March 3, 2019
The Lord’s Supper is one of two ordinances that the Protestant church observes. There is baptism and the Lord’s Supper. How important is the Lord’s Supper to you? It is interesting to see that in the 4th century when Christianity became the state religion under Constantine, there began a decline in the weekly observance of the Lord’s Table. In the late 4th century, Church Father, Chrysostom said about the Lord’s Supper, “We stand in vain at the altar and none care to receive.”
By the time of the middle ages and the Reformation, it was thought that if you observed the Lord’s Supper once a year that was sufficient. The Reformers encouraged a once a month or even weekly observance. And yet, even during and after the Reformation, many Protestant churches only observed the Lord’s Supper once or twice a year. Part of the reason had to do with a shortage of pastors. If you want to read more about this pick up Kenneth Stewart’s book, “In Search of Ancient Roots.”
We are in Jn.6 this morning, listening to Jesus claim to be the bread of life. But let me ask, would it make a difference to you if you had the Lord’s Supper only once or twice a year? Would that bother you? What if you only had the Lord’s Supper four times a year? Would that be enough for you? And let me ask you, why do we take the Lord’s Supper?
I. THE LORD’S SUPPER IS A PHYSICAL SIGN OF JESUS.
In Mt.6:31-33 Jesus says, “Therefore do not be anxious, saying, 'What shall we eat?' or 'What shall we drink?' or 'What shall we wear?' For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” The need for daily bread, daily provision is always with us. We pray, “Give us this day our daily bread.”
In Jn.6 we read about the feeding of the 5,000. John 6:14-15 says, “When the people saw the sign that he had done, they said, "This is indeed the Prophet who is to come into the world!" Perceiving then that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, Jesus withdrew again to the mountain by himself.” Based on Dt.18:15, there was a belief that a prophet like Moses was going to come. Upon seeing this miracle the people concluded that Jesus is that prophet. They were right. They probably did not think Jesus was the Messiah, but he was the prophet like Moses. Seeing what Jesus could do, they decided to take Jesus by force to make him king. But that is not how the kingdom of God works.
Jesus withdrew from them, going to a mountain by himself. Later that evening as the disciples were on the Sea of Galilee, Jesus came to them walking on the water. They were terrified because they thought he was a ghost. He got into the boat and they came to Capernaum. The next day, the crowd that had experienced the miracle found Jesus. In v.26-27 we read, “Jesus answered them, "Truly, truly, I say to you, you are seeking me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you. For on him God the Father has set his seal." So they ask Jesus, “What must we do, to be doing the works of God?" “Jesus answered them, "This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent."
In v.31 the people ask for a sign from Jesus so that they might believe in him. And Jesus gives a very significant teaching about how he is the bread of God come down from heaven who gives life to the world. Over and over again in these verses Jesus emphasizes the importance of believing in him. In v.40-42 we read, “For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day." So the Jews grumbled about him, because he said, "I am the bread that came down from heaven." They said, "Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How does he now say, 'I have come down from heaven'?"
Jesus continues to identify himself as the bread of life. In v.50-51 he says, “This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh." This statement causes a dispute. They ask, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat.” It is at this point that Jesus starts talking about eating his flesh and drinking his blood in v.53-58.
Now in this passage Jesus is not teaching specifically about the Lord’s Supper. However, the gospel of John was written sometime after 70 AD. By that time the Christian church had been observing the Lord’s Supper on a weekly basis for some 30 years. One can easily see how Christians could read this and see a relationship to the Lord’s Supper. After all, in the synoptic gospels Jesus actually says, “This is my body. This is my blood.” In Catholicism it is believed that the bread and wine actually become the flesh and blood of Jesus. In Catholicism receiving the Lord’s Supper is a means of salvation.
And yet, when we read the four gospels we are not overwhelmed with teaching that suggests salvation is found at the Lord’s Table. Again and again the emphasis is on faith, belief in Jesus. It seems to me that the most natural way to understand Jesus’ words, “This is my body. This is my blood,” is metaphorically. The bread and cup are a sign signifying the person of Jesus. It is the life and death of Jesus that we are focused on at the Lord’s Table.
Now this was not the case in Jn.6. The crowd was not focused on Jesus. They were not seeking first the kingdom of God. Think about it. On the day when Jesus fed the 5,000, that crowd had been listening to Jesus teach about the kingdom of God. And yet they missed Jesus and focused only on what Jesus could do for them. The crowd was looking at Jesus from a worldly perspective. A sign points beyond itself. In John’s gospel the miracles of Jesus are signs pointing to Jesus as God’s provision of salvation and life. The crowd missed the sign and anxiously embraced the food. To quote from Hebrews these people tasted the heavenly gift, they tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come, but they were content to settle only for physical food in this world, which is passing away.
Earlier I asked if it would make all that much difference to you if you received the Lord’s Supper twice a year, or four times a year. How important is the Lord’s Supper to you? The answer to that question has everything to do with your understanding of who Jesus is. If you call on Jesus only to meet your needs and wants, the Lord’s Supper may not be all that important for you. But if you recognize Jesus as the only Savior, Lord and King then the Lord’s Supper is very meaningful. At the Lord’s Table we recognize, honor, and worship Christ. Jesus gave us the signs of the bread and cup that we might remember him as we eat this food.
II. THE LORD’S SUPPER IS A PHYSICAL EXPRESSION OF OUR LIFE WITH JESUS.
In v.53-58 we read, “So Jesus said to them, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him. As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever feeds on me, he also will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like the bread the fathers ate, and died. Whoever feeds on this bread will live forever."
Again, one can easily see why a person might think Jesus is talking about the Lord’s Supper. When Jesus originally spoke these words, the Lord’s Supper had not yet been instituted. So those who heard Jesus say these words could not have even thought about the Lord’s Supper. My sense is that when John wrote these words of Jesus he would have realized the connection. I do think there is an allusion to the Lord’s Supper here. We are not saved by taking the Lord’s Supper, but at the Lord’s Table I believe we express our life with Christ in a very physical way. In eating and drinking we are expressing, affirming, renewing our dependence upon Jesus for life. We are expressing our daily abiding in Christ and his daily abiding in us.
Just as we need food to sustain our physical lives, so we need Christ to sustain our, daily, eternal living in the kingdom of God. They say, “You are what you eat.” In other words, if we put healthy food in our bodies we will be healthier than if we eat junk food. There is a spiritual application to this. People who have their mind set on the ways of this world will seek to draw their life from the world. Like eating junk food, they will let the world and its desires shape the way they live. For example, Jesus teaches us that the way of the kingdom is to die to self. The world teaches us to promote and indulge the self. Jesus teaches about the sanctity of marital intimacy while the world tells us sexual intimacy outside of marriage is normal. Jesus tells us to lay up treasures in heaven while the world tells us find our treasure on earth. Do we eat what the world give us or do we eat Jesus?
Together as the people of God we come to the Table in the presence of Jesus. Together we draw near in fellowship with Jesus and one another. He gave us this practice so that together we can be encouraged by a fresh appreciation of his death for us, his life in us, and our life in him. We are drawing near to Jesus in faith and thanksgiving.
As you know, not all marriages are made in heaven. We have all heard of situations in which the husband or wife comes to the realization that their spouse married them only for their money. The spouse was not interested in them as a person. It was all about the money. Once the money is secure in their possession, the charade falls away. Birthdays and anniversaries become perfunctory and the relationship is sterile and cold.
The crowd in Jn.6 was actually trying to force Jesus to be their king. Can you imagine trying to force Jesus to be your king? I mean it looks like they were really interested in Jesus. But it was not Jesus they were interested in. They came after Jesus for his money. What about you? The Lord’s Supper is something akin to an anniversary. It expresses the significance of our relationship with Jesus. Are you abiding in Jesus? Are you alive in Jesus? Do you see Jesus through the bread and the cup? If not, maybe you do not know Jesus. In that case, may this be a day of salvation for you. Call upon Jesus to forgive you of your sins. Place your faith, trust in Jesus for eternal living in the kingdom of God. Pledge your allegiance to follow Jesus in your daily living. He will gladly become your King if you will have him. Amen