The First Communion Service
“And as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and blessed it, and brake it, and gave it to the disciples, and said, Take, eat; this is my body. And he took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, Drink ye all of it; For this is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins. But 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. And when they had sung an hymn, they went out into the mount of Olives. Then saith Jesus unto them, All ye shall be offended because of me this night: for it is written, I will smite the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock shall be scattered abroad. But after I am risen again, I will go before you into Galilee. Peter answered and said unto him, Though all men shall be offended because of thee, yet will I never be offended. Jesus said unto him, Verily I say unto thee, That this night, before the cock crow, thou shalt deny me thrice. Peter said unto him, Though I should die with thee, yet will I not deny thee. Likewise also said all the disciples.” (Matthew 26:26-35)
By God’s purpose and by his providence, the Jewish passover of the Old Testament melted into the Lord’s Supper as the stars of the night dissolve into the light of the rising morning sun. The ordinance could not have been established with greater simplicity. There was absolutely nothing of ceremonial pageantry about it.
“And as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and blessed it, and brake it, and gave it to the disciples, and said, Take, eat; this is my body” (v. 26). — With those simple, unpretentious words, our Master established the blessed ordinance of the Lord’s Supper. He knew all that was before him. He knew what he must suffer. He knew what would happen with his disciples. He knew the turmoil that was coming. Wisely and graciously, he chose this last quiet evening before his crucifixion to bestow this parting gift to his church. How precious the memory of this night must have been to those disciples every time they met around the table afterward! Yet, the misunderstanding and abuse of this blessed ordinance has been the cause of strife, controversy and division, and of much heresy throughout church history. How sad! If there is anything that ought to unite all who profess faith in Christ, the Lord’s Supper is it; but sinful men have so perverted the teachings of Christ regarding this ordinance that it has become a opportunity for controversy to many, rather than an ordinance of communion.
Let every saved sinner seek grace to observe this blessed ordinance as it was originally established. Indeed, if we would worship God in the observance of this ordinance, or in the observance of any other, it must be observed as it was established by our Lord.
It is needful for us to understand the meaning of the elements our Lord used to give us the ordinance of the Lord’s Supper. Our Savior simply took the unleavened bread and wine of the passover supper and incorporated them into the elements to be used in the Lord’s Supper. He said, concerning the bread, “this is my body,” and concerning the wine, “this is my blood.” We need to understand the meaning of those words.
Error concerning the meaning of our Lord’s words can lead and has lead men to serious, deplorable idolatry and superstition. Papists tell us that the bread and wine literally become the body and blood of Christ. In the mass the priest pronounces his mumbo-jumbo, waves his hands, and pretends to magically transform the bread and wine into Christ’s body and blood. Thus, the mass becomes, in the idolaters’ minds, a sacrifice, a recrucifixion of Christ to make atonement for sin!
Luther taught that the bread and wine were mystically and spiritually transformed into the body and blood of Christ, so that the elements themselves became holy and conveyed grace to the communicants. Many today have a view similar to Luther’s. They attach a pagan, idolatrous meaning to the bread and wine of the Lord’s Table. I have friends who used to bury any bread and wine that was left over after communion. They had been taught that once it was consecrated, it could never be used again. Others make the ordinance (Christ’s established symbol of his finished work) to be a sacrament (a means by which grace is conveyed to the soul).
Without question, the meaning of our Lord’s words is this: “This bread represents my body. This wine represents my blood.” There is absolutely no indication that he meant any more than that. Frequently, in the Scriptures something is said to be what it merely represents simply because there was no term in the Hebrew language to express symbolism. Though the New Testament was written in Greek, it retains the idiom of the Hebrew. Words like “signify,” “denote,” “portray,” “typify,” or “represent” are not found in the Old Testament. Here are some examples of things being said to be what they, obviously, only represent.
The Bible is full of expressions similar to these, which we would never think of taking in a literal sense. Good sense demands that they be interpreted allegorically. Our Savior is called “the Lamb of God,” “the Door of the sheep,” “the Lion of Judah,” and “the Vine.” No one would ever think of saying that he is literally those things! And no one, whose mind has not been perverted by religious nonsense, would ever imagine that the bread and wine of the Lord’s Supper are anything but representatives of our Redeemer’s body and his blood. All you have to do is taste the bread to know that it is bread, not flesh! All you have to do is drink the wine to know that it is wine, not blood!
The unleavened bread represents the holy human body of our Savior. We dare not use soda crackers or light bread. Our Lord used unleavened bread for a reason. Leaven represents sin; and our Savior had no sin. Therefore, he used unleavened bread to represent his body.
The wine represents his precious, sin-atoning blood. Many today have found excuses for using grape juice, kool-aid, and other things in the celebration of the Lord’s Supper. But no excuse will justify such perverse behavior in the house of God. Wine is used because, like the unleavened bread, it is free of corruption, and thus a proper representation of our Savior’s blood. In verse 28 our Lord tells us four things about his blood.
When we come together around the Lord’s Table, we should take great care to focus our attention on the incarnation, life, and death of Christ as our Substitute. That is what is represented to us by the unleavened bread and wine.
When he established the Lord’s Supper as a standing ordinance of divine worship, our Savior plainly stated the purpose of the ordinance. The Holy Spirit tells us in 1 Corinthians 11:24 that he said, “This do in remembrance of me.” The Lord’s Supper was established by Christ to be a memorial of him and his great sacrifice of love for us, by which he redeemed his elect, no more and no less.
Immense harm has been done by those who have taught God’s people that this is a mysterious, complex thing. The fact is, as I have already shown you, it could not have been established with greater simplicity.
The Lord’s Supper is not a sacrifice. Not a word is mentioned anywhere in connection with the establishment or the observance of this ordinance about a sacrifice. No mention is made of priests or altars. The fact is, once Christ was offered as a sacrifice for our sins, all sacrifices, all altars, and all priests ceased to be (Heb. 10:14). We have no sacrifice but Christ. We have no altar but Christ. We have no priest but Christ. If you have any other altar, priest, or sacrifice, you do not have and cannot partake of Christ (Heb. 13:10).
The Lord’s Supper is not a sacrament. Those who speak of the ordinances of Christ as sacraments are in error, very grave error. The bread and wine are not sacred. The table is not sacred. And the act of eating and drinking the bread and wine is not sacred. I mean by that that grace is not conferred upon us by our observance of the Lord’s Supper. It is not a means by which God conveys his grace to sinners. God’s grace is conveyed to us through Christ alone and by faith alone. The word sacrament implies a means of grace. By definition, a sacrament is “a solemn religious ceremony enjoined by Christ, to be observed by his followers, by which their special relation to him is created, or their obligations to him are renewed and ratified.” A sacrament is a piece of Roman Catholic idolatry retained by Protestant churches who yet imagine that the grace of God can be obtained by ceremonies, rituals, and works.
The Lord’s Supper is a symbolic memorial ordinance of public worship. It is not an ordinance to be observed privately, but publicly. It is an ordinance for redeemed sinners, for believers, for men and women who are born again by the power and grace of God the Holy Spirit. By our public observance of this ordinance, eating the bread and drinking the wine, we openly declare to all that we are sinners in need of Christ alone as our sin-atoning Savior, looking to him alone for salvation and eternal life, trusting him just as we did in our baptism when we were symbolically buried with him in the watery grave and arose with him to walk in the newness of life.
The Lord’s Supper is a solemn, but joyful ordinance of worship. At the end of the Supper, our Lord and his disciples sang a hymn. Every remembrance of our redemption accomplished by Christ should fill us with joy. John Trapp suggested that we ought to leave the Lord’s Table with “shouting as a giant after his wine, singing and making melody to the Lord in our hearts. We should come from the Lord’s table, as Moses did from the mount, with our faces shining; as the good women did from the sepulchre, ‘with fear and great joy;’ as the people went to their tents from Solomon’s feast, ‘joyful and glad of heart’ (1 Kings 8:66). If those in the wilderness were so cheered and cherished by their idolatrous feast before the golden calf that they ‘eat and drink, and rise up to play’ (1 Cor. 10:7), how much more should we by this blessed banquet?”
This passage also shows us the character of those who were present with our Savior at the first observance of the Lord’s Supper. Let me state emphatically that we do not and must not make the celebration of the Lord’s Supper a community or family service. It is not, never has been, and must never be something to which unbelievers are invited, or something they are encouraged to participate in. Anyone who does not trust the Lord Jesus Christ as his Savior, as his justice satisfying Substitute before God, is disqualified from both baptism (Acts 8:36-37) and the Lord’s Supper (1 Cor. 11:27-29). Unbelievers are unworthy of the Lord’s ordinances because they do not discern (or understand the necessity of) the Lord’s body. However, it is not up to the pastor, the elders, the deacons, or the church to decide who shall and who shall not partake of the Lord’s Supper. The burden of examination and responsibility is upon the individual. Each one must examine himself (1 Cor. 11:28). This becomes obvious when we see who first observed this blessed ordinance with our Savior.
They all professed to be believers and followers of Christ. While the Scriptures do not allow for closed communion, or even restricted communion, the Word of God does not allow anyone to forbid communion to those who profess faith in Christ; it is restricted to those who profess to be the disciples of our Lord.
Though all professed to be believers, one of them was a devil; and the Lord knew it (vv. 21-23; Luke 22:14). The Lord Jesus knew what Judas had done. Yet, he did not refuse him a place at the table. The reason appears obvious to me. He would give no precedent for the practice of fencing the table, which gained prominence by the legality of puritan theology.
We must never attempt to set barriers around the table to keep anyone away. The Holy Spirit makes it crystal clear that it is the responsibility of the person who eats the bread and drinks the wine to examine himself, to be certain that he or she is a believer, one who discerns the Lord’s body, warning all that those who eat and drink unworthily, without faith in Christ, eat and drink damnation to themselves (1 Cor. 11:27-30). You, and you alone can determine whether you are in the faith. If you profess faith in Christ, it is the responsibility of God’s people to look upon your profession as genuine and to receive you “without doubtful disputations,” without suspicion (Rom. 14:1). Our Lord knew that Judas was a devil, and that he was at that time looking for an opportunity to betray him. Yet, when he passed out the bread and wine, he gave it to Judas as well as to Peter, James, and John, because Judas professed to be one of his.
One of the disciples would, in a matter of hours, curse and deny the Master. Though our Lord knew that soon Peter would experience a terrible fall, yet he spread the bread and wine before him. And he knew that all the disciples who sat with him at this first communion service would soon forsake him in weakness, fear, and unbelief. Not one child of God was for any reason exempted from the Lord’s Supper. God never sends his erring children to bed without supper. He evens allows a devil to sit at the table, rather than encourage anyone to prevent any of his children from receiving this blessed ordinance. Let no child of God look upon the Lord’s Supper as an unnecessary thing. Let no believer imagine that he is unworthy to receive this ordinance. Our worthiness is Christ. He who is unfit for the ordinance of Christ is unfit for the company of Christ.
Let us never be more strict in the ordinances of Christ than Christ himself.
In verses 31-35 our dear Redeemer, knowing that his disciples would soon need to be reminded of it, declares the blessed immutability of his saving grace. He assures us that because of his one great sacrifice for sin, God will never charge his people with sin (Rom. 4:8). As was prophesied by Zechariah (Zech. 13:7), when the Shepherd was smitten by the rod of divine justice, the sheep would all be scattered. So it came to pass.
Though everyone of them were confident that they would never be offended by him and would never forsake him, and publicly announced their confidence to one another and to the Savior, they were all offended by their Savior. They all forsook him. How deceitful are our hearts!
But Zechariah’s prophecy included something more. The Lord declared, “Awake, O sword, against my Shepherd, and against the man that is my fellow…Smite the Shepherd, and the sheep shall be scattered.” That much of the prophecy we often quote and hear quoted. But God’s word by Zechariah continues. The first part of Zechariah 13:7 announced the death of Christ as our sin-atoning Substitute, the Good Shepherd who laid down his life for his sheep. — “Awake, O sword, against my Shepherd, and against the man that is my fellow…Smite the Shepherd!” The next line announced the weakness, sin and unbelief of the smitten Shepherd’s poor, depraved sheep. — “And the sheep shall be scattered.” But the last line of Zechariah 13:7 gives a blessed word of grace, assuring us of the immutability of God’s grace to us in Christ, though we are but weak, sinful, straying sheep. — “And I will turn mine hand upon the little ones!”
Those precious, sweet words of grace were in the heart and mind of our blessed Savior as he anticipated the shameful, sinful behavior of his beloved disciples. In verse 32 he assures them, and us, that his grace is unaltered even by our sin. He says, “I will turn mine hand upon the little ones!” — “After I am risen, I will go before you into Galilee.” Though they knew it not, the Lord Jesus was saying to his people, “I will go before you in grace to recover you, wherever you may in your weakness and sin stray from me” (See Mark 16:7; John 21:15-19). — “If we believe not, yet he abideth faithful: he cannot deny himself” (2 Tim. 2:13). — “Blessed is the man to whom God will not impute sin” (Rom. 4:8). That which we celebrate in the Lord’s Supper is absolute, perfect, immutable salvation by the grace of God in Christ, our crucified Redeemer, by whom our sins have been put away forever!