The Holy Supper
May 1st, 1977 @ 7:30 PM
THE HOLY SUPPER
Dr. W. A. Criswell
John 6: 47-58
5-1-77 7:30 p.m.
As a background for the message tonight entitled, The Holy Supper, could all of us turn to the Gospel of John, chapter 6, and we shall read out loud together verses 47 through 58. The Gospel of John – Matthew, Mark, Luke, John – the Gospel of John, chapter 6, verses 47 through . This is a background. It is an unusual thing. There are four times recorded the institution of the Lord’s Supper, one time in Matthew, one time in Mark, one time in Luke, and one time in the eleventh chapter of 1 Corinthians. But there is no record of the Lord’s Supper in the Gospel of John, a most amazing and unusual phenomenon. And only the way that I could ever seek to explain it is this: that John wrote his Gospel long, long time after the other three were in circulation, and the Holy Supper was a common sharing of all the Christian communities in the Roman Empire, and therefore, John wrote down here in the sixth chapter a message of Jesus on the bread of life.
And that is why we are reading it tonight as a background for this Memorial Supper. The Gospel of John, chapter 6, verses 47 through 58. Now may we read out loud together:
Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that believeth on Me hath everlasting life.
I am that bread of life.
Your fathers did eat manna in the wilderness, and are dead.
This is the bread which cometh down from heaven, that a man may eat thereof, and not die.
I am the living bread which came down from heaven: if any man eat of this bread, he shall live for ever: and the bread that I will give is My flesh, which I will upon give for the life of the world.
The Jews therefore strove among themselves, saying, How can this Man give us His flesh to eat?
Then Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of Man, and drink His blood, ye have no life in you.
Whoso eateth My flesh, and drinketh My blood, hath eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day.
For My flesh is meat indeed, and My blood is drink indeed.
He that eateth My flesh, and drinketh My blood, dwelleth in Me, and I in him.
As the living Father hath sent Me, and I live by the Father: so he that eateth Me, even he shall live by Me.
This is that bread which came down from heaven: not as your fathers did eat manna, and are dead: he that eateth of this bread shall live forever.
No wonder those in the synagogue at Capernaum who heard the Lord say these things, listening to it, replied, "This is an hard saying; who can hear it?" [John 6:60].
The institution of the Lord’s Supper is surrounded by the deepest and most meaningful solemnities. There are two ordinances and only two in the church. One is an initial ordinance, and the other is a recurring ordinance. And they both hold and shape the doctrine, the truth of Christ, as a dipper would hold and shape the water. The Lord had a profound meaning and purpose in delivering them to us. That is why they are called ordinances, because they are ordained of God in heaven. The first is an initial ordinance, and it refers to our salvation, how God raises us from the dead. We who are dead in trespasses and in sin, lost before God, are quickened unto eternal life in Him [Ephesians 2:1, 5]. And that first and initial ordinance of baptism set forth that glorious truth of our salvation. We have died with Christ, crucified with Him, we are buried with Christ, dead to the world, and we are raised with Christ to walk in a new life, a resurrection life, in our Lord [Romans 6:3-5]. Baptism is a burial and a resurrection. It is a death to the old world of sin and a renascence, and a revival, and a resurrection to a new life in Christ. Therefore, we are really baptized just one time.
Sometimes, people are immersed and become members of the church, but they haven’t been saved; then they haven’t been baptized, for baptism is a picture of our resurrection, our salvation in the Lord. If you have been saved since you were immersed, you haven’t been baptized. For baptism is a resurrection, a regeneration in Jesus our Lord. There are two kinds of baptism. The fundamental imagery is taken from when we are baptized in the water: buried with the Lord and raised with the Lord [Colossians 2:12-13], that is an imagery that is used in our baptism by the Holy Spirit. First Corinthians 12:13 says, "By one Spirit are we all baptized into the body of Christ." When I am saved, when I have regenerated, I am baptized in water, which is an image of my baptism by the Holy Spirit into the body of Christ. I am added to the church. I am added as a fellow member of the household of faith. When I am saved, I am baptized two ways. Fundamentally, the imagery comes from my baptism in water and spiritually when I am baptized into the faith of the Lord and into the body of Christ. That is one time, only once. When I’m saved, I’m saved forever. When I am baptized into the body of Christ, I am joined to the body of Christ forever.
There’s no such thing in the Scriptures – it’s an idea alien to the mind of God that one could be joined to the body of Christ, then taken out of the body of Christ, then added to the body of Christ. Such a confusion of theological thought is impossible and unthinkable! My head and my hands and my feet, they belong to my body, joined to the body, and if they could ever be taken off, I’d lose my hand or my foot or my head forever. If a man could be taken out of the body of Christ, he’d be lost forever. There’s no such doctrine as that in the Bible. When we receive life, it is called eternal life, everlasting life, unending life [John 3:16, 10:27-30]; and when I am joined to the body of Christ, I belong to my Lord forever [Ephesians 5:30; Colossians 1:18].
This is a one-time operation. It is something God does for us when we accept Jesus as our Savior. This is the first and initial ordinance, and always the first thing that a man wants to do who has met the Lord: "See, here is water; what doth hinder me to be baptized? And Philip answered and said, If thou believest with all thine heart, thou mayest" [Acts 8:36-37]. There is only one qualification for a man to be baptized, and that is: have you accepted the Lord as your Savior? If you have, you’re a true candidate to be buried with Him and to be raised with Him. This is the first and initial ordinance [Matthew 28:19; Romans 6:3-5].
The second is a recurring ordinance. It represents the assembly of God’s saints who, in gratitude for the life that is come to us in the atoning grace of the suffering and the death of our Lord, we feed upon Him. Our nourishment comes from Him. When the Lord poured out His life into the world, it was an infinite life, a divine life, one that is never in need of repletion [Matthew 27:32-50]. It’s like the cruse of oil that never fails [1 Kings 17:14-16]. So the grace of our Lord, brought to us in His atoning love, is never depleted. It never wastes. It never fails [Romans 5:20-21]. And we feed upon our Lord. He is manna to our soul, bread of heaven [John 6:51]. He is life to our thirsting spirit. We drink of His blood in the cup, and the life of our Lord is nourishment, replenishment, strength for us. Consequently, the ordinance is repeated again and again and again. As one time we’re saved and baptized into the body of our Lord [Ephesians 4:5], then, needing strength and help, we share the bread and the cup together in a recurring church ordinance [Matthew 26:26-28; 1 Corinthians 11:23-28].
Now, I have three things to say about the ordinance itself. One regards its institution, one regards its instruction, and one regards its intimation. First: the institution. There’s only one thing in the life of our Lord that He asks us to remember, and that was His sacrificial death [1 Corinthians 11:23-26]. And the institution of the supper came in the most solemn of all contexts. Our Lord sends two of His disciples, Peter and John, to prepare for the Passover meal, and having prepared it in an upper room, they are gathered together [Luke 22:7-15]. While the Lord is in deepest sorrow, the disciples are arguing with each other about who will be greatest in the kingdom [Mark 10:35-37]. I would presume the argument was precipitated by, "Who will sit on His right hand and who will be seated on His left hand at the Passover meal?" [Luke 22:24]. While they are arguing as they are seated, the Lord undresses Himself – a sign of infinite humility – girds Himself with a towel [John 13:3-4], and begins to wash the apostles’ feet [John 13:5], and teaches them, saying, "If I, your Lord and Master, have washed your fee : ye ought also to wash one another’s feet" [John 13:14]. In nowise is it appropriate in the kingdom of God, in the household of faith, for any one of us to lift himself above any of the other of us. We are just all sinners saved by grace [Ephesians 2:8], and if I have a gift – it’s a gift, it comes from God. "How then," says the apostle, "could I boast myself of it if I have received it of the Lord?" [1 Corinthians 12:4-25]. And if I am not as gifted as someone else, then this also is God’s elective purpose in my life, and I’m not charged with the responsibility if I do not have that pristine gift. But all of us are dear in His sight.
There’s no one of us but is a soul for whom the Lord died [2 Corinthians 5:14-15; 1 John 2:2], and in humility, He washed their feet and taught them, thus, to be humble in the presence of each other [John 13:3-15]. Then, [Jesus] having re-clothed, they break bread together in the Passover meal, and while they are eating, the Lord makes the sorrowful and unbelievable announcement that one of the group will betray Him that night [Matthew 26:21]. As you know, they had set a price upon His head, and if anyone knew where He was, He was to report it to the Sadducees and the rulers and the temple elders, that they might seize Him and destroy Him [John 11:53, 57]. That He would be delivered into the hands of those who were seeking His life by one of His twelve apostles was an announcement that was unimaginable [Matthew 26:14-16]. And in great and in exceeding sorrow, they began to say to Him, "Lord, could it be I?" [Matthew 26:21-22]. No one of them thought of Judas.
There was only one man of prestige and culture in the group. There’s one of them that came from Judea; all the rest of them were rude, rude: a fisherman from Galilee, or workmen in Galilee, or a tax collector in Galilee. They were all from Galilee. They were provincials. There was just one from the real center of culture and life, and that was Judas Iscariot; Judas, the man of Kerioth, a town in Judea. They never thought of him. They thought of themselves first: "Lord, to betray You. Could it be I?" [Matthew 26:21-22]. And the Lord said, "It is he who dippeth with Me in the dish" [Matthew 26:23], and at that moment, Judas dipped into the dish and the Lord Himself gave him a sop that He had dipped [John 13:26]. And Judas went out – "and it was night" John writes [John 13:30] – and, for thirty pieces of silver, sold the Lord [Matthew 26:14-16, 47-50]. Were that not done every day, I’d say, "It’s unthinkable that a man could sell Jesus the Son of God for thirty pieces of silver."
After Judas departed, then the Lord took bread and blessed it and brake it, and they all ate. And then the Lord took the cup and blessed it, and they all drank of it, and He said, "This do in remembrance of Me" [1 Corinthians 11:23-25]. And around that table and going away from it, He said those solemn words, the most spiritual words in all language, of John 14:
Because I have said these things unto you, sorrow hath filled your heart.
Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in Me. In My Father’s house are many mansions, I go to prepare a place for you… that I may come and receive you as My own some day."
The fourteenth chapter, the fifteenth chapter, the sixteenth chapter of John, and then finally the high priestly prayer, John 17; all of that around this Lord’s table. With what solemnity did He institute this holy supper.
Second: the instruction. There is a very definite way and format in the Holy Scriptures by which we are to partake of this holy table. In the Great Commission, first, we are to be saved; second, we are to be baptized; and third, we are to share in this holy ordinance [Matthew 28:19]. And in the apostolic church, always that order is faithfully followed. First, we are to be saved; second, we are to be baptized; and third, we break bread together in this holy memorial and communion. What a privilege it is to belong to the household of faith. The most marvelous thing God could give us is that we could be together as a family of God in the church. We are brothers and sisters in the Lord.
We are fellow servants in God’s kingdom, and we share together at the table, such as in your home. What a privilege to have the family all around, and you break bread together, and you pray together, and you speak together. That is the family life. So it is in the household of God’s people, gathered around the table in the church. It is an ordinance set in the very heart of the church. It does not belong to the Chamber of Commerce, does not belong to the academic community, it’s not something in the judiciary, it’s not something in a corporation, it’s not even in the Senate or in the Supreme Court. God placed this holy ordinance in the church, and it’s at the center and heart of God’s ekklēsia. First, we are saved, then upon that confession of faith, we are baptized [Acts 8:36-38], and then we break bread together [Matthew 26:26-28]. We share together in this holy ordinance as members of the family of God.
Now, last: its intimation. What is the design and the purpose of this holy memorial supper? What did God have as its meaning for us? What are these intimations that the supper carries to our hearts? Well, I do not know of anything that has been more grossly misused than the Lord’s Supper, turned into a very instrument of superstition. For example, if I could use a crude illustration? When you see little children, and they’re playing together, and they saying, "Hocus-pocus, hocus-pocus," they’re going to do some magic, and they use the word hocus-pocus, where did the little fellow hear that hocus-pocus? Why, he was in a Roman church, and he heard a priest say, "Hoc est corpus meum": "This is My body." And there’s some miraculous thing that he is supposed to be able to do in transubstantiating that bread into the actual body of our Lord.
So the little fellow, seeing that – that miracle thing, that – that – that magic thing, "Hoc est corpus meum," "hocus corpus" – he goes out, and he uses the word hocus-pocus, doing some kind of magic. And to the Roman Church, of course, it is a means of grace and of salvation. Is that the purpose, holy and heavenly of God, in that supper? To be turned into the mass and be turned into a means of grace and salvation for the communicant, so that if they were excommunicated, cut off, that they would be damned and lost, is that the purpose of the Lord’s Supper?
In the great Reformation, they compromised that doctrine and call it consubstantiation. The bread is not turned into the actual body or actual blood of our Lord, but it is consubstantiated. It’s still bread, and it is still the fruit of the vine, but the presence of the Lord actually is in it. And it is the actual body of Christ and the actual blood of Christ. Could that be true? Is that the teaching of the Holy Scriptures? To that the message of God for us? There’s not anything clearer, plainer, nor more preciously meaningful than our Lord in this institution of that Holy Supper. What is it? It is always a memorial, always a memorial, "This do in remembrance of Me" [1 Corinthians 11:24-25], and it is never anything else. Always, it is a memorial: "For as often as you eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do dramatize, you show forth the Lord’s death till He come" [1 Corinthians 11:26]. "This is My body; Take, eat in remembrance of Me [1 Corinthians 11:24] . . . This is My blood of the new covenant; as oft as ye drink it, drink in remembrance of Me" [1 Corinthians 11:25]. It is a memorial, and always that.
Finally, the Lord had a profound purpose in this; for we are ever to remember that we are bought with a price; we are not our own, we belong to Jesus [1 Corinthians 6:19-20]. He created us in the first place [John 1:3; Colossians 1:16]. He gave me life and breath when I was born. And being a sinner-man [Romans 3:23], He died for me in the second place [1 Corinthians 15:3], that I might be saved from perdition and damnation and hell, that I might be brought back to God and be a member of the family of the Lord; that I might be in heaven some day, and that I might share in His loving grace with you even today [Ephesians 2:1-8]. I owe my life and breath, and my hope, and my salvation to the Lord [John 14:6; Acts 4:12], and out of gratitude to Him, we break bread together, and drink the cup together in deepest thanksgiving and gratitude; Lord, having died thus for me [1 Corinthians 11:23-26].
Now that is the teaching of this profound Word of our Lord when [Paul] says, "Let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of this bread, and drink of this cup. For he that eateth and drinketh unworthily" – adverb; in a way not worthy of what Christ has done for us, eateth and drinketh; the King James Version has damnation – "condemnation, judgment to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body," diakrinō, "not discerning the Lord" [1 Corinthians 11:28-29]. What does he mean, "not discerning the Lord’s body"? [1 Corinthians 11:29]. He is talking about someone who, without appreciation, without gratitude to Christ, would observe the Lord’s Supper lithesomely, trippingly, triflingly, unappreciatively. "For this cause," he says, "many are weak and sickly among you, and many of you sleep" – have died [1 Corinthians 11:30]. What an astonishing thing: because of their unworthy attitude toward the elements of the Lord’s Supper that depicts the suffering of our Christ, some are weak, and some are sickly, and some have actually died.
Which brings to our heart the profound meaning and purpose of God in the institution of this holy supper, and its purpose: to bring back to me a recalling, a remembrance of what Christ did when He took my place and died for my sins on the tree [1 Peter 2:24]. Were it not for Him, I’d be lost. Were it not for Him, I’d face hell. Were it not for Him, I’d face God’s judgment, covered in sin, damned in my own wrong. How could any man stand before God and say, "Lord, I’ve never sinned. I’ve never done wrong. I’ve never found evil as a part of my heart, in imagination or life." There’s no man in the world that sinneth not [1 Kings 8:46; 2 Chronicles 6:36], and "the wages of sin is death" [Romans 6:23]. and "the soul that sins shall die" [Ezekiel 18:20], and how shall I stand in the presence of God when "the great day of His wrath has come"? And "who shall be able to stand?" [Revelation 6:17]. I don’t stand. I can’t. He stands for me [2 Corinthians 5:21]. "And the life that I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loves me, and gave Himself for me" [Galatians 2:20]. He is my salvation, and He is my hope. He is my Redeemer. He is my pleader and lawyer. He stands for me in the great judgment day of the Almighty, and in Him, I have life, and hope, and salvation, and heaven, and every precious thing that only His gracious hand could bestow [1 Corinthians 11:23-26].
That’s why, in the holy supper, we thank God and break bread, and we have a prayer of thanks again, and drink the cup, praising Jesus for giving His life for us [1 Corinthians 11:23-26]. And that’s why, taking a Greek word, it’s called the Eucharist, Eucharist, the thanksgiving, Eucharist, the thanksgiving: "Thank Thee, Lord, for dying for me." Then we break bread. "Thank Thee, Lord, for pouring out Thy crimson life for me," and we drink the cup. It’s gratitude to God [1 Corinthians 11:23-26].
Now, I’m going to stand on this side of our communion table, and in a moment we stand and sing our invitation hymn. And while we stand to sing the appeal, a family you, a couple you, or just one somebody you, coming to the Lord Jesus in faith: "I have decided for Him tonight. I accept Him as my Savior tonight, and I’m coming," or to put your life with us in the circle of this dear church, on the first note of the first stanza, come. In the balcony round, you; on this lower floor, into the aisle and down to the front, you; there is time and to spare. Make the decision now in your heart, and when you stand up, stand up walking down that stairway, coming down this aisle. "Here I am, pastor. Tonight, I have decided for God, and here I am," while we stand and while we sing.