52 Major Stories of the Bible - Lesson 38

The Lord's Supper

The greatest act of salvation before the cross was God freeing the Israelites from Egypt. To celebrate that event, God instituted the Passover celebration, commemorating God’s graciousness act of passing over the Israelite houses and killing the first-born of only the Egyptian homes. But now God is about to perform and even greater salvation event, Jesus dying on the cross. Christians are to celebrate Passover not looking back to Egypt but looking at Jesus’ death and forward to his eventual return.

Bill Mounce
52 Major Stories of the Bible
Lesson 38
Watching Now
The Lord's Supper

I. Background of the Passover

II. Jesus Reinterprets the Passover

A. The Last Supper

B. Controversies

III. Three Time Frames of Communion

A. Present

B. Past

C. Future

IV. Communion is Picture of the Christian Life

  • Genesis 1 is the foundational chapter for the entire Bible. It not only tells us how everything started, but it establishes the basic teaching on who God is and who we are in relationship to him.

  • On the sixth day of creation we learn that people are the apex of creation, stamped with the image of God. This is the source of human dignity, and it is why we pursue spiritual growth, so we will look more like him.

  • Genesis 3 describes how Adam and Eve sinned, how their sin broke the relationship with God for them and for all people, and God’s promise of a redeemer.

  • Genesis 6–9 is not a children’s story. It shows God’s anger against our sin, and yet also shows that he is a redeeming God. Like Noah, it challenges us to step out in faith.

  • Genesis 12:1–15:6 focuses on one man, Abraham, who is part of the fulfillment of the promise God made in the Garden to redeem humanity. Abraham must do two things: believe, and act on that belief. When he does, God makes an eternal covenant with him and with all his descendants, Israel and the church. We too must follow the pattern of our father: believe, and act on that belief.

    The authors of the New Testament refer to Abraham as the person with whom God made the covenant as the father of the nation of Israel. At the time God established the covenant, the man's name was Abram. God changed it later to Abraham and that's how he is referred to in subsequent references.

  • The story of Joseph in Genesis 37–50 is an account of God’s faithfulness to his promises to Abraham, his omnipotence (all-powerful), and his omniscience (all-knowing). Joseph’s brothers sold him into slavery, but God worked through their evil to accomplish good — the salvation of the entire nation of Abraham’s descendants. We too are called to faith in God’s promises.

  • In Exodus 7:14–Exodus 10, we read of God’s salvation of the Israelite nation. The Egyptians had enslaved them, but through Moses God punished the Egyptians with ten plagues and secured the Israelite’s freedom. God is faithful to his promises, and all praise and honor go to him.

  • The Ten Commandments, found in Exodus 20, are not rules to follow, but they give form and structure to how our love for God (the Shema) should manifest itself in how we treat God and others.

  • Moses wants to see God. Exodus 33 contains the account of how God could not let Moses see him or Moses would have died; but he does allow Moses to see the back of his glory. This is the essence of Christianity: a desire to see God. After all, God created us to have fellowship with us. We were created for community with him.

  • The book of Leviticus is consumed with the holiness of God, that he is separate from all sin. The sacrificial system teaches us that sin violates God’s rules, which extracts the high cost of death.  But Leviticus also teaches us that God forgives, that a sacrifice can pay the penalty of our sin (if we repent), and in so doing prepares us for the cross of Jesus.

  • The Shema is the central affirmation of the Old Testament: “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one” (Deuteronomy 6:4). It calls us to rigorous monotheism in which we refuse to worship idols of any shape.

  • The book of Judges shows the necessity of covenant renewal, how each generation must decide for itself if it will follow God. Once the Israelites were given the Promised Land, for the most part they failed to renew the covenant and failed to receive the blessings from God. The same is true of our own families.

  • I Samuel tells of the shift from the nation being ruled by Judges to that of a king. Israel was supposed to be a theocracy, a kingdom ruled by God, and so the people’s desire for a king was a rejection of God. Saul, the first king, did not learn the lesson that God is still king, and what matters for us is to remain faithful. Unfortunately, many people make the same mistake as Saul.

    Update: When Dr. Mounce refers to "theodicy" at the first of the lecture, he means, "theocracy." We have updated the outline and the transcription. We will update the audio when we are able.

  • This is not a story primarily about a young man defeating a great warrior (I Samuel 16-17). It is an account of how faith propels us to trust God, no matter what the appearances.

  • Psalm 23 is David's cry of faith that his divine Shepherd will provide and protect him in all situations, and that God is lavish in his love for his sheep.

  • Psalm 51 gives the pattern for true biblical confession, which admits our own guilt and God's justice, makes no excuses, and appeals not to our good works but to God's mercy.

  • Solomon was the wisest of all people, and yet he died a fool because he ignored his own advice (Proverbs). It is not enough to know the truth; you have to do it. Wisdom begins with knowing that God knows best.

  • Job learned that bad things happen to good people and bad people alike. The question is, will you continue to trust God in the difficult times? Is he worthy of our trust when we don’t know all the answers and our lives are filled with pain?

  • 1 Kings 14–18 tells the story of Elijah and his battle with false religion. The word of the day was “syncretism,” the mixing of two religions. In our day, we are faced with the same challenge, especially the mixing of Christianity and secular culture. Elijah challenges us to not have divided hearts or divided loyalties.

  • Isaiah 6:1-8 tells us of Isaiah’s visit to God’s throne, and there we learn the true meaning of worship: the cycle of revelation and response. As God reveals himself to us, and we must respond appropriately. It asks the question, ”How big is your God?”

  • Isaiah 52–53 give us one of the most exact and theologically helpful looks into the death of Christ. Isaiah prophecies about a servant who was to come, whom God would punish for our sins. This, of course, is a prophecy about Jesus. Here we learn that there is no sin God cannot forgive, and that peace comes not from within ourselves but from outside, from God.

  • Micah prophesied three sets of what we call a “Woe” (judgment”) and “Weal” (restoration). The Israelites believed all they had to do was go through the external motions of worship, and then they could live any way they wanted the rest of the week. This brings judgment, but with judgment God promises a future restoration.

  • Hosea prophesied to people who were caught in persistent sin. Their sin caught them in a downward spiral beginning with idolatry and enforced by luxury. But even at the bottom of spiral, after the people have experienced the necessary punishment, God is still present to forgive. Sinners are called “whores,” living unfaithful lives.

  • Habakkuk asks the question of why do the wicked appear to flourish and the righteous suffer. At the root of his question is whether or not God is righteous. Because Habakkuk asks in faith, God answers his question by telling him to wait. Eventually, the wicked are punished and the righteous are rewarded. In the meantime, the righteous person lives by their faith that God is a righteous God. 

  • Jeremiah and Ezekiel prophesied before and during the exile, when God’s people were conquered by the Babylonians, preaching God's judgment as well as the promise of hope. The hope was the New Covenant where God's law would be written on the person's heart and empowered through the work of God's Spirit.

  • The book of Lamentations teaches us that there is an end to God’s patience with sin. It is a national lament in which Israel expresses their deep sorrow over sin. It starts by being honest about the cause of sin, not blaming anyone but themselves. But it concludes by expressing their faith in the God who forgives.

  • Back in Genesis 3:15, God promised to do something about sin. The Old Testament shows God working to keep his promise, a promise that is eventually fulfilled in Jesus Christ. But unlike popular expectation, Jesus was more than just a human being. He was fully God at the same time he was fully human. But it is not enough to know these facts; you must receive God’s blessing in order to walk in relationship with God.

  • The Old Testament ends on a note of promise, that God would send Elijah to prepare the people for their coming savior, the Messiah. This Elijah turns out to be John the Baptist, who prepares the people by teaching them about repentance. Much to their surprise, the people learned that being born Jewish was of no advantage, and that they too had to learn that they have nothing of value to offer God if they are to enter his kingdom.

  • Perhaps the most common term used about Christians is being “born again,” or “reborn.” This comes from the account of the Jewish leader Nicodemus. Jesus tells him that if he is to enter God’s kingdom, he cannot get there naturally, through what he can do. Only the supernatural work of God’s Spirit in making us new — so new that it is a rebirth — can accomplish our salvation. All this is explained by the most famous verse in the Bible, John 3:16.

  • Do you want to be blessed by God? Jesus tells us how this happens with eight statements at the beginning of his famous “Sermon on the Mount.” Contrary to popular belief, blessing comes through recognizing our spiritual depravity, mourning over our sin, and as a result being meek, pure in heart, and pursuing peace. How will the world respond? It will persecute you, which is also a blessing.

  • Jesus teaches us that prayer begins with us orienting ourselves to our heavenly father, being most concerned with his glory and the advance of his kingdom, and concludes with our admission of total dependence on him for our physical and spiritual needs. Prayer is primarily about God.

  • Worry carries the illusion that we have some control and that worry can accomplish something. Of course, it can do no such thing. Disciples are to have unwavering loyalty to God. As we see Gods care of his creation, we can rest assured that he will also care for us. Our focus is to be on his kingdom and his righteous; in return, he will simply give us what we need.

  • Many years before Christ, God told Moses that his name is “I AM.” Jesus picks this name up to assert that he is in fact the Great I AM, and as such he says things like, “I am the bread of life,” “I am the light of the world.” The mystery of the Trinity is that there is one God, and yet God is three – Father, Son, Spirit. This is difficult to understand, and yet we should not expect to know everything there is to know about God.

  • When Jesus calls us to follow him, as one person has said, he bids us come and die. Die to our personal ambitions, and live daily as one who has died to himself and lives for God. Only disciples are in heaven.

  • What is the single most important thing you can do? What is the central thing required of us by God? It is to love him him with everything we are. Our love must be emotional (not just obedience) and it must be personal (loving God and not things about him). But if we love God, we must then love our neighbor.

  • Two major events await the disciples: the destruction of the temple and Jesus’ return. There will be signs, warning them to flee Jerusalem, which happened in A.D. 70. But there are no warning signs for when Jesus will return and this age will end. The disciple’s role is not to wonder about when this will happen — not even Jesus knows — but to live a life of preparedness.

  • In Jesus’ last teaching before his death and resurrection, among other things he taught the disciples about the coming Spirit who will convict the world of its sin, show the world Jesus’ righteousness, and convict the world of its coming judgment. We know this “Spirit” to be the Holy Spirit, the third person of the Trinity.

  • The greatest act of salvation before the cross was God freeing the Israelites from Egypt. To celebrate that event, God instituted the Passover celebration, commemorating God’s graciousness act of passing over the Israelite houses and killing the first-born of only the Egyptian homes. But now God is about to perform and even greater salvation event, Jesus dying on the cross. Christians are to celebrate Passover not looking back to Egypt but looking at Jesus’ death and forward to his eventual return.

  • The death and resurrection of Jesus is the culmination of not only Jesus' life but of all history to that point. Jesus died on the cross so that we can be friends of God, and he was shown to have conquered death by his resurrection from the grave. The temple curtain, which symbolized the separation between God and people, was torn in two, from the top to the bottom, and we can now live in direct relationship with God.

  • Jesus’ final act on earth was to commission his followers. Their central mission is to make disciples. They are to make new disciples by sharing the gospel and baptizing them; and they are to make fully-devoted disciples by teaching people to obey everything Jesus taught. Because God is sovereign over all, we must do this. Because he will never leave us, we are able to do this.

  • During the Jewish festival of Pentecost, 50 days after Passover, Jesus’ promise was fulfilled and the Holy Spirit came and empowered all of Jesus’ followers, giving them supernatural power to, among other things, speak in human languages they had not learned. Peter explains the phenomena as a fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy and then preaches the basic message found throughout Acts: Jesus lived, died, was raised form the dead, and therefore all people are called to repent of their misunderstanding of who Jesus is.

  • The church is not a building or an activity. The church is the sum total of all true believers. Christ is the head. We are the body. We are a family. We are the temple of God, the place that he inhabits.

  • Justification is the doctrine of being declared not guilty of our sins. It is a work of God alone; we do not help. In Romans 1:16–17 and 3:21–26, Paul makes it clear that this declaration of righteousness is based not on what we do (“works”) but on what we believe about Jesus (“faith”), that Jesus did on the cross for us what we could not do for ourselves.

  • We are not only saved by God’s grace, but his grace continues to sustain us throughout our life. One way that God’s grace shows itself is in how we give, financially. God’s grace enables to to both want to give and to be able to give. If someone is not giving, they should wonder about the condition of their heart and why God’s grace is not active in it.

  • In Romans 5–8, Paul reminds us of the many reasons why we are joyful. We are at peace with God. We are reconciled to him. We have been set free from sin. There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. The Holy Spirit lives within us. We are adopted into God’s family, assured that we are his children. This is the joy of the righteous life.

  • Paul wants the church in Philippi to understand humility. They should agree on one central focus, and that is a humility that stems from a right understanding of who you are in Christ. As an example, we look no further than Jesus, who is God, lowering himself to be human, and in return being exalted. In response, we should take great care at working out the implications of what it means to be saved.

  • Christians are people of the book. We believe that all of Scripture came from the very mouth of God. It is true in all it affirms and authoritative over our lives. The challenge is to come to the point where you really believe this.

  • The book of Hebrews is a deep theological study on the superiority of Christ over everyone and everything else. Interspersed throughout the teaching are the “Warning” passages in which the author encourages his readers to not fall away from their faith. If people do leave the Christian faith, they can have no assurance that they truly are Christians.

  • James tells us that there is nothing more difficult to control than  the tongue. It destroys people’s reputation, often under the guise that what is being said is accurate. We are hurt, so we verbally lash out. We want to be well thought of, so we feign piety. The only way to gain any victory over the tongue is to work on the heart, since it is out of the heart that the mouth speaks. Unfortunately, gossip often is the natural language of the church, but there can be victory.

  • 1 Peter asks one of the fundamental question of life is, how can an all-powerful, all-good God allow pain and suffering. It helps us grapple with this question by pointing our attention to the realities of our lives, especially the fact that we are exiles on earth and our true home is heaven. We are to recognize in the midst of suffering that God is still at work for our good.

  • The letter we call 1 John is primarily about love. We have been loved by God, and so we should love others as well. Love is not  some simplistic emotion but it involves action: God loved us and therefore sent his Son. Love is the giving of oneself for the benefit of the other.

  • The Bible closes with the prophecy of how all things will end. While there are many questions as to the precise meaning of this book, it’s central message is crystal clear. God will not keep us from suffering and persecution; it is going to get worst; God calls us to be faithful in the midst of our pain. If we are faithful to the end, we will be rewarded. This is what we are waiting for, a new heaven and a new earth where there will be no pain, no sorrow, no sin. The Garden of Eden will be restored, at last. We were created for fellowship with God, and we long for the day when Jesus will return again and take us home.

English | Hindi | Swahili

The Bible is one continuous story filled with adventure, heroes and villains, triumph and defeat, good and evil, love and jealousy, plot twists and ultimately, a happy ending. As you read each of the short Bible stories along the way, you begin to see how the Bible stories combine to form the structure of the one big story. The individual characters and their experiences of tragedy and triumph draw you into their Bible stories and help you see the overarching themes of cosmic love, judgment and redemption.

Telling stories is an effective way of communicating ideas so you remember them. Immersing yourself into the 26 Bible stories from the Old Testament and 26 from the New Testament helps you to understand and internalize the character of God, the splendor of his creation, his love for humans, the evil and destructiveness of sin, the wonder of the plan of redemption and the completeness of restoration at the end of history.

Each of these stories can be considered as Bible stories for kids because the plot and main teaching of the story is something that most children will understand. They are also Bible stories for youth and adults because if you are wise, the examples you see and the lessons you learn will guide you for a lifetime.


Recommended Books

52 Major Stories of the Bible - Student Guide

52 Major Stories of the Bible - Student Guide

The Bible is one continuous story, from the story of creation to the story of Jesus' future return at the end of time. And yet there are smaller, pivotal stories that...

52 Major Stories of the Bible - Student Guide

Dr. Bill Mounce
52 Major Stories of the Bible
The Lord's Supper
Lesson Transcript


Background of the Passover

Almost 4,000 years ago, God made a promise to Abraham that he would give him land and descendants. Generations later, God sent those descendants to Egypt in the days of Joseph to save them from the famine. Four hundred years later, Abraham’s descendants had become slaves of Pharaoh. Once again God sends Moses through whom he saves his people. He sends nine horrible plagues on the nation of Egypt and Pharaoh’s heart still remains hard. He refuses to release the children of Israel. And so God sends the tenth and the most horrible of all plagues. See Pharaoh has been killing God’s firstborn, the Israelites, so God will now kill the firstborn in every Egyptian family. He knows this will break Pharaoh’s hard heart and that he will release the children of Israel. So God tells Moses to tell the people to get ready. We read about this in Exodus 12 starting at verse 3, “The LORD said to Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt, “This month shall be for you the beginning of months. It shall be the first month of the year for you. Tell all the congregation of Israel that on the tenth day of this month every man shall take a lamb according to their fathers' houses, a lamb for a household. And if the household is too small for a lamb, then he and his nearest neighbor shall take according to the number of persons; according to what each can eat you shall make your count for the lamb. Your lamb shall be without blemish, a male a year old. You may take it from the sheep or from the goats, and you shall keep it until the fourteenth day of this month, when the whole assembly of the congregation of Israel shall kill their lambs at twilight. Then they shall take some of the blood and put it on the two doorposts and the lintel of the houses in which they eat it. They shall eat the flesh that night, roasted on the fire; with unleavened bread and bitter herbs they shall eat it. Do not eat any of it raw or boiled in water, but roasted, its head with its legs and its inner parts. And you shall let none of it remain until the morning; anything that remains until the morning you shall burn. In this manner you shall eat it: with your belt fastened, your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand. And you shall eat it in haste. It is the LORD's Passover. For I will pass through the land of Egypt that night, and I will strike all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both man and beast; and on all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgments: I am the LORD. The blood shall be a sign for you, on the houses where you are. And when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and no plague will befall you to destroy you, when I strike the land of Egypt." Note that the Passover was a family affair. This was not a festival to be held as isolated individuals, but they were to celebrate it as family or as families. Also notice all the symbolism going on. They are to eat bitter herbs because their time in Egypt has been bitter. They are to eat unleavened bread, bread that has not had a chance to rise. They are to be dressed, ready to go. All symbolic of the fact God will save quickly. But also notice, when you read this whole chapter, that this was not a one-time event. God tells them this is to be a yearly ceremony to help them remember His great act of salvation. In fact, it is so much a family time that it is supposed to become a teaching tool for children. Reading verse 26, “And when your children say to you, ‘What do you mean by this service?’” In other words, when you are celebrating the Passover and your children say, “What does all this mean?” you shall say, "‘It is the sacrifice of the Lord’s Passover, for he passed over the houses of the people of Israel in Egypt, when he struck the Egyptians but spared our houses.’” So this is the preparation for the coming of the tenth plague. It does come in all its horror and the angel of death passes over the houses of God’s children. And God saves his people by bringing them out of Egypt; an event that came to be known as the Exodus (the mass going out).

 This becomes the example of God’s greatest act of salvation in all history: the saving of his people from Egypt. The children of Israel head off to Mt. Sinai where they enter into a covenant; they enter into a relationship with their God; they make an agreement with God. And on God’s part, he says, “I will be your God.” In other words, in this covenant, in this relationship that they are establishing, God commits to doing certain things to being their God. On the people’s part, they commit to being his people, to doing certain things so that they can live in relationship with God and so that they can live in community with one another. This relationship and this community are primarily defined by the Ten Commandments (God’s law written on tablets of stone) that they get on Mt. Sinai. Eight centuries or so pass and the Passover celebration has been repeated hundreds of times. Then in the days of Jeremiah and Ezekiel, God makes two more amazing promises. In Jeremiah 31, starting at verse 31, God says through Jeremiah, “Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the Lord. But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, [sometime in the future] declares the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the Lord. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.” God, through Jeremiah, promises to establish a new covenant and hence the covenant with Moses becomes the old covenant. The new covenant has the same goals as the old: I will be their God, they will be my people; God living in the presence of his people. That has always been His intention. But what is different about the new covenant is that the law is no longer external, it is not going to be something written out there, but it is going to be written on their hearts. It is going to be internalized. For God’s part, he commits to forgiving sins. For the people’s part, our part, the commitment is to know the Lord. In other words, the forgiveness that God gives opens the door to a new kind of relationship in which we can know God. Now, how is God going to do that? How is God going to establish the new covenant? God promises that he will establish this new relationship by the use of God’s Spirit.

In Ezekiel 36, God has been talking about forgiveness, and starting at verse 26 God makes this promise, “And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you [or as the NIV probably better translates it, “move you”] to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.” For God’s part, as he establishes this new covenant, He is going to do it by giving us his Spirit who will move us to follow his decrees. And on our part, we allow the Holy Spirit to, in fact, move us. By the strength and the power that the Holy Spirit gives us we walk in God’s statutes. Statutes are nothing more than guidelines for how we live in a relationship with God and in community with one another. God’s part and our part.

Jesus Reinterprets the Passover

The Last Supper

Six more centuries pass from the time of Jeremiah and Ezekiel and we arrive at Jesus’ last night that he had with his disciples before he died. He is having a meal with them, but not just any meal; he is, in fact, celebrating the Passover of Exodus 12. But in the process of celebrating the Passover, Jesus starts to reinterpret what the Passover refers to. It is as if Jesus says, “I know that we’re celebrating the Exodus. I know that we’re celebrating God’s greatest past act of salvation. But God is about to do something infinitely greater than the Exodus.” So Jesus starts to reinterpret the Passover. Instead of pointing backwards to Egypt, He says it now points forward to the cross. And as He does this reinterpretation of the Passover, we start to understand more clearly how God is going to do his part in the new covenant. We understand that we are sinners and we are separated by our sin from our holy God. And the penalty of separation is death. But on the cross Jesus, the very Lamb of God, is going to die and in his death pay the penalty for your sins and mine. And it is Jesus’ death that is going to make the new covenant possible, as Jeremiah said. And it is through Jesus’ death that He is going to make it possible for God’s Spirit to come, as Ezekiel was pointing out.

This passage is discussed in the gospels but it is also discussed in Paul’s letter to the Corinthians. In 1 Corinthians 11, he gives instructions to the church in how they should celebrate this new Passover. First Corinthians 11, starting at verse 23, Paul writes, “For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread [again, this is the Passover bread] 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.’ In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.’ For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.” Jesus is saying that the Passover bread now points forward to Jesus’ body, broken on the cross in death. When you and I celebrate this new Passover, this reinterpreted Passover, sometimes we use unleavened bread because they help us focus back to Exodus 12 and the historical precedence to the Passover. But sometimes we use a loaf of bread that requires you to tear a piece off. Sometimes we use crackers that break when you eat them. All of these are intended to help us remember that this bread points to Christ’s broken body on the cross, no longer to Exodus 12. It points to his death on the cross. The Passover cup now points to Jesus’ blood, his blood spilled on the cross in death for the forgiveness of sins. When he says this cup is the new covenant, He is saying is that his death now makes that new covenant, that new relationship with God, possible. “Do it now in remembrance of me.” This, by the way, is one of the reasons why some churches celebrate the new Passover, Communion, only once a year; because Passover itself was a yearly festival. It is quite an amazing sequence to go through when it is only celebrated once a year because these churches build up to it. There are Thursday, Friday and Saturday night meetings. In the olden days you actually would get a ticket and only if you had gone to all three and had fully prepared yourself and understood the serious and the significance of what Christ did on the cross, could you take Communion on Sunday morning.


In fact, there has been quite a few controversies surrounding Communion in the history of the church. This marvelous festival of rejoicing has so often been the occasion for dissent and divided churches and divided denominations. One of those controversies is around the phrase “This is my body.” As we read in Matthew 26 Jesus also said, “This is my blood.” The meaning of that phrase has divided churches. The Roman Catholic church developed a doctrine of transubstantiation, that the substance crosses over and the bread and the wine become the physical body and blood of Jesus. This is why the Roman Catholic liturgy has the priest put the wafer on your tongue and they do not pass the cup. They just hold it up lest the physical body and blood of Christ be spilled. But to that, unfortunately, they have added many other things.

When the Reformation came along, Luther part way rebelled against the Catholic doctrine and developed what we call “consubstantiation.” Luther taught that the body and the blood of Christ is physically present but in with and under the elements. So the bread stays bread and the wine stays wine, yet the physical body is present in with and under. John Calvin, who was followed by almost all evangelical churches, broke completely from Roman Catholic teaching and taught the spiritual presence of Christ in Communion. And he taught that the bread and the wine points to the death of Christ; that it represents the death of Christ. I must say I have a hard time accepting any other as a possibility. Jesus is sitting there with eleven kosher Jews who have never tasted blood and hands them bread and hands them a cup with wine and says, “This is my body. This is my blood.” I cannot conceive that they would have understood it any other way or he would have intended it any other way. I am strong on the symbolic representation interpretation of this phrase, although, even for me there are some limitations on this. I have some friends who took care of a church as part of their job while in school. Part of their responsibilities was getting Communion ready, so on Saturday night she would take a loaf of white bread and cut off the crust and cut it into cubes and that would be the Communion. One Sunday that I was over there for dinner just chatting with them, they told me about this and then she said, “You know if there is any Communion bread left over, I just put it outside and let it dry and I use it for croutons.” It kind of made it a little difficult for me to finish the salad I was eating; although, theologically I could not falter on her decision. Well, certainly the phrase, “This is my body. This is my blood,” has caused controversy. There is also controversy on what to call this “new Passover.” Sometimes we call it the Lord’s Supper because that is what it is. It was the Lord’s last supper with his disciples. Some traditions call it the Eucharist, a word that means “thanks,” because Jesus gave thanks before he broke the bread.

Certainly the new Passover is a time in which we can give thanks for what Christ has done on the cross. Sometimes we call it Communion because as Paul teaches in 1 Corinthians it is a time in which you and I commune with each other as well as we commune with God. There is no name given for this in Scripture and each one of these points out a central and a significant truth in what is going on. There is also controversy on how to celebrate Communion. People like to do it differently. My greatest concern as we celebrate Communion throughout the years is that it does not become a meaningless ritual. That is head and shoulders above everything else. That is why we do things differently almost every Communion, because if you do something three times the same way it becomes something of an enviable law. That seems to be all it takes. And so we try to have variety because we are trying to understand that it is not so much the act, but it is what it represents that is significant. This is my personal opinion, but I do not like the American traditional method of Communion. I do not like how we pass the plates up and down the aisle. Now, the method is not mandated. There is not a right and a wrong, and I understand that. But my frustration with the traditional way of serving Communion is that it treats us as isolated individuals when Communion is a family affair. We sit there in our rows and the plate comes and we eat and we drink and we pass it on. This is a time to teach our children. How often during Communion do we say, “Shhh!” to someone making noise, when the whole historical precedent of this event is that it is something that we use to teach our children about the marvelous and wonderful act of God saving us through Christ’s death on the cross. We should be talking the time for teaching and learning. If we were to be fully Biblical, we should have a meal. Then we would be sitting around the table afterwards so close to each other that we could lean back on the other person like John did to Jesus and ask questions. We at least should be gathered in groups, it seems to me, and this is how the early church did it. The early church never did what we tend to do. They had the agape feast, the love feast. And at the end of the feast they served Communion. My hope for us is that some day we can break free from human traditions and take Communion as a family, even to the point of having families serve families. There may not have been a lot of controversy about how to serve Communion. Maybe that will stir it up a little. You know what, there is no controversy about among evangelicals. None at all. That Jesus is the Lamb of God who took away the sins of the world and with this bread and with this cup we celebrate his victory and our victory over sin and over death. Over that there is no controversy and that we can preach.

Three Time Frames of Communion


Paul concludes verse 26 our discussion of 1 Corinthians 11. There is a very important phrase in verse 26, “For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.” I will never forget one of my classes in college where the professor talked about the three time frames of Communion. I had never seen it before. That we are in Communion proclaiming by our words (that is the now, in the present) when we say, “This is the body of Christ. This is the blood of Christ" and we are proclaiming in our actions as we eat and as we drink. We are proclaiming for all to hear that Jesus died for my sin and for yours. In the present time frame of Communion, it is pure evangelism. We are proclaiming the Lord’s death.


In Communion we look back to the past, to Jesus’ death on the cross. As we proclaim the Lord’s death we understand that salvation is only through Jesus because only Jesus did something about our sin. Confucius did not die on the cross. Buddha did not die on the cross. I did not die on the cross. Salvation is only through Jesus because Jesus did something about our sin. As I said earlier, it is our sin that separates us from our Holy God and we should die as a penalty of that sin, but God in his mercy allows a substitute. And then God in his mercy gave himself as that substitute. And there is salvation in no other name. So when you and I take Communion we are proclaiming that it was the Lord who died and no one else for sins.


Then the third time frame is that we are proclaiming the Lord’s death until he comes. In Communion we are looking to the future and saying, “I am not a citizen of this earth, this clod of dirt on which I stand is not home." "My citizenship is in heaven,” as Paul tells the Philippians. “My inheritance is waiting for me in heaven,” as 1 Peter says. “And I live my life on earth with my head up. I live my life not falling in love with creation but living in love with its creator and with my creator. And I live out my life waiting to go home. I live my life out waiting for Jesus to come and take me home. That is the future aspect of Communion. When my daughter died, Rachel, one of the things I covenanted with myself is that Communion would never be the same. Because Communion for me is a very personal reminder that this is not home and my daughter is waiting for me. And as I get older, other dear loved ones will be waiting for me as well. What a pathetic life to live thinking that this is our home. What a pathetic way to live. When we have so much more waiting for us in heaven. We are proclaiming in the present the Lord’s death in the past until he comes and gets us and takes us home. That is what this is all about.

Communion is Picture of the Christian Life

Let me close with this. It occurred to me this week that the practice of Communion is a powerful picture of the Christian life. I want to add this because I have been hitting pretty hard the whole issue of discipleship, and I want to make sure that everything stays in balance in your mind. Communion is a powerful picture of the Christian life. God desires to be in a covenantal relationship, a personal relationship. He wants you and me to be his people as he is our God. So on God’s part he commits to doing certain things. He committed to saving me by dying on the cross. I do not save myself. When I celebrate Communion I am not celebrating the fact that I worked really hard to earn favor with God. I am celebrating the fact that God paid the penalty for my sin. I am celebrating the fact that by his grace and his mercy he gives us forgiveness. Nothing in my hand I bring. Salvation is all of God. That is his part. But he did not even stop there, because God the Holy Spirit does his part, too. In Ezekiel we were promised to be given a new heart. Promised that God would put his Spirit within me and his Spirit would empower me. His Spirit would strengthen you so that you and I can walk by the Spirit, guided by the Spirit, strengthened by the Spirit with the Spirit giving us desires and then the ability to accomplish those desires.

This is a celebration empowered by the Spirit of daily confessing that I cannot do it on my own. I am incapable of living my life in a way that pleases God. But it is a celebration that as I was given a new heart and as I was strengthened by God’s Spirit, that it is he who directs and it is he who enables me and you to walk by the Spirit so we do not gratify the desires of the flesh. That is God’s part. Our part is to receive, which is what is going on in Communion. We are accepting that God has done his part. We are accepting the Spirit’s enabling and we proclaim, by what we say in Communion and by the very act of taking Communion, we are proclaiming that my desire, empowered by the Spirit, is to live within the relationship, to live within the community that God has established through Christ’s death on the cross. It is a marvelous picture of the Christian life, of God doing his part of saving me. I did not help. It is a picture of God empowering me, I desperately need it. But on my part, I respond to the enabling and the gifts that God has given me, and together living lives that are pleasing to him and someday getting to go home. For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you are proclaiming the Lord’s death until he comes.

Memory Verse

“For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes” (1 Cor 11:26).

Reflection Questions

  • What are some specific ways in which we can use the Lord’s Supper as a time to teach our children (and ourselves) of God’s faithfulness and salvation?
  • In practical terms, what does it look like for God’s Spirit to have written God’s law on our hearts?
  • How often do you think we should celebrate Passover? Don’t answer from tradition but from an theological understanding of the event.
  • How can we conduct Communion such that it does not become a meaningless ritual? How can we encourage one another to look through the bread and cup to the body and blood of Christ?
  • How does communion help you look to the past, present, and future, practically speaking?
  • It is easy to over-emphasize one aspect of the gospel over another. The picture in Communion helps us balance God’s work and our participation. What does that look like in everyday terms for you?
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