Call to Worship January 13 2018
Expository Thoughts on the Gospel of Luke
J.C. Ryle Luke 22:14-23
“We should notice, for one thing in these verses — that the principal object of the Lord’s supper was to remind Christians of Christ’s death for sinners. In appointing the Lord’s supper, Jesus distinctly tells His disciples that they were to do what they did, ‘in remembrance of Me.’ In one word, the Lord’s supper is not a sacrifice. It is eminently a commemorative ordinance.
The bread that the believer eats at the Lord’s table, is intended to remind him of Christ’s body given to death on the cross for his sins. The wine that he drinks, is intended to remind him of Christ’s blood shed to make atonement for his transgressions. The whole ordinance was meant to keep fresh in his memory — the sacrifice of Christ on the cross, and the satisfaction which that sacrifice made for the sin of the world.
The two elements of bread and wine were intended to preach Christ crucified as our substitute under lively emblems. They were to be a visible sermon, appealing to the believer’s senses, and teaching the old foundation-truth of the Gospel — that Christ’s death on the cross, is the life of man’s soul.
We shall do well to keep this simple view of the Lord’s supper steadily in view. There is of course no doubt, that a special blessing is attached to a worthy use of it, as well to the worthy use of every ordinance appointed by Christ. But that there is any other means by which Christians can eat Christ’s body, and drink Christ’s blood excepting by faith — we must always steadily deny. He who comes to the Lord’s table with faith in Christ, may confidently expect to have his faith increased by receiving the bread and wine. But he who comes without faith — has no right to expect a blessing. Empty he comes to the ordinance — and empty he will go away.
The less mystery and obscurity we attach to the Lord’s supper — the better will it be for our souls. We should reject with abhorrence, the unscriptural notion that there is any sacrifice in it — that the substance of the bread and wine is at all changed — or that the mere formal act of receiving the sacrament, can do any good to the soul.
We should cling firmly to the great principle laid down at its institution, that the Lord’s supper is eminently a commemorative ordinance, and that reception of it without faith and a thankful remembrance of Christ’s death — can do us no good.
The words of the Church Catechism are wise and true, ‘The Lord’s supper was ordained for the continual remembrance of the sacrifice of the death of Christ.’ The declaration of the Articles is clear and distinct, ‘The means whereby the body of Christ is received and taken in the supper, is faith.’ The exhortation of the Prayer-Book points out the only way in which we can feed on Christ, ‘Feed on Him in your hearts — by faith with thanksgiving.’ Last, but not least, the caution of the Homily is most instructive, ‘Let us take heed, lest of the memory the Lord’s supper be made into a sacrifice.’
We should notice, for another thing, in these verses — that the observance of the Lord’s Supper is a duty binding on all true Christians. The words of our Lord on this point are direct and emphatic, ‘Do this in remembrance of Me.’ To suppose, as some do, that these words are only an injunction to the apostles and all ministers to administer the Lord’s Supper to others, is a thoroughly unsatisfactory interpretation. The obvious sense of the words, is a general precept to all disciples.
The command before us is overlooked to a fearful extent. Myriads of members of Christian churches never go to the Lord’s table. They would be ashamed perhaps to be known as open breakers of the ten commandments. Yet they are not ashamed of breaking a plain command of Christ! They appear to think there is no great sin in not being communicants. They seem utterly unconscious, that if they had lived in the days of the apostles — they would not have been reckoned Christians at all.
The subject no doubt is one on which we must beware of mistakes. It is not, of course, to be desired that every baptized person should receive the Lord’s Supper — as a mere matter of form. It is an ordinance which was intended for the spiritual living — and not for those dead in sins. But when we see vast numbers of church-goers never going to the Lord’s table, and no way ashamed of their neglect of the sacrament — then it is clear that there is something very wrong in the state of the churches! It is a sign either of wide-spread ignorance — or of callous indifference to a divine precept. When such multitudes of baptized people habitually break a command of Christ — we cannot doubt that Christ is displeased.
What are we doing ourselves? This, after all, is the point that concerns us.
Do we stay away from the Lord’s Supper under a vague notion that there is no great necessity for receiving it? If we hold such an opinion — the sooner we give it up, the better. A plain precept of God’s own Son is not to be trifled with in this way.
Do we stay away from the Lord’s Supper because we are not fit to be communicants? If we do — then let us thoroughly understand that we are not fit to die. If we are unfit for the Lord’s table — then we are unfit for Heaven, and unprepared for the judgment day, and not ready to meet God! Surely this is a most serious state of things.
But the words before us are clear and explicit. Christ gives us a plain command. If we willfully disobey it — then we are in danger of ruining our souls. If we are not fit to obey it — then we ought to repent without delay.
Let us notice, lastly — WHO were the communicants at the first appointment of the Lord’s Supper. They were not all holy. They were not all believers. Luke informs us that the traitor, Judas Iscariot, was one of them. The words of our Lord admit of no other fair interpretation, ‘Behold,’ He says, ‘the hand of him who betrays Me, is with Me on the table.’
The lesson of these words is deeply important. They show us that we must not regard all communicants as true believers and sincere servants of Christ. The evil and good will be found side by side even at the Lord’s Supper. No discipline can possibly prevent it. They show us furthermore, that it is foolish to stay away from the Lord’s Supper because some communicants are unconverted, or to leave a church because some of its members are unsound. The wheat and the tares will grow together until the harvest. Our Lord himself tolerated a Judas at the first Lord’s supper that ever took place. The servant of God must not pretend to be more exclusive than his Master. Let him see to his own heart — and leave others to answer for themselves to God.
And now, if we are not communicants — then let us ask ourselves, as we leave this passage: ‘Why are we not? What satisfactory reason can we possibly give for neglecting a plain command of Christ?’ May we never rest, until we have looked this inquiry in the face!
If we are communicants — then let us take heed that we receive the sacrament worthily. ‘The sacraments have a wholesome effect and operation in those alone, who worthily receive them.’ Let us often inquire whether we repent, and believe, and strive to live holy lives. So living, we need not be afraid, to eat of that bread and drink of that cup, which the Lord has commanded to be received.”