Wednesday, August 26, 2015

How the Lord's Table pictures the Holy Spirit's union of believers to Jesus Christ

picture is from
1 Corinthians 11:23-26 "For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus in the night in which 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 He took the cup also after supper, saying, “This cup is thenew 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."

Yesterday we began considering the Lord's table from the vantage point of how it is connected to the Spirit's ministry in the life of the Christian and the local church body. Inasmuch as the Lord's table points us to what Jesus did (in the past) regarding our salvation and points us forward to the future regarding His second coming, in this particular series of posts, we are interested in the present. In other words, what does the Lord's table have to tell us about the Holy Spirit's current ministry in the life of the Christian in how He connects the believer in continuous union with Jesus Christ?

Exploring the language of union with Christ as found in the Lord's supper
As we consider Paul's words here in 1 Corinthians 11:23-26, we discover a certain set of expressions that describe the Christian's union with the Lord Jesus Christ. One of the purposes of the Lord's table - as we are laboring to show here - is to signifiy the reality of how the Christian partakes of Jesus Christ in a special way at the Lord's table as a result of their continuous union with Him in their daily lives. 

In 1 Corinthians 11:25-26, we see the language of "eating" and "drinking" associated with the body and blood of Jesus. Notice - "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 He took the cup also after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in My blood; do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.” This particular language can only make sense when we realize that the Holy Spirit's ministry of uniting the Christian to Christ at salvation enables them to enjoy His Person and achievements. Outside of the Spirit's ministry, eating of Jesus' flesh and blood makes no sense. 

When Jesus was ministering on this earth, He gave the language of eating and drinking of His flesh and blood prior to His institution of the Supper for His church. Notice what we read in John 6:53-56 "So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in yourselves. 54 He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I willraise him up on the last day. 55 For My flesh is true food, and My blood is true drink. 56 He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him." Whenever you read the context of John 6, it is clear that the Jewish audience of Jesus' day were having a difficult time understanding Jesus' words. How could one literally eat the flesh and blood of someone who was still speaking to them? How could someone eat flesh and blood and have that person abide in them and they in that person? For the Jewish mind, to eat blood of any sort was forbidden by the Mosaic Law (Leviticus 17:10-11). Clearly the ability to partake of Jesus' flesh and blood was not going to be achieved in the strict literal manner in which the Jews were thinking. Even the disciples had a hard time with Jesus' teaching (see John 6:60).

So what in the world was Jesus talking about in regards to "eating His flesh" and "drinking His blood"? Jesus begins to open the door of understanding a crack in John 6:61-63 "But Jesus, conscious that His disciples grumbled at this, said to them, “Does this cause you to stumble?62 What then if you see the Son of Man ascending to where He was before? 63 It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing; the words that I have spoken to you are spirit and are life."

What Jesus was describing here were the conditions that were going to be present to make possible the partaking of the Son of Man's flesh and blood. Undoubtedly there would have to be a death. We know from reading on in the Gospels that there was Jesus' crucifixion. Secondly, there would need to be an ascension of Jesus into Heaven. Again, when we read on in the Gospels, Jesus raised from the dead three days after his crucifixion and then 40 days hence ascended into heaven. The changes brought about in his physical body by both His resurrection and ascension positioned Jesus in His humanity to be united to all who would believe on Him by the Holy Spirit's working. That third element - the sending of the Spirit - occured ten days following His ascension. 

When the Holy Spirit was sent on the day of Pentecost, the experience of Jesus Christ was amplified in the life of every single believer not only then - but also now. Inasmuch as Jesus Christ - in heaven - still retains glorified physical humanity and everlasting Deity - the enjoyment of His entire majestic Person and work is made possible by the indwelling work of the Holy Spirit.

The significance of Paul's mentioning of the Lord's supper and the idea of the Spirit's union of us to Jesus and He to us
So where is Jesus right now? Jesus Christ is in Heaven, seated at the right hand of the Father (see 1 John 2:1-2; Hebrews 4:14-16). However, there is more to the answer. Because of the Holy Spirit's descent to earth on the day of Pentecost, that means then that the presence and power of Jesus Christ is not confined to Heaven. Afterall, we read in over 100 places throughout the New Testament of believers being "in Christ". In like manner, we also read in other places of Jesus being "in the Christian". How is this possible? Furthermore, believers together are called "the body of Christ". How can this be the case? The answer is found in how the Holy Spirit continuously keeps Christ and Christians in bond and union with one another. 

Consider 1 Corinthians 10:16-17, which explains the meaning of the Lord's table - "Is not the cup of blessing which we bless a sharing in the blood of Christ? Is not the bread which we break a sharing in the body of Christ? 17 Since there is one bread, we who are many are one body; for we all partake of the one bread." There the reader will notice the language which was noted earlier - namely the "body and blood" language which Jesus gave back in John 6. As we also mentioned, Jesus alluded to how followers of His were going to have the ability to partake of His flesh and blood - namely by the ministry of the Holy Spirit. Whenever you consider 1 Corinthians 12:12-13, you find similarity of expression as seen already in 1 Corinthians 10:16-17. Notice 1 Corinthians 12:12-13 - "For even as the body is one and yet has many members, and all the members of the body, though they are many, are one body, so also is Christ. 13 For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free, and we were all made to drink of one Spirit."

Hence what the Lord's table does is signify the reality of the Holy Spirit's ministry in bringing us to the Lord Jesus Christ. Such an activity begins at the moment He first draws us to saving faith and continues in the work He is doing in making possible our enjoyment of Jesus in our daily walk of faith. 

The Lord's table gives Christians the opportunity to enjoy this work of the Spirit in a more concentrated manner and in a special way. We must of course realize that the bread and fruit of the vine are not in themselves carriers of Christ's presence. Rather, they signify (i.e symbolize) that those who are partaking are the carriers! By the Holy Spirit, the Christ-follower is bearing in themselves, and in connection with others of like faith, the very presence and person of Jesus Christ. 

More tomorrow.....