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Author:Dr. Wes Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Launceston, Tasmania
 Tasmania, Australia
Title:Jesus Christ is truly present at the Lord's Supper
Text:LD 29 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Lord's Supper

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Psalm 118:1,5,6

Psalm 145:1,2

Psalm 23

Hymn 1

Psalm 118:7,8

Scripture reading: Luke 22:1-30

Catechism lesson:  Lord's Day 29

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

Beloved congregation of Christ Jesus,

The Lord’s Supper is all about focussing our faith on Jesus Christ and so also having our faith strengthened by Christ.  Well, have you ever thought about where Jesus Christ is when we celebrate the Lord’s Supper?  Let’s make this concrete:  was Jesus Christ present at the sacrament when we celebrated it a few weeks ago?  Will he be present at the sacrament next time?  If he will be present, how is that so?  Is it different than the way that he is present in my bedroom as I read my Bible by myself and pray?

Through the history of the church that question has been answered in different ways.  In the year 818, Paschasius Radbertus seems to have been the first one to say that the bread and wine in the Lord’s Supper are changed into the body and blood of Jesus Christ.  In the year 1133, Hildebert of Tours gave this teaching a name – he called it transubstantiation.  At the Fourth Lateran Council in 1215 it became an official teaching of the Catholic Church and today it remains the official position of Rome.  Transubstantiation says the bread and wine are transformed into Christ’s body and blood.  Thus, when communion is celebrated, when the Lord’s Supper (or “mass” as Roman Catholics call it) is held, Jesus Christ is present in the bread and in the wine.

Along came the Reformation and the doctrine of transubstantiation was called into question.  All the Reformers rejected this teaching as being contrary to the Bible.  Some stressed that the Lord’s Supper was a memorial of Christ’s saving work in the past.  They emphasized the words of 1 Cor. 11:24-25, “do this in remembrance of me.”  Some seemed almost to say that Jesus Christ is not present at the Lord’s Supper.  The Lord’s Supper is just about believers remembering what Jesus Christ has done and nothing more.  When we have the Lord’s Supper, it’s like going to the grave of a loved one to place flowers.  It’s just something we do to remember our dearly departed loved one.  Today, this is the majority position in much of Christianity – and so by default it may even be the majority position among Reformed Christians. 

However, it isn’t the teaching of Scripture, nor is it the teaching of our confessions.  To be clear, we do believe that there is a memorial aspect to the Lord’s Supper – absolutely.  Our Form for the Celebration of the Lord’s Supper has a section entitled, “Remembrance of Christ.”  It begins, “Let us now consider for what purpose the Lord has instituted his supper; namely that we should use it in remembrance of him.”  And then follows the manner in which we are to remember him, focussing our faith on his passion, his suffering and death.  In fact, this section is a wonderful summary of the gospel.  At the Lord’s Supper, we are to remember the good news of what Christ has done for us.    

So, there is definitely that remembering aspect in the Reformed doctrine of the Lord’s Supper.  But there’s more and it’s that more that we want to explore and learn about this afternoon.  We’ll see that we confess from the Scriptures that Jesus Christ is truly present at the Lord’s Supper.

We’ll learn about:

  1. The nature of this true presence
  2. The benefits of this true presence

As we begin considering the nature of Christ’s true presence in the Supper, let me read a quote to you:

It is beyond any doubt that Jesus Christ did not commend his sacraments to us in vain.  Therefore he works in us all that he represents to us by these holy signs.  We do not understand the manner in which this is done, just as we do not understand the hidden activity of the Spirit of God.  Yet we do not go wrong when we say that what we eat and drink is the true, natural body and the true blood of Christ.         

When dealing with the Lord’s Supper when I teach catechism classes, I’ll sometimes read this to the students and then ask them where they think it comes from.  They hear that last part, “Yet we do not go wrong when we say that what we eat and drink is the true, natural body and the true blood of Christ” – they hear that and they think that this must be Roman Catholic.  Well, it was written by someone who used to be a Roman Catholic, but he became Reformed.  Guido de Bres wrote those words and they’re in our Belgic Confession in article 35.  Let’s look that up together and read those words again [see above]. 

So, in article 35, we confess that Christ is truly present in the Lord’s Supper and when we eat and drink, we eat and drink Christ.  You may be scratching your head and thinking, “Well, how is that different from what the Roman Catholic Church teaches?”  The difference is in the next line in article 35, “However, the manner in which we eat it is not by mouth but in the spirit by faith.”  Faith is the means by which we take hold of Christ, also when it comes to the Lord’s Supper.

The bread and the wine remain bread and wine.  We don’t believe that the Bible teaches that the bread and wine turn into the body and blood of Christ.  Consider what we read from Luke 22.  After taking bread and breaking it, Jesus says in verse 19, “This is my body given for you.”  Jesus was standing before them with his real physical body.  His body and the bread were clearly distinct from each other and remained so.  Further, it happened more often that Jesus used symbolic language during his earthly ministry.  For instance, Jesus says in John 15 that he is the vine.  Obviously, he didn’t mean that he is literally a plant bearing grapes.  The vine represents or symbolizes Jesus.  He also calls himself the door, the lamb, the fountain, the rock, and so on.  In each case, the language is symbolic.  In John 6, Jesus calls himself “the bread of life” and “the bread that came down from heaven.”  So, there’s precedent for Jesus to refer to himself in these sorts of symbolic terms.  What’s said here about the bread holds equally true for the wine – in fact, it’s even more apparent because in Luke, he doesn’t say the wine is his blood.  Rather, he says, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood.”  Does the cup become the covenant?  How can a cup be a covenant?  Like a ring in marriage, it could be a sign of a covenant, but it cannot actually itself be a covenant.  Therefore, we recognize that the bread and the wine don’t change into anything else.  At the Lord’s Supper they’re always bread and wine. 

That’s also the point the Catechism drives home in QA 78.  The bread doesn’t become the body of Christ itself.  Yet the Bible calls it the body of Christ because of the nature and usage of sacraments.  That means we should remember how sacraments are signs.  No one should confuse the sign with that which is signified.  Think of the example of a road sign.  No one would confuse a sign that says, “Hobart-- 65 Km,” with Hobart itself.  So it is with sacraments, as signs they point to something else.  The bread and the wine are signs pointing to the body and blood of Christ. 

Okay, but then why does Paul speak of a participation in the body and blood of Christ in 1 Corinthians 10?  Or to phrase the question differently:  if Christ is not present in the bread and wine, is he present at all?  Yes, he is.  He is present, not physically, but spiritually.  Not in the bread and wine, as if he becomes the bread and wine, but at the sacrament, as the sacrament is being celebrated.  Jesus Christ is there through his Word and Spirit.  He’s there to bless his people, to bless those who hear the gospel and look to him in faith and for the strengthening of their faith.  At the Lord’s Supper, the Holy Spirit is present and through faith he mysteriously and wonderfully communicates Christ to believers.

Here I want to draw your attention again to article 35 of the Belgic Confession.  In the middle of that paragraph we read, we confess from the Bible:

In that way Jesus Christ always remains seated at the right hand of God his Father in heaven; yet he does not cease to communicate Himself to us by faith.  This banquet is a spiritual table at which Christ makes us partakers of himself with all his benefits and gives us the grace to enjoy both himself and the merit of his suffering and death.     

Whenever we celebrate the Lord’s Supper, Jesus Christ is truly present spiritually.  He is present to bless us through these elements of bread and wine, just as he is otherwise present in our worship services to bless us through his Word as it is preached.

Loved ones, this is the problem spot for many Christians in our day.  Unfortunately, many today view worship services as simply a place where we gather together to do something for God.  The emphasis is on human beings offering their praise and worship.  Viewing the Lord’s Supper only as a memorial where much if not all of the emphasis falls on our remembering Jesus Christ fits right in with that perspective.      

However, that perspective lacks balance.  The Bible teaches that when God’s people gather for worship, God is meeting with them in a way that he doesn’t otherwise meet them.  There’s something different and special about a worship service.  God is here meeting with us.  Just as he was present in a special way in the Most Holy Place, he is present in our worship in a way that he’s not present elsewhere.  If you need scriptural proof for that, there are a lot of passages we could refer to.  Just as one example, you could have a look at 1 Corinthians 5:4.  Further, God is here in public worship to feed us and nourish us with the means of grace, with the Word and the Sacraments.  Yes, there’s a human response element.  Our worship is covenantal, there’s a back and forth.  God speaks and we respond.  But for us to be responding, there has to be something from God to which we respond.  In the Lord’s Supper, there is both a human response (faith and remembering) and a divine action.  As far as the divine action goes, we say Jesus Christ is present as we celebrate the sacrament – he is spiritually present to bless us through this means of grace.  The mediator of the Covenant of Grace is here in our covenant meeting with God to bestow covenant blessings.    

Now let’s briefly learn about those blessings and benefits of this true, spiritual presence of our Saviour at the Lord’s Supper.  Our Catechism speaks of Jesus Christ teaching us and assuring us at this sacrament.  Jesus is present at the Lord’s Supper first of all to teach us.  He’s there to teach us that just as we need food and drink for our bodies, so we need his crucified body and shed blood for us to live forever.  He is the only spiritual sustenance we need and in fact, no other spiritual sustenance will do.  There’s no way to eternal life apart from Jesus Christ.  Think of that well-known passage of John 14:6 where Jesus says that he is the way, the truth and the life and that no one can go to the Father except through him.  And in John 6:51, Jesus says that if eat his flesh, if we take hold of him by faith, we will live forever.  As we partake of the sacrament, we have the blessing of being taught, being reminded of this gospel truth by our Saviour.

And then our Saviour is also truly present to assure us, to comfort and encourage us.  Each time we celebrate the Lord’s Supper, he’s there is to tell us that we share in his true body and blood.  In other words, we have union with him, we’re joined to him.  Because of what God has done for us in the gospel, we’re no longer objects of his wrath, but we’re objects of his Fatherly love.  We’re his children.  We’re his new creation in Jesus Christ. 

Last, but certainly not least, our Lord Jesus assures us that “all his suffering and obedience are as certainly ours as if we personally had suffered and paid for all our sins.”  What wonderful gospel words these are!  In the Lord’s Supper, Christ is present to preach the gospel to us, telling us that he suffered and he paid for all our sins.  He’s wiped the slate clean of all our wrong-doing, of all our law-breaking.  It’s all been wiped away with his blood.  This is good news! 

But there’s even more good news in that one little word in the Catechism, “obedience.”  Do you think the good news would be good enough if Christ simply wiped the slate clean and gave it back to us and said, “Now, here you go and now it’s up to you to fill the slate with good works that will make you positively righteous in God’s sight.  I took away your sin, but now you have to do your part and be positively righteous so that God will accept you.”  Do you think that would be good news?  If you do, I would really wonder if you understand the depth of human sin, the depth and deceitfulness of your own heart.  Listen loved ones, the good news is not “Do more, try harder.”  There’s no good news in that.  The Catechism draws on the Bible and gives that gospel word, that glorious word, “obedience.”  That’s Christ’s obedience, not ours.  Christ hasn’t only wiped your slate clean of all your sins, he’s also gone and filled that slate, your slate, with all of his perfect obedience to God’s law, culminating in his suffering and death.  To put it another way, by his death Christ swept the house clean of all sin; by his obedient life he refurnishes it with his own righteousness.  All of his righteousness becomes ours.  That’s why the Lord’s Supper form has those beautiful words, “By his perfect obedience he has for us fulfilled all the righteousness of God’s law.”  Each time we hear those words, that’s Christ assuring us that his suffering and obedience are ours.  That they’re imputed to us, reckoned to our account. 

It’s as if we personally had hung on that cross and suffered and paid for our sins.  That’s the encouraging truth of the atonement, the substitutionary atonement.  That’s the truth taught in 2 Corinthians 5:21, “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”  Christ became sin for us.  He became what he was not in himself so that we could become what we are not in ourselves.  That’s what Martin Luther called the joyful exchange, the sweet swap.  Christ took all my sin on himself, he became sin.  In exchange, I have received all his righteousness, I have become the righteousness of God.  That’s an amazing, wonderful gospel truth, isn’t it?  At the Lord’s Supper, our Lord Jesus is present to assure us that this is the truth.

Brothers and sisters, whenever we celebrate the Lord’s Supper it’s important for us to remember that our Saviour is truly there.  He isn’t physically present, but he is there with his Word and Spirit to bless us.  The Lord’s Supper is a memorial meal, but it is far more.  It’s a means of grace by which Christ our Saviour communicates himself to us by his Spirit through faith and the gospel.  It’s a wonderful encouragement which we should never take for granted.  AMEN. 


Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ,

Thank you for your crucified body and shed blood.  Thank you for instituting the sacrament of your holy supper.  Each time we partake we pray that you would help us with your Word and Spirit to be aware of your presence.  Teach us that your crucified body and shed blood are our true food and drink for eternal life.  Please assure us that we share in your body and blood.  And we pray that through your holy supper, we would be assured and comforted with the knowledge that your suffering and obedience are ours, as if we ourselves had done all of this. We praise you for your perfect redemptive work for us and we want to thank you and love you with everything in our being.  Please help us in that through your Spirit. 

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

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