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The Lord’s Supper

February 5, 2008

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When partaking of the Lord’s Supper we must keep in mind that it is not an act of superstition. It is not a ritual to make us feel better about ourselves because we are supposedly carrying out proper religious-like behavior. There is not some magical benefit to it. It is not something that compels God to jump out off His throne and say “oh look how pious they are!” Nor is it to serve as a public statement that you “try to be a good person”.

The Lord’s Supper is not you-centered, but is awesomely Christ-centered.

First of all, it is very important to remember what Scripture teaches about the Lord’s Supper. It is for believers only. 1 Cor 10:16 says “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?”

The Lord’s Supper is for those who publicly believe they were intimately involved in the literal death and resurrection of Christ so they could be rescued from their sin and delivered from God’s wrath to come (Rom 10:9, 2 Cor 13:5). It is for those who rest assure they are friends with God, not enemies.

Secondly, unbelievers are heaping judgment upon themselves when they take the Lord’s Supper. Unbelievers may participate in this blessed tradition however, when they believe Jesus Christ was crushed for their sins instead of them. An unbeliever can rest assure they are a believer in Jesus Christ by way of genuine faith and a genuine change of life.

1 Cor 11:27-29 “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.”

Therefore, it should be the sobering responsibility of Church leaders to ensure that only believers are taking the Lord’s Supper.

Thirdly, the Roman Catholic Church teaches that the Lord’s Supper (Eucharist) is a re-presenting of Christ’s sacrifice by which Christ’s merits will be infused to those eating and drinking it.

Within the 22nd session of Trent, the 1st canon reads: “If anyone says that in the mass a true and real sacrifice is not offered to God (satisfying God’s wrath); or that to be offered is nothing else than that Christ is given to us to eat, let him be anathema.”

(The Church has changed its position on anathemas. They used to be judicial penalties until they became abolished in 1983. However, the Church still teaches that the Eucharist is a re-presentment of Christ’s sacrifice which may be ate and drank in order to appease God’s wrath. This teaching stands as forever unquestionable by the Church.)

Let’s also look at the Catholic Catechism in section 1367. It says that the sacrifice of the Mass is the same sacrifice as Christ: “The victim is one and the same: the same now offers through the ministry of priests, who then offered himself on the cross; only the manner of offering is different.” “And since in this divine sacrifice which is celebrated in the Mass, the same Christ who offered himself once in a bloody manner on the altar of the cross is contained and is offered in an un-bloody manner. . . this sacrifice is truly propitiatory.”

But if we are faithful to Scripture we can plainly understand that the Lord’s Supper is not a re-presentation of Christ’s once and for all sacrifice.

Roman Catholics will usually quote Mat 26:26-28 to try and prove their point.

It reads “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.”

However, Jesus’ blood had not yet been shed when He said “this is my blood of the new covenant”. Therefore, it makes no sense for Jesus’ disciples to be eating and drinking from a sacrifice which hadn’t yet been sacrificed! Heb 9:22 “without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.”

Some Catholics will argue this point and quote Rev 13:8 which says that “the Lamb was slain from the foundation of the world”. Thus, Jesus’ atonement was available to anyone at any point in history. But in fact, it’s only the NIV which says this. It’s a textual ambiguity. The better translation is found in the NASB and the ESV which reads that the names were written in the book from the foundation of the world.

But I’ll be the devil’s advocate and help the Catholic out and argue for them that Rom 3:25 could be used to make this same point. It reads, “in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished”. Even OT saints were saved by a future atonement which hadn’t yet happened.

But in addition, Mat 26:29 Jesus says, “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.” It makes no sense for 1. Jesus to be partaking of his own atonement, and 2. for saints who have passed the stage of purgatory and are now in a state of glorification in the full presence of the Lord to be still partaking of a sin-remitting sacrament! I’ve still never heard a good argument against this point.

Can Rome be mistaken about Jesus’ words?

Contrary to The Council of Trent and Roman Catholic teaching, the Lord’s Supper is not Christ’s actual body and blood, but symbolic of it. They couldn’t have been drinking blood of the new covenant because no blood was yet shed. There is no new covenant until the shedding of Christ’s blood. Hebrews 9:22 makes this very clear, “Indeed, under the law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins.”

Either Christ was lying when He said “this is my blood of the new covenant” (which He couldn’t have been, Heb 4:15) or He was speaking figuratively. During the communion with the disciples, Jesus was figuratively using the bread and wine to point towards His literal sacrifice which was soon to come. The disciples had broke bread and drank wine looking forward to Christ’s sacrifice (without yet fully realizing it). We do the same by looking back on Christ’s sacrifice. Christ’s body and blood represent both death and life. Death because His body had to be broken and His blood had to be shed in order for God to punish our sin in Christ instead of us, but also life because through this undeserved act sinners could have peace with God! So the body and blood point to both death and life, never just one or the other.

Lastly, some want to say that the Lord’s Supper includes a restoration of physical health. Yet, the Lord’s Supper is in reference to Christ’s atonement. No where in Scripture does it teach that Christ boar our sicknesses within the atonement. The atonement itself bridges the moral dilemma between lawless sinners and a righteous God. Physical illness isn’t a moral dilemma between God and man, it is a consequence of it.

Once the moral dilemma is bridged, however, there is a sufficient bases by which our illnesses may also be healed. This is only if God so wills it for us in this life time. But God can receive glory whether we’re healed or not.

In addition, if one should be miraculously healed of a disease, they ought to know they are still under the disease of death. All will die relatively soon in comparison to eternity. We should know all diseases, even the disease of death, will be done away with when we are resurrected with Christ on the Lord’s return. We must have faith and hope in this truth just as much as any other. Therefore, our faith is connected to the  hope of God’s unconditional promise to us, not our ability to want something bad enough.

Again, Scripture does not teach that the atonement includes our illnesses. Indeed, Isaiah 53:4 says “Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted.” It seems like this verse is referring to physical illness. Mat 8:16-17 would seem to confirm this by saying “When evening came, many who were demon-possessed were brought to him, and he drove out the spirits with a word and healed all the sick. This was to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet Isaiah: “He took up our infirmities and carried our diseases.”

Yet, Isaiah 53 begins by talking about Jesus’ life, not His atonement. Isaiah 53:2-3 reads “He grew up before him like a tender shoot, and like a root out of dry ground. He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering. Like one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not.”

In addition, Isaiah 53:4 is not referring to Jesus’ atonement but rather prophesying of Jesus’ life and earthly ministry. Jesus would heal the sick to testify of His divinity and carry people’s burdens to reveal His great compassion for those hurting. It’s not until verse 5 that Isaiah begins speaking of Christ’s atonement.

Isaiah 53:5 reads (more correctly) “and by His wound (singular) – or ‘chabburah’, we are healed”. The context is Christ receiving God’s wrath for us. Verse 10 reads, “It pleased Yahweh to crush Him”. The atonement did not consist of Roman soldiers beating God up. Rather, Jesus took upon Himself the dreadful blow of God’s eternal wrath so that sinners could be vicariously crushed through Christ and set free.

By definition, this is what is meant by the Greek word hilastarion, penal substitutionary atonement, the place of purging through wrath, in other words “The Mercy Seat”! The cross is the fulfillment of the mercy seat. It is where God’s wrath is fully vindicated in such a way so as to pardon rebels.

Peter even quotes Isaiah 53:5 in 1 Pet 2:24 and says “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by his wound (singular) you have been healed.” The Greek word ‘stripe’ or ‘wound’ is ‘molopi‘ and is singular also. Most Bibles have it in the plural, probably because the English reads more smoothly that way. But the original languages give us the fuller picture. Yet, the Bible version known as Young’s Literal Translation does have “bruise” it in the singular, just as the original Hebrew does!

The good news of the atonement is not that Christ’s “stripes” heal us of physical illnesses, but that the single stripe of God’s wrath upon Christ delivers us from the bondage of our lawlessness! We are saved from God, by God, and what a wonderful thing it is to be rescued from the wrath of God Almighty! This is why Jesus prayed in Mat 26:39 “if it is possible, let this cup pass from me”. The cup is biblical symbolism for wrath. That is also why Jesus sweat drops of blood in Luke 22:44. He did not dread Roman soldiers but God’s very own wrath! Jesus even taught His disciples not to fear what man can do to the body but fear God who can destroy both body and soul in hell forever.

It pleased Yahweh to crush Him, not because our physical illnesses were upon Him, but because our sin was placed upon Him. How horrible our sin is! It’s incomprehensible. The holy Trinity had to execute the second person of the Trinity, Jesus Christ, in our human form. Crucifixes were always instruments used to slaughter other men. But Jesus’ cross was the one time that God slaughtered the God-Man in order to set men free.

That is why verse 5 also says, “He was pierced for our transgressions and bruised for our iniquities… and by His wound (singular) we are healed.” “Transgressions” and “iniquities” are words used to describe sin and lawlessness, not physical illness.

Furthermore, within the context of the passage, to be “healed” means to be delivered. It can also refer to restoration or the national restoration of Israel. Given the context, and especially the Apostles interpretation, it would refer to being delivered out of sin. An honest exegesis of Isaiah 53 will help one see that this passage has been grossly misinterpreted. It is primarily referring to our sin problem with God, not our physical illnesses.

Isaiah 53:5 is usually touted “by Jesus’ stripes I’m healed. I’m healed of all my diseases! Even though I’m still sick, I refuse to admit otherwise!” This is Christian Scientology, The Secret, and Jedi Knight-ism. This is nothing more than a mixture of poor bible teaching and eastern mysticism which says that our beliefs form our reality apart from our present experiences. Suspension of reason or denial of one’s present circumstance is never taught to be a characteristic of true biblical faith. The strength of faith is not placed in the ability to will something in and of itself, but rather it is trusting Christ to be whom He claimed to be.

In doing so, Christ is pleased and may or may not heal us according to His sovereign good purposes-many of which will remain mysterious to us this side of eternity. And it is good that this is so, for God is creating a greater weight of glory that we are not to presently touch. Faith that does not heal can be just as strong as faith that does heal. Either way, our faith is not the healing factor. Christ is, and He does so according to His pleasure and timing. Whether or not we experience temporal healing before our deaths, all believers will certainly experience the full healing by our death! For it is then that we will soon be glorified unto imperishable bodies. “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” 1Corinthians 15:55, Hosea 13:14.

The healing of diseases does not flow directly out of the atonement and neither should it be said to flow out of the Lord’s Supper. How should one take communion then?

Here are 4 biblical things one can pray when partaking of the Lord’s Supper. These prayers are loosely taken from a commentary on ‘Luther’s Small Catechism’ which I happened to skim through one day at a used book store. It was then that the Lord’s Supper became more beautiful to me then ever before.

Let us remember that the gospel is not for the faint of heart. Our sin is ugly and so is the condemnation that was upon Christ instead of us.

“Lord, thank you that just as sure as this bread and wine touch my physical lips, so your physical body was crushed and your blood was poured instead of mine.”

“And Lord, thank you that just as sure as this physical bread and wine give me nourishment, so your Spirit gives eternal life to my soul.”

“And Lord, thank you that just as sure as this bread and wine satisfies my hunger and quenches my thirst, so the Lord Jesus Christ is the eternal solution to my heart’s eternal longing!”

“Finally Lord, thank you that just as sure as all of us believers are communing together now, we will forever do likewise at your table with you.”

Isaiah 25:6-9

“On this mountain the LORD Almighty will prepare
a feast of rich food for all peoples,
a banquet of aged wine—
the best of meats and the finest of wines.

On this mountain he will destroy
the shroud that enfolds all peoples,
the sheet that covers all nations;

he will swallow up death forever.
The Sovereign LORD will wipe away the tears
from all faces;
he will remove the disgrace of his people
from all the earth.
The LORD has spoken.

In that day they will say,
“Surely this is our God;
we trusted in him, and he saved us.
This is the LORD, we trusted in him;
let us rejoice and be glad in his salvation.”

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