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THE MEANING OF THE LORD’S SUPPER -
It is most fitting and proper that we should celebrate the birth of Christ by taking the Lord’s Supper. The Apostle John, in the great Christological introduction to his gospel, said, “The Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us” (John 1:14). Thus, John showed us the incarnation, the coming of Jesus, the Word of the Father, veiled in human flesh. No one ever portrayed this truth better than Charles Wesley. In his great Christmas hymn, “Hark, the Herald Angels Sing” Wesley said,
Veiled in flesh the Godhead see;
Hail the incarnate Deity,
Pleased as man with men to dwell,
Jesus, our Emmanuel.
Hark! the herald angels sing,
“Glory to the new born King.”
(“Hark, the Herald Angels Sing” by Charles Wesley, 1707-1788).
God sent Jesus, the Second Person of the Trinity, down into the womb of the Virgin Mary. And “the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us.”
But why did God do that? He sent His only begotten Son in human flesh to save us from our sin. In that same first chapter of John we are told that John the Baptist pointed to Jesus and said these words,
“Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world” (John 1:29).
But how did Jesus take our sins away? Toward the end of his gospel, the Apostle John told of Jesus, nailed to the cross, dying to pay the penalty for our sin. And John told us what Jesus said as He died on that cross. John was there. He saw Jesus on the cross. He heard with his own ears what Jesus said as He died. And John said,
“When Jesus therefore had received the vinegar, he said, It is finished: and he bowed his head, and gave up the ghost” (John 19:30).
Thus, the Lord Jesus died. And in His death Jesus paid the price for our sin.
But in the first century the Docetic Gnostics said that Jesus only appeared to be a man, that He was really a spirit. In answer to that heresy, John said in his first epistle, that he and the other Apostles “have looked upon, and our hands have handled, of the Word of life” (I John 1:1). John said he had looked at Jesus and had touched His body. He said it was no spirit that died for our sins. It was a real man, in a real body that died on the cross. The Apostle Peter said,
“Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh...” (I Peter 3:18).
So there you have the first point of the Lord’s Supper. When we take the bread we are reminded that Jesus’ body was broken for us on the cross, for Jesus said,
“Take, eat: this is my body, which is broken for you: this do in remembrance of me” (I Corinthians 11:24).
But then we are to drink from the cup. What did that signify? Jesus said,
“This cup is the new testament in my blood: this do ye, as oft as ye drink it, in remembrance of me” (I Corinthians 11:25).
The cup reminds us of the Blood Jesus shed on the cross. In his gospel, the Apostle John went on to tell us what happened after Jesus died on the cross. John was standing nearby. John said he saw it (John 19:35). He said,
“When they came to Jesus, and saw that he was dead already, they brake not his legs: But one of the soldiers with a spear pierced his side, and forthwith came there out blood...” (John 19:33-34).
Again, the Docetic Gnostic heretics of John’s day said there was no Blood, because Jesus was not a man. They said He was a spirit, that He had no real blood to shed. Against that Docetic heresy John wrote his first epistle. He said that in His manhood the Blood of Jesus is real Blood. He said, “The blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin” (I John 1:7). Dr. W. A. Criswell, the great pastor of the First Baptist Church of Dallas, Texas said of the Blood of Christ,
It is tangible, red crimson that one could touch, could put his hand in the pool of it at the foot of the cross. One could have caught the blood in a basin as it flowed from His side...It is actual blood (W. A. Criswell, Ph.D., “The Blood of Christ,” What a Savior!, Broadman Press, 1978, pp. 82, 83).
When we take the cup in the Lord’s Supper we are reminded of the Blood Jesus shed on the cross. But is the Blood of Jesus available to us today? Years ago I sat in the auditorium of a school in La Mirada, California and heard a man named Colonel Robert Thieme say that the Blood of Jesus was just a metonym for the death of Jesus. He said that the Blood was only another word for Jesus’ death. Even though I had only been saved for a few days I knew that was wrong. Why would there be two elements in the Lord’s Supper if he was right? Why would we not merely take the bread if the Blood meant exactly the same thing as the death of Jesus? No one has ever been able to answer that question, although I have asked it in print, and on our website dozens of times in the fifty years since I heard Colonel Thieme give that teaching. I cannot find that teaching in any classical commentary, nor can I find any evangelist or pastor that ever taught such a thing before the twentieth century. All of them said that the death of Christ’s body and the Blood that He shed were two different, distinct things, as the Lord’s Supper plainly shows each time we take it.
But this false teaching – that the Blood is just another word for Christ’s death – was picked up by John MacArthur. Oh, yes, John MacArthur was there with me in that auditorium fifty years ago, when Colonel Thieme gave that false teaching. I sat a few rows behind John MacArthur, next to my friend Dr. Murphy Lum. We saw John MacArthur taking lots of notes on a yellow legal pad while Colonel Thieme taught that false doctrine – the false teaching that the Blood of Christ is only another word for His death, and the error that the Blood of Christ no longer exists. But sadly, to this very day, that false teaching from Colonel Thieme is in the notes of The MacArthur Study Bible, and is now repeated by pastors around the world.
I would add that Colonel Thieme spoke in that high school auditorium because he was barred from teaching at Biola College. Dr. Samuel Sutherland and Dr. Charles Feinberg, of Biola, would not let him teach this error on the Biola campus. Yet, to my horror, this heresy is now taught in many otherwise conservative pulpits across our land by pastors who do not realize that it came from that false teacher, Colonel Thieme.
Dr. W. A. Criswell earned his Master’s degree, and his Ph.D., in New Testament Greek at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky. Dr. Criswell knew Greek backwards and forwards. He knew it better than Colonel Thieme or John MacArthur. And Dr. Criswell was one of America’s greatest expository preachers for nearly 60 years at the First Baptist Church of Dallas. Listen to what this great scholar, Dr. Criswell, said about the Blood of Jesus,
Our Lord enters beyond the veil into the Holy of Holies, bearing blood, not of bulls and goats, but pouring out His own blood to purge and to make atonement for our sins...In the heaven of heavens, in the sanctuary of sanctuaries where God is, our Christ had to enter with blood of propitiation, atonement and forgiveness, and He cleanses the holy place even though we are there...That is what Christ did for us when He entered beyond the veil. How could we, sinful men and women, enter into that holy place where God lives? We enter under the blood of His atonement...Oh, Lord, what a wonder, what an amazement, what an overwhelming realization! What God in Christ has done for us! We were separated because of sin, and now we are one in the atoning blood and grace and sacrifice of Jesus our Lord (W. A. Criswell, Ph.D., Great Doctrines of the Bible, Volume 2, edited by Paige Patterson, Zondervan Publishing House, 1982, pp. 194-196).
I am so glad Dr. Criswell told us that. It was the same thing Dr. John R. Rice taught, the same thing great Spurgeon preached, and the same thing that all of our Baptist and Protestant forefathers believed and taught, whom I quoted in our book, Preaching to a Dying Nation. Aren’t you glad that it’s true? When the Devil tells you God will not hear your prayers because you are not holy enough – you can rebuke him with the words, “The blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin” (I John 1:7). What a weapon against the Devil! What a triumph over sin! What a picture given to us when we partake of the cup, reminding us of Christ’s holy Blood, when we partake of the Supper of our Lord! And what a message of forgiveness that gives us to proclaim to a lost and dying world!
Would you be whiter, much whiter than snow?
There’s power in the blood, power in the blood;
Sin-stains are lost in its life-giving flow;
There’s wonderful power in the blood.
There is power, power, wonder-working power
In the blood of the Lamb!
There is power, power, wonder-working power
In the precious blood of the Lamb!
(“There is Power in the Blood” by Lewis E. Jones, 1865-1936).
(END OF SERMON)
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Scripture Read Before the Sermon by Dr. Kreighton L. Chan: Matthew 26:26-29.
Solo Sung Before the Sermon by Mr. Benjamin Kincaid Griffith:
“What Child Is This?” (by William C. Dix, 1837-1898).