The Gospel presents Jesus, among other things, as the Good Shepherd who feeds His sheep. Looking back on the ministry of Jesus it is easy to see this. Jesus fed the five thousand, he fed the four thousand, he taught, healed, and cast our demons. It is easy to see how he provided for the sheep during His earthly ministry. When we look at our own lives, however, it is not always so easy to discern how the Good Shepherd is taking care of us. Sometimes it feels a lot more like we are on our own than well taken care of sheep. The temptation to feel this way is a reality, but an even greater reality is that Jesus does continue to feed his sheep. In fact, he has even made provision for our us in this struggle to recognize his provision.
The Good Shepherd knows His sheep and he knows the nourishment that we need. This is why Jesus instituted what we now refer to as “The Lord’s Supper.” Luke 22:14-20, Matthew 26:26-29, and Mark 14:22-25 all record the instructions from Christ. It is one of two ordinances that Christ gave to the church, and its purpose is to nourish the body. The Lord’s Supper is a memorial that graciously nourishes the body of Christ.
The nourishment provided in the Lord’s table is not magical or mystical as the Roman Catholic Church would have us believe. They teach that the Lord’s Supper works automatically to impart grace to someone even if there is no faith. The Latin term is ex opere operato (i.e., by the outward rite itself). Taken to its logical end, if you force feed the elements down someone’s throat it will do them spiritual good. This, obviously, isn’t what Jesus had in mind. Jesus intends for the Lord’s Supper to graciously nourish the Church Body, and the means by which this occurs are quite practical when you examine them. In fact, I’d like to look at three ways that the Lord’s Supper nourishes the body of Christ.
1. The Lord’s Supper nourishes the body of Christ with Instruction.
The first way that the Lord’s Supper nourishes the body is with instruction. When instituting the ordinance Jesus said “do this in remembrance of me.” Christ intended for the Lord’s Supper to instruct us and remind us of nourishing truths. It is a visual teaching aid gracious instructing us with nourishing spiritual truths. What exactly are these truths?
A. Nourishing instruction on the incarnation (“this is my body”)
The Lord’s Supper provides nourishing instruction on the incarnation.
1. The Instruction of the Incarnation (“my body”)
When Jesus took the bread he made it very clear that the bread represented his body. A body which he only had because of the incarnation (Philippians 2:5-7). The incarnation refers to God the Son’s act to take upon himself human nature (John 1:14). Jesus became a man, and the bread is meant to remind us of this act.
2. The Nourishment of the Incarnation (“for you”)
The instruction that the bread provides the church on the incarnation is nourishing for us. This is why when Jesus took the bread he made it clear that this bread is “for you.” Think about a few of the nourishing benefits that the incarnation provides for you.
i . incarnation reveals the invisible God (Col 1:15)
The incarnation makes it possible for you to know God (John 14:9). Jesus reveals the invisible God to the church (Colossians 1:15). Through the Son we can know God and enjoy Him forever (John 17:3).
ii. incarnation provides replacement obedience (Heb 4:15, Rom 5:18-19)
The incarnation provides you with the replacement obedience that you desperately need to be a part of God’s kingdom. Entrance into God’s kingdom requires perfect righteousness, for nothing less can be tolerated in God’s presence. This, as you may have already deduced, is something that we cannot produce. Sin has marred the righteousness of every man who ever lived, that is, until the incarnation. Jesus became a man and despite facing the same circumstances as every other man his heart was never turned to rebellion. He was without sin (Heb 4:15). Because of this he is able to provide us with the righteousness that we need (2 Corinthians 5:21). He has become the second Adam leading those under him to life instead of death (Romans 5:18-19).
iii. incarnation provides a mediator (1 Tim 2:5)
The incarnation provides us with a mediator. Because Jesus is fully God and fully man he can represent us before God as a mediator (1 Timothy 2:5).
These are just some of the nourishing truths about the incarnation the the Lord’s Supper brings to us, and the incarnation is not the only subject about which the Lord’s Supper instructs us.
B. Nourishing instruction on the Atonement (“the cup… my blood”)
The Lord’s Supper also provides nourishing instruction on the atonement.
1. The Instruction of the Atonement (“His blood”)
When Jesus took the cup he explained that it represented the blood that would be spilled in his death. His death, of course, was an atoning sacrifice for the sins of His people. Just like the Passover Lamb that they were remembering with their passover feast, Jesus had to shed blood in death to accomplish the atonement (1 Peter 2:24). The atonement refers to all that was accomplished by the death of Christ, and this is what the cup reminds us of.
2. The Nourishment of the Atonement (“for you”)
The instruction that the cup provides the church on the atonement is nourishing for us. This is why when Jesus took the cup he made it clear that it is “for you.” Think about a several of the nourishing benefits of the atonement that are mentioned in the Lord’s words.
i. atonement accomplishes forgiveness (Mt 26:28)
In Matthew 26:28 we learn that Jesus’s blood was “poured our for many for the forgiveness of sins.” In other words, His atonement accomplishes our forgiveness. This couldn’t be more important because to enter God’s kingdom we must not only have righteousness but we also must have our punishment dealt with. God can’t simply pretend that we never sinned. That would be a lie. Someone had to stand in our place, and that someone was Jesus. He bore the full wrath of the Father so that He could atone for our sin (Isaiah 53:5). The cup reminds us of the forgiveness made available through the death of Christ. To partake in the cup you drink. To partake in the forgiveness you believe.
ii. atonement accomplishes new covenant (Lk 22:20)
In Luke 22:20 we learn that Jesus’s blood was the blood of the New Covenant. In other words, Jesus’s atonement made the New Covenant a reality. God had always promised to institute a New Covenant. In this New Covenant God would send his Spirit to dwell in the hearts of men, he would enable them to keep the covenant, and he would make them eternal heirs in his kingdom. Just like the Old Covenant, this New Covenant had to be ratified with blood. The Lord’s Supper reminds us that Jesus took care of that. The Atonement of Christ made this New Covenant a reality. The Lord’s Supper is a covenant sign of the reality that all who put their faith in Christ will benefit eternally from the New Covenant. This is why it is important for unbelievers not to take in the Lord’s Table. They are not partakers in the New Covenant through faith, and so they should not partake in the Lord’s Supper by eating and drinking.
C. Nourishing instruction on the Second Coming
The Lord’s Supper also provides nourishing instruction on the Second Coming.
1. The Instruction of the second coming (“Father’s Kingdom”)
Out of all the instruction provided by the Lord’s Supper, the instruction about the Second Coming of Christ is the most frequently overlooked. However, when Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper his return was on his mind. We know this because he said to disciples that he “will not drink again of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.” (Matthew 26:28) Jesus was already pointing forward to his second coming. The apostle Paul confirmed this emphasis on the Second Coming when he said, “For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.” (1 Corinthians 11:26) The Lord’s Supper is instructing us to look back at what Christ has done, and forward to when he will return.
2. The Nourishment of the Second Coming
The instruction that the Lord’s Supper provides the church on the Second Coming is nourishing for us. Think about the nourishing benefits of this instruction.
i. second coming reminds of the resurrection (Acts 2:23-24)
The Lord’s Supper reminds us that Jesus did not stay dead. This would have been particularly encouraging to the first disciples as they were trying to deal with the crucifixion. They may not have caught the significance of it at that moment, but later on they certainly understood the power of the resurrection (Acts 2:23-24). Jesus used the Lord’s Supper to predict his death and his resurrection.
ii. second coming provides hope (Heb 9:28)
By turning our attention on the Second Coming the Lord’s Supper also provides us with hope. We are looking forward to a day when Jesus will return and we will experience the full benefits of what he accomplished on the cross. (Heb 9:28)
iii. second coming provides endurance (James 5:8)
By instructing us on the Second Coming the Lord’s Supper also provides us with endurance. It is always easier to make it to a finish line when you can see it. I remember running a marathon that I thought would never end. I was injured and almost quit. Even though the signs were telling me I only had a mile left it wasn’t until I could see the finish line that I knew I was going to be able to finish the race. By pointing us to the end of the race the Lord’s Supper provides us with the nourishment we need for endurance. (James 5:8)
The Lord’s Supper instructs us on some of the most important and nourishing Gospel truths. By providing us with this ordinance Jesus is nourishing the church with rich and necessary instruction.
II. The Lord’s Supper nourishes the body of Christ with Assurance.
The second way that the Lord’s Supper nourishes the body is with assurance. When instituting the ordinance Jesus said “do this in remembrance of me.” We’ve already seen the truths that we are supposed to remember. Now we are called to practically remember these truths in our lives and in the observation of this ordinance. Think about what that means. The Lord’s Supper instructs us on key Gospel truths and then it calls on us to remember those truths. In other words, the Lord’s Table is providing the church with assurance.
A. Nourishing assurance of the sufficiency of Christ (1 Cor 11:26)
Among other things, the Lord’s Supper gives us assurance of the sufficiency of Christ. All too often people are encouraged not to partake in the Lord’s Supper if they have sin in their lives. The fact is that if they don’t have sin in their lives they should be excluded and kicked out of the church (1 John 1:8-10). Remember, the Lord’s Supper is proclaiming the Lord’s death not our self-righteousness (1 Cor 11:26). When Paul says that we shouldn’t take in an unworthy manner he is not saying that we should abstain if we sin. Living in a unworthy manner refers to a life that is completely inconsistent with the Gospel. If you are battling sin this is a fruit of God’s work in your life, and the Lord’s Supper is a means of grace to help you continue battling sin. It reminds us that Jesus is sufficient for us in our battle.
1. sufficiency of Christ for your salvation
Jesus is sufficient for our salvation. His work on the cross has done everything that is necessary for you to be saved (John 19:30). There is nothing that needs to be added, and there is nothing that you can take away from Christ’s work. If you are truly believing in Jesus then the elements of the Lord’s Table are a reminder of the assurance salvation that you have in him.
2. sufficiency of Christ for your sanctification
Jesus is also sufficient for our sanctification. That is, he has provided the resources that we need to continue battling sin and preparing for the Kingdom. The Lord’s Supper reminds us that we have all the resources that we need. Consider, for instance, 2 Peter 1:3-11. This passage is about confirming our election and entering into the Kingdom. Reading it might tempt you to become discouraged, but notice how the passage begins: “His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence…” The divine power manifested in the person of Jesus and highlighted in the Lord’s Supper assures us that we have what we need in the battle for sanctification.
B. Nourishing assurance of communion with Christ (1 Cor 10:16)
The Lord’s Supper also provides us with assurance of our communion with Christ. The bible teaches that those who put their faith in Christ are in union with him. As the New Testament so frequently reminds us, we are “in Christ.” The Lord’s Supper reminds us of this union with Christ. This is why the Lord’s Supper is frequently referred to as “Communion.” The Lord’s Supper is a picture of the body of Christ unified with the Head of Christ. In fact, the title “communion” comes from the Latin translation of 1 Corinthians 10:16: “The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ?” The Lord’s Supper is an assurance of our communion with Christ, and this is nourishing for us to remember.
1. communion of Christ in your salvation (Rom 8:39)
We are in union with Christ for our salvation. Because we are unified with him in the work that He has accomplished there is nothing that take away our salvation. In fact, for God to remove his covenant love from us would be as impossible as him removing his covenant love from the Son. (Rom 8:39) Partaking in communion reminds us of this salvific union.
2. communion of Christ in your sanctification (Rom 6:8-11)
The union that the Lord’s Supper assures us of not only saves, it also practically sanctifies. By faith we participate in the blood of Christ, and as a result we have been freed from our slavery to sin. Our sin nature died with Christ, and we have new life through Christ’s resurrection. Because of this union with Christ we are now dead to sine and alive to God (Rom 6:8-10).
The Lord’s Supper graciously nourishes us by providing assurance that we will never be let down by the work of Christ. The Lord’s Supper assures us that His work is sufficient and we are partakers in it.
III. The Lord’s Supper nourishes the body of Christ with Unity. (1 Cor 10:17)
The third way that the Lord’s Supper nourishes the body is with unity. We see this nourishment in Paul’s extended teaching on the Lord’s Supper. Paul teaches us that the Lord’s Supper should help the church to be unified. Through the Lord’s Supper the body is brought together as joint participants in the New Covenant. As 1 Corinthians 10:17 puts it, “Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread.” So, the Lord’s Supper nourishes us by unifying us.
A. Nourishing unity under the Church Head
Unity provided by the Lord’s Super is first and foremost a unity under the Head of the Church, Jesus. That is to say, Jesus uses the Lord’s Supper to keep the church unified in submission to him.
1. Unity under the Church Head is required (1 Cor 11:27, 10:21)
One cannot partake of the Lord’s Supper unless they are submitting to the Lordship of Christ. This, as it has already been explained, does not require perfect obedience. It does, however, require that our lives are generally submissive to Christ and we are seeking his help to sanctify areas of our lives where we struggle to submit. This is what it means to participate in a worthy manner. The point is simply that you can be devoting your life to some other idol (1 Corinthians 10:21) and then take of the Lord’s Supper. The Lord’s Supper requires that all who participate in it are unified under the Lordship of Christ.
2. Unity under the Church Head is enforced (1 Cor 5)
The Lord’s Supper not only requires unity under the headship of Christ, but is also enforces it. 1 Corinthians 5 is very clear that those who continually refuse to be unified under the Lordship of Christ must be disciplined out of the church and excluded from the Lord’s Supper. They have forfeited their right to the assurance of the Lord’s Supper, and they have defamed the truths taught by the Lord’s Supper. In this way the Lord’s Supper enforces unity under the Lordship of Christ. It forces Christians to deal with areas of rebellion on a regular basis. Unfortunately this aspect of the Lord’s Supper is frequently misapplied. For instance, someone struggling with sin will continually abstain from participating in the element because of their sin, but they won’t deal with their sin. The idea is not to jus keep passing the plate until you’re not sinning anymore. The idea is to deal with your rebellion and idolatry as soon as possible so that you don’t have to pass the elements. As Christians we should never be content to forsake the Lord’s Supper. We should crave the nourishment that it provides so much that it motivates us to deal with our sin.
B. Nourishing unity as the Church Body
The Lord’s Supper also provides a unity within the body. As the church unifies itself under the headship of Christ it will also be unified with one another. This is one of the nourishments of the Lord’s Supper. It is not meant to be just for you as an individual. It is intended to benefit the church as a unified group of individuals.
1. Unity as the Church Body is Required (1 Cor 11:17-20, 33)
The unity of the Church body is required for participation in the Lord’s Table. In 1 Corinthians 11 the apostle Paul chastised the Corinthians for the way they were partaking in the Lord’s Supper. They has attached a love feast to the supper, which wasn’t bad. But soon the feast became the focal point instead of the ordinance. What was worse was that the feast was causing disunity in the church. As a result they weren’t eating together and they weren’t partaking in communion together. They were having fellowship meals and some people refused to sit with other people and share a meal with them. Because of this Paul bluntly told them that “When you come together, it is not the Lord’s supper that you eat.” Because the way they were doing the Lord’s Supper hurt the unity of the church Paul said what they were doing wasn’t the true ordinance. Disunity in a church undermines the ordinance of the Lord’s Supper. This is important because the bible gives us a great deal of freedom on the way we practice this ordinance. What we see here, however, is that that one requirement is that we observe it in a way that promotes unity.
2. Unity as the Church Body is Enforced (Mt 5:23-24)
The unity of the body is also enforced by the Lord’s Supper. If you have a conflict with another Christian that you have not dealt with biblically then you would fall under Paul’s category of “unworthy.” Jesus has told you how to deal with the conflict and pursue unity, but you are refusing. We cannot partake in the elements if we are not unified, but we are commanded to partake. What does that mean? It means that we must be unified. We must take seriously Jesus’s words in Matthew 5:23-24 and put down the elements and go seek reconciliation. This is what is required for church unity. Too often we think of church unity as filling the church with people who all agree about everything. That will never happen. Unity in a church isn’t about finding the right people. It is about people willing to pursue reconciliation. The regular observation of the Lord’s Supper enforces the reconciliation that is necessary for the church to be unified.
The Lord’s Supper nourishes the church by protecting it from unity around something other than Christ and disunity with one another. It requires that the church deal with disunity before it becomes crippling.
Next time you feel like you’re missing out because you didn’t get any fish and bread remind yourself of the meal that Jesus has provided for you. It is a meal that nourishes the church with instruction, assurance, and unity. It is a meal that signifies our participation in the work of Christ and his eternal kingdom. As much as I like fish and a good piece of bread, I think the benefits of the meal that we’ve been provided with are even greater than what the 5,000 men received. At the very least we can say that the same Shepherd who was providing for their needs continues to provide for our needs.