The Memorial Supper

1 Corinthians

The Memorial Supper

March 28th, 1982 @ 10:50 AM

There are four accounts of the institution of the ordinance of the Lord’s Supper in the New Testament. The twenty-sixth chapter of Matthew, the fourteenth chapter of Mark, the twenty-second chapter of Luke, and the eleventh chapter of Paul’s first letter to Corinth.
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Dr. W. A. Criswell

1 Corinthians 11:23-26

3-28-82    10:50 a.m.



And I welcome in the name of our dear Lord the great multitudes of you who are sharing this hour with us on radio and on television.  This is the First Baptist Church in Dallas, and this is the pastor bringing the message entitled The Memorial Supper.

Each morning hour I preach in a series of sermons on the great doctrines of the Bible.  They are being published.  There will be about twelve volumes.  The series is divided into fifteen sections.  And the section of the series in which we are now employed is that of the doctrine of the church, ecclesiology.  And out of all of the doctrinal sermons and certainly out of all of the messages on the church, none is more pertinent or more important to our understanding than the message delivered this morning hour. 

So I humbly pray that you will listen with your mind and head as well as your heart and soul.  We are addressing one of the tremendous controversial, striving points in the church; such through all of the centuries and the centuries.  There are four accounts of the institution of the ordinance of the Lord’s Supper in the New Testament.  One is in the twenty-sixth chapter of Matthew.  A second is in the fourteenth chapter of Mark.  A third is in the twenty-second chapter of Luke.  And the fourth is in the eleventh chapter of Paul’s first letter to Corinth. 

The subject is always introduced as though it belonged to one of the most solemn hours in the life of our Lord.  Matthew, Mark, and Luke introduce it as they were eating the Passover, the sacred, so meaningful and significant feast in the life of Israel, in the midst of the Passover.  The apostle Paul introduces it with a little sentence, "I have received of the Lord that which also I delivered unto you" [1 Corinthians 11:23], that is, by direct revelation from Christ Himself, not by the mediation of an apostle. 

He says in Galatians, "I did not confer with flesh and blood, but I went to Arabia" [Galatians 1:17-17].  And in those three years, Christ personally revealed to him the gospel that he preaches.  So he says, I received this by direct revelation from Christ, "that the Lord Jesus, the night, in which He was betrayed, took bread" [1 Corinthians 11:23].  Then he presents the institution of this holy ordinance.  Always it is written and presented in the framework of deepest solemnity. 

During the Passover, our Lord took bread.  It is made out of ground flour, wheat flour, mixed with water and baked in the fire.  It is unleavened.  There’s a reason for that. The Passover was eaten, shared by the families of Israel in that dark night when the death angel passed over [Exodus 12:1-28].  And in the lament and cry of all Egypt, the children of Israel were thrust out [Exodus 12:31-34].  There was not time to knead the bread.  There was no time to place leaven in it.  There was no time to give it hours to rise.  There was time just to take the flour, mix it with water, put it in the fire and then leave the land of slavery and bondage.  So this matsah is unleavened.  It is just ground flour mixed with water and baked in the fire. 

It is also unleavened because universally in the Bible leaven is a symbol and a type of sin.  And when the Lord says, "This is My body," it could not have leaven in it.  For the life of our Savior was without sin, without fault, perfect.  So while they were eating the Passover, the Lord took matsah and He broke it and gave to each one of the disciples a broken piece of unleavened bread, saying, "Take, eat in remembrance of Me" [1 Corinthians 11:24]. 

While they were eating, He took the cup filled with the crimson of life, crushed grape.  And He blessed it, and gave it to the apostles and asked that each one drink of that red, crimson fruit of the vine, saying, "This is My blood of the new compact, the new promise, the new covenant, the new testament shed for the remission of our sins" [1 Corinthians 11:24; Matthew 26:28]. 

And in the solemnity of that hour, He pointed out Judas, the one who would betray Him in the night that He was betrayed [John 13:21-27]; then followed those beautiful discourses in the upper room, written in John chapters 14 through 16; then followed the high priestly prayer, written in John 17; then followed the agony of Gethsemane; then His arrest and trial by the Sanhedrin; then His trial by the Roman court before the procurator, Pontius Pilate; then followed His suffering and crucifixion on the cross.  It is set, the Memorial Supper is set in the most solemn and sacred and deepening meaningful of all the moments in the life of our Lord. 

Is it not a tragedy unspeakable, indescribable that this simple meal, to break bread, to drink the cup should be the center of the bitterest confrontations and controversies in the history of the Christian church?  A meal so plain and so simple, bread and the fruit of the vine, as though it had been drawn by an angel’s hand; so simple and understanding that a child could look upon it in reverence and wonder; yet, it is the center of implacable strife.  The Roman Catholics developed a doctrine of transubstantiation; trans, the Latin word for a cross or chains, and substantia, "substance," so, transubstantiation.  The bread and the cup are transferred, are changed into the actual body and the actual blood of Christ. 

Again, in the Reformation, the development of the doctrine of the Lutheran Church, called by historians consubstantiation; cum, the Latin word for "with" and then substantia.  So the doctrine, though in that teaching, the bread and the cup do not turn, under the hand of the priest, into the actual body and blood of Jesus, yet the actual presence of the Lord, the body and blood is accompanying the bread and the cup, consubstantiation. 

Then there developed the doctrine of the Reformed, the Calvinist church under John Calvin.  The bodily presence of Christ is not there, they taught, in blood and in flesh, but He is dynamically present spiritually.  Then, of course, the teaching of Zwingli, that the elements are but symbols; they are symbolic presentations; they represent the body and the blood of Christ. 

But however the doctrine, it has been bitterly fought, bitterly defended, bitterly denounced, and that simple meal has become a struggle of corrosion and differentiation and theological battle in the centuries of the history of the church.  How tragic when the Scriptures are so simple and so plain in the presentation of that Eucharistic celebration, this Memorial Supper. 

There are several things that the Bible says about it, in its administration, in its observance.  One: it is in the church.  It is not a feast.  It’s not a supper that belongs to the congress, or the legislature, or the judiciary, or the civic club, or the town alderman.  But it is peculiarly and unusually an ordinance in the church.  It is a church ordinance.  Again, its order is very plainly and simply presented. 

In the Great Commission, the verses that close the Gospel of Matthew, the Lord says, "Go unto all of the world and make disciples, make believers, win to the faith"; second, "baptizing them in the name of the triune God"; third, "teaching them to observe the things I have given you to keep" [Matthew 28:19-20]. 

So the order is very plainly set forth.  First, we are to be saved; to accept the Lord as our Savior.  Second, we are to be baptized, buried with our Lord and raised with our Lord.  And third, we are to keep this holy ordinance as He delivered it to us.  And the order is as inspired as the content, one, two, three.  I am to be saved, to accept the Lord as my Savior.  Second, I am to be baptized as He was in the Jordan River, as He commands me to be as a follower of Him.  Then third, I am to break bread and to drink the cup. 

The Scriptures are no less plain to us regarding the elements of the Lord’s Supper.  They are two, the matsah, unleavened bread, and the cup, the fruit of the vine.  It is a very interesting thing to me as I pore over these Scriptures.  At no time in the four accounts of the institution of the Lord’s Supper is the word "wine" ever used.  It is never used.  Always, it is referred to as the cup or the fruit of the vine. 

Canning, the keeping of a liquid like grape juice or food like corn or beans; canning was not invented until 1800 AD.  And it was invented by Napoleon’s army.  For him to conquer the world, he had to feed his troops.  And they invented canning, the keeping of food from spoiling by placing in a vacuum. 

The Lord knew all about that.  And back in that day long ago, when there was no possibility of keeping that crushed fruit of the vine without its fermenting, yet the Lord knew this day was coming.  And He never used the word "wine."  He uses the word "cup" or the "fruit of the vine."  So the elements are unleavened bread and the crushed fruit of the vine. 

I went to a service in the West and they were having the Lord’s Supper, and they used pea-style pieces of light bread and they used water.  I can’t describe how I felt.  All I know is that it is far better for us to follow the Holy Scriptures.  Let’s take unleavened bread as the Bible says, and let’s take the crushed fruit of the vine, the red crimson of life, and we eat and we drink in that simple meal. 

How often are we admonished to take the Lord’s Supper?  That is left to us.  Saint Paul writes in this eleventh chapter of 1 Corinthians, "For as often as you eat this bread, and drink this cup" [1 Corinthians 11:26].  In the second chapter of the Book of Acts, they observed the Lord’s Supper every day [Acts 2:46].  In the twentieth chapter of the Book of Acts, we know that they observed it in Troas on Sunday [Acts 20:7]. 

The frequency of its observance is left to us.  I would not be in anywise in my heart objectionable to having the Lord’s Supper here in this sanctuary every day.  These who could come at any hour of the day and break bread and share the cup; it would be beautifully in order, every day.  I would not object to observing the Lord’s Supper every week, once a week.  In our church, we observe it once a month.  In the little churches that I pastored when I was a youth, we observed it every quarter.  It’s left to the congregation.  It’s just as often as you do it, do it in remembrance of Him. 

One other thing: the Scriptures admonish us concerning the Lord’s Supper, and that is, we are to behave in its presence, and it is to be presented in deep reverence and self-examination.  Paul will write in 1 Corinthians 11, "Let a man examine himself, and so eat the bread and drink the cup.  For he that eateth and drinketh unworthily," an adverb, a manner; not one of us is worthy, adjective; we’d never be able to approach the Lord’s Table if it were dependant upon our worth, never; "He that eateth and drinketh unworthily."  In Corinth, they were gormandizing at the "agape," the love feasts, and they were drinking until they were sot drunk in Corinth.  That’s why Paul is writing to them.  And thus, to observe the Lord’s Supper in an unworthy manner, unworthily, he says is to "eat and to drink judgment" to yourself [1 Corinthians 11:27-29]. 

Then he says a sentence that to me is one of the most unusual in the Bible, "For this cause," because of the way you observe the Lord’s Supper, "many are weak and sickly among you," and many are dead, "many sleep" [1 Corinthians 11:30].  Can you realize that?  I read that sentence, I read it ten thousand times.  "By the way that you do not reverence and present this holy ordinance in keeping with the solemnity of Christ, many among you are weak and sickly and many of you sleep."  Lord, Lord, help us in our work and in our administration of the things of Christ, help us to do it, Lord, worthily; in a worthy manner; in a precious and beautiful and spiritually acceptable way. 

Now, the concluding part of the sermon: what is the biblical meaning of this simple supper, the Lord’s Table?  There are several meanings that are plainly writ here in the Word of God.  And I name them.  Number one: it is a memorial of the atoning death of our Savior.  "This do in remembrance of Me."  And they ate a piece of bread.  "This do in remembrance of Me," and they drank from the cup [1 Corinthians 11:24-25].  It is to bring back to our minds and memory the suffering of our Lord for our sins, lest we forget. 

There are many kinds of memorials in the earth.  If you’ve ever been in Washington, you’ll see there a tall, monolithic marble monument to the father of our country.  You stand there and look at it, the Washington Monument.  Or if you have ever been in Egypt, you would have seen those obelisks.  One of them is taken place in one of the great squares in Paris; a monument made out of marble.  Sometimes a monument will take the form of a mausoleum.  If you’ve ever been in India, you have seen what I think is the most beautiful mausoleum in the world; the Taj Mahal, built by the Khan in memory of a loved wife. 

But our Lord did not create the monument to bring to us the memory of our Savior’s suffering in our behalf, not out of marble, not in the form of any kind of a structure, but He did it in a primeval and fundamental and basic kind of a way; to eat and to drink and repeated again and again and again.  So simple but so effective, to eat and to drink in memory, the bread broken, calling to us His torn body, and the crimson of the cup, reminding us of the blood poured out upon the earth for the remission of our sins. 

So at first is a memorial, "This do in remembrance of Me," to bring back to our minds and hearts the atoning sacrifice of our Lord. 

Number two: in all four accounts, it is referred to as a new covenant, hē kainē diathēkē.  When you buy a Greek New Testament, that’s what you will read on the cover, he kainē diathēkē, the new compact, the new promise, the new agreement, the New Testament, the new covenant.  "This is My blood of the diathēkē." 

Well, how is it new or different?  The old covenant was the law.  Read it, page after page, and it said, "Do this and live."  In Exodus 24, verse 7, the Bible says that Moses took the Book of the Covenant, and he read it to Israel.  The Ten Commandments were placed in an ark, and they called it the "ark of the covenant." 

Obey this law, and you’ll live.  But who among us can obey the law?  How could I ever stand before the Lord God and say, "Lord, I have loved Thee with all of my heart, and all of my mind, and all of my soul.  And I’ve never deviated from that devotion to Thee."  Who could ever say that?  The law condemns us; the law shows, reveals to us our depravity, our sin.  That’s the old covenant. 

The new covenant says, "Trust and be saved.  Believe and your sins are washed away."  The new covenant is in the sacrificial atoning death of our Lord. 

I am not perfect, but He was.  I face the penalty of judgment and death; He died for me.  And the righteousness of God found in Him, by imputation is laid to my account.  And when I stand before God; "Lord, I’m not worthy but He is, and I am not sinless but He is, and I don’t deserve an entrance into God’s heaven, but He opened the door for me, and in His love and grace, I stand in Him." 

That is the blood of the new covenant, and it leads to the third thing: this supper emblemizes and represents.  It is called in the Bible in all four accounts a "Eucharist."  And He took bread.  Eucharisteō, eucharistia is "thanks."  Gratitude, eucharisteō is "to give thanks."  And He took the bread and eucharisteō, He gave thanks [1 Corinthians 11:24].  And He took the cup and eucharisteō; so it is a eucharist.  It is a thanksgiving feast.  It is a part of our expression of the gratitude to God for saving us from our sins. 

Listen, there is a part of the age in which we live in all of us, you can’t escape it.  We all reflect the times and the generation in which our life and lot are cast, all of us.  And all of us bring that into the church and we bring that into our religion.  We can’t help it.  We belong to this day and age.  And we are a part of the church in this generation.  So we bring a part of that age into the church. 

Now, we’re taught and brought up, and rightly so, that in this life and age and time, we strive, we struggle – and then just name it – for excellence, for affluence, for success, for fame, for advancement.  We are taught that.  And if you don’t do that, you are looked upon as immature, or lazy, or trifling, or a parasite.  I can well understand how that in our age we just somehow unconsciously believe that a man ought to strive.  He ought to struggle for achievement and excellence. 

Now the problem lies when we bring that into our religion and into our faith.  And unconsciously we fall into the false doctrine that if I am to be saved, I must struggle for it!  It is a personal achievement.  It is something that I do!  I win it!  It’s a matter of works.  And to my sorrow, practically all of the great sections of Christendom believe that.  "Salvation is a matter of works.  It is a matter of doing good.  It is a matter of strife.  It is a matter of struggle.  It is a matter of grasping." 

Consequently, they never find rest in their hearts.  How do you know whether you are ever good enough?  How do you know whether you have ever won the race well enough?  How do you know whether you have ever achieved enough?  You don’t.  You never know whether you are saved or lost because it depends upon you and your good works. 

The Supper is a denial of all of that human effort.  The Supper is an announcement from God that our salvation is not a matter of our good works or of our worth, but our salvation is a matter of acceptance!  It is a matter of looking in faith and trust to the Lord Jesus, and we take it from His gracious hands as Paul would write in Titus 3:5, "Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy has He saved us."  Or as Paul writes in Ephesians 2, "Not by works are we saved; it is a gift of God; not of our excellence, lest a man should boast saying, "I did it." [Ephesians 2:8-9] 

Now that is proclaimed in this Lord’s Table.  In all four accounts, the first word that the Lord says is, "Take."  Labete; lambanō means "to receive, to take."  Labete is a second aorist imperative, "take, take."  And there’s no one of us who has ever participated in the Lord’s Supper but we take the bread from the hands of somebody else.  We take it.  There’s no one of us that ever shared the Lord’s Supper but that we take the cup from the hands of somebody else.  We take it.  That’s the first word, labete, "take, eat; take, drink." 

That is, the Christian life begins not in a struggle, or in a strife, or in a personal effort, or in an, in an attempt to be worthy; the Christian life begins in a confession, in an acceptance, in a believing, in a trusting.  "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ," accept Him in all of His atoning grace, "and thou shalt be saved"  [Acts 16:31; John 3:16; Romans 10:9-10].  

And this is a proclamation of that acceptance.  "Lord, what You did for me, unworthy as I am, Lord, thank Thee that You did it.  And Master, as fallen short and depraved as I am, not what I ought to be or what I could be, not what I pray to be, but Lord, in Thy love and grace, thank Thee for dying for me."  So it is called a eucharistia; a thanksgiving service.  Thank You, Lord. 

And the Christian life thereafter is not one of strife and struggle to enter into heaven.  But the Christian life is one thereafter of a pilgrim way, of oh! praise God that He died for me.  Thank God that He shed His blood for me.  Thank You, Jesus, that You have saved me and washed me in the blood of the Lamb.  That is a Christian life proclaimed, in that simple meal.  You sing in some of these great hymns.


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," by Augustus Toplady]


We’re saved by the blood of the Crucified One.  Not in me, in Him.  And I receive salvation as a gift from His nail-pierced hands, as I take the bread, His broken body, and as I take the cup, the crimson of His life. 

Number four: it is also a koinonia.  That’s a beautiful word here in the New Testament.  And we can translate it several ways; beautiful ways.  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?" 

This supper is a koinonia.  You can translate it koinonia.  You can translate it "fellowship."  You can translate it "communion."  You can translate it "relationship."  You can translate it "sharing."  Koinonia, this supper is a communion, a relationship, a sharing with Jesus our Lord, His body and His blood. 

I want you to look at that a minute.  Our relationship, our koinonia in the Christian faith is not with cold, impersonal law.  It is not with two cold tables of stone.  It is not even with Mt. Sinai that is split, and torn, and shaken with thunder and with lightning, in the presence of the holiness and judgment of Almighty God, so much so that even if an animal touched the mountain, it died [Exodus 19:13]. 

And Moses cried saying, "I do exceedingly fear and tremble."  And the people fled away saying, "Let us not see God or hear His voice" [Exodus 20:19].  Our relationship is not with law and with judgment.  But our relationship is with Mount Zion, with the hosts innumerable of angels, with the spirits of just men made perfect, with the new Jerusalem, Mount Zion, and with the blood of Christ that speaks, pleads, beautiful and precious things for us [Hebrews 12:21-24]. 

That’s this, the koinonia, our relationship with Christ, one of praise and thanksgiving for what He’s done for me, for us. 

Number five: it is a feeding upon our Lord for daily strength.  I do not know of a passage in the Bible that I can understand why all of His disciples left Him when He said it, all of them.  All of His disciples left; all of His followers, and He turned to the Twelve and said, "Will you also go away?"  And Simon Peter said, "Lord, to whom shall we go?" [John 6:66-68].

Now this is what Jesus said, and they left Him.  Then Jesus said unto them,  


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. 

,so he that eateth Me shall live by Me. 

This is that bread which came down from heaven; for he that eateth of this bread shall live forever." 

[John 6:53-58]


No wonder those followers turned aside and said, "How could a man believe or accept such a thing as this?"  But for us who are taught in the faith, it becomes a beautiful pilgrimage.  As in baptism, we are buried and raised to walk in a new life [Romans 6:3-4], so in this recurring church ordinance, we are taught to feed upon this manna, this angel’s food that comes down from heaven.  We are to feed upon Christ, every day His Word, every day in prayer, every day with our hearts open heavenward and Christ-ward and God-ward.  Lord, speak to me, show me, help me, and find strength in our daily sharing of this manna from heaven. 

And last: it is a prophetic eschatological promise and hope, this Supper.  All of the accounts are very careful to present that.  Here is one in Matthew.  "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 [Matthew 26:29]; when we sit down at The Marriage Supper of the Lamb [Revelation 19:6-10].  That’s the next time that Jesus will bless the cup, and we share it with Him.  Or as Paul will write it in 1 Corinthians 11, "For as often 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].  It is an eschatological, prophetic promise of that messianic day when Jesus Himself shall feed us. 

Lord, Lord, will there ever be a day when God makes everything wrong, right?  Will God ever intervene in human history?  And we don’t learn war anymore.  And we don’t build atomic bombs to destroy our fellow men.  And we don’t hate and we don’t kill.  And we don’t rob and we don’t terrorize.  Lord, is there ever such a day coming?  This Supper is a promise of that.  Eating bread, drinking this fruit of the vine is an overt act on our part that we believe someday Jesus is coming again.  As it looks to the past in memory, His death for us, as it portrays the present, feeding on the manna from heaven, so it looks to the future when Jesus shall sit down with us in the kingdom of the Father.  The Supper encompasses all time, all revelation, all Christian experience, and every hope and promise we have in Christ.  O Lord, that we might do things better for Thee!  May we stand together? 

Our Savior who looks down upon us from heaven, behold, we have taken unto ourselves to speak unto Thee, we who are but dust and ashes.  When God said, "Thou worm, Jacob," He addressed all of us, "at the cross, at the cross…for such a worm as I."  Lord, Lord, how wonderful and how gracious and how infinitely blessed that our Savior should come from heaven, should take upon Himself our sins, should die in our stead, and then turn in living resurrected life to promise us that if we’ll trust Thee You will lead us to heaven, forgive our sins, nurture us and care for us, and someday present us faultless before the great Glory in heaven.  Our Lord our lives flow in gratitude and praise and love and thanksgiving to Thee.  Just help us do it better, Lord, to sing a better song, to say a better word, to live a better life. 

In this moment when our people are bowed in prayer, a family you, a couple you, a one somebody you, "Pastor today we have decided for God and here we stand."  In the balcony round, down one of those stairways, on this lower floor, down one of these aisles, "Pastor, we are coming."  One to accept Christ as Savior, or another to put his life with us in the church, or another to answer God’s call in the heart, do it now and welcome as you come.  And our Lord, may angels attend the way as these come to Thee and to us, in Thy precious and saving name, amen.  While we sing, and welcome. And welcome.