Sermon series: Questions Jesus Asked
Many shopping malls house a store called Things Remembered, which offers items that can be engraved to commemorate special occasions. Many people give engraved items in honor of a special day or shared moment. If you have received such a gift, you know what a treasure it can become. People like to remember happy times and significant events.
Memories are precious; they keep us connected to people, places, and events that have shaped us and influenced our lives. We may wish we could forget some things, but even life's unpleasantries can offer lasting lessons learned through adversity.
At the Last Supper Jesus shared a meal with His disciples and then led them in the ancient observance of the Feast of Unleavened Bread, or Passover. Jesus, the Master Teacher, used this opportunity to plant an important memory in His disciples gathered in that upper room. Jesus shared this meal for their benefit and for ours. As Jesus raised the bread and the cup in thanksgiving, He added new significance to this ancient ritual. Luke 22 records that Jesus told His disciples to observe the Passover "in remembrance of me."
Jesus took an old symbol and filled it with new meaning. The meaning of Jesus' words and actions is rooted in His command to remember. As today's disciples, we observe the Lord's Supper in remembrance of Christ. Some congregations refer to this ordinance as the Memorial Supper to highlight the significance of Christ's atoning work on the cross and to call believers to remember His sacrificial death. Others call it Communion to highlight the believer's intimacy with Christ. Whatever we call this observance, one thing is clear: It is a time to remember.
I. Historical significance
The Feast of Unleavened Bread is the historical background for the establishment of the Lord's Supper. Exodus 12 presents the final chapter in God's miraculous rescue of Israel from slavery in Egypt: the plague of judgment of the firstborn. For the angel of death to pass over a household, a family had to put blood from a sacrificed lamb on the doorframe of their house and eat the Passover meal as the Lord had prescribed. This lamb and the meal of unleavened bread became the abiding symbol of Israel's deliverance from bondage.
As Jesus' disciples watched Jesus and listened to His words this Passover, they would have understood the historical significance of His actions. What they did not fully understand until after the crucifixion and resurrection, however, was the transformation of what had been a Jewish feast of remembrance into a new symbol for remembering Jesus' atoning sacrifice.
Recently my wife and I had the opportunity to visit the battleship USS Missouri, which is now anchored off Ford Island in Pearl Harbor. Our tour of "Big Mo" ended at the place on the deck where General Douglas MacArthur accepted the unconditional surrender of the empire of Japan on September 2, 1945. This historic event ended the hostilities of World War II in the Pacific theater.
The signing of that treaty happened before my wife or I were born, but the events symbolized by that treaty shaped the world into which we were born and in which we now live. An event that happened more than 50 years ago still has significance. We still enjoy the freedoms secured by the heroic service of our parents and grandparents.
The God who acted in history to deliver His people Israel has also acted in history to deliver us. The elements used in the Supper are not the real body and blood of Jesus but are powerful symbols that cause us to remember that Jesus really did suffer and die in a real, historical time and place. What Jesus did centuries ago impacts my life today and my eternity as well.
II. Redemptive significance
We should remember the Supper's redemptive significance. When John the Baptist saw Jesus approaching, he cried out, "Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!" (John 1:29). John clearly established the reason for Jesus' coming: as the fulfillment of what the Passover lamb had only foreshadowed. In Exodus 12, the lamb was sacrificed for the deliverance of one family; at the cross, the Lamb of God was sacrificed to deliver the whole world from the power and penalty of sin. The Passover lamb served as the substitute for the firstborn of Israel, but Jesus was our substitute at Calvary. Without the death of the lamb and the spreading of its blood, the children of Israel would have suffered the judgment of God. Without the shedding of the blood of Jesus and His substitutionary death, we would have no hope of salvation.
In his book The Tale of the Tardy Oxcart, Charles Swindoll relates the story of an eightyear- old Kenyan girl, Monica, who fell into a pit and broke her leg. Mama Njeri, an older woman, seeing what had happened, climbed into the pit to rescue Monica. In the pit a black mamba, the most poisonous snake in Africa, bit both Monica and Mama Njeri. Both ladies were rushed to a medical center; Monica improved, but tragically, Mama Njeri died. A nurse missionary explained to Monica that Mama Njeri was bitten first and thus received all of the mamba's poison. When the snake bit Monica, it had no poison left. The nurse went on to explain that Jesus had similarly taken the poison of our sin so that we can live. Monica understood and readily received Christ.1
People have many ideas about who Jesus is and why He came to earth. Jesus said Himself that He "came to seek and to save what was lost" (Luke 19:10). When we gather around the Lord's table, the elements speak to us of His sacrifice, His substitution, and our salvation. We celebrate our redemption in remembrance of Him.
The Lord's Supper presents the powerful message of the gospel. What a perfect time to give people an opportunity to receive the salvation purchased at the cross! Those who respond will remember that the symbols of the Lord's Table spoke to them of their need and Christ's provision.
III. Personal significance
We should remember the Supper's personal significance. Luke 22:19-20 record Jesus' words: "This is my body given for you. . . . This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you." Jesus personalizes His statements by using the pronoun you. Jesus told His disciples that He was going to suffer for them. He was going to die for them. True, Jesus would die for everyone, for "the sin of the world"; but His disciples heard Jesus say, "I am doing this for you!"
If you are like me, you receive more junk mail than any other kind of mail. You know the kind of mail I'm talking about. It's addressed to occupant or resident, and if the envelope does have your name, it usually is a computer-generated label that may or may not have your name spelled correctly. In short, it's not personal. If, however, you get a piece of mail with your name handwritten or typed, or if you recognize the return address, then you know that someone has written you personally. People generally open that kind of mail first, and it is almost always a source of pleasure. Personal mail shows that someone has taken time to communicate with just you.
In 1 Corinthians 11, Paul gives instructions concerning the Lord's Supper and in doing so reminds the Corinthian Christians of two things: their personal salvation in Christ and that participation in the Supper carries inward and outward aspects. Inwardly, participants are to examine themselves spiritually before taking the Supper (vv. 27-28). Outwardly participants proclaim through the Supper the Lord's death until He returns (v. 26).
Observing the Lord's Supper carries personal significance because Jesus calls us to remember that He gave His body "for you." It also carries personal responsibility for us to participate with reverence, humility, and sincerity, understanding and proclaiming Christ's great act of love. Paul said that our observance of the Lord's Supper is to be done to help us to remember Christ. Perhaps we are never more the church, the bride of Christ, than when we gather at the table to worship by remembering Him. May we never forget.