There are many differences in the churches that exist today. But one thing that is common of all Christian churches is that they partake of the Lord’s Supper. Churches may disagree as to whether this sacrament is enjoyed once a week, or once a month, or once a year or even if they’ll use wine as Christ commanded. But regardless of its frequency, we are drawn to ask the obvious question: What use is the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper? We can only answer this question if we see this New Testament Sacrament in light of its Old Testament foundation.
The Lord’s Supper was delivered to the church by the Lord Jesus Christ in the midst of a Passover celebration. Jesus was aware of His impending death, and made it a point to celebrate this Old Testament sacrament with His disciples. The Passover is one of the most sacred feasts in Judaism. It was founded by God and delivered by His prophet Moses to Israel in Exodus 12. It was a feast meant to remind the people of God that the LORD had delivered them out of Egypt to Himself. They were never to forget His act of redemption, and so this annual feast was a tangible reminder of God’s mercy. Passover was a symbolic retelling of Israel’s blood-bought redemption through the blood of the lamb.
Each year, the Passover Lamb was to have its blood shed in remembrance of that first feast when its blood was shed and applied on the doorposts and the lintel protecting all within. The blood of the Lamb covered the home, protected those within it, and was a sign that God’s people dwelt there and were under His protection. In other words, the blood was a symbol of protection against God’s judgment. “The blood shall be a sign for you, on the houses where you are. And when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and no plague will befall you to destroy you…” (Exodus 12:13 ESV) God passed over His people and did not pass over His enemies. The same is spiritually true today.
For nearly 1500 years, God’s people celebrated this feast sacrificing lambs year after year. John the Baptist pointed this past-reflecting symbol forward as he exclaimed of Christ, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! “(John 1:29 ESV) Jesus Christ offers Himself as a sacrifice to secure the “eternal redemption” of His people (Hebrews 9:12 ESV).
With this in mind, let’s look to the words of the Institution of the Lord’s Supper. “Now as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, ‘Take, eat; this is My body.’ And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying ‘Drink of it, all of you, for this is My blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.” (Matt. 26:26-28 ESV)
What do we observe? The Lord’s Supper is a blessed gift of Christ Himself to His church. Jesus takes the feast of Passover and finds its fulfillment in His person and work. Jesus uses the ordinary gifts of our world (bread and wine) to point towards Him. The Lord’s Supper is symbolic of Christ’s work as the One who redeems a people for Himself by His sacrificial death as a substitute for them. But the sacrament is more than that as well.
Each time I partake of the Lord’s Supper, I am reminded of these realities and am encouraged to trust in the cleansing power of Christ to renew me. I am reminded to trust in the Lord through these tangible reminders of God’s grace to me, which now welcomes me into His very presence. Because of the blood of the Lamb that was shed on my behalf, I am strengthened each time I take the body and blood of the Lord next to my fellow churchmen. By this meal we are built up in the faith. As J. C. Ryle noted, “Using [the Lord’s Supper] in this spirit, we shall find our repentance deepened, our faith increased, our hope brightened, and our love enlarged, – our besetting sins weakened, and our graces strengthened. It will draw us nearer to Christ.”
Let us therefore desire these gifts. Let us cherish them. If we know that we have not been made right with God or are living in open rebellion to His Word let us first repent and make amends. In short, let us long for these sacred mysteries (as they are sometimes called) for they are tangible God-ordained reminders of the Gospel.