THE FIRST SUPPER
By Pastor Glenn Pease
Communion was always a solemn and even gloomy occasion for him as a boy says James T. Cleland, the dean of chapel at Duke University. He grew up in Scotland where the children had to stay in a gallery during the service and observe. There was one thing, however, that gave him hope that the service might prove to be interesting, and it filled him with anticipation. Half way through the service the minister would announce, "During the singing of the communion hymn, the elders will bring in the elements." Due to his childish ignorance and imagination he always thought he said, "elephants," and he writes, "..in amazed anticipation I awaited the entry of the great beasts."
Here's a case where misunderstanding added to his interest, but, of course, it didn't last, and when he learned the truth, it shattered his hopes of ever seeing anything of interest in the Lord's Supper. Interest gained by misunderstanding and the appeal to the spectacular is neither a living nor lasting interest, but that gained by a true understanding is both. Therefore, we want to consider the significance of the new covenant which Jesus instituted. We will do this by noting three characteristics of this covenant.
I. IT IS A COSTLY COVENANT.
Costly things are of great interest, and people flock to see costly diamonds and cars and anything that is so costly it is beyond their means. Farrar has estimated that 260,000 lambs were slain in Israel on this day that Jesus spoke. He and His disciples along with all the people of Israel celebrated the Passover feast in remembrance of the great deliverance from the land of Egypt. You recall how all those dwellings where blood was put on the door were passed over when the first born of Egypt were slain. Since that great event countless thousands of lambs were slain in commemoration and thanksgiving.
But now we come to the Last Supper, and it is indeed the last. Not only is it the Last Supper that Jesus ate before the cross, it was the last Passover Supper approved of by God, for on this occasion Jesus institutes His supper which is to take the place of the Passover. We see here another Biblical paradox-that this which was the last supper of the old covenant is at the same time the first supper of the new covenant. It is both the first and the last supper, which is appropriate for Him who is the alpha and omega, the beginning and the end, the first and the last.
This new covenant was superior in every way to the old because it was ratified not with the blood of goats and lambs, but with the precious blood of Christ. Here is a case where the proverb holds true: You get what you pay for. In spite of the countless sacrifices of the Old Testament, they could not compare with the cost of establishing the new covenant. Those sacrifices lasted one year, but His atonement was forever. So great was the cost that many churches symbolize it by the furniture in the church. They do not have an altar, but a table, and the reason is that an altar implies sacrifice, but there is to be no more sacrifice in Christianity, because Jesus paid the price for all sin for all time when He gave His blood. In other words, so great was His sacrifice that He eliminated blood sacrifice forever as a means of pleasing God.
Christ sealed the new covenant with His own blood, and thereby eliminated blood sacrifice. Without the shedding of blood there is no remission of sin, but since Jesus shed His blood for all sin that statement is not a contemporary principle. There is remission of sin today without the shedding of blood for anyone who puts their trust in the once for all sacrifice of Jesus. Never does another drop of blood need to be shed for the salvation of any person.
This truth, when rightly seen, makes the attacks on conservative Christianity for having a bloody theology, utterly ridiculous. The exact opposite it the truth, for the emphasis on the blood of Christ has eliminated all blood sacrifice forever. Before the cross of Christ the Jews shed the blood of thousands of animals every year to atone for their sin. After the cross, those who did not understand the new covenant continued to shed blood abundantly. Blood sacrifice was almost universal. The Aztecs and Incas of North America practiced it. In some cases human sacrifice was practiced. The ancient mystery cults that thrived in the early centuries of the Christian era practiced a literal slaughterhouse religion by standing in a pit over which a bull was slain, and having the blood run down over their whole body. Almost every religion but Christianity has had the shedding of blood, but because of the cross it has never been needed again by Christians.
The point of all this is to show that Jesus by His once for all infinitely costly sacrifice in which He shed His own blood did away forever with any and all blood sacrifices. He eliminated the need completely, and it is for this reason that we rejoice and glory in the cross, and remember the precious blood He gave, for it and it alone cleanses from all sin. This fact alone ought to make the elements of the Lord's Supper more exciting than elephants. The infinite cost of our redemption should make us gladly remember, and take every possible opportunity to give thanks. Next let's look at-
II. IT IS A COMPREHENSIVE COVENANT.
This naturally follows from the first fact. And infinite cost should gain an infinite coverage. The covenant of Christ is comprehensive in the sense that it covers all men, for all time, for all sin. This, of course is in vivid contrast with the old covenant that required sacrifices for sin every year, and even then it did not cleanse the conscience.
1. All Men. Jesus says His blood is shed for many, and if we had this alone to go on, we might suppose, as some have, that Christ did not die for all men. The use of many here is in contrast with few. The Bible makes it clear that all are included, and that is why it is for many. I John 2:2 says, "And he is the expiation for our sins, and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world." Jesus did not die only for believers, but for all men in hopes that they might become believers. I Tim. 2:5-6 tells of the one mediator between God and man, the man Christ Jesus who, "Gave Himself as a ransom for all."
I Cor. 15:22 says, "For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive." We know the all in Adam means literally all, for there are no exceptions. All men have fallen in Adam. If the grace of God is to match the need, it too must be universal, and so the second all in Christ must apply to all men. Jesus did something on the cross that affects the destiny of every human being who ever lives on this planet. Even the lost will be resurrected by Christ, for He won the right on the cross to determine their destiny.
Heb. 2:9 says, "So that by the grace of God He might taste death for every one." Jesus took the death on Himself that fell to every man in Adam. Jesus made it possible for all men to escape damnation and be reconciled to God. God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself. No man is lost by necessity, for Jesus paid the penalty that came on all because of Adam. If the new covenant is to be superior to the old covenant, then in contrast to its limited nature, it must be comprehensive and universal. The old covenant was for the children of Israel, but the new covenant was for Jews and Gentiles. It is for people everywhere in every age who will receive it. It would not be true that where sin abounded grace did much more abound if the effects of sin in Adam are far more comprehensive than the effects of grace in Christ. Even great Calvinistic theologians like Barth, Berkof, and Berkower reject the concept of a limited atonement.
A crucial distinction must be made here, however, so that we keep a Biblical balance. The availability of the atonement is what is universal and unlimited. The application of it is limited to those who will receive it. This simply means that though the coverage is there, only those who apply for it by faith in Christ will be covered. All men can be saved, but only those who believe will be. Paul in I Tim. 4:10 speaks of the living God "..who is the Savior of all men, specially of those who believe." This makes clear the distinction. He is the Savior of all, because He is the only Savior at all, but only those who believe will be saved. Christ is Savior if you believe it or not, but only if you believe can He be your Savior.
During World War I on the Western front where bitter trench warfare went on for months, a wooden hut was built a few miles back from the front lines called Talbot House. Every night the Lord's Supper was observed, and often it was also the last supper for some. So grateful were many of the men that after the war they started the Talbot House fraternity in England. The point of the whole account that caught my attention was the inscription that was carved above the door on that wooden hut. It read, "Abandon rank all ye who enter here." All of us have a great need for Christ, and a great Christ for our need. The comprehensive covenant of Christ puts all men on the same level. All are equal in their need of Christ, and all are equally welcome to come and have their need met. Next we see,
III. IT IS A COMFORTING COVENANT.
This follows as naturally from the second point as the second followed from the first. What could be more comforting than to be assured that Christ's covenant was comprehensive enough to cover you and yours for all sin? That is enough for anyone, but there is more. Jesus said He would not drink again until He drank anew in the kingdom of God. The disciples probably did not grasp the significance of this statement until after the resurrection, but what comfort and assurance they might have had if they did.
Jesus assured them that the tragic events in the coming hours were not the end. He looks beyond the cross to its results and sees renewed fellowship in the kingdom of God. Their fellowship was not ended, but only interrupted by the cross. It was an interruption that infinitely increased the value of their fellowship. Jesus never lost His sense of joy in the midst of sorrow. He was always optimistic in the most pessimistic circumstances. It was because He could see beyond the circumstances. It is His knowledge and assurance of victory in the resurrection that makes sense of Heb. 12:2 where we read, "Who for the joy that was set before Him endure the cross." Jesus said in John 15:11, "These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy might be full." With all of the tragedy in the New Testament it is still the most joyful book ever written. In His darkest hour Jesus was still a joyful person.
Jesus, thou joy of loving hearts!
Thou fount of life! Thou light of men!
From the best bliss the earth imparts,
We turn unfilled to Thee again.
The comforting aspect of this for us is that we share in the triumph without going through the tragedy. The promise of Christ was literally fulfilled after His resurrection when, on numerous occasions, He fellowshiped with His disciples at the table. It is spiritually fulfilled every time we gather at the communion table. That is why it is called a communion table. It is because Christ promised His presence, and we commune with Him with thanksgiving. It will also be finally fulfilled in the great marriage supper of the Lamb when all persons washed in the blood of the Lamb will fellowship at the table with their eternal Lord. That great communion of universal reunion will be the ultimate fulfillment. Certainly no one can say of a service that commemorates the past, consecrates the present, and anticipates the future, that it is not meaningful. Any covenant which is costly, comprehensive, and comforting, calls for complete commitment and cooperation.