Scripture Reference: 1 Corinthians 11:17-34
Remembering JesusDr. Erwin W. Lutzer | August 27, 2006
Selected highlights from this sermon
Jesus gave us the ordinance of communion to provide His church with deeper meaning and significance in the ongoing Christian life. But years later, the church in Corinth was celebrating communion in an unworthy manner. The Apostle Paul called out their divisive and selfish practices.
Communion should be practiced to signify the unity of the Body and the sacrifice of Christ. The bread is just bread, but when we approach it with open hearts, we celebrate our common life in Jesus Christ. So we should come to the table, taking of the cup and the loaf with hearts full of worship, confession, and honor.
When Jesus left this earth He left us two ordinances. That word ordinance means a custom or perhaps a rite (We could call it that.) that is invested with deep meaning, and we better understand it.
The Passover was celebrated by Jesus and His disciples, and it was at that time that Jesus instituted the ordinance of what we call communion. And in doing that He was inviting us as believers throughout the centuries to participate in communion so that we might understand better His death and the victory of the cross for our own hearts.
The problem was that the early Church that celebrated it began to misuse it. They had what was known as a love feast, and they would bring a potluck dinner to church, and then they would celebrate the Lord’s Supper afterwards. The problem was that they weren’t doing it right, and the Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 11:17 (And I want you to turn to that passage, if you would please.) says, “But in the following instructions I do not commend you for when you come together it is not for the better, but for the worse.”
Imagine it! It’s possible to gather together for the sake of communion and to do it not for the better but for the worse.
So the question is, “What does communion mean and what would Paul mean by saying that we could come together for the worse and not the better? Let me help us to understand what communion is all about by recognizing that it really signifies three truths.
First of all it signifies the unity of Jesus Christ’s body. It is unity. I want you to visualize the actual body of Jesus by which He was raised from the dead. His body, like ours, is a unity. That’s why it’s always been important in the history of the Church to participate from the same loaf, and drink from the same cup. Now we don’t do that in a large congregation. We have little cups. But still the symbolism is very strong that we are participating in the very same elements that represent the body and blood of Jesus. And one of those representations is that He wants unity in participation.
In fact, let’s read the text. Verse 18 says, “For, in the first place, when you come together as a church, I hear that there are divisions among you. And I believe it in part, for there must be factions among you in order that those who are genuine among you may be recognized.” That’s a whole separate topic but sometimes church splits and factions may be good if issues of truth are at stake or if you have one faction that is very worldly. And then what we need to do is to respond to that faction, and Paul is saying, “You know, sometimes this is necessary.”
But notice he says, “When you come together, it is not the Lord's supper that you eat. For in eating, each one goes ahead with his own meal. One goes hungry, another gets drunk. What! Do you not have houses to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing?”
Oh boy! Right in the early Church you have a division over the issue of economics. The rich ones came and they brought their potluck and they said, “We are eating ours, and if you have nothing, we have no concern for you,” and Paul says, “What kind of a witness is that to the reality of the Gospel?” There are divisions – economic divisions. Sometimes there have been racial divisions in the Church. Paul would say, “Put all that aside because that which binds us together is much stronger than that which separates us.” Unity – that’s the way we come this morning to this table.
My sister was a missionary in Africa for 30 years and she said that in one church there was period of time before the preaching of the sermon and communion so that people could make things right with one another. And they’d go down the aisle and they’d say, “Come over here. You and I have something to talk about. We need to get this right.” Isn’t that beautiful? We don’t do that. We’re a little bit too sophisticated, but the same thing should be happening in terms of forgiveness and restoration and unity. So we come today unified.
Some of you don’t have anything particular against anyone, but your problem is different. You have come to Moody Church possibly for a long time and you want the benefits of the body without really belonging to the body. So you are here physically, but you don’t really belong. You make no sacrifices for the body.
Some people look at church like they do a club. There are golf clubs. You know there are some people who get up at 5 in the morning to play golf. Apparently, from what I hear, they are actually normal in other ways but they do that. You have golf clubs. You have art clubs. You have all kinds of different clubs that people belong to – hunting clubs. And many people look at the Church like that, as if we are bound together by common interests. We are not bound together merely by common interests. We are bound together by a common life that Jesus has given us, and a common body to which we need to be committed.
There are some of you who need to join Moody Church. God has called you here, and yet you worship at a distance. Now that’s okay to do for a while to check us out, but there comes a time when you say to yourself, “I need to be a part of this.” Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we were all as committed to the body as my hand is committed to my body? You notice my hand, by the way. It does exactly what my mind tells it to do. It’s committed to the body. If I were to stumble on the platform my hand would gladly break to save my head. Are you willing to put yourself out for someone else because you’re not just belonging to a special interest group? You are a part of the life of Jesus in the body. So I say to you today, “Draw near to God and draw near to us as a church.”
The second meaning is, of course, the sacrifice of His body. There’s the unity of his body and the sacrifice. Someone has said that verse 23 is like a diamond dropped in the middle of a muddy road. Paul is giving this admonition to the people, and then he says, “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, and when He had given thanks… By the way, the word for “given thanks” in Greek is the word eucharisto, from which we get the word eucharist. That’s why many people refer to communion as the eucharist. And that’s perfectly fine. It comes from this Greek word, which means to give thanks. And Jesus gave thanks and then He took the bread and He broke it, and said, “This is my body which is for you.” Isn’t that beautiful? I was reading this last night and thinking, “What a contrast between the selfishness of the Corinthians and the unselfishness of Jesus.” They couldn’t even share a meal with anyone. They didn’t contribute to the general coffers of the Church, and here’s Jesus giving His body for you and for me. “And in the same manner He also took the cup and said, ‘This cup is the new covenant in My blood. This drink in remembrance of Me.’”
A covenant is a promise that God makes that those who align themselves with that covenant have the benefits of all the blessings that come with the covenant. And this covenant is for forgiveness of sins, for reconciliation with God and for forgiveness. And you remember in the Old Testament (and that’s the imagery that is used here of the Passover) as they were leaving Egypt, what did they do? The night before, they put blood on the doorposts of their houses because God said to the Israelites, “When I see the blood, I will pass over you. The Angel of Death won’t touch you. I will pass over you.” It’s called the Passover. And in the very same way, when we think about it, that illustrates salvation.
But I need to ask you this question. Did it matter how much the firstborn had sinned before the Angel of Death passed over him? The answer is no. It’s much better to be a lesser sinner than a greater one, but at the end of the day, it didn’t matter what the firstborn had done. God said, “When I see the blood I will pass over you.” That’s the issue. The issue was not the greatness of the sin of the firstborn. The issue was, was there blood on the door? Nor was the issue the emotional state of the firstborn. It did not matter. Maybe he was nervous. Maybe he was uncertain. Maybe he woke often in the middle of the night and said, “Dad, are you sure that if there’s blood on our door the Angel of Death will pass over?” And the dad would have to take him outside and show him the blood and say, “Son, the blood is there and God says, ‘If I see the blood, I will pass over you.’”
Did the economic status matter? No! In fact, there were some people in Egypt who were probably a lot wealthier than the Israelites and probably had sinned less than some of those firstborns in Israel. God said, “It’s a matter of blood.”
That’s why those of you who are here who are struggling today with the enormity of your sin, I’m here to tell you that you have not yet out-sinned grace. Isn’t that wonderful? You’ve not yet out-sinned grace. (applause) The question is, “Have you received the blood for your forgiveness, figuratively speaking, on the door of your heart?” When we get to heaven the issue will be whether or not we’ve come under the protection of what Jesus did for us as Savior and Lord. And we come today to celebrate that.
There’s the unity of the body, the sacrifice of the body and the return of the Lord’s body. You’ll notice he says, “In doing this, in participating you proclaim the Lord’s death.” I’m in verse 26. “You proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes.” Some of you have never preached a sermon. I feel a little bit sorry for you because it’s a marvelous thing to preach a sermon. But today in participating you are going to proclaim something. You’re going to proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes.
You’re saying, “I believe in the return of Jesus. I believe in the return of the literal body that was resurrected and that now is a glorified body, but I believe in that return.” Now if you don’t believe that Jesus is coming to this earth again, don’t participate.
Now how do we then come to this table today? First, the Apostle Paul would say, “Eat and drink in a worthy way.” Look at what he says in verse 27. “Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty profaning the blood and body of the Lord. Let a person examine himself, then.” Those are strong words. In fact, later on he goes to say that because you are doing this wrong, that’s why some of you are weak, and some of you are sick, and some of you have died. God says, “I don’t look at this and think to Myself that this is unimportant.”
What would it mean to eat and drink in an unworthy way? Well, of course, the first example is the Corinthians. And what the Corinthians were doing was they were participating in the Lord’s Supper without thinking that in doing so it should represent a radical change of heart. They were saying to themselves, “Well, we can participate and receive its benefits even if we are selfish, even if we’re doing our own thing.”
And there are other ways that we can eat and drink in an unworthy way. We can eat and drink, I believe, in an unworthy way if we look at these elements as having intrinsic value apart from any heart change. Some of you were brought up with ex opere operato. In other words, in and of themselves they have benefit. Well, we believe that in and of themselves there is no benefit. It is the heart change that God has wrought within us that invests the meaning in what we are going to do today. And so it is possible, you see, to be caught up and to say, “Well, yeah, it’s the kind of thing you do,” without any consciousness about your need to turn from the sin that caused Jesus to die on the cross.
And when you and I think of sin as a nice thing, it would be like the father whose son was murdered and he said, “You know, I just love that murder knife so much, let’s put it in a case and honor it.” That’s the knife that killed his boy. It’s a terrible instrument. Sin is terrible. That’s why Jesus Christ’s death is so terrible. So that’s one way.
The other way, of course, is through bitterness and hatred. You know, the Apostle Paul said on one occasion that if you are going to give an offering, “Bring your gift to the altar, and then if you remember that you and your brother are out of sorts, leave your gift and go be reconciled to your brother, and then offer it.” He says, “Even putting money in an offering plate means nothing until you have sought reconciliation.”
So there are many different ways that we can eat and drink in an unworthy way. Don’t interpret this to mean that you can’t participate because you are unworthy. If it was a matter of worthiness we’d all plead guilty, because not a one of us is worthy. He’s talking about the manner and the understanding that you bring to the occasion. So Paul says first of all, “We have to make sure that we honor these elements.”
Now let’s take an American flag. If you were to take it to a laboratory and have it examined by experts, what would they find? Well, it’s made up of threads and all of those threads become strings, and somehow it’s put together. Well, why can’t you just burn it? Why can’t you just walk on it? Why can’t you clean your shoes on it? I mean, after all, it’s just a bunch of threads put together in very complicated patterns. Of course you don’t because, oh yes, it is just threads, but it represents the United States of America. And to desecrate the flag is to desecrate America.
If you were to take these elements to a laboratory you’d discover that they would be simply bread and nothing more. Bread is not the cover for something else, or some other essence. It is purely bread. It is purely wine or grape juice. That’s all that it is. Nothing more! Oh, does that mean that we treat it very casually because after all, you know, this is just bread? It’s only bread. That’s true, but it represents the body and the blood of Jesus. So Paul says, “Do it in a worthy way and realize that what you are saying by participating is, ‘Jesus, you did this for me.’”
So we come with an attitude of worship. We come with an attitude of confession. He says, “Examine yourself. Check yourself out to see whether or not you are able to participate.” In a few moments when we all participate, some of you may want to let the elements go by. That’s your choice, but remember the Bible says, “Examine yourself because if not, anyone who eats and drinks casually without discerning the body, and without understanding, eats and drinks judgment on himself.” So we come with a sense of self-examination.
And then Paul says in verse 33, “When you come, wait for one another.” That’s why here at the Moody Church nobody participates until the pastor steps to the microphone and says, “Take and eat. This is My body which is broken for you.” We want to do it in an orderly way. We want to do it together and we want to wait for one another so that God is honored through our patience, through our understanding, and through the meditation that takes place when we sing and when we contemplate on the wonderful mercies of God.
Today I am speaking to a number of categories of people. First of all, there are those of you here who have never trusted Christ as Savior. You could do that even now if God has given you that desire. And, by the way, I think you know who you are. You see if you cannot point to a time and be assured of the fact that your faith today is in Jesus, then examine yourself and see if you are in the faith.
And then I’m speaking to a category of people who love Jesus, who have been redeemed by Jesus, but you’ve brought a lot of sin here today that needs to be confessed and acknowledged.
And then there are those of you who are walking with Jesus and you say, “Pastor Lutzer, before we came to church we took care of all those matters so that we could enjoy worship and honor God in our lives,” and you be praying for everyone present as we bow now in prayer. Would you join me please?
Our Father, we want to thank You today that You say, “Come and eat; come and drink.” Thank You, Father, that we do so with hearts that are deeply grateful for the undeserved favors of forgiveness and reconciliation of looking forward to the prospect of being heirs of God and joint heirs of Christ, and looking forward to an eternity that we can enjoy because we worship You.
And now before I close this prayer, what do you have to say to God today? Let’s just have a moment of silence. Those of you who have never trusted Christ, tell Him where you are seated, “I trust Christ today, and receive Him as mine.” Those of you who have issues, would you commit those to the Lord in repentance and faith?
Father, help us to remember that the issues that we are dealing with may not be fully addressed in 20 or 30 seconds of silence, so begin a work in us, but lead us to that single-minded devotion and that deep felt sense of repentance for the way in which we have offended You and grieved your blessed Spirit. And we ask that this time together in Your presence shall be glorious, not just for us, but for You, that You might be blessed because of our hearts’ participation. In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.