 22:14), He says, “with desire have I desired to eat this supper with you”. He has been anticipating this supper with desire, looking forward to it. And it is at this eternally planned supper, which He with desire had desired to eat, that He gave us the Breaking of Bread with which to remember Himself. From before the foundation of the world, before creation, in eternity, God planned and then enacted His plan. And here is a part of it: the Lord’s Supper is presented to the Church by the Lord Himself in the upper room. He who is above all, He in whom all things are to be gathered in one, Jesus, gave this thing called the Breaking of Bread to us, to celebrate Himself.

He said, this is my body, and this is my blood shed for you: Do this to remember me! He set a memorial in our midst, not a monument of stones, but a monumental yet simple feast, and our celebration of this is a memorial to Him until He returns. This breaking of bread and passing of the cup is our declaration of His faithfulness and His salvation and His lovingkindness towards us proved on the Cross in His own body, shedding His blood, laying down His life to reconcile us to God. This is what he gave to us, the Church, to declare it and to say Amen to it, before all the world, before the “great congregation” (Psalms 40:10), before “principalities and powers in heavenly places” (Ephesians 3:10); yes, the Lord has given us, the Church, a role in His eternal purposes:

To the intent that now unto the principalities and powers in heavenly places might be known by the church the manifold wisdom of God, (Ephesians 3:10)

He said, “… this do …”, at the culmination of the Passover supper! There He broke that bread and passed it, and then passed the cup. And now as we do likewise in our worship services it is one way we are making known the “manifold wisdom of God”. It is a way He planned for us to do, it is His work.

The worship of the Church is to center on Jesus, He is the subject and object of our worship. Jesus is the only subject and the only object of our worship. The Father is worshiped through our worship of Jesus. When we gather for congregational worship, it is altogether to be about Him, not us. And for this purpose Jesus Himself gave us this simple feast. This is why He instituted the breaking of bread at that last Passover supper. This is an act of His own choosing, it is not something which we have invented, not an after thought, not an incidental event. Before that supper He said to the disciples, “with desire have I desired to eat this supper with you.” His anticipation was keen for several reasons. One of them was that there He would give to us, the Church, this thing we call the Lord’s Supper, that we might have a means to celebrate Him as He wishes us to, in the way that He planned we should.

Shall we say that God planned salvation but did not provide that it should be made known and remembered and celebrated? But we know that He did, and that He even commanded us to make it known, and to celebrate it. It is in this sense the work of God, part of His plan for the Church from the beginning that we should remember and proclaim His Son. So that just as the Lord Jesus Christ did not conceal, “thy lovingkindness and thy truth from the great congregation”, so we also must not conceal but declare and celebrate His lovingkindness and His truth to the great congregation. Doesn’t this desire of the Lord that we remember Him comport with what we read in Psalms:

Bless the LORD, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits: (Psalms 103:2)

Remembered and celebrated. Paul gives remembrance special significance in relation to the Gospel,

Moreover, brethren, I declare unto you the gospel which I preached unto you, which also ye have received, and wherein ye stand; By which also ye are saved, if ye keep in memory what I preached unto you, unless ye have believed in vain. (1 Corinthians 15:1-2)

Remembrance is important, we must remember the Gospel, Paul emphasizes remembrance in relation to the Lord’s Supper,

For I have received of the Lord that which also I delivered unto you, That the Lord Jesus the same night in which he was betrayed took bread: And when he had given thanks, he brake it, and said, Take, eat: this is my body, which is broken for you: this do in remembrance of me. After the same manner also he took the cup, when he had supped, saying, This cup is the new testament in my blood: this do ye, as oft as ye drink it, in remembrance of me. For as often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do shew the Lord’s death till he come. (1 Corinthians 11:23-26)

And note the linkage to the Gospel: we “shew the Lord’s death till He come.” And we are to remember it always. This is the very Gospel by which we are saved:

For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures (1 Corinthians 15:3-4)

Keeping the Gospel in our memory is woven into the fabric of our salvation with remembrance of the Lord Himself, keep in mind that it is the Lord whom we celebrate, Him alone. But we are celebrating Him just as the Heavenly congregation, as shown in Revelations, does:

And I beheld, and I heard the voice of many angels round about the throne and the beasts and the elders: and the number of them was ten thousand times ten thousand, and thousands of thousands; Saying with a loud voice, Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power, and riches, and wisdom, and strength, and honour, and glory, and blessing. And every creature which is in heaven, and on the earth, and under the earth, and such as are in the sea, and all that are in them, heard I saying, Blessing, and honour, and glory, and power, be unto him that sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb for ever and ever. And the four beasts said, Amen. And the four and twenty elders fell down and worshipped him that liveth for ever and ever. (Revelation 5:11-14)

“Worthy is the Lamb that was slain …”, Jesus is the “Lamb slain from the foundation of the world.” (Revelations 13.8b) He is called the Lamb in reference to the Passover lamb. In celebrating the Lord by means of celebrating the Lord’s Supper we are celebrating both Who He is and what He has done: He has fulfilled the prophecy of the Passover. The Lord’s Supper is cognate to the Gospel. Paul says all of us shew, all of us declare or proclaim or preach (Greek: kataggellete) the thing, by eating and drinking at the Lord’s Supper, we as it were, both preach the Gospel and claim our own salvation through it. The message, or unique Christian Kergyma, is: Christ has died. Christ has risen. Christ will return. We declare Christ’s death until He returns by eating and drinking at the Lord’s Supper. We declare that Jesus died on the cross for our sins, was buried, and rose again, to return in the fullness of time, when we preach the Gospel. We declare that we are identified with Him in death, that we are made one with Him, and identified with Him raised to new life when we are Baptized.

Paul said that his Gospel was “according to the Scriptures”. That is important because we must see the Lord as He is, not as we may imagine Him to be. When we celebrate Him we must celebrate Him as He wishes us to. There,

… we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels for the suffering of death, crowned with glory and honour; that he by the grace of God should taste death for every man. (Hebrews 2:9)

This is exactly the vision of Jesus that we are given in the Lord’s Supper. Though we may disagree with much of Roman Catholic doctrine, some things they teach about the Lord’s Supper are true, and we may learn from them. They tell us that the Lord’s Supper is not made in our image (or by us). They teach that God has predisposed the details of worship concerning His Son, and that Jesus confirmed this in the cleansing of the Temple and other acts. And they teach that He predisposed the details of the Lord’s Supper to the disciples at the Last Supper. Therefore the Lord’s Supper is sacred and divine because instituted by the Lord Himself; nothing must be preferred to this heavenly liturgy; God has established how He will be worshiped; He has this right.

The conclusion to all this is that the Lord’s Supper itself is part of God’s eternal plan, intended to speak simply and elegantly of Jesus Christ according to the Scriptures. In its celebration, Jesus indeed is given the preeminence that is rightly His. Also it testifies of Him in the way He chose to be remembered. Therefore its place in congregational worship is to be the central organizing and mediating element; it cannot be replaced by any thing of human invention. What is more, because the Lord’s Supper is a figure of the holy, The Lord Jesus Christ and Him crucified, it takes on the character of the sacred and the holy (witness Paul’s warning). And it lends that character of the sacred and the holy to the entire assembly gathered around it.

Given these things about the Lord’s Supper, we must always remember that it is not the thing itself. It is the Lord Himself that is the true center. We worship Him with or without the Lord’s Supper. But He gave it to us. To honor Him means that we do as He said concerning it. However, it must not become a ritual that has its own self important existence for us. It must be a servant pointing us to the Lord Himself. Jesus and Jesus alone must have the preeminence in all things, including our worship. Think about this: Just as God hid the body of Moses so it wouldn’t become an object of worship, and just as we don’t have the original autographs of Scripture, neither do we have the Cross, nor other relics of the Lord. The point is that God is a jealous God and He will not share His glory with anyone or anything. So we have to keep the Lord’s Supper in proper perspective. God will not have a ritual to be our center instead of His beloved Son Jesus. We must not make too much of it, we must use it, to make much of Jesus.

But on the other hand if we are not to make too little of the Lord’s Supper, by way of a summary, we must conclude that:

By this the Lord may truly have preeminence among us in our worship, for how can we forget Him when we have those elements before us and have said, “behold His body and His blood”. And when we say “Amen” to this, how can we have any other subject than Himself in that meeting. And this is just what I believe is His intention when He planned this thing in eternity.

Now then, what do you conclude? If you agree, will this affect your manner of worship? If it is truly the work of God, what shall we prefer to it? Or what shall we replace it with? What work of our own? None. The Lord’s Supper is a thing separate in itself and stands apart from all liturgy devised by us, it is not identical with any liturgy. It has its own place outside of any liturgy because it is prior to all liturgy. We say it is prior to all liturgy because the Gospel of Jesus Christ was the mystery of God hidden from before the foundation of the world. And that the Lord’s Supper is a part of this. If you think that this is God’s work, what will you do with it?

©FH 2012

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