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1 Corinthians 10:18 Those who eat, participate

by Pastor Timothy Smith on Thursday, March 16, 2023

18 Consider Israel (according to the flesh): Those who eat the sacrifices participate in the altar, don’t they?

There are times when Paul talks about Israel as the people of God, and he means the true Israel, which is the Holy Christian Church (Romans 9:6; Galatians 6:16). But here he means the physical nation, the descendants of Jacob (Israel), without any considerations of anything else except that as a nation, when they brought sacrifices to the altar, they could participate in the sacrifice along with the priest who received the sacrifice and his family (Leviticus 22:10-16).

When a pagan eats what has been offered to an idol, he has a share in that idol. That idol is nothing at all, because idols are the inventions of man and any promises associated with idols are empty words. But when the Israelite approached the altar in the tabernacle or temple and ate a share of that meat, he had a share in the genuine promises given by God. Moses says: “He will be forgiven” (Leviticus 5:10,16). And when the people humbled themselves, either as individuals or as a nation, the Lord relented from his anger over sin. “My wrath will not be poured out” (2 Chronicles 12:7).

So when the Christian participates in the Lord’s Supper, he also has a share in the sacrifice that Christ made: “The forgiveness Christ won on the cross is mine, too.” This is my comfort as I eat the wafer of bread and drink the sip of wine. It was made for all, but I have a share in it. I receive it with faith, but the point of receiving it is to make it a personal experience for myself. I already know that I am forgiven. Jesus tells me so, as do John and Peter and Paul and Isaiah and David. But now it comes from the pastor’s hand, the one called by the Holy Spirit through the congregation to stand in Christ’s place, and I am able to swallow it just as Peter and Andrew did and the others who were there.

Let’s consider for a moment that there are churches and theologians who teach that the elements of the Lord’s Supper are not in fact God’s body and blood, but only symbols of those things. Does a symbol allow me to participate in the altar? Not at all. If I go to a restaurant and see a picture of the dish I want to order in the menu, that picture is only a symbol, it isn’t the actual dish. Otherwise I could tear the image from the menu, eat it, and expect that it would taste delicious, be filling and satisfying, and that I would hardly even need the use of a napkin afterward. My silverware, except perhaps the knife, would remain clean and unused. But this is not the case. Nor would I participate in the altar if I only ate some bread and did not in fact receive any of what was offered on the altar.

The difference is that I believe that Jesus Christ is truly and fully God. I do not try to say that because he is ascended into heaven, that he is, in effect, imprisoned there, and unable to be “with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matthew 28:20). This notion is behind the Reformed denial of the real presence of Christ’ body and blood in the sacrament. What the Reformed have left of a sacrament I cannot say. But what I receive, my Savior said, is his body and blood, given and shed for me for the forgiveness of my sins. This is what I participate in at the supper; this is what I receive from that ancient altar on that Hill of the Skull. For it is not the symbol a misguided theologian has drawn my attention to that I eat. “It is the bread the Lord has given you to eat” (Exodus 16:15).

Your body, giv’n for me, O Savior,
Your blood, which you for me have shed—
These are my life and strength forever;
By them my hungry soul is fed.
Lord, may your body and your blood
Be for my soul the highest good.

(I Come O Savior, To Your Table)

In Christ,
Pastor Timothy Smith

Pastor Tim Smith
About Pastor Timothy Smith
Pastor Smith serves St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in New Ulm, Minnesota. To receive God’s Word for You via e-mail, please visit the St. Paul’s Lutheran Church website.


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