Summary: In our lesson today we learn that the central focus of the Lord's Supper is the remembrance and proclamation of Christ's saving work.
We continue our study in The First Letter of Paul to the Corinthians in a series I am calling Challenges Christians Face.
One of the challenges that Christians face is the issue of proper Christian worship. Let’s learn about that in a message I am calling, “Institution of the Lord’s Supper.”
Let’s read 1 Corinthians 11:23-26:
23 For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, 24 and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, “This is my body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” 25 In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” 26 For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes. (1 Corinthians 11:23-26)
Question 93 of the Westminster Shorter Catechism asks, “What are the sacraments of the New Testament?” The answer is: “The sacraments of the New Testament are baptism and the Lord’s Supper.”
Jesus instituted these two New Testament sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper (which is also called communion). He did that by example and also by instruction.
However, Jesus did not make up something completely new. He was continuing the two Old Testament sacraments of circumcision and the Passover. He simply transformed them from Old Testament sacraments into New Testament sacraments.
The Old Testament sacrament of circumcision signified entrance into the covenant community of God’s people. God called Abram into a covenant relationship with himself, and told him that he and all his offspring must be circumcised as a sign of the covenant (cf. Genesis 17:9-14). Abraham and all of his male descendents were circumcised as a sign of their entrance into the covenant community of God’s people. Centuries later, Jesus himself was circumcised on the eighth day (Luke 2:21), thereby signifying his entrance into the covenant community of God’s people.
When Jesus was about 30 years old, he started his public ministry. Just before he started his public ministry, however, he went to his cousin, John the Baptist, to be baptized by him (Matthew 3:13-17). After 3 years of ministry, Jesus was crucified and buried. Three days later he came back to life again. He then spent 40 days on earth, appearing on various occasions to different people (1 Corinthians 15:4-6). It was during these 40 days of instruction, and prior to his ascension into heaven, that Jesus commanded his disciples as follows: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:19).
So, by example and by instruction Jesus instituted the New Testament sacrament of baptism, which replaced the Old Testament sacrament of circumcision. Baptism, like circumcision, is a sign of entrance into the covenant community of God’s people. In the New Testament it signifies our union with Christ and with God’s people. That is why, for example, the entire congregation takes a vow to support the parents of a child being baptized in the Christian nurture of that child.
Now, the Old Testament sacrament of the Passover meal signified fellowship (or communion) within the covenant community of God’s people. Circumcision (and its New Testament counterpart of baptism) was administered only once to the recipient. However, the Passover meal was to be celebrated regularly, once a year (Deuteronomy 16:1).
God instituted the Passover meal when he delivered his people after 400 years of slavery in Egypt. God sent ten plagues to the Egyptians to persuade the Pharaoh to let the people of God go. After each plague Pharaoh refused to let the people of God go. God announced that the tenth plague would be the angel of death killing the firstborn child in every family. The angel of death, however, would pass over every house that had the blood of a lamb sprinkled on the doorposts of that house. Inside the house the inhabitants were to eat the lamb, along with unleavened bread and bitter herbs. God said to his people, “This day shall be for you a memorial day, and you shall keep it as a feast to the Lord; throughout your generations, as a statute forever, you shall keep it as a feast” (Exodus 12:1-14). Throughout the Old Testament God’s people celebrated the Passover meal in memory of God’s supreme deliverance of them from Egypt to the Promised Land.
Centuries later Jesus regularly celebrated the Passover meal as a sign of his communion with God and the people of God. At the end of his public ministry, which lasted only three years, Jesus had one last supper with his disciples. During the celebration of that Passover meal Jesus transformed it into what we now know as the Lord’s Supper. Furthermore, he instructed his disciples that they were to continue celebrating the Lord’s Supper until he returned (1 Corinthians 11:26).