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God’s Word for You

Luke 22:20 What does an unbeliever receive in the sacrament?

by Pastor Timothy Smith on Monday, March 25, 2019

20 In the same way, after supper, he took the cup and said, “This cup is the new testament in my blood, which is poured out for you.

As we have seen, a believer receives the body and blood of Christ along with the bread and the wine in the sacrament. We receive this for the forgiveness of our sins.

What does an unbeliever receive in the sacrament? This is one of the key questions to ask when we aren’t certain what someone teaches about the Lord’s Supper. Let’s remember one other New Testament passage to help us put things into perspective: “Anyone who eats and drinks (the sacrament) without recognizing the body of the Lord eats and drinks judgment on himself” (1 Corinthians 11:29). There are many Christians, especially lay people with no theological training and no concern for the souls of the people involved, who think that a church should practice so-called “open communion,” admittance based on virtually nothing more than the communicant’s desire to commune. Prior to the Lutheran Reformation, the Christian Church practiced closed communion at all times, and their attitude toward schismatics and heretics was far more rigorous than simply barring those of other fellowships from communion. Gnostics, Docetists, Montanists, Arians, Apollinarians, Pelagians, Nestorians, Monophysites, Monothelites and others all considered themselves to be Christians of some form or another but were not permitted at the Lord’s Table by the early orthodox church. This was because they did not confess the same faith as the church, and therefore they were not part of the “one loaf” which the Lord’s Supper also depicts (1 Corinthians 10:17); the unity of faith which forms “one body” of believers.

In the Old Testament, what happened to someone who was not authorized to partake of a sacrifice? Such a person “must be cut off from his people,” a refrain that is spoken over and over again by God as he presents the law to Moses. This was the case with anyone who was ceremonially unclean and attempted to eat the meat of the fellowship offering (Leviticus 7:20-21): “that person must be cut off from his people.” Also, anyone who ate the portion of a sacrifice reserved for the fire (Leviticus 7:25): “that person must be cut off from his people.” Also, anyone who ate the wrong part of a sacrifice such as the fat reserved for God but especially the blood (Leviticus 7:27, 17:13-14): “that person must be cut off from his people.” This also included anyone who improperly sacrificed anything somewhere besides the tabernacle of the Lord (Leviticus 17:4, 9): “that person must be cut off from his people.” More than this, it also applied to someone who wandered into the faiths of the pagans that involved sexual rituals or practices apart from God’s institution of marriage (Leviticus 18:29): “that person must be cut off from his people.” Even a person who ate the meat or bread of a fellowship offering too long after the offering was made: “If it is eaten on the third day, it is impure and will not be accepted… Whoever eats it will be responsible because he has desecrated what is holy to the Lord; that person must be cut off from his people” (Leviticus 19:6-8). In fact, if anyone who was ceremonially unclean even came “near” the sacred offerings of the Lord: “that person must be cut off from his people” (Leviticus 22:3). Finally, anyone who did work on the Day of Atonement was also guilty of the same kind of sin, and “must be cut off from his people” (Leviticus 23:28).

Were these sinners cut off from their people because the meat they desecrated was of no value? Was it no longer a sacrifice because one of them refused to treat it like a sacrifice? No, it was a sacrifice, and that’s what made it holy. It was dedicated to the service of the Lord and of the Lord’s people. So it is with the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper. It does not cease to be the Lord’s body and the Lord’s blood simply because some ignorant spectator wanders up the aisle to take part in what’s going on. And it does not cease to be the Lord’s true body and blood just because some heretic denies that it is anything more than a representation of the Lord’s body and blood.

The sacrament is the true body and blood of Christ whether the person who receives it believes that or not. This would be the same if we were talking only of wine as wine. Some Reformed Christian may be from a denomination which would never think of using real wine in the sacrament, and then decide to wander up to the sacrament in one of our Lutheran churches, believing all the while that he will receive nothing but grape juice. He might even take his sip from the cup, and think, “That was powerful juice! They must make grape juice from a frozen concentrate and then leave it out at room temperature!” He has only deceived himself. He doesn’t think he’s drunk wine, but he has. In the same way, he doesn’t think he’s drunk the Lord’s own blood, but he has. The unbelief, doubt, or misunderstanding of the guest does not change what the guest receives, which is the blood of Christ in the wine.

Jesus calls the sacrament “the new testament.” Although many translations prefer “new covenant,” this is the passage from which we get the title “New Testament” for this part of the Bible, and by extension, this is why we call the former part the “Old Testament.” The Greek phrase hᾱ  kainᾱ diathᾱkᾱ (ἡ καινὴ διαθήκη) “New Testament” is also the Greek designation for New Testament and is written on the covers and title pages of Greek Bibles. It is the term commonly used for a will, or a last will and testament. It is what the dying man bequeaths to his friends and family. What Jesus has given us in his testament is not a command, but a gift. Having kept the old covenant (testament) perfectly himself, he presents us with a new one, something new in quality and completely unknown before. It is himself. In his blood, he gives us his perfect obedience and his perfect sacrifice. In his blood, he has obeyed everything God demanded of mankind, and he has paid the penalty for every act of disobedience ever committed. His blood, taken by us in the sacrament, is the forgiveness of sins. This is why an unbeliever drinks this to his own judgment. By rejecting what it truly is, an unbeliever rejects what Christ has truly done. He has cut himself off from God. But by giving his blood for us, Jesus allowed himself to be cut off, so that we would never be cut off. Through Jesus’ blood, we have full forgiveness forever.

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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