The Jesus of the Memorial Supper
April 4th, 1982 @ 8:15 AM
1 Corinthians 11:23-26
THE JESUS OF THE MEMORIAL SUPPER
Dr. W. A. Criswell
1 Corinthians 11:23-26
4-4-82 8:15 a.m.
Now the sermon this hour is another in the series, it is the last in the series, on the ordinances of the church; and it is entitled The Jesus of the Memorial Supper. And it is a presentation of our Lord in the eyes of the apostle Paul and of the apostles. Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 11, beginning at verse 23:
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, broken for you: this do in remembrance of Me.
After the same manner, in the same way also He took the cup, when He had supped, when He had first drank of it, had drunk of it Himself, saying, This cup is the new covenant in My blood: this do ye, as oft as ye drink it, in remembrance of Me.
For as often as you eat this bread, and drink this cup, katangello, ye publish abroad, you openly demonstrate, you dramatize the Lord’s death till He come.
[1 Corinthians 11:23-26]
Something that these young people are going to do tonight: they are going to dramatize, open to public view, the Passion of our saving Lord. That is what the Lord’s Supper does.
Now we shall look at it closely. "I received of the Lord that which also I delivered unto you, That the same night in which He was betrayed He took bread" [1 Corinthians 11:23]. We have in this institution, in this ordinance, a night portrait of our Lord; pulling back the curtain of darkness and seeing our Lord at night. It’s an unusually but emphatically true thing that a man can be one thing under the white public eye of the daytime, and he can be something altogether different under the cover of night. So in this story we have the drawing back of the curtain of darkness, and we look at Jesus in the night.
Jesus is like God the Father: how is God at night? In Psalm 8 and in Psalm 19 the inspired singer says that we see the glory of God, the handiwork of God, the lacework of God at night. At night an atheist is half a believer in God. And at night, some of God’s most beautiful creatures sing their most beautiful songs: the nightingale, the whippoorwill. It was in night that God showed Himself a flame of fire, a pillar of fire that gave light to the Israelites [Exodus 13:21]. It was at night that the Lord God came to Solomon [2 Chronicles 7:12], and said to him that verse that all of us have memorized: "If My people, who are called by My name, will humble themselves, and pray" [2 Chronicles 7:14]. It was at night that God appeared to the statesman prophet Daniel, and opened to him the visions of all the story of mankind in the second and the seventh chapters of the Book of Daniel [Daniel 2:19, 7:1].
Now Jesus is like God. We are told in the Holy Scriptures that at night He prayed all the night long [Luke 6:12]. It was at night that He came walking to the disciples who were fearful in the storm on the sea [Mark 6:48]. In the daytime, in the week of His Passion, pre-Easter week, He taught in the temple, but at night, He was in the Mount of Olives praying and in communion with His Father [Luke 22:39-46].
So here is a portrait of our Lord Jesus at night; and trebly, quadruply, poignantly interesting because this is the last night of His mortal flesh. How does He spend it? He spends it with His disciples. They’re singing psalms. They’re giving thanksgiving to God. They are speaking words of encouragement, "Let not your heart be troubled" [John 14:1]. And the Lord is assuring them of a triumphant future. This is our Lord at night, "the same night."
Look again. We have a portrait of our Lord against a dark background: "the same night in which He was betrayed" [1 Corinthians 11:23]. Now that in itself commands attention: "the same night in which He was betrayed." Why does not the apostle say, "The same night in which He was eating the Passover"? That’s what He was doing when this incident occurred. Why didn’t he say, "The same night in which the Lord washed the apostles’ feet"? Or, "the same night in which He presented those discourses in the upper room," or "the same night in which He prayed in Gethsemane," or "the same night in which He was arrested," or "the same night in which He was tried by the Sanhedrin," or "the same night in which He was tried before Pontius Pilate," or "the night before His crucifixion"? Isn’t it unusual that he would say this: "the same night in which He was betrayed"? When you look at that closely, you begin to wonder if the apostle Paul is not so much setting down a date, a time, as he is presenting our Lord in all of His tender and beauty against a background of treacherous darkness – "The same night in which He was betrayed" [1 Corinthians 11:23].
Have you ever seen a portrait by Rembrandt? I have looked at them in the great museums and galleries all over this earth. And Rembrandt painted every one of those famous portraits in the same manner: they are all presented as a contrast between light and darkness. Every one of them, the portrait is presented, painted, against a background that is solid black, and the face is in distinction, brought out lividly, vividly against that dark background. And the intense light that Rembrandt focused on the face makes its features so very prominent. I wonder if the apostle Paul is not doing the same thing here. Against the background of His betrayal, he presents the Lord Jesus as He establishes this ordinance and spreads this table of love and grace and forgiveness.
When you think of the apostles and their horror at one of their own number delivering their blessed Lord into the hands of the people who hated Him, I can know, easily tell of the revulsion in the hearts of the apostles toward Judas, because when I read the Bible, he’ll be named more than twenty times in the story. And without exception, every time they will add that epithet, that descriptive word: "Judas, who betrayed Him." And I can sort of understand that, can’t you? Judas had been with them from the beginning. He had followed the footsteps and the teaching of our Lord through all of His public ministry. As with them, he was loved, and trusted, and hoped for – so much so, that he was the treasurer of the group. He carried; John calls it, "the bag" [John 13:29]. Had it been a Pharisee who had conspired with a Herodian to betray the Lord, or had it been a Sadducee who conspired with a Caiaphas to deliver the Lord, or had it been even a publican who had conspired with a Roman soldier to divide the pieces of silver and to deliver the Lord, it might not have been so terribly tragic. But this is the most trusted of the apostles: Judas.
Now against that background, how is the Lord? How does He respond? How does He reply? The portrait of Jesus against that dark background. Well, this is it: at the same time that He was dipping the sop in the dish with Judas, both of them together, He instituted that holy ordinance of the memorial supper; at the same time [Matthew 26:20-29; Mark 14:18-24].
How did He reply when the hour came that midnight for Jesus to be betrayed into the hands of those who crucified Him? Do you remember how He did it? He did it so softly, and so kindly, and so tenderly, so sweetly, and so graciously, that all of the apostles, except Simon Peter and John, thought that Jesus was talking about giving something to the poor, remembering the poor, talking to Judas. Do you remember what He said to Judas? He said, "What you do, do quickly" [John 13:27]. Like somebody being executed would say to the executioner, "Make it soon." And when He was actually betrayed, the only thing our Lord said to Judas was this: "Judas, do you betray your Lord with a kiss? With a kiss?" [Luke 22:48]. That’s all.
Tell me, would not you have thought that the Lord would have answered that traitor sitting with Him at the same table, dipping with Him from the same dish, would not you have thought that He would have heaped upon him a vituperative floodtide of words of loathing? Wouldn’t you? Wouldn’t you have thought that He would have poured out a volley of stinging rebuke? Or more, wouldn’t you have thought He would have cursed him as Jesus that week had cursed the fig tree and it withered away? [Matthew 21:18-20]. Wouldn’t you? Just words, so gentle and so kind that the apostles thought He was talking about taking care of the poor.
When you begin thinking about that, turning it over in your heart and your mind, that’s God. Like John said to Simon Peter when he looked at that shadowy figure in the midst of the early morning, John said to Simon, "Simon, you know who that is? That’s the Lord!" [John 21:7]. That’s the portrait of our Savior. That’s God: quenching, covering, drowning sin in abounding grace [Romans 5:20].
That’s the story in the garden of Eden: God’s grace covering over human sin [Genesis 3:21]. That’s the story in the portrait, in the picture of God, in Hosea. A parable – God Himself said so – Hosea’s wife prostitutes herself, sells herself, becomes a harlot, and in her degradation finally is sold into slavery; and Hosea the prophet is commanded to go buy her back, and take her back [Hosea 3]. And God says, "That is I and My people"; covering sin in abounding grace [Romans 5:20].
Is not our Lord like that? When Simon Peter is cursing and saying, "I never saw Him! I do not know Him!" the Lord turned and looked upon Peter, and dissolved him in tears [Luke 22:60-62]. And when next he saw Him, all that He said was, "Simon, son of Jonah, lovest thou Me?" [John 21:15]; that’s all.
Or this apostle Paul who is writing this, breathing out threatening and slaughter against the people of God; when the Lord appeared to him in the way to Damascus, what did He say? Humbly, sweetly, kindly, preciously, "Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou Me?" And falling at His feet, Saul said, "Lord, who art Thou?" And He replied, "I am Jesus of Nazareth, whom thou persecutest" [Acts 22:7-8]. Not, "I am now the Lord God of heaven and earth! And I have the omnipotent power to strike you dead and to damn your soul in eternal hell!" Nothing but, "I am Jesus of Nazareth, whom you persecute." Covering over sin in grace – "The same night in which He was betrayed" [1 Corinthians 11:23], a portrait of our Lord.
Will you notice again, in the institution of this holy ordinance, "This is My body broken for you; this is My blood, the crimson of My life, poured out for you. Eat, drink, in remembrance of Me" [1 Corinthians 11:24-25]. Instead of glibly reading that, think of that for this moment. That’s amazing! That’s almost unbelievably astonishing! Tell me; don’t we celebrate the birthdays of our great heroes? Not their death, their birthdays. We have a national holiday, Washington’s birthday. We have a national holiday, Lincoln’s birthday. There is a tremendous effort among the black population of America to make Martin Luther King’s birthday a national holiday. Isn’t that the way we do? He says, "The memorial is of My death; broken body and blood of life poured out."
When you read through the Bible, you’ll find many memorials. In the twelfth chapter of Exodus the Passover is called "a memorial of the deliverance of Israel out of Egypt" [Exodus 12:14]. In that same Book of Exodus, God commanded a book of memorial to be rehearsed in the ears of Joshua, to carry on that war of liberation [Exodus 17:14]. In that same Book of Exodus there is the commandment that on either side of the shoulders of the high priest there are to be two onyx stones; and they are to be inscribed with the names of Israel as a memorial unto God [Exodus 28:9]. God looks at them. In the Book of Joshua they took twelve stones out of the Jordan River, and stacked them on the other side at Gilgal as a memorial for the crossing of the children of Israel, dry-shod through the swollen Jordan River [Joshua 4:9].
Do you remember Jesus said, "Mary, who broke the alabaster box, wherever this gospel is preached, this will be told as a memorial to her" [Mark 14:9]. Do you remember in the tenth chapter of Acts, God says that the alms of Cornelius the centurion have come up before Him as a memorial of his godly life [Acts 10:31]. It’s always something like that. But in no place is it ever a memorial of death. But that’s our Lord.
Let me say it like this. What is it in the life of our Lord that He evaluated most, most tenderly, most poignantly, most preciously? What is it that above everything else He wanted us to remember? The memorial, it was His death, His cross.
Tell me, Jesus never said, "Make Me a monument to mark My resting place, a mighty mausoleum." Nor did He says, "Build here a great shaft of marble to commemorate, to memorialize My Sermon on the Mount." Nor did He say, "Build Me here a granite shaft to mark the place where I fed the five thousand." He never approached anything like that. But what He did was, "Remember My death for you. This do in remembrance of Me. My body nailed to the cross, and the crimson of My life poured out upon the earth" [1 Corinthians 11:23-25].
And oh how dear that suffering of our Lord is to us! It brings the remission of our sins [Matthew 26:28]. And that memorial is in the hearts of uncounted millions and millions and millions of people, yesterday, today, and will be until He comes. It says so: "Until He come" [1 Corinthians 11:26]. The Lord in our hearts, memorialized in that drinking of the cup and sharing of the broken bread.
You know it’s a strange day in which you and I live. The humanist and the atheist are doing everything they can to blot out the name of our Lord from the public school, from public prayer, even trying to disassociate Him from the Christmas holiday. My brother, they’ll never succeed. To blot out the name of our Lord you’d have to destroy the earth’s finest music, its greatest literature, its most commanding art, its noblest laws, civilization itself. The monument to Christ is in our hearts, and is here in this simple ordinance in remembrance of Him [1 Corinthians 11:23-26].
I close with one other thing I point out to you. "For as often as you eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do katangello, you publish, you preach, you proclaim, you openly display the Lord’s sacrificial atoning death till He come" [1 Corinthians 11:23]. There are many ways that we publicize the Lord. We do it in preaching, such as I am here this moment; or as I used to for years, out on the street, preaching. We do it by personal testimony: "I have found the Lord; come and see." We do it by singing, as these young people do this morning, will do tonight. We do it by Christian literature: passing out a tract, or giving a Bible. We do it by supporting the cause of Jesus with our money, our tithes and our offerings. We do it by radio and by television. There are many, many ways of publicizing the gospel of Christ, katangello, many ways. But there’s none more poignant than this: breaking bread and drinking the cup.
Here is one reason: it speaks a universal language. I sat down with a holy company right after the World War in Munich, Germany, in the midst of vast, illimitable desolation; and was moved by the Lord’s Supper. I helped preside over the Lord’s Supper in the Baptist church in Moscow, Russia. I couldn’t understand a word; but it spoke a language that I knew, and they knew. I have looked and watched and shared in the Lord’s Supper in England, in Australia, in Italy, all over this world: not know the language of the people, but I knew the language of the ordinance. It speaks a universal language.
And it includes a universal experience. All of us eat, all of us drink: and this simple ordinance is the gospel in that simple way of eating, this is His body; of drinking, this is His blood [1 Corinthians 11:24-25]. Oh, that we would keep it that!
One of the great pastors of England lay dying, and his friends gathered round and said, "Do you have one last word for the world?" And the dying pastor said, "I do." It was this: "Oh, preacher, make it plain, make it plain how a man can be saved!" It is, I think, the fallen depraved man that adds to the gospel all kinds of philosophical, metaphysical speculations; when God says the way to be saved is a plain way, it’s a simple way. It is eat and drink. It is look and live [John 3:14-15]. It is believe and be saved [Acts 16:30-31]. It is wash and be clean [1 John 1:7; Revelation 7:14]; a portrait of our Lord.
May we stand together? Our Lord in heaven, if we have ever beclouded and darkened the simple way of how to be saved, may God forgive us. And, Lord, may we always present Jesus in the clear light of the beauty and majesty and holiness of His sweet and tender and beautiful life. Bless Thou this congregation that listens so prayerfully and earnestly. And bless Thou the truth of the message we bring. And our Lord, grant that God shall be pleased with it; and may the sign be a harvest of souls.
In a moment we sing our appeal. And a family you, a couple you, or just one somebody you, coming to the Lord, or to us, do it now. Make the decision now. And thank Thee, Master, for those You give us this sweet moment, in Thy saving name, amen. While we sing, come, and welcome.