The Lord Jesus charged His disciples to keep two ceremonial ordinances, not three, not seven, as some teach. The two ordinances are baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Baptism is the initiatory rite, taking place only one time in a Christian’s life. It is to be administered after conversion and is to be by immersion in water. The Lord’s Supper is the continuing rite and is to be observed at frequent intervals by the Lord’s people until Christ comes again.
Both ceremonial ordinances are important. They are not means of saving grace but are visible proclamations of the grace which saves. They are commands of Christ and must therefore be taken seriously.
If there is no saving efficacy in these two ceremonial ordinances, then what exactly is their purpose? Briefly stated: Baptism proclaims our identification with Christ in His death and resurrection and marks our entrance into membership of the local church. The Lord’s Supper is a continuing proclamation of the Lord’s death in visible form. Participation in the Lord’s Supper is a commemoration of His death and declares that it is only by His sacrificial offering made at the cross that we are saved.
Early on in our study of the Gospel of Matthew we saw the origination of baptism as the initiatory ordinance of the new covenant; now we will study the verses that show the institution of the continuing ordinance of the new covenant established by Christ Jesus, the Lord’s Supper.
I. The Context of It’s Institution (26)
The Lord’s Supper is a memorial meal that arose out of another memorial meal called the Passover. Matthew explains that the ceremonial ordinance for the new covenant began “as they were eating” (26). The meal they were eating was the Passover meal.
This is the second time that we have the words “as they were eating.” The first is found in verse 21. This is an expression that Matthew uses to mark off two important events that the Holy Spirit wanted us to remember which happened during the course of the last Passover meal Jesus had with His disciples.
1)The first is that during the Passover meal, Jesus declared that His betrayer would come from the group of men sitting with Him at the table. 2)The second is that during the Passover meal, Jesus would institute the meal that would end the old covenant and which would begin the new.
“The new rite Jesus institutes has links with redemption history” (Carson). Just as the people of Israel remembered their deliverance from Egypt by eating the paschal meal prescribed as a divine ordinance in the OT, so Messiah’s people will associate the redemptive death of Jesus by eating bread and drinking the fruit of the vine in memory of Him as instituted by His own authority.
The Passover meal was a memorial for a mighty deliverance . . .
But the Lord’s Supper outstrips it like the sun outshines a kerosene lamp! The bread we take in communion represents the body of our Lord which was sacrificed for us and the cup we drink represents the blood of our Lord which was poured out for the remission of our sins! No greater offering could be made than the one Jesus made. He gave His life as a ransom for many! Out of one redemptive memorial meal came another which replaces it. The Passover is no longer to be celebrated because there is another memorial meal which proclaims the greater deliverance wrought by the Son of God, Jesus Christ our Lord.
II. The Elements for It’s Celebration (26-28)
Many in the Christian community have made the ordinance of the church called the Lord’s Supper into a very elaborate ceremony. However, it is very clear from reading the account penned by Matthew, that originally the Lord’s Supper “was a very simple observance, though a very solemn one” (Morris).
The proper observance of the Lord’s Supper consists in taking two simple elements—bread and the “fruit of the vine” (as it is called in v. 29). The bread is to be eaten and the fruit of the vine is to be drunk. Jesus authorized no ornate liturgy for its observance.
The bread Jesus gave His disciples was unleavened bread. The Passover festival was also called “the feast of Unleavened Bread” (17). The Jews were commanded to cleanse the house of all leaven and to eat bread for this special meal that was made without leaven (Exodus 12:15). So when Jesus gave His disciple bread to eat, it most certainly would have been unleavened bread.
The use of unleavened bread in the Passover signified several things.
1)The main reason for having unleavened bread was because the Israelites who first observed it were leaving Egypt with urgency. They didn’t have time to let the bread rise and then bake. Exodus 12:11 says, “And thus you shall eat it [the Passover meal]: with a belt on your waist, your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand. So you shall eat it in haste. It is the Lord’s Passover.” 2)But leaven also signified evil. The use of leaven was strictly forbidden in all offerings made to the Lord by fire (Lev. 2:11; 7:12; 8:2; Nun. 6:15). Its secretly penetrating and diffusive power is referred to in 1 Cor 5:6.
The contents of the cup would have been wine. It is not called such in the text, rather it is referred to as the “fruit of the vine” (29). This, of course, means the fruit of the grape vine. There is much debate whether this was grape juice or fermented wine. A case can be made for either, but most likely, it was fermented wine diluted by water.
When we observe the Lord’s Supper it is not our purpose to recreate an exact replicable of the Upper Room and do everything just as Jesus did that night with His disciples. If attention is given to strict adherence to an unswerving pattern and/or formula in its observance, then we will have our attention focused on the wrong things.
But that does not mean we can substitute cookies and Kool Aid or potato chips and Coke for bread and fruit of the vine! I am sure there have been (and still are) cultures that have found bread and grape juice hard to come by.
ILLUS - Take the Eskimos as an example. I am sure that these things can be obtained by them now, but there would have been a time when they would not have had proper elements. Could they not, out of necessity, substitute something else [fish and water]?
But our generation is one that likes the new and the unusual and is likely to make substitutions for novelty sake. That ought not to be. Let us keep this ordinance in the simple manner in which Christ instituted it. He gave His disciple bread to eat and the fruit of the vine to drink.
III. The Focus of It’s Signification (26-28)
What is the meaning of the Lord’s Supper? What do the bread and wine signify? Nothing has been more controversial in the whole history of the church than the answer to these questions! A meal that ought to unite believers in the Lord Jesus Christ as been a major cause of much division.
The cause of the division concerns the interpretation of Jesus’ words when He instituted the Lord’s Supper. When Jesus took the bread and gave it to His disciple to eat, He said, “Take, eat; this is my body” (26). When He took the cup He said, “Drink from it, all of you. For this is my blood . . .” (27-28). The dispute is over how literally we are to interpret the words, “this is my body,” and “this is my blood.”
Several different interpretations have been set forth.
1. The Catholic view is that the bread and wine are the physical body and blood of Christ. Not that they start out that way, but through consecration by the priest they become the body and blood of Christ.
This doctrine is known as transubstantiation. The word means “Conversion of one substance into another.” It is made up of the prefix “trans” which means change, as in transform; and the word “substance,” which means the nature or essence of something.
Transubstantiation is “the doctrine whereby it is believed that the bread and wine of the Eucharist are transformed into the body and blood of Jesus, although their appearances remain the same.”
The Roman Catholic Church teaches that an actual metaphysical change takes place when the priests consecrates the bread and wine.
“The substance of the bread and wine—what they actually are—is changed into Christ’s flesh and blood respectively. . . what is changed is the substance, not the accidents. Thus the bread retains the shape, texture, and taste of bread. A chemical analysis would tell us that it is still bread. But what it essentially is has been changed. The whole of Christ is fully present within each of the particles of the host. All who participate in the Lord’s Supper, or the Holy Eucharist as it is termed, literally take the physical body and blood of Christ into themselves” (M. Erickson, Christian Theology, pp. 1115-16).
Let me illustrate by referring to a booklet for children published by the Catholic Book Publishing Company, written by Lawrence G. Lovasik, entitled, My Picture Missal, 1978 (a missal is a book containing the prayers and responses necessary for doing the Mass properly). On page 23, a picture is shown of the priest elevating the host (what they call the bread or wafer). The booklet says, “After changing the bread into the living body of Jesus, the priest shows the consecrated Bread to the people, places it on the paten [gold or silver plate], and genuflects in adoration.” The people are then instructed to “adore the Sacred Host and say, ‘My Lord and my God!’” On the next page (p. 24), a picture is shown of the priest elevating the wine. We are told that “the priest changes the wine into the living Blood of Jesus.”
After further prayers and responses the people come forward and take the bread and the wine. The priests says to each one before taking it, “the body of Christ,” and “the blood of Christ” (from another children’s book, The Mass for Children, by Jude Winkler, also published by the Catholic Book Publishing Company, 1990, p. 31).
Catholic’s refer to this as “the mystery of faith.” They believe that Christ is sacrificed again on the altar and that they take into their bodies His actual body and blood. Theysay that the bread and wine are the physical body and blood of Christ
2. The Lutheran view is that the bread and wine contain the physical body and blood of Christ. At the time of the Reformation, Martin Luther did not reject outright the Catholic conception that Christ’s body and blood are physically present in the elements (Erickson, p. 1117f).
What Luther denied was transubstantiation. He did not believe a metaphysical change took place in the bread and the wine. He did not believe that the molecules were changed into the body and blood of Christ. But he said the body and blood of Christ are present “in, with, and under” the bread and wine.
The term used to define this view (though not used by Luther himself) is consubstantiation. This is “the doctrine that the substance of the body and blood of Jesus coexists with the substance of the bread and wine in the Eucharist.”
Luther used the analogy of an iron bar which is heated in the fire to illustrate how he believed the presence of Christ was in the bread and wine. He said that the substance of the iron does not cease to exist when the substance of fire interpenetrates it, heating it to a high temperature (Babylonian Captivity, in Erickson).
There were other things that Luther also rejected about the Catholic view. He denied that the Lord’s Supper was a sacrifice. He did not believe that Jesus was being re-sacrificed on the altar. He also rejected sacerdotalism (the belief that priests act as mediators between God and man). He declared that the priests had no power to change the bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ.
3. The Evangelical view is that the bread and the wine represent the body and blood of Christ. The Lord’s Supper is a commemoration of Christ’s death. He is not physically present in the Lord’s Supper. We are reminded of His sacrifice at Calvary when we eat and drink at the Lord’s Supper.
The elements are symbolic, yet we do not say that receiving the Lord’s Supper is “merely symbolical,” as though there were no spiritual benefits in the partaking. No, on the contrary, our souls are fed and nourished in taking the bread and the wine because these reminders of Christ’s death are taken by the Holy Spirit and used to make Him more precious to us.
The symbolism conveys spiritual vitality to the soul. The Holy Spirit works in us greater love for our Savior who is represented in the bread and cup. “The Lord’s Supper, as an act of worship, is therefore a particularly fruitful opportunity for meeting with him [Christ]” (Erickson, p. 1122).
There is no question but that the Evangelical view is the correct one. The expressions, “this is my body,” and “this is my blood,” are to be taken symbolically, not literally. Let me give you a few reasons why.
1)The language can and ought to be taken figuratively like other metaphors in the NT referring to Christ. Jesus often used metaphorical language to speak of Himself. “I am the way, the truth, and the life.” “I am the vine, you are the branches.” “I am the good shepherd.” “I am the door.” “I am the bread of life.”
Imagine taking those expressions literally! At the Lord’s Supper He is speaking in the same way. When He holds bread in His hand and says, “This is my body,” He means “this represents/signifies my body.” When He holds the cup in His hand and says, “This is my blood,” He means “this represents/signifies my blood.”
There are various passages in the OT that have a similar meaning. “The three branches are three days” (Gen. 40:12). “The seven cows are seven years” (Gen. 41:26). “The ten horns are ten kings” (Dan. 7:24).
The NT has the same. “The field is the world” (Matt. 13:38). “The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands which you saw are the seven churches” (Rev. 1:20).
Jesus was speaking figuratively when He instituted the Lord’s Supper. The disciples perceived no change in the bread and wine. It was obviously symbolic to them.
2)To take a literal view creates an absurdity. How could Jesus be physically present in the Upper Room with His disciples and be the bread and wine at the same time? That would mean He was in two places physically at the same time!
In essence, the literal view is a denial of the incarnation of Christ. “If our Lord’s body could sit at a table, and at the same time be eaten by the disciples, it is perfectly clear that it was not a human body like our own” (Ryle). To believe that Jesus was a Man like we are (which is what the Bible teaches) requires us to deny the literal view.
The same absurdity exists in applying the literal view today as well. We are told in the Scriptures that the Man Christ Jesus is at the right hand of God interceding on our behalf. How could He then be physically present on an altar on earth? How could He be “in, with, and under” the elements if He is at the right hand of God?
There is no warrant for saying that the bread is the body and the wine is the blood in any material sense. They are really and literally what they appear to be—bread and wine!
3)To take a literal view is to make the Lord’s Supper a re-sacrifice of Christ. But Scriptures declare that Jesus died once as an offering for sins (Heb. 9:28; 10:12: etc.). Since the day He died at Calvary there has been no need for any other sacrifice. “Priests, altars, and sacrifices, all ceased to be necessary, when the Lamb of God offered up Himself” (Ryle).
So we take it that our Lord was speaking symbolically when He instituted the Lord’s Supper.
The bread represented His body soon to be sacrificed for sins. We are told in Luke 22:19 that it was “given” for us and Paul says in 1 Cor. 11:24 that it was “broken” for us (NKJV). This means Jesus was the sacrifice, His body was offered as the atonement for our sins. That is why Jesus became a Man in the first place! “We have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all” (Heb. 10:10). Our taking bread in communion sets our mind upon that day when Christ suffered in our stead! It helps us to envision Him who died in our stead.
The bread represented His blood soon to be poured out for sins. Jesus said, “This is my blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many for the remission of sins” (28). We are going to take the time to examine this more closely next week, but suffice it to say that that there is no redemption without the shedding of blood, and this Jesus did in order to set us free from sin. We are redeemed by the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without spot or blemish! The new covenant was inaugurated by the shedding of the blood of Christ.
How then should we regard the Lord’s Supper?
1.The Lord’s Supper is a time when we are drawn close to Christ by remembering the great sacrifice He made in order to redeem us. 2.It should be a spiritually rewarding experience, a time of worship, not because we adore the bread and the wine, but because we bow before the One who is represented in the bread and wine. 3.“It was intended to remind us, by the visible, tangible emblems of bread and wine, that the offering of Christ’s body and blood for us on the cross, is the only atonement for sin, and the life of a believer’s soul” (Ryle).
It seems that Christians everywhere have the tendency to misunderstand and pervert the ceremonial ordinances of the church. The things which are visible and tangible in our religion are exalted by many to the status of an idol. The emblems which are to be reminders to us of Christ death become sacraments which are thought to convey grace to the soul.
Let us beware of that tendency. We should not make less of the Lord’s Supper because others make a charm out of it, but we must be on guard that what Jesus intended to be a reminder to us, becomes our Savior.