The Memorial Supper
March 28th, 1982 @ 8:15 AM
1 Corinthians 11:25-26
THE MEMORIAL SUPPER
Dr. W. A. Criswell
1 Corinthians 11:25-26
3-28-82 8:15 a.m.
Thank you young people, our orchestra, and our chapel choir; and God bless you who have shared this hour with us in days past, and now are listening with us on radio to the First Baptist Church in Dallas. This is the pastor bringing the message, another in a series on the great doctrines of the Bible. And the message today concerns The Memorial Supper.
Four times in the New Testament is the institution of this sacred memorial recorded: in Matthew 26, in Mark 14, in Luke 22, and in 1 Corinthians chapter 11. And Paul writing in 1 Corinthians, chapter 11 said:
The Lord gave thanks, and gave them the bread to break.
And in the same manner took the cup;
– and in each instance said –
This do in remembrance of Me.
For as often as you eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do portray
– you dramatize, you proclaim –
you present the Lord’s death
– the atoning death of our Christ, you present it –
until He comes.
[1 Corinthians 11:24-26]
The institution of this supper was one of the solemn occasions in the life of our Lord. It was instituted during the Passover feast. During the feast, the Lord took bread – I wonder if I can reach that? – He took matzah. The Passover was a feast done in great haste. They were to leave Egypt immediately, and they didn’t have time to knead the dough and to place in it yeast to make it rise. So this matzah is nothing but ground wheat flour and water baked in the fire. It is called "unleavened bread." There is nothing in it to make it rise; baked in the fire, ground in the mill. He took this matzah, and then He took the crushed fruit of the vine, the crimson of life, and He presented it to them; one in broken form to eat and the other, the crimson cup, to drink.
Adding to the solemnity of that occasion, Paul says, "I received of the Lord that which I delivered unto you, That the Lord Jesus the same night in which He was betrayed,"[1 Corinthians 11:23]. All of the Gospels, however they may differ in their story of the life of our Lord, all of them come together in that closing night of the Passover and tell the story of the betrayal of Jesus by Judas, of the institution of the Lord’s Supper, of the discourses in the upper room in John 14 through 16, His high priestly prayer in John 17, then His trial before the Sanhedrin, then before the Roman procurator, and then the following morning His crucifixion; all of them at great length will present that story. And it was in that solemn hour and upon that solemn occasion that the memorial supper was instituted.
One of the most unusual and one of the saddest of all of the developments in human life is the fact that though this meal, this supper, is so simple, drawn by an angel’s hand from heaven, a child can behold it in simplicity, it has become the storm center through the centuries of the Christian faith. The corroding strife centered around that simple meal, that matzah there, and that cup containing the fruit of the vine, the strife centering around that simple meal is one of the saddest stories that you could ever read. It begins here in the New Testament. The eleventh chapter of the first Corinthian letter that gave rise to Paul’s word concerning its institution is over the bitter, unhappy problems that had arisen in the church at Corinth. He says, "When you come together, one of you is gluttonous and another of you is drunk" [1 Corinthians 11:21]. And these verses in the eleventh chapter of 1 Corinthians concern the excesses that attended that simple meal.
Then in the course of the development of Christian theology, the Catholic, Roman Catholic Church developed a doctrine of "transubstantiation"; trans, the Latin word for "across" or "change," trans; substantia, the substance. So they developed the doctrine that this piece of matzah and that cup of the fruit of the vine, under the hand of the priest is actually turned into the actual body and the actual blood of Jesus – transubstantiation. In the days of the Reformation, the Lutherans developed the doctrine of what a church historian will refer to as "consubstantiation"; from the Latin word cum, "with," and substantia: the doctrine that in that piece of matzah and with that fruit of the vine, there is the actual body and blood of Jesus. Then the Reformed doctrine under John Calvin, though they taught that the matzah and the cup did not contain the actual body and blood, yet the presence of the Lord is in it, dynamically and spiritually. Then of course, Zwingli, the Reformer that spoke of that doctrine, that presentation as we look upon it today: he taught that the elements were symbolic. This matzah represented – brought to our minds the body of our Lord, and the crushed fruit of the vine brought to our remembrance the blood of our Savior. Thus, through the centuries and through the years, that awesome strife has gone on concerning this simple love feast, this simple meal of eating and drinking.
In the Bible, we are told very explicitly how it ought to be observed. It’s an ordinance in the church. It doesn’t belong to the congress, or the legislature, or the judiciary, or to the civic clubs, or to the alderman’s council; it is a church ordinance, in the heart of the church. We are told how it is to be observed in its order. In the Great Commission we are first to be disciples, second we are to be baptized, and then third we are to observe these things God has given us [Matthew 28:19-20]. And the order of that is as inspired as the content of it. We are to be saved, we are to be Christians; we are to be baptized; then we are to observe this holy ordinance.
The elements of the Lord’s Supper are plainly described. It is unleavened bread, and it is the crushed fruit of the vine. Isn’t it a strange thing that when you read the institution of the Lord’s Supper in all four accounts, the word "wine" is never used? Now in that day they had no way to keep the crushed fruit of the vine; canning was not invented until Napoleon Bonaparte needed something to support his army, and they invented canning in order to support Napoleon’s army. But until about 1800 there was no such thing as keeping the crushed fruit of the vine without fermenting. So, God knew that, in the institution of this Lord’s Supper, we did not necessarily have to use fermented fruit of the vine. So, He never uses the word; it is always "the fruit of the vine," or it always "the cup." Now I think it ought to be that. I think the bread we eat ought to be unleavened. I think the fruit of the vine that we drink ought to be the crushed fruit of the vine, crushed grapes.
I went to a Lord’s Supper meeting and sat there and still don’t know how to describe my feelings in it. For the bread, they used light bread; they pinched a large loaf of light bread. And for the fruit of the vine, they had water. And I am sure for them it was all right. But for me and my house, that is a direct contradiction of the Word of God. It is unleavened bread, it’s that matzah, and it’s the crushed fruit of the vine, red, the crimson of life.
How often we observe it is spoken of here in the Holy Scriptures. It says, "For as oft, for as often as you eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do show the Lord’s death till He come" [1 Corinthians 11:26], as often as you do it. In the second chapter of the Book of Acts, they observed the Lord’s Supper every day [verse 46]. In the twentieth chapter of the Book of Acts, at Troas, they were observing it on Sunday [verse 7]. The frequency of our observance of this memorial is up to us. We could observe it every day. We could have a service, a memorial at an appointed hour every day here in the church. And the people that would love to come could come and share it. I would not object to that at all, having it every day. We can have it once a week; any hour, any day, once a week. We can observe it once a month, which is the habit of our church. We can observe it once a quarter, which is the habit of all the little churches that I pastored in the days of my youth. We could observe it semi-annually. How often you observe it is up to you. We just make the choice. Just as often as you do it, however it is, it is in your choice.
Now, the supper ought to be observed with deep humility and self examination. Paul writes, "Let a man examine himself, then let him eat the bread and drink the cup. For he that eateth and drinketh in an unworthy way," either in an orgy, in contempt, in indifference, in an unworthy way, "eateth and drinketh judgment to himself." In the church there in Corinth, he says, "Because of the way you observe the Lord’s Supper, many of you are weak and sickly." And this is one of the most amazing passages in the Bible that I have ever read, "And many of you have died, many of you sleep because of the way you have observed this holy ordinance." Isn’t that an amazing sentence? "For this cause many are weak and sickly among you and many sleep" [1 Corinthians 11:28-30]. Many of them have died. It is, O Lord, it is an awesome responsibility that we receive from Your hands when we seek to observe this holy and heavenly meal.
Now, I want to speak of its biblical meaning for us. As we read the Scriptures, and as we study them, what is God’s meaning in this beautiful supper for us? Number one: it is a memorial; it is plainly that. "This do in remembrance of Me," and they ate a piece of broken bread. "This do in remembrance of Me," and all of them drank of the cup [1 Corinthians 11:24-25]. It is a memorial. It is to bring to our minds when we look at it and when we share and participate in it, it is to bring to our minds the memory of the suffering atoning death of our Lord.
There are many ways that that memorial could have been erected. It could have been a monolithic marble column. I’ve seen them in Egypt. I’ve seen them all over the world. If you’ll go to Washington D. C. one of the things you’ll certainly look at is that tall monolithic marble monument to the father of our country. It could have been that kind of a memorial. If you have ever been in India, you wouldn’t miss the Taj Mahal – I think the most beautiful building ever erected – it is a memorial to a loved wife, built by her husband. It’s a mausoleum. If you go to Washington again, you will see one dedicated to Lincoln, one dedicated to Jefferson; you’ll see them all over the world. But the memorial to our Lord is a simple, plain, humble breaking bread and drinking from a cup. It is eating and drinking. It is primeval. It is basic. It is fundamental. There is no life without it. And in the infinite omniscience of God, it is this kind of a memorial that is repeated again and again: eating and drinking, remembering the body and blood of our blessed Savior.
Will you notice, again, all four accounts speak like this: "This is My blood of the new, kaine, covenant, testament, diatheke." The whole New Testament is called he kaine diatheke, the new compact, the new promise, the new hope, the new covenant, the new testament. "This is My blood of the new covenant." The old covenant was a covenant of law. In the twenty-fourth chapter of the Book of Exodus and the seventh verse, Moses took the book of the covenant and read to the people. "This do, and thou shalt live" [Luke 10:28]. In the ark there were the Ten Commandments, the tables of stone; and it was called the ark of the covenant. "This do, and thou shalt live." But who keeps the Ten Commandments in perfection? Who could ever stand up and say, "I have loved the Lord with all of my heart and all of my soul and all of my strength, and Him only have I served"? The old covenant but reminds us of our sinfulness and depravity.
The new covenant is this: believe and be saved; trust and find your sins washed away. This is the new hope and the new promise and the new covenant in Jesus our Lord. I wish I had time to speak of it from the eighth and the ninth chapters of the Book of Hebrews. It is the emblem of a new covenant. No longer is it that we strive to be saved, but we rest in the grace and goodness of our dear Lord.
And that is seen in the third thing that this memorial supper is: in all of the accounts, "He took the bread and eucharisteo, and He took the cup and eucharisteo"; it is a Eucharist. Eucharisteo, eucharisteo is gratitude, thanksgiving. He took the cup and gave thanks; He took the bread and gave thanks. It is a thanksgiving supper.
Now for a minute, listen to this. There is something of the times and of the age in which we live in all of us. You can’t escape it. There is a repercussion of the life of the generation in which your life is cast in you. You just, I say, can’t obviate it. And a second thing, we bring over into our religion that spirit of the age and of the times; we can’t help it. We reflect the generation in which we live. In the generation in which we live, there is ever before us the goal of striving, of achieving. There are ideals and there are great purposes to be realized, to be reached; and that sense of effort and striving and reaching and achieving is in all of us. The age is like that, and we reflect it.
Now, we do the same thing in religion. There is an innate, almost unstudied, effort on the part of all of us in religion to achieve a thing for ourselves, to do it for ourselves. We’re going to struggle for our salvation! We’re going to work for our redemption! We’re going to win it for ourselves. That’s in us. And practically all of the great denominations of Christendom encourage that: that’s the way you’re saved: you’re saved by good works, you’re saved by struggling, you’re saved by striving, you’re saved by achieving. And that’s why they never have rest in their souls. How do you know whether you’re good enough? How do you know whether you have ever achieved enough? When you stand before God, how do you know that you will be acceptable enough? There is never any quietness of heart; they’re still struggling and agonizing, they’re trying to be saved by works.
What this memorial service proclaims to us and to the world is our salvation is a gift that we take from the blessed hands of our Lord. We receive it. All four of these memorial accounts, the first word that the Lord will say is labete, that’s a second aorist imperative from lambano, which means "to take, to receive." "Labete, take, eat, take, receive." The Christian life does not begin in our struggling, it does not begin in our striving, it does not begin in our worthiness: the Christian life begins in an acceptance; "Lord, a gift, and I receive it from Your blessed and gracious hands." And then the remainder of our lives is one of praise, thanksgiving, and gratitude, and love, and honor, and reverence, just praising Jesus every step of the pilgrim way.
Your great hymns reflect that doctrine.
Could my tears forever flow, could my zeal no languor know
These for sin could not atone, Thou must save and Thou alone
In my hands no price I bring, simply to Thy cross I cling.
["Rock of Ages," Augustus Toplady]
It is a gift from God. It’s something Jesus has done for us that we couldn’t do for ourselves. And this memorial supper is a proclamation of that goodness and grace of our loving Savior. He died for us, and we receive our salvation as a gift from His hands. And that’s what you do when you take it from somebody’s hands in symbolic form, you take that piece of bread, and from somebody’s hands in symbolic form you take that cup, and you eat and you drink; given to you, bread of heaven, the crimson of life.
Number four, this supper is a koinonia. However you want to translate that word, it is a communion, it is a fellowship, it is a relationship. Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 10:16, "The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the koinonia of the blood of Christ? And the bread which we break, is it not the koinonia of the body of Christ?" The koinonia, the fellowship, the communion, the relationship; and look at that in keeping with the message that I am presenting from the Bible. Our relationship is not with impersonal law, it’s not with cold tables of stone, it is not with all of the commandments written on the pages of the old covenant; but our relationship is a living one with our Lord. We talk to Him, and we walk with Him, and we open our hearts to Him, and He speaks to us, and we speak to Him. We pray, and He answers in our hearts and from the sacred Word. It is a koinonia; it is a fellowship. It is a personal relationship with our blessed Jesus.
Number five, what does the Bible say this memorial supper means to us? It is our daily strength; it is a picture of our feeding upon Christ. In the sixth chapter of the Gospel of John – can you imagine these words? – "Jesus said unto them," beginning at verse 53:
Truly, truly, 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.
– It’s our personal relationship with Christ –
This is that bread which came down from heaven: that he that eateth shall live forever.
As our baptism is our death, burial and resurrection, so the memorial supper is a picture of our daily feeding upon Christ. He is our strength; He is the manna from heaven, the bread of angels’ food.
And last, it is a prophetic and eschatological picture and promise of our ultimate and final hope: not forever will tears and sorrow and war rage in this world; the day is coming when God will make right everything that is wrong. And this blessed beautiful memorial supper is a promise of that eschatological consummation. Without exception, all of the accounts thus present it. Our Lord will say in Matthew 26:29, "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," at the messianic banquet of the Lord. And Paul quotes Jesus as saying it like this: "As oft as you eat the bread, and drink the cup, ye portray the Lord’s death till He come, till He come" [1 Corinthians 11:26].
It has a looking to the past; this is the death of Jesus for us. The memorial supper looks at the present; we are feeding upon Christ, manna from heaven, our daily strength. And it looks to the future; He is coming again. In that simple meal is summed up in symbol, in picture, in emblem, all of human experience, all of revelation, and all of the hope and promise we have in the world to come. As I study these Scriptures and read them, I am overwhelmed at how much the Lord could pack and place in a simple act of eating a piece of broken bread and drinking from a cup of the crushed fruit of the vine. But that’s God.
May we stand together?
Our Lord, we are so feeble and frail and limited. Thou art so holy, and all wise, and high and lifted up. It is in deepest contrition, in confession, that we approach Thy throne of grace, that we share in Thy holy ordinances. O Master, that our lives might be enriched in our daily communion with Thee, the koinonia, the fellowship we have with Thee. And our Lord, that the whole world might humbly bow at Thy dear feet, loving Thee, accepting Thee; the gift of salvation, "not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy, according to His grace does the Lord save us" [Titus 3:5]. "Our works are as filthy rags in Thy sight" [Isaiah 64:6]. But oh the love and grace of the blessed Jesus, who paid the debt of our sins and who offers to us eternal life for the accepting, for the having, for the taking. And as we take bread and eat it, and receive the cup and drink it, may we thus receive from Thy wonderful nail-pierced hands the gift of eternal life.
And in this brief moment that we remain, a family you, coming to the Lord and to us; a couple you, or one somebody you, "This day is God’s day for me, and I’m answering with my life." On the first note of this first stanza, take that first step down one of those stairways in the balcony, down one of these aisles on this lower floor, "Here I am, pastor, and here I stand." Do it now. And our Lord, we thank Thee for these who’ll be answering God’s call and invitation today, in Thy saving name, amen. While we sing, and welcome.
four times in New Testament(Matthew 26:26-29,
Mark 14:22-25, Luke 22:14-20, 1 Corinthians 11:23-26)
solemnity of the of the occasion when instituted
Passover meal (Exodus 12:1-28, 31-34, 1
Corinthians 11:24, Matthew 26:28)
same night He was betrayed(1 Corinthians 11:23)
The designation of Judas (John 13:21-30, Matthew
III. Tragedy that this simple meal be the
center of bitterest confrontation
Reformed, Calvinism – Christ dynamically present spiritually
– elements are but symbols
IV. Administering the Supper
of a definite order in the Great Commission (Matthew
The elements used
Frequency(1 Corinthians 11:26, Acts 2:46, 20:7)
be presented in deep reverence, self-examination (1
V. The Biblical meaning of the Supper
memorial of the atonement of Christ for our sins(1
symbol of the new covenant(Matthew 26:28, Mark
14:24, Luke 22:20, 1 Corinthians 11:25, Exodus 24:7)
– a thanksgiving for what Christ has done (1
life begins in confession, acceptance – the Supper proclaims that(Acts 16:31, John 3:16, Romans 10:9-10)
koinonia, a fellowship(1 Corinthians
10:16, Mark 10:38-39)
Personal relationship with Christ – not with impersonal laws (Exodus 19:13, 20:19, Hebrews 12:21-24)
picture of our daily strength, sustenance in Christ(John
prophetic, eschatological hope and promise (Matthew
26:29, Revelation 19:6-10, 1 Corinthians 11:26, Mark 14:25, Luke 22:16)