The Lord’s Supper: A Gracious Gift of God

Whether you call it the Lord’s Supper or Communion, if you’ve been a Christian for long I’m sure you’ve experienced this ordinance in some fashion. Some churches eat a cracker and drink juice, while other churches eat bread and drink wine. Some churches pass the elements out, while others go and get the elements from their leaders. But, regardless of your past experience with the Lord’s Supper, I wonder if you fully understand the point of it, the depth of it, and the beauty of it… Above all I wonder if you see the importance of this ordinance, and its ties to the great gospel of Jesus Christ.

The gospel is the good news about the person and work of Jesus Christ; the good news that tells us that Jesus came to save sinners. In fact, the gospel is the power of God for salvation for all who believe. But, the gospel is not simply a message that is used for evangelism. The gospel is something that the Church needs every second of every day. The gospel reminds us who we are and more importantly, who God is and what He has done and is doing for us. And in God’s kindness God has ordained ways for us to remember and celebrate this gospel, such as baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Baptism pictures the beginning of the Christian life and as such it is only done one time. The Lord’s Supper signifies ones continual trust in the Lord Jesus, thus, it’s to be done over and over again.

The Lord’s Supper is to be observed as a memorial of the life, death, and resurrection of Christ, but it is also to be observed in anticipation of Jesus’ return. The Lord’s Supper is a pledge of communion with God and His people. So, the Lord’s Supper is both vertical (communion with God) and horizontal (communion with the church). This is why Paul speaks of judgment when taken wrongly, saying, “Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord. Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself” (1 Corinthians 11:27-29). And likewise why he talks about the many (the church) becoming one (unified in the gospel) through this ordinance. “Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread” (1 Corinthians 10:17).

So unbelievers should not partake in this. And likewise, believers who are caught up in unrepentant sin should not partake in this. Again, the Lord’s Supper is a pledge of communion with God and His people; so, if someone is in open rebellion against God, they are not in communion with God or His people. They are choosing sin, not Christ. To be in communion with God and His people is to be living a gospel-centered life, a lifestyle of repentance, which is dedicated to the glory of the gospel of Christ. So again, if a person is an unbeliever, or a believer in open unrepentant sin, they are not to partake in the Lord’s Supper.

But this truly is a beautiful thing for repentant believers. I mean just think about what all it represents, communicates to us, and reminds us of.

  1. It represents Christ’s death. It pictures the suffering and execution of Christ, so that you and I might have our sins atoned for.
  2. It helps us understand our union with Christ. Jesus said, “Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him” (John 6:56). We are in Christ and He is in us…
  3. It’s a source of spiritual nourishment. It’s a means of grace. When we are reminded of what Christ has done for us, by eating the bread and drinking the fruit of the vine, we are reminded of the gospel; we are reminded in our souls that Jesus Christ came to save sinners, and not merely to make salvation possible, but to secure the salvation of His people. We are strengthened by this grace.
  4. It deepens our understanding of our unity as a local church as we practice this together. We are commanded by Scripture to take the Lord’s Supper, “together as a church” (1 Corinthians 11:20), as God’s people, as a body, and this is to express the unity of Christians.
  5. It’s an affirmation of Christ’s love for each of us as individuals. It helps me and you understand Christ’s love for us. It is for the church as a whole but it is also for each believer individually. Jesus died for His people but His people are made up of individuals.
  6. It affirms that all of salvation’s blessings are ours in Christ. I am His and He is mine. You are His and He is yours. By partaking in His death we also partake in all of His blessings. “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 1:3).
  7. It’s an affirmation of our own personal faith in Christ. The Lord’s Supper is a time to remember and meditate on the beautiful fact that I myself believe in the gospel. I believe what that juice represents. I believe what that bread represents, I believe it and I reaffirm my faith in the gospel, my personal faith in Christ Jesus, Himself, and what He has done and who He is.

The Lord’s Supper is a beautiful thing; it’s a sign directly linked to the New Covenant in Christ. The Bible is broken up into two parts, the Old Testament and the New Testament. The word Testament comes from the Latin word Testamentum, which means covenant. So, really the Bible is broken up into two covenants, the old and the new (though there are many covenants in the Bible). In Exodus 19-24 God makes what we now refer to as the Old Covenant, with Israel. As God is covenanting with His people, God’s word says, “they beheld God, and ate and drank” (Exodus 24:11b). In Luke 22:14-23 Jesus tells His disciples that what He is about to do, by dying on the cross will inaugurate a New Covenant, and while He is doing this, they too were eating and drinking and beholding God, for, “He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of His nature” (Hebrews 1:3).

The eating and the drinking is important because it points to something bigger. The issuing of the Old Covenant in Exodus while eating and drinking with God, points forward to the issuing of the New Covenant in Luke while the disciples eat and drink with God. And now we partake in the Lord’s Supper just as the disciples did in Jesus’ day, looking forward to the day when we will eat, drink, and be merry in the presence of the Lord; what Scripture calls the marriage supper of the Lamb.

The Lord’s Supper is a reminder and a marker of who we are as God’s New Covenant people in Christ. It’s not just something we do every once and a while that doesn’t really matter all that much. It’s a gracious gift of God that is tied directly to the gospel of Jesus Christ. It reminds us of it, encourages us in it, and makes it visible to us every time we celebrate it. So next time you take the Lord’s Supper with God’s people think these things over and marvel at God’s grace in your life, even as you long for that day when you will feast with Christ and His people in perfect joy.

By Nick Esch