Thoughts Around the Lord's Table
When we eat the Lord’s Supper on the first day of the week, it’s customary for a brother to read from the Scriptures and make a few remarks to help us get in the proper frame of mind. This is a good practice. However, over the years I’ve observed two problems that can arise and, in some cases, actually make it harder for folks to have their minds where they need to be. For the men who lead in this part of our worship, watching out for these two hazards can help us all have our thoughts stimulated and focused as we honor Jesus’ death.
The first potential hazard is triteness. It’s common for a brother to read from one of the accounts of Jesus’ instituting the memorial (Matthew 26:26-29; Mark 14:22-25; Luke 22:19-20; 1 Corinthians 11:23ff) or from one of the gospel narratives of his betrayal, trials, and crucifixion. It’s so common, in fact, that some congregations rarely hear anything else! Obviously, those texts are appropriate, and there are lots of good observations to make from them. But Jesus’ sacrifice for our sins is the central theme of the Bible; there are many other passages we might reflect on as we commemorate it. If we rarely venture beyond four parallel accounts of the last supper and four parallel accounts of the crucifixion, it can lead to boredom, and to the inattention that goes with it.
The second potential hazard (which can result from trying to avoid the first) is novelty. A brother tries to come up with a fresh, new, clever approach, maybe using an extra-Biblical illustration. There’s nothing necessarily wrong with that; a brief story or example of memorials, or sacrifice, or forgiveness, etc., can be effective. But we can try too hard to be creative and forget that an effective illustration (a) is easy to grasp and (b) has a clear connection to its object (in this case, commemorating Jesus and his atoning death). Without those things, our remarks are liable to leave people confused or distracted. Let’s do our best to keep our reflections at the table Bible-centered, relevant, and clear.
There are dozens of Scriptures that can stimulate our thinking about the significance of Jesus’ death while keeping this part of our worship fresh and vital. Consider just a few.
♦ Isaiah 53, sometimes called the “suffering servant” prophecy, looks forward to the Messiah’s meekness and his mistreatment on our behalf. “Surely our griefs He Himself bore, and our sorrows He carried” (v. 4).
♦ Psalm 22. From this passage comes Jesus’ anguished cry on the cross, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken me?” (v. 1). The chapter prophetically describes the abuse and suffering of our Savior.
♦ Genesis 3 contains the very first prophecy pointing to Christ. God said to the serpent (i.e., Satan) that there would be enmity between his offspring and Eve’s: “He [Christ] shall bruise you [Satan] on the head, and you shall bruise him on the heel” (v. 15). Jesus’ agony and death on the cross secured the total defeat of Satan.
♦ Philippians 2 highlights Jesus’ humiliation on earth and his glorification in heaven. “He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore also God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name” (vv. 8-9).
♦ Romans 5 describes how Christ willingly died in our place so that we could be justified. “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (v. 8).
♦ 1 Corinthians 5 depicts Christ as our Passover lamb (vv. 7-8). We might also consider the meaning of the Passover feast (Exodus 12) and its foreshadowing of Christ’s redemptive work.
♦ 2 Corinthians 5 stresses the sufficiency of Christ’s death for all, showing that “in Christ God was reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them” (vv. 14-21).
♦ Hebrews 9 contrasts the priestly sacrifices under the Mosaic Law with the superior sacrifice of Jesus, the perfect High Priest. “…and not through the blood of goats and calves, but through His own blood, He entered the holy place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption” (v. 12).
There are many, many more passages that can turn our thoughts to Jesus’ death for us. By reflecting on them before the Lord’s Supper, we’ll be impressed with how that great sacrifice is highlighted from one end of the Bible to the other. We’ll gain a new appreciation for those individual passages, and for the unified theme of Scripture as a whole. Our minds and hearts will be stirred. Most of all, we’ll be reminded of what a measureless gift God has given us.
“Do this in remembrance of Me” (1 Corinthians 11:24).