Pastor Walther / Maundy Thursday / Repent: Turn to Jesus and Receive a Special Assurance of Your Forgiveness / 1 Corinthians 11:23-28 / Thursday, April 13, 2017
1 Corinthians 11:23-38 23 For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, 24 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.” 25 In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.” 26 For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.
27 So then, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord. 28 Everyone ought to examine themselves before they eat of the bread and drink from the cup.
Many games run on the principle of passing it on. Think of a relay race. A runner runs their leg of the race as fast as they can. They approach the next runner and carefully passes on the baton. It’s not good when the runner drops the baton! The game of football has one goal in mind: advance the football over the goal line. One of the fastest ways to move the ball forward is for the quarterback to pass the ball. It’s not good when a receiver drops the ball! Did you catch St. Paul’s passing of the baton of truth? He said, “I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you.” Paul received the truth of the Lord’s Supper from Jesus. In turn, Paul handed those exact truths on to the Corinthians. Tonight, the relay continues. What Paul received from Jesus and passed on to the Corinthians is precisely what I hope to hand off to you.
Tonight, we look to get a little refresher course on the celebration of the Lord’s Supper. If there ever was a church that was in desperate need of a refresher on this topic, it was the Corinthians. In the Corinthian congregation, there seemed to be a regular meal that involved a lot of wine drinking that was immediately followed by the celebration of the Lord’s Supper. About the closest thing we could equate this to would be to have a Maundy Thursday potluck supper with LOTS of wine flowing in the church basement before coming upstairs to celebrate Holy Communion. They had ruined their celebration of the Lord’s Supper because they were drunk. They were celebrating, just not what Christ had instituted.
Drunkenness wasn’t the Corinthians’ only issue. Often people, even adults, would cut in line in an effort to look out for themselves. Others viewed the Lord’s Supper as time for a snack—an opportunity to cure a hungry stomach. The abuse that tops the list, however, was the division in the church: some of the rich wanted nothing to do with the poor; some people followed Paul, others were all about Apollos; some preferred Peter, still others boasted about their dedication to Christ. Instead of celebrating Holy Communion and a wonderful unity rooted in God’s Word, they were becoming clique-y. The Lord’s Supper had become the Corinthian’s Supper—and they were not blessed because of it. They were sinning spiritually and suffering bodily because of it.
Paul turns them back to a proper use of the Lord’s Supper by returning them to the clear words of Jesus: “I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: The Lord Jesus, on the night 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, after the meal, he also took the cup, saying, ‘This cup is the new testament in my blood; do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.’” With the clear words of Jesus, Paul calls us to turn away from our agendas and appetites. This isn’t dinner time! It’s not providing another opportunity to cut loose with friends. This isn’t something that we do for God, but the Lord’s Supper is Christ’s gift to us. In his Supper, Jesus gives us a gift that keeps on giving. He blesses unworthy sinners with the gift of himself. Jesus’ Word assures us that when we receive the bread and wine, we also receive his true body and blood for the personal forgiveness of all our sins. Jesus says, “This IS my body” and “This IS my blood.” Jesus’ body and blood are really present in, with, and under the bread and wine, and he simply gives it to us in such a personal way.
We like personal touches, don’t we? A parent can say, “I love you” to their child a million times, whether that child is having a good day or a bad day. Some of those times, that child will probably roll their eyes as if they’re questioning if you really love them. But then, that parent goes out of their way to get them some ice cream and says, “I love you” while giving a big scoop. That child has real tangible evidence to the fact that their parent loves them.
We come tonight, each and every one of us, as sinners. You come with sins of youth and sins stockpiled in life’s closet, sins open and sins secret, sins “little” and sins “large,” sins ugly and sins awful. You come here tonight, sinful from birth and by nature separated from God! And in spite of all of that, Jesus comes to us, the friend of sinners, the Savior of sinners. Just like a parent giving an “I love you” scoop of ice cream, Jesus gives to us the real tangible evidence to the fact that our God really does love us and that your forgiveness is a real thing. Know for certain that just as surely as you stand before the Lord’s altar tonight, just as surely as your ears hear the Words of Jesus’ institution, just as surely as your tongue tastes the bread and your lips sip the wine, so do you really receive the body and blood of Jesus, given upon the cross to save you from all your sins. There is no more personal, no more intimate way of bringing Christ’s forgiveness to us as individuals than his Holy Supper.
What a gift! That is the exact reason why Satan works so hard and long to get people to “drop the baton” with the Lord’s Supper. He will do anything to get us to question or rationalize the Lord’s Supper: How can the body and blood of Jesus really be present? I have no idea! But, the Son of God, who does not and cannot lie, promises it! The Son of God, with whom all things are possible, provides it! The Lord’s Supper is not given for your logical speculation or scientific investigation. The Lord’s Supper is given for your comfort! Jesus gives us his body and blood for our forgiveness and our strengthening, something we desperately need.
Such a great blessing needs to be treated reverently and responsibly. It’s that way with anything in life. A new car can be a wonderful blessing. That car needs to be taken care of. The Lord blesses us with a child. That child needs to be fed, educated, and trained in the Word. The Lord blesses us with a husband or a wife. Our spouse requires our total commitment and loving care. Or again, that parent gives a child a scoop of ice cream. That child shouldn’t be throwing the ice cream on the ground. Blessings carry responsibilities. So it is with the awesome blessing of the Lord’s Supper: It needs to be received reverently and responsibly.
Paul concludes: “Therefore, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the Lord’s body and blood. Instead, let a person examine himself, and after doing so, let him eat of the bread and drink from the cup.” Because Jesus’ body and blood are really present in this meal, we need to make sure that we are partaking of the Lord’s Supper in a worthy manner. We don’t want to sin against the very body and blood that was given to save us from sin! What does “in an unworthy manner” mean? First of all, let’s be clear on what it doesn’t mean! The Bible doesn’t say, “Whoever is unworthy . . . will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord.” The Bible isn’t talking about unworthy people. If we needed to wait until we were worthy to receive the Lord’s Supper, no one could ever receive it. No pastor would ever be worthy enough to administer it. St. Paul isn’t writing about unworthy people. He is writing about an unworthy manner.
The word “worthy” originally meant “a scale” or “balance.” In other words, let our use of the Lord’s Supper be equivalent to what the Supper really is. The Lord’s Supper is for my forgiveness; therefore I need to recognize my need for forgiveness. In the Supper, we receive Christ’s body and blood; therefore, in simple faith, we rejoice in Jesus’ real presence, rather than rationalize it away. A worthy reception is a faith-filled reception of the Lord’s Supper, one that simply takes God’s Word on the matter of what Communion is, gives, and means.
A faithful receiving of the Lord’s Supper also means that we will examine ourselves before receiving the Supper. There is a helpful picture behind the words “examine themselves.” The same word was originally used with testing gold to see if it was genuine or not. The picture is clear. We need to examine ourselves to make sure that our reasons for receiving the Lord’s body and blood are genuine and biblical, not because I’m hungry and could use a little snack break or because I don’t want to be the only one not standing up there. Test yourself by asking the following questions (You can even look to p.156 in the front of your hymnals for good questions to ask yourself before the Lord’s supper):
Do I have sin? Yes! Do I desire the Lord’s forgiveness? Yes! Does Jesus offer me his forgiveness in his Supper? Yes! Do I believe that Jesus’ body and blood are truly present in this meal? Yes! Do I find myself united in mind and heart with what this body of believers believes and teaches? Yes!
Jesus passes on these words, just like Paul passes these words on to us. Verse 26 mentions that by faithfully receiving the Lord’s Supper in a worthy manner, we are actually passing on the gospel too: it is a proclamation of the gospel. Even if you can’t participate, it is still the proclamation of the gospel, because you see it for what it is, a gift from God not to be taken lightly. It becomes important to remember what you are doing and what you are receiving.
Brothers and sisters, the Lord has passed on an awesome treasure to you this evening. He deliberately gives us himself and he blesses us with his body and blood. So tonight, we turn again to Jesus for a special assurance of his forgiveness. Receive the gift of the Lord’s Supper, the food of Christ’s forgiveness and love! Christ instituted it for you, just as surely as he lived for you, died for you, and lives again for you! This assurance is always yours through Jesus and this assurance is yours only through Jesus. Amen!