Many churches rarely teach on the new covenant ordinances of baptism and the Lord’s Supper. The biggest concern is how to fit them in without disrupting the weekly service. It’s little wonder, then, that baptism is viewed as optional by many Christians while the Lord’s Supper is either misunderstood or ignored. In this sermon David Platt explains the meaning of these two ordinances and answers the following questions: Why should I be baptized? How should I be baptized? Who should be baptized? When should I be baptized? Who should participate in the Lord’s Supper? Where should we have the Lord’s Supper? When should we have the Lord’s Supper? According to Scripture, baptizing believers and regularly taking the Lord’s Supper are crucial aspects of what it means to be a New Testament church.
12 Traits of a Biblical Church
If you have a Bible—and I hope you do—let me invite you to open with me to Acts 2. It’s good to be together as a church around the Word. Today we’re looking at the seventh of 12 biblical traits of a church. Remember our purpose in this. As followers of Christ, joined together in the church, we don’t want to do church our own way, which we are prone to do according to what’s popular in our culture. We want to do church God’s way, according to God’s Word, for His glory and for our good.
Over these past few weeks we’ve seen how God has designed that every follower of Christ should commit his or her life to a church where the Bible is taught, the gospel is proclaimed and where discipleship is happening. It’s a place where they’re praying together, seeking the Lord not just individually but together, and where they’re pooling their resources, giving together. This leads to the seventh trait we’re going to see today: biblical ordinances.
Kind of like church membership, that topic may not sound particularly thrilling to you. I don’t know how many of you hear that and immediately think, “Yes! Biblical ordinances! This is going to be awesome.” Many of you probably think, “What in the world are biblical ordinances and why in the world do they matter for my life?” In Lon’s words, “So what?”
Speaking of Lon, he and I are in touch all the time, and he is involved this month in a major evangelism initiative overseas in an undisclosed location. I want to ask you to be praying for him and for that initiative specifically, that God would bring much fruit from it.
Back to biblical ordinances. My aim in the next few minutes is to show you two biblical ordinances God has given to the church, and I want to show you that they are extremely significant for your life and our life together in church. I should warn you—we have a lot to cover, so we’re about to go “Secret Church” speed. If you’ve not been to Secret Church, just think, “Open mouth, insert fire hydrant.” Here we go.
What in the world is an ordinance? Basically that word means a prescribed practice. It’s an activity God has told us to do together as a church—not just individually, but when we come together. The two ordinances in the Bible we’ll dive into today are baptism and the Lord’s Supper. I want to show them to you in Scripture, and I want to show you what they mean for your life. If you have not been baptized as a follower of Christ, then today I’m going to encourage you to do that as soon as possible. This is a practice, as I’ll show you, that Jesus prescribes. So if you are a follower of Christ who has not been baptized, then you are directly disobeying God.
Then we’re going to celebrate the Lord’s Supper today. Before we do, I want to make sure we understand what we’re doing, because there is a lot of misunderstanding about what the Lord’s Supper means. Just to give you a heads up, we’re about to see how the Bible warns that if you participate in the Lord’s Supper wrongly, God may take your life. I would say that’s a pretty sufficient reason to pay attention today.
So let’s start with Acts 2, which describes the start of the New Testament church. Jesus has died on the cross, risen from the grave and has ascended into heaven. We looked at the beginning of chapter two a few weeks ago when we were talking about prayer. Jesus sent His Holy Spirit upon His people and they began proclaiming the gospel. That’s where we’ll pick up in Acts 2:36, which is the end of the first Christian sermon.
Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.”
Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.” And with many other words he bore witness and continued to exhort them, saying, “Save yourselves from this crooked generation.” So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls.
And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.
As soon as these first Christians put their faith in Christ, they were baptized. Then the Bible says these new believers in the church in Jerusalem immediately devoted themselves “to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.” Most biblical scholars believe that reference to the breaking of bread is a reference to the Lord’s Supper, which was a regular part of the church’s gathering.
I’m going to point you many places in the Bible that we won’t take time to turn to, showing you the basics of what the Bible teaches about these two ordinances that we see from the very beginning of the church.
Starting with baptism, we need to ask: what is baptism?
Baptism Is A Public Demonstration of Our Initial Identification with Christ & His Church
Every word in this definition matters. Baptism is a public act. It’s not something you do alone. It’s an initial act. Notice that in the Bible baptism was actually part of the initial invitation to follow Christ. “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ” (Acts 2:38). New believers were baptized immediately. “In the name of Christ”—that’s a phrase we see again in Acts 8, Acts 10 and Acts 19. It indicates our identification with Christ. In its essence, the church is the community of men and women who are identified with the name of Jesus and the life of Christ. So baptism is our identification with the church. Let’s dive into five quick questions about baptism: why, what, how, who and when?
- WHY should I be baptized?
The Bible gives three reasons why we are to be baptized. First, we should be baptized to follow the example of Christ. Look with me at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry in Matthew 3:13-17:
1Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to John, to be baptized by him. 14 John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he consented. And when Jesus was baptized, immediately he went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him; and behold, a voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”
We learned earlier in Matthew 3 that baptism is a picture of repentance, of turning from sin. Jesus of course was sinless. He had no sin that He needed to repent of. What He’s doing here is giving an example of righteousness to all who would follow Him. He is identifying with all people who will repent of their sin and trust in Him. See the gravity of grace and humility here as Jesus identifies with sinners like you and me, even though He has no sin, to set an example for us.
Second, we should be baptized to obey the command of Christ. So Jesus’ ministry starts here in chapter three and ends in Matthew 28. We quote Matthew 28:19 to one another at the end of our gatherings: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” That command from Christ is why we see everyone who puts their faith in Christ in the book of Acts being baptized—without exception.
We talk about Matthew 28 all the time around here, that every disciple of Jesus in the church has been commanded to make disciples of Jesus. We are disciple makers—that’s what He has called every one of us to do. How can you carry out the command to share the gospel and lead other people to be baptized if you are not willing to be baptized yourself? Don’t miss this. Baptism is an obedience issue for every follower of Christ, including the newest follower of Christ. That’s why I said earlier that the Bible
clearly teaches that if you are a follower of Christ and have not been baptized, then you are disobeying God.
We’re baptized to follow the example of Christ, to obey the command of Christ, and then third, we should be baptized to unite with the body of Christ. Here’s what Paul writes to the church at Ephesus: “There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call— one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all” (Ephesians 4:4-6).
Do you see how baptism is one of the things that unites us together in the church? It’s foundational. It makes no sense to be in the church but not be baptized. An unbaptized church member is an oxymoron in Scripture. It’s like jumbo shrimp or Microsoft Works. [Sorry—I shouldn’t have gone there. Please don’t be offended—I’m not trying to create disunity.] But the point is this: an unbaptized church member makes no sense. Baptism is a prescribed practice for uniting us in the church. It would be contradictory and would mar our unity in the church to say, “One Lord, one faith, but not one baptism.” One baptism is on the level with “one God and Father of all.”
Baptism is part of our unity and identification, not just with Christ, but also with the church. We talk about being a biblical church—that’s why we talk about baptism. The reasons we should be baptized are to follow the example of Christ, to obey the command of Christ and to unite with the body of Christ. This leads to our second question.
- WHAT is the meaning of baptism?
First, baptism is a celebration of the grace of Christ as explained in Romans 6. I want to say loud and clear—and I want you to hear this loud and clear—that baptism is not necessary for salvation, specifically justification before God and forgiveness of your sins. Baptism is absolutely an important part of our relationship with Christ. It’s one of the first things we’re supposed to do in our relationship with Christ, but it is not necessary to be made right before God as some people teach. Catholicism officially teaches that you are justified before God by faith and through baptism—and other works, but that’s not what the Bible teaches.
As one of many examples, looking at the thief on the cross makes this plain. He was not baptized, but he was absolutely with Jesus in paradise when he died. Baptism is not earning God’s grace in salvation. That would actually undercut God’s grace in salvation. It’s not grace if you earn it. We are saved from our sin by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. Baptism is a physical celebration of that internal spiritual transformation. Think of Romans 6:3-4:
Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that,
just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.
Here’s the picture, as Paul talks about in Romans 5. Jesus died on the cross as a substitute for us in our sin. Then He rose from the grave as our Savior. Baptism is a celebration of that reality applied to our hearts. When someone is baptized, they are not being made right before God—they are celebrating the reality that they are right before God through faith in Jesus.
Baptism is a celebration of the grace of Christ, and it’s an illustration of the gospel of Christ. Romans 6 teaches that baptism is a picture.
Here is a picture of my wife on our wedding day. Now, as you look at this picture, I hope you realize: that is not my wife. That is a representation of my wife. My wife right now is teaching fourth grade girls in Kid’s Quest. In the same way, baptism is not your salvation. It is a representation—a picture—of your salvation. And it is a glorious picture!
When we go into the water, we show our identification with the death of Christ for our sins. We illustrate that we are no longer slaves to sin and the penalty of sin which is eternal death. We are dead to sin. Then we don’t stay under water very long, for a variety of reasons, but mainly because Jesus didn’t stay in the grave very long. When we come up out of the water, we show our identification with the resurrection of Christ. Just as Christ was raised from the dead, we have been raised to walk in an entirely new life. This is what baptism gloriously illustrates.
That leads to the last reality. Baptism is a celebration of grace, it’s an illustration of the gospel, and it is a declaration of the glory of Christ. When Paul talks about baptism in Colossians 2:11-15, he explains that Jesus took our sins away and made a public spectacle of sin, triumphing over sin and death at the cross. So when we are baptized, we are proclaiming the glory of Christ in the church. This is why we love celebrating baptism in the church, because every time somebody else is baptized, we remember that we are united together in Jesus’ death and resurrection. We proclaim to one another that Jesus has conquered sin and death, and we have new life in Him. This is what baptism means. It’s a celebration of the grace of Christ, it is an illustration of the gospel, and it’s a declaration of His glory.
- HOW should I be baptized?
These next two questions involve areas where you’re likely to get different answers in church history. We don’t have time to exhaustively summarize all of church history today, but suffice it to say, some of my heroes in the faith would disagree on a couple of these things. This is where we want to take an honest look at Scripture and ask, “What does the Bible teach?” I’m saying that humbly. I’m not saying that my heroes of the faith in Christian history ignored Scripture, or that anybody who comes to different
conclusions is ignoring Scripture. But our goal is always to look at the Bible and say, “Okay, what does the Bible say about how we should be baptized?”
We believe the answer to that question is that the most biblical mode of baptism is immersion. Almost all biblical scholars would agree that the dominant term for baptism in the New Testament, baptizo, literally means to immerse or submerge or dunk. This is how John got his name, “John the Baptist” —John the Baptizer. Or John the Dunker.
Look at Scripture on a few different levels. Look at the precedent of Christ. Jesus “came up out of the water.” He was not sprinkled with it. It was not poured over Him. He was immersed in it. Look at the pattern of the early church leaders. Think of Acts 8, with Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch. Philip didn’t say, “Let me go get some water and come back up and baptize you.” He went down into and came up out of the water with this Ethiopian believer.
Then think about the picture of the gospel we just talked about. How is Romans 6 most clearly portrayed? It’s through this picture of immersion. Now, there are certainly situations where, maybe for physical reasons, a follower of Christ is not physically able to get in and out of water. Then we would still want to baptize them in the best way we can to carry out baptism. But the biblical precedent, pattern and picture is immersion.
- WHO should be baptized?
The Bible teaches that everyone who has been born again should be baptized—and the key word there is “again.” Not just born. This is very different from what Catholicism teaches on so many levels, including how baptism relates to salvation. This is also different than what our Presbyterian brothers and sisters would say about baptism. They believe the same gospel we believe, yet they baptize infants soon after birth.
But if you think about all we’ve seen in the Bible about baptism—how this is an act of obedience to the command of Christ, uniting with the body of Christ, celebrating the grace of Christ, identifying with Christ and His church—none of these things are possible without faith in Christ. Infants cannot have that faith. That faith comes when we are born again, when we become followers of Christ, when we confess our need for God’s grace in our lives and place our faith in Jesus.
Now, that is not intended in any way to minimize the significance of parents saying, in faith, “I want to commit my child and our home to raising this child to know and love Christ. That’s why we do parent-child dedications. But that is very different from what the Bible teaches about baptism.
- WHEN should I be baptized?
I would submit that the answer the Bible gives is twofold. One, you should be baptized as soon as you trust in Christ for salvation. In Acts, believers were normally baptized immediately. I could show Looks at verses in Acts 2, 8, 9, 10, 11, 16, 18 and 22 where this is repeatedly happening. As people come to Christ, they are baptized. This is not something a Christian grows into; this is something you do as soon as you trust in Christ for salvation—and only then. So it’s not something you do again and again and again. Once you’re baptized as a believer in Christ, you don’t get baptized again. The Bible knows nothing of re-baptism.
Now, sometimes I hear people use that word “re-baptize,” or they say, “I need to be baptized again,” and usually it’s when—for a variety of reasons—a person realizes that they had been baptized before they actually became a follower of Christ. If that’s the case, then those people weren’t really baptized as followers of Christ. They just went for a quick swim. Baptism is a believer’s initial identification with Christ. It only happens after you follow Christ. It happens once, as soon as you can, after you trust in Christ for salvation.
The second thing I would add, besides being baptized as soon as you can following salvation, is you should be baptized as soon as you can publically proclaim your salvation. So remember, baptism is a public demonstration of your initial identification with Christ and His church. You don’t come to Christ and then just find the nearest pool or bathtub you can and do this. You come to the church and say, “I want to be baptized.” We then walk through a process with you designed to make sure you’re clear on what baptism means. The last thing we want to do is baptize anyone who thinks this is going to save them from their sins or who just wants to please someone. We walk through the process so that as soon as possible you can publicly proclaim your salvation.
With all of that said, I know there are many followers of Christ in our congregation who have not been baptized. You’re a follower of Christ, but you have not been baptized—for all sorts of reasons. I don’t presume to know what every single one of those reasons is; I would just submit today that none of those reasons outweighs what we have just seen in God’s Word. Amidst all those reasons, this is at the core an obedience issue. God is calling you to be baptized, to publicly declare that you belong to Jesus. My hope is that you’ll hear that and think, “Okay, this is serious.” But then I don’t want you to say, “I’ll do it because I have to.” I want you to see the beauty of this.
Think about a wedding ring. I mentioned last week—I never had a date before I met my wife. Five years later, I stood at an altar next to her and we pledged our lives to each other. We put rings on each other’s fingers and we united our lives together. Now, my ring is not my marriage. It’s a picture of my marriage, but really it’s even more than that. My wedding ring is a declaration that says to every person I meet, “I belong to Heather Platt.” If you look at the rock on her finger—well, it’s more of a pebble, but it sure felt like a rock when I bought it—she is declaring she belongs to me.
So, brothers and sisters, in a much deeper way, the God of the universe has pursued you with passion—a passion that drove His Son to die for all your sins. Through Jesus’ death and resurrection, God has forgiven you of all your sin, brought you into a relationship with Him, and united your life with Himself. He’s given the church an ordinance, a practice, a picture that tells the world you belong to Jesus. And when you were baptized, you celebrated this grace that God has freely given you. You illustrated that the gospel is more precious than anything else on this planet. You proclaimed to the world that Jesus is God, He is good and He will bring new life to anyone who trusts in Him. Why would any follower of Christ not want to say, “I belong to Jesus”? That would make no sense.
I want to invite you to obedience as a follower of Christ. Let us know of your interest before leaving here today. Or even if you’re not yet a follower of Christ, but you’re exploring Christianity, we’d love to talk with you about what it means to follow Christ.
This leads us to the second ordinance: the Lord’s Supper.
The Lord’s Supper Is A Celebration of Our Continual Identification With Christ And His Church
Baptism is a public demonstration of our initial identification with Christ and His church. Then the Lord’s Supper is a celebration of our continual identification with Christ and His church. The Lord’s Supper is different from baptism, but I want you to see the relationship between them. It’s not something we do once, but rather something we do over and over and over again. It’s continual. Think about it this way. If baptism is like a wedding ceremony that celebrates initial identification with Christ, then the Lord’s Supper would be like anniversary celebrations, where we renew our vows continually before God. If you ask any wife if it’s important that her husband remembers their anniversary, you will realize this is something we should not neglect.
Did you know that the Lord’s Supper is the only act of worship in the New Testament that we have been given specific instructions for? It’s called communion in 1 Corinthians 10. It’s called the Lord’s Table. It’s called the breaking of bread, in Acts 2:42 and Acts 20:7. In Luke 22:14-23 we see that Jesus celebrated this meal with His disciples before He went to the cross. Then, as we see in Acts, this meal is practiced repeatedly by the early church.
Then Paul reminds the church of its importance in 1 Corinthians 11, starting in verse 23. Paul writes to the church in Corinth:
For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, “This is my body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.
Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord. Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself. That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died. But if we judged ourselves truly, we would not be judged. But when we are judged by the Lord, we are disciplined so that we may not be condemned along with the world.
So our questions again are similar.
- WHO should participate in the Lord’s Supper?
The Bible teaches that followers of Christ share in the life of Christ as they partake of the Lord’s Supper. Jesus shared that meal in Luke 22 with His followers. Every time we see the Lord’s Supper in the New Testament, it only involves followers of Christ. “Followers” is the key word. Even if you call yourself a Christian, but you are deliberately disobeying Christ in your life, then you should not partake of the Lord’s Supper. We’ll talk about that more in a minute.
There are people here today who would readily admit they are not followers of Christ. Some of you are exploring Christianity right now so you should not partake of the Lord’s Supper, but that does not mean you need to leave the room. Those who are not followers of Christ see the love of Christ as they watch the Lord’s Supper. So in a few minutes, when the followers of Christ are taking the Lord’s Supper—which I’ll explain the meaning of—we want you to see the love of Christ for you. Our aim is not to be inhospitable. Our aim is to have a celebration of God’s love that might open your eyes to the depth of His love for you.
I have prayed that today, even as we’re talking about baptism and celebrating the Lord’s Supper, that some of you might realize in your own heart the depth of God’s love for you. Jesus died on the cross for your sins. You can have forgiveness of all your sins and eternal life in relationship with God through faith in Christ. As we talk about baptism and as we celebrate the Lord’s Supper, I pray that you would see that reality and you would want it in your own heart. We are so thankful you are here in this gathering of the church. Which leads to our next question…
- WHERE should we have the Lord’s Supper?
The only biblical requirement is that it be in the gathering of the church. In 1 Corinthians 11—if we were to study it more in depth—four different times Paul talks about the church “coming together.” In fact, if you look at verse 29, Paul says, “Anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself.” The Lord’s Supper is not something we do alone, privately. It’s something we do together publicly.
Again, there are exceptions to this. If someone is bedridden and unable to come to church, or if they’re in a circumstance where they are not able to gather together with the church, then there are pictures of the church going to brothers and sisters like this and celebrating the Lord’s Supper. But the normal practice is in the gathering of the church. Which leads to the next question…
- WHEN should we have the Lord’s Supper?
On that question, Scripture does not give an explicit answer. The New Testament doesn’t say, “Do it at these intervals.” The Bible certainly says here in 1 Corinthians 11, “As often as you drink this cup and as often as you eat this bread…” I think we’re on safe ground when we see the early church in Acts 2:42 continually devoting themselves to this. We also see in 1 Corinthians 11 that Scripture is calling us to observe it often. Jesus commands us to celebrate the Lord’s Supper. So, like baptism, this is an obedience issue as well. If it’s an ongoing practice, an ordinance, for Christ followers in the first century, we also should observe it often.
That leads some people to ask, “What about weekly?” Some of you may come from backgrounds where the Lord’s Supper was celebrated weekly. The Scripture doesn’t command this. We have a possible hint at it in Acts 20:7. This verse seems to imply that the disciples in Troas were observing the Lord’s Supper weekly. Some of you who have not come from backgrounds where the Lord’s Supper was celebrated weekly may think, “Well, doesn’t it just become routine—not quite as special—if you do it that often?” Sure, I guess that could be a danger. But if we’re going to use that rationale, should we only sing once a month? Pray once a month? Study the Bible once a month, because we want it to be special? Certainly not, according to Scripture.
We’re supposed to gather together often. If the Lord’s Supper is the only act of worship for which we have prescribed instructions, it should be a central component in our worship. We should anticipate it—not as a special event once in a while, but as a regular component of our continual identification with Christ and His church in worship. The reason for that leads to the final two questions.
- WHAT is the meaning of the Lord’s Supper?
This takes us to something that is extremely important. It’s a traditional misunderstanding of the Lord’s Supper that it involves a change of substance that results in salvation. The big theological term for
this is transubstantiation, which is the official Catholic understanding of the Lord’s Supper. According to the official teaching of the Roman Catholic Church, in the Eucharist (the Mass) the bread and wine actually become the body and blood of Christ.
This is one of the primary reasons why for centuries the Catholic church didn’t allow anybody but the priest to drink from the cup, for fear that the blood of Christ would be spilled. That changed with Vatican II. But this whole picture of the body and the blood of Christ being actually present in the elements raises the stakes. Because now, if Christ is actually present in the elements, then to receive communion is to receive Christ. That’s an exact quote from the catechism of the Catholic Church.
Communion then has huge ramifications for salvation. I want you to see why this is so important. I’ll quote directly from the catechism of the Catholic Church: “To receive communion is to receive Christ Himself, Who has offered Himself for us.” Here’s what they teach happens when you take communion: “Communion with the body and blood of Christ increases one’s union with the Lord, forgives his venial sins and preserves him from grave sins.” Did you catch that? “Forgives his sins.” Take the meal, receive Christ, obtain forgiveness. One more quote: “As sacrificed, the Eucharist is offered in reparation for the sins of the living and the dead and to obtain spiritual or temporal benefits from God.”
The reason I quote from these places is just to make clear that this is so much more than just a theological discussion of big words like transubstantiation. How you view the Lord’s Supper, much like baptism, is key to a biblical understanding of the gospel and salvation. If the Lord’s Supper, or baptism for that matter, is a means by which we actually receive Christ to experience salvation—if they are necessary for salvation—then we are fundamentally altering the gospel.
Ladies and gentlemen, we are not saved by anything we do. We are saved by the grace of God alone, through faith in Christ alone. Which means there is much at stake in whether or not someone believes these elements actually become the body and blood of Christ. A traditional misunderstanding sees the Lord’s Supper as a change of substance that results in salvation. A biblical understanding of the Lord’s Supper is that it is a symbolic meal that reflects salvation.
So when Jesus says, “This is My body…” the verb He uses there often means represents. When He said this to His disciples, His body was still in person in front of them. His blood was still in His veins. There is nothing in Scripture to point us to this actually becoming His body and His blood in such a way that when we receive Christ, we have forgiveness through eating and drinking the Lord’s Supper. I want to be careful, because even here, in an attempt to make clear that Christ is not physically present in the bread and the cup in that way, we can go too far and start to look at the Lord’s Supper like Christ isn’t present at all—when He is, in a very real way. Which leads to the last question….
- WHY should we celebrate the Lord’s Supper?
Why has God put such an importance on the Lord’s Supper? The Bible gives many reasons why. I’ll summarize them with four R’s:
- We remember…the body and blood of Jesus. At the core, the Lord’s Supper is about remembering. First Corinthians 11:24-25 says that when we take the bread, we remember the body of Jesus. We remember that God became Man for us. He suffered and died as a Man. We remember His body, given for us. When we take the cup, we remember the blood of Jesus that covers over our sins. We remember the price Jesus paid so that we could be forgiven for all our sins.
The Lord’s Supper is not just about imagining something in our minds. It’s about remembering a real time in real history. It’s not about dreaming—it’s about deliberately directing our thoughts back 2,000 years to a body given and blood shed on a cross. It’s about remembering the past with such vividness that it affects us in the present. In the Lord’s Supper, we’re directing our minds toward the cross.
- We reflect…on our sin and on God’s forgiveness. We reflect on the effects of our sin, which is what is being expressed at the cross. Did you notice in 1 Corinthians 11:27-32 that God’s Word warns us not to come to the Lord’s Table in a callous or careless manner? You are to come humbly, as you reflect on your need for Christ. Examine yourself, the Bible says. Lay your heart, your life, your thoughts, your desires, your actions, your entire life before a holy God. Don’t skip over this. Because if you do—if you are not willing to be honest before God—He will expose your sin.
This is in 1 Corinthians 11. You will eat and drink judgment on yourself (verse 29). Paul says you may even lose your life, because God in love will discipline you. You don’t get much stronger language than this. God says, “Don’t take the Lord’s Supper lightly.” Teenagers, moms, dads, kids— don’t take this Supper lightly. Mom or dad, don’t think, “Well, I know my child hasn’t come to faith in Christ. I’m just going to let them take the bread or a drink.” Don’t do it. They need to see the seriousness of this through you. Teenager, man, woman, I urge you not to sit there and think, “I’m just going through this religious routine.” Do not approach the Lord’s Supper like that. Reflect honestly on every area of your life that’s not pure and holy and honoring to God.
Here’s the beauty: when we reflect on our sin, we also reflect on God’s forgiveness. So remember, you’re reflecting on your sin before a God Who loves you, Who has sent His Son to pay the price to cover over your sin. So the beauty is if you confess your sin, the Lord brings to the surface areas of sin and disobedience in your life. The picture in the Lord’s Supper is Jesus saying, “I’ve covered it.” If you start thinking about what you’ve done this last week and where you’ve fallen short, at the Lord’s Supper Jesus reminds you, “I have covered it.” When you think about all your struggles with sin, in the Lord’s Supper Jesus reminds you, “I love you. I forgive you. As far as the east is from the west, I remove those sins. I remember them no more.” This is where this meal just comes alive, as we feast on Jesus’ forgiveness of us and His faithfulness to us.
- We renew….our commitment to Christ, our commitment to each other and our commitment to His mission. We don’t take the Lord’s Supper to earn salvation before God. I hope that’s clear. But when we take the Lord’s Supper, we do renew the surrender of our lives to God. When you take that bread and cup, you’re saying, “Yes, I belong to Jesus. Jesus, You’re my Savior, my Lord, and I want to follow You.”
This is key in the context of what Paul is saying in 1 Corinthians 11. People were thinking that if they just ate the bread and drank from the cup that God would be pleased with them—even if their lives didn’t reflect commitment to Christ. But this misses the whole point. We should come before Jesus saying, “You are my Lord.”
We renew our commitment to Christ and we renew our commitment to each other. One of the reasons why we take the Lord’s Supper together and not alone is because it’s an expression of our unity in Christ. That’s what they were missing in 1 Corinthians 11. They were getting together for a meal and the Lord’s Supper would be kind of the capstone of that meal. In that meal, the rich were gorging themselves, even getting drunk, and the poor were going without food. Paul said, “What are you doing? You’re a body. You come together around the table as a body. There’s no room for economic, racial or social barriers between you.” At the Lord’s Supper, the plain is level and there is no room for preference of one over another.
This is why, if there are barriers between you and another believer in the church, then you should go and be reconciled to that believer before participating in the Lord’s Supper. You should examine your heart when you come to a worship gathering, saying, “Is there anything hindering my relationship and fellowship with other believers in Christ that I need to address before I worship and participate in this meal?”
We renew our commitment to Christ, we renew our commitment to each other, and we renew our commitment to His mission. First Corinthians 11:26 says the Lord’s Supper is a proclamation of Christ’s death until He comes. So first, there is a proclamation element in the Lord’s Supper. We’re not just eating and drinking, we’re proclaiming. That’s what mission is all about. When we eat this bread and drink this cup, we are proclaiming that Jesus has died on the cross, He’s risen from the grave, and we’re bought by Him from every nation, tribe and tongue on earth. Then second, there is a time limitation here in the Lord’s Supper: “…until He comes.” What does that mean?
That leads to the last R that we do in the Lord’s Supper.
- We rejoice…because Jesus has set us free and because He is coming back. Some of the things we’ve seen in Scripture often cause people to perceive and participate in the Lord’s Supper in a very solemn, serious and contemplative tone. There’s a sense in which it should and must be that way. We don’t want to treat it casually. The Lord’s Supper beckons us to self-examination. But it doesn’t stop there.
We don’t just think about our sin and then walk out of here engrossed in how horrible our sin is. No, we feast on the forgiveness of God and the freedom He has given us from sin and its power and its penalty in our lives. That then leads us to rise to our feet rejoicing. In that sense, this should be the happiest meal. We are celebrating the new life we have in Christ every time we do this.
We rejoice because He set us free and we rejoice because He’s coming back. Coming back to the time limitation in the Lord’s Supper, we proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes. Jesus said back in Luke 22:18, “For I tell you that from now on I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.” In the Lord’s Supper, we’re not just looking back. We are also looking forward. We’re looking forward to the day when Jesus will return for His people and we will drink this cup together with Him in His kingdom. This is huge. Feel its significance.
Suffering brothers and sisters in this congregation, amidst the hurts in your life, amidst your struggles with sin right now, amidst the sorrow and the pain you are walking through, amidst the challenges of this world, the Lord’s Supper is a reminder to you that one day all those hurts and struggles, all that sorrow and all that pain will be no more. Jesus is coming back. Every time we take the Lord’s Supper, we remember the challenges of this world will one day come to an end. That is reason to rejoice!
With that set up, I think it’s time to celebrate the Lord’s Supper. We have taken in enough from the fire hydrant—now we need to eat and drink. One other note, sometimes people get caught up with how the elements are passed—whether we go to a table—or what the elements are like. For example, our Adults with Disabilities program takes pride in putting packets of the bread and juice on trays that will be distributed from other tables.
I would just say that if, in your mind and your heart, you are bothered by what the bread or the cup looks like or how it gets to you, then you have completely missed the point of the Lord’s Supper. Before we celebrate this meal, I want to lead us in prayer.
O God, even as we bow our heads together right now, we realize we’re not just about to do a religious routine. You are here with us and we want You to be honored in us as Your people, as Your church. As we take this meal and as we reflect on our sin, we pray that You would bring to the surface the areas of our lives—our thoughts, desires, actions and relationships—that are not pleasing and honoring to You. As soon as You do, God, we pray that You would bring to our hearts reminders of Your promises of grace and mercy in Christ and Your love for us. We want to feast on Your forgiving love toward us.
Jesus, we praise You for the cross. We fix our minds and hearts now on that event 2,000 years ago when You paid the price for our sins. We celebrate Your grace and we anticipate Your return. We say together to You now, “You are our Lord and our Savior and our King, and we want to follow You in obedience.” Help us, we pray, to follow You in obedience. Be honored, we pray now. Help us to take this Supper in a worthy manner. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.
How can we apply this passage to our lives?
According to the sermon, what is an ordinance? What two ordinances do we partake in with the church?
What is the meaning of baptism? Does the mode of baptism matter?
Where are Christians to partake in the Lord’s Supper? How has this been misconstrued among Christians?
What is the danger of seeing the Lord’s Supper as a special event that only happens occasionally?
What are three commitments we renew when we observe the Lord’s Supper?
12 Traits of a Biblical Church, part 9
Acts 2:41 – 42, ESV
Acts 2:36 – 42
“Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified. Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, ‘Brothers, what shall we do?’ And Peter said to them, ‘Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.’ And with many other words he bore witness and continued to exhort them, saying, ‘Save yourselves from this crooked generation.’ So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls. And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.”
Baptism is a public demonstration of our initial identification with Christ and His Church.
WHY should I be baptized?
1. To follow the example of Christ.
Matthew 3:13 – 17
“Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to John, to be baptized by him. John would have prevented him, saying, ‘I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?’ But Jesus answered him, ‘Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he consented. And when Jesus was baptized, immediately he went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him; and behold, a voice from heaven said, ‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.’”
2. To obey the command of Christ.
“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit . . .”
WHY should I be baptized?
3. To unite with the body of Christ.
Ephesians 4:4 – 6
“There is one body and one Spirit — just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call – one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.”
WHAT is the meaning of baptism?
1. A celebration of the grace of Christ.
Romans 6:3 – 4
“Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.”
2. An illustration of the gospel of Christ.
3. A declaration of the glory of Christ.
HOW should I be baptized?
The most biblical mode of baptism is immersion.
WHO should be baptized?
Everyone who has been born again.
WHEN should I be baptized?
1. As soon as you trust in Christ for salvation.
2. As soon as you can best publicly proclaim your salvation.
The Lord’s Supper is a public celebration of our continual identification with Christ and His Church.
Communion (1 Corinthians 10:16)
The Lord’s Table (1 Corinthians 10:21)
The breaking of bread (Acts 2:42; 20:7)
1 Corinthians 11:23 – 32
“For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, ‘This is my body, which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.’ In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.’ For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes. Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord. Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself. That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died. But if we judged ourselves truly, we would not be judged. But when we are judged by the Lord, we are disciplined so that we may not be condemned along with the world.”
WHO should participate in the Lord’s Supper?
- Followers of Christ share in the life of Christ as they partake of the Lord’s Supper.
- Those who are not followers of Christ see the love of Christ as they watch the Lord’s Supper.
WHERE should we have the Lord’s Supper?
The only biblical requirement: the gathering of the church.
WHEN should we have the Lord’s Supper?
The command: Observe it often.
The question: What about weekly?
WHAT is the meaning of the Lord’s Supper?
- A traditional misunderstanding: a change of substance that results in salvation.
- A biblical understanding: a symbolic meal that reflects salvation.
WHY should we celebrate the Lord’s Supper?
1. We remember . . . the body and the blood of Jesus.
2. We reflect . . . on our sin and on God’s forgiveness.
3. We renew . . . our commitment to Christ, our commitment to each other, and our commitment to His mission.
4. We rejoice . . . because Jesus has set us free and because He is coming back.
Revelation 19:6 – 9
“Then I heard what seemed to be the voice of a great multitude, like the roar of many waters and like the sound of mighty peals of thunder, crying out, ‘Hallelujah! For the Lord our God the Almighty reigns. Let us rejoice and exult and give him the glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and his Bride has made herself ready; it was granted her to clothe herself with fine linen, bright and pure’ – for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints. And the angel said to me, ‘Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.’ And he said to me, ‘These are the true words of God.’”