RPM, Volume 16, Number 30, July 20 to July 26, 2014

Covenant Theology

The Doctrine of the Church
The Sacraments
Part 3

Sermon Number Thirty

By Jim Bordwine, Th.D.

In the last sermon, by examining several passages from both Testaments, we saw that baptism has the same meaning as circumcision. We learned that the sacrament of baptism testifies to the same relationship between God and the sinner as did circumcision in the Old Testament. We saw that Paul's inspired commentary in Rom. 4 and Gal. 3 puts this matter beyond dispute.

Regarding the subjects of baptism, we noted that when the covenant of grace was first explained to Abraham and the patriarch had professed belief in God, he was commanded to apply the sign of covenant inclusion to himself and all the males in his household. The sign of covenant inclusion was, of course, circumcision. Throughout the Biblical record, we find this pattern displayed. In particular, the Bible puts emphasis upon the status of our children; they enjoy a special covenantal relationship with God based upon His promise to be our God and the God of our descendants.

Since baptism has replaced circumcision as the sign of this relationship, and in the absence of any New Testament repeal of the status of believers' children, Covenant Theology teaches that this sacrament is to be applied to our little ones.

03. The Sacrament of the Lord's Supper

When explaining the sacrament of baptism, I stated that it is rightly understood only in light of its Old Testament precursor, which is circumcision. The same approach must be followed, I believe, in this study of the sacrament of the Lord's Supper. The sacrament of Passover is the Old Testament antecedent of our sacrament of the Lord's Supper. The Lord's Supper is a New Covenant expression of the same spiritual truths found in the sacrament of Passover. Therefore, I will begin this explanation of the sacrament of the Lord's Supper by offering a summary of the doctrine of Passover.

In Ex. 12, we read:

40 Now the time that the sons of Israel lived in Egypt was four hundred and thirty years. 41 And it came about at the end of four hundred and thirty years, to the very day, that all the hosts of the LORD went out from the land of Egypt. 42 It is a night to be observed for the LORD for having brought them out from the land of Egypt; this night is for the LORD, to be observed by all the sons of Israel throughout their generations. 43 And the LORD said to Moses and Aaron, "This is the ordinance of the Passover: no foreigner is to eat of it; 44 but every man's slave purchased with money, after you have circumcised him, then he may eat of it. 45 A sojourner or a hired servant shall not eat of it. 46 It is to be eaten in a single house; you are not to bring forth any of the flesh outside of the house, nor are you to break any bone of it. 47 All the congregation of Israel are to celebrate this. 48 But if a stranger sojourns with you, and celebrates the Passover to the LORD, let all his males be circumcised, and then let him come near to celebrate it; and he shall be like a native of the land. But no uncircumcised person may eat of it. 49 The same law shall apply to the native as to the stranger who sojourns among you." 50 Then all the sons of Israel did so; they did just as the LORD had commanded Moses and Aaron. 51 And it came about on that same day that the LORD brought the sons of Israel out of the land of Egypt by their hosts.

The Passover was an annual observance that dated from the night of the nation's exodus from Egypt. As we study the sacrament of Passover, we can discern several facts. For example, Passover was first and foremost a means of commemorating the nation's deliverance from captivity in Egypt. The instructions concerning the Passover that we just read, as well as additional information in the Old Testament, make clear that this meal was intended to point to that decisive act of God whereby His people were set free from slavery. On the final night of Israel's captivity, the Lord struck down all of the first born of Egypt, but passed over the homes of His own people who were awaiting the call to depart from that land.

The Passover symbolized that dreaded event that culminated God's display of His power and wrath against Egypt; it also symbolized the incredible mercy of God in sparing His people from such great sorrow and, instead, leading them out of the land under Moses. The most significant meaning of Passover, then, was redemption. On that last night, the wrath, power, and mercy of God were displayed in an unprecedented fashion and the Passover celebration in years to come pointed back to that episode. Every observance of Passover was a reminder of deliverance, a reminder of the nation's relation to God as a mighty Redeemer and, of course, by way of implication, a reminder of the duty of holiness that belonged to the people that God had preserved and called to Himself.

The Passover, then, served to give the nation of Israel an identity; they were that special people that God preserved, protected and delivered according to the promises He had made to the nation's patriarch, Abraham.

I would note also that the integrity of this sacrament of Passover that was so central to the nation's identity was well-protected. By God's command, only those who were walking in covenant with Him, that is, only those who had declared their belief in the promises of redemption and had acted on those beliefs by rightly practicing the sacrament of circumcision, were allowed to participate in the subsequent sacrament of Passover. In this way, the redemptive significance of Passover was preserved. It stood in such a relation to circumcision that circumcision was a necessary prerequisite.

Circumcision, as I stated in the last sermon, marked the subject's entrance into the covenant community where God's promises of redemption were held and illustrated in the sacrament of Passover. It would have been disorderly, to say the least, therefore, for one who was not obeying the law regarding circumcision to have a part in Passover. Passover belonged to all who were part of the covenant community and membership in that covenant community was signaled by circumcision.

Now let me move to the consideration of the Lord's Supper. The connection between Passover and the Lord's Supper is established beyond doubt when we examine the context of the institution of this sacrament. Jesus instituted the sacrament of the Lord's Supper during His last Passover meal with His disciples. And, just like the institution of Passover, the sacrament of the Lord's Supper was established by Christ just before the act that it would commemorate.

Passover was celebrated the first time in Israel just before the Lord accomplished the nation's deliverance from Egypt. Christ and the disciples celebrated the first Lord's Supper just before He accomplished their deliverance from the captivity of sin by going to the cross.

There are four places in the New Testament where we find the Savior's instructions relative to this sacrament. Each of the synoptic Gospels includes a record of Christ's institution of the sacrament; and Paul includes similar information in his first epistle to the Corinthians. Matthew's account of the institution of the sacrament of the Lord's Supper, which is nearly identical to the accounts in Mark and Luke, is found in chapter 26:

26 And while they were eating, Jesus took some bread, and after a blessing, He broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, "Take, eat; this is My body." 27 And when He had taken a cup and given thanks, He gave it to them, saying, "Drink from it, all of you; 28 for this is My blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for forgiveness of sins. 29 But I say to you, I will not drink of this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it new with you in My Father's kingdom."

And, in 1 Cor. 11, Paul says:

23 For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus in the night in which He was betrayed took bread; 24 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." 25 In the same way He took the cup also, after supper, saying, "This cup is the new covenant in My blood; do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me." 26 For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until He comes.

What do these two passages teach concerning the meaning of the sacrament of the Lord's Supper? The most obvious implication of these passages is that the sacrament of the Lord's Supper is a commemoration of the atoning work of Jesus Christ. Jesus says: "Do this in remembrance of Me." Just what is Jesus commanding us to remember? Here is what we are supposed to remember: "They took Jesus therefore, and He went out, bearing His own cross, to the place called the Place of a Skull, which is called in Hebrew, Golgotha. There they crucified Him, and with Him two other men, one on either side, and Jesus in between." (John 19:17,18)

Much like Passover, every observance of the sacrament of the Lord's Supper is, therefore, a humbling recognition of what the Savior did for us in His life, death, and resurrection; every observance is a reminder of the wrath of God that was poured out on Christ for our sakes so that we might be delivered from the captivity of sin; every observance of the Lord's Supper is a reminder of the incredible grace of God that has been shown to us in our redemption as a Substitute took our place and God "passed over" us and spared us from eternal death; every observance of the Lord's Supper is a time to recall the words of Paul: Christ our Passover has been sacrificed (1 Cor. 5:7).

In the very least, then, the observance of this sacrament should move us to reflection upon our favored status before the Lord, just as the observance of Passover was meant to move Israel to reflection upon his favored status before the Lord. No observance of the Lord's Supper should be without such contemplation and the accompanying giving of thanks.

Notice, however, what else Jesus said on the night that He instituted this sacrament. Speaking of the bread, He said: "Take, eat; this is My body." And of the cup, He stated: "This is My blood of the covenant." The bread and wine were appointed by Christ as symbols of the body He would give and the blood He would shed for the salvation of His people. The fact that these appointed elements are consumed by the worshiper seems to imply more than a bare memorial or simple commemoration.

The consumption of the Passover meal was an act of worship; the people who participated in that sacrament gave thanks to God for their deliverance and looked in faith to His continuing preservation of them. The blood of the lamb that the family ate that night was painted on the doorway and served as a sign that those inside were to be passed over by the angel of death. They ate the one whose blood signaled their safety.

And so now, we partake of the Lamb of God, sacrificed for us. The acts of receiving and eating the bread and receiving and drinking the wine are worship; these acts speak to the intimate nature of our union with Christ; and these acts speak to the vital nature of that union, as well. Eating and drinking the bread and wine underscores the fact that, in our salvation, we are participating in Christ; eating and drinking the bread and wine underscores that apart from such participation, we would have to die.

The eating and drinking of these elements points to the truth that Christ became our Substitute under the wrath of God, a truth that was symbolized in the Passover lamb that was slain to provide the blood that protected the houses of Israel. It is, of course, no mere coincidence that our Savior is referred to as the "Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world." (John 1:29)

Repeatedly, the New Testament uses the term, "in Christ," to describe our standing as those who have the benefits of the Savior's life, death, and resurrection imputed to them. There is the well-known statement of Paul that there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. (Rom. 8:1) This verse emphasizes, of course, what Paul has been teaching in the letter to the Romans up to that point. He has been teaching that Jesus Christ is God's provision for the salvation of condemned men.

To know Christ in a saving way is to be free from the condemnation of God that rests upon every human being. To know Christ is to have that condemnation borne by Him as a Substitute. One who has such a relationship with the Savior is said to be "in Christ" and counted righteous in the sight of God due to the imputation of our sin to Christ and His righteousness to us.

Jesus once commented at length on the nature of the relationship between Himself and His people and, in this particular instance, He used language almost identical to that used on the night that He instituted the Lord's Supper. In John 6, Jesus is addressing a group of Jews who were troubled by some of His sayings. They especially did not like His claim to be "the bread of life" (v. 41). As the Lord continued speaking, He repeated His claim and then explained in graphic terms the nature of the union between Himself and the sinner who believes:

48 "I am the bread of life. 49 Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. 50 This is the bread which comes down out of heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. 51 I am the living bread that came down out of heaven; if anyone eats of this bread, he shall live forever; and the bread also which I shall give for the life of the world is My flesh." 52 The Jews therefore began to argue with one another, saying, "How can this man give us His flesh to eat?" 53 Jesus therefore said to them, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in yourselves. 54 He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. 55 For My flesh is true food, and My blood is true drink. 56 He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him. 57 As the living Father sent Me, and I live because of the Father, so he who eats Me, he also shall live because of Me. 58 This is the bread which came down out of heaven; not as the fathers ate, and died, he who eats this bread shall live forever."

The first thing that Jesus asserts is that He alone is the source of life. He means, of course, that union with Him by faith is the way in which a sinner finds forgiveness and lays hold of eternal life. The Jews understood the significance of the manna. Literally, it meant the difference between life and death for their forefathers. Figuratively, that manna taught the people that they were dependent upon God for their existence; they were taught to trust God for their daily needs.

Jesus, not taking the time to correct what He knew was s deliberate distortion of His words, continues and tells them pointedly: "Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in yourselves…" (v. 53) The Lord drives home the point of the necessity of union with Him; this is the truth He means to convey by referring to His flesh and blood. He says, in essence, that apart from union with Him, which is represented figuratively by His statement about eating His flesh and drinking His blood, there is no life to be found.

Jesus is making exclusive claim to be the source of eternal life; He is making the astonishing claim of being indispensable. The manna sustained earthly life, but what Jesus is offering is eternal spiritual life. The fact that this is His point is proven in the next verse: "He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day." (v. 54)

Jesus is using earthly symbols to convey a tremendous spiritual truth. Food and drink sustain us in this life; without those elements, we would perish. The manna given to the Jews from heaven was meant to teach them, as I stated, that they were completely dependent upon the mercy of God for life, both here and in the world to come. Jesus comes now and picks up that idea, but transfers it from the manna to Himself.

But, just as the Jews grumbled about the manna, so now they grumbled at Christ, the true and ultimate manna from heaven. That manna was only a type; Jesus was the fulfillment of that type. True life, eternal life is found in a relationship with Him and the nature of that relationship is personal and intimate and exclusive and these are the truths that are conveyed in the symbols Christ uses in this passage and in the passages that record the institution of the Lord's Supper.

When we read the words of institution in the Gospels and in Paul's letter to the Corinthians, we are struck by the graphic nature of the sacrament. When Jesus designates the bread as His body and the wine as His blood and commands us to consume these elements, we are confronted with the nature of our salvation in a most blatant manner. There is no way to misinterpret the Lord's words when He says "Take, eat; this is My body" and "Drink [the cup]; for this is My blood of the covenant…" There is no way to misunderstand what He meant when He told the Jews "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in yourselves. He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For My flesh is true food, and My blood is true drink." Jesus means to say that He is the source of eternal life, period! There is no eternal life apart from Him.

Consequently, when we receive the elements of the Lord's Supper, Reformed theology teaches that a true communion takes place between the worshiper and the Savior. Christ is not present in the elements, physically speaking; however, given Jesus' description of the Supper and His use of such a vivid symbolism and given the nature of our relationship with Him as one dependent upon faith, it is proper to say that there is a spiritual presence of Christ in the sacrament. That is, the worshiper, by faith, believes to be true all that is portrayed in the sacrament and does enjoy a special fellowship with His Savior during that time.

What is pictured in the sacrament is what Paul meant when he said: "I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me, and delivered Himself up for me." (Gal. 2:20) The sacrament of the Lord's Supper portrays this astonishing truth. The life that the worshiper has is Christ living in him; as he consumes the bread and wine, he is returned to that wonderful truth and all its implications.

The sacrament of the Lord's Supper portrays in a visible manner what is true in the spiritual realm. In a simple ceremony, this sacrament reminds us of the essence of the covenant of grace, which is God's undeserved provision for our salvation; it reminds us of how we are related to God and to one another; it reminds us also of the duty to holiness that belongs to us because of our status. The sacrament reminds us of the union between sinner and sinner in the redeemed community. The thing that united the disciples and the thing that has united all Christ's disciples since that night is the singular Savior and His singular work of atonement in which we all share. This is pictured in the sacrament of the Lord's Supper in a most wonderful way as the bread is broken and shared and as we all consume the wine.

There is a pattern to be observed in Scripture and it involves a statement of one's redeemed status being followed by a code of conduct that is drawn directly from that status. Perhaps one of the most obvious examples of this pattern is found in Ex. 20 where the Lord prefaces the Ten Commandments, those ten words that formed the base for Israel's moral and judicial system, with a statement about their deliverance from Egypt. The point of such a reminder prior to the giving of the Law was to emphasize the favored status of the people as God's own possession and the object of His saving and protecting activity.

In a manner of speaking, this pattern is found in the sacrament of the Lord's Supper. The sacrament, as I've stated at length, reminds us of our status before God in Christ. It must, therefore, again by way of implication, remind us of the obligation we have to live as disciples. The sacrament is an aid to our faith and is intended to teach and strengthen us so that we might live in a way that honors our Savior.

Referring to the sacrament He was instituting for His Church, Jesus said: "I will not drink of this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it new with you in My Father's kingdom." And, Paul offered this statement: "As often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until He comes." It is obvious that the sacrament has an anticipatory aspect; the worshiper is supposed to be reminded that a day is coming when all the redeemed with join their Savior in heaven. The certainty of this day's arrival is motivation for holy living.

All that I've just said, of course, argues for frequent observance of the sacrament because this truth⎯the truth of who we are and where we are headed⎯needs to be restated and re-emphasized as we do battle with our flesh and the fallen world in which we live.

There is one final matter that I want to touch upon briefly. There is the question of who is supposed to receive the sacrament of the Lord's Supper. In light of our study of Passover, and in light of the obvious parallel between that sacrament and the sacrament of the Lord's Supper, it seems quite obvious that the Lord's Supper belongs to all those who are part of the covenant community.

And, following the pattern seen in the relation of Passover to circumcision, I would say that this means that all those, individuals and families, who are rightly practicing the sacrament of baptism are entitled to receive the sacrament of the Lord's Supper. In the Old Testament, households participated in the Passover meal, but only if that household had conformed to God's command regarding circumcision. The doctrinal identification between Old and New Testament sacraments means that we must recognize a like relationship between baptism and the Lord's Supper.


The only application that I wish to leave with you is a few thoughts about how important the sacrament of the Lord's Supper is to our well-being. This is a ceremony that refreshes our minds with thoughts of Christ's atonement. It is a ceremony that affords us a momentary communion with our resurrected Savior; and it is a ceremony that reminds us of the duty we have to leave this assembly and render unto God a week of living that is in keeping with what is implied about us in the Lord's Supper.

This sacrament is meant to be an aid to our faith as it helps us keep a redeemed perspective on life. This sacrament reinforces the preached word as it demonstrates to and through our senses the life-giving relationship we have with Jesus Christ. For these reasons, I would say that frequent observance of the Lord's Supper is vital for us, personally and congregationally.

It truly is a shame that this wonderful aid to our faith, this marvelous testimony to the grand redemptive work of God is so under-appreciated in the modern Church. My experience in the Christian Church illustrates an alarming degree of disinterest in the sacraments; it is no coincidence, in my opinion, that the Church of our day appears to be so weak and ineffective in turning society from sin to righteousness.

When the Church fails to be reminded of Her high calling, when Her members are not reminded week by week of their obligations, it should not surprise us to find that the Church is relatively ineffective in our culture. The right observance of the sacraments and, in particular, the frequent observance of the Lord's Supper, should be recognized as necessary elements if the Church is to win the nations to Christ.

If we can say these things about our society at large, then surely we have to say similar things about our congregation. Weekly communion is essential, in my opinion, to a sound church. The observance of the Lord's Supper serves to seal all that has taken place in the worship service; that is, this sacrament puts in visible form the truths that we have sung about, prayed about, read about, and preached about. The Lord's Supper is a rite that renews our covenant standing before God and such a renewal emphasizes His grace and our duty.

If, as you listen to me this morning, you realize that you have no place the the Lord's Table because you do not have Him as your Savior, you can do something about that right now. You don't have to remain on the outside, so to speak. The Master of this Table is full of compassion and He has invited all to receive Him as Savior and to enjoy the forgiveness of sins, the knowledge of the life and blessedness to come, and the encouragement of this weekly communion with Him.

All that is necessary is for you to call out to Him, confessing your sinful nature and your need of deliverance. Believe Jesus Christ to be what God says He is—the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.


Hymn for communion


Throughout this service, we have been pointed to various truths of our faith. God has met with us and allowed us to praise Him and know we are loved by Him thanks to the work of our Savior. No longer condemned, we are loved and welcome. For that, we should give thanks as we conclude our time with the meal of the covenant, the sacrament of the Lord's Supper. Rejoice in the fact that Jesus has retained a place for you. Come and receive His food and be strengthened.

Once again, I refer to Matthew's words:

26:26 And while they were eating, Jesus took some bread, and after a blessing, He broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, "Take, eat; this is My body." 27 And when He had taken a cup and given thanks, He gave it to them, saying, "Drink from it, all of you; 28 for this is My blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for forgiveness of sins. 29 But I say to you, I will not drink of this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it new with you in My Father's kingdom."

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