2020-10-04 The Supper

The Supper
1 Corinthians 11:17-34
October 4, 2020

Prayer for Illumination:

Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. Help us to hear and obey what you say to us this morning.  Through Christ, our lord. Amen.

17 But in the following instructions I do not commend you, because when you come together it is not for the better but for the worse. 18 For, in the first place, when you come together as a church, I hear that there are divisions among you. And I believe it in part, 19 for there must be factions among you in order that those who are genuine among you may be recognized. 20 When you come together, it is not the Lord’s supper that you eat. 21 For in eating, each one goes ahead with his own meal. One goes hungry, another gets drunk. 22 What! Do you not have houses to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I commend you in this? No, I will not.

23 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, 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 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.” 26 For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.

27 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. 28 Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. 29 For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself. 30 That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died. 31 But if we judged ourselves truly, we would not be judged. 32 But when we are judged by the Lord, we are disciplined so that we may not be condemned along with the world.

33 So then, my brothers, when you come together to eat, wait for one another— 34 if anyone is hungry, let him eat at home—so that when you come together it will not be for judgment. About the other things I will give directions when I come. [1]

This is the Word of God for the people of God. Thanks be to God.

Sitting down to share a meal is a powerful thing. Maybe you can remember a time when you were new and didn’t know anyone – a new job, new in town, or new at school. Those moments often feel very lonely. Think about the first time someone invited you to eat with them. Those feelings of loneliness vanished, right? Sharing a meal is a powerful thing.

Eating with someone is so much more than just mechanically refueling near someone else. Meals have this way of creating community. The author Rosaria Butterfield has shared how she came to faith. She was an avowed atheist. And her next door neighbor was a Presbyterian pastor. He kept inviting her over for a meal he and his wife prepared every week. As she sat around that table asking the most basic of questions about Christianity, she found a community that loved her in spite of her sin. Sharing a meal is a powerful thing.

And Jesus knew that. One of the last things that Jesus did in his earthly ministry was institute a family meal for his Church. On the night that he was betrayed, he instituted the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper; a sacrament we continue to celebrate even today. As we examine his passage, we’ll see what this meal means and how we are to partake in this meal.

What This Meal Means

Jesus and the Disciples were celebrating the Passover on the night that he was betrayed. This is the meal that commemorates Israel’s redemption out of slavery in Egypt. The story is found in Exodus.

About 2000 years before the birth of Jesus, Israel went down to Egypt. At this point, Israel was 70 people. It was Jacob, his sons, their wives, and children going to Egypt where Joseph was the right-hand man of Pharaoh. They traveled there because there was a famine in the land and even though the famine affected Egypt as well, there was grain. About twenty years before the famine, God in his wisdom ordained for Joseph to be sold into slavery in Egypt. While in prison he interpreted the dreams of Pharaoh’s chief baker and cup bearer correctly.

One day, Pharaoh dreamed a dream that scared him. In his dream he saw seven plump and fat cows coming out of the Nile; then he saw seven thin and deformed cows who ate the seven plump cows up. It scared him. No one could interpret the dream. The cup bearer remembered Joseph.

After Joseph showered and shaved, he went before Pharaoh and interpreted the dream. The dream was that there would be seven good years of harvest followed by seven years of severe famine. With the wisdom that God gave him, Joseph collected 20% of all the grain so that there would be grain during the years of famine.

Pharaoh was grateful. He made Joseph his right-hand man as a result. When Israel arrived in Egypt, Pharaoh gave Israel the land of Goshen.

As time went on, Pharaoh forgot Joseph. “There arose a new king over Egypt, who did not know Joseph.” This Pharaoh didn’t know what Joseph had done to save Egypt and he was afraid of the size of Israel. Israel had grown from 70 people to over a million people. Pharaoh was worried about the size of Israel so he enslaved them.

It was during this time of slavery that God redeemed his people. God because of his covenant with Abraham redeemed Israel out of slavery. And he does so in a mighty and powerful way. He initiates various plagues. We read them, or if you’re of a certain generation you saw them enacted in Charlton Heston’s The Ten Commandments, and we often wonder, “What is going on here?” We see the plagues and are often confused.

What God is doing is showing that he alone is God. The various plagues attack the so-called gods of Egypt. God was showing that he is the only God. YHWH is the only true and living god. Despite the nine plagues, Pharaoh hardened his heart. He was still intent on keeping Israel enslaved.

But the final plague was the one that freed Israel. The final plague was the death of the firstborn. This plague was not just confined to Pharaoh’s house. The death of the firstborn affected Pharaoh and down to the slave girl who milled grain and even the animals.

But God said that each and every house that slaughtered a lamb and put some of its blood on their doorposts and lintel, God would pass over them. The lamb would die in the place of the firstborn. That is how God redeemed Israel.

God then instituted a meal to commemorate the Passover and redemption from slavery. In Exodus 12:43-51 we read:

 And the Lord said to Moses and Aaron, “This is the statute of the Passover: no foreigner shall eat of it, 44 but every slave that is bought for money may eat of it after you have circumcised him. 45 No foreigner or hired worker may eat of it. 46 It shall be eaten in one house; you shall not take any of the flesh outside the house, and you shall not break any of its bones. 47 All the congregation of Israel shall keep it. 48 If a stranger shall sojourn with you and would keep the Passover to the Lord, let all his males be circumcised. Then he may come near and keep it; he shall be as a native of the land. But no uncircumcised person shall eat of it. 49 There shall be one law for the native and for the stranger who sojourns among you.”

50 All the people of Israel did just as the Lord commanded Moses and Aaron. 51 And on that very day the Lord brought the people of Israel out of the land of Egypt by their hosts.

Jesus and the disciples were celebrating this that night.

And while they were celebrating the Passover, Jesus did something amazing. He reinterpreted the Passover meal.  He said, “This is my body, which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” 25 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.” He gave this meal a new meaning.

Throughout the ages, we have debated the meaning of these words. When Jesus says, “This is my body” does he mean that the bread and wine actually become his physical body and blood? Or does he mean the bread and wine represent his body and blood? Or does it mean something else?

When Jesus says, “This is my body” he is telling us that the bread and the wine are signs and seals of the covenant of grace. The bread is a sign pointing us the death Jesus died on the cross. Normally during the Passover Seder, the person presiding over the meal would take the bread and say, “This is the bread of our affliction”. Matzo is bread without any yeast that reminded the people they needed to leave slavery in a hurry on that night.

But notice, Jesus says “this is my body”. He is saying that he is the one who truly was afflicted so we wouldn’t be. He was saying that he is the true Lamb, the one who all of the other lambs pointed to. The prophet Isaiah said of the coming Christ, “Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all” (Isaiah 53:4-6).

On the cross, Jesus bore the affliction his Church deserves. On the cross, he bore the consequences of our sin and shame; he endured God’s wrath and displeasure for the sin of all who believe. He did that so that we could have his peace. The bread is a sign pointing to the death of Christ.

After the Supper, Jesus took the cup and said, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” 

Jesus is referencing Jeremiah 31:31-34. God told Jeremiah that there would be a day when he makes a new covenant with his people. And in this new covenant, the people of God would have their hearts renewed and enlivened by the Holy Spirit; the law of God would be written upon their hearts.

This cup is a seal of that promise that God made through Jeremiah all those years ago. In the ancient world, seals were authoritative; they proved that the document coming to someone was truly from the sender. Even today our driver’s licenses have seals on them. The seal testifies to the truth of what has already happened. The cup is testifies to the truth that God has redeemed his Church in Christ; the cup is a seal of God’s unmerited grace to us.

Kim Riddlebarger says, “Jesus is saying that the shedding of his blood will be the means by which the new covenant is ratified, the means by which our sins are forgiven, and the means by which the law is written upon our hearts.”[2] These elements are signs and seals to us. The bread is a sign of the affliction Jesus bore on the cross; the cup is a seal of God’s gracious promise to us.

While the Lord’s Supper is a sign and seal of what has happened, it is also a sign and seal of what will happen. There will be a day when Christ returns. And on that day, all things will be made new. There will be no more sin, no more death, no more pain for the former things will have passed away. The dead in Christ will rise and all in him will be given incorruptible bodies. On that day, we will eat and drink with the Lamb in celebration of our union. We will sit at the table with saints who have gone before us, communing with them. This meal is a sign pointing to that day. This meal is a seal testifying to the promise that one day we will feast with our Lord and Savior. It is a heavenly appetizer.

We are to continue partaking in this meal commemorating Christ’s death until he returns. Paul says,For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes”. This is supposed to be a regular part of our worship.

Calvin called the sacraments, baptism and the Lord’s Supper, visible words to us.[3] God knew that we needed not only the spoken word, the gospel proclaimed to us, but that we need a visible reminder of that gospel. I’m sure each and every one of you tells your spouse you love them, and you tell them regularly. But there are moments when you need to visibly show you love them; moments when you need to look at the ring you wear. Why? Because sometimes we need a visible reminder of the love we have between each other. The same is true with the Supper. It is a visible reminder of God’s love to us the same way our wedding bands are visible reminders of the promises we made at our weddings. We are to partake in this sacrament regularly as a way to visibly remind ourselves of the promise of God that Christ has borne our affliction and the covenant of grace has been ratified in his death.

How We Partake in This Meal

We’ve seen what this meal means; now we’ll see how we are to partake in this meal. Paul gives us a warning. He writes, “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. 28 Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. 29 For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself”.

He warns us that if we partake in an unworthy manner we will be guilty of sinning against Christ. He doesn’t say unworthy persons. If he did, no one would be able to partake. We are all unworthy. He says in an unworthy manner. There are two dimensions to partaking in a worthy or unworthy manner; vertical and horizontal.

The Corinthians were partaking in an unworthy manner. When they came together for the Supper, some were over indulging; some weren’t eating at all. At this time in Church history, churches often celebrated the Lord’s Supper by eating an actual meal. Not just a little piece of bread and a little cup of wine (or in our case grape juice), they ate a full meal. It seems that they celebrated this meal potluck style.

About 25% of the Roman population lived below the level of subsistence. They wouldn’t have had food to eat every day. Another 30% would have had just enough to pay their bills and put a little something on their table every day.[4] The vast majority in Corinthian church wouldn’t have much if any food to bring to the potluck.

The very few who had excess didn’t share well. They probably divided up over ethnic, cultural, and political lines. Romans probably sat together and ate Roman food, excluding Greeks and Jews. Those for Cephas probably ate together, excluding those who followed Paul or Apollos. And they didn’t share because hospitality was only given to those who could reciprocate in kind.[5] They were sinning against other Christians by dividing the body of Christ. They were partaking in an unworthy manner on a horizontal level.

They were also sinning against Christ by treating his Supper like a pagan feast. They were over indulging and getting drunk. Those things were common in pagan temples. They would drink until they were drunk and eat until there was no more to eat. Scripture makes clear that drunkenness is a sin. They were partaking in an unworthy manner by treating this like a pagan feast, implying they were eating and drinking in unbelief.

We partake in the Lord’s Supper in an unworthy manner when we come to the table not believing in Christ’s gospel or when we come with enmity and division in our hearts and we are guilty of sinning against Christ.

If someone comes to the table not believing that Christ is the way, the truth, and the life then they partake in an unworthy manner. If they come not believing in his gospel, they are guilty of sinning when they take the bread and juice. That’s why before we actually partake in the Supper, I fence the table. Every month before we distribute the elements I say “this is Lord’s table. And all who are baptized, professing believers in good standing are welcome. But those who are not baptized, have not made a profession of faith, or are not in good standing we ask that you refrain from partaking”. We want to protect people from being guilty of sinning against Christ by partaking when they do not believe.

We can also partake in an unworthy manner if we come to the table with hatred in our hearts for anyone – especially fellow believers. Thomas Watson writes, “The Lord’s Supper is ‘agape’: a love-feast. Christ’s blood was shed to reconcile us, not only to God, but one to another. Christ’s body was broken to make up the breaches among Christians. How sad it is that they who profess they are going to eat Christ’s flesh in the sacrament should tear the flesh one of another! ‘Whosever hates his brother, is a murderer,’ (1 John 3:15). He who comes to the Lord’s table in hatred is a Judas to Christ, and a Cain to his brother. What benefit can he receive at the sacrament, whose heart is envemoned with malice?”[6]

When we come to the table and we have not attempted to be reconciled with others – especially other Christians – we come creating divisions within Christ’s body. If we partake in that manner, we eat and drink in sin. That is partaking the Lord’s Supper in an unworthy manner and we are guilty of sinning against Christ’s body. If this is you this morning, either you don’t believe the gospel of Christ or have not attempted reconciliation with another person you are at odds with, please do not come to the table. You will eat and drink judgment upon yourself.

Sometimes people object to churches fencing the table. They object because many don’t do it. And they don’t because they think to fence the table would be unloving. We are being very loving in fencing the table and restricting it to believers in good standing. Paul writes, “That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died. 31 But if we judged ourselves truly, we would not be judged. 32 But when we are judged by the Lord, we are disciplined so that we may not be condemned along with the world.”

God had judgment many in the Corinthian congregation for partaking in an unworthy manner. Some were experiencing God’s loving discipline in physical illness; others died in their sin. God was disciplining them so that they would repent. He was showing them that if they continued to partake in an unworthy manner they would die in their sin like some of them already had.

We are loving you well by warning you that if you partake in an unworthy manner God will judge you. If you are a believer, God will discipline you for partaking with enmity in your heart. If you are an unbeliever, God will judge you for your sin.

So then, what should we do? Paul writes, “Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup.” Examine yourself. Do you look to Christ as your Lord and Savior? If so, even if you do that with wavering faith, this table is for you. This meal with strengthen and comfort you. Are you in unrepentant sin? If so, repent before coming. Are you currently at odds with a fellow brother or sister in Christ? If so, seek reconciliation before taking this bread and cup so as to not partake in an unworthy manner.

This is a family meal for all Christians. It is a meal that signifies Christ has borne the affliction of his Church and seals that redemption to believers. And to partake in this meal we need to examine ourselves so that we eat and drink in a worthy manner.


[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (1 Co 11:17–34). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[2] Kim Riddlebarger, First Corinthians (Georgia; Tolle Lege, 2015), 283.

[3] John Calvin, Institutes of the Christians Religion, IV.xiv.1.

[4] Carla Swafford Works, The Least of These (Michigan; Eerdmans, 2020), 18-19.

[5] Ibid, 26.

[6] Thomas Watson, The Lord’s Supper (Illinois; Banner of Truth Trust, 2009), 55-56.