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Means of Grace – “The Lord’s Supper” sermon from 7/25/10
Luke 22:7-20

So, as I said last Sunday, we are in a short series on the topic of grace. Last Sunday we engaged Ephesians 2:1-10 and explored just what’s so amazing about grace. We indicated that we are made alive by grace, saved by grace, and set apart for God’s glory by grace. It is only by God’s grace alone through our faith in Jesus Christ alone that we acquire these things. Now we come to a couple more specific messages in terms of grace as we visit our two Sacraments in the Reformed Church, the Lord’s Supper & Baptism, and explore what is present in them and why & how we practice them as means of grace.

To begin there shortly then, what I mean by calling them “means of grace” is described some in the first lines of the Belgic Confession, Article #33, which says, “We believe that our good God, mindful of our crudeness and weakness, has ordained sacraments for us to seal the promises in us, to pledge the good will and grace of God toward us, and also to nourish and sustain our faith.” These Sacraments are means of grace in that the good will and grace of God is pledged toward us in them. There are both signs and means of participation in them. Both show forth certain promises and are signs of what we have on the part of the grace of God in Jesus Christ His Son, and there is a participatory element in each in that when each is practiced something sacred takes place; something between us and God, through Jesus Christ His Son, by the power of the Holy Spirit. This makes them, as the Belgic Confession goes on to say, “Visible signs and seals of something internal and invisible, by means of which God works through the power of the Holy Spirit.”

To bring out some more of what is involved in the Lord’s Supper then, our main Scripture passage will be the story of the Lord’s Supper in Luke 22:7-20, although I will also refer to other places in Scripture as well. For now you can go to Luke 22 and follow along as I read from there…
7 Then came the day of Unleavened Bread, on which the Passover lamb had to be sacrificed. 8 So Jesus sent Peter and John, saying, “Go and prepare the Passover meal for us that we may eat it.” 9 They asked him, “Where do you want us to make preparations for it?” 10 “Listen,” he said to them, “when you have entered the city, a man carrying a jar of water will meet you; follow him into the house he enters 11 and say to the owner of the house, ‘The teacher asks you, “Where is the guest room, where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?” ’ 12 He will show you a large room upstairs, already furnished. Make preparations for us there.” 13 So they went and found everything as he had told them; and they prepared the Passover meal.
14 When the hour came, he took his place at the table, and the apostles with him. 15 He said to them, “I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer; 16 for I tell you, I will not eat it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.” 17 Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he said, “Take this and divide it among yourselves; 18 for I tell you that from now on I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.” 19 Then he took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” 20 And he did the same with the cup after supper, saying, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.

Here we have the account of the Lord’s Supper with the disciples as told by Luke. Each gospel writer tells the story a little bit differently, but many of the main elements are present. To help me explain what’s involved in the things around this event and also the sacrament itself, my message is split up into 3 parts that coincide with our communion liturgy that we will be using later in this service. That liturgy opens by saying, “Beloved in the Lord Jesus Christ, the Holy Supper which we are about to celebrate is a feast 1) of remembrance, 2) of communion, and 3) of hope.”

Feast of Remembrance:
First of all then, our Communion liturgy states that the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper is a feast of remembrance. This is probably quite familiar to you as we see in our passage from Luke and also know from practicing the sacrament that when Jesus presented both the bread and the cup to His disciples he said, “this do in remembrance of me.” I will say these exact words when I present the elements to you this morning, and the phrase is also carved into our communion table. But what exactly are we remembering? Well, that can be seen in the elements themselves and also in the feast that Jesus and His disciples were taking part in that night.

As our passage tells us, the Lord’s Supper took place on the night of the “Passover.” This was a feast that Jews and Israelites celebrated each year in remembrance of when God passed over Israel by the blood of a lamb spread over the doorposts of their houses while they were captives in Egypt. God showed His favor, love, and mercy to Israel that night as He withheld judgement from them. Jesus, when He took the bread and the cup on this night, blessed it by giving thanks, broke and poured it, gave them to His disciples, and then linked them to His body and blood; He declared Himself as the fulfillment of this event in their day and the days to come. Later that very night, Jesus was betrayed, arrested, brutally beaten, and crucified; He became the Passover Lamb for the whole world. His blood was shed for all who would believe and is spread out over the door frames of our hearts. Jesus’ body was broken and His blood was not just shed and spread over the houses of Israel, but on Calvary, outside the tabernacle, even outside the Holy City, Jerusalem. In Jesus’ sacrifice, death, and then resurrection, He became, as the book of Hebrews tells us, “the mediator of a new covenant.”

You see, in the old covenant a priest would enter the Most Holy Place (this was the innermost room of the tabernacle) once every year and always with blood to offer for himself and all the people for their sins. As this had to be done year after year, this indicates that it was an imperfect cleansing, but Hebrews 9 starting at verse 11 says, “When Christ came as High Priest,… He went through the greater and more perfect tabernacle (heaven itself) that is not man-made,… He did not enter by means of the blood of goats and calves; but He entered the Most Holy Place once for all by His own blood, having obtained eternal redemption… For this reason Christ is the mediator of a new covenant, that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance—now that He has died as a ransom to set them free from the sins committed under the first covenant.” This is what we remember in the Lord’s Supper! Jesus is our Passover Lamb and He entered heaven on our behalf, and now stands as a mediator between us and God; a mediator of a new covenant. What the Law of the old covenant could not do (that is, completely cleanse us from sin), God did in Jesus Christ by His blood that now stands as a new covenant. By the grace of God, through faith in Jesus Christ, we are cleansed once and for all time. And just as Israel was instructed to celebrate the Passover in remembrance of what occurred in their time, we remember the fulfillment of these things in Jesus Christ (in His broken body & poured out blood) in our time as we take part in this Supper this day. In this way, “as often as [we] eat this bread and drink this cup, [we] proclaim the Lord’s death (we proclaim what happened on account of His death) until He comes (I Cor. 11:26).”

Feast of Communion:
Secondly then, the sacrament is not only a feast of remembrance, but also a feast of Communion. Here’s where, as I explained in my introduction, the participatory element comes in. The sacrament is a visible sign and seal of something internal and invisible. As the Apostle Paul teaches in I Corinthians 10:16 as he says, “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?” As we partake of the elements they are not only symbols and signs (as many of us might look at them mainly as), but we also participate in the on-going cleansing of the blood of Christ and are fed spiritually as we are nourished & sustained in our faith by our knowledge of Christ’s broken body for us. In the Lord’s Supper we are fed and sustained spiritually just as in our physical bodies we require nourishment and need to be fed and sustained physically. God feeds us and quenches our thirsts internally and invisibly by the power of the Holy Spirit via our reconciled union with Him through Jesus Christ His Son.

This is part of the reason why I shared the opening verses from Psalm 73 for our call to worship to go with this message. God loved us with His whole heart; and this is shown in Jesus Christ. “Though our flesh and our hearts may fail, God is the strength of our hearts and our portion forever.” Via our reconciled union with God through faith in Jesus Christ, God is the strength of our hearts and portion forever. In the bread and the cup we eat and drink to this (almost like a toast), we remember, and we are nourished in body and spirit.

Now this brings me to something else too. This is why there are restrictions placed on the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper. Most of you are probably familiar with or have noticed that when we practice the Lord’s Supper we are instructed to examine ourselves and not partake of the elements in an unworthy manner. That teaching comes from the Apostle Paul in God’s Word from I Cor. 11:27-29; As it says, “For all who eat and drink without discerning the body, eat and drink judgment against themselves.” Now, in this section of Scripture Paul was speaking out against certain practices that the Corinthian Church were taking part in that was basically abusing the elements of the Lord’s Supper. The context behind Paul’s words is that when the people were coming together around the table they had no consideration for the gifts within the celebration, nor the whole body. Some were rushing to the table and taking their fill before others could and others were getting drunk on the wine. They were only concerned for themselves and weren’t valuing the gift for what it is for them and the whole body.

Last year sometime there was a Major League Baseball game where a man caught a foul ball in the bleachers and turned to give it to his 3-year-old daughter next to him. Not knowing the value of this gift and what she was handed, she innocently threw the ball back onto the field. Now the father in this story realized his daughter’s unawareness and turned and hugged her and fortunately the fielder also handed the ball back for them to take home. However, imagine though what it’s like when we devalue and mishandle the gift of God in His Son Jesus Christ. Now, there are ways we do this unknowingly and for that there is grace and mercy, but when we deliberately do such things that is when one eats and drinks judgment against themselves. Now, I don’t mean to be crude or mean in saying these things, nor does the Reformed Church. We just want to make sure we don’t take for granted what we’ve been given and what we are invited to take part in. Also, as the gospel tells us, “If we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin… If we confess our sins, He who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness (I John 1:7-9).” If you are convicted in some way of your devaluing or mishandling of these gifts, confess that to the Lord, and then come to the table and be filled in Jesus Christ our Lord!

Feast of Hope:
Lastly then, the sacrament is not only a feast of remembrance or Communion, but also hope. In Isaiah 25 starting at verse 6, Isaiah speaks of a day where atop a mountain…
“The Lord of hosts will make for all peoples
a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wines,
of rich food filled with marrow, of well-aged wines strained clear.
7 And he will destroy on this mountain
the shroud that is cast over all peoples,
the sheet that is spread over all nations;
8 he will swallow up death forever.
Then the Lord God will wipe away the tears from all faces,
and the disgrace of his people he will take away from all the earth,
for the Lord has spoken.
9 It will be said on that day,
Lo, this is our God; we have waited for him, so that he might save us.
This is the Lord for whom we have waited;
let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.
10 For the hand of the Lord will rest on this mountain.
This is the feast of love realized in the grace of God through Jesus Christ His Son by the power of the Holy Spirit; and we claim this and await the day of its complete fulfillment as we eat of Christ’s broken body in the bread and drink of His blood from the cup. In knowledge of these things, let us now come to the table…

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