The Lord’s Supper
October 6th, 1968 @ 7:30 PM
1 Corinthians 11:23-30
THE LORD’S SUPPER
Dr. W. A. Criswell
1 Corinthians 11:23-30
10-6-68 7:30 p.m.
I am persuaded when we come to church that is what we ought to do. Praise the Lord. Sing about Him. Pray to Him. Preach about Him. Give an invitation in His name, and whenever we gather together and we sound the lone note or we appear blue and discouraged, you know what is the matter? We are thinking about ourselves. When we look at us, we have lots of cause, I know, to be blue and discouraged, but when you look at Him, everything is all right. “All authority is given unto Me,” He said, “in heaven and in earth” [Matthew 28:18]. “And He will not fail nor be discouraged.” God says that in the Book [Isaiah 42:4]. And the services of the church are to lift us up. We may be at times in tears, but through our tears we are looking upon the face of Jesus. And our sorrows and our discouragements but make us lean the more heavily on His kind arm; the trials that we know in life but draw us the more preciously and humbly to Him. These services, all of them, every time we gather, ought to be services of exaltation and praise and glory to Jesus.
Even this message that I bring tonight on the Lord’s Supper: you watch how it ends. When the Lord instituted it, though it was in a night of darkness and traitorous delivery—it was a night of shame; I would think that the starkest, darkest tragedy in human history was the day of the crucifixion of Christ. If you would look at humanity and what human life and heart is like, look at Jesus: crucified by the hands of men [Matthew 27:32-50], God’s Son, slain and nailed to a tree. But it doesn’t end like that. It ends triumphantly and gloriously:
And as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and blessed it, and brake it, and gave it to the disciples, and said, Take, eat: this is My body. And He took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, Drink ye all of you, drink of it: This is My blood of the new testament,
of the new contract, of the new promise, of the new covenant; God’s unbreakable covenant with us—
This is My blood of the new covenant, shed for the remission of sins. I say unto you, I will not drink henceforth of this fruit of the vine, until that day when I drink it new with you in My Father’s kingdom.
Ending on a note of glory and of promise; now you watch how it will end again. That was Jesus as He instituted it. Now this is Paul as he writes of it, an epistle to one of the churches, to the church at Corinth:
For I have received of the Lord that which also I delivered unto you, That the Lord Jesus the same night in which He was betrayed took bread: And when He had given thanks, He brake it, and said, Take, eat: this is My body, given for you: this do in remembrance of Me. After the same manner also He took the cup when He had supped, saying, This cup is the new covenant in My blood: this do ye, as oft as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.
Now the glory:
For as oft as you eat this bread and drink this cup, ye do show the Lord’s death till He come, till He come.
[1 Corinthians 11:23-26]
“Till He come” [1 Corinthians 11:26]: the whole Christian faith is just like that. However the tragedy and the tears and the sorrow, the suffering, the aches, the death, however, it always ends on an upbeat, always in a glory—always in an incomparably precious and celestial promise.
Now in this Lord’s Supper we have two elements. One is bread, unleavened bread; most of our children will call it a cracker. They are not introduced in their daily lives to unleavened bread. All the bread that our children see has yeast in it or something to make it rise, so when they see bread that is flat, they call it a cracker. It is bread. The reason there’s no yeast in it, there’s no element in it to make it rise: leaven in the Bible is a picture of sin, it’s a type of sin [1 Corinthians 5:7-8]. And in the bread there is no leaven, because it is a symbol and a type of Christ [Matthew 26:26; 1 Corinthians 11:23-24]. And in His purity and in His perfection, you could not have a type of sin; so the bread is without leaven. It is without yeast, it is unleavened [Matthew 26:17; Mark 14:1, 12].
The other element is the fruit of the vine [Matthew 26:27-29; 1 Corinthians 11:25]. I think it is by inspiration; there are four accounts of the institution of the Lord’s Supper in the Bible [Matthew 26:17-30; Mark 14:12-26; Luke 22:1-23; 1 Corinthians 11:23-25], and in no one of those accounts is the word wine used, in none of them. He calls it either the fruit of the vine or He calls it the cup [Matthew 26:27-29; 1 Corinthians 11:25]. Now I have no grief against any denomination or any congregation that would use wine. I just have first a human observation. I have been in churches that smell like wine shops when they had the Lord’s Supper. My second observation is this: when they used fermented wine, alcohol, they think that they are following the Word of God. That is not so! I repeat, in the four places that there are accounts of the institution of the Lord’s Supper here in the Bible, the word wine is never used. It is always either the cup or the fruit of the vine, and the symbolism lies in the red color of a crushed grape. It is crushed, it is broken, and the red juice flows out, a picture of His blood [Matthew 26:27]. These are the two elements in the holy ordinance. We break bread; we drink of the cup.
Now in the greatest and most numerical of all the denominations of the world, they build their Sunday services around the Lord’s Supper, and they have so taught their people until they believe that they are eating the actual flesh of the Son of God and they are drinking the actual blood of the Son of God. They believe that, which is one of the most stupendous things to believe that mind could imagine, but they do by the millions and the millions. They believe in that miracle of transubstantiation.
Why do you not say that also? Why do you not believe that also: that we are actually eating the flesh of Christ? For He said, “This is My body” [Matthew 26:26]. And why do you not believe you’re actually drinking the blood of Christ? For He said, “This is My blood” [Matthew 26:28]. I know that for two reasons, among others. First reason is, when the Lord instituted the sacred memorial, He was standing there before them. I read it to you out of the twenty-sixth chapter of the Gospel of Matthew. In the institution of the Lord’s Supper, the Lord was standing before them when He said, “Take, eat; this is My body” [Matthew 26:26]. And He was standing right there. And when He said, “This is My blood, drink” [Matthew 26:27-28], He was standing before them. I know, therefore, they were not eating His body nor were they drinking His blood. I know this also from the word that He uses: He says, “You do this” and He repeats it both times. “This do, eat, in remembrance of Me, and this cup, drink, in remembrance of Me” [1 Corinthians 11:24-25]. So I know it is a memorial. It memorializes our Lord’s death. He never said, “I want you to remember this, do this to remember the words that I said, or the sermons I preached, or the miracles I performed.” But if we take our Lord’s evaluation of His own ministry, He valued most and above all His atoning death for our sins [Matthew 20:28]. So I know that this is not actual flesh that we eat and actual blood that we drink, because He said it is a memorial [1 Corinthians 11:24-25]. It brings back to our minds the memory of the suffering in His body and the pouring out of His blood [Matthew 27:26-50; 1 Peter 3:18].
Now in the Lord’s Supper, how often should we observe it? There are many communions who observe the Lord’s memorial every Sunday, every Sunday, and they think it is a very heinous thing if you do not observe the Lord’s Supper every Sunday. There’s nothing wrong with that, but what Jesus said was, “As oft as you eat this bread, and drink this cup” [1 Corinthians 11:26]. There is no commandment in the Scripture concerning the frequency of our observance. We can observe it every Sunday; be all right. We can observe it every day, and the first disciples did it [Acts 2:46]; I think that they observed it every meal, the first disciples. When they got through eating every meal they closed with a little memorial service of our Lord. They broke bread in remembrance of Him, and they drank of the cup in remembrance of Him. There is no commandment concerning the frequency of this observance. “As oft as you do it” [1 Corinthians 11:26], we do it in remembrance of Him; in our dear church, we observe it once a month.
Now how should we observe it? We are to observe it in deepest humility and holy reverence:
For whosoever shall eat this bread, and drink this cup, unworthily, shall be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord. Let a man examine himself, and so let him eat and drink, for he that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh damnation to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body. For this cause many are weak and sickly among you, and even many sleep.
[1 Corinthians 11:27-30]
“Many have died.” That is one of the most astonishing passages in the Bible. Because of the way they observe the Lord’s Supper, the Lord judged them, and many of them became sick, a judgment of God, and some of them died [1 Corinthians 11:30]. Now any passage like that would bear looking at closely.
In one of the churches I pastored, we had a man who taught the men’s Bible class, and though he came to the church very faithfully and sat there every service, he never took the Lord’s Supper, never. Upon a day I took the courage to ask him, “Why is it you don’t take the Lord’s Supper?” And he says, “Because I’m not worthy, and the Bible says if you eat this bread and drink this cup and you’re not worthy, you eat and drink damnation to yourself, and I’m not worthy.” He misread a very plain and simple observation of the apostle Paul, for “unworthily” and “unworthy” are two different words. “Unworthy” is an adjective. This is an unworthy man, or an unworthy woman, or I may be unworthy. But “unworthily” is an adverb, and an adverb always modifies a verb. It is always used with an expression of action. What the apostle says is, “Whosoever therefore shall eat this bread, and drink this cup of the Lord unworthily” [1 Corinthians 11:29].
Now in the context, they were gathered there in that Corinthian church, and they made a Bacchanalian feast out of it. Those pagans in the Greek world all their lives had been accustomed to worshiping Liber in a Libernalia, an orgy. They worshiped Bacchus in a Bacchanalia; they worshiped Liber in a Libernalia. And when they came to worship Jesus, they carried into the church those same heathenist, pagan practices. They came to the church and they gorged and they got drunk, and it was an orgiastic feast. And when Paul looked upon it, he was overwhelmed by the irreverence of it, and he said, “Now that is why some of you are sick, and that is why some of you have died. You’ve come together and, in the name of the Lord, turned it into an orgiastic feast, which is unspeakable and unthinkable and unimaginable in the house of God!” [1 Corinthians 11:30]. So he wrote that passage: “Therefore, when you eat and drink, you are not to do it unworthily [1 Corinthians 11:27], but you are to do it in deepest reverence” [1 Corinthians 11:24-25]; this is, before the Lord, in obedience to His command, bringing back to our hearts His atonement for our sins [1 Corinthians 11:24-25].
Now, always it closes in that triumphant note. “For as oft as you eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do show the Lord’s death till He come, till He come.” [1 Corinthians 11:26]. I’ve never had a child fail in answering that question either. This is one of the questions I ask the children when they’re brought to me. Before they’re baptized, one of the questions I ask is this: “When the Lord’s Supper closes with the words, ‘as oft as you eat this bread, drink this cup, you dramatize, you memorialize, you bring back the memory, the Lord’s death till He come,’ what does that mean,” I say to the child, “till He come”? And without exception, they have never failed. They say, “That means that someday Jesus is coming again to takes us to heaven” [John 14:3]. And I always ask a following question: “Do you believe that? Do you believe that, that someday you will see Jesus? Do you believe that?” And I’ve never had a child answer in any other way: “Yes, I believe that someday I will see Jesus.”
“Till He come” [1 Corinthians 11:26], always that triumphant and glorious note—up yonder, upward, heavenward, God-ward, Christ-ward, there! Oh, I just see it everywhere! It’s part of the Christian faith.
This boy over here, Dr. James Bryan, was the general chairman of a crusade in Fort Worth that was held in the Castleberry Stadium. And I noticed night after night, to my right and against the bleachers, there was a man who was rolled into the football field in a wheelchair, and there under the shadow of the bleacher, they placed him where he could see the service and attend as a part of that congregation. Well, as I came into the stadium one evening, I just said, “I’m going over there and speak to that man.” So I walked over there to him, and as I always do, and unconsciously almost so, I held out my hand to him. I walked over there, and I held out my hand, and I said, “I’ve been seeing you here every night, and it’s a benediction to have you, and I’ve just wanted to meet you.” Well, I don’t know whether I should have done it or not, but when I held out my hand, my hand just stayed there like that. And then I noticed that he couldn’t use his hands and his arms. He was so crippled with arthritis that he couldn’t move his hands and arms, so my hand just stayed there like that. Well, you know, you just don’t know quite what to say or what to think, you know, my hand just staying there like that. So he looked at me and he said, he said, “Preacher, I can’t shake hands with you here. They’re too crippled.” He said, “Preacher, I’ll shake hands with you in heaven,” and he raised one of those gnarled, twisted arms upward. “I can’t shake hands with you here; I’ll shake hands with you in heaven.” That is the Christian faith, always on an upward note. Maybe blind here; “I’ll see you in heaven.” Maybe just old and feeble; “I can’t attend with you. We’ll praise God together in heaven.” Maybe sick and invalid here; “We’ll shout and sing and rejoice in heaven.” This is the Christian faith, and it always ends in an upwardness, an heavenwardness. For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you memorialize what Jesus has done for us till He come, till He come [1 Corinthians 11:26]. With the holy angels [Matthew 25:31], we’ll be here to meet Him when He comes, when He comes.
We’re going to sing a hymn of appeal, and a family you, or a couple you, or just one somebody you [Romans 10:9-10], while we sing our song, come. Come. Giving your heart to the Lord, coming to be baptized, coming into the fellowship of the church, to rededicate your life to Jesus, as God shall say the word, press the appeal to your heart, come. Do it now. On the first note of the first stanza, come. I’ll be standing here by the side of our communion table. Into that aisle, down one of these stairwells, come; do it now, make it now, and welcome in Jesus’ name. Do it now, make it tonight, come now, while we stand and while we sing.