Whenever God ordained the proclamation of salvation, He did so through the revelation of His word and the visual aids of feasts and ceremonial ordinances in the Old Testament. It is by the Spirit and the Word of God that the human soul is transformed in saving faith (Psalm 19:7; 1 Peter 1:23; James 1:18,21). For Old Testament believers, the feasts and ceremonies pictured for the people God's redemptive work (the one particular example I am think about is the Passover celebration).
When Jesus came to earth in His first Advent (that is, coming), He instructed His disciples to begin practicing two ordinances: believer's baptism and the Lord's Table (referred to also as "Communion" or "The Lord's Table" or "Lord's Supper" - see especially 1 Corinthians 10:16-17; 1 Corinthians 11:23-27). The term "ordinance" refers to what Jesus commanded or "ordained" for the New Testament Church to practice. Wherever we find Jesus commanding us to do something in the Gospels; preached and practiced in the Book of Acts; and then explained in the New Testament letters, we have then standardized ordinances. As is the nature of the case, Jesus prescribed baptism and the Lord's Table to be those ordinances.
As we consider this time of year, Advent, we find it bringing to mind the incarnation of the Son of God to live, die, and rise again. The Lord Jesus Christ is the focal point of Advent and the reason for celebrating the Lord's Table. What I spell out below will highlight four main purposes I see for Christians and churches celebrating the Lord's Supper.
The Purposes for the Lord's Table and main point of application
In today's blog we want to understand the purposes for which the Lord's Supper was prescribed by the Lord Jesus Christ to His church. Regular observance of this "meal" by the local church enables the body of Christ to maintain its corporate identity and grow closer together (1 Corinthians 10:16-17). Below are four reasons why celebrating the Lord's supper is vital to Christians both individually and as members of the local church. I would also add that whenever a church observes the Lord's Supper during Advent, it can help God's people to focus their attention on the true meaning of the season. Our key text will derive from 1 Corinthians 11:17-34. The reader is encouraged to read the text and use the headings to work through Paul teaching in that passage.
1. The Lord's Supper is used by Christ to repair divisions. 1 Corinthians 11:17-22
The letter of 1 Corinthians was written to a church that was fractured in its fellowship. Jesus had prayed in John 17:21 that His church as a whole would be one as He and the Father are one. Clearly the church at Corinth was going in the opposite direction - which is why the Holy Ghost inserted instructions about the Lord's Supper. The Lord's supper gives the church the opportunity to seek forgiveness, heal division and fix fellowship issues that may have arisen since the last Lord's supper (1 Corinthians 11:28-34).
What Jesus achieved on the cross provided the ability for reconciliation between believing sinners and God. The cross is also how followers of Christ can draw from God's immeasurable grace through Jesus Christ. The Lord's Table is that glorious sign or symbol, which signifies or reminds all of Christ's followers that they are on level ground at the cross. Having such a reminder can enable followers of Jesus Christ to exercise themselves in reaching out to others with His love during this Advent season.
2. The Lord's Supper rejoices in the cross. 1 Cor 11:23-25
The cross in the scriptures is the event that the Holy Spirit uses to point us to the source of salvation. Additionally, the cross is the place the Holy Spirit uses to cleanse believers in their post-conversion sanctification. The cross must never be forgotten (1 Corinthians 2:2).
The Lord's table intentionally focuses the entire church on all the significance and daily need for the cross (1 Corinthians 10:16-17). The busyness of Christmas can be a challenging time in focusing one's attention on the cross. The cross of Calvary is the reason for the cradle at Bethlehem. In a time where crass materialism can nearly eclipse the true intent of Advent, coming together with one's local church, composed of true followers of Christ, gathered around the Lord's Table, can reignite the desire to rejoice in the cross.
3. The Lord's Supper repeats the Gospel. 1 Corinthians 11:26
The Gospel of Jesus Christ focuses upon what Jesus came to do in His first coming - accomplish salvation. The Gospel also tells us how we can be saved from the reality of God's wrath that is coming upon this world in Christ's second coming (Romans 5:9-10; 1 Thessalonians 1:10). By the Holy Spirit, Jesus Christ communicates and reinforces these truths to the hearts of His church through their observance of the Lord's Supper (1 Corinthians 10:16-17; 11:26). This is why the Lord's table is celebrated in conjunction with the communication of the scriptures.
Furthermore, every follower of Jesus Christ needs to preach the Gospel to themselves everyday, especially during Advent season. As we travel to see loved ones or express "Merry Christmas" to neighbors, we never know how God may open up "Divine Appointments"for us to share the Gospel. The Holy Spirit uses the Lord's Table to visualize the Gospel, to remind every Christ-follower that partakes of the bread and fruit of the vine of the necessity of the Gospel for this life and the life-to-come.
4. The Lord's Supper urges re-examination of the Christian walk. 1 Corinthians 11:27-34
We are told in 2 Corinthians 13:5 to "examine ourselves to see whether or not we are in the faith". What kinds of questions are good to ask ourselves when getting ready to receive the Lord's Supper (or communion, as it is sometimes called)? What unconfessed sin has crept into my life since I last partook of the Lord's supper? Do I have any resentment towards anyone? Have I grown cold in my love for Jesus, His Word or prayer? How am I doing in the areas of supporting the local church of which I am a member through my giving of tithes and offerings? Am I mad at God? Have I done anything to grieve His Spirit? Have I seen growth and change in my life for the glory of God? What has God shown me about Himself since the last time I partook of His meal?
Such diagnostic questions are useful as we celebrate Advent. There is no cruise control on the steering column of the Christian life. We don't coast, we aim to strive for all we can in Christ, since it is He who is working in us His perfect and pleasing will. (Philippians 3:12-13)
Today we considered for purposes for the celebration of the Lord's table, and why Jesus originated this ordinance for the local church. We also made some observations as to how churches that celebrate the Lord's Supper during Advent can draw applications for daily Christian living during the Season. The four purposes we saw today are:
1. Repair divisions
2. Rejoice in the cross
3. Repeat the Gospel
4. Re-examine one's Christian walk
May every reader have a blessed Advent Season.