If you haven’t been with us the last two Sunday’s we’ve been working our way through a sermon Jesus gave at the end of John 6 known as “The Bread of Life Discourse.” Though we’ve already tackled the meat of the sermon, there is one concept that demands a thorough examination because it really gets to the heart of what Jesus is actually communicating.
Let’s set the stage beginning with verse 51… Jesus says, “‘I am the living bread which came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever; and the bread that I shall give is My flesh, which I shall give for the life of the world.’ The Jews therefore quarreled among themselves, saying, ‘How can this Man give us His flesh to eat?’
Then Jesus said to them, ‘Most assuredly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you. Whoever eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. For My flesh is food indeed, and My blood is drink indeed. He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him. As the living Father sent Me, and I live because of the Father, so he who feeds on Me will live because of Me. This is the bread which came down from heaven--not as your fathers ate the manna, and are dead. He who eats this bread will live forever.’”
Before we conclude our time in this amazing sermon next Sunday, a discussion about the true meaning of Communion is warranted because many have taken Jesus’ exhortation to “eat His flesh and drink his blood” and twisted it to mean something it frankly doesn’t.
In Luke 22:19-20, as Jesus is celebrating the start of Passover with His disciples (this would be the night He would be betrayed by Judas and arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane), we read that “Jesus took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, ‘This is My body which is given for you; do this in remembrance of Me.’ Likewise He also took the cup after supper, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in My blood, which is shed for you.’”
Please note that at a minimum all Christianity believes that in instituting Communion Jesus gave significance and deep meaning to both “the bread” and “the cup.” And yet, arguments, disagreements, and divisions have arisen over the muddled nature of the phrase Jesus uses when He refers to the bread as “His body” and the cup “in His blood.” For example…
The Roman Catholic Church holds to a bizarre position know as Transubstantiation (“trans” meaning “change”). Catholics believe that during the actual consecration of the Lord's Supper by the presiding priest, the physical elements of the Eucharist (the bread and wine) experience a literal transformation into the actual body and blood of Jesus. This reality explains why only the priest is allowed to handle the elements themselves.
In the 1500’s Martin Luther taught a variation of this position know as Consubstantiation (“con” meaning “with”). Luther believed the bread and wine do not become the literal body and blood of Jesus like the Catholics, but instead co-exists with the body of Christ so that the bread and wine are both bread and wine and the body of Jesus. John Calvin would add that this miracle took place only in a spiritual sense enabled by a person’s faith.
A contemporary of Luther, Swiss reformer Zwingli argued that the bread and wine were “mere symbols” that represented the body and blood of Jesus. When Zwingli debated the issue with Luther at Marburg, he made the case that Jesus also said “I am the vine” and “I am the door” but in these instances we understand Jesus was speaking symbolically. I would add this position is largely consistent with the illustration of Jesus being “the bread of life.”
In a twist to Zwingli’s position, David Guzik writes, “According to Scripture, we can understand that the bread and the cup are not mere symbols, but are powerful pictures to partake of and enter into as we see the Lord’s Table as the new Passover.” It’s been said that while the Roman Catholics overemphasize the elements, Protestants underemphasize them.
As you work your way through these various positions of what Jesus is truly articulating, there are a few overarching concepts you need to keep in mind: First, after Jesus instituted Communion, He still refers to the elements as being literal bread and wine. In Mark 14:25 Jesus will declare to His disciples, “Assuredly, I say to you, I will no longer drink of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God.”
Secondly, there is no indication the disciples ever viewed the bread and wine as literally being Jesus body and blood. If this had been their understanding it’s unlikely they would have participated considering consuming flesh and blood was outlawed in Leviticus 17:14.
Thirdly, Jesus instituted Communion before His crucifixion. There is no question that in this first moment the bread and wine weren’t Jesus’ blood and body because He hadn’t died.
Fourth, according to Hebrews 10 the Bible is clear Jesus was “sacrificed once for sin” and that His one-time-sacrifice was more than enough. The fact simply remains that there is zero Scriptural evidence that a Christian needs to maintain their salvation through a continued partaking of the Lord’s Supper as Roman Catholics believe.
Finally (and it’s to this point that we’ll spend the rest of our time this morning considering), in context of the illustrative nature of The Bread of Life Discourse and in light of the fact Jesus reiterated these statement about the bread and blood during the Passover Seder, it’s clear that He was redefining accepted and important symbols and was not speaking literally.
Last Sunday we spoke at length as to what Jesus meant when He spoke of eating His body and drinking His blood… In no way was He saying you have to eat His actual body or drink His actual to be saved. Instead, Jesus declared that for a person to experience “everlasting life” all they have to do is “come” and “believe in Him.” The only act required of you for salvation is faith in this larger work of Jesus accomplished on the cross.
As I mentioned last Sunday, it’s only with a larger understanding of the illustration Jesus was using that “eating His body” and “drinking His blood” makes any sense at all. In it’s most simplistic form just as bread and wine are only useful for the physical man if they enter the body, so must Jesus indwell the spirit of man for there to be spiritual life.
Again, the idea of “eating” and “drinking” was not meant to be taken literally, but seen illustratively. In a culture built upon strict dietary laws, you were what you ate! You see, eating and drinking indicated oneness with Jesus and the idea of the body and the blood was His way of tying His illustration to the sacrificial system.
Within context, it is the identifying of ourselves with Jesus’ body in both His crucifixion and later resurrection that He’s discussing and in the end this is what Communion exists to remind us of! Sadly, while most Christians comprehend the importance of Jesus’ crucifixion, few know the mechanism for how any of this actually works legally. Note: If you don’t understand how Jesus saves, you’ll never understand the significance of Communion.
The answer to these things is found in what I call the Doctrine of Transference… Defined as the act of transferring sin from a person to a sacrificial offering with the right-standing of that sacrifice coming back to the individual. Others call this occurrence a Great Exchange.
In the Levitical Law the idea of transference was central to the entire sacrificial system established by God. In a general sense, aside from identification, the act of laying your hands upon an innocent sacrifice was all about transferring your sin to the sacrifice. It was then, as a result of this transference, the death of the sacrifice was therefore accepted by God as the payment for your sin. This is how a sacrifice yielded atonement.
Furthermore, with the debt of sin now being satisfied by the offering, blood from the sacrifice could now be used as a cleansing or purifying agent. Whatever the blood from the accepted sacrifice was sprinkled upon was declared ceremonially clean in the eyes of God. Note: There are many examples of this process recorded in the priestly work around the Temple.
And yet, the problem with this Levitical model of transference was twofold: First, the process of transferring sin from a human to an innocent animal only afforded a person temporary payment and provisional cleansing because the sacrifice itself was simply inadequate. As the author of Hebrews (10:4) correctly observed, “For it is not possible that the blood of bulls and goats could take away sins.”
Atonement, in the Levitical perspective, was at best seen as a covering for sin and not the full removing of the sin itself. You see the frustrating reality when it came to transference is the only legal way to permanently satisfy the debt of sin in order to bring about a complete cleansing from sin would be for human sin to be transferred to a sinless, human sacrifice.
But this obviously led to another significant problem… Even if such a sacrifice existed the very act of transference would have been a crime. You see a sinful man laying his hands upon a sinless man would have been seen as both unlawful and totally unjust.
To this point the only legal way transference could occur between a human sinner and a human sacrifice would be for (A) The sinless sacrifice willingly deciding to take sin upon Himself, and (B) The sacrifice, acting as a de facto High Priest, willingly offering Himself to die for that sin. The sinner cannot be involved in either decision, and the work itself must be done on that person’s behalf without that person’s involvement.
Which bring us back to the cross… In John 6:51 Jesus said, “I shall give My flesh… for the life of the world.” The great reality of this event is that Jesus’ death on the cross paid for the sins of the world because He was willing to act as both the sacrifice (He willingly transferred upon Himself the sins of the world) and the priest (He willing offered His own life to incur the wrath of God so that your debt of sin might be satisfied).
In Hebrews 7:26-27 we’re told of Jesus, “For such a High Priest was fitting for us, who is holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners, and has become higher than the heavens; who does not need daily, as those high priests, to offer up sacrifices, first for His own sins and then for the people's, for this He did once for all when He offered up Himself.”
But it get’s even better than this… Because your sin was transferred to Jesus on the cross, not only is it by His death the debt for your sin was permanently satisfied, but now for the first time a complete cleansing from sin is made available by His blood.
Again in Hebrews 9:13-14 we read, “For if the blood of bulls and goats and the ashes of a heifer, sprinkling the unclean, sanctifies for the purifying of the flesh, how much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without spot to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?”
The body of Christ took away your sin while the blood of Christ transferred back to you the righteousness of Jesus. This is why the Bible declares you are now justified in Christ Jesus. Amazingly, when God sees you He actually sees His Son Jesus!
We know that the Old Covenant of the Law was inadequate because it demanded we make continual sacrifices because the blood of an inadequate offering could only provided a temporary covering for sin. However, because Jesus was human and sinless His sacrifice is not only sufficient, but lasting! The New Covenant no longer requires you make any sacrifice at all because His blood permanently cleanses you of all unrighteousness.
This is such an crucial concept let me give you a few more Scriptures to back it up. Hebrews 10:10-14, “We have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. And every priest stands ministering daily and offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But this Man, after He had offered one sacrifice for sins forever, sat down at the right hand of God, from that time waiting till His enemies are made His footstool. For by one offering He has perfected forever those who are being sanctified.”
In Romans 5:9 Paul writes, “Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him.” Ephesians 1:7, “In Jesus we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace…”
1 John 1:7, “The blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin.” Revelation 1:5, “Jesus Christ, loved us and washed us from our sins in His own blood.” Revelation 5:9 of Jesus, “For You were slain, and have redeemed us to God by Your blood…”
Do you see why Jesus’ work on the cross was so revolutionary and the reason becoming “one” with that work is so essential to your salvation? Don’t forget the goal of transference in both the Levitical Law and the New Covenant were the same (right-standing with God brought about by the atonement and cleansing of the blood of the sacrifice), however the way transference works in each instance is radically different.
In the Levitical Law transference required of the guilty to make continual sacrifices to atone for sin in order to be right with God. All a man had were his ineffective sacrifices. However, in the New Covenant transference requires nothing at all of the guilty, because a sacrifice was made by Jesus to atone for sin making you permanently right with God. In this New Covenant all a man needs is Jesus because He’s proven to be an able sacrifice!
In one (the Law) transference is all about you (the condemned) laying your hands upon the sacrifice to achieve a right-standing before God. In the other (New Covenant) transference is all about the Sacrifice laying down His life in order to make you right with God.
In one (the Law) you look upon your sacrifices to earn the forgiveness of God. In the other (New Covenant) your faith looks upon the Sacrifice who gives you the forgiveness of God. This is why the Old Covenant was an agreement with God based on your works while the New Covenant is an agreement founded upon His grace!
Because of the insufficiency of the Levitical sacrifice and the effectiveness of Jesus’ work on the cross, the satisfying of debt (atonement for your sin) and the cleansing of sin (your justification and sanctification) cannot be earned though the sacrifices you make to God; instead these things are given by the Sacrifice God made for you!
When Jesus says in John 6:53, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you” this is what He’s discussing! Paul will build on this concept writing in 2 Corinthians 5:21, “For God made Jesus who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.”
Back to communion and how all of these things tie together… When Jesus institutes the Lord’s Supper He does something interesting - Jesus specifically ties Himself and His crucifixion with two elements of the traditional Passover Seder in order to illustrate the work He accomplished on the cross and why we must identify with these things.
In 1 Corinthians 11:23-25 we’re told Jesus “took bread; and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, “Take, eat; this is My body which is broken for you; do this in remembrance of Me.” While the Seder dinner (the word seder means order or program) had 15 different parts which were all symbolic, “bread” played a significant role in three of them.
First, bread was included in the 5th step of the Seder meal known as “Yachatz” (ya-ha-tz) meaning “Breaking the Matzah.” Early in the dinner 3 pieces of stacked matzah bread (unleavened, flat bread) were presented to the father of the home. The middle piece of matzah (which is known as the afikoman) was removed from the other two and broken. It was then carefully wrapped in linen and hidden away for later in the meal.
The next time “bread” comes into play was directly before the main course when the 8th step known as the “Motzi (moht-zi) Matzah” or the “Eating of the Matzah” occurred. At this point in the Seder the two remaining pieces of “unbroken” matzah bread are passed around, dipped into the same dish, and consumed. Note: This is when Jesus identified His betrayer Judas.
Once the main course has been finished and the Seder was nearing completion the 12th step known as the “Tzafun” (za-fu-nun) or the “Eating of the Afikoman” finally took place. At this point the father would ask for the hidden afikoman to be retrieved and presented. Then, before distributing the broken pieces, the father would explain their significance.
Keep in mind, at this point in the meal the twelve disciples had heard the same explanation presented their entire lives. For 1500 years these three pieces of matzah represented Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. As the middle piece, the afikoman signified Isaac who willing surrendered himself to be sacrificed in obedience to the will of his father Abraham.
Literally, before consuming the bread, the father would declare concerning the afikoman, “This is the bread of affliction which our father’s ate in the land of Egypt. Let everyone who hungers come and eat; let everyone who is needy come and eat the Passover meal.”
And yet, when Jesus and His disciples reached this moment in the Seder, instead of making this traditional statement, we’re told Jesus “took bread; and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, “Take, eat; this is My body which is broken for you; do this in remembrance of Me.” It’s likely Jesus had left the afikoman whole planning to break it in this moment.
Understand, Jesus is crystal clear the afikomen (this middle piece of unleavened bread) no longer represented Isaac, but instead “His body which is broken for you!” You see, on the cross, the Son willingly offered His own body to bring about sacrificial atonement for your sin.
This was a work He didn’t need to do for Himself as He was sinless, but was instead a work He did specifically “for you.” Instead of incurring the wrath of God on account of the debt your sin demanded on your own, Jesus willingly offered Himself in your place!
This is why every time you come to the table and take up that little piece of unleavened bread (the afikomen) you’ve been commanded to remember the sacrifice Jesus made on the cross on your behalf and to identify with it… This is why you “eat it!” The very act of consuming the bread illustrates both oneness and communion with Jesus’ sacrifice!
And while you do this you’re to “remember” that Jesus willingly chose to bear your sin… That He willingly took your place… That He willingly offered Himself as a sacrifice so that you might be spared the judgment of God. The “bread” serves to remind you that it was Jesus who was whole and broken so that we who are broken might be made whole!
But that was not all… Then, we’re told Jesus “took the cup after supper, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in My blood. This do, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.’”
Throughout the Passover Seder four cups of wine are drunk specifically to remember each of the four promises God gave to Moses in Exodus 6:6-7. God declared, “Say to the children of Israel: 'I am the LORD; I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians, I will rescue you from their bondage, I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great judgments. I will take you as My people, and I will be your God.”
First, you have the Cup of Sanctification… “I will bring you out from under the burdens.” This would be followed by the second Cup of Deliverance… “I will rescue you from your bondage.” Thirdly, you would have the Cup of Redemption… “I will redeem you with an outstretched arm.” And finally the Seder would conclude with the Cup of Restoration… “I will take you as my own people.”
While all four cups are significant in there own right, following the “Eating of the Afikoman” the “Barekh” (ba-raa-kh) or the 3rd cup of wine symbolizing the “Cup of Redemption” would be presented. This cup of wine symbolically represented the shed blood of the sacrificial lamb that was applied to the doorposts in Egypt causing the plague of death to “passover.”
How fascinating that this is the cup that Jesus decides to redefine! Notice the emphasis of Jesus’ words focused specifically on “the cup” and not its contents. “This cup is the new covenant in My blood.” Whereas the bread had always been symbolic of His body, the actual wine contained in the “Cup of Redemption” represented blood of an insufficient offering.
When Jesus said, “This cup is the new covenant in My blood” He’s saying that while the “cup” had always represented the “redemption” of His people, it would now be filled with something sufficient. Though the cup was the same, Jesus replaced the contents!
In this moment with His disciples Jesus is telling them redemption would no longer rely on an Old Covenant filled with the blood of an inadequate sacrifice… Redemption would now rely on a “New Covenant” sealed by the blood of a sufficient Sacrifice… “My blood!”
This is why every time you come to the table and take up the “Cup of Redemption” you’re to remember the result of the sacrifice Jesus made for you on the cross was much more glorious than simple atonement - it gave you a permanent righteousness!
Yes, Jesus’ body was broken as the sacrifice to satisfy a debt you could not pay, but it’s by His blood that you are now cleansed once and for all of sin being permanently made right with God. It’s why we sing, “What can wash away my sin? Nothing but the blood of Jesus! Oh precious is the flow - that makes me white as snow!” I’m save and cleansed from sin!
Friend, your sin may have been transferred to Jesus on the cross, but most incredibly it was the spilling of His blood that now transfers to you Jesus righteousness!
Finally, I’m struck by the reality that in regards to both the bread and the cup Jesus commanded us to “do this in remembrance of Him.” Clearly this phrase “do this” was not a suggestive term! It’s strong and directive - illustrating the importance of remembering.
Understand, we’re to partake of the bread and wine not because the elements become the literal body and blood of Christ and are therefore essential for salvation - heaven forbid, but because of the overarching imagery and profound implications these things represent!
In line with the doctrinal reasoning of Zwingli and the healthy reminder of David Guzik that the elements are more than “mere symbols,” we should see the act of taking the elements as being more than just an intellectual exercise whereby we remember the atoning work of Jesus on the cross… No! The act of coming to the table should be a moment we commune with and becoming one with the resurrected Jesus. It’s not just symbolic!
This is why Paul presents a warning to those who come in 1 Corinthians 11:27-29 that “whoever eats this bread or drinks this cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord. But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For he who eats and drinks in an unworthy manner eats and drinks judgment to himself, not discerning the Lord's body.”
Honestly, the truth is that the very word “partake” is probably limiting in and of itself. You see by eating the bread and drinking from the cup we’re interacting with Jesus in the spirit. It’s a reminder of transference… A reminder of this incredible great exchange given to me by Jesus. In many ways the very taste of the unleavened bread shouldn’t be enjoyable as it’s a reminder that Jesus died because of my sin. The taste should be bitter and sobering.
And yet, how amazing that this experience of bitter bread is immediately followed up with the taste of fine wine! While the reality of what redemption required of Jesus is difficult to swallow, the results of His sacrifice in my life are not only sweet, but satisfying.
It’s interesting to note that from the first Passover to roughly the year 1869 (3300 years) “the cup” was filled with actual wine. In actuality, it was only during the temperance movement that a Methodist pastor and staunch prohibitionist figured out how to pasteurize grape juice specifically to be used during the Lord’s Supper. His name was Thomas Bramwell Welch.
You see just as unleavened bread was important for it represented the sinlessness of Christ, there is something important lost by substituting wine with grape juice. In his book “What Would Jesus Drink” Brad Whittington writes that of the 247 Bible references to alcohol - 40 are negative, 62 are neutral, with an overwhelming majority (145) being positive.
Wine is a picture of God’s blessings and the joy we should possess in Christ Jesus. Unlike bread which yields sustenance, wine produces an experience. In moderation, wine eases a person of their burdens and fosters merriment. The wine should remind me of the effects of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit who’s presence yields love, joy, and peace.
It’s not an accident that for wine to develop its sweetness and its effect, death first had to occur. For a grape to become wine it had to be crush and stored away. The picture is clear… It was through Jesus’ death that the Holy Spirit was ultimately given! We’re to drink of the cup to be reminded of the experience of new life we’ve been given in Christ Jesus.
In the end it’s critical you never forget when you come to the table that the essence of your salvation and the incredible favor and life you’ve been given by God was found not in a Levitical model that demanded more sacrifices for you to offer to God, but is instead based in a New Covenant built on nothing more than the sacrifice Jesus made on your behalf!
We come to the table not only to remember these important truths, but to communion with Jesus! Communion is a tangible experience. It’s reverent and personal. It adds material to that which is spiritual and begs for my participation. Communion is essential for it brings each of us back to the cross reminding us that Jesus and His grace are more than enough.
Additionally, Communion emphasizes the extent of my involvement… I come, receive it, identify with it, and become one with Jesus by faith! Charles Spurgeon said, “I think the moments we are nearest to heaven are those we spend at the Lord’s table.” I agree. As the hymnist wrote and we so often sing, “My hope is built on nothing less; than Jesus' blood and righteousness. I dare not trust the sweetest frame, but wholly lean on Jesus' name.”