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God’s Word for You

1 Corinthians 11:23-24 This is my body

by Pastor Timothy Smith on Tuesday, April 25, 2023

Paul has been pointing out abuses among the Corinthians in the way they were treating the Lord’s Supper. Now he will point out the true purpose of the sacrament, and as he does this, we will see that he treats the abuses and then moves on to the spiritual riches offered and given to us by Christ:

1, The Corinthians were treating the sacrament as their own personal or private meal, as if saying, “I brought my own wine, my bread, my meat, my side dishes” (21). But it is the Lord’s Supper, that is, it belongs to the Lord and comes from the Lord. It is not ours. He says: “My body,” “my blood” (24,25)

2, The Corinthians were using the Lord’s Supper to satisfy their physical appetites (22,34). But the Lord’s Supper has a spiritual emphasis. It is the “new covenant” (for the forgiveness of sins), and it is to be done “in remembrance of me” (to strengthen faith).

3, The Corinthians were causing divisions over the Lord’s Supper (18), despising the church and shaming the poor (22). But the Lord’s Supper is not only for the individual, it is for the whole church (“for you” is plural). There should be no favoritism or distinctions on account of wealth.

23 For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you. The Lord Jesus on the night he was betrayed took bread, 24 and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.”

Paul says, “For I received from the Lord….” Paul did not hear Jesus speak this in person; he was not present at the Last Supper, although he was living at that time and was probably in Jerusalem. But he was not part of Christ’s fellowship at the time, and he was not invited to the meal. But he heard the words from others either during his “several days” in Damascus after his conversion (Acts 9:19) or during his “many days” (three years) in Arabia after that (Acts 9:23; Galatians 1:17-18).

“The night he was betrayed” was Thursday evening of Holy Week, the night that Jesus celebrated the Passover with his disciples (Mark 14:12-26) and during which he taught his disciples about heaven (John 14:1-4); about the relationship of Christ and God the Father (John 14:8-14, 28-30) and the Holy Spirit (John 14:15-27, 15:26-27, 16:1-16), and about the resurrection (John 16:17-28).

“He took bread, and when he had given thanks, broke it.” This is simply how the head of a family began a meal, with a prayer and a symbolic breaking of the bread. There are churches that make a great show about the breaking of the bread, but this is paying useless attention to an unimportant detail because they want to deny the real presence of Jesus Christ that is given in the sacrament.

“He said, ‘This is my body.’” The words of Christ are simple and clear: He gave his body along with the bread for us to eat. His presence is not only a spiritual presence or a memorial presence, because he does not only say, “to remember me,” but he first says, “This is my body.” His presence is a bodily presence, with the bread. A philosopher would say, “under the bread,” but most people today would think that they can lift up a wafer to see what’s underneath. A theologian would say, “in the bread,” but most people would think that they could get out a microscope to find ancient Jewish DNA along with the bread molecules. “With” is a good preposition in our language because it also presents the truth: Along with the bread, we receive, through a miracle, the body of Christ.

Everyone who receives the sacrament receives the body of Christ with the bread; faith is not required for this reception, just as faith is not required to taste the bread or the wine. The substance is there. But not everyone receives the body of Christ to their benefit, which Paul will warn about at the end of the chapter. For this reason, we do not invite just anyone to the sacrament.

Jesus says: “My body which is for you.” His flesh bore the cost of our sins. What he offered on the cross is what he offers in the sacrament. It was not a mere representation of Christ that died; it was Christ’s body. This is what he offers to us and gives to us in the bread.

What he offered his disciples on that night is what he still offers to us and is truly present in the sacrament. For there to be a sacrament, five things must be present to begin with, and five things are received by those who take it:

1, The minister who consecrates and gives the elements in Christ’s place.
2, The recipient who will receive these things in faith.
3, Bread
4, Wine
5, The word of God, that is, the words of institution spoken by Christ, which Paul is presenting here.

What is received:

1, Bread
2, With the bread, the body of Christ
3, Wine
4, With the wine, the blood of Christ
5, The forgiveness of sins

What is this sacrament? It is the true body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ under (with) the bread and wine, instituted by Christ for us Christians to eat and to drink.

How can eating and drinking accomplish this?

It is certainly not the eating and drinking that does such things, but the words ‘Given’ and ‘poured out for you for the forgiveness of sins’ These words are the main thing in this sacrament, along with the eating and drinking. And whoever believes these words has what they plainly say, the forgiveness of sins.

Some additional points here:

1, There are many names for the sacrament.

  a, Lord’s Supper comes from verse 20 and shows that the Lord Jesus is the one who instituted the meal, just as “Lord’s Prayer” reminds us that Jesus taught the prayer to the church (Matthew 6:9).
  b, Eucharist means “thanksgiving” and helps us to remember the spirit of the meal.
  c, Communion reminds us that we are in communion with the Lord as well as in doctrinal agreement with one another when we participate. “The church is a Christian community, a communion of saints, so named because people hold in common the Holy Communion.”
  d, Lord’s Table or Lord’s Cup remind us that we are being fed by Christ from his own sacrifice, and in this heavenly meal we are his guests. “Table” by itself is also sometimes used to mean the meal, as when the pastor might say, “The Table (or Table of the Lord) has been set, come for all things are now ready.”
  e, The Fellowship of the Body and Blood of Christ, an old term, reminds us that we do not only receive bread and wine in the meal, but the true body and blood of Christ along with them.
  f, The New Testament is also used for the meal since it was instituted shortly before his death and imparts to Christians the highest of all (last will and) testaments: the forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation. This was also the term used by Jesus in each of the accounts (Matthew 26:28; Mark 14:24; Luke 22:20; 1 Corinthians 11:25).
  g, The breaking of bread is a term used in Acts 2:42, 20:7 and 1 Corinthians 10:16. The Acts passages here could possibly be references to ordinary meals (as in Luke 24:35; Acts 27:35) except that in connection with prayers they are references to something done in worship, and therefore the Lord’s Supper.

2, Jesus does not make a point about the bread being unleavened. The bread was certainly unleavened on account of the Passover meal, but we can be free to use whatever bread we wish. Gluten-free wafers, often based on rice, are expensive but many churches offer them as an alternative for people with gluten allergies. The church could use white bread off the grocery store shelf, but since it would cause some or many believers to question whether this really was a sacrament, unleavened wafers are preferred. Wafers have been in use at least since the 9th century when wafers irons were used to rapidly mass produce baked “breadlets.” Incidentally, this technology later developed into the idea of producing waffles.

The main thing to remember is that when we eat and drink the sacrament, we are also receiving the forgiveness of sins. How intimately our Savior knows us! We might be tempted to say, “My head knows this, but my body does not feel it.” But he does not offer us forgiveness only as a concept or a declaration. He gives it to us to eat and drink, so that we take it into ourselves. “I forgive you!” he says and gives it to us to swallow and digest. This gives life. This gives salvation. For where there is forgiveness of sins, there is also life and salvation.

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 contact Pastor Smith.

 

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