************ Sermon on 1 Corinthians 11:17-34 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on May 8, 2011
1 Corinthians 11:17-34
"The Lord's Supper"
Jesus Christ took the cup and the loaf – the ingredients of a common meal in that day – and transformed them into a meaningful spiritual experience for believers. However, the value of the experience depends on the condition of the hearts of those who participate; and this was the problem at Corinth.
It is a serious thing to come to the Communion Table with an unprepared heart. It is also a serious thing to receive the Supper in a careless manner. Because the Corinthians had been sinning in their observance of the Lord's Supper, God had disciplined them.
(1 Cor 11:30) That is why many among you are weak and sick, and a number of you have fallen asleep.
The Lord's Supper gives us an opportunity for spiritual growth and blessings if we approach it in the right attitude. What, then, must we do if the Supper is to bring blessing and not discipline?
Unlike some, we do not want to underestimate the Lord's Supper. There are churches in which members eat and drink without giving a thought to what they are doing. Scripture makes clear we must never downplay the importance of what we are doing this morning:
(1 Cor 10:16) 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?We participate in Christ when we celebrate the Lord's Supper so we best be careful.
At the same time, we also do not want to overestimate the importance of the Lord's Supper either. There are those who wrongly believe that to receive the sacrament means to receive grace. That you have Jesus/God in your mouth. Viewed this way, the Lord's Supper takes the place of Christ Himself.
"The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread ... (1 Cor 11:23). We have heard these words hundred of times. Did you know that Paul then proceeds to mention things not found in the Gospel accounts of the Lord's Supper? Did he make them up? Are they the product of an overactive imagination? Notice how Paul introduces what he says about the Lord's Supper: "For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you" (1 Cor 11:23). What Paul says about the Lord's Supper comes to him from the Lord. In other words, Paul claims inspiration. Paul claims, as he does elsewhere, that what he says in Scripture is God-breathed (2 Tim 3:16).
To properly observe the Lord's Supper this morning we need to look in five directions: first, we need to look back; second, we need to look ahead; third, we need to look within; fourth, we need to look around; fifth, we need to look to the front.
I Look Back
A First, to properly observe the Lord's Supper we need to look back (1 Cor 11:23-26a). The broken bread reminds us of Christ's body, given for us; and the cup reminds us of His shed blood. It is a remarkable thing that Jesus wants His followers to remember His death. Why? Because everything we have as Christians centers in that death.
B We must remember that He died, because this is a part of the Gospel message: "Christ died... and was buried" (1 Cor 15:3–4). It is not the life of our Lord, or His teachings, that will save sinners – but His death. Therefore, we also remember why He died: Christ died for our sins; He was our substitute (Isa 53:6; 1 Peter 2:24), paying the debt that we could not pay. We look back at His death and remember that we are forgiven because of that death and only because of that death.
C We should also remember how He died: willingly, meekly, showing His great love for us (Rom 5:8). He gave His body into the hands of wicked men, and He bore on His body the sins of the world.
However, this "remembering" is not simply the recalling of historical facts. It is a participation in spiritual realities. At the Lord's Table, we do not walk around a monument and admire it. We have fellowship with a living Savior as our hearts receive Him by faith.
II Look Ahead
A Second, to properly observe the Lord's Supper we need to look ahead (1 Cor 11:26b). Paul tells us we eat the bread and drink the cup "until he comes." Here is a reminder that the Lord's Supper is temporary, for this life and this earth. We are commanded to celebrate it but only until Jesus comes again.
B What happens when Jesus comes again? The return of Jesus Christ is the blessed hope of the church and the individual Christian. Jesus not only died for us, but He arose again and ascended to heaven; and one day He shall return to take us to heaven.
But we can say more. At that time we transition to another supper: the wedding supper of the Lamb (Rev 19:7-9). At that supper we shall sit with Jesus and sup with Jesus in a way we don't today in the Lord's Supper. At that time we shall behold Him face to face and rejoice in the glory of His appearing. At that time we will not be clothed in the filthy rags of sin that we bring to the Lord's Supper; rather, we will be clothed in the righteousness and purity of Christ Himself.
The Bible makes clear that what we do today is a foretaste of what we will experience in the future. So, this morning we look forward to that time. We pray for that time. We can hardly wait for that time.
III Look Within
A Third, to properly observe the Lord's Supper we need to also look within (1 Cor 11:27-28, 31-32).
(1 Cor 11:28) A man ought to examine himself before he eats of the bread and drinks of the cup.
Paul does not say that we need to be worthy to partake of the Supper, but only that we should partake in a worthy manner.
At a Communion service in Scotland, the pastor noted that a woman in the congregation did not accept the bread and cup from the elder, but instead sat weeping. The pastor left the table and went to her side and said, "Take it, my dear, it's for sinners!" And, indeed, it is; but sinners saved by God's grace must not treat the Supper in a sinful manner.
If we are to participate in a worthy manner, we must examine our own hearts, judge our sins, and confess them to the Lord. To come to the table with unconfessed sin in our lives is to be guilty of Christ's body and blood, for it was sin that nailed Him to the cross. If we will not judge our own sins, then God will judge us and discipline us until we do confess and forsake our sins.
B The Corinthian Christians neglected to examine themselves, but they were experts at examining everybody else. When the church gathers together, we must be careful not to become "religious detectives" who watch others, but who fail to acknowledge our own sins. Or, as Jesus puts it in the Sermon on the Mount,
(Mt 7:3) "Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother's eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?"
C If we eat and drink in an unworthy manner, we eat and drink judgment on ourselves, and that is nothing to take lightly. I mentioned earlier what happened to the Christians at Corinth. They did not participate worthily in the Lord's Supper so the Lord disciplined them. Says Paul,
(1 Cor 11:30) That is why many among you are weak and sick, and a number of you have fallen asleep.Discipline is God's way of dealing lovingly with His sons and daughters. He is not a judge condemning a criminal, but a loving Father punishing His disobedient children. Discipline proves God's love for us, and discipline can, if we cooperate, perfect God's life in us.
IV Look Around
A Fourth, to properly observe the Lord's Supper we need to also look around (1 Cor 11:33-34). We should not look around in order to criticize other believers, but in order to discern the Lord's body (1 Cor 11:29). This has a dual meaning: we should discern His body in the bread, but also in the church around us – for the church is the body of Christ.
(1 Cor 10:17) Because there is one loaf, we, who are many, are one body, for we all partake of the one loaf.The Lord's Supper should be a demonstration of the unity of the church – but there was not much unity in the Corinthian church. In fact, their celebration of the Lord's Supper was only a demonstration of their disunity.
B The Lord's Supper is a family meal, and the Lord of the family desires that His children love one another and care for one another. It is impossible for a true Christian to get closer to his Lord while at the same time he is separated from his fellow believers. How can we remember the Lord's death and not love one another?
(1 John 4:11) Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.
No one ought to come to the table who is not a true believer. Nor should a true believer come to the table if his heart is not right with God and with his fellow Christians.
Do you know what those in church office do every time before we celebrate the Lord's Supper? We go around the room and every one is asked if they can participate in the Lord's Supper with every other person in the room. We want to make sure that every one of our leaders recognizes that the church is the body of the Lord.
V Look Frontward
Fifth, to properly observe the Lord's Supper we also need to look frontward. What do we see up here? We see a table. And not just any table. It is the Lord's Supper Table.
I am sure you realize that the Reformation brought about many changes in the celebration of the Lord's Supper:
-the mass became the Lord's Supper
-the priest became a minister
-kneeling down at the railing was changed into sitting
-instead of having the element placed on your tongue you placed it on your own tongue
-a wafer dipped in wine was replaced with bread and wine/grape juice
-the altar changed into a table
All of those changes are important. Of special concern to us today is the table. What do we do at a table? We eat and drink. We are fed. We are nourished. Look at 1 Corinthians 11 sometime. What the Lord gave to Paul is filled with the language of eating and drinking (1 Cor 11:20, 21, 22, 25, 26, 27, 28, 29, 33, 34).
Meaning what? Meaning that the Lord's Supper is food for the soul. That by it God nourishes and refreshes our souls for eternal life with the crucified body and poured-out blood of Christ.
Let me end on a note of joy. The Lord's Supper is not supposed to be a time of grief, even though we do look back at Jesus' death for our sin. Nor is it meant to be a time of mournful confession, though it is important we look inwards and confess our sin. The Lord's Supper should be a time of thanksgiving and joyful anticipation of seeing and meeting the Lord! Think of Jesus. On the night He was betrayed He gave thanks, even though He was about to suffer and die. So, let us also give thanks.
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