Until He Comes
1 Corinthians 11:17-34
Theme: The Lord’s Supper.
This week’s lessons remind us of the privilege and responsibility of partaking in Communion.
In yesterday’s lesson we looked at three different interpretations of Jesus’ words “This is my body.” Then there was the view of John Calvin. Calvin had the correct view, though others may disagree. Calvin’s view states that the Lord Jesus Christ is present in the Communion service, but not in actual body. Rather, Christ is present spiritually. And so, just as the Lord Jesus Christ is with us in a spiritual way by the Holy Spirit day by day, so he can say in a very real sense, “And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matt. 28:20). So Calvin stated that in a very special way the Lord Jesus Christ is with his people in the Communion service. The spiritual presence of Christ is imparted to them as they partake of the elements.
I know there are many important differences between the various branches of the Protestant church, at least where the Lord’s Supper is concerned. But the Protestants are united in this: the Lord Jesus Christ gave the Communion service and it is a point at which all who call upon the name of the Lord Jesus Christ can come, and can confess their sin, and can be assured of forgiveness, and can participate in him. As a matter of fact, there is even a sense in which the Communion service illustrates what it really is to be a Christian, because being a Christian is not merely an intellectual assent to certain doctrines so that we can say, “Yes, I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. I believe he died on the cross for sin. And yes, I believe the Lord Jesus Christ rose again from the dead.” That is important. But that alone does not make one a Christian.
What makes one a Christian is participating in that One whom we so profess that we do not say merely, “Yes, Jesus is God.” We say, “He is my God.” We do not say merely, “Jesus died upon the cross for sin.” We say, “He died for my sin.” We do not merely say, “He rose from the dead.” We say, “He rose from the dead for my justification.” The Gospel, in a certain sense, is proclaimed in the elements, and as that Gospel is proclaimed, we receive it. We take it in our hands spiritually and we feed upon it so it becomes part of us, just as the Lord Jesus Christ becomes part of us through saving faith. The Communion service has great power to do that.
In Harry Ironside’s commentary on 1 Corinthians, he tells about an experience that he had had while he was in Japan. There was a Japanese businessman there who had difficulty coming to Christ because he understood that if he did that, he would have to put Christ first, before everything else in his life. He struggled with it for a long time. Ironside returned a year later. The man was still there, but he hadn’t made a commitment, so Ironside invited him to come to church. And the man did. Part of the service was the Communion service. As he observed, he saw the Christians who were assembled sharing in that which represented the broken body and the shed blood of the Lord Jesus Christ. Big tears began to roll down the man’s cheeks. He came up afterwards and said, “I held out against Jesus Christ for so long, for so many years. But as I sat there and watched the Christians partake in that holy Sacrament, I recognized that Jesus Christ loved me and gave himself for me. And so, I want to become his disciple.”
Something like that also happened at Tenth Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia. There was a man who was sitting in the back corner of the church in one of the Communion services. He was not a Christian, and he understood that the Lord’s Supper was for Christians only; so, during the Communion service when the bread was passed, this man refused to take it, and rightly so. As the bread passed by he became aware that he was rejecting that which represented the body of Jesus Christ broken on the cross for him. In the moments after that, this man gave his heart to the Lord. The service went on and the grape juice or wine, representing the shed blood of Christ, was passed. This time when the second element came by, he took it because in the meantime, he had given his heart to Jesus Christ. That is the spiritual presence of Christ in the Supper. Is he not present at other times? Yes, he is. But there’s a special promise of the blessing of Jesus Christ where we gather together in that way in his name.
What is the best way to understand Christ’s words, “This is my body”?
In what way are Protestants united, in spite of their many differences concerning the Lord’s Supper?