GOD’S PLAN FOR KEEPING CHRIST IN THE FOREFRONT
A Study by
Gary Ray Branscome
This is my blood… which is shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.
(Matthew 26:28. Luke 22:20)
We live in an age in which the Lord’s Supper is neglected, separated from faith in Christ, and totally misunderstood. Instead of being held up as a testimony to Christ’s death on the cross, and a way of reminding believers that they have forgiveness in Christ, it is twisted into work (“an act of obedience”) and treated as if it had little importance. In order to understand why that is wrong, and what role Christ intended for His Supper to play in the life of the church let us look carefully at what Christ said.
Our Lord Jesus Christ, the same night in which He was betrayed, took bread and when He had given thanks, He broke it and gave it to His disciples saying, “Take eat this is My body which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of Me.”
After the same manner, He took the cup when He had supped, and when He had given thanks, He gave it to them saying, “All of you drink of it; this cup is the New Testament in My blood, which was shed for you for the remission of sins. Do this as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.” [Matthew 26:26-28, Mark -24, 1Corinthians -26, Luke -20.]
As you read those words there are certain things Christ said that I want to call to your attention. First of all, the words, “Do this” are not telling us to simply pass around bread and wine. On the contrary, they are telling us to do exactly what Christ did. As Christ passed around the bread He said, “Take eat this is My body which is given for you”. Therefore, as we pass around the bread we should say, “Take eat this is Christ’s body which is given for you.”
Likewise, as He passed around the cup He said, “All of you drink of it; this cup is the New Testament in My blood, which was shed for you for the remission of sins”. Therefore, as we pass around the cup we should say, “All of you drink of it; this cup is the New Testament in Christ’s blood, which was shed for you for the remission of sins”.
Furthermore, when Christ said, “Do this in remembrance of Me” what He wants us to remember is not just that He passed around bread and wine, but what He said when He did it. He wants all who partake to be reminded that His body was given for them, and that His blood was shed for them, so that they could have forgiveness. That is the important thing! Christ intended for His Supper to constantly point us to His death on the cross as the source of forgiveness, while assuring all who believe His words [i.e. that His blood was shed for them] that they have received His death on the cross as the atonement for their sins. Or, as the Apostle Paul put it, “As often as you eat this bread, and drink this cup, you are solemnly proclaiming the Lord’s death until he comes,” (1Corinthians )
Am I saying that we need to partake of the Lord’s Supper in order to have forgiveness? Not at all! Christ intended for His Supper to give us the same assurance that 1Corinthians 15:3 gives us, namely that, “Christ died for our sins”. Therefore, saying that we need to partake of the Lord’s Supper in order to have forgiveness is just as wrong as saying we need to read 1Corinthians 15:3 in order to have forgiveness. That is nonsense! Partaking of the Lord’s Supper and reading 1Corinthians 15:3 are just two ways in which God assures those who trust in Christ that they have forgiveness through His death on the cross. Now I realize that all who have placed their faith in Christ should have that assurance. However, in real life believers are sometimes troubled by guilt. In such cases the Lord’s Supper assures those people that they have forgiveness through Christ’s death on the cross.
Furthermore, in a large congregation there are often some who harbor secret sins. In order to understand the place of Christ’s Supper in dealing with them, let us consider carefully what Paul said about those who partake unworthily. [1Corinthians -32.]
First of all, because works cannot make us righteous in God’s sight, works cannot make us worthy. The only thing that can make us worthy is the same thing that makes us worthy of eternal life, and that is the forgiveness that is ours in Christ. Moreover, because that is what makes us worthy, every Christian should be worthy. However, the truth is never that simple. In real life there are often some church members who have never actually put their faith in Christ. There are others who harbor secret sins of which they are unrepentant. Whenever the Lord’s Supper is offered, Paul’s warning to those who partake unworthily should be used to call such people to repentance. They should be reminded that they will face God’s judgment, and that God does not accept excuses. They should be reminded that the only way anyone can escape damnation is through the forgiveness offered to them in the Lord’s Supper, the forgiveness that comes to us through believing that Christ’s body was truly given for them (on the cross), and that His blood was truly shed for them (on the cross) so that they (and all who believe) can have forgiveness. And, that only those who are sorry for their sin and accept His offer of forgiveness are worthy to partake.
When we read the words, “If we would judge ourselves, we would not be judged” (verse 31) we need to remind those who are about to partake that the publican (in the parable of the Pharisee and the publican) judged himself, condemning his own sin and seeking God’s mercy.
When we read the words, “When we are judged, we are chastened by the Lord, so that we will not be condemned with the world” (verse 32) we need to remind them that it is not sin but an unrepentant heart that brings God’s chastening. And, self-righteousness is just another form of unrepentance. Because, “all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God,” we all need forgiveness. And, the Lord’s Supper points us to Christ’s death on the cross as the source of that forgiveness.
There is only One Lord’s Supper
Because the Lord’s Supper was intended to point people to Christ’s death on the cross, Satan has found many ways to pervert it. One of those ways is by portraying every celebration of the Lord’s Supper as a separate sacrifice. That idea undermines the very purpose of the Lord’s Supper by shifting attention away from what Christ did, and focusing it on what the priest is doing. In contrast, I believe that there is only one Lord’s Supper, and it has been going on constantly since Christ instituted it. In other words, when Christ distributed the bread and the cup it was first passed to the Apostles, however, they continued to pass it on to others in a long unbroken chain that stretches down through time to us. Viewed that way, the Lord’s Supper is still going on, and since we are too far from Christ to hear what He said, the minister repeats His words as he distributes the bread and the cup, saying, “Take eat this is Christ’s body which is given for you,” and “Take drink this cup is the New Testament in Christ’s blood, which was shed for you for the remission of sins”.
Christ intended for His Supper to play a key role in world evangelism. The purpose of His Supper is to call those with secret sins to repentance while pointing those who are troubled by guilt to His sacrifice on their behalf. For that reason, all who partake are reminded that His body was broken for them (on the cross), and His blood was shed for them (on the cross) so that they could have forgiveness. And, because that is the reason Christ instituted His Supper, everyone who partakes in faith, believing that His body was broken for them (on the cross) and that His blood was shed for them (on the cross), truly receives His body and blood, not as something physical but as the atonement for their sin.