The Memorial in the Lord's Supper
Tim Temple

The Teacher of the Observance

The first thing we want to notice in I Corinthians, chapter 11, verse 23, is the teacher of the observance:

I Corinthians 11

23For I have received of the Lord that which also I delivered unto you, That the Lord Jesus the same night in which he was betrayed took bread:

We will stop there for just a moment. There is a sense in which Jesus was the teacher of the observance. It was Jesus who instituted the Lord's Supper, and that is why we have come to call it “the Lord's Supper”. That term itself is not in the Scripture. As far as the teaching of the concept of the principles of this observance for the Church, Paul was the teacher. Although Paul was not personally present when the Lord Jesus instituted this remembrance, the Lord revealed to him the true meaning of the observance. Notice he said, “…I have received of the Lord that which also I delivered unto you…”

It is significant in regard to the Lord's Supper that the only other thing that Paul uses this terminology about, the only other thing that Paul specifies as having received from the Lord, is concerning the Gospel. Turn to chapter 15, where we find a very similar formula in the text in verse 3:

I Corinthians 15

3For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures;
4And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures:

There is that formula again–“…I delivered unto you…that which I also received…” That shows the significance of the Lord's Supper because there is nothing more important in all of the Word of God than the truth of the Gospel. If you don't know anything else, you must know that Jesus Christ died for our sins, according to the Scripture, and that He was buried and that He rose again. In fact, one of the most succinct statements of what the Gospel is, is here in I Corinthians, chapter 15, verses 3 and 4–that He died for our sins, according to the Scriptures. The Old Testament is very important in setting the stage for Christ's death on our behalf. The Old Testament is a closed book to many people, even among Christians, but it shouldn't be a closed book. It is the setting for the Lord's coming, and that is why Paul said that He died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and He was buried, and He rose again.

Go back to I Corinthians, chapter 11, as I remind you again that even though this observance is something that we do each Sunday, it is something of extreme importance, right up there with the Gospel itself. That is especially important since it is easy for us to think of it as kind of a routine thing to do. Now that is the teacher of the observance, someone who received the message directly from God and is transmitting it to us.

The Timing of the Observance

It is also important to notice the time at which this observance was instituted. Look at verse 23 again:

I Corinthians 11

23For I have received of the Lord that which also I delivered unto you, That the Lord Jesus [notice this] the same night in which he was betrayed took bread:

On the very night of His betrayal, the Lord Jesus instituted this observance. The disciples probably did not realize the significance of that observance. That night when they gathered to eat the Passover with their teacher, they did not realize that He was going to institute something entirely new that would be carried on to generations of Christians. More importantly, they did not realize what was about to happen in the betrayal of Jesus which would lead so quickly to His crucifixion.

It was a very, very significant night. The disciples didn't understand that, but Jesus did. Jesus knew all that was going to take place in the next twenty-four to forty-eight hours. Yet even knowing the fickleness and the faithlessness of believers, it did not stop Him from instituting this observance. The very night He was betrayed, He set this up so He would be remembered in years to come, even down into the last part of the twentieth century. In fact, the Scripture tells us that all would deny Him that night before the night was over. We know about Peter's denying Him, but the Scripture says that all of them did. The reason I am emphasizing that is that it shows us more clearly than almost anything else, when you stop and think about it, the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, God's grace, that He would redeem even this kind of creature.

You know, it is easy for us to sit here 2000 years later and look back on Peter and the others who abandoned the Lord in His hour of deepest need, but think with me very carefully just a moment. Don't you and I deny the Lord? Hopefully none of us would say that we deny the Lord in those terms; but every time you and I deliberately, knowingly sin, there is a real sense in which we are denying the Lord Jesus. Particularly every time that we have an opportunity to stand up for Christ and we don't do that, we are denying the Lord. So let's not be too hard on the disciples, but let's also remember that Jesus knows our weak and cowardly and fickle nature. He knew what those men were like; and on the very night of His greatest abandonment, He, in great faithfulness, instituted this means of remembering Him after all of that was behind them.

This touches on the doctrine of eternal security, one of the things that we believe and teach unashamedly, the fact that when Jesus Christ saves us, we are eternally saved. We have talked about that doctrine very specifically at other times, but there are various places in the Scripture that touch on that truth without specifically teaching it, and this is one of those places. It completely blasts the idea that God would not want to spend eternity with faithless and unrepentant or rebellious people.

Some teach the idea that after you are saved, you become faithless. If you become one who denies the Lord, then certainly God would not want to spend eternity with you, and that would nullify your salvation. I use the theological term that I so often use–baloney! Here is a perfect example of the fact that Jesus Christ, knowing that the very men with whom He was originally instituting this observance would deny Him that night, still in faithfulness instituted this observance of remembering Him. So the time at which it was instituted was very significant.

The Technique In the Observance

There is a third thing that we need to notice–the technique in the observance, in verses 24 and 25:

I Corinthians 11

24And when he had given thanks, he brake it, and said, Take, eat: this is my body, which is broken for you: this do in remembrance of me.
25After the same manner also he took the cup, when he had supped, saying, This cup is the new testament in my blood: this do ye, as oft as ye drink it, in remembrance of me.

Something else that is important and that ties in with the timing of the observance but also ties in with these verses is the fact that this text does not mention, but the accounts of it in the Gospels do, that the Lord Jesus and His disciples were eating the Passover feast together. The Passover feast was that which God had instituted with Israel as a means of remembering the greatest moment in their history, the night when they were slaves in Egypt and God passed over Egypt with the death angel. Those who believed in God–primarily the Jews, but apparently a few of the Egyptians–had splashed blood on the doorpost inside the house. When the angel passed over, he saw the blood on the doorpost. In those households which had the blood on the doorpost, the firstborn son was spared; in those which didn't have the blood on the doorpost, the firstborn son was killed. That, in turn, led to the Egyptians not only allowing them to leave, but driving them out of Egypt on that night. So for every generation after that, the Jews remembered that night. God had told them to have a feast to remember that Passover night, that night when the death angel passed over those who believed.

A Picture of Faith

That Passover was a picture of their faith. It took faith to spread that blood on the doorpost. It was something that really did not fit with what it would produce. Can't you just imagine the firstborn son saying to his dad, as his dad splashed blood on the doorpost, “Now Dad, are you sure this is all we have to do? I am going to be safe just by putting that blood on the door?” People ask that about faith in Christ all the time, don't they? “Do you mean that is all I have to do? That is too simple. Surely God won't let me into Heaven just because of something that Jesus did.” That night there, in the book of Exodus, God freed His people because of a very simple act that believing fathers did–splashing blood on a doorpost. That was the Passover night. Through all those generations, they had remembered the Passover because it pictured their physical deliverance from Egypt, but it also pictured their spiritual deliverance. That was the night when they literally became God's people. God then directed them personally through thousands of years of Jewish history after that. So faithful Jews, even down to the time in which Jesus lived, celebrated the Passover. Jesus, being a faithful Jew, did it that night.

When it says, in verse 24, that He took the bread, He was taking the bread that was part of the Passover feast. It was the normal routine in observance of the Passover, and He took that bread and He said, “This bread is no longer going to represent the cleanliness of the person forgiven by God, but now this bread represents My body which is given for you.”

Significance of the Blood

Then, in verse 25, He took the cup after supper. There were several cups of wine that were drunk during the Passover feast, but there was one that ended the Passover feast. It was the cup after the meal had been eaten. He said:

I Corinthians 11

25…he took the cup, when he had supped, saying, This cup is the new testament in my blood:…

In other words, “this cup represents all that My death involves.” Scripture tells us that without the shedding of blood, there is no remission of sin. The sacrificial animals were killed in a visible way. The thing that God wanted to emphasize to those people was that that animal was giving its life for their sins, so He had them cut the jugular vein, and the animal would fall there, and the heart would keep pumping the blood out through the jugular vein. Blood would be all over everything. Jesus said, “Now this cup, which has remembered all down through the years the blood that was splashed on the doorposts that night, will have a new meaning. Now this cup will recognize and remind you of My blood which was shed for you.”

Jesus didn't have His jugular vein cut like the animals in the sacrifices did. Technically Jesus did not bleed to death, but let me tell you today that the blood of Jesus Christ is spoken of as a precious thing in the Scripture. Don't ever get so caught up in the technicalities of whether Jesus bled to death like the animals did or not. The Scripture says, “This is My blood; this represents the fact that there is a new covenant now, based on My sacrificial death.” Jesus died as a sacrifice, and they had been prepared for that for thousands of years as they saw those bloody animal sacrifices. The point of the blood was so that they could see visibly that the animal was dead. God could have had them choke the animal to death or kill it in some other way that wouldn't have been as visible; but there was no question that those animals in the sacrifices were dead because of all the blood involved. Jesus said, “My death is the fulfillment of all of that blood of the Old Testament. This cup will remind you of that. This is a new covenant that I am making with you now.”

The old covenant in the Old Testament was that if they were faithful to make those sacrifices, the blood would cover their sins. Technically, it did not forgive their sins; it simply covered their sins. The faith that they exercised making those sacrifices was accepted by God as righteousness. Their faith was accredited to them for righteousness, but it was not until Jesus came that the sins were forgiven. All of those Old Testament sacrifices covered the sins until someday Jesus would come and die on the Cross. Then those sins that had only been covered were now forgiven.

The New Covenant

We who live on this side of the Cross have a tremendous advantage in that our sins were forgiven in advance by the blood of Jesus Christ. We don't have to make those continual sacrifices because Jesus made the one sacrifice that forgives our sins, takes away our sins. That is the new covenant in His blood. The old covenant was the blood of animal sacrifices; the new covenant is His blood. The old covenant was the blood of animal sacrifices; the new covenant is the covenant of His blood. Don't ever be embarrassed or think that it is somehow technically incorrect to speak about the blood of Jesus Christ. It is the precious blood. It is the basis of the new covenant, the fact that Jesus Christ died as a sacrifice, the fact that Jesus Christ took your sins on Himself and because of that, He was separated from God the Father and God the Holy Spirit for the first time in all of eternity.

Remember when Jesus cried out as He was hanging on the Cross, “My God, My God, why hast thou forsaken me?” It is an interesting thing about the way Jesus addressed the Father in that terminology. Throughout all the Old Testament, there is no record of anyone else calling God “Father”. They referred to Him as “God”, and they referred to Him as “My God”. They never called Him “Father”. Jesus was the first person in history, as far as it is recorded, to address God in His prayers as “Father”. He told His original disciples and passed it on to us that we could call Him “Father” also, but here is the only time, as far as it is recorded, that Jesus addressed God as “God”. Why was that? Because literally God had forsaken Him. God had turned away His face from Jesus Christ, not because of Jesus Christ, but because our sins were on Jesus Christ.

The book of Habakkuk says that God is of purer eyes than to behold sin and cannot look upon iniquity. As Jesus hung on the Cross that day, God literally could not look upon Him, and Jesus knew it. He was separated from God the Father and went through a spiritual death–not dead in trespasses and sins, but dead because He was separated from the Father because of your sins and mine. God, of course, then restored that life to Jesus Christ. Part of what is true of the Resurrection is the fact that God no longer was looking away from the Son. So Christ's death was a matter of bearing that separation from God that you and I will otherwise have to face if we have not accepted Christ as our Savior. That was the new covenant in His blood. That is what we remember when we drink the cup, the fact that Jesus Christ by His death and by that general terminology of the blood, by His sacrificial death took our suffering and our punishment on Himself.

Symbolic Elements

Another interesting thing to notice here is that these statement were made while He was still in His body. He was looking forward to the Cross even though here He speaks in the past tense. He was speaking that night as though His sacrifice had already taken place because He knew how soon it would take place and that this would be the last time He would be explaining it to His disciples. He said these things while still in His body. Therefore we know that these things were only symbolic. This is not a major issue with most people, but it is something that to understand that Scripture fully, we need to be aware of. There is a doctrine practiced by some Christians which says that the elements–the bread and the wine–become the body and blood of Christ. It is so strongly practiced by some that they believe that they have to take those elements in order to be saved because that is the body and blood of Christ. If they believe that, then they are not truly born again because faith is based on the work of Jesus Christ on the Cross alone. These were intended to simply be remembrances; they were intended to be symbolic because they were said while He was still alive. The key issue in that argument is here in verse 25, when he says:

I Corinthians 11

25…This cup is the new testament in my blood:…

And in verse 24:

I Corinthians 11

24…this is my body, which is broken for you:…

The doctrine is called the “doctrine of transubstantiation”. This doctrine says that when the priest or minister prays over the bread and wine, they become the body and blood of Christ. It is because these verses say, “This is My body.” The point that I am trying to make here is that this is symbolic. We know it was, because Jesus was still alive. For me to hold out a piece of bread or some other object and say, “This is my body.”, would be ridiculous, wouldn't it? Think about it this way: Have you ever been looking through a picture album with someone and that person would point to a picture and say, “That's me.”? That's not that person; that is a picture of that person; that is a reminder of that person. I would much rather kiss my wife than kiss a picture of my wife. That picture is not her. It reminds me of her, but it is not her. That is the sense in which Jesus said, “This is My body, and this is My blood.” It is a reminder; it is not the real thing. It is a wonderful reminder; it is an important reminder, but it is only a reminder.

A Reminder of the Lord Jesus

Notice something else about the technique of the observance. It involves the actual eating and drinking of the bread and of the wine. You see, it is not enough to just gather around and talk of the Lord Jesus. That is important, but apparently Jesus wanted something more than that. He knew that the disciples were going to be gathering around and talking about Him even down to the present day, but in addition to that, He wanted a physical reminder of who He was and what He did for us. Because that is true, the real essence of the Lord's Supper is the eating and drinking of the elements. Anything else about that observance is simply an aid to that or preparatory to that.

The reason I mention that is that there are Christians who put such an emphasis on how we do this. There are Christians who insist that a whole service ought to be devoted to it because that is the way the early Christians did it. There are Christians who insist that it has to be done every week and if it is not done every week, then you are not all that you should be spiritually. None of those things are the key issues. We happen to do it every week here, and we do it primarily because it seems that that is what the early Christians did, and secondarily because you can't remember the Lord too often.

You see, the issue is not how often we do it, and the issue is not how much of a service we devote to it. The issue is not how many prayers we have before it; the issue is not how much we talk about it before we partake of it. Jesus said, “I want you to partake of these elements.” The eating and the drinking is what reminds us of the Lord Jesus and pictures Him to others. Several times in the past few years people have left our church and moved to other cities. They have said, “You know, I just can't find a church where they celebrate the Lord's Supper every Sunday. I have found several that I like; they have this that I like; they have that that I like, but I can't find one that has the Lord's Supper every Sunday.” I have had to go back in a couple of cases and remind them, “That is not what is important. It is important that they have the Lord's Supper. It is important that it is done often, but what is important is that they do it.” The matter of how we do it and when we do it and how much time we spend doing it is really not the central issue. The central issue is that we eat the bread and drink the cup because that is the essence of the Lord's Supper.

Symbolism of Eating and Drinking

Think about the symbolism in this. Why would Jesus choose something like this to remind us of Himself? After all, we are used to it because we have been hearing it all our lives. But why would Jesus choose something like eating and drinking? It was probably based partially on the Old Testament custom of having feasts which God had instituted at the Passover feast. I think there is a deeper reason than that, and maybe it is even the reasoning behind the Old Testament feasts, and that is that there is no skill involved in eating and drinking. There is no merit involved in swallowing. It is a very humble act, and it is something that we do automatically. In fact, if we don't do it automatically, we are in big trouble. I have never heard anyone brag about how good they can swallow. We don't think of swallowing as something to be exalted about, do we? In swallowing, we are doing something that is inherent in our nature. It doesn't draw any attention to ourselves. In remembering the Lord, should there be any reason at all to draw any attention at all to ourselves? Of course not! We are remembering Him, and the focus should be entirely away from ourselves. So He chose something that is the simplest of acts and something that is automatic to us and something that should not, if we do it properly, draw any attention to ourselves but rather it puts the focus on Him.

Something else, though–in swallowing, we are taking in something from outside our own being just as in salvation we are saved by something outside of ourselves. That is why Jesus instituted something that would involve taking something into ourselves. It is not a matter of doing something, but a matter of taking something. That is salvation, too. You cannot be saved by anything that you do including the eating of the Lord's Supper. We are only saved as we take into ourselves the truth that Jesus Christ died in our place. That is how we are saved. The Lord's Supper pictures that even in the matter of eating and drinking.

A Public Proclamation of Belief

Now we want to notice the teaching that was intended in the observance. It was intended as a public proclamation of belief. Notice verse 26:

I Corinthians 11

26For as often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do shew the Lord's death till he come.

The phrase, “ye do shew,” carries with it the idea of a public proclamation. There is nothing wrong with taking the Lord's Supper in your home or in some small group, but one of the basic issues of the Lord's Supper was that it was also intended as a public proclamation. The word “proclamation” means “to show forth,” “to proclaim,” “to preach,” if you will. So the Lord's Supper does have its meaning for us individually, and there is nothing wrong with partaking of it in our home or in our sickbed or something like that, but the ultimate essence of it is to do it publicly. That is why we include it in our worship services.

At least two things are proclaimed by the Lord's Supper–His death, that substitutionary aspect that we have already talked about, the new covenant in His blood, and His second coming. He said, “This do until I come.” When He comes back, the implication seems to be in the book of Matthew that He will partake of the Lord's Supper with us. John, chapter 14, verses 2 and 3, specifies that He has gone to prepare a place for us and that when He returns, He will take us to be with Himself. Hebrews, chapter 7, verse 25, tells us that He has gone to intercede for us as believers. So the Lord's Supper even reminds us of the fact that He is coming back for us again someday, that this life is not all there is and that no matter how bad or how good the affairs of this life may be, this is only a waiting period until He comes back to take us to be with Himself.

Mental Attitude In the Observance

The third and last portion of the chapter has to do with mental attitudes in this observance. Verse 27 points out the need for discernment:

I Corinthians 11

27Wherefore whosoever shall eat this bread, and drink this cup of the Lord, unworthily, shall be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord.

What does it mean to partake in an unworthy manner? Let me ask you this question: How are we made worthy before God in the first place? Someone may say, “I can't partake of the Lord's Supper because I haven't witnessed to enough people this week.”, or they haven't done this or that for the Lord. Is that how you are made worthy before God, by doing things for God? No. We are made worthy by the blood of Jesus Christ. We are made worthy by the fact that Jesus Christ died in our place. So to eat or drink in an unworthy manner means to come in and go through this just as a ritual when we are not even thinking about why we are there. That is what it means to eat in an unworthy manner.

In the next verses, he touches on partaking with unconfessed sin in our hearts. Parents, you need to be sure that your children understand this. I have noticed that little children–my children when they were little, maybe your children when they were little–because it is something that we are all doing, want to participate. That is all right if two things are true: Number one, you know that they understand the Gospel and have accepted it; number two, that during this part of the service they really are participating mentally and spiritually. Otherwise, even that little child can be eating and drinking in an unworthy manner. You parents need to do everything you can to be sure your children understand that. It would be better to make them wait a little longer than to take a chance on eating in an unworthy manner.

The Need for Discipline

Verses 31 and 32 point out a need for discipline:

I Corinthians 11

31For if we would judge ourselves, we should not be judged.
32But when we are judged, we are chastened of the Lord, that we should not be condemned with the world.

Notice that he says we should judge ourselves. What does that mean? It means to examine your life for sin. How do I know that? Because God is the one who judges sin, and our judgment was poured out on Jesus Christ on the Cross. Our sins were paid for already, so there is no way that we can judge our own sins but rather what we do is examine our hearts to see if there is some sin that has come into our life since the time we have been saved that we haven't confessed. I John, chapter 1, verse 9, says that if we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness, so we judge our sins by confessing our sins. Christ has already paid for them. Christ has already been punished for them. In fact, verse 32, if translated literally, would say, “…because he cannot condemn us with the world”. Romans, chapter 8, verse 1, says that “there is therefore now no condemnation to them who are in Christ Jesus.” So God cannot condemn us with the world. Christ has already been judged for our sins and therefore we need to judge our sins in the sense of making sure that as we come to the Lord's Table, there is nothing there unconfessed, nothing that we are trying to hide because we are remembering the Lord Who forgave those sins, who bridged the gap between us and God. What a mockery it would be to come to the Lord's Table, which is designed to remind us of our forgiveness, with some sin in our lives that we are not willing to deal with, that we are not willing to get right with God about!

The Need for Dependability

Finally, in verses 33 and 34, there is the need for dependability, a third mental attitude:

I Corinthians 11

33Wherefore, my brethren, when ye come together to eat, tarry one for another.
34And if any man hunger, let him eat at home; that ye come not together unto condemnation. And the rest will I set in order when I come.

You will remember that back in the first part of the chapter we were told that one of the problems with the Lord's Supper was that they were making a big feast out of it. The rich people were actually becoming drunk because they ate and drank so much, and some of the poor people didn't have anything to eat. So Paul says, “Look, the time to eat if you are hungry is when you are at home. The focus of this is not the meal; the focus is remembering Jesus.” So he says, “Tarry one for another.” Don't just gobble it down before anyone else has a chance. That is the main reason, even though it is a very minor thing, that we wait until we have all been served and then partake of the elements together, just the fact that it reminds us of the fact that we are all equal before the Lord. The ground at the foot of the Cross is level. There are no Christians who are more important than others. There is no one who needs to get their food before someone else gets theirs. On a much bigger scale, the Corinthians were being told, “Don't make this a meal. It is just an observance.”


These verses form a good conclusion to the whole passage. As we have seen, the Lord's Supper is extremely important. It is important to God; it should be important to us. Let me ask you, can He depend on you to observe it properly? Can He depend on us, as a church family, to exalt Him when we partake? Can He depend on us to not let this become just a ritual? Can He depend on us to remember His death until He comes back for us?

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